Administration & Governance
Toronto First Unitarian, like all Unitarian congregations, is autonomous, self-funding, and governed by a Board of Trustees elected from our membership.
Our Congregational By-Laws define how our congregation is governed and administered. They were last updated in May 2019.
In October, 2018 the senior members of our staff team reaffirmed our covenant with one another — a tradition that we have now carried for ten years.
The following is a summary of some of the interesting points about our Congregation:
Our Leading Principles
The leading principles of this Congregation shall be the free exercise of private judgment in all matters of belief. Members of the Congregation, while free to hold diverse beliefs concerning the nature of God, Humanity and the Universe, are each committed to the preservation of personal integrity, the continuing search for truth through the use of critical enquiry, the democratic method in human relations and the obligation to work together with love for the greater good of all.
This Congregation shall be open to all people regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability.
The Congregation is governed by Board of Trustees, who are responsible to the provincial government to ensure that we comply with all provincial legislation and with our By-Laws. They are also responsible for the administrative operation of the Congregation and the expenditure of Congregational funds.
The nine members of the Board are elected by the Voting Members of the Congregation for three year terms. Generally, three Trustees are elected each year for three-year terms, but sometimes it is necessary for Trustees to be elected for shorter terms due to the resignation of a Trustee or the inability of a Trustee to serve the remainder of his or her term. The elections are held at the Congregation’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) which is usually held in the spring.
Board Members may serve a maximum of six consecutive years. They may not serve on the Board again for three years after they leave the Board.
The Officers of the Board (President, Vice-President(s), Secretary) are elected by the Board Members from within the Board. The Treasurer is elected by the Board but is not necessarily a member of the Board.
Candidates for the Board are selected by the Nominating Committee, for which members are also elected at the AGM.
Our Congregation is a member of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), to which we pay dues and which provides numerous services to us and the other 45 member congregations.
The CUC is associated with the Unitarian Unversalist Associaton (UUA), headquartered in Boston. The UUA oversees the professional credentials and benefits for all UU ministers in North America.
We gain great strength from being a member of a larger movement. Learn more about other Unitarian organizations.
Membership in the Congregation
Members must be at least fourteen years old. To become a member, a person must sign the Membership Book in the presence of the Minister(s), the President or a designated member of the Board.
Membership must be approved by the Board. (In practice, though, all requests for membership have been approved within living memory.)
To be able to vote at Congregational Meetings, a member must be at least eighteen, and have made an identifiable financial contribution for the support of the operating budget the Congregation during the past twelve months.
Membership is terminated if the member dies, submits a letter of resignation, or is voted out by two-thirds of the voting members at a meeting called for that purpose. (In practice, though, there hasn't been an attempt to vote out a member within living memory.
There are usually two or three Congregational meetings per year.
The Annual General Meeting, held at the end of May or the start of June, is when the written Annual Report is reviewed and elections are held to fill open positions on the Board and the Nominating Committee.
The Budget Meeting is held in the fall. At this meeting, the Board presents a preliminary financial statement for the current calendar year and a budget for the next year. The Congregation votes on the budget.
Special meetings are also occasionally called by the Board.
In order for votes taken at the meeting to be recognized, at least ten percent of the Voting Members must be present. Members must vote in person -- proxies are not allowed.
We are a self-funding registered charity.
Our Board of Trustees is responsible for normal operational expenses, but Congregational approval is required to buy or sell real estate, to enter into a mortgage, to perform major renovations to our building or to borrow more than $20,000.
Our members normally expect to commit a portion of their financial resources as well as some of their time to this congregation. Members and friends of the congregation are given an opportunity to make a pledge to our operating budget. Each Fall, there is a canvass during which members and supporters are asked to make a financial commitment for the coming year. General guidelines are provided to help you decide on the amount to pledge, but this will be your decision. Pledging in advance and following through on your commitment is important since it allows the Board of Trustees to develop an operating budget. Information about pledges and other monetary contributions is restricted to those few members and staff who need to know it.
Much of the work of the Congregation is performed by committees, which can report to either the Board or the Congregation.
Committees of the Board are accountable to the Board, and have responsibility and authority for functions designated by By-Laws or by the Board. The Funds Management Committee is a standing Committee of the Board.
Committees of the Congregation report directly to the Congregation. The Nominating Committee is a standing Committee of the Congregation.
Committees can only be chaired by Voting Members of the Congregation.
Role of the Minister
The Minister(s) has the “Freedom of the Pulpit”, the freedom to speak the truth as he or she understands it, when in the pulpit, or through other established channels of communication or through personal witness.
