Advances for Canadian Unitarian Universalism within the Armed Forces

reproduced from CUC e-news May 2024

We are thrilled to announce two important milestones in our Unitarian Universalist community: First, Rev. Nicole McKay is the first Unitarian Universalist minister to serve as a military chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). On April 17, 2024, Rev. Nicole McKay met all conditions to become a UU Chaplain in the CAF. She is based at Canadian Forces Borden in Ontario. Ordained by the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto in May 2023, Nicole has been in the military since 2005, transitioning to chaplaincy in 2020.

Raised Catholic, she found her true calling in Unitarian Universalism, inspired by the Canadian Forces’ vision of diverse chaplaincy. Nicole’s work includes providing pastoral care, guiding on ethics, and contributing to policy revisions like transforming public prayer into inclusive public reflections. Her ongoing efforts ensure meaningful chaplaincy access for all military members, embodying the principle of caring for all. We celebrate her pioneering role and look forward to her continued contributions. Of significant note is that Rev. McKay is now authorized to wear a UU tradition identifier on her military uniforms—a patch depicting the flaming chalice.

To our knowledge, this is the first time a UU Military Chaplain in any country’s military service has worn the chalice as their spiritual faith tradition identifier. Read the article about Rev. McKay in the August 2023 eNews. Second, because we now have a Unitarian military chaplain, the Canadian Unitarian Council also gets a seat at the Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy (ICCMC). Rev. Rebecca (Beckett) Coppola is the first Unitarian representative on the ICCMC. The ICCMC supports the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS) in its mission within the unique context of the CAF. It acts as the liaison between Faith Tradition communities in Canada and the RCChS, reflecting their work and supporting CAF Chaplains from various traditions. In 2000, the ICCMC expanded to include faith traditions beyond the Canadian Council of Churches and the Catholic Church.

This inclusion presented an opportunity for Unitarian Universalists to join, which was enthusiastically supported at the May 2023 UU Ministers of Canada Ministry Days gathering. Since then, the UUMOC Executive Committee, in collaboration with the CUC, has been diligently working to advance this initiative throughout the 2023-2024 year. When a CAF Chaplain from an unrepresented faith officially assumes their role, that tradition can then secure a seat on the ICCMC. This was achieved for Unitarian Universalism on April 17, 2024, when Rev. Nicole McKay became the first UU Chaplain in the CAF. Faith traditions only get a seat on the committee when they have active chaplains in the RCChS. While some faith traditions choose not to take their place at the table, those that do must nominate a representative of the ministry from their tradition to the committee.

The UU minister on the ICCMC will serve as the endorsing authority for chaplain candidates in the CAF. They will:

  • Review electronic files from the Chaplain General and respond as necessary.
  • Provide pastoral and other support for UU RCChS chaplains.
  • Participate in committee discussions from the perspective of Unitarian Universalism.
  • Undertake other committee work as necessary.
  • Maintain connections and relationships with the UUA’s Federal Chaplaincies Endorser, the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee, the CUC Executive Director and Board, and more. All ICCMC members are civilian volunteers who hold a contract with the Canadian Government. There are no salaries for committee members unless they are compensated by their faith tradition.

There are currently about twelve members on the Committee, with Rev. Coppola currently being the only female member.

Rev. Rebecca C. “Beckett” Coppola is a fellowshipped and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister with a Buddhist Master of Divinity from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She has been serving as the settled minister of the Kingston Unitarian Fellowship, in Kingston, Ontario since 2017. Beckett also: is a Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) certified personal growth and executive leadership coach with ten years of experience in private practice; for over twenty years has been a Yoga and meditation instructor with advanced training around teaching in military settings; and Beckett is a chaplain with four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) including military ministry training and experience.

Beckett is inspired by the gifts of the world’s wisdom traditions while being deeply rooted in human relationships, systems theory, intellection, learning, and seeking. She brings a lifelong pursuit of, and profound respect for, spiritual practice to her journey. She is also committed to the work of social justice, embraces radical welcome, and brings a love of humanity’s potential into her ministry. Beckett enjoys a contemplative approach to living in community, and she does her best to embrace growth and transformation with an open heart while aspiring to walk the path of love.