Charles and Nancy: Fortitude, Grace and a Bit of Mischief (Audio available)

Tributes from Rev. Diane Rollert, Rev. Ray Drennan, Rev. Peter Boullata, Rev. Fred Cappuccino, Sandra Hunt and Last Words from Charles Eddis, 2 October 2016

Nancy and Charles

Introduction from Rev. Diane Rollert

First of all, happy birthday, Charles and Nancy. Nancy celebrated her 85th birthday in June, and Charles celebrated his 90th birthday in July.

If you simply define grace as the deep joy that comes from encountering a gift or an act of kindness you didn’t expect, earn, create or even deserve, then that’s been my experience of coming to Montreal as a new minister and finding Charles and Nancy here. It was truly grace to be embraced by the two of you.

It can be hard for new ministers, especially new women stepping into the role, to establish themselves when the former minister is still present. But that has never been my experience. Charles has been my most steadfast supporter, cheerleader and friend. Nancy, well, she’s the person I seek out when I really need to lay my burdens down. I know she’ll hear me out, keep confidence and make me laugh. 

The first year I was here, Charles only made one demand. He insisted that he give the “charge to the minister” during my official installation. I will never forget how he ended his charge. He urged me to cultivate and conserve my gifts and to take care of myself. He said that there will always be more demands than any minister can possibly fulfil. 

“Make your choices, and do what you do well,” he said. “Congregations adjust to ministers. When they find ministers who do some things well, they adjust to the things they don’t do so well, or at all. And so they create satisfying partnerships.” Charles wanted to be sure that both you and I heard that. Believe me, I recall those words often.

There’s so much I could tell you about Charles’ ministry — and I am struggling to be brief. He grew up in the Anglican Church, but as a youth he found himself needing to fill a religious void. That would eventually lead him to this very congregation, to the Unitarian Church of Montreal, in 1944, as a young sailor in the Canadian Navy. He stumbled upon the church on Sherbrooke and Simpson Streets and found himself inspired by the preaching of Rev. Angus Cameron. 

When he was then transferred to Toronto, he joined the First Unitarian Church of Toronto. It was there that he became a leader in the American Unitarian Youth movement, and realized that he was called to the ministry. He went on to study at Harvard Divinity School and served congregations in Massachusetts, Edmonton, the Lakeshore Congregation here in Pointe-Claire, and then served a congregation close to Chicago, in Evanston, IL, where he became active in the US Civil Rights Movement. He came back to Canada to serve as the minister here in Montreal in 1977, just as much of the Anglophone community was leaving Quebec. I love his stories of that wild time. 

Charles’ experiences in the Second World War, the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement shaped his ministry. He is man who has always cared deeply for social justice. The list of institutions he has led is mind-boggling. He has been a leader in Canadian Unitarianism, in interfaith work and in peace activism as a significant contributor to Project Ploughshares. He helped shelter US draft evaders during the Vietnam War, and in 1982, he led a Montreal delegation of 2,000 people to New York City to demonstrate for peace and disarmament. 

It has always amazed me to think of Charles coming back to Montreal all those years later to serve the very first Unitarian Church that had planted the early seeds of his ministry. In 1987, that same building would be destroyed by fire, ten years into Charles’ ministry here. I find it impossible to imagine what it must have been like to watch your church engulfed in flames. Two firemen died, and the sanctuary with all its pews and stained glass was completely destroyed. How could you even get up the next day and lead your congregation through such grief? 

Charles had the fortitude to keep going, to keep this congregation alive. He will tell you that it was the lay leaders of the church who really kept moving things forward, but we all know that they wouldn’t have gotten there without him. 

The congregation continued to meet for the next nine years in Channing Hall, the part of the church that had survived the fire. When Charles retired in 1993, he and Nancy went away for a few years. When he came back as minister emeritus, the new minster, Rev. Ray Drennan, asked Charles to be a member of the building committee that would ultimately bring this new building to life. It was a labour of love that incorporated artifacts from the old gothic church into a modern and bold design. The new building was finished in 1996. 

Charles always says that those years of meeting in Channing Hall reshaped this community. Meeting in a smaller, less grand space brought them closer together. It was his inspiration that reconfigured our new sanctuary, making it possible for us to see each other. It was a reflection of his deepest theology. Fortitude, grace — and maybe just a bit of mischief.

Tribute from Rev. Ray Drennan, minister of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, 1995-2005

Most of us here, on a scale of 1-10, would probably score very low in terms of institutional loyalty. I confess that I would. We Unitarians, and those who have more affinity with Universalism, hang out on the individualistic, if not the rebellious side, of the religious spectrum. We are most content when we are breaking free of stifling structures. We dream dreams and sometimes, we even see visions. This is good. We need more of it!

Thankfully, however, for the survival of our movement, occasionally a very rare bird comes our way; one who knows the value – the necessity- of solid institutional structures. It is not very sexy work but it is essential work for the future health of any organization. The Rev. Henry Bellows, in the 19th century, was such a man. It has been said of Bellows, that he was, “not calling for a return to the theology or doctrines of the past, but rather he (was) urging Unitarians to build and maintain foundations under their dreams.”

That is what you have done for us, Charles, in the 20th and 21st century. You have worked hard to “build foundations under our dreams.” You have dragged the rest of us, sometimes kicking and screaming, into recognizing the value, the necessity of institutions. Dreams need containers. This sacred space of hopes and dreams would not have existed without your determination and courage. The Unitarian movement in Canada would be in much worse shape without the institutional structures you put in place, long before that first Canadian Council Board meeting in 1961. You have tirelessly, often thanklessly, worked for the health of this institution. So, in addition to all of the other terms that may apply to you Charles, that old fashioned and cherished term 'churchman' seems appropriate.

Charles, sorry I could not be present today. Thanks for being such a loyal minister emeritus to me. You saved my bacon a few times. Most especially thanks for your friendship over the years.

How could we forget you Nancy? You are a saint- a provocative one, of course. They are the best kind.

Love to you both,
 Ray Drennan and Ann Vickers

Tribute from Rev. Peter Boullata, interim minister, 2005-2006

Twenty years ago this month, I began my formal theological education at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto. In starting the path toward ordained ministry, I was responding to what I experienced as a call to serve our liberal religious movement and to help create and maintain communities of healing and transformation. 

One of the classes I took that fall of my first semester in seminary was on models of ministry. During one of the exercises we were asked to do in class, I distinctly remember realizing how much of what I thought and knew about this noble profession I owed to Charles Eddis. Charles was really the only minister I had known before discerning my own call. It was my experience of Charles as a presence in the pulpit, as a distinguished source of knowledge in adult RE offerings, and as a religious figure in the wider community that shaped what I thought a minister should be. I remember how an air of expectation and confidence would arrive upon me when Charles came onto the chancel in the old building, in his crimson robe, lighting the candles as the prelude played as worship was about to begin. It always felt like we were in good hands! 

Now it is true, as I was to learn later, that some colleagues can be role models in that they show you what not to do and how not to be. Charles has always been the kind of colleague that I wanted to emulate. 

His preaching was reliably thought-provoking and memorable. I took to heart the ideas and knowledge he shared with the congregation, and can count Charles as an early influence on my theological and philosophical development as a young person. I remember the dignity and poise of Charles’ leadership in the days following the fire on Simpson Street, the intelligence of his understated sense of humour and conversation in social settings, and the evenhanded, deeply-considered passion Charles had for social issues—I remember to this day a sermon he gave about abolishing the death penalty. 

In parish ministry, it is not always obvious how much of what we say and do influences people. Often, it isn’t until somebody thanks the minister, seemingly out of the blue, for something that they found meaningful, useful, or occasionally life-changing. So let me say thank you, Charles, for being a model of what ministry can and should look like. You had a hand in shaping not only my intellectual and spiritual growth but also positively influenced my decision to enter the ministry. Thank you for your leadership and wisdom and presence and for sharing your keen insights and intellect with us all. You have been a guiding light and I am grateful! 

Tribute from Rev. Fred Cappuccino, founder of Child Haven and former minister of the Lakeshore Unitarian Universalist Congregation

Charles and I are both married  -  alas  -   to women who continually outshine us.
Bonnie and I came to Canada in 1967,  to Lakeshore Unitarian Church, following Charles Eddis, who built up the congregation to some 270 members.
Any of you who have ever heard Charles speak will know immediately that he is  — brilliant. When you mention the name of any philosopher, Spinoza, Descartes, William James, Cleopatra – Charles can immediately rattle off 13 points about that philosopher.
So when I got to Lakeshore Church, I felt a little intimidated, because I was somewhat lacking in philosophy. I mentioned this to the Bill Bindman, head of the Pulpit Committee that called me to Lakeshore. What could he say?  He thought about it, and then said, "It's all right, Fred. This time we wanted a family man."

But – But - Charles is half a year younger than I am, so he has to show respect - irregardless!
My favourite philosopher is Rodney Dangerfield. He said, "I don't get no respect. I waited two hours for my blind date. A girl walked by. I said ‘are you Louise?’ She said, ‘Are you Rodney?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ She said, ‘I'm not Louise'".

