Testimony of Stan Yack, November 14, 2004
But it turned out that our temporary host's Christian symbols didn't change the spirit of our Unitarian services, so I hung in and a year later I marched back behind John Kiley's bagpipes. In our transformed home, I cherished architect Murray Ross's elegant, functional design, and artist Sarah Hall's breathtaking stained glass tower.
I have only a vague memory of the first sermons I heard here. But over the years I've learned about a religion without irrational creeds, where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, and where no privileged oligarchy rules by right of some mythical divinity. I very much value what I've learned from Mark & Donna, and from our guest speakers and teachers.
I've volunteered here in many supporting roles: painting, cleaning, typing, bartending, organizing ... and last year I was drafted to serve on the Board of Trustees.
Even before becoming a designated leader of this congregation I have occasionally incited people to action, but usually my contributions have been technical ones, facilitating and amplifying the effectiveness of others whose actions I've joined.
Witnessing the examples of others at First, eight years ago I volunteered at Out of the Cold, the Toronto housing project connected to our Food & Shelter Committee. Out of the Cold provides meals and warm beds for some of Toronto's homeless. At a midtown church, volunteers from six or so faith communities including our own prepare food, register guests, serve dinner, distribute clothing, ... I started there doing kitchen cleanup once every other month. Lately I've been a weekly regular, the "shift supervisor" for dining room setup.
Our complex world presents us with many moral conundrums where the proper course of action is unclear; but I have no doubt that working at Out of the Cold is the right thing to do. And that work is empowering, because no one can stop those of us who feel called to do it. I've recently discovered a new book, titled "The Impossible Will Take a Little While". That inspiring and uplifting "citizen's guide to hope in a time of fear" contains stories by and about activists who didn't give up their struggle, even when hard reason would dismiss any hope. Many of them are famous, like Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King. But some are unfamiliar, or even anonymous, like the persons unknown who involved Raymond Parks in the NAACP, who in turn activated his wife Rosa, who years later refused to give up her seat and move to the back of bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
The collector of those stories, Paul Rogat Loeb, says that what the activists have in common is that though they realize that their goals might not be met in their lifetimes, they feel that "living with conviction is of value in itself ... simply keeping the flame alive is a victory"
It may seem pretentious of me to compare my setting up tables and washing dishes at Out of the Cold to sleeping for 28 years on the concrete floor of a cell on Robben Island, or risking the wrath of Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South . but not unlike resistors in prison, and protestors in Alabama, we volunteers at Out of the Cold are keeping a flame alive.
It has been a joy for me to meet other volunteers and staff there. Many have distinctly non-secular views about the place of humanity in the Cosmos, very unlike my own views; but we all share a commitment to try to leave the world a better place. In a couple of weeks I will be participating in another direct-action project: on Saturday, November 27th I will be helping to finish the interior of a Habitat for Humanity home. Last month many of you responded enthusiastically to an energizing talk by the local CEO of Habitat, which has changed for the better the lives of over a million people. Many of you will be joining me to hammer nails, paint walls, feed volunteers, ... There will be fulfillment in working together with others to do good work.
There are so many worthwhile causes, injustices are so well established, and progress is always so slow, that it is easy to despair of effecting change. But taking action brings relief from such discouraging feelings. By "not refusing to do the something I can do", perhaps my own world line will nudge that of some 21st century Rosa Parks.
As the activist and author Howard Zinn tells us in Loeb's collection of stories: "life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world."
Testimony of Ted Wood, August 22, 2004
I have been a spiritual seeker of sorts for most of my life. What originally drew me to this congregation 15 years ago was hearing that we teach our children about all the religions of the world. That sounded like the church for me, a place that is open to many sources of inspiration. We teach our children to think for themselves and to find answers about the meaning of life and the mystery of creation from their own experience and inspiration. We love our children and we support them by nurturing them and hopefully providing them with the tools they will need to live fulfilling lives.
In order to nurture our children we put our energy into providing for them. Our physical, emotional and mental energies and our money. And what is money but just another form of energy. Jacob Needleman in his book "Money and the Meaning of Life", talks about money as potential energy. It represents the energies we put into our work to earn it. Money is full of potential as it also represents what we will create when we spend it.
I came to this congregation looking for a spiritual home, a community, a sense of belonging. At the time I was going through a crisis of sorts, having recently lost a friend who had died suddenly. His death shook my foundations. It seemed such a waste and I found myself looking for meaning and reconnection to life. When I discovered this place that was open to the wisdom of all traditions, that sounded like a place I would like to be. It was then and it continues to be today. In the past 15 years I have learned to build my own religion, a religion that has meaning for me. It is an ongoing process as I find that I continually need to renew my place in this mysterious creation in which we live. This is what we teach our children and also what we teach and support in each other.
