Member Testimonies

A Humanist UU

Of all the registered UU religious brands, the one to which I feel the most loyalty is Humanism.

More specifically, I identify with Scientific Humanism, which has been defined as "a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism, and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion."

I don't consider myself to be a Philosophical Humanist, which I understand would have me concentrating more exclusively on human need and human interest.

I also call myself an Agnostic, because I understand that there are some questions that we cannot answer, and I believe that all knowledge is provisional, or as the time-honoured UU aphorism puts it: "Revelation is not closed."

A important way that I express my religious self here at First, is by celebrating our 4th Principle: "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning."

Some of you may have witnessed my searching in my impromptu coffee hour science lectures, or my Socratic probing of your political views.

This congregation is important to me because many of you actually listen to me, and I am inspired to listen  to you, and to learn.

My roots are in the Jewish tradition, where the most learned have always been the most respected. But even during my youthful years of week-nights at Hebrew school, studying for my Bar Mitzvah, I considered myself to be an agnostic, and I focused on my day job as a science nerd.

As I've matured, I've more and more held learning in high esteem. Mathematics, physics, technology; philosophy, language, cognition – learning has become my hobby, and my vocation.

At First I've learned about a religion without irrational creeds, where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, where there is no privileged oligarchy revealing truths about mythical divinities.

I very much value what I've learned from all the free-thinkers that I've met here … and I plan to continue to learn from you and, I hope, you from me.

Hello. My name is Stan Yack.

I’ve been attending services here for about twenty years, and this will be my third testimony. Today, I have a confession to make, and I will be coming out of a closet. No not that closet, another closet, one with a green door.

First the confession: For over 60 years I have been an unrepentant omnivore. When I started calling myself that, it was just a thoughtless joke; I was unconcerned by any criticism of my culinary behavior. But recently I’ve become aware of good reasons for changing that behavior. These days for many of us, not just Unitarian-Universalists, discussion of  culinary behavior has become more common.

In none of the related domains of discourse – health, ethics, environment – are the issues regarding dietary choices simple. The discussions are very personal, and with so many of our social connections occurring at meals, conversations can be uncomfortable. I recommend waiting until dessert.

Of the arguments against eating meat, I've found it easiest to reject  health-based proscriptions. My pop-science understanding of human biology tells me that our digestive system has barely changed from our savannah ancestors, so surely a diet including meat should still be good for us. (Though I am concerned about the antibiotic content of factory farmed meat).

For me the ethical objections to meat-eating are more relevant. As a student of cognition and philosophy, one ethical question I must consider is which creatures’ lives I have the moral right to terminate. 

But today, on Earth Sunday, I want to talk about environmental ethics.

The environmental problem with eating meat is straightforward: There are over 6 billion humans on the planet, and there is a fixed amount of land, a fixed amount of potable water, and limited energy for cultivation, fertilizer, and transportation. There’s just not enough of those things to feed meat to 6 billion human beings. So what right do I have to eat meat? I can put the issue concisely by reworking an old saying:

“One man’s meat is another eight men’s bread.”

That’s because the production of a given amount of meat protein typically requires some animal to consume eight times that amount of plant protein, corn on today’s factory farms. Eight-to-one is the factor on North American industrial beef farms; some sources estimates the factor as low as six, others as high as at ten. It is lower on farms where cattle graze on grasses, but there’s not very much of that going on any more. Our modern industrialized food system, whether producing meat or vegetables, is a product of the so-called “Green Revolution”. That system depends on tremendous amounts of fossil fuel for fertilizers, for pesticides, and for transportation. Cheap fossil fuel is a resource that is unlikely to be available for much longer. And protein production from beef consumes 100 times the water as production from grain!

Of course, a one pound steak and six pounds of bread are not nutritionally identical – they contain different proportions of proteins, carbs, fat, sugar, fiber, … An excellent guide to the health and ethical issues of food is Michael Pollan’s best-selling book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. The New Yorker says that Pollan “undertakes a pilgrim’s progress along modern food chains, setting standards for ethical eating”.

But now it’s time for me to open my green closet door, and come out:

I have become a “pescetarian”, a vegetarian who also eats seafood.

Note that I haven’t committed to a anti-meat orthodoxy, religiously avoiding meat to claim my place on a higher moral plane. Throwing out the leftover meat in my freezer didn’t seem to make much environmental sense (The meat’s all gone now.), and at my recent family Passover seder I did eat my mother’s chopped liver.

