An “Un­com­mon De­nom­i­na­tion”

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, North Hat­ley

Although there has been a Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist com­mu­nity in the East­ern Town­ships for al­most two hun­dred years, the first Univer­sal­ists mi­grat­ing here from New Eng­land in the early 1800’s and bring­ing with them their val­ues of po­lit­i­cal free­dom,

so­cial jus­tice and tol­er­ance, the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist re­li­gion is still a bit of a mys­tery to many.

The first Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist so­ci­ety in the Town­ships was es­tab­lished in Hunt­ingville in 1844, how­ever, it is the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist con­gre­ga­tion now based in North Hat­ley, formed in 1870 to serve the three com­mu­ni­ties of Mas­saw­ippi, Ayer’s Flats and North Hat­ley, that con­tin­ues to thrive to­day.

This con­gre­ga­tion’s North Hat­ley church, a lov­ingly con­structed piece of ar­chi­tec­ture that’s been well-pre­served, was built in 1895 and where I in­ter­viewed Rev­erend Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco to find out more about this lesser-known re­li­gion. “This re­li­gion ac­tu­ally goes back to the 1500’s,” com­mented Rev­erend Mar­tig­nacco about the early emer­gence of Uni­tar­i­an­ism and Uni­ver­sal­ism across Europe cen­turies ago.

“How we dif­fer from most tra­di­tional re­li­gions is that we are open to truth from all di­rec­tions. We have a non-creedal, non-dog­matic faith; we do not claim to have the truth but we in­vite peo­ple to ex­plore a mul­ti­fac­eted truth to­gether,” ex­plained the Rev­erend about this re­li­gion that draws on Chris­tian, Jewish, Bud­dhist and Mus­lim teach­ings, hu­man­ist teach­ings and the spir­i­tual teach­ings of earth-cen­tered tra­di­tions. “In that re­gard I am so com­mit­ted. I be­lieve in a mul­ti­cul­tural, plu­ral­is­tic, world. We need to learn to value the dif­fer­ences, to find them not di­vi­sive but de­light­ful.”

Orig­i­nally from Min­nesota and raised as a Catholic, Ca­role dis­cov­ered the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist re­li­gion al­most by ac­ci­dent. “When my mar­riage dis­solved I had to re­or­ga­nize the mean­ing in my life. Di­vorced women had no place in my church, so for six years I had no church home. Then, at the wed­ding of a friend, I chat­ted with a Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist min­is­ter who said: ‘I think you might be one of us.’ So I in­ves­ti­gated his church and saw they were plan­ning to sing a Catholic Mozart Mass at the next ser­vice. Mu­sic had al­ways been my con­nec­tion to the church so I joined the Univer­sal­ist church choir, orig­i­nally, to sing my Catholic mu­sic!”

It wasn’t long af­ter that Ca­role, who had al­ready had a ca­reer as a singer, a wife and mother, and an English and Art teacher, felt a ‘call­ing’ to the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist min­istry. “I had been work­ing part-time as a re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tor when I thought: Aha – this is what I should be do­ing. Kids needed not just ed­u­ca­tion but min­istry; they had their own joys, sor­rows and ques­tions about mean­ing.”

When the op­por­tu­nity to do a year of stu­dent min­istry in Mon­treal popped up in 2000, Ca­role came north and served at a Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist church in West­mount. “While I was there I was in­vited to come preach at the church in North Hat­ley. I just fell in love with the land­scape!” an­swered the Rev­erend when asked how she came to North Hat­ley. “A lit­tle later they asked me to come back as the Min­is­ter.”

That was in 2003 and Rev­erend Mar­tig­nacco hasn’t looked back since. “I love Sun­day wor­ship, when peo­ple come to­gether to cel­e­brate the joys and sor­rows of their lives and re­mind them­selves of that greater re­al­ity. The word liturgy ac­tu­ally means ‘the work of the peo­ple’, but I call it ‘holy play’. The wor­ship should be joy­ful; peo­ple come for an hour, fo­cus on what’s im­por­tant and hopefully it in­forms the rest of their week.”

