I am Margaret Bryant and I’m a member of this congregation. My husband Dominic and I were married at First, and our daughter Alix attends the Grade Five/Six RE program. I’m participating in the leadership development program, a member of the social events team and past co-leader of the Family Retreat.
You might be surprised to know that I’ve been attending First since I was a child.
There are few of us who have made the transition from child to youth to adult.
This morning I’m going to tell you a few of the things that I remember from when I was a kid here.
Most obvious are the physical changes to our building.
Our RE classes were held in dark, cold, cramped rooms in the basement. They were classrooms that you ached to get out of. The curriculum was uninspiring and traditional, though delivered by kind and caring teachers. Those classes began to change as I became a youth with first what was the precursor to OWL called About Your Sexuality, and a program that endures today, Neighbouring Faiths about learning about other religions. On one memorable Sunday, we visited The People’s Church up on Sheppard East and were amazed to watch kids our age responding to the call from the pulpit of volunteering to go on missions right then and there, while we Unitarian youth slunk low in our seats.
Now, our RE program is incredibly varied and dynamic. Today my daughter isn’t sitting in a cold, damp room, or even one of our bright, carpeted rooms, but heading to Winston Churchill park for a nature walk. On any given Sunday, you see kids tearing up and down the backstairs, and chasing each other through Coffee Hour. Our popular Family Retreat stretched the limits of Cedar Glen this past January with over 80 participants.
Another physical change is the layout of the sanctuary which has rotated 90 degrees. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, my mind wanders, with apologies to the service leaders, and I challenge myself to remember what the building was like before. Moving the front of the sanctuary over there, with the floor to ceiling opaque glass windows on either side through which you could hear the sounds of the streetcars.
When I was a kid, there was a room on the side of the chancel which was called the minister’s study, although I think it was used as the library. It was a mysterious room in which we were never allowed, and amongst the kids it was rumoured to have a door to a secret garden.
Although the chancel moved, some things have remained the same. The piano for instance, and the playing of our pianists. I have always sat where I can watch the pianists’ hands. Many of you will be familiar with the dramatic and wonderful changes in our music program. When I was a kid, the music for each service was announced in the monthly bulletin. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that if we saw that the choir was singing, my mum and I would skip that Sunday’s service. Now, the opposite would be true.
It’s also hard to believe that the kitchen moved so significantly. Where the kitchen now is, was once the smoky welcoming lair of church secretary Bunny Turner. I spent many boring hours in that office while my mother volunteered as the collections and pledge bookkeeper.
And in the old kitchen, my mum introduced me to the pleasures of giving service. We regularly helped out at social events including the men’s lunches making what seemed like hundreds of sandwiches. It might have been tedious work to a kid, but it wasn’t really. I got to listen to the women chatting, and felt a real sense of belonging and the joy of feeling useful. This is something we’re trying to pass on to our daughter. You’ll see her helping out at the AGM lunch, with the social events team that has made her welcome and a team member. It’s through active participation that we feel most comfortable here, and that hasn’t changed at all.
One last physical change, I’ll share with you. You may occasionally use the back stairs. Well, I use them all the time, even at risk of being locked in them. Hanging on the wall is a beautiful wooden wall hanging that once hung in the front of the sanctuary, where now we have the copper sculpture that complements our chalice. When I was a kid, we had only a small wooden chalice lit at the beginning of the service and extinguished at the end. The new large chalice with communal candle lighting didn’t exist, and actually the chalice was not a focal point, more a bookend to the service.
I walk by the wooden wall hanging and am nostalgic for my childhood, and for a time of my grandparents humanism, cooperative games and Lotta Hitschmanova-led service to others. Of my parents popular and robust youth groups, of robe-less ministers and minimal rituals. And of my childhood, here, where I belonged.
I’m not really that nostalgic. I know ours is a perennially changing faith. I like looking at the colours and workmanship of Shawn’s stoles. And I’m so proud of our recent service towards the Syrian refugees. And of our amazing music program, wonderful and challenging Sunday services and of our enhanced RE program for kids and adults.
Despite the constantly changing nature of Unitarianism, to me, one thing stands out as not having changed at all.
There are few of us here, and at other congregations, who have grown up Unitarian. We remain a faith of predominately first generation Unitarians, whose experience of our faith and of this congregation is largely limited to the recent past.
We still are challenged to bridge the transition from youth to adulthood.