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.
Testimony of Janet McCausland, February 3, 2002
[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?"
Testimony of Margaret Vandenbroucke, January 20, 2002
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.
Testimony of Joe Clark, October 21, 2001
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.
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.
Testimony of Nancy Krygsman, October 14, 2001
The LighthouseAt the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence Peninsula, there is a lighthouse. It is not a tall one, but it stands atop a 200-foot cliff. I visited this lighthouse once, in 1976. But I have known it, through story and legend, all my life.
The lighthouse keeper in the last half of the 19th century was my great-grandfather. My grandmother was born at the lighthouse in 1876.
As a child, I loved to listen to her stories about what it was like to live in a lighthouse. She was the oldest of three daughters. When she was 10 years old, her mother died in childbirth, along with a fourth daughter. In the absence of a mother, she raised her younger sisters. In the absence of a son, she helped her father with the light. In foggy weather, she shot off a cannon every 10 minutes to warn sailors away from the cliff. When she had time, she went to school in the town of Gaspé, a five-mile walk through the forest. There were bears in the forest…
As a child, I thought she had a fairytale childhood. As an adult, I appreciate the hardships of her life. It is her strong sense of duty and responsibility that resonates with me now, which has come down to me through my father, her son.
I have been told I have an over-developed sense of duty. I take this as a compliment. I know I came by it honestly! It was a sense of duty that brought me to this congregation – a duty to myself.
When I turned 50, I did some soul-searching and made some decisions about myself. I decided that I needed to pay some attention to my spiritual life after a lifetime focused on education and career. I needed to find a new community because I was thinking of early retirement and the only community I had at that time was my colleagues at work. And I wanted to start to give back, to contribute, although I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
I knew instinctively that what I needed was to be a practicing Unitarian. I had discovered the Unitarian church as a university student in Ottawa. After moving to Toronto, I attended this congregation sporadically in the late 1960’s. I have considered myself a Unitarian all my adult life. But it was only when I turned 50 and began to think about my future that I felt the need for this place. I became a member of this congregation a month after my 50th birthday.
At First Unitarian, I have satisfied my need for spiritual growth, community and volunteering in ways that have surpassed my expectations.
Here, I have the time, the challenge, and the encouragement to grow spiritually. I derive strength, self-knowledge, and inspiration from Sunday services and weekday programs. I have also found role models here, people who set a wonderful example and motivate me to be my best self.
Here, I have found people I care about and who care about me. I have widened my circle through social gatherings, programs, and especially through volunteering. Here, we have a caring community who come together in times of crisis to demonstrate their concern for each other and for the wider world. I’m thinking of the vesper service following the recent terrorist attack in the United States, and our Hurricane Mitch relief effort.
And here, I have found ways to serve that are meaningful for me: preparing meals for the Out of the Cold program, building a school for Mayan women in Guatemala. I am proud of all the ways people in this congregation live out their convictions through social action. I have also found that I can use my talents very effectively by volunteering right here -- as a convenor, an office volunteer, or working on the Book Bash to raise funds for the work of this church.
It comes as a surprise to me now, eight years later, to realize how much First Unitarian matters to me. It is a mainstay in my life. I feel a responsibility to help provide the resources it needs, not just to carry on, but to thrive. I play my part by giving of my time and talents, and through my financial contribution. I do this as a duty to myself and a responsibility to you, the members and friends of this congregation. It is like a family obligation, the way my grandmother looked after her family.
I also want First Unitarian to be a beacon for others out there who haven’t found us yet -- who may come to us next week, next year, or in generations to come. I want us to be a strong, vibrant force in the community. It meant so much to me to have this place to come to when I needed it. I feel a duty to keep our light shining for future members who I may never meet, as my grandmother felt a duty to strangers sailing in ships at sea off the coast of Gaspe.
