Our Story: Walter McBurney

Walter McBurney and Ann McCulloch

New Lifetime New York Members Walter McBurney and Ann McCulloch.
State/church activism brought them together.

“Ann McCulloch and I want to become Life Members of FFRF. I am presenting a check for our respective memberships ($1,000 each).

“This gift/Life Membership came about because Ann and I met because of the FFRF complaint over the Nativity Crche at Batavia, N.Y., City Hall.”

By Walter McBurney

Eight years ago, a nativity scene displayed at the city hall in Batavia, N.Y., was protested, not once but twice, by a City Council member. City Council did nothing.

When I learned of this, I sent an e-mail to Dan Barker and asked FFRF to help address the church-state violation. Dan and Annie Laurie Gaylor responded with a complaint to the city. The local newspaper got wind and a lot of media attention resulted. The account was carried in Freethought Today. The following year, the nativity scene was moved to private property.

After the local brouhaha about the appropriateness of religious displays on public property died down, I phoned the City Council member who had protested it and persuaded her to meet at a nearby coffeehouse. Over coffee, I told her that I had been the one responsible for making the complaint to FFRF about the nativity scene at City Hall. Because of her public objection and my covert complaint to FFRF, the nativity scene at Batavia City Hall was removed from public property.

As time went on, the City Council member and I became good friends. It seems we shared a lot of similar values, including the belief in a rational review of public matters, compassionate concern for people, and for the health and welfare of animals. Both of us understood the need to be practical, but we were also idealistic enough to want to improve our world.

After we began to know each other a little better, Ann and I started attending FFRF conventions together. She joined me as a member of our local vegetarian society and she began to eat better meals. Since she is a diabetic, this gave her a boost. In 2004, we asked FFRF for some help with another church/state separation project. You may remember the “Angel in the Park” complaint was featured on the front page of Freethought Today. Later, we also did some vacationing in Wisconsin where I stayed at my first bed & breakfast. On that trip, Ann and I toured the scenic Dells and dined on fine food at Madison’s delightful State Street.

Back home in Batavia, a public controversy arose over the building of a big-box store in a small community. Ann and I were concerned and together we attended and participated in many public meetings about the project. We were amazed to learn all over again how ignorance and failure to think clearly often lead to so many hurt people. Many of the people at these public meetings seemed not to know the facts and, like religion, failed to come to rational conclusions.

Since Ann’s original objection to the nativity scene at Batavia City Hall, Ann and I have become the best of friends and traveled a journey that brought us together and carries us forward. Together we have made an impact on our community, because we dared to think and we dared to act on things that made sense to us. Perhaps ever more important, we have made an impact on each other that neither of us ever expected. We continue to grow in life and love because of our shared compassion and our attempt to use some rational thinking to try to make our lives a little better.

Ann and I want to continue to make the world a little better for everybody. We think becoming Life Members of FFRF will help–because we care.

Freedom From Religion Foundation