Anne Montagnes

Mark and Barb In 1950 I was 15 and attending a private Anglican girls’ school. I was different; I read serious books and asked questions. One day in Medieval History I questioned the divinity of Jesus. The teacher was aghast. Other girls joined the argument that extended to the next class. Days later the principal summoned me and asked me not to talk about religion with the other girls because I had reached a level of questioning they hadn’t. Perhaps their mothers had complained. My friend Linda’s mother phoned mine and said, “Tell Anne to try the Unitarians.” I did. Ultimately, my daughter became a Unitarian minister. In 1995 I married Al Boyer whose son was also a Unitarian minister. Rev. Joan Montagnes and Rev. David Boyer married their parents.

Over 64 years, Anne Montagnes has served First as: usher, folder and stuffer of Horizons, Worship Leader, preacher, RE Chair/teacher, Board member/ reporter, choir member, creative writing teacher, Star Island youth conference delegate and delegate to GA.

Kelly Ferguson

Kelly Ferguson I had been blessed with good health, two babies, rewarding work. Then suddenly, I got sick; really sick. I was unable to walk, had trouble hearing and even speaking. No one knew what was wrong but I quickly found out what was right. I had phone calls from First staff, volunteers, and friends. A Lay Chaplain came to my house to coordinate a care plan. Members made meals and took me to appointments and. They just did it.

My contact person asked one helper if he was ok with doing so much. He said it was his pleasure and his duty as a member of this congregation. Everyone who helped was just as busy as I had been but they did it because that’s just what you do in a community.

I knew about community in theory, but now I know it in practice. Thank you to all of you for teaching me so much about loving kindness.

First member Kelly Ferguson has worked with housing and homelessness for 15 years. She’s not sure if she believes in angels but she does believe everyone at First can change lives. Thanks for believing in J.

 

Mark and Friends of New Visions Toronto

Mark and Barb Mark attends First regularly and sings enthusiastically during hymns. His ready laugh is a familiar element of Sunday services. Mark has physical and communication challenges due to Rett’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder with which he was diagnosed at 40. He lives with people with similar needs at the residences of New Visions Toronto.

It has been challenging for Mark to fit in many times in his life. In 2009, he joined First. Different words and questions were incorporated in the New Members ritual to suit Mark’s capabilities, showing in that important moment how our community could adapt to welcome him. We all benefit as a result.

Mark attends regularly with his mother Barb Wentworth and/or his caregiver Matthew. Friends of New Visions Toronto is a 2014 Eco/Social Justice Project for First. You can speak with Barb or go to the Social Justice pages of First’s website to learn how to make a positive impact on the lives of New Visions Toronto residents and increase your awareness of welcoming inclusion.

J and My Place

J and My Place J works at a gym as a personal trainer; he volunteers at a local boys and girls sports club; he belongs to a faith community.

J was also homeless. He had trouble saving money, often giving it away instead to people less fortunate than himself. First sponsored a loan for J to get his own place, through a social action program launched by member Kelly Ferguson. My Place provides revolving loans to subsidize first and last month’s rent for homeless youth.

J paid his loan back very quickly. He was so grateful to the people who had given him a chance and believed in him. Kelly went to his home and taught him to cook a chicken. He was so excited to be able to host in his own home. He spoke of his faith and his belief in angels.

First member Kelly Ferguson has worked with housing and homelessness for 15 years. She’s not sure if she believes in angels but she does believe everyone at First can change lives. Thanks for believing in J.

 

Jennifer Beer

Jennifer Beer I had been thinking of coming to First ever since a visit with a cousin doing Coming of Age in B.C., but never got around to it. After a few “animated” discussions with my son about the existence (or not) of god, I decided this was an important part of his education. I didn’t want him picking it up on the playground and getting the wrong ideas. I wanted him to have a place where he could safely ask questions, surrounded by peers on the same journey.

Friends say, “You’re an atheist; why do you need to go to church?” I say it is to create this peer group for my son, it is for fellowship, for my only hour of grown-up contemplation in the week, to sing together with strangers, to repeat Shawn’s sermon on Religion for Atheists and claim all of it for myself - and to give all of that to my son.

Jennifer Beer, her husband Harry and their son have been attending First since 2012.

Genevieve Iacovino

Genevieve Iacovino While I have learned much from UUism and UU’s, the most important lesson I’ve taken away is that it’s okay, (even encouraged) to talk about sexuality. More importantly, it is a basic human right to have access to accurate sexual health information in order to make informed choices. This realization paved the way for much of my volunteer work (at First and in the community) and ultimately my career. I took the Our Whole Lives (OWL) program twice as a teen, and knew immediately I wanted to facilitate it for others; at 19, I did. I also become a volunteer at Planned Parenthood Toronto, where I'm now a part-time employee.

First taught me how to speak to others about sexuality, and I continue to empower others to do the same. I believe the work I do could ultimately save a life.

Genevieve Iacovino 's desire to work with youth providing sexual health education has led her to pursue a BA in Psychology and a Master of Social Work.

 

Ted Wood

Ted Wood Twenty-five years ago, I was deeply affected by a friend’s death. It triggered a search for community which I did not expect to be easy, having already touched many traditions on my spiritual journey looking for a place I might fit.