My grandmother died 40 years ago at the age of 85. The lighthouse is still there -- now automatic, unstaffed, a tourist attraction in Forillon National Park -- but still a beacon to ships at sea and a light in my heart.
Testimony of Michael Battenberg, August 26, 2001
But of course, that was asking a bit much. I decided to work with this frustration and reflect on its roots, with the understanding that breakthroughs and insights often lie in wait within such symptoms.
The main difficulty lay in my observation that every event, every idea and every feeling in my life that seemed to lead to my being here was connected, backwards and forwards, to every other one. I didn't know where to make the boundaries... what to keep and what to cut. But human existence is essentially holographic. The totality of experience is broken down by remembrances, by the telling of our myths, into fractional, discrete and necessarily incomplete units. And any of these units, thoughtfully retold, can reveal to ourselves, and to those who share in our myths, the totality of our experience. So I didn't need to compose a Grand Unified Testimonial... a brief excerpt of my larger story must suffice.
So..... why am I here? Like so many of us, the path that led me here cuts right through the Garden of Eden. I was brought up in a conservative (Missouri synod) Lutheran household, though not a particularly strict nor pious one. When it came time for college, I realized that resolving the questions of philosophy and theology were more important to me than establishing a career or getting a regular job, so I enrolled in the pre-ministerial program at a conservative Lutheran college, majoring in philosophy and Biblical languages. You may think I would have studied religion and theology, but the synod preferred that we wait until seminary for these subjects, to assure that we were taught with appropriate orthodox purity.
For 3 years I wrestled with biblicism, the relationships between belief and faith, theology and philosophy, and science and religion. Upon graduation I went to a conservative seminary for a brief year. On a personal level, I was far too introverted and shy to succeed in such a public office as ministry. On an ideological level, I could no longer abide by conservative religion, no matter how I manipulated and reshaped it. "Wrong" I cried, as I left and moved on to a more "liberal" seminary. By then however, my will had diminished, and I found the liberal brand of Lutheranism patronizing forced, and sentimental. The old beliefs had been watered down to the point that I almost preferred the constraining yet robust old dogmatic religion I had left. My "wrong" changed to an uninspired "whatever". I dropped out, leaving with a whimper, not a bang. I retreated to a world of 3-Stooges and Mel Brooks. My philosophy books became covered in dust, the old hymns that moved me so much were replaced with show tunes.... and I slipped into a slow, quiet discontentment. As the mystics would say, I had descended into the "hazy twilight of the soul".
Last January, my soulmate and partner Deb suggested we check out the Unitarian church. I'd heard of Unitarianism before, but it sounded like just another "ism", one with a Unitarian, rather than Trinitarian language... and like so much else, I shrugged it off. Yet for some reason that day, before I was even aware, I said "sure". We bundled up against the cold and found our way here. Coincidentally... or not...it was new member Sunday. The 15 years that had passed since I last attended church dissolved, and I immediately felt at home. But home was a little different from what I remembered. The hymns sounded familiar, yet had strange new words... the prayers to a god were replaced with a meditation.... and perhaps most importantly... the "answers" from the pulpit were usurped by questions.... a church that liked... that embraced ...questions.
From my first visit, when Donna's sermon focused on the first of our seven principles, right up to last weeks sermon with Peter's allusion to Indra's net... every Sunday service manages to touch upon some idea or concern I am wrestling with. I have always asked questions, believing I could find answers. But questions must be lived. As Rilke wrote, " Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."
Testimony of Christine Johnston, May 27, 2001
My name is Christine Johnston and I was the historian here for 28 years. My life has been profoundly affected by being involved in the history and archives of this congregation and by writing the biography of its key founder. It has meant many hours spent on quiet treasure hunts; it has meant heated discussions over what really went on here 150 years ago amongst Toronto's Unitarians; and it meant giving a 5 minute preamble before each Workman lecture, and thus researching the life and work of the fascinating key founder of First, Dr. Joseph Workman.
