Member Testimonies

Good morning, and Happy First Day of Spring in 2005. Spring used to be March 21, but now, somehow, it’s March 20. Well, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a most frigid first day of spring.

My name is Shirley Grant. I’m not a born-again Unitarian. I’m a born Unitarian. My parents met and married, and I was christened in the old Jarvis St. church. Yes, they called it “christening” in those days. My father, Walter Sachs, is in the photo hanging in the Board Room, taken when a plaque was being installed on the Sears Building, where our church used to be. He is on the far right, and it is a rather surreal experience for me to sit at a meeting in that room with my father gazing down at me.

I asked to do a testimony because I wanted to share some of my memories of growing up in the old Jarvis St. Church. The district, even then, was rather a red light district, out of bounds to servicemen during World War 2. Charles Eddis, retired minister of the Montreal Church, was in the navy in Toronto and had to get permission from his Commanding Officer to attend church!

The RE program was called Sunday School and consisted of just 2 classes. The juniors , numbering about 10, were taught by Nancy Knight, a wonderful former member of this church who died in 1995. The high school crowd met in the same room and numbered about 8.

One year we high schoolers decided to serve Easter breakfast to the whole congregation: grapefruit, eggs, sausages, coffee – the works. My job was to cut through the segments of grapefruit halves. Even today I can still remember a seemingly endless row of grapefruit halves stretching down both sides of a long long table into eternity.

One particular Sunday, when we had just gone on daylight saving time, we waited and waited for the organist to appear. Finally our minister started the service without him. About ten to twelve he arrived, all ready to warm up for what he thought was the 11 o’clock service!

Our minister, Mr. James Hodgins held a garden party once a year at his elaborate Brampton estate. My chief memory was that there was always unlimited free ice cream in little Dixie cups with those flat wooden spoons. For me, as a child, this was heaven.

Mr. Hodgins lived in Brampton and was required only to come to Toronto to give the sermon. My father’s acerbic remark was that Mr. Hodgins would arrive at quarter to eleven, needing 5 minutes to take off his outer clothing, and then, of course, he needed 10 minutes to prepare the sermon!

The congregation dwindled during the 40’s, due, so it was thought, to our aging minister, Mr. Hodgins. He became frailer and frailer, and almost tottered up the aisle. One time my mother, who had an aisle seat, thought he was going to topple over into her lap!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reminisces, because I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing them with you. There are many more anecdotes, but alas! My allotted time is up and depositing another nickel wouldn’t buy me any more time from Donna.

For the past two years I have proudly watched my son carry Toronto First’s banner at the opening parade of the Annual CUC conference. I have also been delighted to watch both of my children shed their shyness and interact freely and confidently with Unitarian children and adults from across Canada. Their passion for the friends they make, for the adventures they have, and for the experiences they share with others at these Conferences is contagious. 

Our family’s attachment started three years ago when I went to the Kelowna Conference on my own to deepen my personal connection to Unitarianism. The next year I took my family to Winnipeg and last year to Edmonton – and now my kids insist on going every year.

For Owen who is 8 and Laura who is 10 the Conference …..

  • Helps them to appreciate the diversity and size of this great country.
  • It illustrates that Unitarianism is a national movement, not just something that happens at Avenue Road & St. Clair.
  • And it gives them fresh opportunity to broaden their UU connections without any of the history in relationships that might exist here.

For my wife Janet and I the Conferences …

  • Help us better appreciate the democratic process and resources available that give shape to our Canadian Unitarian values.
  • They let us immerse ourselves in a diverse yet similar community with inspiring sessions – from Wendy Luella Perkin’s workshop on chanting to the thought provoking UU Minister’s lecture series.
  • And the conferences simply give us opportunity to have a coffee with a Unitarian from Vancouver, a beer with another from Montreal or Halifax, to share a meal, with wine, with someone from Ottawa, and so on. This often leads to a better appreciation of life at First – and always a better appreciation of Unitarianism in general!

But back to my children. Laura and Owen embrace the UU experience of the Conference in their own ways. Laura loves doing the crafts and exploring museums with other Unitarian children. Owen loves the games, stories, and freedom from home ties. The Children’s program is well organized, very safe, and conscientiously managed – it is not simply a video-watching kid-sitting service! The local leaders actually focus on the kids as their ministry to the Conference.

Who knows, in 5 or so years you may see me working with the CUC Board governing denominational policy, Janet engaged in a social action cause, and my kids flopping around with the Youth establishing their national network of friends and connections. Or maybe we’ll just keep attending to hang out with other UU’s. Either way, the Conference will help us better connect with this Canadian religious movement that matters.

