Testimony of Adrian Iacovino, February 22, 2015
When I flip through old pictures of myself I always find it curious how much I have changed and how strangely similar I am and continue to be. I think about how the rhythms that I spoke with were crucial to the truths that I held. How these truths were passed onto me and hold a flavour from where or whom I acquired them. And that these truths were not true for who I was to become. Some of their meaning no longer carries the same weight. And now the truths that I have don’t reflect in earnest who I was then.
I think evolution is this malleability of truth, and that truth is your current dialect or the language of our thoughts. It is what defines us.Since we last spoke, I have changed. I realized that I am the only one that gives meaning to the things that I do in my life, call it self-affirmation. And I think I already knew that. But I need to share that meaning with my loves, my friends, or my community. I want to be affirmed by the people that I walk with. I want them to understand my inner dialect because I am a seeker and creator of meaningful connections.
I recently had one with myself. I carved my first wooden spoon and I have never felt more human. The experience of creating a tool as ordinary as a spoon renewed me with a sense of ancestral powers. I looked at a cedar branch and saw that it had potential to be something other than what it was. This experience changed me. It was the reply to a long standing question of mine: what it is that humans do that is of value? How we choose to direct our focus on projects that we bring into being, that then become meaningful. Redefinition.
I am learning how to track these shifts in inner truths that occur - those epiphany moments where all of my writing comes together to disclose a meaning that was obvious to everyone but me.
A major focus right now is to understand how to cultivate space for others to feel comfortable to let down their defenses so that we may connect and talk about the current truths. I want to help them affirm themselves without feeling silly or misrepresented for finding deep meaning in something ordinary.
Being a mentor for staff and youth at Unicamp enables me to set that tone and that creative space by being silly and celebrating our connectivity. What I’ve noticed after working there for so many summers is how at the end of the summer everyone kind of talks like each other incorporating their own dialect with the culture of camp. And to me this is spiritual, this is a genesis of truths, an amalgamation of passion and focus in this intergenerational micro-culture that keeps changing while staying the same. Playing a leading role in this community helps me define who I am going to be by affirming that potential to make those connections.
Even though I make my own meaning, it becomes meaningful when shared.
Testimony of Barb Wentworth, January 25, 2015
Hi. My name is Barb, also known as Mark’s mom! Mark and I and Mark’s support worker, Mathew, usually sit over in this corner. Today Mathew is away and Mira is accompanying Mark for the first time. You probably know Mark because you hear him singing with gusto in the service every week.
I am so appreciative to be here. Today is Friends of New Visions Toronto Sunday. New Visions Toronto offers residential support to children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities, like Mark. New Visions Toronto works to enable each person to live life to their maximum potential in their communities. They are constantly under budget pressures, including needing vans for transportation:
- They have 3 homes and 12 apartments, mostly in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood.
- The 56 people living there are between 15 and 47 years of age.
- 4 people are in school
- Only 22 people have full day activities
- Only 1 person can leave home on a limited basis without staff support.
To give an example, Mark can go out of his apartment on Tuesday afternoon and evening, Friday afternoon and Sunday morning for Church. The rest of the time he is at home. The need is bigger than the staff resources available. Can you imagine that for yourself?
- 9 people living at New Visions Toronto have no planned outside activities
That’s why Friends of New Visions Toronto is the newest Eco/Social Action Project taken on by Toronto First. We want to support Mark and his peers by actively getting involved and helping with fundraising. If they can’t get out, maybe we can come in. That’s the supporting New Visions Toronto part.
There is another equally important part to the Friends of New Visions Toronto project. That is the disability-awareness component – or stepping into another’s shoes. Here are some examples of what we’ve been up to:
- Mark’s ‘Our Story’ video on the Toronto First Website. If you haven’t seen it yet, please do check it out.
- Collecting donated Canadian Tire $$. The jar is in the Office downstairs, so please continue to bring in donations.
- Annual Golf Tournament. Talk to Matt Virro or Paul Scott. They had a super day!
- Fashion Follows Form exhibit at the ROM. Check out the video about disability mannequins. It will touch your heart.
- 68 people eating lunch in complete darkness at O’Noir Restaurant.
- Read about all of these excursions on our Friends of New Visions Toronto webpage.
- Today there is a special screening of Alive Inside after the service at 12:15 in Shaw Hall.
- And for February, there is an upcoming Valentine’s Day Dinner and Dance on Feb 7th. Join Mark in dancing up a storm.
Every month there will be new, exciting challenges. Please check the website under the Eco/Social Justice tab. Check the lime green bulletin Board in Workman Hall. Watch for notices in First Light.
