Member Testimonies

Hi my name is Karen MacDuffee. I have been coming to Toronto First for about 7 years. I have taught in the RE program for the past three years and this year have begun sitting on the RE committee. And I am also part of a Living in Spirit group that meets monthly.

But I wasn't always this active at First.

I remember it was in our first year and I started spouting off some child raising theory to Diane Bosman (I didn't realize that she was the Director of Lifespan Religious Education) when she suggested that I become an RE teacher. I gasped and said that I could definitely not do that. A while later Beth Ann asked if I would like to do a testimonial. I had no idea what that was.. I said a very definite NO.

Community doesn't come naturally to me.. In fact there were times that I wondered what I was doing here.. Why did I attend First and what exactly was I getting out of the experience.

I am sure I had more of a sense of community when I was younger but working full time has shrunk my world. I really felt I only had quality time for Catherine and Nigel. Of course I have a community of friends and I consider these relationships chosen.

My community at Toronto First is not chosen. The only thing that we have all chosen is our faith. But there are people that maybe I don't like, or maybe I've had some negative interactions with...Of course I like everyone here.

Through my committee work, living in spirit group and other gatherings, I have learned that although we share a faith, we do not always share the same perspectives or way of doing things. Yes, sometimes we butt heads. Believe it or not! It's easy to do.

In considering the topic of community, I realize that our community does have room for the occasional discord or irritation. And I decided a while ago that I would have to give to the community in order to have one. Toronto First has, in turn, offered me a new perspective on acceptance of others.

So you can see I have even found my way to doing a testimonial. And what I want to tell you is that through these seven years, I have learned much about community from being immersed with all of you collectively.

Here, I have learned that I want to strive to be inclusive and listen to other's points of view and to give of myself. We will gather Sunday after Sunday continuing to share a common faith as we strive towards acceptance of others while remembering the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

I can see that the strength of a community lies in prevailing over the fragility of relationships and forming bonds that nurture us all.

My name is Robbie Brydon and I started coming to Religious Education classes here in 1993, at the ripe old age of 9. While that may seem on the young side to you, I'm definitely a late starter for the group of folks who are currently meeting upstairs. Still, my journey to here has only come this far because of bridges built by others.

When I was 13, the junior youth group was slow getting started and waking up on Sunday morning was getting more difficult, so I stopped coming. It's hard to think now that my journey in religious community could well have ended right there. (Many thanks to the volunteers on our RE committee who ensure we have programming ready to go in September every year now, providing space for our younger members.) Three years later, my mom came home from church with an invitation: “Jacob says you should come back.” Following a leadership conference that spring, I was at a point in my life where I was looking for connection. So I did come back. I went to two youth conferences that fall in Upstate New York and I realized that the youth community was a natural fit for me.

Three years and a dozen youth conferences later (two national, three continental and one that I organized, along with the group here), I packed my bags and headed off to university. Okay, so I only went to Scarborough, but it turns out Sunday morning is less appealing when there's an hour and a half transit trip between you and the congregation and, anyway, I was no longer part of the youth group. I might have made it to one service during my first semester. It's strange to think that I could have easily wandered away and been one of the 12,000 or so Canadians who marks 'Unitarian' on their census forms but doesn't belong to a congregation (and heck, we've only got 5,000 members in this country).

Once again, I was offered a bridge back. Actually, I was offered a bridge even before I left; the previous year, the nominating committee had asked me to sit on the Board of Trustees, but I turned it down. That spring, however, Clare Whitman called me up and asked me to be a worship leader at the congregation, a role that I was happy to take on, given my experience planning worship as a youth. Suddenly, I had to come at least once a month, I worked closely with the ministers and the worship leaders – and pretty much everyone knew who I was, since I was front and centre for two years, as Catherine is today. Eventually I was coming every Sunday because I had a community I felt a part of, I enjoyed what we shared on Sunday morning...and my sleeping patterns had started to change. I'm now finishing up three years on the Board of Trustees, two as Vice-President, I've led the Coming of Age class twice and I'm getting involved in the Member Engagement and Social Justice movements here.

Why do I tell you this story? For three reasons:

One, it was through contributing to the community in various ways that I felt a part of it, be that attending youth conferences, planning events for the youth group or leading worship services. I struggled with Sunday morning services for a long time because I missed the level of participation and interaction we had in youth worship and I am only slowly realizing that I can create those elements through being involved in other ways.