I’m Cameron Linton, and my family is going to the CUC conference in Hamilton this May, to St John’s NB in May 2006, and wherever the CUC conference is going to be held in May 2007, 2008, 2009 and so on.

And we’d love to see you there!

Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country.  These words from John f. Kennedy in 1961 were directed at his own people but they still resonate with my wife Gwen and me, and I'm sure with many of you also.

It brought shivers of pride to me when I saw so many familiar faces from First Toronto Unitarian  Congregation assembled at a line of partly built 'habitat "homes., in a sea of frozen mud on a cold November Saturday morning in Malvern, a residential suburb out near the Toronto Zoo.   They were all there "to do something for their country" with no thought of reward for themselves, or so they thought.

Habitat for humanity was again swinging into action.  And this ragtag army of 35 half asleep shivering volunteers from all levels of Canadian life, some of whom didn't know what a spirit level or a crescent wrench or a wooden shim was, would, by the end of the day, have become experts in using these tools and installing double windows and frames into openings built by another gang of Canadian ragtags on the previous weekend.

It appeared an impossible task - beginning at a trailer where we rooted around in another sea of safety boots to find a pair that fitted.  (I heard of a woman who wore two left boots all day, thought they were a bit uncomfortable but were certainly warm and waterproof, and made her 4 centimetres taller)   some of us wore mismatched but functional work gloves all day and there was some hilarity as some women sought just the right colour safety helmet to, maybe, match their outfits.

But while it was mostly exhilarating and great fun, it was also a time for those dedicated folks to reflect, as they struggled to lift the frames into position and line them up with those spirit levels how this was also lifting up their own spirit levels to a new high.

At lunchtime I asked some of them how they felt about why they were there and what was the incentive.  The answers were wide ranging. e.g. 'I'm lucky to live in good housing myself, it's the least I can do to help someone less fortunate"   or  " wow, I’m so glad I came, I've had conversations with a member whom I never knew before that has made me a new friend"   and as Jack McFadden described it " this is a day of meaningful  labour, learning and fellowship - this is not a handout it's a hand up"

Almost all thought they would return again - some if only for the great sandwiches and coffee that Beth Ann McFadden and Gillian Burton and their team made here in the church kitchen and brought to the site.

At the end of the day many wrote their name on the inside of a cupboard wall, or elsewhere that might not be painted over.  I can see someone living there maybe 50 years from now looking at a name and wondering,  "who was David Tiffin or Kathy Thompson or Larry Wulff or Frauke Rubin or Nancy Krygsman or Helen Iacovino or some of the many other folks who have dedicated a few days of their life to keep alive the web of life that connects us all.   Their names may never be on a public monument but they will live on in these houses as a memorial to them, and a reminder to future generations of how they are standing on the shoulders of those who went before them.

So, was it worth it?  Yes, I guarantee that you will feel good about it for as long as you live.  Stan Yack and I and a few others were about 5'5" tall when we arrived but when we left we felt 6' tall.  We ranged in age from 18 years to myself at almost 83, but strangely I think we all felt the same young age as we worked.  So come out for the next build on Feb. 5th, and get rejuvenated.  This may be the best chance you will ever get to  " do something for your country" that will have a lasting effect beyond your own lifetime  - and to have "your country do something for you"  - i.e.  build pride in yourself.

Every Sunday here we affirm the UU principles of our religious faith; such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person - justice, equity and compassion in human relations.   On that Saturday and others to come we put those words into reality with dignified housing for the less fortunate, and, as we sing at collection time ," to build the common good - and make our own days glad."

But if you cannot take an active building part in this effort please be assured that your financial and moral support to it is equally important as is the working force. All of First Toronto Unitarian Congregation has pledged to be in it together and we can all look forward together to the grand opening of this home sometime in the fall.

The signup table is open upstairs, in Workman Hall., after this service.

Good Morning. My name is Ted Wood. I’m a member of Amnesty International Group 142.

This past Friday December 10th was International Human Rights Day. Today we celebrate the work of Amnesty International and mark International Human Rights Day by participating in the annual Amnesty Write for Rights.

When I think about why I joined Amnesty International, my thoughts go back to the 1950's and 60's. While there were a number of influences, two come quickly to mind. In public school in the Fifties I had an opportunity to learn French. I was fascinated by a language and way of thinking that was different from my own. It was my first understanding of the diversity in our world. When French Canadians in Quebec fought for the right to use French in their daily lives I was naturally drawn to their cause. When I recall the Sixties, I remember the struggle for civil rights in the United States. I couldn’t understand the discrimination against African Americans and I sympathized greatly with their struggle for equality. When the inner cities exploded in riots I went to see for myself what had happened there. While visiting relatives in Rochester, New York I walked through the riot torn area of the city. It was a quiet, peaceful day but the boarded-up buildings gave silent testimony to a world that was full of anger and hatred rooted in inequality.

