Member Testimonies

Finding Unitarianism was not difficult for me. I am third generation Unitarian. Finding my own way to worship has been a challenge.

I was raised by two Humanists. We didn’t talk about God in our household, or prayer. Instead, we concentrated on doing what we knew was right, based on logic, reason and the scientific method.

The best thing about Unitarianism, however, is that it allows members to grow and change. As I became an adult and began to live my own life, I realized that many things in this world just don’t make a lot of sense. I realized that sometimes what is "right" isn’t what is logical. I started to listen to my "gut" more when I was making big choices and to consider the messages I got from my dreams, from my art and from forms of divination like Runes and the I Ching.

In short, I became a mystic.

Now, mysticism doesn’t really require Sunday church attendance. I can commune with my higher power almost anywhere, without sermons, rituals or a beautiful building. But living my beliefs is another story. Sometimes, I can barely hear my inner voice and don’t know what to do next. Sometimes, I have a concept of how I want to live, but no idea how to go about it. In the most difficult times, I know exactly what I need to do, but don’t know if I have the courage to do it. What if people reject me?

It’s then that community really helps. Here, we have a large enough group of people that I can see so many ways of living ones beliefs. If I want to learn more about reducing poverty in Toronto, I have only to look those of you who have helped build homes for Habitat for Humanity. or who volunteer for Out of the Cold.

If I want to become more environmentally friendly, I can speak to those of you who bicycle to work, who use TTC or who belong to ride share. I can meet with the members who grow and eat organic foods. I can talk to those who advocate for recycling.

As a lesbian mother, I love this place. Here, my children can see other families with same sex parents and know that they are not the only ones. There are people of all sexual orientations in leadership roles, not merely tolerated, but respected by the community.

I love our range of ages, from the inspiring services run by the Youth group to the women older than me in the women’s group, who have shown me the kind of woman I might become.

The challenge in a place like First is that it isn’t static. Since I’ve joined, friends have moved away, groups and committees have folded, our staff has changed… and will change again. It’s a real exercise to trust to believe although First will not look the same next year as it does today, it will still be full of people with strong values and inspiring lives. As we struggle to chose new staff and to find new ways to connect and to run programmes, I hope that we won’t loose sight of our strengths both as individuals and as a group. This place deserves to thrive.

Honouring Their Memory

On a wall, just outside that door, in our Secret Garden, is a heavy bronze plaque, with the names of five young men, probably in their early twenties when they died inhumanely between 1914 and 1918. All were members of this congregation.

The plaque reads:

“This tablet is erected by the members of  The Unitarian Church in loving memory of

HAROLD SWANN
THEODORE GLASGOW
MONTAGUE SANDERSON
ORLEY MALCOLM
STANLEY MARTIN

They died the noblest death a man may die Fighting for God and Liberty
Their name liveth for evermore “

Do any of you know any of their names? Have you ever seen the plaque? It will undoubtedly outlive all of us here and possibly many generations beyond. Perhaps some of you are related or descended from some of these young men.

It is estimated that more than fifty million people - that’s 50 million, were killed, and countless millions more injured, mutilated and degraded during the Second World War, which lasted a very long six years, and has left its scars everywhere, even to this day, and certainly long beyond.

A few of you may have been active, or were innocent victims in other ways, on all sides, during that war which raged around the whole world. Most of you would not even have been born before those times. Those who fought and lived through it would be over eighty now and perhaps glad that their memories of those times may be fading.

I served in England during the Second World War , in the R.C.A.F., in Bomber Command; helping to guide young men and their planes to their targets in Europe, from a distance, via radar, and hopefully back to base. But not always. And I can tell you that I would personally prefer, and I think my brothers, at least one, would agree that we never again have a Remembrance Day. Because it brings back ineffable remorse for the undoubted huge numbers of widows and orphans that we helped create And sadness for the memories of half of the male graduates of my High School graduating class, who were dead within almost two years of graduation. Good friends all, and just beyond their teenage years. But my story is not unique. Sadly there are millions like it throughout the world.   So: Can war be condoned or justified. Well, I suppose Yes and No. Certainly almost everyone in Canada condoned it in 1939, and all those liberated from their oppressive yokes in 1945 knew it was justified. What cannot be condoned is the tragic stupidity of man- kind for never have figured out how to prevent the horrors of wars and killings, and our failure to support the United Nations Organization enough to effectively do this.

