Testimony of Diane Wagner, June 19, 2005
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.
Testimony of Helen Iacovino, June 5, 2005
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.
Testimony of Sandor Leta, May 15, 2005
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)
Testimony of Beate Ziegert, April 17, 2005
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.
Testimony of Shirley Grant, March 20, 2005
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.
Testimony of Cameron Linton, March 13 2005
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!
Testimony of Larry Wulff, January 23, 2005
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.
Testimony of Ted Wood, December 12, 2004
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.
Testimony Of Diane Bosman, December 5, 2004
What brought you here? What keeps you here? What is still unresolved, your growing edge? These questions guide a testimony. Good morning. My name is Diane Bosman, and for the past six years and change I have been your Director of Lifespan Religious Education. I came to this congregation a Unitarian of many years, a questioner for my whole life, and an educator in some of the more untraditional senses. In an incredible act of faith you have bestowed on me your trust and your support as I worked with you to shape a vision and system of lifespan religious education in this community- a system that could inspire each of us at each age and stage of our life to explore, to grow, to deepen our lives.
It has been an incredible experience to do this work. Being your Director of Lifespan Religious Education has brought together for me much of what is most precious in my heart: my values, my faith, my love and yearning for community, my relationship with Paul, my own gifts and strengths and opportunity to make a difference in the world. That has been the great joy of doing this work.
What’s my growing edge? What is still unresolved for me? Ironically, this is the same as what has been my joy here. The struggle as well as the joy of this work is in that it has brought together what is most precious in my heart. My process of coming to the decision to move on has been one of disentanglement. I have had to ask myself where does this one position end and the overarching profession of Religious Education begin? Where does my responsibility to you end, and our genuine friendship begin? Where does my work end and my faith begin? And the most critical question that I have needed to ask myself is where does the role of DLRE - that I have become so accustomed to - end and Diane Bosman begin?
That is my growing edge. These are the questions that I will be exploring next in my life; giving – for a time – separate attention to these strands of my life. I will explore my own faith by attending worship services again, although for a time, I will need to do that in another community, so well all have space for new beginnings. I will explore my career and profession, by committing to new work and new organizations. And I am curious to discover whether I may yet find myself returning to the call of Religious Education. And I will explore my relationships with you by, in time, discovering what holds us together beyond these roles that we have grown accustomed to, discovering if, for us too, there may be a new beginning. Through it all, I will be learning more about myself and where my path leads, because the road always leads onward.
I leave here, with excitement, fear, trepidation, but also with trust. Trust that in my time as your director, you have taught me well. I am equipped with your wisdom, your stories, and your affection. I am proud of all that we have accomplished together. I also have trust that you will continue well in your journey. I hope that I have helped equip you with some wisdom and stories and my very genuine affection as well. Soon, a new companion will join you on this journey: the interim director of lifespan religious education. Her name is Renate. I have gotten to know her over this past week; I have gotten to know you over these past years, and with great confidence I can place you in each other’s care, knowing that great things will come of this new relationship.
For all that come within this community are touched and changed by it. You have done that for me; and for that I thank you with the deepest gratitude.
Testimony of Stan Yack, November 14, 2004
But it turned out that our temporary host's Christian symbols didn't change the spirit of our Unitarian services, so I hung in and a year later I marched back behind John Kiley's bagpipes. In our transformed home, I cherished architect Murray Ross's elegant, functional design, and artist Sarah Hall's breathtaking stained glass tower.
I have only a vague memory of the first sermons I heard here. But over the years I've learned about a religion without irrational creeds, where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, and where no privileged oligarchy rules by right of some mythical divinity. I very much value what I've learned from Mark & Donna, and from our guest speakers and teachers.
I've volunteered here in many supporting roles: painting, cleaning, typing, bartending, organizing ... and last year I was drafted to serve on the Board of Trustees.
Even before becoming a designated leader of this congregation I have occasionally incited people to action, but usually my contributions have been technical ones, facilitating and amplifying the effectiveness of others whose actions I've joined.
Witnessing the examples of others at First, eight years ago I volunteered at Out of the Cold, the Toronto housing project connected to our Food & Shelter Committee. Out of the Cold provides meals and warm beds for some of Toronto's homeless. At a midtown church, volunteers from six or so faith communities including our own prepare food, register guests, serve dinner, distribute clothing, ... I started there doing kitchen cleanup once every other month. Lately I've been a weekly regular, the "shift supervisor" for dining room setup.