Many years before I became a member of this congregation I learned that life is a choice. Over the years I have also discovered that what we choose to do needs to be done with love. It is through love that our spirits grow. It is also through service given with love that we make a difference in the lives of others.
For me, money is just another form of energy which we put to service. What we do with our money is our choice but a very important choice. We provide food and shelter for our children, our families and ourselves. We provide for others who are in need. By supporting this congregation, we provide nourishment to our spirits: the spirits of our children and the spirits of each other. These are all possible choices for how we spend our money. The key for me is to look at money the same way I look at my other energies and to give the best I am able with love and generosity of spirit without asking for anything in return.
The money we have is full of great potential. In the same way as I aspire to live my life with meaning and a sense of spiritual purpose, I also aspire to put my money toward that same meaning and purpose. For me, our financial crisis is a spiritual crisis and the solution will be a spiritual solution. A solution which inspires us to live fulfilling, meaningful lives in service and with love.
Testimony of Mary Ellen Warren, April 18, 2004
Have you noticed the print hanging in the vestibule inside the front door at First? It is a reproduction of the “founding’ of the Unitarian religion in 1568 in the town of Torda, Transylvania, in what is now Romania. Francis David is shown proclaiming the principle of religious tolerance. Ministers of the four established religions were to be allowed to preach their beliefs without fear of reprisals - a form of religious toleration. That print is a symbol of my religious journey.
My formative years were spent in Galt now Cambridge Ontario. There, at that time, I learned that people were divided into two groups – “us” the Catholics and “them” the rest. However, my father declined an invitation to join the Catholic men’s group, the Knights of Columbus and chose instead to support the non-sectarian Humane Society. And my mother determined that playing bridge with Protestants was no problem. So my own discomfort with dividing the world into “us and them” was somewhat quieted.
When I came to First in 1991, I got to know and appreciate the Unitarian principles through teaching the Red Group in Religious Education. And through courses such as the Haunting Church, I gained perspective on my early religious background. I trolled the shelves of the library, for a range of theologies. I attended courses on the Muslim faith, joined in a Passover Seder dinner and participated in the in the Humanist Group. I had found a place of religious tolerance, just what I had been looking for.
At First, I encountered the Partner Church Group, a group of seven self-selected members and Hungarian-speaking friends. We set ourselves the goal of furthering communication with our Partner Church Bartok Bela, Budapest. There are major religious differences between the Unitarian churches in North America and in Hungary/Romania, what they share is a fair amount of tolerance of other religions. We had much to learn about each other, which was made possible by sponsored visits to First by the Bartok Bela ministers. In the near future we hope to have Co-Minster Sandor Leta and his wife Erika visit Toronto First.
That is the cutting edge for me. How to both espouse tolerance and to be tolerant. How to see white in black and black in white and not fall in and out of relativism, cynicism and despair. First Unitarian Congregation, and the Partner Church is a platform for me to be “open to the other”. As the saying goes, the most radical thing you can do is talk to one other person.
Last August after staying for a few days at Batok Bela and attending a service there, I traveled to Torda. I stood in the very same church pictured in the print in the vestibule. It is a Catholic Church. The Unitarian Church is a couple of blocks away, one of many that serves the 75,000 Unitarians in Transylvania.
As a post script, after the Sunday service at our Partner Church, Bartok Bela in Budapest the members passed chocolates to honour their special guests from First. Today after the service, in Workman Hall a Partner Church Group member will pass a tray of chocolates and strawberries, our gift to you.
Testimony of Kalvin Drake, February 15, 2004
My name is Kalvin Drake, and I'm a Unitarian*Universalist… I've been a Unitarian*Universalist since Tuesday, September 12, 1972… since around 6:30 in the evening…
Of course, I didn't know that I was Unitarian and a Universalist. I didn't even know the terms, let alone a definition of the terms. In fact, I quickly discovered that I definitely wasn't a Unitarian or a Universalist when I read what scant definitions I could find in the encyclopedias and the other books in my teenage bedroom in the North of England.
You see, according to the books I couldn't be a Unitarian or a Universalist because I wasn't a Christian, and I didn't much care whether God came in one, three or 57 varieties. The "ultimate salvation of my soul" wasn't a major concern to me either, since I was confident that whatever "happened to me when I died" would be (or at least should be) determined by how I lived in this life. And if I was wrong, then I knew I'd have some pretty "good" company down there in Hell.
It wasn't until I came to Canada that I associated myself with the labels "Unitarian" and "Universalist". Even then it took some time! Too much time. In the days before that great Unitarian invention, the World Wide Web, it wasn't easy to find you! The definitions I found in the North American reference books were much the same as in the British.