The anger that was unleashed in those days of the civil rights movement is an anger that we see today in many parts of the world. Part of what led me to Amnesty and keeps me active is the belief that protection of human rights is a key to the preservation and promotion of freedom and justice and to the prevention of war. Would the Holocaust have happened if protection of human rights had been an important consideration in the 1930's? What would the Middle East be like today if the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis were a significant motivating factor for all parties to the dispute?

The selfless dedication of Amnesty members also motivates me and I will mention two who were members of this congregation. Jim Potts was a tireless supporter of Amnesty. Over the years he inspired me with his passion and dedication to human rights. When I visited him just before he passed away, we talked about Amnesty for much of the time. Jim’s enthusiasm for Amnesty was there to the end of his life. Any of you who knew Jim will not be surprised to hear that Jim did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. Ethel Batho was also a long time supporter of Amnesty. In her last years she was no longer able to write letters but she wanted so much to contribute. She found a way by sending us stamps so we could send letters on her behalf.

One thing I have come to realize over the years is that it is very difficult to change the world but we can make a start by changing ourselves. Part of Amnesty’s work involves writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders. The process involves sending one letter at a time, helping one prisoner at a time, defending one human rights defender at a time. With each letter we bring hope and the possibility of justice and freedom. The cutting edge for me is that I believe that each letter we write also changes ourselves and is thus one small step in changing the world. We will not always be successful in freeing a prisoner but as long as we are doing the work we are sowing the seeds for a better world.

Today is Amnesty Sunday. We will be writing letters on behalf of Father Pedro Ruquoy, a human rights defender in the Dominican Republic. We will be promoting human rights and changing ourselves and the world, one letter at a time.

What brought you here? What keeps you here? What is still unresolved, your growing edge? These questions guide a testimony. Good morning. My name is Diane Bosman, and for the past six years and change I have been your Director of Lifespan Religious Education. I came to this congregation a Unitarian of many years, a questioner for my whole life, and an educator in some of the more untraditional senses. In an incredible act of faith you have bestowed on me your trust and your support as I worked with you to shape a vision and system of lifespan religious education in this community- a system that could inspire each of us at each age and stage of our life to explore, to grow, to deepen our lives.

It has been an incredible experience to do this work. Being your Director of Lifespan Religious Education has brought together for me much of what is most precious in my heart: my values, my faith, my love and yearning for community, my relationship with Paul, my own gifts and strengths and opportunity to make a difference in the world. That has been the great joy of doing this work.

What’s my growing edge? What is still unresolved for me? Ironically, this is the same as what has been my joy here. The struggle as well as the joy of this work is in that it has brought together what is most precious in my heart. My process of coming to the decision to move on has been one of disentanglement. I have had to ask myself where does this one position end and the overarching profession of Religious Education begin? Where does my responsibility to you end, and our genuine friendship begin? Where does my work end and my faith begin? And the most critical question that I have needed to ask myself is where does the role of DLRE - that I have become so accustomed to - end and Diane Bosman begin?

That is my growing edge. These are the questions that I will be exploring next in my life; giving – for a time – separate attention to these strands of my life. I will explore my own faith by attending worship services again, although for a time, I will need to do that in another community, so well all have space for new beginnings. I will explore my career and profession, by committing to new work and new organizations. And I am curious to discover whether I may yet find myself returning to the call of Religious Education. And I will explore my relationships with you by, in time, discovering what holds us together beyond these roles that we have grown accustomed to, discovering if, for us too, there may be a new beginning. Through it all, I will be learning more about myself and where my path leads, because the road always leads onward.

I leave here, with excitement, fear, trepidation, but also with trust. Trust that in my time as your director, you have taught me well. I am equipped with your wisdom, your stories, and your affection. I am proud of all that we have accomplished together. I also have trust that you will continue well in your journey. I hope that I have helped equip you with some wisdom and stories and my very genuine affection as well. Soon, a new companion will join you on this journey: the interim director of lifespan religious education. Her name is Renate. I have gotten to know her over this past week; I have gotten to know you over these past years, and with great confidence I can place you in each other’s care, knowing that great things will come of this new relationship.

For all that come within this community are touched and changed by it. You have done that for me; and for that I thank you with the deepest gratitude.