Member Testimonies

A conversation between Cameron and the "Congregation"

My friend, you are not well – and it hurts me to see you like this. You know, friends help each other if one is down – and we have been close friends for over 14 years.

I’m fine, really – what are you talking about?

You know what I’m talking about. Don’t be resigned – that feeling is common with financial stress. Look – you cannot sustain your current lifestyle, your current standard of living.

Be careful what you say to me.

Yes, I know you are nearly 160 years old and have incredible experiences and accomplishments. But I’m talking about your living on the edge hoping the money challenges will resolve themselves. You have many friends who love you – so we are going to make sure you take care of yourself.

I have a destiny – built on a vision. Don’t change who I am. I beg you.

Look – it can lead to good things if you have an open mind. I want to help you – I NEED to help you get to this new outlook.

Things will turn around – did you see the spirit (and money) at the auction last night?

Oh I know my stomach was in knots at Agnes’ event last night. The community – the momentum – the dynamics of the bidding teams – the camaraderie – the children laughing – the spirit.

Was the canvass a success?

Yes, and Catherine’s energy worked wonders too, as did Art and everyone before.

How do you think I need to live?

Me? I think you need to cut your day-to-day costs.

But that would impact staff…they build the hope.

I know, as I said, I’m anxious and it hurts me to think about it. Take for instance:

  • Mark, he married Janet and me.
  • Donna, she has coached me through my Board and other activities.
  • Diane, she encouraged me through my story telling term and created a great community for my children.
  • Peter validated Unitarianism as a religion to my dad
  • Yes…and…

  • the others who manage the building and office, plus the programs, our CUC membership, this building and location
  • I won’t go.

    You are going to resist this change, aren’t you? It is not going to be easy to disrupt your delicate balance. But sometimes to understand who we are we must push ourselves beyond our limit and then deal with the realignment. Come back to the ‘B’ league if we’re not ready for ‘A’, so to speak.

    What’s next?

    Well, we’ve asked your close friends to meet here on the afternoon of November 30 after second service. We will explain the state you have gotten yourself into; let your friends speak about how you are a friend to them and how they think you should change; and we’ll outline the process to how we will decide what to change in February to spend $80K less in 2004.

    What about you // Can I help?

    As I said, I’m anxious about the pending changes; but I’m comfortable they will also create opportunity. I appreciate who I am, and who others around me are, because of you. Oh, yes, I have lots of plans once this is behind us.

    When will you speak with me again?

    We’ll talk again November 30. Till then, take care my friend.

    (being a conversation between Cameron and the "Congregation")
     

    My friend, you are not well – and it hurts me to see you like this. You know, friends help each other if one is down – and we have been close friends for over 14 years.

    I’m fine, really – what are you talking about?

    You know what I’m talking about. Don’t be resigned – that feeling is common with financial stress. Look – you cannot sustain your current lifestyle, your current standard of living.

    Be careful what you say to me.

    Yes, I know you are nearly 160 years old and have incredible experiences and accomplishments. But I’m talking about your living on the edge hoping the money challenges will resolve themselves. You have many friends who love you – so we are going to make sure you take care of yourself.

    I have a destiny – built on a vision. Don’t change who I am. I beg you.

    Look – it can lead to good things if you have an open mind. I want to help you – I NEED to help you get to this new outlook.

    Things will turn around – did you see the spirit (and money) at the auction last night?

    Oh I know my stomach was in knots at Agnes’ event last night. The community – the momentum – the dynamics of the bidding teams – the camaraderie – the children laughing – the spirit.

    Was the canvass a success?

    Yes, and Catherine’s energy worked wonders too, as did Art and everyone before.

    How do you think I need to live?

    Me? I think you need to cut your day-to-day costs.

    But that would impact staff…they build the hope.

    I know, as I said, I’m anxious and it hurts me to think about it. Take for instance:

  • Mark, he married Janet and me.
  • Donna, she has coached me through my Board and other activities.
  • Diane, she encouraged me through my story telling term and created a great community for my children.
  • Peter validated Unitarianism as a religion to my dad
  • Yes…and…

  • the others who manage the building and office, plus the programs, our CUC membership, this building and location
  • I won’t go.

    You are going to resist this change, aren’t you? It is not going to be easy to disrupt your delicate balance. But sometimes to understand who we are we must push ourselves beyond our limit and then deal with the realignment. Come back to the ‘B’ league if we’re not ready for ‘A’, so to speak.

    What’s next?

    Well, we’ve asked your close friends to meet here on the afternoon of November 30 after second service. We will explain the state you have gotten yourself into; let your friends speak about how you are a friend to them and how they think you should change; and we’ll outline the process to how we will decide what to change in February to spend $80K less in 2004.

    What about you // Can I help?