But for almost three months I haven’t purchased any meat, not in restaurants, not in supermarkets, not on the street: no beef, no pork, no chicken. That means my meat consumption is almost negligible. I decided that like Michael Pollan: “I had to stop eating meat before I could in good conscience decide if I can keep eating meat.” Now nearing the end of my third month, my conscience is still directing me toward a meat-free lifestyle.

In the future I might backslide from pescaterianism, and rationalize myself back into more carnivorous behavior. (After all, studies show that one man’s chicken is only another two men’s wheat, so maybe I’ll become a “pollo-tarian”.)  Or I may become more committed to reducing or rejecting consumption of animal products, and swear off fish and seafood.

I’ll keep you posted.

Dare to Dream

“Dare to Dream” Testimony

First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto

October 16, 2005

By: Barb Wentworth

 

Hello,

By way of introduction, many of you will recognize me because I come to church with Mark, an adult who lives with cerebral palsy and a developmental disability.

Dare to Dream:

I have dreamt all my life. It’s what keeps me from being depressed. I dream about what’s next, what opportunities can I create for myself, what places do I want to go, what things do I want to do. That’s the fun side of dreaming. The trouble with dreaming is that I don’t always get what I want. But I always get something new and different.

My Dare to Dream testimony has a theme – not surprising because I’ve been dreaming about this in one way or another all my life. It’s around disability.

1. What makes you proud/time you felt most alive at the church?

I have been proudest of this community when you include my son Mark. When people approach Mark and tell him they like his singing, I see him duck his head in a shy, pleased reaction. I was proud of this community when Mark Morrison Reed welcomed my son from the pulpit – that was critical to Mark’s engagement here and his sense of belonging and helped open the door for you to approach him as well. Thank you.

2. What do you personally bring to the church?

I am changing my role here at Toronto First – taking on more of a leadership role. I offered a session at the Leadership Workshop and will offer a Disability and Me workshop on Nov. 12th. When I lead here, it changes my relationship to this place and to you. Leadership here makes me grow into this community.

3. If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for and how would the church look in five years after you got your wishes?

My Magic Wand idea is best described by reading a quote from Margaret Lawrence’s memoir -  “Dancing on the Earth”.

Talking about her birth, she says:

“My mother and I were lucky. I often think, however, of the children born with birth defects. Their parents are by necessity heroes, caring for and loving their children, refusing to give up, coping somehow under stresses that I have never known and feeling, despite all the terrible difficulties, that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the life of their child. Also feeling…so often that sense of being overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer awful presence of need: so much care, so much strength, when human strength even at its utmost is limited. I stand in awe of those victories of the human spirit, while at the same time I wonder at a society where the caring parents of disabled children, and the children themselves, are so inadequately helped.”

Where are these children? Where are these parents? Where are we as a community??

I believe this statement applies to more than parents. It’s also true for people caring for those who are terminally ill, those with Alzheimers Disease, those who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues. We will all be touched by our own disability or the disability of a loved one at some point in our lives.

I believe this “presence of need” is all around us here in this congregation. We keep it hidden. Put up your hand if you have a disability that no one/or only a few people here know about….Put up your hand if you know of someone with a disability that could use some extra support….I believe we have the capacity to be more honest about our own needs and I believe we have the capacity to bring into our congregation others who are in need.

This congregation set out to become a welcoming congregation on sexual orientation with great success. My dream is that this community will also become a welcoming congregation to those who are differently-abled. You have already started with your generosity towards Mark.

Just being welcomed and accepted here means the world. Thank you.


Hello,

By way of introduction, many of you will recognize me because I come to church with Mark, an adult who lives with cerebral palsy and a developmental disability.

Dare to Dream:

I have dreamt all my life. It’s what keeps me from being depressed. I dream about what’s next, what opportunities can I create for myself, what places do I want to go, what things do I want to do. That’s the fun side of dreaming. The trouble with dreaming is that I don’t always get what I want. But I always get something new and different.

My Dare to Dream testimony has a theme – not surprising because I’ve been dreaming about this in one way or another all my life. It’s around disability.

1. What makes you proud/time you felt most alive at the church?

I have been proudest of this community when you include my son Mark. When people approach Mark and tell him they like his singing, I see him duck his head in a shy, pleased reaction. I was proud of this community when Mark Morrison Reed welcomed my son from the pulpit – that was critical to Mark’s engagement here and his sense of belonging and helped open the door for you to approach him as well. Thank you.