So again we bring to honourable memory , if only for a day, the bravery, the sacrifices, and the memory of everyone, known or unknown to us, dead and alive, who struggled through wars to bring us to this place in our lives, yes, to this very congregation here today.

These five young men of this congregation might have become great fathers, or great farmers, or hockey players, or leaders of this congregation or of this country. So we are keeping the light of Unitarianism alive for you, Harold Swann, Theodore Glasgow, Montague Sanderson, Orley Malcolm and Stanley Martin.

You are a part of us forever,  And we are a part of you.

THANK YOU.

A Humanist UU

Of all the registered UU religious brands, the one to which I feel the most loyalty is Humanism.

More specifically, I identify with Scientific Humanism, which has been defined as "a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism, and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion."

I don't consider myself to be a Philosophical Humanist, which I understand would have me concentrating more exclusively on human need and human interest.

I also call myself an Agnostic, because I understand that there are some questions that we cannot answer, and I believe that all knowledge is provisional, or as the time-honoured UU aphorism puts it: "Revelation is not closed."

A important way that I express my religious self here at First, is by celebrating our 4th Principle: "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning."

Some of you may have witnessed my searching in my impromptu coffee hour science lectures, or my Socratic probing of your political views.

This congregation is important to me because many of you actually listen to me, and I am inspired to listen  to you, and to learn.

My roots are in the Jewish tradition, where the most learned have always been the most respected. But even during my youthful years of week-nights at Hebrew school, studying for my Bar Mitzvah, I considered myself to be an agnostic, and I focused on my day job as a science nerd.

As I've matured, I've more and more held learning in high esteem. Mathematics, physics, technology; philosophy, language, cognition – learning has become my hobby, and my vocation.

At First I've learned about a religion without irrational creeds, where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, where there is no privileged oligarchy revealing truths about mythical divinities.

I very much value what I've learned from all the free-thinkers that I've met here … and I plan to continue to learn from you and, I hope, you from me.

Hello. My name is Stan Yack.

I’ve been attending services here for about twenty years, and this will be my third testimony. Today, I have a confession to make, and I will be coming out of a closet. No not that closet, another closet, one with a green door.

First the confession: For over 60 years I have been an unrepentant omnivore. When I started calling myself that, it was just a thoughtless joke; I was unconcerned by any criticism of my culinary behavior. But recently I’ve become aware of good reasons for changing that behavior. These days for many of us, not just Unitarian-Universalists, discussion of  culinary behavior has become more common.

In none of the related domains of discourse – health, ethics, environment – are the issues regarding dietary choices simple. The discussions are very personal, and with so many of our social connections occurring at meals, conversations can be uncomfortable. I recommend waiting until dessert.

Of the arguments against eating meat, I've found it easiest to reject  health-based proscriptions. My pop-science understanding of human biology tells me that our digestive system has barely changed from our savannah ancestors, so surely a diet including meat should still be good for us. (Though I am concerned about the antibiotic content of factory farmed meat).

For me the ethical objections to meat-eating are more relevant. As a student of cognition and philosophy, one ethical question I must consider is which creatures’ lives I have the moral right to terminate. 

But today, on Earth Sunday, I want to talk about environmental ethics.

The environmental problem with eating meat is straightforward: There are over 6 billion humans on the planet, and there is a fixed amount of land, a fixed amount of potable water, and limited energy for cultivation, fertilizer, and transportation. There’s just not enough of those things to feed meat to 6 billion human beings. So what right do I have to eat meat? I can put the issue concisely by reworking an old saying:

“One man’s meat is another eight men’s bread.”

