Testimony of Mary Ellen Warren, April 18, 2004
Have you noticed the print hanging in the vestibule inside the front door at First? It is a reproduction of the “founding’ of the Unitarian religion in 1568 in the town of Torda, Transylvania, in what is now Romania. Francis David is shown proclaiming the principle of religious tolerance. Ministers of the four established religions were to be allowed to preach their beliefs without fear of reprisals - a form of religious toleration. That print is a symbol of my religious journey.
My formative years were spent in Galt now Cambridge Ontario. There, at that time, I learned that people were divided into two groups – “us” the Catholics and “them” the rest. However, my father declined an invitation to join the Catholic men’s group, the Knights of Columbus and chose instead to support the non-sectarian Humane Society. And my mother determined that playing bridge with Protestants was no problem. So my own discomfort with dividing the world into “us and them” was somewhat quieted.
When I came to First in 1991, I got to know and appreciate the Unitarian principles through teaching the Red Group in Religious Education. And through courses such as the Haunting Church, I gained perspective on my early religious background. I trolled the shelves of the library, for a range of theologies. I attended courses on the Muslim faith, joined in a Passover Seder dinner and participated in the in the Humanist Group. I had found a place of religious tolerance, just what I had been looking for.
At First, I encountered the Partner Church Group, a group of seven self-selected members and Hungarian-speaking friends. We set ourselves the goal of furthering communication with our Partner Church Bartok Bela, Budapest. There are major religious differences between the Unitarian churches in North America and in Hungary/Romania, what they share is a fair amount of tolerance of other religions. We had much to learn about each other, which was made possible by sponsored visits to First by the Bartok Bela ministers. In the near future we hope to have Co-Minster Sandor Leta and his wife Erika visit Toronto First.
That is the cutting edge for me. How to both espouse tolerance and to be tolerant. How to see white in black and black in white and not fall in and out of relativism, cynicism and despair. First Unitarian Congregation, and the Partner Church is a platform for me to be “open to the other”. As the saying goes, the most radical thing you can do is talk to one other person.
Last August after staying for a few days at Batok Bela and attending a service there, I traveled to Torda. I stood in the very same church pictured in the print in the vestibule. It is a Catholic Church. The Unitarian Church is a couple of blocks away, one of many that serves the 75,000 Unitarians in Transylvania.
As a post script, after the Sunday service at our Partner Church, Bartok Bela in Budapest the members passed chocolates to honour their special guests from First. Today after the service, in Workman Hall a Partner Church Group member will pass a tray of chocolates and strawberries, our gift to you.
Testimony of Kalvin Drake, February 15, 2004
My name is Kalvin Drake, and I'm a Unitarian*Universalist… I've been a Unitarian*Universalist since Tuesday, September 12, 1972… since around 6:30 in the evening…
Of course, I didn't know that I was Unitarian and a Universalist. I didn't even know the terms, let alone a definition of the terms. In fact, I quickly discovered that I definitely wasn't a Unitarian or a Universalist when I read what scant definitions I could find in the encyclopedias and the other books in my teenage bedroom in the North of England.
You see, according to the books I couldn't be a Unitarian or a Universalist because I wasn't a Christian, and I didn't much care whether God came in one, three or 57 varieties. The "ultimate salvation of my soul" wasn't a major concern to me either, since I was confident that whatever "happened to me when I died" would be (or at least should be) determined by how I lived in this life. And if I was wrong, then I knew I'd have some pretty "good" company down there in Hell.
It wasn't until I came to Canada that I associated myself with the labels "Unitarian" and "Universalist". Even then it took some time! Too much time. In the days before that great Unitarian invention, the World Wide Web, it wasn't easy to find you! The definitions I found in the North American reference books were much the same as in the British.
It was only years later that I discovered that, while North American Unitarians and Universalists continue to use Christian terminology, they might mean something quite different! I guess that I, like many others I've talked to, hadn't stuck around long enough to listen to the "small print" that says "Well, when Unitarians say 'Church', 'Sermons' and 'Hymns', they don't mean 'Church', 'Sermons' and 'Hymns' like…" Well, you know what I mean!
In fact, it was only through Humanist and Buddhist groups in Canada that I learned "No, really, take a look at the Unitarians. Fortunately, they are not what the say they are!"
I suspect my story is not unique - and that many of you have stumbled across Unitarianism by accident…
Not only have we ourselves forgone the benefits of being "connected" for much of our short lives, I am convinced that there are countless thousands across this country - and millions across the world - who would be comforted and energized by simply knowing we exist.