Passionate about her min­istry, Rev­erend Mar­tig­nacco con­tin­ued: “I en­joy the en­gage­ment with peo­ple’s lives, be­ing present for those trans­for­ma­tive events, rights of pas­sage. It’s a priv­i­lege to be in­vited in­side that cel­e­bra­tion of the hu­man jour­ney.”

When asked how the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church may have im­pacted the cul­ture of the re­gion, Ca­role was ar­tic­u­late: “It has valiantly kept the flame of lib­eral re­li­gious ex­pres­sion alive. There were many pres­sures on the church’s small con­gre­ga­tion to give up or sell out. Back in the 1950’s there was a pos­si­bil­ity of this church be­ing ab­sorbed by the United Church. But there was al­ways the sense that there needed to be a home for the ‘re­li­gious home­less’.”

She con­tin­ued: “Dur­ing my first year as the min­is­ter here we were a sanc­tu­ary for two Colom­bian refugees: a man and his daugh­ter. We be­lieved they had been re­jected be­cause they had not been well-rep­re­sented and that, given a lit­tle more time, a good case could be made. They lived here for four months, got lan­guage lessons from res­i­dents, and we hired a lawyer to present their case again. Peo­ple here loved them and cared for them. On the street here in town peo­ple would stop me and ask: How are our refugees? To­day they are pro­duc­tive Cana­dian ci­ti­zens.”

“It’s char­ac­ter­is­tic of Uni­tar­i­ans to do that kind of outreach. The first prin­ci­ple of our seven prin­ci­ples is to have re­spect for the in­her­ent worth and dig­nity of

ev­ery per­son. That event be­gan my min­istry; it was a rad­i­cal im­mer­sion!”

The topics and themes of this church’s Sun­day ser­vices, which are held ev­ery Sun­day of the month, re­flect the mis­sion and core val­ues of this cen­turies-old yet pro­gres­sive and evolv­ing re­li­gion. “We just did the Win­ter Sol­stice ser­vice; it was called Lov­ing the dark­ness – Wel­com­ing the light. I like to do that ser­vice a lit­tle early in the month just to re­mind peo­ple that there is an alternative to this whirl­wind of con­sumerism,” com­mented Rev. Mar­tig­nacco. Chil­dren and adults will en­act the na­tiv­ity drama in a play en­ti­tled “Would you like to hold the baby?” dur­ing the church’s Christ­mas Pageant on De­cem­ber 16th. That Pageant is tra­di­tion­ally fol­lowed by a turkey potluck sup­per. On the 23rd a “Carols and Can­dle­light” ser­vice will take place.

“This win­ter I’m plan­ning to give an adult ed­u­ca­tion course about ‘wise elder­ing’ and leav­ing a spir­i­tual legacy. There’s a move­ment to shift our un­der­stand­ing of ag­ing from the fo­cus on wrin­kles and de­clin­ing health to rev­er­enc­ing the wis­dom of lived ex­pe­ri­ence. Peo­ple put a lot of em­pha­sis on set­tling their fi­nan­cial af­fairs, but what spir­i­tual gift will they give to the next gen­er­a­tion?”

At a time when many church con­gre­ga­tions are dwin­dling, UU Estrie, the new, of­fi­cial name of the Uni­tar­ian-Univer­sal­ist Church of North Hat­ley, is hold­ing its own, even grow­ing. “We’re an English con­gre­ga­tion, orig­i­nat­ing from Eng­land and the United States, in a sea of French, but the ideas speak to a lot of peo­ple in the French cul­ture as well. The value of Hu­man Rights has uni­ver­sal ap­peal. And there are al­ways those peo­ple who are in­trigued when they hear about a church with no dogma. If they’re com­fort­able ex­plor­ing the ques­tions in­stead of look­ing for easy an­swers, they find a home with us.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about UU Estrie and their ac­tiv­i­ties you can visit their web­site at We miss you so very much, may you rest in ul­ti­mate peace.

Your lov­ing Fam­i­lies

Rev. Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco lights the chal­ice at the Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist Church (UU Estrie) in North Hat­ley. The flam­ing chal­ice is the sym­bol of this re­li­gion.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Rev. Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco held a Win­ter Sol­stice ser­vice last Sun­day at UU Estrie.

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