Member Testimonies

The Lighthouse

At 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.

I thought this would be easy...a simple testimonial. I usually jump on any opportunity to stand up before a crowd and spiel on about what I am thinking or doing. In fact, the problem is usually... how to get me to stop. Yet for some reason, as I sat down to compose my testimonial I found myself on a slippery slope of endlessly connected ideas. I became dizzy and frustrated. I was trying to write it all.... to compose a Grand Unified Testimonial, which would gather all the significant moments and ideas of my life, the grand existential themes, the historical contingencies....all coalescing into a shining crystal ball that would reveal my true essence clearly as a radiant ball of light.

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."

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.

Good morning

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.
My name is Helen Iacovino and I consider myself a Unitarian Universalist mystic. In a nutshell, I feel that there is a unifying, transcendent power in the universe which pervades all things, although I do not call it "god." Since I was a teenager, there were times when I would suddenly experience that power, and I would feel deeply connected to the universe. However, without the long and noble history of humanism in our movement, I would probably not be comfortable with words like "mystic" or "spiritual" because they would still have their Christian overtones. In fact, I might not be comfortable exploring this area at all if humanism had not done so much to distinguish our faith from the Protestant roots of its origins. I agree with humanism’s basic principles, and in daily life, I depend on reason even if I argue against it at times. What I have always valued most about our religion is the freedom to explore, and also the kindness of the people in our congregation.

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.

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."

Part I

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?

Part II

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.

Today’s flower ceremony grows out of European experiences, its prejudices. I will tell you about mine and what motivated me to be in and support the Unitarian congregation. Try to replace my personal pronoun and imagine the millions who every day experience versions much worse. I will give you 9 examples

1. Religious Education: I grew up in a practicing Lutheran family. As seven year old I spent time in an exclusively Catholic area. In the school did not know their religious texts, prayers, rituals. I was crying and excused from religious classes. As it was tradition, on an evening before Christmas St. Nikolas knocked his chain against the door to hear my prayer to decide whether I deserved a present. Peers called me the little Protestant Prussian devil. Although a weak boy I got into a fight with their bully, landed a chance hit which drew a tiny bit of blood. From then on I was accepted as one of them. I now appreciate two human value systems, the instinctive and the indoctrinated.

2. Absolute Commitment. I grew up during what was called ‘absolute war’, requiring absolute obedience to authority. Everything was meant to matter for the national survival. We collected herbs for the national economy, plucked mosses in the woods as bedding and wound dressing for a soldiers’ hospital to which our school had been converted.

3. Mind Control: When my mother tried to listen to Radio London to hear the news, my father angrily warned her that we all might end up in prison. The same was the cause of Capek’s arrest. He ended up in Dachau.

4. Intolerance: After the war, I saw the colour labels for people destined for concentration camps – red for these, yellow for others, orange for others again.

5. Prejudice: Racial and ethnical disrespect ran deep. An otherwise good man told me that all Einstein’s theories couldn’t be right because he was of such and such a race.

6. Social Progress: In our teenage years we were indoctrinated by socialism, an ideology understood as ‘secularization of Christianity’. Remember the roots of the NDP were in Christian Socialism,

7. Europe is known for its Edicts of Expulsions – against Protestants, Jews, or politically unreliable persons. My parents were evacuated as politically unreliable. Rifle butts were used to move them. They belonged to a group officially called ‘vermin’, a term taken over from the Nazis. Then a huge wall was built across the land to separate people. 30 years later it had to be taken down.

8. Refugees: My wife, then 10 years old, in the winter, was part of a refugee column escaping the Soviet Army with her mother in a wagon pulled by an old horse and an ox. The horse died en route. They were sleeping wherever people offered them some sort of accommodation and a poor meal.

9. My brother was drafted as 16-year old boy, to shoot at allied bombers, later to fight the huge US Army, ended up in and barely survived an American prisoner camp where others died of starvation, dysentery. As a student he had a job digging graves for victims who had died along the road on what were called death marches’ from one KZ to another.

I was asked what is my philosophy of life?

a. Diversity and Balance: Initially, a kernel of truth and justification is in almost all philosophies and religions –vigilance prevents them from becoming extreme and abusive

b. Use the building blocks available to you for bridges not walls. Walls will collapse, and the longer they last, the more the inevitable will hurt.

c. Long-Term: Consider the consequence of your actions beyond your own life span

Thank you for listening.

Three questions provide “guidelines” for personal testimonies: What brought me here? What keeps me here? What religious or spiritual issue am I wrestling with now? I realized I’ve been on a journey, starting with little awareness of Unitarianism to a degree of understanding, a journey with no insight regarding its future course. Shawn provided a quotation from Kierkegaard: “We live our lives forward, but we understand them backwards.” That seems to sum it up.

I grew up in a non-practising Jewish home where my father who held and voiced the family opinions insisted that all religions were “bunk.” Yet we were constantly reminded of being Jewish although observing no Jewish holidays or practices. We celebrated Christmas with presents and a huge dinner, avoiding anything that people would see, like a Christmas tree or other seasonal decorations, and we stayed home from school on Jewish holidays because of what people would think. I found the hypocrisy distasteful.

