Toronto First Unitarian, like all Unitarian congregations, is autonomous, self-funding, and governed by a Board of Trustees elected from our membership.
Our Congregational By-Laws define how our congregation is governed and administered. They were last updated in February 2020.
In October, 2018 the senior members of our staff team reaffirmed our covenant with one another — a tradition that we have now carried for ten years.
The following is a summary of some of the interesting points about our Congregation:
Our Leading Principles
The leading principles of this Congregation shall be the free exercise of private judgment in all matters of belief. Members of the Congregation, while free to hold diverse beliefs concerning the nature of God, Humanity and the Universe, are each committed to the preservation of personal integrity, the continuing search for truth through the use of critical enquiry, the democratic method in human relations and the obligation to work together with love for the greater good of all.
This Congregation shall be open to all people regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, sexual orientation, or disability.
The Congregation is governed by Board of Trustees, who are responsible to the provincial government to ensure that we comply with all provincial legislation and with our By-Laws. They are also responsible for the administrative operation of the Congregation and the expenditure of Congregational funds.
The nine members of the Board are elected by the Voting Members of the Congregation for three year terms. Generally, three Trustees are elected each year for three-year terms, but sometimes it is necessary for Trustees to be elected for shorter terms due to the resignation of a Trustee or the inability of a Trustee to serve the remainder of his or her term. The elections are held at the Congregation’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) which is usually held in the spring.
Board Members may serve a maximum of six consecutive years. They may not serve on the Board again for three years after they leave the Board.
The Officers of the Board (President, Vice-President(s), Secretary) are elected by the Board Members from within the Board. The Treasurer is elected by the Board but is not necessarily a member of the Board.
Candidates for the Board are selected by the Nominating Committee, for which members are also elected at the AGM.
Our Congregation is a member of the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), to which we pay dues and which provides numerous services to us and the other 45 member congregations.
The CUC is associated with the Unitarian Unversalist Associaton (UUA), headquartered in Boston. The UUA oversees the professional credentials and benefits for all UU ministers in North America.
We gain great strength from being a member of a larger movement. Learn more about other Unitarian organizations.
Membership in the Congregation
Members must be at least fourteen years old. To become a member, a person must sign the Membership Book in the presence of the Minister(s), the President or a designated member of the Board.
Membership must be approved by the Board. (In practice, though, all requests for membership have been approved within living memory.)
To be able to vote at Congregational Meetings, a member must be at least eighteen, and have made an identifiable financial contribution for the support of the operating budget the Congregation during the past twelve months.
Membership is terminated if the member dies, submits a letter of resignation, or is voted out by two-thirds of the voting members at a meeting called for that purpose. (In practice, though, there hasn't been an attempt to vote out a member within living memory.
There are usually two or three Congregational meetings per year.
The Annual General Meeting, held at the end of May or the start of June, is when the written Annual Report is reviewed and elections are held to fill open positions on the Board and the Nominating Committee.
The Budget Meeting is held in the fall. At this meeting, the Board presents a preliminary financial statement for the current calendar year and a budget for the next year. The Congregation votes on the budget.
Special meetings are also occasionally called by the Board.
In order for votes taken at the meeting to be recognized, at least ten percent of the Voting Members must be present. Members must vote in person -- proxies are not allowed.
We are a self-funding registered charity.
Our Board of Trustees is responsible for normal operational expenses, but Congregational approval is required to buy or sell real estate, to enter into a mortgage, to perform major renovations to our building or to borrow more than $20,000.
Our members normally expect to commit a portion of their financial resources as well as some of their time to this congregation. Members and friends of the congregation are given an opportunity to make a pledge to our operating budget. Each Fall, there is a canvass during which members and supporters are asked to make a financial commitment for the coming year. General guidelines are provided to help you decide on the amount to pledge, but this will be your decision. Pledging in advance and following through on your commitment is important since it allows the Board of Trustees to develop an operating budget. Information about pledges and other monetary contributions is restricted to those few members and staff who need to know it.
Much of the work of the Congregation is performed by committees, which can report to either the Board or the Congregation.
Committees of the Board are accountable to the Board, and have responsibility and authority for functions designated by By-Laws or by the Board. The Funds Management Committee is a standing Committee of the Board.
Committees of the Congregation report directly to the Congregation. The Nominating Committee is a standing Committee of the Congregation.
Committees can only be chaired by Voting Members of the Congregation.
Role of the Minister
The Minister(s) has the “Freedom of the Pulpit”, the freedom to speak the truth as he or she understands it, when in the pulpit, or through other established channels of communication or through personal witness.
The “calling” of a minister is a formal process defined and overseen by the UUA. The Congregation elects a Ministerial Search Committee, which identifies the Congregations needs and desires, evaluates candidates and presents one candidate to the Congregation for a vote. According to our By-Laws, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the candidate, but the UUA recommends that the candidate not accept the position without at least 95% of the vote.
Shawn Newton, our 23rd Minister, was called to Toronto First in April 2007 unanimously with 177 votes. He started work with us that September. Our previous Co-Ministers, Mark and Donna Morrison Reed, were with us for eighteen years.
The Minister can resign with three months’ notice and can be removed with a two-thirds vote at a Congregational Meeting called for that purpose.
Investments and Capital Accounts
The Board has full authority and final responsibility for the sound management and safekeeping of all funds and assets of the Congregation. These funds are intended to be used for the long-term objectives of the Congregation, not for operating expenses.
The Board delegates the management of the long-term capital funds to the Funds Management Committee. The Board reports annually to the Congregation on the state of the long-term capital funds.
The capital funds are administered according to the Investment Policy and invested in a conservative mixture of fixed-income and equities. The latest version of the policy can be found on this page.