2. What do you personally bring to the church?

I am changing my role here at Toronto First – taking on more of a leadership role. I offered a session at the Leadership Workshop and will offer a Disability and Me workshop on Nov. 12th. When I lead here, it changes my relationship to this place and to you. Leadership here makes me grow into this community.

3. If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for and how would the church look in five years after you got your wishes?

My Magic Wand idea is best described by reading a quote from Margaret Lawrence’s memoir -  “Dancing on the Earth”.

Talking about her birth, she says:

“My mother and I were lucky. I often think, however, of the children born with birth defects. Their parents are by necessity heroes, caring for and loving their children, refusing to give up, coping somehow under stresses that I have never known and feeling, despite all the terrible difficulties, that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the life of their child. Also feeling…so often that sense of being overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer awful presence of need: so much care, so much strength, when human strength even at its utmost is limited. I stand in awe of those victories of the human spirit, while at the same time I wonder at a society where the caring parents of disabled children, and the children themselves, are so inadequately helped.”

Where are these children? Where are these parents? Where are we as a community??

I believe this statement applies to more than parents. It’s also true for people caring for those who are terminally ill, those with Alzheimers Disease, those who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues. We will all be touched by our own disability or the disability of a loved one at some point in our lives.

I believe this “presence of need” is all around us here in this congregation. We keep it hidden. Put up your hand if you have a disability that no one/or only a few people here know about….Put up your hand if you know of someone with a disability that could use some extra support….I believe we have the capacity to be more honest about our own needs and I believe we have the capacity to bring into our congregation others who are in need.

This congregation set out to become a welcoming congregation on sexual orientation with great success. My dream is that this community will also become a welcoming congregation to those who are differently-abled. You have already started with your generosity towards Mark.

Just being welcomed and accepted here means the world. Thank you.


My name is Diane Wagner and I’d like to share with you some thoughts on what belonging to this community means to me.  Like many of you, I arrived here from a mixed religious background. I was raised Baptist by parents whose personal faith was, and still is, very important to them.  I think I always had doubts, and I did not chose to be baptized when others usually do, at around age 13.  I later was baptized as a Catholic, after being married at the Newman Centre on U of T campus.  This was, at the time, a supportive and liberal community, but when I went back a few years ago it had changed a lot, and so, I suppose, had I.  The music was beautiful, but I came to realize that I could no longer believe the things I was expected to believe.  Several years ago I heard someone interviewed on the radio who said that once he admitted to himself that he didn’t believe what he was taught to believe, he couldn’t go back.  That has been my experience as well.

So I found myself looking for a religious community where a wide spectrum of beliefs were accepted.  I was also looking for a community that would accept and respect my lesbian daughter.  I just happened to meet someone on a Bruce Trail hike who told me about First Unitarian.  I arrived at First at just about this time of year, 6 years ago, and in the fall I started attending the Women’s Group.  Small groups at First are a great way to get to know people, and the Women’s Group has become a very important part of my life.  It is a warm, supportive group of women from all kinds of backgrounds who share the ups and downs of their journeys through life.  From these women I learned to listen to my own feelings, and to actually stop and ask myself how I feel.

After about a year and a half I decided to become a member of First, and then I attended a Mapmaking series. For the first time I got to know some men in the community.  By the way, two of the members of my Mapmaking Group went on to become chaplains, and a couple of others have run adult programs here.

So what keeps me at First?  I feel very much at home with the principles we share, and in fact the first time I heard them, I thought someone must have been reading my mind. To me “growing into harmony with the divine” means respecting and being part of the interdependent web of existence.

I appreciate the intellectual and spiritual stimulation at First – in the services and in the workshop series.  My favourite series was one where we had to decide whether our main approach to life was humanist, naturalist, mystic or theist, and then look at questions such as “What is real to you?” and “How do we know what we know?” By the way, I started out in the naturalist group, then decided to join the mysticism group, but I’m still not quite sure which group I belong to.

Something else that is very important to me here is the experience of R.E. for my granddaughter -- a place where she can feel that it’s quite normal to come from a non-conventional family.  In fact, after her first R.E. class a couple of years ago Daya came up to me, excited, and said “Grandma, a little boy in my class has three Moms. He’s so lucky! I only have two”.

But what is most important to me is being part of a supportive community.