When I realized that no book had been written about this world-renowned doctor, psychiatrist and social reformer, I decided that my first retirement project would be writing his biography. Most medical historians were not too keen on the Unitarian sections and finally we decided to have it published in Victoria where i could keep control of the content. That process was an education!
What has happened since has surprised me. All writers have to promote their books but I had not realized that this meant becoming a traveling missionary for historic Canadian Unitarianism. I have not only given addresses at the six congregations surrounding First (where most folk had heard of Workman) but I have also been speaking in many BC churches. It has been fun, especially visiting the new young congregations and learning about their struggles. Do you where are South Fraser, Beacon and Cowichan? My missionary experiences have also taken me into book clubs, professional clubs, gold=f courses, and to a staff meeting of the Toronto District History teachers. I have visited many institutions Workman founded , such as the Board of Trade (If you are surprised by that, just imagine theirs) and of -course the Canadian and Ontario Psychiatric Associations, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a few seminars run by the Addiction and Mental Health Centre.
Questions frequently asked are about Unitarianism and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterians of Northern Ireland.; and how did Joseph Workman feel about Roman Catholics? The psychiatrists wanted to know how Joseph's Unitarian religion had influenced his psychiatry and work at Queen Street, and did he make religion part of his early treatment program? They noted that his assistant and chief matron for 20 years were both Unitarian.
And the family! The descendants of Workman are fascinated and proud of him and provided even more stories, photos, and even furniture. Several of Joseph's interests and characteristics have carried doen thro' the generations, such as the love of words and the love of gardens. Their honesty surprised me. For example, some have spoken of the family vulnerability towards alcoholism (which I had picked up in my research). Some have returned to the UU fold. I say returned as none of his children remained Unitarian. One took me to her local Unitarian church where she had served on the Board.
All this has affected my life. Looking at the past has helped create a pathway to my present and my future. Visiting the smaller UU churches has given me a taste of the width of our Canadian movement. And speaking to educated and medical groups has forced me to find answers that are meaningful to the audience. Is this what being UU pioneer is all about? Workman and Carter ( about Mark will be speaking) were pioneers in the past but these days are not really long gone. In my very limited way I have been asked to do a little pioneering and I am sure you are often asked to do so too. It ain't easy! But it makes life meaningful and colourful and challenging.
And by the way, come and visit us UUs in Victoria B.C. where 50 years and not 150 years is a long time.
Testimony of Bert Christensen, March 25, 2001
My name is Bert Christensen and I’m retired.
I’ve been a Unitarian for almost 40 years, and while I’m still open to discovery and change, most of my religious and spiritual questions have been resolved. As a matter of fact, I grew up as an atheist, and I like to say that I’m one of the few Unitarians that moved right theologically when I became a Unitarian.
I have held many positions in this Congregation, including serving as its president, and I have served on the boards of The Canadian Unitarian Council and the UUA. I have enjoyed these experiences and learned from them all. It was busy. I once had Unitarian meetings twelve days in a row in Toronto, Boston and Syracuse. And at that time, I was running my own business. After all that, you might think that I would have became burned out. Well, I was, and for a few years I wasn’t seen much around here. But Donna kept after me to become involved again and we all know what happens when Donna makes up her mind about something. So, I volunteered to work in the office one morning a week. This soon escalated to being the convenor of Administration and Property Services and the webweaver of our web site.
When I was so heavily involved years ago, I did it for the challenge, the adventure, to see if I could do it. Now, I have a different reason.
Michael Caine, 3 years older than I, and a veteran actor of almost 40 years, recently played the best role of his career - Dr. Wilbur Larch, in the movie adaptation of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. Dr. Larch holds as one of his fundamental principles, that the purpose of life is to be of use. To be of use.
The reason this Church is still a central part of my life is NOT the obvious religious questions, but rather that it provides me with a way in which to be of use. If I can answer a query from a newcomer when I am in the office, I feel I am being of use. If I can organize an administrative task so that the office runs smoother, I am being of use. If I could ever get the elevator to function for more than a few days at a time, then I would really feel I was being of use.
