Member Testimonies

Good morning, I am Gregory Robinson, a physician, member of our congregation and a Board member of Dying with Dignity Canada.

I am haunted to this day with the call of my Dad's desperate voice, “I’m still here?”

We had no idea why, with blood cancer, after weeks of refusing blood or plasma products, not a blood cell to his name, life still hung on to his frail body. And, now he was resenting the wait after 2 months of in-hospital palliative care.

It haunts me because of his reliance on me as his physician son, and his request to see Dr. Kevorkian. This was Windsor, October 1998 and the passionate doctor of euthanasia was reported to be just across the border. While he made no bones about mentioning it to me, he was more reserved with others in my family given their strong Christian beliefs.

I think he knew I held very liberal views on medically assisted dying after years of watching my friends and lovers suffer as they died of AIDS in the 1980s. In fact, I had my own stash of, now unavailable, secobarb for the final act until 1996 when life saving HIV medication returned life to my AIDS ravaged body. I treasure the hope and gift of life that should never be extinguished before its time. However, I still want all choices to end suffering available to me when I am dying.

After hearing my Dad’s plea that day, I reassured him I would help him go to sleep and not wake up if that was what he wished. I was able to negotiate deep valium-induced terminal sedation with his physician. He passed away in peace within 24 hours.

However, the horror of this was not necessary and it left permanent scars on our lives. Many of you may have similar stories. Our compassion needs to extend our palliative care to include medically assisted dying when needed and desired. We must end inhumane suffering at the end of life.

As Unitarians we led the way forward in 1993 when the CUC endorsed a resolution called “Choice and the Act of Dying”. This resolution called for legalization of the rights of mentally competent, terminally or irreversibly ill persons to determine the manner of their dying.

Our courts, BC in particular, and Provinces like Quebec are now headed into what appears to be a very promising phase and we once again have a lifetime opportunity to have laws changed that will allow medically assisted dying as a choice at the end of life. This is a historic opportunity and we must grab it! Parliament will ultimately be responsible for changing the laws and they must see that the court of public opinion, as well as our judicial courts - are strongly in support of this change.

Please do visit us at the Dying with Dignity table in Workman’s Hall after services today. Kate Chung and I will be glad to tell you more. Also, we encourage you to sign up for the Advance Directive and Patient Rights workshop by Margo Holland and myself on Saturday May 11, 2013.

As Martin Luther King said, in the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies – but the silence of our friends. Do not be silent.
Thank-you.

A riff on Shawn Newton’s June 12, 2011 sermon, “The State of Things.”

This is about three remarkable capitalists.

W. K. Kellogg, the Battle Creek, Michigan corn-flake man, believed that profits created by mass production should be shared with employees. In the Depression year of 1930, Kellogg put his workers, mostly women, on a six-hour day, four days a week, permitting him to hire more employees. It worked well. More families had dependable pay cheques, and employees had more time for canning, quilting, church work, and family picnics.

This changed after World War II when men, returning veterans, got more of the jobs. In their leisure time, the men went fishing, hunting, and driving snowmobiles. Note the difference in activities: boats, guns, and snowmobiles are expensive toys. The men wanted bigger pay cheques, were willing to work longer hours to get them. Mr. Kellogg died in 1951, but the short work-week persisted until 1985, at which time employees’ days increased to eight-hour shifts.

I ask: what was gained; what was lost?

Closer to home, you may remember the disastrous 2009 fire at Chapman’s Ice Cream factory in Markville, Ontario. Immediately after the fire, the owners, the Chapman family, announced that they would be keeping salaried staff on payroll until the factory was rebuilt, saving them from unemployment.

The third is Milwaukie, Oregon, U.S.A. business owner, Bob Moore, who in 2010 transferred ownership of his whole company, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, to his 209 employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

However, stories like these are not common. It appears that Charles Dickens was prescient when he wrote “A Christmas Carol.” He foresaw the transition from an admittedly paternalistic, but also more personal, business culture, represented by old Fezziwig, to one of a more grasping, selfish, impersonal nature, represented by Scrooge and Marley. Fezziwigs are now less common in a world of mobile capital, mergers, and acquisitions.

Note that Kellogg’s, Chapman’s, and Bob’s Red Mill, are family-owned businesses in smaller communities, where people know one another. None is owned by a Boston-based hedge fund, for example, nor by a multi-national company headquartered thousands of kilometers away.

Kate and I try to strengthen our communities by buying, when possible, Canadian-made goods sold by local stores and co-ops, and much of our food is locally-grown. It feels good to engage and support our neighbours.

On vacation, when visiting First Nations, we lodge and eat at on-reserve facilities and donate to First Nations defenses against corporate plunder of their environments.

This is joy-filled activity because it comes from a deep place of love and gratitude for having been given so much. However, we are far from perfect: we do own a car.

My social conscience comes from my parents’ Rooseveltian New Deal beliefs, enhanced by my Baptist youth, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in 1952, and the Kennedy and Trudeau eras. Now I can see the deprivation many First Nations suffer, and note my benefits from “white male privilege.”