Two: Of my RE and youth cohorts, there is only one other person who attends First regularly. As a religion, we lose more youth every year than we gain total members of any age. Unless we build far stronger connections between adults and youth, we will continue to do so.

Three: I was lucky. I got three vital offers to do something interesting that arrived at just the right time and have brought me into the heart of this congregation. To those of you who need to be connected, if you wait to be asked, as I did, you may not have my luck. Building connection is much easier if you reach out when you need to be reached. And to those in a position to ask, your offer may be the most important thing.

20 years ago today, our nation was confronted with the reality of violence and hate targeted at women.

20 years ago today, we all learned of the massacre of 14 engineering students—all women— by a man armed with a simple rifle and an arsenal of misogyny.

Between November 25 and December 10 each year, communities around the world mark 16-days of activism to end gender-based violence. Within those designated days fall a number of tragic anniversaries pertaining to violence against women including December 6: Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action.

The events conclude on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which begins by stating: We are all born free and equal.

This United Nations statement was enshrined into global consciousness on December 10, 1948. History remembers that women were once the legal property of men in this country. Today, we know that women continue to be the property of men in many communities. Clearly the world has a great distance to go before “free and equal” becomes a reality for half the human race.

We all know this. We all know the kind of lives that girls and women must bear simply for being born female. But we often dismiss this reality, feeling overwhelmed and uncertain as how to parse the multiple issues and affect real change. How do we act in the face of this reality?

In thinking about today, I have recalled my earlier years of activism and weighed them against change. It is difficult to see that those years have had little effect. Indeed, I often believe that misogyny is becoming even more entrenched. Everyday we are reminded of violence against women: the advertising, the news items, the crime shows, the video games, the movies, and the music in our lives. Too much of our cultural expression bears the smear of sexism and the brand of violence in all its forms.

Yet, how often do we call it sexism, misogyny? Have we become afraid to name it for what it is? Perhaps we are socially ashamed to admit that women and girls continue to be treated as lesser peoples in even our society.

And yet we still give the same tired gender lessons: boys are naturally aggressive and girls passive. Violence and sexism still holds us all hostage—women and men, girls and boys. Like domestic violence, are we afraid to speak up for fear of making it worse? Or do we think it will go away on its own?

In revisiting the trauma of that day, I have been questioning change.

For many, the actions of that gunman at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal were the actions of a madman. But can any of us discern where that line is? When sociallyembedded hate morphs into madness into murder?

Today is Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action.

Anne-Marie Edward was killed in the Montreal Massacre. Her mother, along with survivors of the shootings, passionately campaigned for the creation of the gun registry. Recently, Suzanne Laplante-Edward implored all of us to remember the kind of devastation a single rifle can inflict in just 22 minutes: 14 dead, 27 wounded.

Just a few weeks ago, Bill C-391 was passed in parliament and, if passed in the senate, the gun registry will be abolished.

How do we call ourselves to remember and to act? Where do we find awareness, language, and action.

In remembering this terrible anniversary, I look to the action of young women heading up the Miss G Project who are fighting to get women’s studies courses into high school. They understand that we all need more than the occasional text book sidebar to reflect the lives of girls and women.

In remembering this terrible anniversary, I look to the men of the white ribbon campaign who are working to educate boys and men. Who are working to breakdown hate against women.

In remembering this anniversary, I look to the December 6 Fund which provides loans for women escaping violence.

In remembering this anniversary I look to myself to find the hope and the courage to continue to fight for equality of all persons, for the realization of all human potential, for change.

Please join me now in a minute of silence to collectively mark this National Day of Remembrance and Action.

My name is Rona Goldensher and today is a big day for me. A few moments ago, in Shawn’s office, I officially became a member of the congregation, as I was not able to be here last week for the joining ceremony. And I am quite excited to have the opportunity of speaking with you about my experience volunteering with Amnesty International.

When I thought about why I am drawn to human rights work, I realized an aspect of my motivation that hadn’t been as clear to me before. The fact that people have collectively channelled outrage over past ills and atrocities into developing codes for the rights of individuals is something that I find deeply reassuring. I also realized that having this feeling about human rights ideals is helpful in a fight that can be pretty daunting. Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written as a reaction to World War II atrocities, reads “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. I think my blood pressure goes down a couple of notches just from reading that statement. It might be a long way from the way reality often looks, but what a relief to have a shared belief about what is right and to do be able to do some small amount of work toward it.