These tasks are satisfying, but for me the real joy is doing the web page. The web page gives me the opportunity to be creative rather than just administrative, to explore a part of me hitherto untouched.
I only took up this current leading edge communication medium, the web, after my retirement, after 45 years in the television and electronics business, after keeping up with the constant revolutionary changes in electronics during my working years. So, after all those years working with the hardware, I am now working with the constant changes in the software. I still have the fun and exhilaration of learning and applying something new.
So even though I’m retired, this congregation continues to give me the opportunity to tackle new skills, to enjoy new relationships, to master new technologies…. To be of use.And I haven’t been happier in years.
Testimony of Helen Iacovino, March 4, 2001
In the debate about the humanist and mystical perspectives in Unitarian Universalism, I feel there are actually more commonalities than differences, because we all share some basic UU values. One important commonality is the question of authority, a crucial concept for Unitarian Universalists. Both humanists and mystics would agree that it rests with the individual, and both value the individual’s own judgement in matters of belief.
It disturbs me that people are feeling left out over these issues, because I think Unitarian Universalism is larger than that, and that when we remember another shared value, that of tolerance – and of course love – we can overcome this, and learn and grow from it. I think back to Unitarian history, and how the movement was divided by the Transcendentalist controversy in the mid nineteenth century, and later incorporated the wisdom gained and grew from it – in fact grew to shape twentieth century Unitarianism.
I think the key is to remember our UU conviction that truths are relative. Mystics can guard against saying, "They just don’t see it," while humanists can guard against saying, "They see what’s not there." In embracing viewpoints that differ from our own, we don’t have to take them on for ourselves, we just have to acknowledge them as other valid viewpoints. In an ecumenical gathering, when a Catholic talks about meeting Jesus in prayer, a Unitarian Universalist will often nod, and think about the value of being in touch with one’s inner self, or about true compassion for others. It is this kind of respect, which we often show in interfaith meetings, that we can bring to the humanist/ mystic debate in our own congregation. More often than not, the other person is not out to deny our view, but only to express their own. To use 70’s jargon, they are not out to "lay their trip on anybody."
I am confident that as a congregation we will be able to enter into dialogue with each other, and both our congregation and 21st century Unitarian Universalism will be the stronger for it.
Testimony of Margaret Joyce, February 18, 2001
Good morning. My name is Margaret Joyce and I am here this morning to share with you what for me is a very important anniversary. One year ago this month on New Member Sunday I became a member of this congregation. An event for which I have never ceased to be grateful and which in many ways changed my life.
On Sunday mornings the Worship Leader says: "From our many and varied paths we come to this place...." My path, like some of yours, was an Anglican one although it has been many years since I followed that path. A number of incidents in the lives of my friends as well as disquieting world events had caused me to doubt my Church's teachings. For a number of years I drifted. I no longer attended church and while I sometimes had vague feelings of guilt I went on living in what I now realize was a spiritual wilderness.
In 1972 I went back to University, not with a specific goal in mind but just to prove to myself that I could still function in the academic world. In my first semester I chose a Humanities course, medieval history, literature and philosophy. As my first required paper we were asked to write on any topic we chose as long as it dealt with some aspect of the course. I decided that I would write about my own personal philosophy. Writing it would present a challenge and I could incorporate it into my paper. After some research I found a number of well known people whose beliefs and non beliefs were similar to mine. From their writings and my own convictions I gathered my beliefs together and wrote them down. Writing them gave me a sense of comfort and peace of mind. I now knew what I believed and could live by these principles without guilt that I had abandoned my former faith.
In 1998 a friend of mine passed away. He had been a member of this congregation for many years. Some of you may remember George Barker. I came here for his memorial service and was impressed by the simplicity of the service and the moving tributes. I left with the feeling that I wanted to find out more about this place, its history, philosophy and purpose.
