Testimony of Stan Yack, February 24, 2013
What Do You Mean You’re Not Spiritual?
My name is Stan Yack, and I’m a member of this congregation.
A word that comes up around here more often than it used to is spirituality. It’s not something that I like to talk about. That’s in part because I’ve never really felt spiritual, but also because whenever I hear the word spirituality, I think spiritualism. You know: talking with the “departed”, recalling past lives, levitating tables — stuff that a scientific humanist like me rejects almost instinctively. But levitating tables is of course not what spirituality is about.
Spirituality is defined as “the concept of an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality” or “an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his or her being” or just “the deepest values and meanings by which people live.” The quest to discover the essence of our being, and our deepest values and meanings — that’s hardly inconsistent with our Unitarian principles.
One 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.” So why do I avoid or dismiss a word like spirituality that echoes that principle? Some of you may have encountered my occasional, illiberal reaction to the word. Sorry about that.
In my later life academic excursions, I’ve learned that meaning doesn’t originate in some Platonic idea; what a word means is determined over time by how people use it. And there’s not much evidence that spirituality is becoming a synonym for spiritualism.
Have you ever tested yourself on a “What is your religion?” website? (One of them is listed on the Toronto First website’s “Cool Links” page.) My own beliefs show a 100% commonality with Secular Humanism, and 88% with Unitarian Universalism; not too surprising — but also 55% with Theravada Buddhism. I apparently have 55% in common with what most of us would consider a very spiritual believe system!
I have meditated off on for over thirty years, until recently mostly to calm myself. But I now sometimes meditate here Sunday mornings during a quiet time or musical interlude, apparently seeking some inner peace.
Most spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life, but it isn’t essential that spirituality encompasses a belief in immaterial realities.
I’m most comfortable calling myself an Agnostic. I understand that there are questions that we can’t answer, and I believe that all knowledge is provisional, or as a longstanding UU aphorism puts it: “Revelation is not sealed.” But if I don’t believe in immaterial realities, why every Sunday do I “affirm life, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the divine”? What’s the divine thing that I want us to grow into harmony with? Is it some theistic entity, God help me! In fact, because I’ve seen no evidence of the universe’s “life-force”, or “cosmic consciousness”, I treat our Sunday affirmation as a metaphor.
My roots are in the Jewish tradition, a religion and culture where teachers, and the most learned, have always been the most respected. As long as I can remember I’ve held learning in high esteem. In later life, it’s become my hobby, and my vocation. One of the things I've learned about is Unitarian-Universalism, a religion where reason is used to filter truth from make-believe, where there’s no privileged priesthood 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.
Testimony of Peter Brydon, February 3, 2013
Good Morning, my name is Peter Brydon, and along with Margaret Kohr and Chris Wulff, I am one of your Lay Chaplains.
Just over six years ago I performed my first service, and this fall I will lay down my stole. I have found these six years to be amongst the most rewarding in my life. For me it has been a great privilege to stand as witness to people as they share the most joyous and saddest times in their lives. It is both amazing and humbling to be taken into the heart of a family who has lost a loved one. Although they are clearly sad their joy and pride come through as they share their memories with me. I remember once, after talking about their Dad, the family wouldn’t let me go until they’d taken me all around the house to show me his artwork and his handicrafts. They even took me out into the back yard to show me a sculpture he had made there.
Weddings frequently bubble with joy. On the less formal side I remember a bride and groom skipping and hopping down the aisle to Feist’s flighty and funky song, Mushaboom. The groom dressed up for the occasion in a brand new pair of running shoes. And there was the couple who tried valiantly to hold their wedding on the same day as the G20 summit in 2010, but they just couldn’t manage it. When they finally did, on the Labour Day weekend, there was so much love and joy in the wedding hall you could almost taste it.
Certainly the most touching and proudest moment for me was last June when I stood at the front of the UU Church in North Hatley, Quebec at the wedding of my son Dale to the love of his life, Sarah Baxter. Sarah’s father, Keith, is a Lay Chaplain there and the two of us co-officiated the wedding. I can’t put into words my feelings that day.