I had a similar reaction when I first read the shared principles of Unitarian Universalists and the list started out with, “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “justice, equity and compassion in human relations”. A big part of what drew me to this congregation is that UU members are constantly working to make these principles a reality in a number of ways. To welcome new members into the congregation without requiring that they are born into a particular group, fit a given lifestyle or believe a given creed. To grant ourselves and each other the freedom to exercise our individual conscience and our reasoning faculty in our own spiritual search. To participate in the democratic system of our institutions. To continue the long tradition of UU involvement in human rights work in the world at large. And the very fact that we have an Amnesty Sunday here pretty much blows my mind.

 Those people who do the hardest work, amid the most horrifying conditions, in order to advance human rights are people who risk imprisonment, torture, and even death for the sake of these rights. Prisoners of conscience – the phrase used by Amnesty -a poetic phrase if I ever heard one. These are the people that we Amnesty members write letters to support, to try to free from prison, or to try to protect their life. I am in awe of their courage. They are my heroes. To be able to do the smallest thing to try to support them and their work is a tremendous honour and satisfaction.

I can’t possibly begin to imagine what a prisoner of conscience goes through or to really relate to the conditions in the often faraway places where they live. But I believe that many of us, to some degree or other, have experienced the sting of our rights being violated, and conversely, the peace and vitality that results from being in an atmosphere in which people are treated with respect and dignity. Maybe we’ve experienced a rights violation in the workplace, even in the family setting, or some type of discriminatory violation. And maybe we have experienced firsthand how silence, isolation and denial of harsh truths are the breeding ground for abuses, while openness, commitment to speaking the truth, and solidarity against them are the only way to fight them.   Sometimes, the pain of a betrayal experienced by oneself or someone we care about can powerfully bring home for us how vulnerable one can be at times, as well as the sanctity of these rights and the universal need for these rights to be protected.

It is very gratifying to be involved with an organization that is striving day after day to advance these rights around the world in the gravest situations. I continue to benefit from the work I do with Amnesty. I learn so much about human rights issues in very different parts of the world as well as in my own backyard here in Canada. Writing letters to appeal for human rights in urgent action campaigns is a very satisfying process. For one thing, it’s easy and I never complain about things that are easy. The urgent action tells you how to frame your letter so off you go. It’s a satisfying exercise in polite assertiveness, as you are coached to use phrases like “I call on you to’ or, “I urge you to”, etc. It is also refreshingly apolitical; politics does not enter into it, it is simply a matter of supporting the agreed-upon rights of individuals. I am deeply moved and inspired by the work being done by courageous individuals against great odds all around the world to perpetuate human rights. I never know if my voice expressed in my little letter will help. But I know that, along with all the other voices of ordinary people politely and firmly asserting themselves over and over again, my voice has a chance.

Honouring our Allies

I have been coming to Toronto First Unitarian for about six years and I want to share a confession with you all. And that is, that one of the reasons I come to First,
is for the men.

Now, as a lesbian, this may seem slightly incongruent.

But on this Father’s Day and at the start of Pride week, I’d like to explain.

When getting to know one another, gay and lesbian people at some point will reference THE coming out. When did you know? How did you come out? We ask one another.

Whether it’s spoken when resting in one another’s arms, around a campfire, or over coffee, each coming out story is expressed as the individual’s unique event that sets them immediately at odds with the dominant culture, with family, with friends. Speaking our coming out stories is a rite that connects us to one another and to the larger queer community.  

In 1985, my coming out to my father was met with shock and “Well, at least you’re not a terrorist.” At that time and with my age, the word didn’t have as much social currency as it does today. Nevertheless, it did cause me to wonder what other subversive membership I’d signed on for through my sexuality.

After many years of rejection, distance, and anger, my father and I have built a loving relationship. Our reconnection was initiated shortly after my son Nigel’s birth, and a few years ago he commented to Karen and I, with love and respect in his voice, that he thinks we have a wonderful relationship.

While queer people have those critical moments, ultimately, we never stop coming out— from those people on the phone who asks for my husband’s name to coworkers, sales staff, hospitals, neighbours, social gatherings, the school system, and on and on.