More than a year passed before I did anything about my good intentions, then one day I phoned the Unitarian Information Centre and asked for some literature on Unitarianism. I received a large brown envelope containing a number of pamphlets full of all kinds of relevant information. As I read I thought: "This is my philosophy, this is my doctrine, this is what I tried to express in my university paper almost thirty years ago, I don't have to become a Unitarian, I am one. I have been a Unitarian all those years and did not know it."
On November 7th 1999 I came to my first service. It happened to be New Member Sunday with both choirs in attendance. It was of course quite different from any church service I had attended before. Where else would dancing be part of a Sunday service? It was also Hindu observance Sunday which added to its uniqueness for me. I learned later that observance of other faiths was all part of Unitarian doctrine, their respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
I continued to come to the Sunday morning services, enjoying the simplicity of the Order of Service, the message of the sermons, the children's story, the candle lighting for celebration and concerns, the music and quiet meditation and afterwards the fellowship of Coffee Hour. I found that I brought home with me a wonderful sense of comfort and belonging which stayed with me all week.
As the months passed I felt that I should make an effort to give something back in return for what was being given to me. With this in mind I volunteered to serve on the Welcoming Committee and in September I accepted the position of chairperson of Daytimers, that delightful group of friendly interesting people who had made me feel one of them
In the welcome letter I received from Mark and Donna after that memorable first visit they wrote: "First Unitarian is a safe haven in a hectic world, a caring community that will soothe your heart and nurture your soul." It has done all that and more for me. It has given me a spiritual home. I do not regret my Anglican roots or the discipline of my early religious training. They gave me a foundation from which to build and to make my own decisions about my faith.
I would like to end with a few lines from that University paper I wrote so long ago and still have. I has the professor's comments and a B+ at the bottom.
More than 2000 years ago Aristotle wrote to one of his students. "The master key of knowledge is indeed a persistent and frequent questioning. It is by no means fruitless to be doubtful on particular points. By doubting we come to examine, and by examining we reach the truth."
Testimony of Agnes Vandergang, New Year’s Eve, 2000
Good morning. My name is Agnes Vandergang, and I have been a UU, and a member of this congregation, for more than 12 years. During that time I have insinuated myself into just about every corner of this place. I have sung in the choir, deliberated church policy around the board room table, led adult programs on topics dear to my heart, crawled on my knees through the Haunted House set up in Shaw Hall for Halloween, and danced up a storm right here in this sanctuary. I have served more cups of coffee than I can count, exhibited my photographs on these walls, and planted perennials in the secret garden. This year I finally agreed to be a teacher in the religious education program. I have laughed out loud, stamped my feet in rage, and wept with despair in this building… In fact, in case the ministers have failed to inform you… I own this place. Oh, don’t worry or sigh with relief, I’m not talking about the mortgage. I’m talking about belonging – I am an integral part of this community and it (and that means you) are a part of me. This is my home. You are my family.
Wherever I go, I end up talking about this place and how much it means to me. Truth be told, I brag about this congregation the way some people brag about their grandchildren. And when I see new faces among us, I get excited. I love to share my experiences here with newcomers, and invite them to discover for themselves who we are and what we have to offer. Even though, like the majority of Unitarians, I am an introvert, I don’t feel the need for a reminder about the “3 minute rule” (that’s the suggestion that’s been made in recent months that we all spend the first 3 minutes of coffee hour talking to people we don’t know)… But, it wasn’t always so.
There was a time when the exhortation to welcome newcomers made me as petulant as a 2 year old with a new toy. I had spent two years seeking an alternative religious community, didn’t even hear about Unitarian Universalism until I went away to Boston one summer. Having found this gem of a religion, and made it my own by jumping in with both feet, I did not want to share. As members we were regularly invited from this pulpit to take the time to talk to newcomers, who were given green mugs at coffee hour. I confess to you today: I hated hearing about the “green muggers”. I’m ashamed to recall the things that went through my head:
“I found my way here without any help – they can too”.