I believe we must look at different models of economic activity that are more local, more human, more cooperative, and more respectful of our planet.

Thank you.

At the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula, where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there is a lighthouse. It is well situated: the currents are tricky, the fog is frequent, and the rocky cliff is 20 stories high.

This lighthouse has special meaning for me. My great-grandfather was the lighthouse keeper for many years. My grandmother was born there 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 ten, her mother died in childbirth. In the absence of a mother, she helped raise 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 20 minutes to warn sailors away from the cliff.

As a child, I thought she had a fairytale childhood. As an adult, I appreciate the hardships of her life. What resonates with me now is her strong sense of duty and responsibility, which I have inherited from my father, her son.

Let me tell you how I came to be at First Unitarian. It was a sense of duty that brought me here–a duty to myself.

When I turned 50, I did some soul-searching. I decided that I needed to pay attention to my spiritual life. I also needed a new community because the only people I knew were my colleagues at work. And I wanted to start to give back, to volunteer.

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. I have considered myself a Unitarian all my adult life, but it was only when I began to think about my future that I felt the need for this place. I joined this congregation a month after my 50th birthday.

A few years later, I took early retirement from my management position at Toronto Public Library, and this congregation became a mainstay in my life.

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, who motivate me to be my best self.

Here, I have found a caring community. I have widened my circle through social gatherings, programs, and volunteering. We come together in times of crisis to demonstrate concern for each other and the wider world.

And here, I have found ways to serve that are meaningful for me: preparing meals for Out of the Cold, building a school in Guatemala, building a house for Habitat for Humanity. I am proud of all the ways people here live out their convictions through social action.

I have also found that I can use my administrative skills effectively by volunteering right here, by serving on committees and chairing important projects. I am grateful for the trust the congregation has placed in me. Volunteering at First had another huge benefit for me. That is how I met my husband, Terry. We were married by Shawn in this room three years ago. After 18 years as a member, I feel a responsibility to help provide the resources First 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 as 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. 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 in ships at sea off the coast of Gaspe. My grandmother died 50 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.

My kids and I have been coming to First for almost nine years now, since Hazel was six and Henry was four. Over the years, they’ve attended uniquely Unitarian religious education classes. They’ve celebrated the Hindu festival of Diwali, built a shrine for the Mexican Day of the Dead and participated in some unusual renditions of the nativity story. They have held bake sales for UNICEF, bowl-a-thons for breast cancer research and have cooked and served a formal brunch to teenagers at a youth shelter

They have both participated in OWL, a program that has taught them about healthy relationships and their changing bodies. They have had the benefit of some of the best sexual health educators in the city and have been exposed to diagrams and sketches that are so very tasteful, yet so undeniably explicit that both kids have described the experience as similar to looking at a car wreck - you feel you shouldn’t stare because it’s so horrific but you just can’t seem to turn away.

My kids helped eat the world’s longest banana split at this year’s picnic, they’ve participated in countless central American Sundays where they’ve joyfully whacked the living hell out some poor piñata and they’ve attended the family retreat for eight years running, where they have awoken on silent winter mornings to fresh snow and the promise of tobogganing and ball hockey with their Sunday school friends.

Now, Hazel is closing in on 15 and Henry will turn 13 a few days later. I’m not going to sugar coat it: getting them to church is not always easy. Henry always begs from under his covers for more sleep. Hazel is more vocal in her opposition to doing something as un-cool as attending Sunday school.

One Sunday morning several months ago, Hazel was challenging me about why I force her to go to church. After a few of my explanations were rejected, I finally said, “But what about all of the great people we know there?” Hazel said, “Well, okay, some of them are nice, but have you, like, looked at those people Mom? They’re nothing but a bunch of misfits!”

Hazel made this observation with a certain amount of disdain but I will repeat it with a great deal of affection: Seriously, take a look around. We’ve got old men with long hair, middle-aged women who seem on the verge of breaking into interpretive dance, folks with odd bumper stickers. I bet several people are wearing Birkenstocks even though it’s November. A few of you may be braless (I don’t like to speculate). We’ve got Raging Grannies and a curious overabundance of bald guys with guitars. I know “unsightly” is too strong a word but, at the very least, this is all somewhat disconcerting.

So you are misfits, but misfits in the best sense of the word. Individuals who have chosen to make your own decisions about what you believe, how you live and who you love. Folks with a unique perspective on life, who don’t simply accept the party line, whether it’s politics, religion or any other topic calling for an opinion. I am thrilled to have my kids grow up in a community like this that reminds them to follow their own path, make their own decisions and know that they will be loved no matter what.

Despite all of the great activities and experiences I listed off the top, it is the people of this congregation that keep me coming back, keep me dragging my kids out of bed on a Sunday morning to see what is waiting for us here at First. I feel immense gratitude to the misfits of this congregation and that is why, every year, I give generously to the pledge campaign.

