Part III: CUSJ goes national

(Continued from Part II: The early years of CUSJ)

From the beginning the original committee wanted to develop CUSJ as a national organisation rather than a Toronto or Ontario one. We needed a newsletter that could reflect thoughts and opinions from across the country. Fortunately we had in our midst a man with abundant skills in this direction, namely Mel Johnston of Toronto First Unitarian Church.

Mel set to work to produce the first newsletter, a modest paper, to which some of the original committee contributed. The first issue was distributed to UU congregations and to each member. It was well received and it seemed we were on our way to solving the problem of social action coverage in the denomination.

The newsletter has gone from strength to strength. Mel, with the backing of an editorial committee, has continued to put out a high quality newsletter. It is now a professional publication of which we are justly proud and has become a key factor in CUSJ’s effectiveness. We regard it as critically important and at one low point in our fortunes we decided that if we could achieve nothing else, publication of the newsletter would be reason enough for our existence. Fortunately it has not come to that.

The above-mentioned low point occurred in the winter of 98-99. The original Toronto steering committee ran out of steam after losing a few members and it became increasingly administration-oriented. In the meantime the Victoria B.C. church, having had for some time a very strong and active social action committee, was showing great interest in CUSJ. When they signed up a new player in the form of our newsletter editor, who had taken early retirement to that city, the means of revitalisation seemed at hand.

CUSJ in Victoria

The Toronto steering committee decided to ask Victoria to take over the steering committee role. They accepted the invitation, thus taking a large step towards fulfilling the initial dream of becoming a national organisation. The takeover took place early in 1999 subject to approval of the 1999 AGM.

At the watershed AGM in 1999 a number of important decisions were made:

  1. The transfer of the steering committee to Victoria was approved;
  2. Bob VanAlstyne of Victoria was confirmed as president;
  3. A Board of directors, drawn from across Canada, was elected;
  4. A new constitution was approved; this was prepared by the Victoria committee, which included a retired law professor, Keith Jobson (Kim Turner, a CUC board member, now CUC president and CUSJ member helped with this);

The decision was taken to apply for associate membership with CUC (this was subsequently granted so we now have official status).

For six years [1999 to 2005] the organisation was run very effectively from Victoria. Membership numbers were 235 (in 210 households), from 36 of 53 congregations. The annual Budget was $4,300 (the newsletter required $1000 per issue for 1600 copies). Directors come from nine cities from Nova Scotia to B.C.

Running a countrywide organisation in a country like ours poses unique communications challenges. These challenges were met in four ways:

  1. The distribution of the newsletter 3 or 4 times a year.
  2. The distribution of fact sheets, on current items of social justice concern, at intervals between newsletters (these were discontinued after 200?). These sheets provided members with the facts they needed to lobby MPs with letters, email, visits, etc.
  3. The establishment of an email list serve, which could broadcast messages over the internet, to provide instant communications with all members who signed on to the list. This proved valuable in coordinating national effort and in providing information on numerous CUSJ topics. It will be even more useful when members become more familiar with how to use it most effectively.
  4. The use of inexpensive, do-it-yourself teleconferencing. CUSJ Board meetings regularly hook up 10 people coast to coast for a two-hour conference call. This technique has the fortuitous and welcome result of inhibiting the normal Unitarian verbosity. Participants apparently shrink from grabbing more than their fair share of airtime, as they’re inclined to do at a face-to-face meeting. The Toronto GTA group has also started to use the technique with good success with the benefits of cutting down night driving time, saving gas and reducing pollution, etc. This is a system to be highly recommended.