When Karen and I arrived to check this place out, just as important to the spiritual values of Unitarian Universalism was the level of acceptance our family would find here. We were relieved to hear the welcome of inclusive language and felt the sincere embrace of both straight and gay congregants who’d worked together to educate against homophobia and make this a welcoming congregation.

The impetus and drive for that education came from queer members of First and our straight allies. The work was done before my family arrived here and I must tell you:
It made all the difference in the world.

And while I know that both genders of varying ages and sexual identities worked to accomplish this and that many of us continue to work at fostering inclusivity and breaking down barriers; on this Father’s Day, I honour the men of our congregation.

Now that’s not to say that I don’t love the women of this community...don’t get me wrong. But Karen and I have often had conversations about the men of First—straight and gay—and how they connect with women, youth, one another, and children of our community in a way that demonstrates our shared values: with honest interdependence, spiritual encouragement, and respect.

Unlike the public school system, I’ve not felt any concern with Nigel’s teachers in the R.E. program and I am particularly grateful for the men of this community who provide for Nigel such strong role models of gentleness, care, creativity, playfulness...
men who sincerely love women, and who embrace their mentoring roles to the youth of our community.

These qualities are not often evident or promoted in the dominant culture of hockey fights, white political elitism, and misogynistic violence.

The men of First provide for me an active reminder that we have many (and sometimes unlikely) allies in the call for social justice. There is a good amount of work that goes into acceptance, educating oneself educating others, asking questions and being open to hearing the personalized answers.

Now that this has become my community, I am quite at ease in coming out to people new to our congregation. Because this is my place and I am here with my visible family. And the men of this community have been instrumental in making me feel comfortable as a lesbian and as a woman in so many ways.

The mutuality of true connection arises even from just feeling listened to and in engaging in mutual laughter and sharing our experiences. In the larger world of gender segregation, this can be a challenge.

But you’ve made space for me, (and my road hockey antics at the Family Retreat). You’ve comforted Nigel through his nervousness before talent shows and recalled Karen’s finishing school advice with laughter.

So let me say that I am proud to honour my allies:
You’re not the typical great guys — thankfully
You truly are beautiful men.

Good morning.

The guiding questions for writing a testimony are: What brought me here? What keeps me here? & What is my growing edge?

Well, parenthood brought me here. When I arrived at First 15 years ago, I was a new mother and a former Catholic. I had recently participated in the “family pleasing charade” of having my daughter baptized in the Catholic Church. The hypocrisy of it, was embarrassing, so Jack & I looked for a church where we could be honest with our children about our beliefs. A desire for “religious community” also brought me here, though at the time, I really didn’t know what that meant.

Today, I now know that a “religious community” is a safe, supportive place, where members strive to encourage one another, towards personal and spiritual growth. My need for a Religious Community is what keeps me here.

When I joined first:

1. I cried at almost every service – which is ok here.

2. I was afraid to speak up; I didn’t think I knew enough.

3. and email & computers were a mystery to me

Despite all that, I was breathing….. so naturally, I was recruited as a volunteer.

Volunteering here is an opportunity for meaningful growth. Every time I’ve taken on a new role, I’ve been filled with self doubt. And every time, there has been one moment, (and I can recall dozens of these moments) when I realized, that the eyes that were looking into mine, were filled with encouragement and support.

This happened every year I taught RE, when I organized Family Retreats or Halloween parties, when I taught OWL, when I became a Worship Leader, and again when I became the Worship Convenor. Even as challenges & disagreements have arisen, there have always, been wise & encouraging eyes, to steady me, & to remind me, that we all have something to teach.

Part of my sales pitch for recruiting people to give testimonies, is to tell them that this is a “spiritually healthy exercise”. Today I can officially report, that I have been telling the truth!

It’s taken me two weeks, to figure out what the devil my “growing edge” is.

During my first decade here, I focused on building community for my children. After that I pursued my interest in “worship”. But my term as Worship Convenor will end next spring. Then what?

I’m realizing that it’s time to make some changes. I need to broaden my experience, to let my children test their wings, and to be a better partner. My growing edge is to anticipate & embrace the next stage of my life.

I am grateful for this healing community. You make me stronger, and more mindful, of the things that matter. Thank you.