 

My name is JP Pawliw-Fry and I’m an enthusiastic member of the First Unitarian of Toronto. I’m inspired, or honoured, to be here to be asked to give a testimonial. Elizabeth and I are the proud parents of three amazing, thoughtful, whimsical, energetic young children: Brigitte, 15; Gracie, 13; and Wes, 10.

If there is one big idea that I think of around First it’s to remember. When I come here, I think that on the wall behind us there is a big sign that just says “Remember.”

Look at that. What is that? The art behind me I think of as a reminder to remember. What do I mean by remember? What is this art all about? I think that there is two things that its does for me in terms of remember. Two things. Two driving human needs that we have. One is for purpose and one is for connection. And I want to speak to both of those, shortly, or for not too long this morning.

Purpose. What do I mean by purpose? Viktor Frankl is known for many famous quotes. This is not one of them. He said … and excuse the male dominated language… he said, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him (or her). What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of the potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him (or by her).”

Purpose. What do we need? We need to have a sense of why are we here. And First does that for me. When I hear, you know, the journey is long. When I think of the contribution that Dallas makes with the music here. Wow. That reminds me. When I think of the messaging we get from ministry, or community, it reminds me of why I am here. I think we are definitely material beings, of course, we have to live in this world. We have to contribute to pay mortgages and to put food on the table. But, it is so easy to forget that we are also spiritual beings. And when I come every Sunday, or when I am part of an activity, it just reminds me. Ahh. That’s right. And I don’t want that part to whither for me, nor for our kids. And so that purpose piece for me is so powerful because I think, our kids are inundated with messages, as we all know, that nudges them into material and I am so grateful. I love James’ point about giving. I am so grateful for what this place, this community, does for us, and for me, in terms of purpose.

For me personally, it’s also to wake up and be aware. To take a risk. To step in, to live large, as Shawn would say. And I know this is probably the wrong example to use. But in some of the work I do, we work with the US Navy, and there is this great saying in the Navy, which is that ships are safe in the harbour, but that’s not what ships are for. And our lives are not meant to be lived in the harbour where it is safe, it’s meant to be outside of the harbour, yes there is risk but there is also reward. Whether you are a pacifist like me or not, or you like that or not, I think that it speaks to the power of taking that risk and I feel like I get here and I am so grateful for that. So there is purpose and there is connection.

Some of you know, we moved from Geneva, Switzerland here. We didn’t live there long but we were part of an incredible community there. A church. I was talking to Wes this morning and he said, “Dad, I didn’t understand a word they said at that church.” But what was interesting to me is that when I was first here, three years ago, it was like I was kicking the tires a little bit and I was in the comparing mind and I thought, “Well, this isn’t a 17th Century building and when we walk out we don’t need to have café, coffee, in the square of this ancient Geneva, the city.” And then it was really interesting to me how over time, things have changed and I realized that what I really value about that church in Geneva was not the walls. I mean we are coming upon a really big discussion about our walls and our space. But that wasn’t nearly as important, or what you walk out to, but it was the community. If the social science research says anything about what drives our happiness, our wellbeing (however you measure it), and our ability to deal with heartache and suffering, it is social support, there is no question about that. You can take that to the bank.

And for me this, community, so fulfills that. When I am suffering, when I, and our family, are challenged and we come here, Wow, I just, oh yeah. The people here have just added so much to my life, to our lives, and I am so grateful for that.

It is probably cliché in this place, but I was brought up Catholic and my parents were very involved. My mom was the president of the Catholic Women’s League, which I am very proud to say. I think Shawn has heard me say that five or six times since I have been here. And I love how much they contributed. I didn’t necessarily like the message, but that’s beside the point. What was the point, I remember every week getting dressed, you know, nicely, going to church, the ritual, it was about being together as family. And again, that reminds me. It brings me back to what matters.

And so community is, it’s something that I think we want to keep thinking about. And Shawn challenges us with this. But when you are suffering it is so easy to isolate, and to step away and what I get reminded of, what I remember, is to actually approach, to step in. Take a bit of a risk. Be honest about how things are going and, boy, does the community here just hold us.

If you are new here, the people you will find in this community are eccentric, they are odd, they are lovely, they are interesting. And you will only get out of this community that which you put in. You know that I don’t need to tell you that. But there are things that you just want to mark in your calendar like the family retreat, or some of the other activities that are outside of the Sundays because that is where, for us, community has really come together. It’s been fantastic.

I want to finish with one thought, which is that if this art, where the sign says remember, you know, our purpose, what is meaningful, and our connection to this community. I want to say that I think, more than anything, the world needs us. Seriously. The world needs this place and this message and this reminder purpose, this reminder of connection and community. We live in this world that nudges us towards the material. And I think that it is more important than ever and so I am so honoured to be up here and speak about my passion for this place and so I want to thank everyone in this community for all that they have given to me and to our family. I am very grateful for it. Thank you very much.