That’s because the production of a given amount of meat protein typically requires some animal to consume eight times that amount of plant protein, corn on today’s factory farms. Eight-to-one is the factor on North American industrial beef farms; some sources estimates the factor as low as six, others as high as at ten. It is lower on farms where cattle graze on grasses, but there’s not very much of that going on any more. Our modern industrialized food system, whether producing meat or vegetables, is a product of the so-called “Green Revolution”. That system depends on tremendous amounts of fossil fuel for fertilizers, for pesticides, and for transportation. Cheap fossil fuel is a resource that is unlikely to be available for much longer. And protein production from beef consumes 100 times the water as production from grain!

Of course, a one pound steak and six pounds of bread are not nutritionally identical – they contain different proportions of proteins, carbs, fat, sugar, fiber, … An excellent guide to the health and ethical issues of food is Michael Pollan’s best-selling book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. The New Yorker says that Pollan “undertakes a pilgrim’s progress along modern food chains, setting standards for ethical eating”.

But now it’s time for me to open my green closet door, and come out:

I have become a “pescetarian”, a vegetarian who also eats seafood.

Note that I haven’t committed to a anti-meat orthodoxy, religiously avoiding meat to claim my place on a higher moral plane. Throwing out the leftover meat in my freezer didn’t seem to make much environmental sense (The meat’s all gone now.), and at my recent family Passover seder I did eat my mother’s chopped liver.

But for almost three months I haven’t purchased any meat, not in restaurants, not in supermarkets, not on the street: no beef, no pork, no chicken. That means my meat consumption is almost negligible. I decided that like Michael Pollan: “I had to stop eating meat before I could in good conscience decide if I can keep eating meat.” Now nearing the end of my third month, my conscience is still directing me toward a meat-free lifestyle.

In the future I might backslide from pescaterianism, and rationalize myself back into more carnivorous behavior. (After all, studies show that one man’s chicken is only another two men’s wheat, so maybe I’ll become a “pollo-tarian”.)  Or I may become more committed to reducing or rejecting consumption of animal products, and swear off fish and seafood.

I’ll keep you posted.

Dare to Dream

“Dare to Dream” Testimony

First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto

October 16, 2005

By: Barb Wentworth

 

Hello,

By way of introduction, many of you will recognize me because I come to church with Mark, an adult who lives with cerebral palsy and a developmental disability.

Dare to Dream:

I have dreamt all my life. It’s what keeps me from being depressed. I dream about what’s next, what opportunities can I create for myself, what places do I want to go, what things do I want to do. That’s the fun side of dreaming. The trouble with dreaming is that I don’t always get what I want. But I always get something new and different.

My Dare to Dream testimony has a theme – not surprising because I’ve been dreaming about this in one way or another all my life. It’s around disability.

1. What makes you proud/time you felt most alive at the church?

I have been proudest of this community when you include my son Mark. When people approach Mark and tell him they like his singing, I see him duck his head in a shy, pleased reaction. I was proud of this community when Mark Morrison Reed welcomed my son from the pulpit – that was critical to Mark’s engagement here and his sense of belonging and helped open the door for you to approach him as well. Thank you.

2. What do you personally bring to the church?

I am changing my role here at Toronto First – taking on more of a leadership role. I offered a session at the Leadership Workshop and will offer a Disability and Me workshop on Nov. 12th. When I lead here, it changes my relationship to this place and to you. Leadership here makes me grow into this community.

3. If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for and how would the church look in five years after you got your wishes?

My Magic Wand idea is best described by reading a quote from Margaret Lawrence’s memoir -  “Dancing on the Earth”.