Life has its challenges. What I want in my life is a nice big fat tool kit that I carry around with me. Inside are my tools and my skills that I can pull out when I meet ‘someone’ who is very different from me.
‘Someone’ who looks unfamiliar, communicates very differently, thinks differently and emotes differently.
That ‘someone’ might be a family member, changed by disease or old age.
That ‘someone’ might be a friend who is at the end of their life.
That ‘someone’ is Mark and others at New Visions Toronto.
I want to be able to learn to connect, support, and just be with people who challenge me in our differences.
Friends of New Visions Toronto hopes that by developing many opportunities for all of us to engage with what is unknown, that we will move towards and include individuals who can’t approach us.
Friends of New Visions Toronto allows us this opportunity to learn and practice. You can help us build this. Talk to me, Judy Clark or Wendy Dines.
Today, you have a white envelope in your order of service. Your contribution will go towards a very-needed wheelchair accessible van for New Visions Toronto. Thank you for your support and see you at Alive Inside screening today and maybe at the Valentine’s Day Dance on Feb. 7th.
Testimony of Bill Glassman, October 26, 2014
Good morning, my name is Bill Glassman, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts and experiences as a member of First, as we observe the Day of the Dead.
My first contact with First Unitarian goes back 26 years, to 1988, when my wife Lies and I were planning our wedding. Neither of us were active in the faiths of our childhood, but we wanted a wedding service that was not purely secular. Eventually, this led us to June Sanderson, who was the chaplain at First at that time. June was warm and supportive, and I am still grateful when I think of her role in our wedding.
We did not join First immediately after our marriage. When our first son was about two years old, we decided we wanted a spiritual foundation for our family, and our contact with June led us to First Unitarian. I must admit to being a bit hazy on the dates, but I believe it was about another two years before we actually became members—but today, I’ve been a member for approximately twenty years, and ultimately both of our sons participated in both RE and the Coming of Age program.
Over the first several years, I came to First on most Sundays, and enjoyed the sermons, particularly those of Mark Morrison-Reed, who eloquently combined head and heart. Yet during those years, Sunday attendance was the limit of my involvement, and it wasn’t until 2001 that things changed: at that time, I was directly approached by Donna Morrison-Reed, who asked me to take part in a congregational committee—in those days, this was known as “being Donna’d”, because Donna was near-undeniable when making such requests.
I agreed, partly because the project—developing a Safe Steps policy for First—was time-limited. However, it then led to my becoming a member of the Board, and eventually, a variety of other service positions. While my experience on the Board was initially somewhat challenging—Board meetings do not always emphasize the most spiritual aspect of First and its members—over time, I discovered two things: First, that the more I did, the more I felt a part of this community. Second, I learned that when our credo refers to “service is our prayer”, it bears a truth for me that is very spiritual. In essence, the more I give, the more I get.
At this time of year, “giving” often seems to be about money, but in fact I want to talk about a different sense of “giving”.
As we observe the Day of the Dead, I find myself thinking about the legacies we each leave through the living of our lives. I think of June Sanderson, who died earlier this year, and how her chaplaincy led me to joining First Unitarian—and how her life impacted many other people, both in and out of First. Hers was a wonderful legacy, and there are others like her who live on in my heart and memory, and I am grateful for their gifts.
I have also been thinking about my own legacy within this congregation. Lest that seem too egotistical, let me note two things in my defense: First, while I may not have thought about legacies 30 years ago, at this point I’m a lot closer to the end than to the beginning, even with the most optimistic estimates of life-span (which is probably pretty obvious to you!). Second, whatever my life-span, I know that my time at First is drawing to a close, because in about a year from now, Lies and I will be moving to Victoria, BC. So, I find myself thinking more frequently about what leaving a legacy involves.
As I see it, there are three primary possibilities. Service, as I already mentioned, is one aspect—and at this stage, I would say that I’ve gotten much more from my various service roles than I’ve given in time and energy. Most notably, it’s helped me get to know some wonderful people, as friends and as exemplars of what a life of spiritual commitment can be. So, while I can, I will continue to give my time and energy in service.
Second, since many of my service roles have been finance-related, including Finance Convenor, Treasurer, and the Funds Management Committee, I am also very aware that pledge contributions make the day-to-day functioning of the congregation possible. For example, even maintaining our ties to the CUC costs approximately $100 per member each year. So there’s the pledge message—what we give is what makes First possible.
There is also a third form of legacy, based on gifts in the future. Over the years, I have become much more aware of the history of First Unitarian, and that before I ever walked through the door, there were thousands of others who had previously done so—and their service and their pledges and their passion meant that First was here when I was seeking a spiritual home.