Mark said in one of his recent sermons that it’s the job of ministers to always strengthen the fabric of community.  I told him afterwards that he and Donna must have done a good job, because I feel confident going forward into our uncertain future. I’m confident in our community.

My name is Helen Iacovino, and I have always loved flower communion. Never mind that my family background is Czech and I only discovered as an adult that this celebration originated in Prague, never mind that (as Tony and my kids will tell you) two of my current obsessions are my garden and the furthering of Unitarian Universalism. Flower communion is truly Unitarian in that not only did Unitarians originate it, but it reflects who we are, what we stand for, and how we go about being in the world. There has even been some talk among UU leaders in the United States of selecting a date on the calendar for a unique Unitarian Universalist holiday, and one option raised was that it might be, say, the first Sunday in June as Flower Communion Day. Then at the office on Monday we could all tell our co-workers, "Yesterday I celebrated my religious holiday." But this wonderful thought is a digression.

Every year I bring a little flower to Flower Communion (or sometimes a bigger flower, if the spring has been early enough and peonies happen to already be in bloom). But I take home much more. I take home a flower that has called to me, that is perhaps unusual to me, that seems to have sought me out – and I take home the intangible sense that I’m a part of something much, much bigger.

It’s the same with taking on a volunteer role around here. I feel that I get more out of it than I give. In my other life I work in the office of a golf club, and one day I overheard their past president saying, "I’ve discovered that you get a bigger kick out of this place the more you put into it." I’ve found that this holds true for Toronto First.

Perhaps more significantly, since I joined Toronto First 21 years ago, I have felt that this place truly is "permission-giving" in that when a member or friend volunteers in some way, they are permitted to carry out that task the way they see fit. They have the freedom to emphasize the aspect of the job that is dearest to them, and to carry it out in a way that is in keeping with their personal preferences. They are encouraged to infuse it with their own vision. Furthermore, they have the support of others, such as the convenors and the Board, or the committee they are working with.

Of course, we are not perfect, and so our permission-giving to our volunteers and congregational leaders is also not perfect; we are continually working on it. I cannot say that I have felt entirely happy or entirely supported all of the time. But most of the time I felt supported beyond measure, supported beyond my expectations, by the convenor team as a whole and by Board members, and sometimes this was at a time of very difficult decisions that I was in the forefront of. When things become difficult in one portfolio, the rest of the Convenor group is there. Like the roof. The final decisions about how we will proceed with replacing half the roof will be shared. The Property Committee, the Convenors and the Board will all have input into it and be there for each other through it, and in addition the congregation will be kept informed. So together we will solve it in a way that works for us all.

If one of the goals of life is to continually learn and grow, what better way is there to further that than to volunteer for something in this wonderful place? I found in my volunteer roles, I got more out of it than I put into it. As I think Donna or Mark once put it in a sermon about how we all minister to each other, it’s the crossroads where the individual’s greatest joy meets the community’s greatest need – doing something I enjoy doing to further the work of this place.

For the past three years I have been the Administration and Property Convenor, and as of the Annual Congregational Meeting last Monday my term is up. I leave it, I admit, with a certain sense of relief – now someone else can worry about photocopiers, elevators and heating bills. However, I also leave it with a sense of immense gratitude for having had this opportunity, and that the congregation entrusted this to me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow into the role as I took it on, and to grow through it and see the congregation from a perspective other than that of some of the areas I was involved with previously, such as RE. It all keeps unfolding. It allowed me to make connections with more people, with different people and it allowed me to discover and develop skills I didn’t know I had. It also reacquainted me, on annual Property Cleanup Days, with muscles I didn’t know I had. It made me want to communicate to all of you that this building is YOURS and OURS and that we want you AND your children and youth to feel that this space belongs to you, and you belong to it.

And that’s what Toronto First, and Flower Communion, is all about to me – the entwining of all our lives as we attempt to create in the world a beautiful garden.

Dear friends,

Let me tell you something about me.

My life started in a small village with 500 gate numbers (houses) where our house number has the 444 number. My parents still live there.

This is a small village in Transylvania with most of the people being unitarian. It was something natural, as traditional to go every Sunday in the church and also to attend the religious education.

For example: on new years evet he whole village went to the church on midnight, exactly 12 o' clock to say good by to the past year and to welcome the New Year, when the minister held the service. After that everybody continued the new years eve party.

When I was in highschool, all my classmates were talking about where will continue their studies and decided about the university or collage, except me.