Talking about her birth, she says:

“My mother and I were lucky. I often think, however, of the children born with birth defects. Their parents are by necessity heroes, caring for and loving their children, refusing to give up, coping somehow under stresses that I have never known and feeling, despite all the terrible difficulties, that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the life of their child. Also feeling…so often that sense of being overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer awful presence of need: so much care, so much strength, when human strength even at its utmost is limited. I stand in awe of those victories of the human spirit, while at the same time I wonder at a society where the caring parents of disabled children, and the children themselves, are so inadequately helped.”

Where are these children? Where are these parents? Where are we as a community??

I believe this statement applies to more than parents. It’s also true for people caring for those who are terminally ill, those with Alzheimers Disease, those who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues. We will all be touched by our own disability or the disability of a loved one at some point in our lives.

I believe this “presence of need” is all around us here in this congregation. We keep it hidden. Put up your hand if you have a disability that no one/or only a few people here know about….Put up your hand if you know of someone with a disability that could use some extra support….I believe we have the capacity to be more honest about our own needs and I believe we have the capacity to bring into our congregation others who are in need.

This congregation set out to become a welcoming congregation on sexual orientation with great success. My dream is that this community will also become a welcoming congregation to those who are differently-abled. You have already started with your generosity towards Mark.

Just being welcomed and accepted here means the world. Thank you.


Hello,

By way of introduction, many of you will recognize me because I come to church with Mark, an adult who lives with cerebral palsy and a developmental disability.

Dare to Dream:

I have dreamt all my life. It’s what keeps me from being depressed. I dream about what’s next, what opportunities can I create for myself, what places do I want to go, what things do I want to do. That’s the fun side of dreaming. The trouble with dreaming is that I don’t always get what I want. But I always get something new and different.

My Dare to Dream testimony has a theme – not surprising because I’ve been dreaming about this in one way or another all my life. It’s around disability.

1. What makes you proud/time you felt most alive at the church?

I have been proudest of this community when you include my son Mark. When people approach Mark and tell him they like his singing, I see him duck his head in a shy, pleased reaction. I was proud of this community when Mark Morrison Reed welcomed my son from the pulpit – that was critical to Mark’s engagement here and his sense of belonging and helped open the door for you to approach him as well. Thank you.

2. What do you personally bring to the church?

I am changing my role here at Toronto First – taking on more of a leadership role. I offered a session at the Leadership Workshop and will offer a Disability and Me workshop on Nov. 12th. When I lead here, it changes my relationship to this place and to you. Leadership here makes me grow into this community.

3. If you had a magic wand, what three things would you wish for and how would the church look in five years after you got your wishes?

My Magic Wand idea is best described by reading a quote from Margaret Lawrence’s memoir -  “Dancing on the Earth”.

Talking about her birth, she says:

“My mother and I were lucky. I often think, however, of the children born with birth defects. Their parents are by necessity heroes, caring for and loving their children, refusing to give up, coping somehow under stresses that I have never known and feeling, despite all the terrible difficulties, that their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the life of their child. Also feeling…so often that sense of being overwhelmed and defeated by the sheer awful presence of need: so much care, so much strength, when human strength even at its utmost is limited. I stand in awe of those victories of the human spirit, while at the same time I wonder at a society where the caring parents of disabled children, and the children themselves, are so inadequately helped.”

Where are these children? Where are these parents? Where are we as a community??

I believe this statement applies to more than parents. It’s also true for people caring for those who are terminally ill, those with Alzheimers Disease, those who are struggling with addictions and mental health issues. We will all be touched by our own disability or the disability of a loved one at some point in our lives.

I believe this “presence of need” is all around us here in this congregation. We keep it hidden. Put up your hand if you have a disability that no one/or only a few people here know about….Put up your hand if you know of someone with a disability that could use some extra support….I believe we have the capacity to be more honest about our own needs and I believe we have the capacity to bring into our congregation others who are in need.

This congregation set out to become a welcoming congregation on sexual orientation with great success. My dream is that this community will also become a welcoming congregation to those who are differently-abled. You have already started with your generosity towards Mark.

Just being welcomed and accepted here means the world. Thank you.