    As I said, I’m anxious about the pending changes; but I’m comfortable they will also create opportunity. I appreciate who I am, and who others around me are, because of you. Oh, yes, I have lots of plans once this is behind us.

    When will you speak with me again?

    We’ll talk again November 30. Till then, take care my friend.

    We Unitarians sometimes like to contrast our liberal faith with that of "traditional religions", emphasizing the modern, broad-minded, inclusive character of our own with the opposite characteristics of some others. Ours must be a creature of enlightened 20th century North America, wouldn’t you say? Well, your sceptical response is right, our liberal faith did not originate either in the 20th century or in North America.

    We are just the latest beneficiaries of centuries of liberal religious thought and engagement with the world. Modern liberal religion arose in Central Europe in the middle of the 16th century and put down its sturdiest roots in Hungarian-speaking Transylvania. In stark contrast with most of Europe at that time, Transylvania enjoyed a high degree of religious tolerance, at least among the four major faith traditions that were well established there, including Unitarianism. The high point of those early years came when Francis David, a priest who had converted to Unitarianism through his own study of the bible, succeeded in convincing King John Sigsmund, and the Diet (or parliament) meeting in the town of Torda, to issue an edict institutionalizing that official toleration. It provided that no citizen could be persecuted because of his or her religious beliefs. The year was 1568, and the Unitarian Michael Servetus had been burned at the stake in Geneva by John Calvin for expressing his beliefs only 15 years earlier.

    Now let’s segue to the late 20th century and the Partner Church Program. This program began as an effort by North American Unitarian Universalists to save Transylvanian villages from demolition by the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceau?escu. Once that danger had passed, North Americans realized how rewarding their interaction with the Transylvanians had been for participants on both sides of the Atlantic. So instead of folding up, the Partner Church Program expanded to include Hungary and several other countries. Our congregation "signed up" for the program in 1994, and we were paired with Budapest Second Unitarian Church, which is now renamed for Bela Bartok whose family were members.

    In recent years, we have brought two successive ministers of our partner church to Canada to get to know us. The first one, Jozsef Kaszoni, is now the minister of First Unitarian Church of Budapest, the cathedral church in Hungary. The second one, Csaba Razmany, has now become the Unitarian Bishop of Hungary, though he retains his position as senior minister of Bela Bartok Unitarian Church. Our Partner Church Group is now corresponding with the new assistant minister of Bela Bartok, Sandor Leta, who was brought in from Transylvania to take over the day-to-day ministerial work from Csaba. We had hoped to bring Sandor to Toronto this Spring, but his Romanian passport wouldn’t allow it.

    A number of our members including Ellen and myself have also visited our partners in Budapest. Last August following an international meeting in Budapest, the two of us spent a memorable afternoon with Sandor and his very charming young family, which reminded me that our Hungarian counterparts have a great deal to give us North Americans; our partner relationship is certainly not a one-way street. Our relationship challenges us to recognize our faith as the result of a long period of development, not as a New Age Johnny-come-lately on the religious scene. It also challenges us to apply our avowed principles of tolerance and appreciation for diversity to their more conservative theology and traditional institutional forms. And they have things to learn from us such as the way our ministers and congregations interact in a non-hierarchical way.

    We also toured parts of Transylvania after the meeting with a busload of (mostly) other Unitarians, led by the assistant to the Unitarian Bishop of Transylvania. Among other places we visited was the ancient Roman Catholic church in Torda from which the Edict was issued. The interior looked like it had hardly changed in 4½ centuries. How do I know? Because there is a famous painting depicting Francis David orating before King John and members of the Diet. The resulting Proclamation of Religious Freedom is so important in liberal religious history that this painting can be found hanging in every Unitarian church in Central Europe. In fact, Jozsef Kaszoni recently wondered aloud how there could be a Unitarian church without this painting on the wall. Well, we’re going to have to rectify that. Your Partner Church Group is proud to donate the Edict of Torda to the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto.

    Good Morning. I’m Ilene Cummings and I’m currently a Lay Chaplain for this congregation. Today we say thank you to Harriet Xanthakos and Ken MacKerracher who have completed their four-year terms as Lay Chaplains and officially welcome aboard our two new Lay Chaplains, Beverley Grace and Tracey Szarka who began their terms in October. As the one in the middle, having completed two years and with a further two years to go, I have been asked to give this morning’s testimony.

    I’ve been a member of this congregation a long time and have had the privilege of participating in many roles here. Over the years I’ve been a member of the Board, the chair of the Arts Committee, the Religious Education director, the chair of the Caring Committee, Sunday Worship leader, a member of the Pastoral Care committee plus a more than twenty-five year member of the choir. But I must say, I’m enjoying this experience as Chaplain as much or more than any of those other opportunities. (At least so it seems right now.) However, at the end of October, having had only one free weekend since June first, I was very relieved NOT to have any weddings scheduled in November!