Lay Chaplains serve for a term of six years, and mine has been extended to a seventh, but I will definitely lay down my stole for good this fall. The purpose of this term limit is to allow others in the congregation to offer their gifts in this ministry and to have the opportunity for the kind of spiritual growth I have had. I know there are many of you who would make excellent Lay Chaplains, and so I’m saying, start thinking about it now. Every two years or so, the congregation will be looking for a new Lay Chaplain, so think ahead a bit. Talk to Margaret or Chris or me, or to one of the retired Lay Chaplains such as Margaret Rao or Gillian Burton. We can tell you all about it.
I’ll leave you with a final memory. A couple of years ago I did a memorial service which was just a very small intimate family gathering. When it was time to speak, the deceased woman’s husband of over fifty years stood up and, remembering all those wonderful years with a wonderful wife, said, “I’m the luckiest man alive”. I want to say to him, “ Thank-you for letting me get to know you, your family and the spirit of your wife.” And I say to all of you, “Thank-you for letting me have this opportunity to be your Lay Chaplain. To hold small babies in my arms, to share joy with marrying couples, and to learn about the life of wonderful people, now gone, whom I wish I’d had the chance to know when they were alive. I too am a lucky man.
Testimony of Gregory Robinson, January 27, 2013
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.
Testimony of Douglas Buck January 6, 2013
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.
Testimony of Nancy Lee, November 11, 2012
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.
Testimony of Sheila Riddell, November 4, 2012
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.
Testimony of JP Pawliw-Fry, October 21, 2012
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.
Testimony of Doug Buck, September 16, 2012
Six years ago, Kate Chung and I moved to a condo building at 235 St. Clair Avenue West. This is exactly a two-minute and fifty-second walk from our home to First Unitarian.
This is very convenient. We can leave home at 10:27 a.m. on a Sunday morning and glide in just before the service begins. And, either of us can leave home at 6:57 p.m. on a weeknight and be on time for a 7:00 meeting.
But if we get halfway here and discover we’ve left important papers at home, we’re late — and, we may be teased by fellow committee members who have struggled with traffic and erratic streetcar schedules. Unlike us, they’ve allowed extra time for delays, thus managing to be on time.
So I want to tell you that if our congregation decides to move — anywhere — it will be an inconvenience for Kate and me.
But — I’m serious now, if our congregation has all its ducks in a row, and a move would provide the brightest future for First Unitarian, then the move will get my vote.
Of course, I’d never be here at all if it weren’t for Kate’s long-time involvement with UU’s, first in Oshawa, then Don Heights, and for the past 20 years, at First. And Kate was introduced to Unitarianism by Janet Vickers, a name some of you may know, who’s now with the Nanaimo Fellowship.
So our close connection with UU’s and First goes back a long time, with many changes along the way. We’re ready to accept new changes, too.
Testimony of Bruce Schwartzentruber, May 27, 2012
Good morning! My name is Bruce Schwartzentruber and today I’m going to speak briefly about 25 years ago, last May, the Philippines, Kenya, Angela Klassen’s job and diversity. I’m going to introduce you to some good people and unveil what’s under that cloth.
Last May, during the Annual Conference and Meeting we hosted, I attended the International Dinner event and, on the strength of the presentation by the International Council of Unitarian Universalists, decided to attend this past February’s conference in the Philippines. I regarded it as my personal Unitarian sabbatical.
Like many adventures I have had during my travels, I was paid handsomely in experience and in learning about how people live in other lands. In the Philippines I met Unitarian Universalists who were very much like us and many who were very different, both in appearance and in other demographic variables such as income, education and living conditions. In the Philippines, many UUs are rural, walk many kilometres to attend services, and are only able to muster up the equivalent of a few dollars among them when the offering plate is passed around. They live in a country where 81% of the population is Roman Catholic. Believing in spiritual freedom in the Philippines requires uncommon courage and commitment. For example, Marianne told me that she complained of headaches one day and her neighbour chided her for leaving Catholicism. God, the neighbour insisted, was punishing her for becoming a Unitarian.