The real decision was made by my father, who one day gave me a Bible, a songbook and all the information I need to study to apply for the ministry. And he asked me: how about to be a minister? Well, I remained speachless.

But I went to the local minister and I asked his addvice. He and his wife started to prepare me. After one year we all felt that I am ready for the Theology.

I was attached to the idea of working with people, specially in terms of relating people with God, with the spirit.

In hungarian the minister is called lelkipásztor, which if I retranslate into english, it means: the shepard of the soul, spirit.

Some people work with the body, others with the mind, and the minister with the spirit.

So I went to the seminary in Cluj-Kolozsvar where I studied 5 years, and graduated in 1989.

An other interesting part of my life if how I met my wife!

We, as student attended every Sunday the main church in Cluj-Kolozsvar. And we had a special place in the church, right in front of the congregation. So everybody could see us and we could see who is in the church. And of course, as students we were interested in young girls and searching with our eyes to discover them. In this way I saw Erika, many times in the church, but I could not get to her because the members left first the church and we last, at the end. And while we finally left the church she disapeared. This happened all the time, remaining in front of the church only the old ladies to talk.

Finally, in the winter the church organized a congregational meeting, not in the sanctuary but at the parish house, and I was there with a student friend. And she was there with her girlfriend. So we went immediate near them, and in this way started our life jurney.

We married in 1990 and lived in Petrosani until 2001, when the Bela Bartok Church invited me. In 1994/95 I was a schoolar at SKSM, and Erika joined me for the last three months. Our girls were born in 1997 the oldest, and the twins in 1999.

It is hard to compare the work and ministry between the two churches I served, because they are compeletly different ones.

The former was in a small town, around 300 members, most of the call miners and old members. I knew all of them. We visited every year in their homes. I could reach them just by walking to their houses. It was not necessary to call them before visit. It was so naturally for them too: the minister can visit us all the time. If I had something to ask, or tell, I just walked to their door.

In Budapest it is not that easy. There are large distances. People are very busy. To keep the connection is mainly by phone, or letter or just meeting on Sundays.

In both places we organized besides the Sunday Services, church evenings. In Petrosani on Sunday afternoons, where the members were together having fun, maybe some children or the youth performing something: poetry or singing.

In Budapest on Saturday evenings, we are able to invite famous people, like actors, singers, artists who deliver programs for the members, which is follow by a common dinner.

Now I am also busy on updating the church home page. I consider important to be on the web, to spread the information about us.

I am one of the church magazin editor. This year I am attending a one year jurnalist course.

My wife, Erika is studying too, she is in a 4 year college on business and finances.

The girls are in the kindergarten. The oldest starts the school this fall at a private church school, which offers a very good education.

We are all very attached to each other. We spend a lot of time together. We don't have television, so we have time to talk, and play together and read for the children.

This is the first time when the girls are on their own, without us, at their grandparents, and we are curious about how they support or spend this time, and also it is a test for the grandparents too. Not to mention that we are fine for now without them, but I don't know for how long. 

Rev. Sandor Leta (Bela Bartok Unitarian Church, Budapest)

Good morning!

My name is Bea Ziegert and Trudi Vural introduced me to Child Haven in the early ‘90s. Trudi, a long-time member of this congregation, is one of the first and longest Child Haven interns.

My trip started in November 02 and ended in April 03. I spent the first two months as an intern in Bangladesh. Being an intern with Child Haven means to help: helping with the children and helping with language. Other situations include exchanging cultural and social aspects; discussing belief systems, such as God; watching and reporting, and being a marriage advisor.

These experiences truly changed my life. I feel privileged to have gone and am humbled by the many personal, social and cultural experiences. I believe I contributed in a small way. Children, no matter where they live, have a zest for life that is refreshing and rewarding.

The Bangladesh home in Chittagong, a city of over 5 million people, had 11 children between 3 and 6 years old. I was the second intern. Today this home has over 50 children. In my time the home had a manager, a young man who did the shopping and needed English lessons, a cook, a caregiver for the children and the guard who was soon elevated to look after the Soya cow project that provided a daily glass of protein-rich Soya milk.

Bangladesh is a relatively liberal Muslim country and, for women, that means many things. One of them is dress. Cover the top - not just with a t-shirt - cover the legs and often cover your head. Many Bangladeshi women wear saris. I do not. Not to offend I arrived wearing a pair of pants and a dress over it. It was fine but could not last two months. After much thought I decided to wear the high quality Bangladeshi men’s wear. No scarf; no dangling things! For this male dominated society my dress was quite a shock. Later when I visited again male board members wondered where my men’s wear was. They had got quite used to it.