    I performed my first wedding on April 28, 2001 and have now officiated at nearly fifty weddings. To be precise, next Saturday will be my forty-ninth wedding—my apologies in advance, I won’t be able to attend the Christmas potluck this year. Each wedding is a mini-adventure for the Lay Chaplain. There are of course, similarities between the ceremonies, but no wedding is identical to another. And there is a whole new cast of characters at each wedding. It’s a great privilege to enter into the lives of couples who are getting married and I feel I’ve gained as much as I’ve given in this role as Lay Chaplain. I am also proud of the Unitarian materials we offer for the ceremonies and the way we allow our couples to take an active part in the planning of their ceremony.

    People ask me what’s the most memorable wedding I’ve done and I can mention the one on-board a sailing yacht last summer or the Unitarian-Hindu ceremony done right here at First Unitarian the previous summer—but of course, the most memorable wedding for me personally was the opportunity to perform our son Chris’s wedding to Pat Joyes on August 3rd this year . I certainly never expected that would be one of the blessings of the job when I applied for the position in spring 2000. But what a privilege!

    In addition to weddings, Lay Chaplains are also called upon to do memorial services and child dedications from time to time. I have done seven memorial services and four child dedications. When I mention memorial services, people always say, that must be so hard and yes it is hard but not only in the ways you might immediately imagine. It is unsettling to be called upon to do a memorial service as they often come up quickly and you have to be willing to cancel planned events and fit them into your schedule somehow. But it can be very satisfying too when you find the right readings for the service and put together a eulogy for the deceased—this feeling of helping people through a difficult time. At home I practice and practice saying the words until I can say them without getting all choked up—memorial services are emotional even when you didn’t personally know the person who died. By the time of the service you’ve had long talks with family and friends of the deceased and you almost feel you did know the person.

    There are of course some disadvantages to being a Lay Chaplain. The major one is that you can’t take long summer vacations because every weekend you have weddings. The wedding season lasts from June through September and May and October can also be busy. Fortunately the rest of the year is not nearly as busy so the three of us can spell each other off. In February John and I are heading to Cuba for two weeks and I’m really looking forward to that.

    I’d just like to add a word of thanks to Harriet and Ken for all their help when I was first starting out. It’s been a pleasure to be chaplain colleagues. And welcome, Beverley and Tracey. I hope you find Lay Chaplaincy as much fun as I do. And I’m sure Harriet, Ken, Beverley and Tracey all join me in thanking all of you for allowing us the privilege of acting as Lay Chaplains on your behalf.

    Thank you.

    What drew me to Leadership and the Board.

    A year ago I said that the timing was right in my personal and spiritual growth path to engage in a leadership role with the Board of our Congregation. I wanted to contribute to a community-oriented, nonprofessional organization that respected the concept of a vision; that was caring; and had unlimited potential for growth. In exchange for the opportunity to serve in this role I offered my community and professional experience and my willingness to embrace the work at hand.

    My vision was that I could strengthen the Congregation’s governance; orient the Congregation’s capabilities to help build the unfolding national community; and yes, just help keep the place running.

    Being sensorial I prefer to grow through experience, not through study. Of the many Small Groups that I could have joined I thought the Board would best enable me to embody the principles of this organization. The Board may not be a quiet, contemplative, meditation group. But it is a Small Group with its own rituals, exploration of meaning, and interface to the rest of the congregation.

    So, where am I in my growth?

    After the first item of the first Board meeting I chaired – I barely survived a non-confidence vote. By my third meeting I couldn’t construct an agenda with relevant content. Then I heard that voice that told me I was missing an opportunity and needed to redirect my energy. Of course, the voice was Donna’s and the message was to engage the Board in the shared responsibility of owning the future and mobilizing around a vision. So at that meeting we established a small vision. Interesting for me, the team’s vision did not match mine of a year ago. Instead of governance, national identity and survival we had intimacy, local identity and celebration.

    Through my Board experience I have experienced how leadership goes beyond management, beyond the governance process that enables management, and beyond the establishment of a vision. It is not found in dealing with administrative details, not in lobbying for volunteers to do initiatives, and certainly not in waiting for guidance. And the test for success? Does this organization support your individual ministry and service for a common good?

    My name is Art Brewer and I’m a member of this congregation. I’m also Project Manager for our Growth Project, so I extend a special welcome to our visitors today. At 1st Unitarian, we have set a goal to attain a net increase in our membership of 27 adults this year. 25 have already joined, and another 21 will join next week, so we’ll easily meet our target.

