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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

William Bulter Yeats

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

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

Joseph Priestley, scientist, social activist

Florence Nightingale, social activist

Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

Henry David Thoreau, social activist

Clara Barton, social activist

Dorothea Dix, social activist

Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate scientist, social activist

Joseph Workman, Canadian physician, social activist

Emily Stowe, Canadian physician, social activist

Nellie McClung, Canadian lawyer, social activist

Douglas Fisher, Canadian politician, social activist

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

Michael Servetus, martyr

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

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

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

As Margaret Mead said:

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

Margaret Mead

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

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

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

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