Download Charles and Nancy: Fortitude, Grace and a Bit of Mischief
Tributes from Rev. Diane Rollert, Rev. Ray Drennan, Rev. Peter Boullata and Rev. Fred Cappuccino, 2 October 2016

Tribute from Sandra Hunt, Director of Music

I began collaborating with Charles in Sept 1987 when the UCM held services in Channing Hall behind the burned sanctuary. A donated but tired and very limited upright was our instrument. Charles' comment from that time was that the piano sounded like Beethoven was stuck inside it and was pounding in vain to get out.  So Gary, my husband, and I gave fundraising concerts with Charles' blessing and consequently bought the professional upright Yamaha now in the Phoenix Hall.

Other things I remember from the infancy of my career as a church musician:  Charles liked to have me improvise during Meditation on the doxologies like the ones we've just sung.

He also didn't consult with me on my music interludes.  So we enjoyed being mutually surprised and pleased by the appropriateness of my music choices.  In retrospect it was almost a game.  As his sermon titles were all I had to go on , he was very good at choosing pithy and evocative titles to inspire a serendipitous selection.  Today's music are all selections by composers/performers of whom Charles is particularly fond:  Benny Goodman (Stompin' at the Savoy, The Man I Love by Gershwin, Jersey Bounce), Bach (Wachet auf) and Beethoven (Sonata Op. 109).

In the 29 years I have known Charles and Nancy they have been and still are very stalwart supporters of music. Nancy sang many difficult cantatas and oratorios In the Simpson street choir before my time. They both have attended almost every concert my family has ever given at this church and they are always in the audience cheering on our advanced music students at the concerts following Wednesday luncheons. I want to thank them for caring about the progress of my children in a difficult profession and for their profound support of music all these years at the UCM. 

In conclusion, to tie this in with our monthly theme of Grace,  Socrates said:
Music is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful.

Grace is certainly an attribute of both Charles and Nancy in their universal kindness to us over the years. Today's music are all selections by composers/performers of whom Charles is particularly fond:  Benny Goodman (Stompin' at the Savoy, The Man I Love by Gershwin, Jersey Bounce), Bach (Wachet auf) and Beethoven (Sonata Op. 109).

Last Words by Charles Eddis

James Luther Adams, the outstanding Unitarian theologian of a generation ago, told the story of the theologian who met an astronomer at a cocktail party. The astronomer said to the theologian, “I suppose it all boils down to the fact that essentially, all religions affirm the same underlying reality.”

 “Yes,“ replied the theologian, “I suppose all astronomy finally boils down to twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.”

 Looking back at how my own faith has evolved is simple and complicated. Like T. S. Eliot, I am back where I began, and know the place for the first time. I loved some of the songs I sang in my Anglican Sunday school as a child. I hated the classes, sitting in a small circle on a hard chair with a boring teacher. Two parables of Jesus caught my imagination, the prodigal son and the good Samaritan. It is strange that in all my years of giving sermons the one that really caught fire, that produced a burst of enthusiastic applause was one on Jesus. The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote,

  “A simple, gracious mode of life, combined with a fortunate ignorance, endowed mankind with its most precious instrument of progress, the Impracticable ethics of Christianity.”

 At age eighteen I went through a difficult personal transformation. I joined the angels’ revolt. I discovered and became a Unitarian. Too many Christians, too much Christianity, focuses on the death of Jesus and its presumed meaning for us. I, like some Unitarians I have known, focus on his life and his teachings. They are central to me now,, as they were in my beginnings. That is why I am and remain a Unitarian.

I had never walked into a Unitarian church until I walked through the doors of this church, then at Sherbrooke and Simpson Street, sat in the back, and stole out quietly immediately after, taking one small booklet with me, Religion for Modern Man.

Angus Cameron, it’s author, whom I first heard that day, is my favourite minister of past days. Three years later, in 1948, I obtained my degree at the University of Toronto. Not knowing what to do, I decided to leave Toronto for a while, travel Europe, communist-controlled as well as western. I then settled in Boston close to American Unitarian Association headquarters, where I sometimes worked as a volunteer. Rather than work for a living, I decided to become a professional Unitarian minister.

My dad used to ask, “If you had it to do all over again, would you?” Looking back over ninety years, I can only reply in the spirit which Nancy responded to my proposal of marriage, “I sure will, I certainly will.”

Download Last Words by Charles Eddis