The “calling” of a minister is a formal process defined and overseen by the UUA. The Congregation elects a Ministerial Search Committee, which identifies the Congregations needs and desires, evaluates candidates and presents one candidate to the Congregation for a vote. According to our By-Laws, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the candidate, but the UUA recommends that the candidate not accept the position without at least 95% of the vote.
Shawn Newton, our 23rd Minister, was called to Toronto First in April 2007 unanimously with 177 votes. He started work with us that September. Our previous Co-Ministers, Mark and Donna Morrison Reed, were with us for eighteen years.
The Minister can resign with three months’ notice and can be removed with a two-thirds vote at a Congregational Meeting called for that purpose.
Investments and Capital Accounts
The Board has full authority and final responsibility for the sound management and safekeeping of all funds and assets of the Congregation. These funds are intended to be used for the long-term objectives of the Congregation, not for operating expenses.
The Board delegates the management of the long-term capital funds to the Funds Management Committee. The Board reports annually to the Congregation on the state of the long-term capital funds.
The capital funds are administered according to the Investment Policy and invested in a conservative mixture of fixed-income and equities. The latest version of the policy can be found on this page.
Communication & Publications
Our electronic newsletter, First Light, is published weekly and delivered straight to your email inbox. It includes a note from our Minister plus a overview of what is happening at First Unitarian on Sunday morning and throughout the week.
Please note that First Light is not published to this site because it sometimes contain personal information about our members that's not appropriate to show up in a Google search.
Order of Service
Our weekly Order of Service is distributed during Sunday Service and includes an insert with announcements about upcoming events.
Our monthly newsletter, New Horizons, in focused on our monthly themes. Learn more about these themes. New Horizons replaced our old monthly newsletter, Horizons, in the fall of 2013.
Update Your Contact Information
Booking a Room for an Event
To book a room for an event, or to change an existing booking, please access the Room Bookings form.
We love to sing! We believe in the transformational and healing power of Music. Our services include a variety of exciting and moving music.
Our services also include congregational singing, with songs and hymns from our Unitarian hymnals, Singing the Living Tradition and Singing the Journey, which feature a wide range of music covering the sources and principles of our tradition.
We welcome guest musicians both from within and outside our congregation who perform in different styles and forms. In recent years we have featured the Windermere String Quartet, Passport Duo (cello/piano), a traditional Chinese Erhu player, a Middle-Eastern oud and ney player, our resident rock band consisting of members of our congregation, a Balkan choir, and a wide range of instrumental and vocal soloists.
Our Director of Congregational Music - Dallas Bergen
Dallas is an active singer, choral conductor and clinician. Prior to settling in Toronto, Dallas received his Bachelor of Music in Secondary Education from the University of Victoria, and later moved to New York where he conducted the New York Consort, and was a vocalist with the chamber choirs Canticum Novum, Cerddorion and Manhattan Concert Productions. He is a past member of the Canadian Chamber Choir and sang with the Elora Festival Singers for the 2008 Elora Festival where he also participated in the Festival Conductor’s Workshop with renowned conductors Stephen Layton and Noel Edison. Dallas was one of nine conductors selected to work with Dr. Stephen Alltop at the 2010 Unitarian-Universalist Musicians’ Network conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
Dallas is currently a member of The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, conducts the Harbourfront Chorus, and is the founding Artistic Director of Univox, a Toronto community choir for young adults. Dallas’s service to the choral arts extends to his work with Regent Park School of Music as the conductor of their Parkdale Children’s choir and with the Toronto Arts Council where he is acting co-chair of the Music Committee.
Music for Children and Youth
Our children and youth sing at a number of services during the year, under the direction of our Director of Congregational Music or our Resident Musicians. With the continued growth of our music program and congregation, we hope to offer full-time choirs for children and youth in the near future.
Our Adult Choir is a mixed-voice choir made up of non-auditioned singers. Choir members have a wide range of choral and singing experience, from those who have never sung in a choir to professional caliber singers, including our Resident Musicians who lead the choir sections.
The choir sings at about three Sunday services per month between September and June. We rehearse on Thursday evenings, 7-9 pm.
Much like the sources of our faith, we draw on music spanning five-hundred years, from the Renaissance to the present day; a cappella and accompanied, sacred (from many faith backgrounds) and secular, traditional and contemporary. Here is a sample of the repertoire performed by our Adult choir:
- Avinu Malkeinu – Srul Irving Glick, Jewish traditional
- Down to the River to Pray – Appalachian hymn
- Earth Song – Contemporary spiritual/environmental
- Esto Les Digo – Kinley Lange, Latin American, text: New Testament
- The Fire of Commitment – Contemporary Unitarian Universalist
- Freedom is Coming – South African Freedom Song
- That Lonesome Road – James Taylor, American folk-rock
- Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson (Pop), arranged by our resident musician, Lucas Marchand
- Requiem – Gabriel Fauré, choral setting of the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead
Links to online recordings of songs in our repertoire, performed by us and others.
