Member Testimonies

Why I say “Yes” to First

There are so many ways I could tell you about why I say “yes” to First. But to keep it simple, I say “yes” to First because of how First has said “yes” to me… and how the love and commitment and hope this community has provided to me over the past 23 years has virtually saved my life. Back then, to the casual observer my life was good…wonderful husband and kids, great job, friends… but inside I was dying from an extreme case of paralysis of heart and soul. I longed for a deeper connection, not just with others but with myself. I felt disconnected, insecure, irrelevant and unworthy... I was uncomfortable in my own skin but terrified of what I would find if I went below the surface.

Arriving here, I was particularly affected by the statement often used to set the context for the covenant…that First was a “community of love, commitment and hope”. I determined that I would put this assertion to the test.

And so, I plundered all of First’s resources and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way:

  • First became my secret laboratory where I experimented with pushing the edges of my fears;
  • First was my playground where my attempts at creativity were accepted with enthusiasm and grace;
  • First provided me with tutorials on spirituality and awareness, deep listening and vulnerability;
  • First was my master class in building relationships and taking risks… and when I made mistakes, where I was forgiven again and again and… ongoingly … again…
  • First gave me the courage to discover and value my authentic self and to be that person in the world. First really did save my life.

    There is one more gift I have received from First… my voice… not my singing voice, alas… but the confidence to stand here and speak to you … which I have done a number of times, in a variety of roles over these many years. My most cherished role though, is as Worship Leader, when on a Sunday morning I have the joy of looking out at all of your beautiful faces … this really is the best spot in the house.

    When I speak with gratitude of how First saved my life, I am actually speaking of each and every one of you… because you are First … we are First …each one of us creates this community of love and commitment and hope…this community of First Unitarian that means so much to us all.

    This morning there is someone else who would like to add her perspective to my testimony… and to say a few words of her own, my sister, Rosemary:

    Observing my sister develop in her relationship with First over the past 23 years — experiencing her wonderful personal warmth and humour blossoming.. has been such a joy for me and has given me a real sense of the importance of this community. Something transformative happened to her from her connection with all the people, the music, her community involvement at First: all things I value too.

    I live in New Brunswick—but thanks to the Sunday services on You Tube, my connection to First has also grown stronger … I am immediately connected and feel at home.

    So, I too say “Yes” to First-- as an experience that goes beyond the simple requirements of faith. I say “yes” to First, because this community welcomes and enriches with an open heart and a thoughtful mind, no matter where you are.

    Good morning. When my perpetual internal questioner asked “Why Me?”, I decided it was time to share what saying yes to this community means to me.

    Coming to First, I said yes to my mother who asked me to join her singing in the choir, because she wanted company and I wanted to be with her, deepening our relationship.

    I said yes to Shawn when he invited me to become a member, because my history, values, beliefs and actions were consistent with this congregation’s mission.

    And to Nancy and Terry Lee, who asked me to help fund David Foot, a speaker at the CUC conference in Toronto, I said yes because I am a fellow academic committed to better understanding our social-ecological world and its impact on our health and well-being.

    I also said yes to Ellen Campbell, who suggested I strengthen connections with East African UU congregations, because I travelled often and could share their struggles and joys with our congregation.

    To Peter Brydon, who asks regularly for choir members to bring snack, I said yes so we can share fellowship. And to Tanya Cothran, who organized a virtual Journey Group, I said yes to a wonderful opportunity to deepen our understanding of monthly themes, from wherever we were in the world To Karen Dunk-Green, who asked me to consider pledging more each year, I said yes because this congregation supports struggling members of our city. I have also said yes to resident musicians, who invite us to hear their music on line and support them is their work, as I appreciate their creativity To Paul Bognar, who asked me to be a worship leader, I said yes so I could be with myself and you all in a deeper way, and with Catherine Lake, I agreed to share this testimony, to reveal how First has become a bedrock for my being in this wonderful, crazy world.

    Saying yes to First has meant so much to me that I am going to renew my annual pledge to First this pledge season. May saying yes do so for you as well as you consider how Yes Lives Here at First Unitarian. Be generous as your means allow to support all we do here together and all that First nurtures within.

