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Testimony of Margaret Bryant, November 14, 2021

Good morning. My name is Margaret Bryant and I am a member of First Unitarian of Toronto.

I am a third generation Unitarian.  I was raised on stories told by my mother of the work she and my grandparents did with the Unitarian Service Committee.  One of the stories that made the biggest impression on me involved Erno, the Hungarian revolution refugee, who was taken in by my grandparents and who bumped my mother from her bedroom for six months. I once asked if she felt put out by this, and she replied with a slightly bewildered look – “No – it was just what my family did.”

I’d like to say that her history inspired me to leap into action at the earliest opportunity, but the truth is that I didn’t leap.  I suppose because I always felt I had a lot going on and I didn’t know how to start. 

In 2015 Canada agreed to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees fleeing the war that overwhelmed their homeland. Here at First, it was announced (after discussion and debate) that we would support a Syrian refugee family. Here. In Toronto.

My family donated money. We donated furniture. I knit warm winter toques. And the first family of refugees settled in Toronto. Then First welcomed a second family, and then a third and a fourth and a fifth. I thought about participating more actively, but the time didn’t feel right for me. I had a young daughter and my career was full of changes.

But I kept thinking of my mother’s stories about the Hungarian families they helped. I also talked to members of the various refugee teams here who made friends with these newcomers.  I was envious of their experiences, and I realized that I really did want to participate.  I joined our team welcoming family six, unsure of what I’d gotten myself into.

Do you know what I found? Friendship. Support. Community. Joy. 

I found that the teams are filled with wonderful people from many backgrounds. I found acceptance and encouragement. I learned a great deal. As a team we have diverse skills and abilities, and share responsibilities. The team found my strengths and used them. We look after each other, so we can look after the families we support.

It’s enriching and empowering. My greatest wish is that more of you can experience the joy I’ve experienced. And this is my point:

In June of this year, the congregation gave us the mandate (?) to continue this work of welcoming newcomers to Toronto. We need more volunteers to fulfill this goal. I know that among you are people who have the same reservations I had. Maybe you think you have no experience or you don’t know what you can offer. Maybe you’re busy. Maybe now just isn’t the right time because – because – because -. 

Well maybe now is the right time for you. Or maybe it’s the right time for a friend or family member. Our teams are not exclusively made of volunteers from First.  Also included are members of the Syrian community, friends of volunteers from First, and local community members.

Why don’t you try us and find out if this is the service project you’ve been looking for? We’re well organized and hold meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at 7pm. We have extensive start-up materials.  Each team is divided into sub-teams, ensuring a great mix of new and experienced team-members.  We will welcome you and use you to your greatest abilities! You’ll get to know wonderful families, share potlucks and park meetups. There will be expeditions and you’ll find that you get to see Toronto in a whole new light, experiencing our city through the eyes of newcomers.     

We have a Syrian family coming next month. We expect another Syrian and another Syrian family in the new year. In all honesty, I don’t think there could be a better time for you to come on board because you can watch the welcome roll out.

If you do feel that the time isn’t right for you, but you know of someone who might be interested, please send them the link to Toronto First’s refugee support page. And perhaps you’ll consider donating to our fundraising efforts. 

But if you aren’t convinced that the time is right for you, let me tell you that we have exciting plans for 2022.  We want to initiate at least two new sponsorships including from Afghanistan, and our commitment to our community here at First is to have the needed volunteers and funds in place before we start.  So maybe the time is right. Find out. Come join us. What are you waiting for?