By Vyda Ng
Growing up in Malaysia, I attended a Methodist church. In Sunday school, I was curious about the world I experienced around me and the dissonance I felt with what was being taught on Sunday mornings. In my childish mind, I had questions like, “If we (Methodists) aren’t supposed to drink, why did Jesus turn the water into wine?” and “If Jesus fed a lot of people with a few loaves and fishes, how come no one gives to the beggars on the streets?”
I was also surrounded by the multi-racial, multi-ethnicity that is Malaysia, with different foods, cultures and religions existing together. I am Chinese, and my friends were Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian. My extended family was Methodist, Buddhist and Catholic. My neighbours spoke Hokkein, Hakka, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hindi and Punjabi. In school, we were taught in Malay, and learnt English and Mandarin.
In my teen years, I belonged to a youth group in the Methodist church. The pastor at the time encouraged us to ask questions about the world around us, and we engaged in long discussions about life, the Bible and the community we lived in. Later on, I realised that those teen explorations in the youth group, combined with living in a multi-cultural and diverse country, laid the groundwork for my becoming a Unitarian Universalist.
I came to Canada as a student, disillusioned with organized religion and determined not to have any part of attending church. About 10 years later, married and with a new infant, I was convinced to attend a Unitarian service by a friend whose father was a Unitarian minister in the States. With my two-week old son, Nathaniel, in my arms, I went to a service at the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon. We were welcomed warmly, and a fuss was made over the baby. Over the next few months, I saw that it was okay to ask questions, and not always find an answer. I became impressed with the congruency I saw between what was preached on Sunday mornings and what the members believed, and how they lived their lives. In particular, I was impressed by Carol Lees, who disagreed with Statistics Canada that housework and stay-at-home parenting did not have a place on the census. Carol was threatened with criminal charges for refusing to fill the census out appropriately; in response, she rented a “jailbird” outfit, complete with ball and chain, and stood outside a government building to make her stand.
While living in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the Avalon Unitarian Fellowship got its start. Together with a handful of other Unitarians, we slowly grew the group. Through the generosity of Ed and Elinor Ratcliffe, Rev. Katie Stein Sather became the small group’s minister. I was given charge of the Religious Education program for the children – not that I knew anything about RE, but I was keen to have my 3 children be part of an informed, conscientious program. Sadly, the AUF dissolved in December 2009. However, because of my involvement in the group and attending EAGLES (the UUA’s leadership school for the North-East District), I was invited on to the CUC Board in 2003.
The CUC Board and the subsequent relationships I formed became my national faith community. I found acceptance and belief, and the support from Board colleagues and Mary Bennett (CUC Executive Director at the time) helped to get me through a very difficult and lengthy divorce process. The work centred and focused me, and gave me a sense that there was something larger and more meaningful than my small troubles.
Since then, my continued involvement with the national UU community has continued to nurture, sustain and challenge me. When my partner, Paul Smith (who was a member at Neighbourhood UU Church), passed away on January 17th, 2014 after a long illness, I received many, many thoughtful and heart-warming messages and expressions of sympathy, and felt enfolded in a giant blanket of care. Rev. Wayne Walder performed a sensitive, meaningful (and at times humourous) memorial for Paul, and I know I am fortunate to be in a faith community where ministers, lay chaplains, members and friends “get” how long-reaching the impact of a loved one’s death is.
And that, my friends, is why I am UU.