As soon as I arrived at First, I felt a connection. I have been supported and nurtured ever since, able to grow into various roles here and in the wider community and especially in my volunteer work with Amnesty International. Our Amnesty activities on Indigenous rights included sponsoring a resolution in which the congregation voted unanimously to support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Social justice initiatives are key to putting our UU Principles into practice by living and honouring our connection to interdependent web of which we are a part.

Ted Wood and Amnesty Group 142 continue to support and promote human rights and human rights defenders throughout the world.

 

Lourdes and the Central America Project

 LourdesLourdes lived in rural Honduras. She dreamt of going to high school and becoming a teacher, but her family needed her to look after her little brother at home while they worked. When a group of Canadian Unitarian Universalist volunteers arrived in her village, Lourdes's future changed significantly. They were there to help build a kindergarten, where her brother could attend. Lourdes went on to graduate with flying colours! The same group of volunteers established a small trust fund for Lourdes.
She writes:

Hola!

I wanted to share with you my intention to keep on studying which is my dream. I go into the second semester of my career. I am studying pedagogics in the university. I wanted to tell you that this year seemed to be very difficult but I did well and passed everything. I hope that I can tell you how much I appreciate your help that you have shared with me in my education.

Your friend,
Lourdes

Maya Ferguson

Maya Ferguson Our first child, Maya, was dedicated at a Flower Communion and has been chasing her friends around her church ever since. "Her church." At First, Maya has a place to centre herself and to belong. She is her own person: a singer, a poet, and a violinist. I believe her generous heart has been fostered here, where her class went to a shelter and served brunch to homeless youth.

Maya is proud of her faith. Two friends joined her for OWL classes and another at Unicamp. At age 10, she wrote:

Being Unitarian
Being Unitarian has nothing to do with what you wear to service
Being Unitarian has nothing to do with praying to a certain God or following a certain faith
Being Unitarian has nothing to do with praying constantly or learning what you have to believe
Being Unitarian has to do with being who you truly are.

 

This year Maya Ferguson will participate in First's Coming of Age program. She will write her own credo and share it with her community.

Art Brewer

Art BrewerIn 1993, I had just turned 50. My older brother had just been killed by lightning. A gay friend of 30 years had just been murdered by a boarder in his home. And I was just starting to come out of the closet – the scariest thing I had ever done in my life. These events and developments caused me to ponder more seriously some of the big questions I think we all eventually ask ourselves: What’s the meaning of life? What’s the meaning of my life? How can I make the world a better place?

As a teenager I had attended the Unitarian youth group in Montreal, so First seemed like the logical place to bring those big questions and I soon joined the congregation. I found no simple answers; I wouldn’t believe them anyway. But I did find a supportive community of people who would help me seek my own answers. Of course, I’m still seeking. But that’s largely what life is about, isn’t it?

Art Brewer is currently serving as the congregation’s president.

Wendy Ounpuu

Wendy OunpuuIn 1959, I was pregnant for the first time and because I felt a child needed spiritual guidance, I decided to "church shop". I went to every denomination in Toronto and felt they were all diluted versions of Roman Catholicism. A friend suggested I try "the ugly cement block building" on St. Clair at Avenue Road.

I went the next Sunday. John Morgan was preaching. During his sermon, he thumped the pulpit and asked us to think of the African Americans in Alabama. I was mesmerized. On my way out, as I shook his hand, I asked if I might join his church. "No" he replied, “we have too many people here; but you could go to Willowdale and help to start the new congregation there.”

And so, this disenchanted Roman Catholic helped start Willowdale UU Fellowship.

Wendy Ounpuu has been a loyal Unitarian for 55 years. She returned to First in 1989, and it has been her spiritual home ever since.

Sasha Akhavi

Sasha AkhaviI came to Toronto with my young daughter, wondering if a big-city congregation could ever offer the togetherness I'd known at my former spiritual home, a tiny, UU fellowship in Raleigh, NC.

At First we found fellow souls who offer perspectives on life's most meaningful questions and encourage our own, consistently inspiring ministry, and innovative and responsive Religious Education that genuinely interests and educates our youngsters. I've been honoured to teach the Our Whole Lives sexuality program, and so proud we support this for our young people and the greater good of all!

First is blessed to have the best-of-both-worlds: the resources of a larger congregation united with the community and connectivity of a smaller one.

Sasha Akhavi has been a member of First since 2012 and is very grateful to say "It's where I belong!"

Djuna Day

Djuna DayBrigit and I were in crisis. Our marriage had recently ended and we were looking for a new way to be together; a new understanding of ‘us’ as a unit whatever that was going to look like, of ourselves as individuals, and as parents.

It has been a gift that we were able to do this among a community of new friends who seemed to instinctively withhold judgment, listened with open hearts, and were always in support of our making our own path. Because if there is one thing that Unitarians are good at, it is making our own paths.

I have also been charting my own new direction here. When it finally dawned on me, after years of wrestling with it, that I would just be a lot happier as a woman, this place – my community - was the first place I knew I could be myself.

Djuna Day is a trans woman and a parent to an endlessly curious six year old. She is constantly amazed by the perpetual unfolding of life and the gifts to be found in every moment.