Our complex world presents us with many moral conundrums where the proper course of action is unclear; but I have no doubt that working at Out of the Cold is the right thing to do. And that work is empowering, because no one can stop those of us who feel called to do it. I've recently discovered a new book, titled "The Impossible Will Take a Little While". That inspiring and uplifting "citizen's guide to hope in a time of fear" contains stories by and about activists who didn't give up their struggle, even when hard reason would dismiss any hope. Many of them are famous, like Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King. But some are unfamiliar, or even anonymous, like the persons unknown who involved Raymond Parks in the NAACP, who in turn activated his wife Rosa, who years later refused to give up her seat and move to the back of bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
The collector of those stories, Paul Rogat Loeb, says that what the activists have in common is that though they realize that their goals might not be met in their lifetimes, they feel that "living with conviction is of value in itself ... simply keeping the flame alive is a victory"
It may seem pretentious of me to compare my setting up tables and washing dishes at Out of the Cold to sleeping for 28 years on the concrete floor of a cell on Robben Island, or risking the wrath of Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South . but not unlike resistors in prison, and protestors in Alabama, we volunteers at Out of the Cold are keeping a flame alive.
It has been a joy for me to meet other volunteers and staff there. Many have distinctly non-secular views about the place of humanity in the Cosmos, very unlike my own views; but we all share a commitment to try to leave the world a better place. In a couple of weeks I will be participating in another direct-action project: on Saturday, November 27th I will be helping to finish the interior of a Habitat for Humanity home. Last month many of you responded enthusiastically to an energizing talk by the local CEO of Habitat, which has changed for the better the lives of over a million people. Many of you will be joining me to hammer nails, paint walls, feed volunteers, ... There will be fulfillment in working together with others to do good work.
There are so many worthwhile causes, injustices are so well established, and progress is always so slow, that it is easy to despair of effecting change. But taking action brings relief from such discouraging feelings. By "not refusing to do the something I can do", perhaps my own world line will nudge that of some 21st century Rosa Parks.
As the activist and author Howard Zinn tells us in Loeb's collection of stories: "life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world."
Testimony of Ted Wood, August 22, 2004
I have been a spiritual seeker of sorts for most of my life. What originally drew me to this congregation 15 years ago was hearing that we teach our children about all the religions of the world. That sounded like the church for me, a place that is open to many sources of inspiration. We teach our children to think for themselves and to find answers about the meaning of life and the mystery of creation from their own experience and inspiration. We love our children and we support them by nurturing them and hopefully providing them with the tools they will need to live fulfilling lives.
In order to nurture our children we put our energy into providing for them. Our physical, emotional and mental energies and our money. And what is money but just another form of energy. Jacob Needleman in his book "Money and the Meaning of Life", talks about money as potential energy. It represents the energies we put into our work to earn it. Money is full of potential as it also represents what we will create when we spend it.
I came to this congregation looking for a spiritual home, a community, a sense of belonging. At the time I was going through a crisis of sorts, having recently lost a friend who had died suddenly. His death shook my foundations. It seemed such a waste and I found myself looking for meaning and reconnection to life. When I discovered this place that was open to the wisdom of all traditions, that sounded like a place I would like to be. It was then and it continues to be today. In the past 15 years I have learned to build my own religion, a religion that has meaning for me. It is an ongoing process as I find that I continually need to renew my place in this mysterious creation in which we live. This is what we teach our children and also what we teach and support in each other.
Many years before I became a member of this congregation I learned that life is a choice. Over the years I have also discovered that what we choose to do needs to be done with love. It is through love that our spirits grow. It is also through service given with love that we make a difference in the lives of others.
For me, money is just another form of energy which we put to service. What we do with our money is our choice but a very important choice. We provide food and shelter for our children, our families and ourselves. We provide for others who are in need. By supporting this congregation, we provide nourishment to our spirits: the spirits of our children and the spirits of each other. These are all possible choices for how we spend our money. The key for me is to look at money the same way I look at my other energies and to give the best I am able with love and generosity of spirit without asking for anything in return.
The money we have is full of great potential. In the same way as I aspire to live my life with meaning and a sense of spiritual purpose, I also aspire to put my money toward that same meaning and purpose. For me, our financial crisis is a spiritual crisis and the solution will be a spiritual solution. A solution which inspires us to live fulfilling, meaningful lives in service and with love.