Good Morning, my name is Paul Bognar, and I am humbled and honoured to be a member of your Ministerial Search Committee. Many people have asked me lately ‘how is the search going?” and I will answer that question for you in just a minute. But first let me tell you a little about my own search.
Raised a Roman Catholic, I was for many years “unchurched.” I began attending the First Unitarian Church of Hamilton some 11 years ago, as that congregation was in the final stages of a ministerial search. Compared to my Catholic background, the Unitarian approach to calling a minister was nothing less than revolutionary: I was captivated by the idea of a faith that would, first, grant the authority to the people of a congregation, and then expend such an effort to find just the right minister for each congregation. Hamilton called a bright, talented minister who many of you know as a former member of this Congregation: Allison Barrett. I remember the anticipation in Hamilton, as we began a new ministry together, the excitement was almost palpable, and the first couple of years were dynamic, culminating in a new building. I was, you could say, from that point, hooked on UUism.
In 1998 I came to this congregation as you began the relationship with your first Director of Lifespan Religious Education, Diane Bosman. As her partner, I found things to do here, apart from being the “DLRE’s wife”: I led Coming of Age classes several times, I led and coached Living in Spirit groups, attended and then organized annual Men’s Retreats, and a number of other things. Living with a paid staff member gave me insight into some of the more intimate and intricate workings of this congregation.
And now, now that our past ministers fade from the “current events” to the “history” of this congregation, and Diane no longer brings home talk of happenings and issues of First, what role would I play here, what would I do? Initially I thought I’d like to take a year or so, and just be ‘a guy who comes to church.’ No committees, no teaching, just Sunday services.
But when the Nominating Committee put out a call for applicants for the Search Committee, I began to think about it. I have some experience: I worked in human resources, including interviewing and recruitment. Because of my unique position in this Congregation, (that is, as the partner of a staff member) I very often have had a close, personal, (and frequently behind the scenes) look at the lives, joys, hopes and struggles of church ministers and staff. But mostly, I thought that the search for a new settled minister would be the most important work that one could do for this congregation. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became that if my insights and experience could be of use, then I would be willing to dedicate myself to this work.
At First Unitarian, there are three things that a testimony should address:
1) What brought you here?
2) What keeps you coming back?
3) What is your growing edge?
Now you know what brought me here (Diane), and you know what’s keeping me here (ministerial search), so what’s my growing edge?
It’s three things, all of which I can attribute to my participation in this search:

1) a growing sense of who we are, and what this religious community is. With all our warts and flaws, our loving hearts and dedication to this place, the diversity, and our all too human relationships, some good, some difficult, but a richness that’s impossible to ignore.
2) It’s an increasing awareness of our place in the UU movement. One of the Search Committee members, Helen Iacovino, talks about the “thousand other UU congregations out there” where people volunteer to pour coffee on Sunday, sit on boards and committees, attend small group meetings, and struggle with church finances. From references we have phoned, newsletters we have seen, we know we are not alone, in our day to day struggles, whether theological or in matters of social justice, and we are not alone in our successes in the larger world. And this leads me to my third growing edge:
3) My sense of anticipation, excitement, and yes, even hope for this congregation is growing, daily. This place is going to look very different in a couple of years, and I for one, am very excited. I think it’s safe to say that the other six members of the committee are also keyed up.
So, how is the search going? I think it’s going very well. We have been hard at work, putting in many hours creating and tabulating surveys, attending meetings, creating packets, reading and listening to sermons and rites of passage, more meetings, phone interviews, reference checks, …still more meetings, and much planning.
And now, we are about to embark on a series of in-person interviews with our short list of candidates. Any of these ministers would be wonderful ministers for this congregation. As our chair, Catherine Schuler puts it: our task now is to discern the truly excellent from the merely excellent. We anticipate presenting a candidate to you sometime in mid to late April.
This task is far from complete, there is much work for this committee yet to do. And I want you to know, this is a labour of love, to which all members of the committee are deeply dedicated.
It is, for me, a significant part of my own spiritual growth, and I am grateful for it.
Finding Unitarianism was not difficult for me. I am third generation Unitarian. Finding my own way to worship has been a challenge.

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

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

In short, I became a mystic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honouring Their Memory

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

The plaque reads:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Humanist UU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello. My name is Stan Yack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll keep you posted.