    The offering that we take each Sunday isn't just habit — like the annual pledge campaign, it's an opportunity to recommit to this place, and to this people. 

    Each offering is an affirmation — a “yes.” 

    When we give, we say yes to something we value. 

    With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. 

    May our offering help us practice Unitarian Universalism within and beyond our congregation.  

    Will the ushers please come forward to receive our contributions.

    Good Morning, Everyone.

    I have been attending First for almost three years, now, and I’d like to share a bit about my experience singing in the choir.

    When I first started attending, I was asking myself, if I may take some liberties with today’s theme, Where was I going to fit in in this community? Where to “Engage and connect” as the sign outside Workman Hall says. And there are several places where I have found that one can engage and connect but, when I arrived here, I have to be honest, I had ruled out joining the choir early on. Although I have sung in several choirs, in the past, I just didn’t think that singing in the choir at First was a viable option. There was the time commitment, for one. But there was also the fact that the choir was really good and the music was excellent and I assumed that in order to be in the choir, you had to audition and, frankly, for many reasons, I wasn’t especially confident that if I were to try out, I would be up to snuff, so to speak.

    Then, two years ago, I realized that I really missed singing in a choir. And, right around the same time, I found out that not only was no audition required to join the choir at First but that the prerequisites for joining were only (1) showing up for rehearsal, (2) being present, and (3) being enthusiastic. And I thought, I can do all of those things most of the time and so decided to join.

    And upon showing up for my first rehearsal, it wasn’t long before I realized that this choir was very different from any I had participated in before.

    First of all, during warm up, the choir director, Dallas, didn’t just tell us to make various sounds on various pitches; he told us why we should make various sounds on various pitches and what to focus on. When we rehearsed a song and he stopped us to enhance or correct something; he didn’t just tell us what we needed to enhance or correct but he asked us to tell him what we should do to enhance or correct. Perhaps this is how most choirs rehearse. I don’t know. I only know that it was new to me. I had no choice but to develop as a musician.

    Secondly, there are resident musicians leading the sections. Having a professional singer to learn from and attempt to emulate is incredible. Their mentorship is priceless.

    Thirdly, and finally, and this is something that has become more obvious to me as a felt experience as time has gone on: the choir is a community. I lean on my fellow Tenors as we sing. Every member is supportive as we try to grow as musicians. Dallas makes sure that our efforts support the goals of the Sunday service. We support each other through life transitions and events (good and bad). But, more than that, the choir is an opportunity for its members to grow spiritually and intellectually through community and service.

    So, when faced with the question of Where am I going to fit in here? I have to say that choir is definitely a place within this congregation which is an answer to that question.

    But there is a financial cost to maintaining the music program. And, if I may be direct, beyond being able to purchase music, we have to be able to pay our Music Director and Resident Musicians a fair wage for their leadership and professional contributions.

    I want to support the music program and all of the activities that First Unitarian runs. And I also want our leaders and participants in the entire congregation to be able to organize and attend activities without having to worry so much about whether or not we can pay for them. So, I will be making a financial pledge and I hope that you will too.

    Thank you.

    Good morning; I’m Doug Buck, a member of this congregation.

    York University, where I taught, ran on committees — so it was easy for me to fit right in at First Unitarian. I understood.

    Once, in the late 1980s, I made a progress report to a departmental meeting as chair of a faculty search committee. I said that each candidate would be given an orientation tour of the campus and, for women candidates, we’d include a visit to the campus day care centre. Yes. One of the few women faculty kindly suggested that male candidates also visit the day care. Embarrassing. I was clueless.


    At that time, my cultural experience was that a man would be less interested in child care choice, and a culture is powerful. It’s the air we breathe; it’s hard to see outside of it, and the culture of men was and still is different than that of women.

    We read and hear stories about some men whose ego is so thin that they become easily enraged and violent. Those who feel threatened may take out their frustration on less-powerful others, including women. Rarely, however, are men violent against their bosses.

    This morning we’re looking at “Risk.” Indeed, virtually all women are at risk of marginalization, discrimination, abuse, and assault. For Indigenous women, the risks are even higher. But think also of the risks to our society: how many symphony conductors, physicists, and Olympic athletes will Canada never have because of the abuse that limits women’s horizons.