“This is the only time of the week I get to connect with my friends;
no one’s going to take that away from me ”.
“I do so much work around here; let someone else talk to new people”.
You see, as a young woman with a questioning mind and strong feelings, growing up in a conservative Dutch Calvinist community, I had felt like an outcast for as long as I could remember. I was starved for a sense of belonging. I was not unlike the broken cup Donna described a few weeks ago – feeling I could never get enough. Trying to make up for lost time, I thought I needed to safeguard my resources. I could not yet trust that what I had found would last. Perhaps the sense of community I experienced was only superficial, and would come apart when individual differences surfaced, as they inevitably must. Or worse yet, I would discover that once people got to know me, my ideas and feelings would not be any more welcome here than they were in the tradition I grew up in. Not yet sure of my new-found home, I held on to it for dear life. I would not, could not open my heart to others seeking the very thing I hoped I had found.
What are you holding on to for dear life? What keeps you from living deeply, engaging fully, and giving freely? Allow yourself to imagine letting go. Consider allowing this community to support you in the process. Are you prepared to open yourself to the glorious possibility of transformation?
Not wanting to share; holding on tight for fear of losing what we have. These are such human feelings. Children articulate them fiercely: “Don’t touch that! It’s mine! You can’t have it!” And are adults really any different, except that we have learned that “selfishness” is not socially acceptable? We pretend to be nice, even when we feel mean and think nasty thoughts. We quietly resist, complain and undermine. What does it take to let go of the wish to have sole possession of something? How do we become, not wholly selfless, but truly generous? How do we let go of the things that hold us back?
You may wonder why I am talking about this on New Year’s Eve – the service during which we are invited to let go of the past, and welcome transformation. Well you see, with all the talk about growth over the past year, I kept thinking back to my resistance to talking to those “green muggers”, and wondering whether other members might be less than happy about being asked to share. I thought I might not be alone in having had mixed feelings welcoming others into our circle. And I knew for sure that each person here would be familiar with the feeling of not wanting to let go, even when the time is ripe. And I wanted to testify to the fact that this common, human experience can be transformed, here, in this community of faith.
Let me tell you what happened to me in during the time between wanting this congregation all to myself, and becoming eager to share it. In the choir, I developed a camaraderie with others who enjoyed singing. As a board member, I struggled with issues of responsibility and authority. At one meeting I ranted about some voices carrying more weight than others. Everyone heard me out, despite the less than fully mature presentation of my concerns. I met women whose concerns and circumstances were similar to mine, and developed rich and enduring friendships. I witnessed difficult issues and tensions within the congregation aired openly, and dealt with in love and compassion. Flirting on this dance floor, more than a few times, in this “safe” setting, I finally understood that I am valuable for much more than my sexuality. As it became clear in the past few years that I wouldn’t be having children, I befriended a young family, and hope to be present at the birth of their second child next spring. And, teaching a class of eight-year-old boys, I am moving through trepidation towards (occasional) gratification.
Having been embraced so often, in so many different ways, my cup is over-flowing. I have, almost without noticing, given up safeguarding what I have. I now experience the most joyful imperative to share my abundance. I have been transformed within and by this community.
What about you? What do you need in order to let go and embrace the new? Whatever your struggle, there is a place for you here. There is enough understanding, support and love to go around – open yourself to it. The wonder of our diverse, multi-faceted community is that you can customize it meet your own needs – we offer do-it-yourself transformation! We boldly proclaim to be “a community serving each person’s spiritual journey”, and let me tell you, it’s no mere slogan. It’s an open invitation, and a challenge. Ask yourself what you need to let go of on the cusp of a new year. Take a step on the journey. Believe me, it’s worth the trip.