    Why do we want to grow? Most of us feel we have found something quite unique in our Unitarian Universalist faith and we believe it’s worth sharing. That’s challenging for us, because we don’t proselytize or evangelize. Let me just say: this religion is not like others. So, if you’re visiting today, and have been suspicious of – or perhaps even "burned by" - organized religion, I congratulate you on your attendance today, and encourage you to come back a few times to see just how different we are.

    The sign outside our entrance says "WARNING: Entering here may seriously change your life." In her sermon last week, Laura Friedman, our Intern Minister asked "How many Unitarians does it take to change a life?" In my case, the answer is about 400. I joined this congregation in 1993, and that’s how many members we had then. As I came to know the people here, I realized that –unlike most religious communities- this is a safe place for a gay man.

    So, in 1997, I came out to the congregation in a testimony like the one I’m delivering right now. I was 53, and had spent 40 years living a very single, solitary life in the closet. This was a life changing event. Well, not really an event. Coming out is a never-ending process because our heterosexist society leads most of us to assume that people we meet are "straight." I have more friends now -of all sexual and affectional orientations and gender identities - than ever before, and I consider these to be the best years of my life. Here, my sexuality is acknowledged and affirmed when appropriate. The only closets we need at 1st Unitarian are the ones in which people hang their clothes. But my sexuality is also ignored when appropriate. This is exactly as it should be. My sexuality is only a part of who I am, and a faith community like ours reaches the zenith of its potential when it cradles its members in their hurt, welcomes them in their diversity, and facilitates their opportunities to change the world.

    In 1998, this congregation voted unanimously to become a Welcoming Congregation (capital W, capital C). A Welcoming Congregation is one which has completed a program and publicly affirms that it welcomes the membership and active participation of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and/or transgender people.

    With this as the backdrop, Laura’s question ("How many Unitarians does it take to change a life?") for me, morphed into "How many lives can this Unitarian change?" I have become a Welcoming Congregation activist. While two-thirds of Canada’s Unitarians belong to officially certified Welcoming Congregations, many have still not done the program. During the past year, I have delivered a Sunday service speech (call it a sermon if you wish) on this program to six Unitarian congregations in Ontario. On half of those occasions, members came out to their congregations right after the service. I believe I helped change some lives. Next week, I’ll lead a workshop on the Welcoming Congregation program at one of our Vancouver congregations. Yesterday, I was asked if I would be interested in addressing the Albany, New York Unitarian Universalist society.

    One of my other passions is service to this congregation. Because of all it gives to me, I am happy to contribute my time, talent, energy and money. There are many rewarding opportunities. This year, I am serving as leader of our All-Member Canvass, the campaign to receive pledges of financial contributions from members and friends for our 2003 operating budget. It costs about half a million dollars a year to keep this community operating.

    This is the first time in fifteen years that we have run our annual pledge campaign as an All-Member Canvass. How does it work? Every member becomes an active participant in the process. In small, informal, face-to-face meetings, we discuss the role of this congregation in our lives, and the valuable work we carry out in the larger community. These discussions help us to develop a renewed understanding of our individual and collective missions - "who" and "why" we are in the world. There is a very real link between our mission and our money, or at least there should be. We hope that this year’s canvass approach will help people determine a pledge that reflects their mission and how they honour it through membership in this community.

    As leader of the Canvass this year, I’ve carefully considered my approach to charitable donations. I’ve thought about what 1st Unitarian has done for me. I’ve thought about how wealthy I am compared to so many in the world. I’ve thought about my giving potential. I’ve thought about all the good work carried out by people in this and other Unitarian congregations...from Out-of-the Cold volunteer work in Toronto, to social justice issues in Canada, to helping build schools, women’s shelters and housing in Central America. I’ve even looked at old income tax returns and realized that my approach to giving in the past has been ad hoc and reactive. From now on, it will be proactive. Starting this year, I’ll pledge 3% of my before tax income to Toronto 1st. I’ll give additional amounts to the Canadian Unitarian Council and other charitable organizations on a planned basis. 3% seems like such a tiny portion of my income for an institution that is so important to me, so I’m considering increasing that percentage in future. If everyone gave 3%, we’d easily cover our operating budget. If you’re a member or friend of this congregation, please consider pledging 3% of your before tax income. If you’re a visitor, allow me to put this testimony in perspective. We don’t talk about this stuff every Sunday! Our annual pledge campaign is only held once a year. You just happened to visit when we’re doing it. And if 3% seems like a lot, consider that an average wage earner in Canada would spend as much on a couple of cups of coffee each day.

    More than one hundred members are actively working on the canvass now, and we’re planning to finish the project by October 31st. To all who have participated to date, I say "thank you!"

