In honour of Mother’s Day; Jim Harbell, Warren Laing and Brian Lawson talk about women who have inspired their spirits.

Words from Jim Harbell:

More than twenty years ago, on a Saturday morning, there was much excitement in our household, particularly with our two oldest girls who were likely 7 and 9 at the time. The excitement was caused because they were going on a march, to learn how to carry placards and shout on the front steps of Queen’s Park. I said to my wife, oh the girls are getting a lesson in civil disobedience 101 are they? No she responded, it was the expected response, as she said everyone has the right to free speech in a democracy and they need to learn that sometimes you just have to do something if you believe what is going on is wrong. In this case, the topic was cuts to the pubic education system, a topic that had a potential direct impact on the girls. There was a further march with all three girls in attendance to fight the potential closing of the hospital all of them were born in. By then, the older two were starting to get good at this!

As I thought about what I wanted to say today, it occurred to me this story was but one of many among the women of my family, as I think about my mother, my mother-in law, my, wife, her sisters and our three daughters. Along the same lines, their contributions have included being the provincial representative on the Status of Women committee, running for political office when you were among the first woman in your province to do so, supporting literacy among members of first nations, supporting teenage mothers getting back on their feet and living safely with their babies, retraining folks who have lost their jobs, fighting against discrimination among the LGBTQ community, working with children with disabilities, supporting new refugees and providing psychological assistance for school children, orphans and  university students with serious mental health issues. It is a remarkable list of worthy endeavors.

But Jim, you say, what does this have to do with what you have learned from them about faith development? Much, I respond, as I believe the list I just outlined fits  into the broad category of social justice or social action initiatives. I have had reason in my studies to look at the United Church statements of our shared theology. On the United Church website it says the following, which adeptly covers what I am trying to say.

Caring for one another was central to Jesus’ teachings: Feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit those in prison. Moreover, he announced that God’s kin-dom of peace and justice is at hand, and challenged structures of discrimination and oppression.

The women in my life are continuing this time –honoured tradition.

And how am I impacted by their faithful action? At the risk of over simplification, here are two things that have learned as I think about this that I want to share with you. First, as I think of the three generations of women and the faith traditions they have developed, I marvel at how well they teach each succeeding generation. Much of this teaching is by example,  as in marching on Queen’s Park – you can’t be too young to be out with a placard! By leading by example, this strengthens the openness of the next generation to learn from these examples and carry on implementing core values, adapted for new contexts.

Second, the level of courage is admirable. These are tough topics these women have taken on, by times working hard late in the night after children are in bed. Some of the issues are the toughest of their particular generation but there they were, in the middle of it, challenging structure and polices they they believed were harmful to society while at the same time actively supporting the vulnerable as best they could. This courage gives me motivation to follow their faith tradition, to add to, and adapt it in my own way.

I am well blessed to be a witness, a beneficiary, an encourager and supporter, and a recipient of the benefit of these faithful efforts by the women in my life. .

Words from Warren Laing:

I have been fortunate to be positively influenced by 2 women in my life, namely, my wife and my mother. When I look back at what I’ve learned, how my thinking has developed and the impact these people have had on me, I’m in awe and feel indeed blessed to have had these relationships.

I thank my wife for showing me the meaning of compassion to others, especially the disadvantaged or downtrodden. She led by example, teaching me how lucky we were to live in this community free from physical threats of violence or economic worry. However with this privilege comes the responsibility to assist those that are less fortunate.

Mary Lee has always had a strong sense of faith, a faith that means a great deal to her and has given her strength on numerous occasions. She is also a solid supporter of the inter-faith movement to bring different faith traditions closer together and lauds the expansion of Emmanuel College’s curriculum to include courses on Buddhism and Islam.  Over the last 50 years as I have watched her study at Emmanuel, travelled with her to Israel and to different Mosques or Synagogues, I’ve developed a faith that gives me a sense of peace and tranquility in times of stress, the ability to stay the course in difficult times and the comfort of knowing that someone is watch over me.

My mother was another women of influence for me as she gave me a strong ethical compass, always asking, “are you doing the right thing Warren”? She strongly believed that there was a big difference between right and wrong and brought my brother and I up knowing that doing the wrong thing was clearly unacceptable, irrespective of the circumstances. Later when I saw the problems other people had when they crossed the line I realized how fortunate I was to have had this ethical foundation instilled in me when I was young.

A strong sense of faith, compassion for the disadvantaged and a solid moral compass are all lessons one is unlikely to learn in school or on the street. That is why on this Mother’s day it is so important for us to honour the contributions these women make to the well-being of our society often with little recognition.

So Thank you Mary Lee, thanks Mum, and a big thank-you to all mothers.

Words from Brian Lawson:

Good morning,

I am going to point to three women who have nurtured my faith…and cite an example from each that has been an important part of my ongoing journey of discovery.


The first is my daughter Gillian.

Fortunately, right now Gillian is downstairs with the Confirmation group – otherwise I would be looking out at a set of dagger eyes with the classic “Dad – don’t you dare say anything embarrassing about me” look.

Four years ago – when Gillian was 11 years old, she was handed the list of names for her ski school group for the coming season.  Gillian had some close friends that she hoped would be on the list – but none of them were.  All nine of the names were new to her.

We braced ourselves for the disappointment – but Gillian said, quite cheerfully – “well, that’s nine new friends that I will make this year”.

To me – that unbridled optimism and faith symbolizes how fortunate we are to live in a world that is, for the most part, biased towards positive outcomes; a world of people who, for the most part, will welcome a new introduction as a potential friend, not a potential enemy.  I often reflect on Gillian’s reaction as a guidepost.


The second is you, Kristin.

A number of years ago, Kristin organized a series of evenings for new parents in the congregation focused on spiritual development and community building.  We would gather at one of our homes to discuss, among other things, our faith – how it impacted us as parents, and how being parents impacted our faith.

One obvious benefit was that it created or strengthened a number of friendships within this community – friendships that we treasure to this day.

Kristin – by gathering a group of us together in someone’s living room you gave all of us the opportunity to share our experiences.  It gave me the opportunity to explore how my faith, values and beliefs would evolve – or not – in this new phase of my life – and what it meant in a family context.  And being able to do this in a supportive group of people in similar circumstances yet different perspectives was really helpful.


The third – is my wife Joannah.

There are many things I love about Joannah – the one that I want to mention here – and that I respect so much – is how she has this intersection of strength, conviction, values and faith.

What I have learned from Joannah is that having a strong spiritual faith and solid values that are mutually supportive is a bedrock, a cornerstone.  Without this, it is easy to wobble – but having this bedrock allows you to live your life with conviction and strength of purpose.  And peace.

I see this in how Joannah leads her life – and it is great inspiration for me – and our children.


So to Gillian, KristIn and Joannah – Thanks to each of you for helping nurture my faith.