As Chair of the Funds Management Committee, I know that our Endowment and other funds only exist because others who came before wanted to pass something on, as a gift or bequest. Some of you will have heard of the Rouff/Mackie-Jenkins Fund, but you may not know that Emily Mackie was a congregant and Bill Jenkins was a minister, and that Ken Rouff wanted to honor their memories. The names of most donors are less visible, but all gifts and bequests serve to foster the long-term well-being of our congregation. Such gifts are legacies from the past that extend into the future. Recognizing that, Lies and I have made provisions in our wills, so that even after we move to Victoria, we can do something to contribute to the future of First. Legacies come in many forms—and planning to give when I am no longer here is one option I wish to exercise.
In the end, I am not so egocentric as to try to judge my contributions to First—either through service, or pledge, or bequest. But I am vividly aware that this is still my community and my spiritual home, and that I continue to get far more than I give. In that sense, the books may never balance, but I will do what I can to strive for a balance--and on this Day of the Dead, I am grateful for the many legacies of others.
Testimony of Ariel Hunt-Brondwin, October 19, 2014
Hello. My name is Ariel Hunt-Brondwin – I am a member of this congregation and it is my deep joy to share a part of my story with you all this morning.
A few things about me to start:
I moved to Toronto about two and a half years ago and so still consider myself a newcomer both to this city and to this congregation.
In my short time at First I served a term on the Healthy Congregations team, I’ve gotten involved in the Twerty-Somethings group and up until a few weeks ago many of you might have known me as ‘that girl who had pink hair, who sings in the choir.’ In my work life, I serve on staff of the Canadian Unitarian Council where I work to support the 50 or so UU congregations across Canada in their youth and young adult ministries.
Before coming to Toronto, I lived most of my life on the west coast where I grew up attending the Unitarian Church of Vancouver. When I moved to Victoria and later Kingston for university studies I got involved with the Unitarian churches there too. I am a decided church nerd and – yes – I am one of those mythical people you hear about who was raised Unitarian and went to church throughout their late teens and 20s!
As a lifelong UU – as someone who works for our denomination and whose partner is studying to become a UU minister – it’s not an exaggeration to say that I think about church a lot! I spend a lot of time thinking about how we ‘do’ church but I also find myself increasingly reflecting on the ways in which ‘church’ – as in our whole, larger UU tradition – has shaped and continues to change and shape my life in myriad ways.
And so I think that’s part of why, when I found out that the Pledge Drive Team, another group I have been helping out with a bit, was lining up a few people to do Testimonies – and that the theme of this year’s Pledge Drive was going to be Changing Lives - I volunteered right away.
Because I am inspired over and over again by the messages and examples of generosity and compassion I see coming from this free faith and because being UU has left an indelible mark on my own life’s journey.
One of my most enduring friendships is with someone I met in my Coming of Age class when we were both 12. Together we attended countless youth group meetings and youth sleepovers at the church, helped out with sandwich sales to raise money for the youth group, planned multiple youth led Sunday services and of course we went to Youth Cons too. At the time we met, I lived in a small, conservative suburb of Vancouver and coming to church felt like such a breath of fresh air – being with other youth who cared about what was going on in the world and believed that helping others and our hurting planet was more important than whether we had the ‘right’ clothes or make-up. Going through high school having those friends at church and knowing there was not just a small group of teens, but a whole church and really a whole religion that cared about the inherent worth and dignity of others, that cared about each other’s search for truth and meaning, that cared about the interdependent web of existence that we are all a part of was a deep source of light and hope during my uncertain and change-laden teen years.
My life was changed again when, once settled in Victoria for University , I started going to one of the UU churches there and I began to discover that this tradition could also be an anchor for me – that I could hold onto it even as I explored and expanded my spiritual experiences, including living in an intentional Christian community for three years as a UU!
And then when I moved again and found myself in Kingston, and getting involved in a congregation much smaller than I’d been a part of before, I discovered that church could be ‘family’ when my own was far away and when my life fell apart as I decided to leave my partner – it was those friends I’d made at the fellowship that I knew I could share my pain and fear with. These profound gifts of light and hope, of an anchor and of deep love were all unexpected and mostly unrecognized in the moment. But upon reflection I know I was changed and shaped by all those experiences – and because of them I gained a deep belief in the basic goodness of all people, I learned that I could belong to something and still be free, and I learned that I could be resilient when I allow others to share my burdens.
I can tell you I was also changed when I learned that church could disappoint you. There have been times when as a young person in one of our congregations where I have felt alien and like so little was expected of me – as if showing up on a Sunday morning was all I could offer.
And part of that I think, has to do with what they say about people like me – Millennials that is. That we are bailing on organized religion, we don’t give like previous generations did and as a result churches are having a hard time raising the funds they need.