So how did I get here? It started in Madison, Wisconsin, while attending university. I lived in an interracial residence which, I learned, had been largely sponsored by local Unitarians, a daring undertaking with the Civil Rights movement over a decade away and in many communities two YMCAs, one for whites and one for blacks, as was true of some local churches. All this was new to me, coming from London, Ontario which was almost totally homogeneously white.

I attended Madison’s Unitarian congregation at a very exciting time. Ken Patton’s previous dynamic ministry had left a lingering glow. And the congregation was building a new church, designed by famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright whose grandfather was a founder. He believed in using local materials. This meant limestone, available north of Madison. The church organized two work parties: one loaded limestone on trucks at the quarry, the other unloaded at the church site. I chose the quarry and during a glorious autumn season spent Saturdays there. Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography became almost a text book for the congregation, used in RE and other programs. Heady days!

Meanwhile increased interest in religion led to exploring Protestant student centres. I even looked at the Quakers, but abandoned them because they seemed very pure-hearted; I felt I wasn’t “good enough.”

In Toronto in the early ‘50’s, I at first felt isolated and decided to “try” being Jewish. While scouting Jewish circles, I was told by a prominent rabbi that “we have nothing here for single women at all.” That closed that door. By chance I encountered a former Madison Unitarian who suggested I come here. I did, I immediately felt at home, I stayed.

My reasons: feeling accepted, and free to explore and think for myself. It was difficult explaining Unitarianism to others. Part of that was the times. Unitarians here tended to define themselves negatively, unlike traditional religionists. Avoiding the “trappings of traditional religion” seemed almost a mantra. Back then, I didn’t understand Unitarianism. I tended to describe myself as Unitarian by temperament rather than conviction.

The big gift I received here involved personal change, from being extremely shy, finding it difficult to express any opinion (many here now would never believe that!) to becoming more outgoing. Developing organizational skills led to founding Carrousel Club, actually joining the church in 1962 in order to be president, hardly a noble motive. But temperament trumped conviction then. Over time I’ve filled various roles here and my sense of this as my community and my “social lab” grew and strengthened.

But a strange thing happened on the way from then until now.

It took time to understand Unitarianism as a liberal religion. Recently, I have reflected on major influences that culminated in a set of liberal values. They included my early introduction to racism and civil rights issues, and employment in human rights; ongoing participation in the adult education world where “liberal” attitudes and projects abounded; graduate study in sociology; opportunities to learn about aboriginal peoples. Dominant throughout has been continuing influence of the Unitarian environment which nurtured me, especially with its emphasis on respect for others and their views. I am deeply grateful. And somewhere on this journey I accepted humanism as my “brand” of Unitarianism. Finally, I felt Unitarian by conviction.

The three questions? I came seeking an accepting home. I stayed because I found it here. Any doubts absolutely vanished when I was hospitalized last summer. I was totally overwhelmed by the constant flow of visitors, cards, gifts, phone calls and tangible help that poured forth from members of this congregation both then and afterwards. The church as my community became incredibly vivid.

The third question, “What religious or spiritual issue am I wrestling with now” is still evasive, overtaken by increasing comfort with my humanist outlook and less need to wrestle.

There is a lovely poem which a former minister used to quote, translated from Greek, and called Ithaca or Journey to Ithaca, as the destination of a long journey through life, enjoying delights and ignoring threats, recognizing that in the end, Ithaca might disappoint. The message: the journey trumps the destination; travelling outweighs arriving. Another quotation, from lyrics by Sondheim: “If you know where you’re going, you’ve (already) gone.”

Good Morning. My name is Paul Bognar. At this time of year I'm also known as a Grinch, a grouch, a humbug, party pooper, and worst of all for December, Ebenezer Scrooge. Unlike the Grinch, my shoes aren't too tight, my head's screwed on right (mostly), and my heart isn't three sizes too small. You see, I don't like Christmas.

Oh, there are many things I don't like: Barbara Streisand movies, parsnips, gangsta rap,... It's OK for me to dislike things like that. But because I don't like Christmas, people feel the need to try to change my mind.  Almost every Christmas movie or special on television portrays someone like me: someone who dreads Christmas. Those stories always are about redemption. The character has lost the "spirit of Christmas," because they've lost something from their childhood, or lost a love, or a family member. The poor soul needs to rediscover the magic of the season to be saved. These are tales of intolerance. It is just not acceptable in our culture to dislike Christmas, thus the need for redemption.

At this time of year, when people are supposed to be filled with "joy," when we are meant to have heard angels sing, when we are to give generously and perfectly the equivalent of leaping lords and golden rings, all the while listening to bells jingling on a silent night, my halls are decked with ever darkening grey. A cloud of dread, the grey of seasonal affective disorder, often the blackness of depression. Fa la la la la.

Many people think that a blue Christmas is for those who can't enjoy the holiday because they're grieving, or lonely, or poor. I've been all of those, and I want to say that while those conditions didn't help, neither are they the cause of my blue Christmases.