    There are still several openings for Canvassers. It’s a short term volunteer opportunity that requires only a few hours in the coming weeks, and provides an occasion to spend some time with another member whose company you enjoy, or to get to know one of our newer members. We’re not asking you to ask others for money. I know many feel uncomfortable doing that. We’re asking you to share your stories about your relationships with Toronto 1st. If this seems like something you’d be willing to contribute to this community, please see me after the service.

    My name is Pat Skippon; I have been a Unitarian Universalist for many years, since the day I walked into the UU Community Church in Santa Monica, California. There I found my spiritual home, and I have never looked back. After I returned to Toronto, First Unitarian Congregation became that home for me, and for most of the intervening years. I have always been an active member here, serving on committees, leading workshops and, my great love, singing in the choir.

    All this changed four years ago when, after a period of unusual fatigue, I underwent medical tests, and was diagnosed with a form of bone marrow cancer called Myelodysplasia. It is thought to be caused by environmental factors.

    This was devastating news to me, and to my partner, Jeannelle. Our information from the Internet was frightening. Some patients die within months. We eventually found out that my category of the disease was given 2 to 5 years, and we set about learning to live with that diagnosis. It has changed our lives dramatically. Because of fatigue I have had to give up evening activities, including, to my sorrow, the choir. Traveling has become increasingly difficult requiring finally, wheelchairs and other supports .

    For three years little changed except that my hemoglobin was very slowly dropping, until last February when I needed a blood transfusion. I have had four so far, and I am now dependent on transfusions about every 8 weeks.

    Although my quality of life has diminished somewhat, my zest for life has not. I exercise, read, paint and continue some morning activities here at the church. All this is possible because of the help of my partner, Jeannelle, and my extended family.

    I have been blessed by the support of this religious community. Mark and Donna are available whenever I need to talk. Shortly after my diagnosis, two women from Interweave visited, bringing a long list of tasks the group was prepared to help with. We haven’t needed the help as yet, but were deeply touched by the offer. And I always find someone here willing to listen when I feel down, and to cheer me on when things look better.

    I was going to talk about facing my death, but right now I can think only of my sister, who is slowly and peacefully dying in palliative care. My fear and grief for her are mixed with feelings about my own death. Since I have no belief in an afterlife, I am thankful to be here and sustained in this place as I continue on my journey.

    Good morning. . My name is Margaret Joyce and I am here this morning to share with you my second anniversary as a Unitarian and a member of First. One year ago I stood here and shared my first anniversary with you. I promise not to make a habit of this, but this past year has been for me a year of choices and having to make decisions. I felt the need to share my experience of decision making with someone else. Perhaps there may be others among you who have faced a problem similar to mine.

    The year 2001 was a year of change in the whole Church community. As you are aware, at the annual meeting of the Canadian Unitarian Council in May delegates voted to transfer the delivery of most services from the U.S. based Association to the CUC., an historic decision. Here in our own congregation at the annual meeting in June, the majority approved the publishing of banns for same-sex marriages. Another decision.. As the year progressed we were asked to explore the roots of our faith and to decide whether we were theists, humanists, mystics or naturalists. Decisions again.

    While I had no problem with most of these choices, one in particular gave me cause for concern. I simply could not approve the conclusion regarding the publishing of banns. What was I to do? Was I to accept the majority decision or was I to leave the church because I disapproved of one of its policies? First Unitarian had become my spiritual home. Could I give it up? Could I give up the fellowship and inspiration of the Sunday morning services that sustained me, not just for the day but all week? Could I give up Daytimers and my friends there? Who would take my place on my monthly Sunday of duty at the Welcome Table?

    My dilemma refused to go away. I found that not only was I unable to decide what to do, I became aware of feelings of anger and resentment at the source of my unhappiness. Finally, after much soul searching and some loss of sleep I took my problem to Mark.

    In his wisdom he did not advise me what to do. He realized that the decision had to be mine. He did however help me by pointing out that Unitarian Universalism is a democracy. Decisions are made by the will of the majority. Unitarians are known for their tendency to discuss and debate issue. Even on the Internet arguments have been know to flourish between the theists, humanists and mystics. Rarely is there 100% agreement on any issue.

    Our discussion gave me much food for thought. I remembered back to the dim distant past of my school days and my struggles with math. Somewhere, I think it had to do with geometry and angles, was a theory that stated that the whole is the sum of its parts. Transferring that theory to my situation the whole is the church community; its parts are its members, policies, beliefs and traditions. On the back of the Order of Service we read that we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, acceptance of one another and the right of conscience. These covenants too are some of the parts that make up the whole.

    I have come to think of the church as a family. In a good family you accept and love all of its members, even those whose views differ from yours. Thinking this way made me realize how insignificant my problem was in the whole picture. I did not have to give up my "safe haven in a hectic world" just because I disagreed with one of its parts.