Being a new home many ideas had to be realize. Shortly after my arrival Bonnie came and a sewing machine was to be purchased for the home. The men thought I would buy it at their merchant. Alas, I did not. I shopped at various places and finally bought it at Singers. Then the machine had to be secured so that little fingers would not be tempted and yet it had to be accessible. I made a cover to the floor and a box for the iron and notions. During my time the children never touched it. In January I used the machine for a color, textile, weaving and sewing project with each child.

In early December, Valeria, an intern from Italy, came for three weeks and we developed many projects. We prepared a personal box for each child; we did drawing projects, making paper chains, weaving with paper, gluing paper mosaics, gluing with rice, taking the children to the museum and we developed decorations for the 10 day Eid Festival – the end of Ramadan. Then Christmas decorations were proposed and we did a color and fruit project with many yellow bananas, red apples and green mangoes that decorated the eating room.

One of the funniest experiences was buying a wall mat to mount the children’s work. Valeria and I went to the market, bought the mat and carried it back on our shoulders. Seeing two Western women walking and carrying a mat was a no-no in that city. Men, the only ones on the street, stared, booed and threatened, but we made it home OK.

These are but some of the many stories and, of course, there were also frustrations. For me the biggest hurdle was the language barrier with the children. For example, boys will figure out stuff that adult’s think is naughty. I believe discussions and explanations help but I could not speak with them directly. Punishment came in an amusing way. While hanging onto the earlobes the naughty boy had to make 20 or so knee bends. With two naughty boys they had to hang onto each other’s ears and bob up and down. For three year olds that is hard, particularly when adults laugh.

After Bangladesh and a month-long tour of Rajasthan, I traveled with Bonnie Cappuccino to most of the homes that serve over 750 children in India, Nepal and Tibet. The Tibet experience was very special and being February, I was on the well-known 16 Km walk out of Tibet.

I invite you to look at my three photo books. They are on a special table upstairs. I thank Child Haven for these unforgettable moments in my life.

Good morning, and Happy First Day of Spring in 2005. Spring used to be March 21, but now, somehow, it’s March 20. Well, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a most frigid first day of spring.

My name is Shirley Grant. I’m not a born-again Unitarian. I’m a born Unitarian. My parents met and married, and I was christened in the old Jarvis St. church. Yes, they called it “christening” in those days. My father, Walter Sachs, is in the photo hanging in the Board Room, taken when a plaque was being installed on the Sears Building, where our church used to be. He is on the far right, and it is a rather surreal experience for me to sit at a meeting in that room with my father gazing down at me.

I asked to do a testimony because I wanted to share some of my memories of growing up in the old Jarvis St. Church. The district, even then, was rather a red light district, out of bounds to servicemen during World War 2. Charles Eddis, retired minister of the Montreal Church, was in the navy in Toronto and had to get permission from his Commanding Officer to attend church!

The RE program was called Sunday School and consisted of just 2 classes. The juniors , numbering about 10, were taught by Nancy Knight, a wonderful former member of this church who died in 1995. The high school crowd met in the same room and numbered about 8.

One year we high schoolers decided to serve Easter breakfast to the whole congregation: grapefruit, eggs, sausages, coffee – the works. My job was to cut through the segments of grapefruit halves. Even today I can still remember a seemingly endless row of grapefruit halves stretching down both sides of a long long table into eternity.

One particular Sunday, when we had just gone on daylight saving time, we waited and waited for the organist to appear. Finally our minister started the service without him. About ten to twelve he arrived, all ready to warm up for what he thought was the 11 o’clock service!

Our minister, Mr. James Hodgins held a garden party once a year at his elaborate Brampton estate. My chief memory was that there was always unlimited free ice cream in little Dixie cups with those flat wooden spoons. For me, as a child, this was heaven.

Mr. Hodgins lived in Brampton and was required only to come to Toronto to give the sermon. My father’s acerbic remark was that Mr. Hodgins would arrive at quarter to eleven, needing 5 minutes to take off his outer clothing, and then, of course, he needed 10 minutes to prepare the sermon!

The congregation dwindled during the 40’s, due, so it was thought, to our aging minister, Mr. Hodgins. He became frailer and frailer, and almost tottered up the aisle. One time my mother, who had an aisle seat, thought he was going to topple over into her lap!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reminisces, because I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing them with you. There are many more anecdotes, but alas! My allotted time is up and depositing another nickel wouldn’t buy me any more time from Donna.