Thirty years ago, still a teenager, I was walking home very late on a Christmas Eve. A heavy snow was falling, all was quiet. Three blocks from home, warm light poured from the window of the old house at the corner of Dunkirk and Rosedale avenues in Hamilton. Inside, I could see the Christmas tree, lights and candles, and a young man and woman dancing the polka. The young man and woman were looking into each other's eyes, and laughing, laughing with joy and love. Somehow I knew, even then, that I would always be outside the window at Christmas, that this was a time for others, but not for me.

I suppose I have many reasons for not liking Christmas. It is absolutely impossible to ignore. It's too commercial, too tiring, too expensive. It takes up too much of the year (did you notice that decorations appeared before thanksgiving this year?). Wassailing when I don't drink alcohol. The stress of not spoiling the holidays of those I love. And the carols. Endlessly reminding me of a saviour that isn't mine, in a religion I've long left behind, pressing Christmas spirit on me, demanding seasonal joy from me, turned on as if a faucet.

And then there are the truly painful holidays. Five Christmases ago, I faced my first Yule alone, ever. My marriage had broken up, and for the first time in almost twenty years, I would not see my daughters on Christmas. I bought my usual tree, and since I had no decorations for it, I improvised with odds and ends . I went to the Christmas Eve service at First Unitarian Hamilton. I sang Christmas carols whose theology meant nothing to me anymore. I spent most of the day alone in my apartment, only one or two people phoned to wish me "Merry Christmas." I drove to my sister's for dinner with her family. Her invitation was a caring, loving thing to do, but because I was not normally part of their holiday celebrations, I was the fifth wheel. I coped and I survived. And each holiday season since only brings back painful memories of the last days of my marriage, of the Christmases I spend without my children, and of my parents, both now deceased.

I don't have to justify not liking Christmas. For me, it is one long Streisand rerun, that I have to endure for nearly three months every year, served with parsnips instead of popcorn, and a soundtrack of gangsta rap carols.

Oh, I like turkey, the smell of pine in my home, lights, candles, quiet, snow, and many other things that one can find at this time of year. But don't ask me to like Christmas. Don't ask me to explain why I don't like it. To me, it's the parsnip of holidays. If you like Christmas, I want you to revel in it, celebrate it and find joy in it as you never have before. But if you don't like Christmas, or your Christmas this year is too painful to celebrate, I want you to know you are not alone, and that there are people who understand and respect you. And a few of us are found here, in this safe place.

Today is the day that I will, for the first time in public, reveal something to you, my fellow Unitarians, that is extremely personal, concerning my sexual orientation. Though many of you have had contact with me through my work on the church’s finances, at an adult education program, or maybe just recognized me as one of the amateurs that happily, albeit nervously plays and sings his heart out every Father’s day.......none of you, until today will know the truth. Oh I’m sure that some of you have a suspicion; there have been hints and clues that some of you may have noticed over the past several years. Well here it goes..........I Jack McFadden am straight. As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to members of the opposite sex. I also strongly suspect, that I will remain heterosexual for the rest of my days.

It sounds so strange doesn’t it? Were any of you thinking.........Is he gay? It is after all Gay & Lesbian Pride Sunday and I did say I was about to reveal something about my sexual orientation. Granted, the small army of children that I’m seen with every Sunday did pose a logic problem but maybe , just maybe I had a few of you thinking for a brief moment. And what if I had "come out" as a gay man. Would it have changed your opinion, of me ? (be that good or bad !).

When I was asked to give a testimonial as a part of this service, I kept struggling with the question," What could I possibly offer to the theme of gay pride ? The word normal kept coming into my head. Believe it or not that is why I started with such an abnormal opening. After all, in our society, there is no need to "come out" as a heterosexual. It’s just so normal ! As I started to ponder my normal orientation, I also began to realize how easy it has been for me because of that orientation. Society has never scorned me for my inclinations and in actual fact, I have no doubt been stroked and possibly even rewarded for my attractions to the opposite sex. I was in the "in" crowd growing up. Would it have been the same had I been attracted to members of my own sex? And today, my lovely wife and three beautiful children are not just my family but also an asset to me at work, because I so neatly fit the good corporate image. It’s been pretty easy being normal.

But I’m not here today to try and shoulder the blame for the fact that up ‘till now, I along with other heterosexuals have benefited from the makeup of our DNA. Nor can I do much more than say that I realize that up ‘till this point in time, it has been much harder to live life as a gay person. I wish it had been different! What I am here to say is that to me, Normal is a society that does not judge based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. To that end, I’m proud to be a member of a church that not only states that as a part of our principles and purposes, but regularly encourages us to re-examine our thoughts, words and deeds for traces of prejudice that might still exist due to the indelible mark that "normal" society has placed on each and every one of us. By recognizing and celebrating the fact that there are good people here, doing good things, and that it doesn’t matter at all that some of us are straight and some of us are gay, we are helping to redefine the word normal. On Gay & Lesbian Pride Sunday, that is something in which we can all be proud.