    As you see I am still here. I did not leave. Next week I will celebrate my birthday, a significant one this year because it will bring me closer to 90 than I am to 80. I look forward to spending my remaining years within the circle of this warm caring community of Toronto First, my spiritual home.

    My name is Ellen Campbell and I am an institutional junkie.  I come by it naturally; my mother, at 91, is currently serving what must be at least her fifth, and possibly tenth, term on her local church board.

    You’d have thought, after 24 years as an executive at two different charitable organizations, the YWCA and the Canadian Unitarian Council, I’d be ready for some other type of activity—needlework, perhaps, or learning Sanskrit, or playing bridge.  And it’s true that for the first year of my retirement I didn’t do much besides read, clean out drawers, and nag Doug about the stacks of papers on every available surface in our apartment.  But here I am now, on two boards and a committee, doing much the same kind of work as a volunteer that I did so long for pay.

    What is it that draws some of us, like moths to a flame, to activity that many people think is as appealing as a root canal?

    Is it the three day meetings, the business broken up by meals and coffee breaks during which we often talk about the same things we’ve been dealing with formally in the meetings?

    Is it the reams of paper we get in the mail to read, which usually end up in one of those stacks?

    Is it the opportunity to function by arcane rules of order, develop complex "mandates" and strategic plans?

    Well, yes and no.  Some of my closest friendships have developed as I worked with people to build strong organizations—at those long board meetings.  Those piles of paper document significant and meaningful work.  And those arcane rules and mandates and plans provide orderly ways for people to make decisions and to have impact on the community around them.

    But what it comes down to is that I really love to work as part of an organization that is doing worthwhile work.  Working with others to dream dreams and then find ways of making them real, seeing change—often slow, but perceptible—drawing new people in and re-involving people from the past—these are the kind of things that make me feel that life is worth living.

    Will I still be an institutional junkie at 91?  Who knows?  But I’m not ready to quit cold turkey now—or for a long time to come.

    [can of diet coke/bottle of Happy Planet’s Extreme Green juice on the pulpit]

    May seem that this "show and tell" is an odd way to start a testimony, but for me, this Diet Coke and this Extreme Green represent my foray into "wild space".

    It all started when I gave up my job in corporate communications to work at Evergreen, a non-profit dedicated to bringing nature back to our cities. It was quite a switch from communications in the financial services industry. When I made the move, my agency friends thought it was a great fit because I was so "earthy". The Evergreen circle thought I was really corporate.

    It was a harmless exchange – a colleague and I were taking a moment’s break, and I asked with disdain what he was drinking and so he read me the ingredients that were going to fuel his body. … fresh-pressed apple juice, banana, passion fruit and plum puree, lemon juice, spirulina, lecithin, alfalfa, kelp, barley and stinging nettle - all organic of course). And then the inevitable, I’ve shown you mine… now you show me yours… What’s in that he asked? … carbonated water, caramel colour, phosphoric and citric acid, aspartame, flavours, sodium benzoate, caffeine, acesulfame-potassium.

    All I can say is "garbage in, garbage out". It was an addiction, but a mild one, and over the course of the next couple of months, I kicked the habit.

    It didn’t seem like much at the time, but looking back, I see it as a moment of truth. Since that time, I have moved further and further into this "wild space" and away from conventional society.

    Three years ago, my food and most of the rest of my life revolved around convenience. My job was all- consuming, and my diet consisted of take-out or frozen food. Diet Coke was the caffeine hit that I needed to keep up with the frenetic pace. I didn’t give much thought to what lay behind my food choices or the impact they had on my health and the environment.

    Like most people, much of my food consumption was influenced by advertising. Think about this: In the U.S., Kellogg’s spends 40 million dollars annually to promote Frosted Flakes. And that’s U.S. dollars! McDonalds spends 800 million dollars annually to promote its products. And in contrast, the U.S. National Cancer Institute spends a mere million dollars promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables. And I’ll bet these advertising spends don’t include Olympic-year coverage!

    Those statistics, and lots of other ones, come from a book that has had a huge impact on me. It’s called "The Food Revolution" by John Robbins, of the Baskin and Robbins clan, who gave up the family fortune to become a vegetarian activist. He writes about the health benefits and the positive environmental effects of a plant-based diet.

    The book is meticulous in its detail and shocking in its revelations. It’s greatest strength comes from the contrasting claims by lobby groups, such as the U.S. Cattleman’s association, who gain from maintaining the status quo, and respected environmental and health organizations, working outside the mainstream, to save our fragile world.

    If my encounter with "extreme green" caught my attention, it was this book that stopped me in my tracks. I developed a more critical eye of conventional society and what we are marketed to believe. It made towing the party line no longer possible. It was wild space all right.