For the past two years I have proudly watched my son carry Toronto First’s banner at the opening parade of the Annual CUC conference. I have also been delighted to watch both of my children shed their shyness and interact freely and confidently with Unitarian children and adults from across Canada. Their passion for the friends they make, for the adventures they have, and for the experiences they share with others at these Conferences is contagious. 

Our family’s attachment started three years ago when I went to the Kelowna Conference on my own to deepen my personal connection to Unitarianism. The next year I took my family to Winnipeg and last year to Edmonton – and now my kids insist on going every year.

For Owen who is 8 and Laura who is 10 the Conference …..

  • Helps them to appreciate the diversity and size of this great country.
  • It illustrates that Unitarianism is a national movement, not just something that happens at Avenue Road & St. Clair.
  • And it gives them fresh opportunity to broaden their UU connections without any of the history in relationships that might exist here.

For my wife Janet and I the Conferences …

  • Help us better appreciate the democratic process and resources available that give shape to our Canadian Unitarian values.
  • They let us immerse ourselves in a diverse yet similar community with inspiring sessions – from Wendy Luella Perkin’s workshop on chanting to the thought provoking UU Minister’s lecture series.
  • And the conferences simply give us opportunity to have a coffee with a Unitarian from Vancouver, a beer with another from Montreal or Halifax, to share a meal, with wine, with someone from Ottawa, and so on. This often leads to a better appreciation of life at First – and always a better appreciation of Unitarianism in general!

But back to my children. Laura and Owen embrace the UU experience of the Conference in their own ways. Laura loves doing the crafts and exploring museums with other Unitarian children. Owen loves the games, stories, and freedom from home ties. The Children’s program is well organized, very safe, and conscientiously managed – it is not simply a video-watching kid-sitting service! The local leaders actually focus on the kids as their ministry to the Conference.

Who knows, in 5 or so years you may see me working with the CUC Board governing denominational policy, Janet engaged in a social action cause, and my kids flopping around with the Youth establishing their national network of friends and connections. Or maybe we’ll just keep attending to hang out with other UU’s. Either way, the Conference will help us better connect with this Canadian religious movement that matters.

I’m Cameron Linton, and my family is going to the CUC conference in Hamilton this May, to St John’s NB in May 2006, and wherever the CUC conference is going to be held in May 2007, 2008, 2009 and so on.

And we’d love to see you there!

Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country.  These words from John f. Kennedy in 1961 were directed at his own people but they still resonate with my wife Gwen and me, and I'm sure with many of you also.

It brought shivers of pride to me when I saw so many familiar faces from First Toronto Unitarian  Congregation assembled at a line of partly built 'habitat "homes., in a sea of frozen mud on a cold November Saturday morning in Malvern, a residential suburb out near the Toronto Zoo.   They were all there "to do something for their country" with no thought of reward for themselves, or so they thought.

Habitat for humanity was again swinging into action.  And this ragtag army of 35 half asleep shivering volunteers from all levels of Canadian life, some of whom didn't know what a spirit level or a crescent wrench or a wooden shim was, would, by the end of the day, have become experts in using these tools and installing double windows and frames into openings built by another gang of Canadian ragtags on the previous weekend.

It appeared an impossible task - beginning at a trailer where we rooted around in another sea of safety boots to find a pair that fitted.  (I heard of a woman who wore two left boots all day, thought they were a bit uncomfortable but were certainly warm and waterproof, and made her 4 centimetres taller)   some of us wore mismatched but functional work gloves all day and there was some hilarity as some women sought just the right colour safety helmet to, maybe, match their outfits.

But while it was mostly exhilarating and great fun, it was also a time for those dedicated folks to reflect, as they struggled to lift the frames into position and line them up with those spirit levels how this was also lifting up their own spirit levels to a new high.

At lunchtime I asked some of them how they felt about why they were there and what was the incentive.  The answers were wide ranging. e.g. 'I'm lucky to live in good housing myself, it's the least I can do to help someone less fortunate"   or  " wow, I’m so glad I came, I've had conversations with a member whom I never knew before that has made me a new friend"   and as Jack McFadden described it " this is a day of meaningful  labour, learning and fellowship - this is not a handout it's a hand up"

Almost all thought they would return again - some if only for the great sandwiches and coffee that Beth Ann McFadden and Gillian Burton and their team made here in the church kitchen and brought to the site.