Sam from Uganda lives in a country where the death penalty awaits gays and lesbians. Mark from Nigeria described himself as a freedom fighter. Social action there can deprive you of more than your spiritual freedom.
I met Josphat Mainye, of Kenya where he leads the Kitengela UU Congregation outside Nairobi - a congregation of 70 adults and 60 children. Sixty children, 60 children, I kept repeating it in my mind, thinking, What would Angela Klassen, our wonderful Director of Lifespan Religious Education, do? Quit?
When I asked Angela this question tongue-in-cheek a few weeks ago, she said, “Oh we have 60 children registered here.”
I didn’t know that, I confessed. How many of you knew that? Still, think of the odds; 70 adults and 60 children. Using the Kenyan adult to child ratio, we would have over 150 children here. I’m planning to find out how Josphat’s congregation manages and how it worships when I travel to Kenya later this summer. Josphat and Ben Macharria from Nairobi and Fulgence Ndagijimana from Burundi have invited me to visit and I am looking forward to living, eating, communing and rejoicing in the spirit that is Unitarian Universalism in Africa. If the people I met in the Philippines are any indication I will be met with love, acceptance and an incredible sense of belonging.
Just exactly how I feel here at First.
I’m hoping that I will be able to bring back a special connection between us and my African friends and that I will bathe in the unique experience of being among UUs who do not look or sound at all like me. I’m hoping that the experience of likely being the only white person, the only Anglophone, the only North American, will help me in the leadership position I took on at our January congregational conversation about diversity.
During the open discussion that day, I, without thinking of the ramifications, suggested that we needed a group to work on the issue of our diversity, or lack of, here at First. Our board President Margaret Kohr struck like a cobra, challenging me to lead that effort. Too late, I realized that I had been ensnared by the volunteer coordinator’s code: That is, anyone who comes up with a good idea better be prepared to take it on.
Twenty-five years ago, I worked in health and social services organizations which were challenged to change the way they delivered services to accommodate the dramatic influx into this city of immigrants from around the world. Mainstream organizations were ill-prepared for the changing demographics and the cultural shifts in their clients and communities. We had to make intentional changes that would welcome and appropriately serve Toronto’s newcomers. Later I was the executive director of a pioneering mental health planning organization that had mandated equal board membership for people on both sides of the mental health system. Instead of focusing on developing more psychiatric beds, improved anti-psychotic drugs and better treatment protocols, the people on our board who had gone through the system as consumers and patients, told us to go in a new direction. While better professional services remained essential, they told us what they felt they really needed. They needed decent housing, jobs and opportunities for social connections in a world that often stigmatized and shunned them. We worked hard to make those things happen. We worked hard to make them happen, I believe, because we were intentional about diversity at the highest decision-making level of the organization.
So I guess I can say that I’ve seen this movie before. When Margaret challenged me to lead our quest for greater diversity, I couldn’t plead ignorance or indifference. Of course, this is hardly a one-person job. Today I’d like to introduce the good people who have been working with me as members of the Diversity Working Group.
Janil Greenaway, Wendy Peebles, Marlene Campbell, Catherine Lake, Fiona Heath and Art Brewer who is unable to be here today.
Our mission statement, arrived at after the usual Unitarian wordsmithing marathon, is as follows:
To advance the congregational goal of intentionally welcoming people from diverse ethnic and racial communities, including Aboriginal peoples. The ideas and actions that emerge from this focus will be a solid basis upon which to broaden our commitment to diversity as we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
You can read the full terms of reference and the action work plan we have established on our website under the Membership tab.
And now, for our first action, our very first outcome, we’d like to unveil the poster on the easel. It contains photos of many of the people who were at that ICUU conference in the Philippines and is entitled “Unitarian Universalists Come From Around the World”. It will be hung after today’s service on the wall above the visitors table just outside these doors to remind us and our visitors, that our faith and our congregation, embraces the same diversity as the world and the city we live in.