    So, being a vegetarian for the last several months has made me more conscious about what I eat and the products I buy. I enrolled in an amazing vegetarian cooking class, and earlier this year I joined a natural food co-op. Just like First, it is a community of people supporting each other in their own, deliberate choices. Some are vegans, some vegetarians, while others eat meat from grain- fed animals - but each member is making conscious choices. Members work two hours a month in return for a great selection of organic produce, cheap prices, environmentally friendly packaging and a sense of cooperation.

    I have found in both places that the mix of people and their ideas stimulate and help me to keep on track. They support me in my journey and give me confidence that I am not alone in the search for a better, more intentional way to live.

    And things change. As individuals and societies learn and grow, it is clusters of wild spaces and their momentum that move conventional society. A few years ago, organic produce was perceived as a tiny niche, a luxury items for hard-core tree huggers. It would have been inconceivable that organic fruits and vegetables would one day line the aisles of Loblaws. Acceptable norms are pushed as people develop a heightened awareness of the interconnected web of existence.

    In community, my boundaries are continually kept in check. To close, I’d like to quote a short excerpt from the co-op’s newsletter that describes a line of personal care products they carry. When I read it, I knew I had taken my next step into the wild….

    "Ah, but they’re expensive, right? Well, yes, they are. But only because we’ve become accustomed to the idea that personal care products (and food) cost what the multi-national companies say they cost. They don’t - they cost more. Buying products from companies such as Aubrey – which pays its suppliers fair-market value for plant-sourced goods, hand-crafts each batch, and uses quality ingredients – means paying more than you’d pay a multi-national conglomerate that uses the cheapest possible ingredients and mixes them up in factories with enough chemicals for them to sit on the shelf for a decade or two. Which would you rather smooth all over you skin?"

    Good morning. My name is Margaret Vandenbroucke. I’ve been a member of this congregation for 18 years and I’m currently serving on the Board of Trustees.

    I first encountered Leonard at the greeters’ table several years ago. I have to admit that he was a fearsome looking character with his long tangled hair, lurching gait and features that reminded me of an aboriginal mask. Leonard was a regular in Out of the Cold and though usually inebriated, he never became violent with others, at least in my experience. In the interests of a peaceful environment, I would tentatively approach him, say a few words to show my concern and listen. I seemed to have, or liked to think I had, a small calming effect on him. A couple of times when he was sober he told me about his home on Manitoulin Island, and about his brother, the carpenter who lived there. I discovered an intelligent and very sensitive person and realized I felt drawn to him. One time seeing him weaving along Bloor Street, I stopped to talk and heard that a friend, also living on the streets, had just died. He was obviously in more than usual pain and I expressed my genuinely felt sympathy. At the end of that season I overheard Leonard say that he didn’t expect he would make it through another summer. Sure enough the next November he didn’t reappear. For a long time I was afraid to ask his pal, Carl, about Leonard, fearing the worst. Finally this fall I summoned the courage and learned that he had returned to Manitoulin, had some work and was mostly not drinking. I can’t tell you the huge relief and even joy I felt in that moment. I realized that I truly cared what happened to Leonard and that a real, if mysterious, bond of empathy had developed between us despite the striking differences in our lives.

    Looking back on my early life I can see that the desire to help those in need was there from the beginning. I remember wanting to reach out to John Henhawke, child of the only native family in town who came to school in shabby clothes and was consistently ignored by both students and teachers. But my natural reserve held me back. In my late teens summer jobs with the Children’s Aid Society gave expression to this urge to be of service. It was also a revelation to me, a child of relative affluence, of the hidden poverty that existed right under my nose.

    Nurture also played a major role. My father, a small town lawyer, was a leader in community service organizations and in his church. He also practised legal aid long before it existed as public policy in Ontario. His sense of responsibility for community, respect for the law, and the fairness and concern shown in his dealings with everyone, were strong influences on me. These values also fuelled my growing anger at social inequities and injustices and at the conditions that perpetuated them. The ethical position I arrived at in early adulthood and which has only strengthened over time is, simply put, that it is a scandal that some live in poverty without the basic necessities of life while others live in luxury. It is a position rooted both in feelings of empathy and compassion and in reflection on my experiences and observations.

    Out of the Cold has always meant for me not only an opportunity to be of service and to connect personally with people in need but also an expression of social conscience. While Out of the Cold provides some temporary relief for the homeless and near homeless, it in no way replaces the need for a permanent, decent place to call home. I needed to work on solutions, my analytical tendencies coming to the fore. And so I have learned about the many pieces of the homelessness crisis, I attend meetings of advocacy groups and City councillors, and contact politicians in the attempt to be an advocate for measures that would begin to solve this deplorable situation.