Resident Musician - Joanne Chapin
Resident Musician - Danny Fong
Danny Fong likes a cappella music more than you and all of your friends combined! In addition to his work with First, he sings Tenor 3 with the internationally-based, digitally-connected 6-member vocal group Accent, which debuted in Sweden in 2014 as “The vocal group that had never met in person before.” Danny has headlined festivals, judged competitions and lead coaching sessions and workshops across North America, Europe and Asia. His individual YouTube channel has garnered more than 6 million views and 20,000 subscribers. As a frequent content creator, he arranges, records and produces original a cappella arrangements twice a month. They are performed by choirs around the world and sometimes by resident musicians at First! He is funded graciously by patrons who pledge money to each of his releases on Patreon.com. Danny is also an in-demand vocal teacher with a strong focus on technique and artist development (some of his students are members of this congregation). You can listen to some of Danny's music or become a patron of his creations.
Resident Musician – Tom Lillington
Tom Lillington, a professional vocalist and pianist, keeps busy with a wide range of activities in the Toronto area. As well as maintaining a full schedule as a Certified Piano Technician, Tom is also an accomplished composer (BFA, York University 1994), accompanist, arranger, director and vocalist performing widely throughout Canada.A founding member of the Nathaniel Dett Chorale and sub with the Elora Festival Singers, he is also an original member of The Canadian Chamber Choir, a professional ensemble comprised of singers from across the country, mandated to promote Canadian composers and conductors while bringing top-level choral music to smaller Canadian communities. He sang with 80’s band Retrocity as well as Hampton Avenue, an award-winning acappella group (1999’s Jazz Vocal Group of the Year, Jazz Report Magazine) which performed on CBC’s The Vinyl Café and has three popular albums to its credit. Tom’s bass voice can be heard singing in many jingles, soundtracks and recordings, and as a writer he is entering his 10h season as composer and music director of the Driftwood Theatre Company, a touring outdoor Shakespeare company dedicated to reaching out to audiences in urban and rural communities across Ontario.
Resident Musician – Lucas Marchand
Lucas Marchand is an educator, performer, and arranger originally from Victoria, BC. He has been singing on the stage since he was three years old. He studied voice at the University of Victoria where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Music with distinction. After completing his undergraduate studies, Lucas spent three years touring and performing with various groups across four continents. In 2005 Lucas moved to Toronto where he won a spot singing tenor with the Nathaniel Dett Chorale and remained performing with them for six seasons. During his tenure, The Chorale had the distinction of being chosen to represent Canada by performing at Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington DC. In 2010 Lucas received a Master's degree in Music Education from the University of Toronto. Currently, Lucas sings top tenor with the acclaimed Canadian a cappella group Cadence and can be seen performing all over the world with them. During his time with Cadence Lucas has performed with renowned artist like Bobby McFerrin, Holly Cole, Dan Hill, and David Clayton-Thomas. When he is not on the road, Lucas conducts three choirs at the Regent Park School Of Music which provides subsidized music lessons for at risk youth in the Toronto area. He also works as a vocal arranger for his own group and for other groups on commissioned works. Lucas maintains a small studio of private students and specializes in technique, theory, ear training, and performance practice.
Congregational Pianist – Adam Sakiyama
Adam brings a wealth of experience, with an extensive background in classical piano and accompaniment, as well as in musical theatre, as a music director, coach, and composer.
Resident Musician - Tahirih Vejdani
Tahirih Vejdani has been known to grace the stage and screen as a singer, actor and dancer. Most recently she appeared in the contemporary opera Paradises Lost at the 2013 SummerWorks Festival and in 2012 performed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in the productions of Elektra and The Pirates of Penzance. She has performed with the Regina Globe Theatre, Regina Symphony Orchestra, Regina Philharmonic Chorus, Regina Lyric Musical Theatre, Regina Summer Stage, Regina Male Voice Choir, Halcyon Chamber Choir, Do It With Class Young Peoples Theatre, The Expressions and has appeared on APTN’s renegadepress.com and CBC’s InSecurity. As a chorister, she has sung with The Nathaniel Dett Chorale, Elmer Iseler Singers, BlackCreek Festival Chorus, Univox Choir, Toronto Choral Artists, Cantabile Chamber Choir and Toronto World Unity Choir.
Tahirih works as a private voice teacher and teaches for the Regent Park School of Music as an assistant choral director and piano instructor. She is also the new director of the Toronto World Unity Choir. Tahirih graduated with great distinction from the University of Regina with a double major in Vocal Performance and Music History and in 2009 received the Luther Medal of Distinction Award.