I know there is more to that over-simplified story and I think I am living proof that not all people of my generation have no use for religious community.
I can also say that in continuing to stay in community over the years – even when I was disappointed I came to grow past those feelings and gained the spiritual practices of trying to assume best intentions of all I meet.
I also came to know in sticking around church through my twenties, that just because you are young or you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you don’t want to contribute. And I also came to know that no matter how small a gift may be – it is always wanted – it is always valued and gratefully received. And so as our Pledge Drive has reached the half way point (and we have received well under half of the number of pledges we are expecting (and ok shamless plug - if you would like some information about the Pledge Drive or if you would like to make a pledge, please feel free to talk to me or anyone else from the Pledg Drive team after the service)
I want to tell you why I am giving to this congregation. But first I want to tell you why I am not giving I’m not giving because we could have a deficit, because staff hours may have to be reduced or cut, or because we don’t know how we will afford to move or renovate…if these are compelling reasons for you, that’s great and I don’t mean to diminish them because they are real pieces of our collective story here at First – and while they are certainly part of my consideration – in the end these reasons are not what make me want to give.
I am giving because I believe in the power of this community to act as a force for good – in each of our lives, in our city... I believe in our ability to be family and neighbours to each other and to the stranger we have yet to meet, Because I believe this community and this living tradition we share, calls us in – into relationship, into deeper understanding and compassion, into being keepers of the field, and ultimately into changing, growing and living more and more into and as our best, most generous selves.
Testimony of Dennis de Jonge, October 12, 2014
We first came to Toronto First after many months of wandering in the wilderness. We had stopped attending church as it had become a chore for both our children and us. For our children because there was nothing to engage them. For us because our efforts to engage them during the ritual completely negated any benefit we could receive by our attendance. This coupled with the furtive glances of disapproval cast our way by other members of that church whose children, seemingly, had never behaved this way....
Of course abstinence is always fraught with conflicting emotions and so it was with us. Forcing them into an hour of drudgery was pointless and unfair. However the absence of any spiritual exposure weighed heavily on our minds.
One afternoon I got to chatting with another parent, Rachel Morris, who told me of the marvelous RE program run by Toronto First. I was intrigued as this seemed to be the way to get them back into a weekly environment where they could explore and develop a sense of their values.
We decided to attend a service the next day. Having arrived late we entered with much trepidation. We experienced our first miracle as Gillian Burton came over with pencils and crayons for our kids and helped us to find a seat. This was all done wordlessly but she exuded a warmth and goodwill that deeply touched us.
The children’s Re program that day consisted of creating The Golden Rule song which was performed by the kids several weeks later. This exceeded my expectations and we begin to see we had made a good decision.
After church we attended coffee hour. Normally, for first timers, this would be an occasion of awkwardness and tentative interaction. The experience for both of us was the opposite. We felt as if we had returned home and were among old friends. To this day the miracle of this experience continues to amaze us as neither of us had ever experienced this before.
We marvelled at this on our way home that day and during that week prepared ourselves for a lesser experience putting our feelings down to being new visitors. Our initial experience, to our amazement, continued each week afterwards.
We were convinced that we had found the right place, however we kept waiting for this first blush to pass. Sunday after Sunday we attended, marveling at the warmth and friendliness we encountered and the fact that this remained consistent. It was due to this that we agreed to join the family retreat 6 weeks later.
Almost four years later attendance at Toronto First continues to be the highlight of our week. For our children as well as for us.
In my mind Toronto First is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. Each week we have the privilege of experiencing the prodigious talents of Shawn Newton as he uplifts, inspires and stirs our hearts with his homily. Lisa Iwasaki, our pianist, plays music of deep beauty, delivered with virtuoso quality. The music talents of the resident musicians and the choir repeatedly moves us to joy and gratitude for their gifts to us.
The RE program directed by Angela Klassen is the feature for our Kids. It affords them experiences they would probably never otherwise have, in a safe and supportive environment. Our kids hate to miss it.
And then there are the members, yourselves. This is a community rich in goodwill providing fertile ground for one to find and express their authentic self. The variety of personalities within our community is testament to this.
This church is a model of what our world could be. Of course, it can only continue to exist with support from us. Through the continuous investment of ourselves and our resources.
As many things of beauty in this world its existence is fragile. This church depends on our commitment to it. On choosing this over the many other things that compete for our attention.
There is much good work being done here which is worthy of our investment.
In the meantime, I look forward to the years ahead as our family continues to grow in this community and stand committed to welcoming newcomers who find their way here in the same spirit which we ourselves were welcomed.