    In the end I think we all do what we do because we derive satisfaction, self-fulfilment and a sense of purpose from these actions, though we may never fully understand what produces them. What keeps me going and gives me hope? I am under no illusions that my limited efforts and abilities will on their own make much of an impact on the big picture. But I do believe that working collectively with others motivated by the same goals can and does have a positive impact on individual lives and even on public policy. Though it has been a long time in coming, a national affordable housing program, without which little progress on homelessness can be made, is on the horizon. On the individual level there are sometimes victories which help to make it all worthwhile as when Out of the Cold guests find work or housing. As when Leonard somehow managed to get control over his demons and to find his way back home.

    On September 11th, the world was rocked by monstrous acts of violence against thousands of unsuspecting, innocent people, carried out by a handful of demented, suicidal zealots whose motives are still a mystery.

    The United States, backed by Britain and other members of NATO, mobilized for war.

    At Pearson International Airport, a security guard, who challenges an armed man dressed as a cop, is arrested, while in the airport in Charlottetown, that hot-bed of international terrorism, a 71-year-old war veteran is jailed for uttering the B word.

    Emergency services in Toronto are swamped by calls from panic-stricken citizens who are terrified by the thought that the white powder they may have contacted might be anthrax spores.

    The newspapers editorialize about the need to suspend civil liberties in order to protect our freedom.

    A medical colleague of mine, an American citizen, is strip-searched at Logan Airport—because he is East Indian.

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.

    William Bulter Yeats

    I am Joe Clarke. I have been a Unitarian-Universalist for over 35 years, and a member of many UU congregations in Canada and the U.S. I was drawn to the movement in Edmonton in the early 1960s by the uncompromising stand it took on issues of social justice and the central role many of its members played in the massive social revolution that overtook the western world in that decade. The death of James Reeb, a Unitarian minister murdered in the course of the Selma marches of 1965, had a profound effect on me. I joined the church.

    In the tireless and often dangerous defense of freedom and fairness, and service to the human community, ours is a strong tradition. The UU hagiography includes:

    Joseph Priestley, scientist, social activist

    Florence Nightingale, social activist

    Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

    Henry David Thoreau, social activist

    Clara Barton, social activist

    Dorothea Dix, social activist

    Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate scientist, social activist

    Joseph Workman, Canadian physician, social activist

    Emily Stowe, Canadian physician, social activist

    Nellie McClung, Canadian lawyer, social activist

    Douglas Fisher, Canadian politician, social activist

    Brock Chisholm, Canadian physician, first Director General of the WHO

    Michael Servetus, martyr

    "But what can I do?" we ask. I am no Jefferson or Pauling. And I am not really up to martyrdom.

    The seven UU principles, do not speak of martyrdom. What they do embrace is a set of guidelines for the way we live our lives, which includes the recognition that we are social beings, an integral part of the human community. We are, as Francis Bacon said, "…citizens of the world..no island cut off from other lands, but a continent that joins to them." Or as John Donne reminded us, "…any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…". At the most basic level, it seems to me, that to live our principles, aggressively and consistently, is the most important way for us to deal with the anarchy that has been loosed upon our world. It follows that whatever works we do, at whatever level, in whatever context, will serve, by example, to make ours a better world.

    The enemy is not the Taliban—it is the panic, sense of helplessness, directionlessness, paranoia, and abandonment of reason, that has gripped the nation. Unitarians have historically played a role far beyond their numbers in the defense of freedom, justice and democracy. Florence Nightingale, Joseph Workman, Brock Chisholm—they were just 'doing their jobs'. And who would have guessed that thousands of ordinary individuals, impelled by nothing more noble or complex than a drive to do right, and armed only with pen and paper, could, working with the guidance of Amnesty International, more entire nations?

    As Margaret Mead said:

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. indeed it's the only thing that ever has.

    Margaret Mead

    Community has many dimensions. At one level, it is a transcendental phenomenon that is more easily experienced than described. It is a feeling of group, laden with paradox—sincere and warm respect for individuality, coupled with a profound sense of the whole being somehow greater than the sum of the parts.

    At another, more prosaic level, the gathering of people together here at 175 St. Clair West would probably not occur at all without the institution of First—the building, and the efforts of the ministers, the staff, and countless volunteers.

    Now here comes the pitch. Today marks the official launching of the 2002 canvass, to raise enough money, through pledges of financial support, to support the institution that provides the place and the environment for our community to blossom and thrive. Financial support is to the institution of First like food is to the body—essential for life. It does not guarantee community, especially that transcendental sense of community that makes First our home. But without it, the congregation would surely be doomed.

    Please read over the pledge package material carefully and reflect on how many ways your donation helps to nourish and sustain the sense of community at Toronto First.