Avis Anderson

Languages: English and French

Avis Anderson

I first attended a service at the Unitarian Church in Montreal in 1989 or 1990. I had just recently moved here to go to university and was living in residence with my best friend from high school. One of my mum’s friends lived in Boston and the two of them met in Montreal for a visit the first year I was here. My mum’s friend was a Unitarian Universalist (which I’d never heard of before), so the four of us attended a service in Channing Hall on Simpson Street one Sunday morning. I don’t remember the sermon; in fact, I don’t remember much about the experience, except that I felt drawn to the church and the community. After that first visit, I returned a few times on my own. 
Already then, in my early twenties, I was looking for a spiritual home, although it would take years for me to fully admit that to myself.

Over a decade later, after the current church was established in NDG, I signed up for the online newsletter and contemplated visiting the new church. It took years (and a breakup) to get me through the door, finally, in 2012. I felt very shy about wanting to be part of a church—being “spiritual” was fine, but church seemed countercultural in an uncomfortable way, especially since I grew up in a non-churchgoing household.

After a couple of years of inconsistent attendance, I was inspired by theme-based ministry to make a real commitment: I wanted to participate in an Exploration Group and decided I would also commit to regular attendance for a year, to test out whether this community and I were really a good fit. In the end, I started the second year of theme-based ministry by becoming a member, which felt like a huge step!

Once I’d become a member, I found myself yearning for a historical connection between my family and Unitarianism: I wished that I were somehow reclaiming something rather than venturing into something completely new. I didn’t expect to find such a connection, mind you, and yet there is one! It turns out that my maternal grandmother’s aunt, who was a nurse, was hired to look after Elizabeth Cordner, John Cordner’s daughter, who was blind. (My great-great-aunt was living with Elizabeth Cordner at 50 Chestnut Street, in Boston, in 1920 and 1940, according to the U.S. census records.) Later, my grandfather’s two sisters took over the job and lived with Elizabeth Cordner for nearly 15 years, until Elizabeth’s death. When my great-aunts left 50 Chestnut Street (which has since become the Francis Parkman House, a US National Historic Landmark, but that’s another story), they were asked if theywanted to take anything with them. As a result, my aunt in Prince Edward Island now owns several pieces of furniture that once belonged to the Cordners and that I grew up thinking were family heirlooms. In the end, there are only a few degrees of separation between me and John Cordner, the first minister of this congregation, a synchronicity that was 50+ years in the making!