At the end of the day many wrote their name on the inside of a cupboard wall, or elsewhere that might not be painted over.  I can see someone living there maybe 50 years from now looking at a name and wondering,  "who was David Tiffin or Kathy Thompson or Larry Wulff or Frauke Rubin or Nancy Krygsman or Helen Iacovino or some of the many other folks who have dedicated a few days of their life to keep alive the web of life that connects us all.   Their names may never be on a public monument but they will live on in these houses as a memorial to them, and a reminder to future generations of how they are standing on the shoulders of those who went before them.

So, was it worth it?  Yes, I guarantee that you will feel good about it for as long as you live.  Stan Yack and I and a few others were about 5'5" tall when we arrived but when we left we felt 6' tall.  We ranged in age from 18 years to myself at almost 83, but strangely I think we all felt the same young age as we worked.  So come out for the next build on Feb. 5th, and get rejuvenated.  This may be the best chance you will ever get to  " do something for your country" that will have a lasting effect beyond your own lifetime  - and to have "your country do something for you"  - i.e.  build pride in yourself.

Every Sunday here we affirm the UU principles of our religious faith; such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person - justice, equity and compassion in human relations.   On that Saturday and others to come we put those words into reality with dignified housing for the less fortunate, and, as we sing at collection time ," to build the common good - and make our own days glad."

But if you cannot take an active building part in this effort please be assured that your financial and moral support to it is equally important as is the working force. All of First Toronto Unitarian Congregation has pledged to be in it together and we can all look forward together to the grand opening of this home sometime in the fall.

The signup table is open upstairs, in Workman Hall., after this service.

Good Morning. My name is Ted Wood. I’m a member of Amnesty International Group 142.

This past Friday December 10th was International Human Rights Day. Today we celebrate the work of Amnesty International and mark International Human Rights Day by participating in the annual Amnesty Write for Rights.

When I think about why I joined Amnesty International, my thoughts go back to the 1950's and 60's. While there were a number of influences, two come quickly to mind. In public school in the Fifties I had an opportunity to learn French. I was fascinated by a language and way of thinking that was different from my own. It was my first understanding of the diversity in our world. When French Canadians in Quebec fought for the right to use French in their daily lives I was naturally drawn to their cause. When I recall the Sixties, I remember the struggle for civil rights in the United States. I couldn’t understand the discrimination against African Americans and I sympathized greatly with their struggle for equality. When the inner cities exploded in riots I went to see for myself what had happened there. While visiting relatives in Rochester, New York I walked through the riot torn area of the city. It was a quiet, peaceful day but the boarded-up buildings gave silent testimony to a world that was full of anger and hatred rooted in inequality.

The anger that was unleashed in those days of the civil rights movement is an anger that we see today in many parts of the world. Part of what led me to Amnesty and keeps me active is the belief that protection of human rights is a key to the preservation and promotion of freedom and justice and to the prevention of war. Would the Holocaust have happened if protection of human rights had been an important consideration in the 1930's? What would the Middle East be like today if the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis were a significant motivating factor for all parties to the dispute?

The selfless dedication of Amnesty members also motivates me and I will mention two who were members of this congregation. Jim Potts was a tireless supporter of Amnesty. Over the years he inspired me with his passion and dedication to human rights. When I visited him just before he passed away, we talked about Amnesty for much of the time. Jim’s enthusiasm for Amnesty was there to the end of his life. Any of you who knew Jim will not be surprised to hear that Jim did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. Ethel Batho was also a long time supporter of Amnesty. In her last years she was no longer able to write letters but she wanted so much to contribute. She found a way by sending us stamps so we could send letters on her behalf.

One thing I have come to realize over the years is that it is very difficult to change the world but we can make a start by changing ourselves. Part of Amnesty’s work involves writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The process involves sending one letter at a time, helping one prisoner at a time, defending one human rights defender at a time. With each letter we bring hope and the possibility of justice and freedom. The cutting edge for me is that I believe that each letter we write also changes ourselves and is thus one small step in changing the world. We will not always be successful in freeing a prisoner but as long as we are doing the work we are sowing the seeds for a better world.

Today is Amnesty Sunday. We will be writing letters on behalf of Father Pedro Ruquoy, a human rights defender in the Dominican Republic. We will be promoting human rights and changing ourselves and the world, one letter at a time.