It was only years later that I discovered that, while North American Unitarians and Universalists continue to use Christian terminology, they might mean something quite different! I guess that I, like many others I've talked to, hadn't stuck around long enough to listen to the "small print" that says "Well, when Unitarians say 'Church', 'Sermons' and 'Hymns', they don't mean 'Church', 'Sermons' and 'Hymns' like…" Well, you know what I mean!
In fact, it was only through Humanist and Buddhist groups in Canada that I learned "No, really, take a look at the Unitarians. Fortunately, they are not what the say they are!"
I suspect my story is not unique - and that many of you have stumbled across Unitarianism by accident…
Not only have we ourselves forgone the benefits of being "connected" for much of our short lives, I am convinced that there are countless thousands across this country - and millions across the world - who would be comforted and energized by simply knowing we exist.
And beyond the individual, I have come to believe that Unitarian*Universalism offers not only a religious, but a unique philosophical and political common ground where diverse people can come together from across this fractious planet to solve complex problems with mutual respect and trust.
It is for these reasons that I see the work of the Canadian Unitarian Council as so important, and why I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with such competent staff and volunteers at both the regional level as a Congregational Networker and at the National level as a member of several committees and task forces.
Together, as individual Unitarian*Universalists and as members of the CUC, our work is vital - for the peace and solace of individual hearts and minds, and for the very future of our planet.
Testimony of Bob McKenzie, November 23, 2003
Good morning. My name is Bob McKenzie. 50 years ago this month I joined this Congregation. It's hard to believe -- but it's true. I thought after 50 years I should say something wise.
I wasn't born Unitarian. My parents were staunch supporters and lay leaders in the United Church of Canada. It was off to church every Sunday whether I wanted to or not. Sunday school, church services, communion -- the whole lot.
On the whole, it was a positive experience. I enjoyed singing the hymns, hearing the biblical stories and learning what Christianity was about. But I questioned some of it. I remember that phrase "God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost" and asking my parents "Who is this Holy Ghost?" I was questioning the concept of the Trinity way back then. During high school and university my attendance fell off -- other interests, studies, etc.
On graduating from U of T in the spring of '52 I was at loose ends. There was a film festival being held at a place on St. Clair called the Unitarian Church. While attending, I became curious about the strange looking church I'd never heard of. I picked up pamphlets in the foyer. It seemed interesting -- this Unitarianism. I started to attend services in the fall of '52. And the rest is history!
I liked everything -- the sermons, lack of dogma, music, it was different from any church I'd attended. In Nov '53 after one of Bill Jenkins rousing sermons I went to him and said I wanted to join the church. He pulled out this ancient looking tome, opened it, and said "Sign here". That's all there was to it! That decision would turn out to be quite significant in my life.
I joined then for a number of reasons: serendipity, curiosity, my religious background, the Unitarian philosophy, the Steinway Grand (I was never crazy about organ music) and the stimulating sermons. The whole package suited me, so I took the plunge.
I've continued to be a member for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is I've stayed involved. By being involved I've always felt a part of this community. I've been on the Board, taught RE, sat on committees galore, fundraising, choir, ushering, property committee and many special events. There's so much going on around here. You soon learn you can't do it all, even when you're retired. Making a contribution results in a good feeling. It makes for a full and interesting life. Without getting involved you aren't capitalizing on all this church has to offer. It's what's kept me coming back all these years.
And of course, my Unitarian beliefs, they still make sense to me, and as a late member Ralph Albrant used to say "You don't need to check your brains in with your coat when you come to the Unitarian Church."
Another reason I've stuck around is "YOU"......yes YOU. All of you. You're an interesting group of people. What a heterogeneous mixture! Different cultural backgrounds, religious origins, personalities ... and you're all so gifted and intelligent. It's amazing.
We've made some wonderful friends and have found a great community here. It makes me feel good to belong. The Sunday services, of course, have remained most satisfying and well executed.
There have been a number of changes over the years -- there was no chalice 15 years ago and no lighting of candles. The architecture and appearance of the building changed dramatically with the renovation. The art work - it all makes coming here an uplifting experience.
I'm fortunate to be healthy. My wife, Olga, feeds me the right things and provides TLC and understanding. Otherwise, I might be 6 feed under by this time and in Unitarian heaven ... If there is one.
I've belonged to this institution longer than I've belonged to anything else in my life, including my marriage. It's been a rewarding and enriching experience. Mark, don't be too hasty in preparing a memorial service for me. There's still some life in the old guy yet. I'm looking forward to the next 50 years!
Pax vobiscum. Merci beaucoup!