    While cultures change slowly, I’ve learned that I can help this change by being aware of my speech and actions. I apologize when I suspect I’ve offended. I try not to let remarks or actions of others slide past me If I’m silent, I’m complicit.

    If my wife, Kate Chung, sees someone being mistreated, she goes and stands near that person to offer moral support, and to be a witness, like those who accompany people in a war zone. I want to do that, too.

    I’d like to ask for men to think about this and to help as you can. I was corrected by a woman, but it isn’t fair to ask only women to remind me when I’m clueless.

    All of us are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. As I’ve listened to women speak of their own experiences, I’m gaining a better appreciation of what it means to be respectful. I want to be a good ally.


    One way to demonstrate support for women is for men to wear a Moosehide Pin.

    The Moosehide Campaign is a west-coast First Nations initiative that asks Indigenous and non-Indigenous men to honour, respect, and protect women and children, to stand shoulder to shoulder with them as together we work to end sexism in our culture.

    Several years ago, the Campaign was started by Paul Lacerte and his daughter, Raven, and a million pins have now been given away. Following the service, these pins will be offered to men in the Narthex, although women can wear them too. If you are able, wear one, please. Take the risk. It could save a life.

    Together, we can change the culture. We’ve done it with smoking, and this is far more serious. Thank you.

    We often hear in the call to worship that wherever you are in your life’s journey, you are welcome here. My name is Catherine Lake and I’ve been a member of this congregation for about 15 years and throughout that time, I have brought so much of my self to this place —my political passions and personal penchants, my despairs and delights — and have always felt welcomed and embraced.

    I also bring my inner doubts to my faith community and am not always soothed, sometimes I am deeply challenged and sometimes I am simply held like how my journey group meeting monthly for almost a decade now--holds my experience as they listen to who I am, and who I’ve been, and who I am becoming.

    One of my journey group sisters, Brenda Ponic, has been coming to First for 17 years and talks about this place as providing “the ground where she can focus her quest for meaning.” Through the years I have become accustomed to saying that I am a Unitarian Universalist and part of a vibrant faith community called Toronto First. This place is part of my identity.

    Where else in the world do I get to call out my sorrows and joys?

    Where else do I get to hear wisdom and beauty and have my soul, myself, my person stirred and steadied?

    Where else do I get to spiritually connect with others and feel connected and then I get to take this “here” out there?

    Out there to the hard places of work and school and family and neighbours and traffic and the blur of cellphoned faces in the streets.

    I love running into a Toronto First person out there in our cacophony city. It’s exciting like — hey that’s one of my people, that person shares something with me. Something called community, search, commitment, support and struggle for a better world.

    Like when I ran into Anne Montanges in the AGO years ago and having never before spoken to her but in having seen her here, I sat with her and she talked to me about art. Anne has been a member of First Unitarian for 67 years. Last Sunday I asked her why she comes and she said “for weekly sustenance” and then I asked why she gives and she said that “everyone needs to live practically as well as spiritually and the church needs it too.”

    So in this our pledge season, I am calling on all of us to be generous. Don’t do it according to how many times you come or if one particular Sunday service was better than another. See giving as more like paying for roads and schools and health care. Your contributions pay for this here—and this here supports you personally and in doing so, this here supports those you meet on the road of your journey, those who study life alongside you, and those who strive with you for a healthier world.

    As a previous Board member, I know that the Board and people that run this place here really need your commitment and specified pledge for budgeting purposes. You can’t freelance a congregation. It’s too hard not knowing what budget and goals you can set, what people you can hire, what you can offer to the community for the coming year. A firm monetary number and the commitment of planned giving from each of us is a huge weight of worry off of those volunteer shoulders that keep help this place going.

    A place to be heard.

    A place to be held.

    A place for your health and your journey not just within the walls of this place here but out there where we all really need it.

    So today, make your pledge. And then pat yourself on the back—for giving to our community that gives to our wider world and for giving to yourself that in turn gives to others as together, we seek, connect, and serve.