On Friday, May 27, 2018 we presented a moving concert, Let Love Be Heard: Musical responses to events of the 20th Century, featuring our Adult Choir and Resident Musicians, led and organized by our Director of Music Dallas Bergen.
On Friday, May 27, 2016 we presented our 3rd annual commemorative fundraising concert Celebrate with Song, again featuring our Adult Choir and Resident Musicians.
On Sunday, March 9, 2014 our Resident Musicians and Choir Director, in the septet Seventh, performed a fundraising concert featuring popular pieces from services as well as selections from each musician’s unique repertoire, spanning jazz, classical, opera, musical theatre and much more.
This concert included performances by the Regent Park choir, the First Unitarian choir, accomplished musicians from the Regent Park School of Music, and Resident Musicians of First Toronto.
On Saturday, May 7, 2011 we presented our third annual Choral Extravaganza of area UU choirs in concert, this year featuring more than 100 choristers from the following southern Ontario Unitarian-Universalist choirs:
- First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto
- The Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough
- The First Unitarian Church of Hamilton
- Don Heights Unitarian Congregation
- Neighbourhood Unitarian-Universalist Congregation
This concert was a fundraiser for the Regent Park School of Music, and we were joined by Richard Marsella, the RPSM’s Director. Our concerts in each each of 2009 and 2010 raised roughly $2400 to help support the RPSM. Toronto First has adopted the RPSM as a social responsibility project, and has a team of volunteers working with them on a regular basis.
Reports & Policies
First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, like all Unitarian congregations, is run according to democratic principles. Here are some of the reports and policies that were created by our committees.
- Annual Report (2017-18)
- Annual Report (2016-17)
- Annual Report (May 2015)
- Annual Report (June 2014)
- Annual Report (June 2013)
- Annual Report (June 2012)
- ACM Delegates Report (June 2011)
- Adult Program Task Force (2011)
- Scrupling with Unitarians on Democracy in Canada (April 2011): Report on the session, Explanation and Guidelines
- Annual Report (2010)
- Caregiver Support Report and Caregiver Support Summary (2010)
- Sanctuary Task Force Report (2009)
- Water for Life Resolution (2007)
Our Policy and Procedures Manuals include the following:
- Anti Harassment Policies (2002)
- Asset Capitalization Policies (2013)
- Financial Policies (2019)
- Governance Policies (2016)
- Health and Safety Policy (2012)
- Healthy Congregations Policy and Conflict Resolution Committee (2013)
- Human Resources Policy (2018)
- Investment Policies (2019)
- Lay Chaplains Policy and Procedures Manual (2015)
- Online Communications Policy (2018)
- Policy on Sexual Misconduct (1995)
- Rental and Booking Room Policies (2015)
- Safe Steps Policy (2017)
- Social Justice Policies (2000)
Learn more about administration and governance at Toronto First Unitarian.
Guide to Membership at Toronto First
What does Membership mean? How does it happen? And what does it entail?
The Path to Membership is a Journey to a Deeper Commitment. We hope that your relationship with The First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto will be spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally rewarding. We are pleased you have chosen to worship with us, and we invite you to participate in our programs and activities, whether or not you are ready for full membership. When you are ready, membership will be a natural step, a way to express your joy in - and responsibility for - this faith community.
Belonging to a Unitarian Universalist congregation means different things to different people.
In keeping with the philosophy and character of the denomination, there is considerable breadth and variety in the possible degree and spheres of individual involvement. Some are highly involved, leading small groups, teaching Sunday school, participating on committees, preparing coffee on Sunday mornings, perhaps singing or dancing in one of our choirs. Then there are those who have a very loose affiliation, choosing not to become members, coming out to services from time to time.
These folks are “Friends of First”, and we are glad to have them among us. That said, those who commit to sharing the rewards and the responsibilities of active membership will benefit the most from this community.
The Meaning of Membership
The decision to become a Member of a religious community is an important one; it is a commitment not only to oneself but to a Congregation as well. Membership is a rite of passage that marks the transition from a solitary religious journey to one that is communal. Just as this community encourages and supports your spiritual growth, you will be expected to do the same for your fellow members. As we seek hope, meaning, truth, wisdom and inspiration together we will also deepen our roots and strengthen our bonds. We will take turns giving and receiving. We will share in each others’ joys and concerns. We will celebrate together; and we will mourn together.
Living in community is not always easy, but by working together, respecting our differences and listening with open hearts and minds, we can make this the place of strength, action, acceptance, solace and joy that we want it to be.
The decision to become a member is an emotional and a spiritual commitment, but it is also a physical and financial commitment. By giving your physical presence (your time and energy) and your financial support to the Congregation, you will demonstrate your commitment to help this community thrive, grow and transform lives.
“The time to make friends is before you need them.”
-- Traditional proverb