Testimony of Helen Iacovino, March 11, 2012
Good morning. My name is Helen Iacovino.
It was 1982. I was in my mid twenties, had grown up in the Montreal Unitarian church, and had recently returned to it. Then at the annual meeting of the Canadian Unitarian Council, affectionately known as the CUC, held in Montreal that year, I got to meet the family.
That’s exactly how it was – meeting the family. We become involved at the local level in our home congregation, but there is also an extended family of Unitarian Universalists across Canada and the United States, and in fact extending around the world. Since that CUC meeting in 1982, those broader ties to Unitarian Universalists living elsewhere have always been very important to me.
This is the short explanation for why when I attended the CUC meeting in Victoria in 2010, I eagerly signed up to participate in the Northern Lights program.
There is more about Northern Lights in the brochure in your order of service. It is jointly sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Ministers of Canada and the CUC. Basically, the way it works is that individuals sign up to donate a specific amount once or twice a year, perhaps $50 but it can be any amount, smaller or larger, and these monies are directed to a different Canadian UU congregation each time for a specific project. Northern Lights is designed to get broad participation – if 1,000 Unitarians across Canada pledge to give $50 twice a year, that comes to $50,000 each time to fund 2 projects in 2 congregations.
Sometimes we think – what will make our congregations stronger? I have always felt that Unitarian Universalism should be a household word – everyone should know about us. Yet so many Canadians, as well as many Americans who don’t live in the vicinity of Boston, have never heard of us. This will help – it will fund various programs designed to make individual congregations stronger, and thus better able to fulfill their mission in the Canadian context. The grant committee will approve projects which it considers to be grassroots, transformative initiatives – allowing a congregation to follow through on a dream that would otherwise not be possible. The first project started last fall, with the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon seeking some help with hiring a ¾ time or full time minister.
It’s not necessarily about money. I encourage you to join me and pursue connections with our wider denomination, and to look to the extended family of Unitarian Universalists across Canada which we are all part of. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to consider personally participating in the Northern Lights program. Either way you will thus make your own mark in helping to strengthen this faith which means so much to us all.
Testimony of Janice Tait, March 6, 2011
The Taking Of 28
In 1980, Ottawa was excited by Prime Minister Trudeau’s proposal to repatriate the Canadian Constitution from Great Britain and create a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Women were determined that the new Charter would contain a separate section affirming the equality of men and women. A Senate-Commons Committee was formed to hear public comment on the proposed Charter. Doris Anderson, then Chair of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, called a conference to debate the proposal for an Equality clause. But suddenly, Lloyd Axworthy, Minister for the Status of Women in the federal government, cancelled the conference. This so enraged Canadian women that a spontaneous call went out for women to gather in Ottawa the following weekend, even without government support. Women MPs made their offices available to telephone women across the country urging them to come to Ottawa.
The next weekend, a thousand angry women from all over the country, including me, converged on the city. Meeting rooms in the West Block of the Parliament buildings were made available. TVs were set up to accommodate the over-flowing crowd. Led by several knowledgeable women lawyers, by the end of the two-day meeting, an Equality Clause, Section 28, had been hammered out and forwarded to the Senate/Commons Committee. Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.
Though it appeared that we had won the battle, there was one last glitch. Since the Charter needed the approval of the Provinces to become law, the last-minute refusal of Alan Blakeney, Premier of Saskatchewan, to support the Equality clause, calling it ‘unnecessary’, caused another storm. Again women MPs opened their offices to allow us to telephone women across the country. “Lobby your MP.” “Tell them we will have our Equality clause.” The women of Canada completely overwhelmed the Bell telephone system for two days.
After an exhausting weekend of telephone calls, I sat with a dozen women in the office of Judy Erola, Minister of Immigration. Finally, around five o’clock, Jean Chretien, Minister of Justice, strode into the room, grinning delightedly. “You’ve won. Blackeney has backed down. The Equality clause will be enshrined in the Charter.” Hurray! Canadian women now have their own equal rights amendment.