And beyond the individual, I have come to believe that Unitarian*Universalism offers not only a religious, but a unique philosophical and political common ground where diverse people can come together from across this fractious planet to solve complex problems with mutual respect and trust.
It is for these reasons that I see the work of the Canadian Unitarian Council as so important, and why I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such competent staff and volunteers at both the regional level as a Congregational Networker and at the National level as a member of several committees and task forces.
Together, as individual Unitarian*Universalists and as members of the CUC, our work is vital - for the peace and solace of individual hearts and minds, and for the very future of our planet.
Testimony of Bob McKenzie, November 23, 2003
Good morning. My name is Bob McKenzie. 50 years ago this month I joined this Congregation. It's hard to believe -- but it's true. I thought after 50 years I should say something wise.
I wasn't born Unitarian. My parents were staunch supporters and lay leaders in the United Church of Canada. It was off to church every Sunday whether I wanted to or not. Sunday school, church services, communion -- the whole lot.
On the whole, it was a positive experience. I enjoyed singing the hymns, hearing the biblical stories and learning what Christianity was about. But I questioned some of it. I remember that phrase "God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost" and asking my parents "Who is this Holy Ghost?" I was questioning the concept of the Trinity way back then. During high school and university my attendance fell off -- other interests, studies, etc.
On graduating from U of T in the spring of '52 I was at loose ends. There was a film festival being held at a place on St. Clair called the Unitarian Church. While attending, I became curious about the strange looking church I'd never heard of. I picked up pamphlets in the foyer. It seemed interesting -- this Unitarianism. I started to attend services in the fall of '52. And the rest is history!
I liked everything -- the sermons, lack of dogma, music, it was different from any church I'd attended. In Nov '53 after one of Bill Jenkins rousing sermons I went to him and said I wanted to join the church. He pulled out this ancient looking tome, opened it, and said "Sign here". That's all there was to it! That decision would turn out to be quite significant in my life.
I joined then for a number of reasons: serendipity, curiosity, my religious background, the Unitarian philosophy, the Steinway Grand (I was never crazy about organ music) and the stimulating sermons. The whole package suited me, so I took the plunge.
I've continued to be a member for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is I've stayed involved. By being involved I've always felt a part of this community. I've been on the Board, taught RE, sat on committees galore, fundraising, choir, ushering, property committee and many special events. There's so much going on around here. You soon learn you can't do it all, even when you're retired. Making a contribution results in a good feeling. It makes for a full and interesting life. Without getting involved you aren't capitalizing on all this church has to offer. It's what's kept me coming back all these years.
And of course, my Unitarian beliefs, they still make sense to me, and as a late member Ralph Albrant used to say "You don't need to check your brains in with your coat when you come to the Unitarian Church."
Another reason I've stuck around is "YOU"......yes YOU. All of you. You're an interesting group of people. What a heterogeneous mixture! Different cultural backgrounds, religious origins, personalities ... and you're all so gifted and intelligent. It's amazing.
We've made some wonderful friends and have found a great community here. It makes me feel good to belong. The Sunday services, of course, have remained most satisfying and well executed.
There have been a number of changes over the years -- there was no chalice 15 years ago and no lighting of candles. The architecture and appearance of the building changed dramatically with the renovation. The art work - it all makes coming here an uplifting experience.
I'm fortunate to be healthy. My wife, Olga, feeds me the right things and provides TLC and understanding. Otherwise, I might be 6 feed under by this time and in Unitarian heaven ... If there is one.
I've belonged to this institution longer than I've belonged to anything else in my life, including my marriage. It's been a rewarding and enriching experience. Mark, don't be too hasty in preparing a memorial service for me. There's still some life in the old guy yet. I'm looking forward to the next 50 years!
Pax vobiscum. Merci beaucoup!
Testimony of Cameron Linton, November 16, 2003
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:
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.
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.
Testimony of Douglas Campbell, May 4, 2003
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.
Testimony of Ilene Cummings, December 1, 2002
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.
Testimony of Cameron Linton, October 20, 2002
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?
Testimony of Art Brewer, October 6, 2002
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.
Testimony of Pat Skippon, September 22, 2002
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.
Testimony of Margaret Joyce, February 17, 2002
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.
Testimony of Ellen Campbell, February 10, 2002
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.