Rev. Alison Etter, Glace Bay

Rev. Alison Etter, Glace Bay

1982 - 2024

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Rev. Alison

Obituary of Rev. Alison Etter, Glace Bay

                     Rev. Alison Louise Etter (May 22, 1982, to February 14, 2024). We are beyond heartbroken after the passing of our beloved Alison (“Allie”). Alison died in the Intensive Care Unit of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital on the morning of Valentine’s Day, unleashing her powerful Love-force from her pained body into a hurting and broken world. Her final moments, surrounded by family and then held by her husband as she drew her last breath, were peaceful, spiritual, moving, and musical – just as she was in every fibre of her being.  We feel Alison’s strong spiritual presence right now.

                 Alison had been hospitalized since November 20, except for five days back at home, with serious complications from recently diagnosed ulcerative colitis, which ultimately led to unanticipated emergency surgery, and sepsis, from which she sadly did not recover.  Among her final reflections on February 8, just before the surgery, was that she had been dreaming she was swimming with whales.

                 Alison leaves her grieving, adoring husband, Prof. Tom Urbaniak, and their amazing son Oliver (“Oluszek”), who turned two on February 11. Oliver has thrived in an ocean of love after spending his first six weeks after birth in the NICU at Halifax’s IWK and the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, with his parents at his side. Alison is deeply mourned by her incredible, loving parents, Catherine Etter and David Etter, who adopted Alison when she was four weeks old. She was their only child.  Alison is also missed by her cherished stepmom, Robin Stadnyk. We are grateful for the words of comfort and thanksgiving for Alison’s life that have poured in from Alison’s friends and relatives, and from people and organizations that have been touched, led, or helped by Alison locally, nationally, and around the world.

                Alison was a United Church minister, respected across the country. At the time of her passing, she was chair of The United Church of Canada’s national Committee on Theology, Inter-Church, and Inter-Faith Relations.  She had a brilliant mind, thinking a lot about the world’s problems, the human condition and what it means to be a person of faith in these times.

                 Her life’s work linked faith and spirituality with community development, human rights, the environment, languages, cultures, and social justice. Alison was a deeply ethical person in all aspects of her life. Her Christianity and her idea of “Church” had nothing to do with empires, power and control or throwing rules and dogmas at people. Hers was a beautiful and boundless Christianity – filled with wonder, curiosity, simplicity, generosity, forgiveness, hospitality, compassion, wisdom, and openness to everyone without exception. It was about cultivating that Love-force. It was about cultivating communities of profound kindness, focused on being more like Christ.  

                 Alison grew up primarily on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Risser’s Beach was her favourite natural spot in the world. An extremely talented musician and singer (in several languages) with a heavenly voice --and a compelling writer and preacher in the English, French, and Gaelic languages -- Alison studied music, specializing in flute, at the University of Ottawa. She was also a very talented piano player.

                After graduation and work for Nova Scotia Tourism, and Scotland's Iona Community, Alison pursued a calling she had felt since childhood: She earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Atlantic School of Theology, where she was a top student. She did practice ministry in Winnipeg and Baddeck. In 2011, she was ordained as a minister.

               Alison was appointed minister for the United Church pastoral charge in Baddeck, Middle River, and Baddeck Forks. She served there from 2011 to 2017. These were wonderful years. She initiated many new programs and projects focused on deepening spirituality and deepening engagement with the world. Greenwood United became the first designated “Affirming” congregation in Cape Breton.

               Alison met the love of her life, Tom, in 2014. They were married at Greenwood United in 2016. They shared a beautiful relationship. They were intellectual soulmates. They supported each other through sometimes difficult, grinding work in their communities. Their marriage and close friendship – and their loyalty to each other – also represented a living, daily ecumenism (Tom is Polish Catholic). Alison was a tremendous source of support and advice during the challenging but successful rebuilding and reopening of St. Mary’s Polish Catholic Church in Whitney Pier after a devastating fire.

              Alison next served briefly at United Heritage Church in Sydney before being appointed as minister for Knox and Warden United Churches in Glace Bay. Filled with positive energy, she worked hard under challenging circumstances in communities where economies and public services had been badly depleted. She worked on food security and housing. She helped to set up a Community Help Table and the Neighbourhood Handyperson Project. She often took the concerns and plights of community members to political leaders. She was a tireless advocate.

               A beautiful soul, Alison was a humble and highly creative leader in many organizations. She was also an unfailingly loyal friend to many people near and far.  Alison was very active with Amnesty International and was committed to human rights. She was Cape Breton convenor for KAIROS (ecumenical organization dedicated to justice and peace) and was very dedicated to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. She served on the executive of both the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia and the St. Michael’s Polish Benefit Society, as well as the New Aberdeen Revitalization Society. She was an active board member for Seaview Manor in Glace Bay. Alison previously chaired the Hospice Society of Victoria County.  She had worked with L’Arche and advocated for people who are living with disabilities. Alison was concerned about ecology and actively supported environmental organizations engaged in tangible work.

                Alison was founding co-chair of the Father Greg MacLeod House in Sydney, putting in countless hours to successfully set up a home where students from around the world could reside and support each other to put faith into practice.  She helped to organize the annual “Gaels Jams”. She was a positive and respected champion of Gaelic language and culture in Nova Scotia. And she was certainly one of the region’s most effective animators of activities and programs for children.

               Alison was part of the Gaelic Ecumenical Choir, and she also often sang with the Pogoria Polish Folk Ensemble. She was very proficient at picking up languages. She became a Gaelic speaker as an adult, learned to read and sing in Polish, and often worked in French.  She worked with Tom on a lot of animation in Cape Breton’s Polish community.

               Alison was unfailingly generous. She donated or shared much of what she had. She tried deliberately and hard to avoid over-consumption of resources.

              Visitation for Rev. Alison Etter will take place on Friday, February 23, from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. at V.J. McGillivray Funeral Home, 16 Reserve Street, Glace Bay.

               The funeral service for Alison will take place on Saturday, February 24, at 1 p.m. at Greenwood United Church in Baddeck and will include a parallel memorial gathering for children. Alison’s very close and cherished friend (“soul sister”) Rev. Dr. Alydia Smith will officiate, with the participation of other clergy and friends. A reception will follow the service. Burial will be at a later date on the South Shore.

               In lieu of flowers, the family would like to invite you to consider, if you wish, a donation to the Atlantic School of Theology, designated to the “Rev. Alison Etter Memorial Fund.” This fund will be established to support AST alumni (with projects or continuing education) who are focused on actively linking faith, spirituality, and ministry to community development, human rights, the environment, social justice, and the affirmation of languages and cultures. Alternatively, friends might consider a donation to the David Suzuki Foundation.

               Through the course of a day, Alison and Tom would often exchange texts of encouragement or concern about things they were experiencing out in the community and the world. The day after Alison’s passing, Tom decided to send Alison a final text. This is what it said: “I love you more than I can express, Allie. I will always love you. Thank you for the immense joy, laughter, wisdom and for being the world’s most amazing spouse. I will tell Oluszek every single day how fiercely you love him. I miss you so, so much. The world misses you. But I still feel your presence and spirit. Please keep guiding me and us. Enjoy swimming with the whales!”            

               May the Love-force – the blessing -- that Alison Etter has unleashed – and continues to unleash – grow stronger every day. This world needs more Alison. On line condolences to the family can be expressed at:

Viewers will be able to watch a livestream of Alison's funeral service on The United Church of Canada's national Facebook page: