Sticks Out for Humboldt

This week we have all been citizens of Humboldt, Saskatchewan.  Though none of us can even begin to imagine the loss this community has suffered, we are united with them in their grief and it goes beyond hockey. Hockey is undeniably part of the fabric of our nation. The tragic death of fifteen young Canadians would have broken the heart of our nation no matter what the youth were in the midst of doing, but the fact they were playing hockey cut to the heart of every parent who has laced up their child’s skates, risen early in the morning to get them to a house league game, or stayed up late to flood the back yard to build a rink. It has touched every grandparent who has been called on at the last minute to drive their grandchild to an unscheduled practice or game, and every driver who has stopped with delight while the children playing road hockey moved the nets to let their car through. As we have listened to the names and heard their stories, these boys have been with us at the dinner table and in line at the coffee shop. They have entered our homes and our hearts. Their parents have become our neighbours and friends and we have wanted only to help.

Apart from the wonderful response of people across this country giving generously and praying faithfully for the victims and their families and the community involved, there has also been understanding voiced for those who were part of the confusion that led to the misidentification of a victim, and there have even been expressions of grace towards the errant driver. It is not just hockey or winter that makes us great as a nation. Above all, it is love for our neighbour. Ever since Humboldt took the meanest of hits there has been an outpouring of nothing but goodness, kindness, compassion, sympathy, and faith. As we continue to grieve and offer gifts and prayers for Humboldt, let us be mindful of what a great gift each day is and remain true to that which makes us truly great – love and kindness.

The Yule in the Lull

Some think there is a lull at Yorkminster Park between Remembrance Day and the busy Advent/Christmas season. One day last week, I went looking for the lull.


Debbie Bozzi, our Director of Operations, Sheila Stonehouse our Finance Manager, and Dale Rose our Minister of Pastoral Care, were all in their offices by 7 a.m. last Tuesday, by which time Ray Tafaj, the Building Superintendent, was already approaching his coffee break.


Meanwhile at least fifty volunteers from the Toronto Needlework Guild, hosted by our own Dorcas Group, had also arrived to begin piling their hand knitted winter accessories on table after table in the Heritage Room for their 125th Annual Distribution Day. This year there were 40,000 hand-knit scarves, gloves, toques, blankets and sweaters – all for the needy of our city. The handiwork was so colourful and beautiful!


At 9:30 a.m. the Ministry Team began our weekly prayer service in the Chapel. Others entering the building were now making their way through a jungle of strollers parked outside the Centre Hall as close to fifty moms and tots from the neighbourhood were gathering in our gymnasium as part of a service we offer to the community. What a joy it is to hear the sound of children echoing through the hallways all week long.


By 10 a.m. Carol Belford’s Bible Study in the Friendship Room was gathering and the staff members of the Yorkminster Park Meals on Wheels, who oversee the delivery of more than 30,000 meals a year, were in their office looking ahead to try to ensure the delivery of hot meals to our clients on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile Kim Aikenhead rolled into the kitchen with a trolley full of food for Wednesday’s Alpha dinner. And the Out of the Cold shoppers were not far behind with their delivery of food for Wednesday’s overnight program for the homeless. Inga Fjuk was also in the kitchen planning our Saturday evening supper. In addition, John and Margaret Torrance were collecting coffee urns to take upstairs for the Prime Timers’ senior’s lunch soon to take place in the Friendship Room.


By 11:30, the fifty Distribution Day volunteers were moving up to the Cameron Hall for a reception to welcome Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who had come to help celebrate their 125th anniversary. As she left the building, Her Honour greeted the children of the Dalton School playing on our grounds as they were on their lunch break from the classrooms beneath Cameron Hall. Back inside, the Tuesday Noon Hour organ recital series was underway in the Sanctuary, featuring students from the U. of T. Faculty of Music. Out in the Narthex Barb Cooper and Rob Mee were welcoming visitors dropping in to pray or meditate in the hope of finding comfort and peace.


Over in the Friendship Room the Prime Timers had attracted quite a crowd – well over fifty – and after their lunch they moved to the gym which had just been vacated by the moms and tots. Once seated, Margaret Torrance introduced a handbell choir whose half hour concert of Christmas songs and carols was spellbinding. In fact, Sandy Boone who had welcomed people at the Centre Hall desk all day, would later comment that the sound of the bells was the highlight. The bells were indeed pure and true, but to me, all the volunteering and welcoming and caring for others was as beautiful and true as the music of the bells. As they packed up the handbells, the church was only half way to closing time and so Ray and his team were soon stacking the chairs and hauling them back to another room, to make room for the Linden School’s basketball practice.

It was at about 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday when I finally discovered Yorkminster Park’s lull between Remembrance Day and Advent. But it lasted less than an hour. By late afternoon, Don Deathe was in the Sanctuary practicing his piano preludes for Sunday morning, though I didn’t want to distract him because I knew someone else would soon be arriving to rehearse for Wednesday’s noon hour organ recital.

All day long members of the ministry team were also absorbed in the work of planning programs, pastoring people, and preparing for Sunday’s services. Cody Barevich was answering the phones in the office and preparing Sunday’s church calendar. Ray and his team were attending to endless setups and Debbie, who would be the last one out of the building that night, was overseeing it all.


A small crowd of parents was now lingering outside Cameron Hall, which suggested the daily ballet classes had begun – for their children. It is lovely to catch brief glimpses of the children learning to dance. They remind me that we are all children of God learning to dance to the Spirit’s song of faith and love.

No sooner was ballet done than Robert Cooper and members of the Orpheus Choir began arriving for their 7 p.m. rehearsal in Cameron Hall. The Board of Mission was also assembling in the library to consider YP’s next steps in supporting refugee families and other important items.


I am sure you get the idea. Yorkminster Park is a busy place seven days a week. I am glad the building is being well used, but there is no virtue in being busy for busyness sake. They were busy in Bethlehem the first Christmas, but in their busyness, they had no room for Jesus in the inn. Yet I am encouraged because we are feeding the hungry, welcoming the refugee, offering hand knit clothing to those without, caring for the sick, offering support to the homeless, making disciples, and I believe as we do these things, we will know the wonder of Christ’s presence and love and not just at Christmas.


The last meeting of the day was the Board of Finance and Administration. We face the challenge of needing to raise more than $400,000 before year’s end in order to break even. Yet there was no panic. We are a people of faith and the leadership of the church believes we all share in the call to be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus here in the heart of Canada’s largest city.


When the day finally came to an end the realization dawned on me that in my search for the lull between Remembrance Day and Christmas, I had discovered that every day here is like Christmas and not just because it is busy, but because God’s love is so generously offered from above and shared so freely by so many.


You are a generous people and so as I think too of the needs of the church, yet also the great need for the church, I invite you to prayerfully consider this opportunity to participate further in this calling we share by making a special gift to Yorkminster Park as we together come to Christmas, just as Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds and magi did so long ago.

A Christmas Offering Envelope has been provided but you can also donate online.

May you have a truly wonderful Christmas and may you be blessed by a sense of Immanuel – God With Us!

Prayers for Sutherland Springs

Our hearts go out to the tightly knit community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman opened fire on people in worship at First Baptist Church yesterday killing at least 26. The news of children and youth dying and a pregnant woman alongside her children being shot down and so many others is horrific.

As someone who leads public worship each week, it is hard to know what to say in the face of such evil. After hearing the news, we opened our evening service with silence. There is however, a time to speak and there have already been many helpful words of comfort and wisdom voiced in response.

I was touched particularly by an offer of prayer and support from a member of The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white gunman killed nine people at a mid-week Bible Study in June, 2015.

After the silence at the beginning of our service we prayed for Sutherland Springs and we sang the beautiful chorus written by Desmond Tutu and set to music by John Bell.

Goodness is stronger than evil.
Love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness.
Life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours through Him who loved us.

As we lend our voices to the chorus of prayer for Sutherland Springs let us embrace afresh, God’s goodness, love, light and life, in the full assurance that God’s love will triumph over evil.

Grace & Peace,


Have A Blessed Thanksgiving!

Coming up out of the subway last night I had an unexpected flashback. As I went through the turnstiles, I noticed a couple sitting on a bench with a dog at their feet. Hardly anyone ever sits there. After all, upstairs and across the street there were vacant park benches offering views of a setting sun on a lovely fall night. Yet, there they sat in the depths of Lawrence Station on an uncomfortable, underground bench outside the turnstiles.

And then it suddenly came back to me. I remembered sitting on that same bench with Janet and our old dog, Rosie, on a Thursday night at this very time of year. I smiled and said to the strangers, “You must be waiting for your child to come home from first year university for Thanksgiving.” I was there once. They looked up and smiled.

As I climbed the final flight of stairs to the street, I thought back to the joy of that reunion long ago and of all of the comings and goings and travels near and far of all our children and of the countless prayers that have gone up along the way. And then a verse came to me, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” Now it was my turn to sit on a bench. I felt so blessed I had to stop and say, “Thank you.” God really does provide and guide and guard and love. We only come and go because there is a home and our home is in God.

I don’t know if you are coming or going this Thanksgiving weekend, but wherever you are, please take a moment to sit down, count your blessings and say, ‘Thank you.’ We are so blessed! If you are in the city, I hope you will join us for Thanksgiving Worship at 11 a.m. If you are not in the city, I invite you to worship with us online.

By the way, the couple on the bench really did smile back at me as they told me they were waiting for their grandchild who was coming for Thanksgiving. “All the more reason to be thankful!” I said. Have a truly blessed Thanksgiving!

Grace and Peace,


A Vigil in the Neighbourhood

One of the most important concerns facing this generation of Canadians is the healing of our nation through true reconciliation with our Aboriginal peoples. So deep is the wound that it is hard to know where to begin, but I feel very blessed to have come to know a group of very concerned and courageous Aboriginal women, Sigrid, Carrie and Sue-Lynn, who have been keeping vigil outside the federal building a block away from the church since mid-July. Along the way, I have also met John, who is one of several Aboriginal men who stand at their side.

Their primary focus is to address the epidemic of youth suicides in Northern Ontario. They are passionate and we must listen attentively to the pain and sorrow until we know it as our own. For then we will respond as one family and the wounds will begin to heal.

Around the corner in David Balfour Park two aboriginal men, Jeff and Darryl, have set up a small camp to tend a sacred flame for almost as long as the women have been camped on St. Clair, and it is the same issue of indigenous youth suicide burning in their hearts. Up Yonge Street on the Kay Gardner Beltline Bridge ribbons have been tied to the railing with photos and stories of murdered and missing Aboriginal woman. We must listen and learn and respond in love.

Dale Rose and I have had the privilege of sitting with these neighbours and friends at different times over the summer. I call them neighbours because in every sense they are, but I have been using the term with more conviction since I discovered that a conservative estimate would suggest there are between 35,000 and 70,000 Aboriginal people in Toronto. We cannot simply pass by assuming the problem is on the other side of the province and beyond our reach. These courageous friends have reminded us that it is here and the time is now.

This week I introduced the women to the Rev. Walter McIntryre of the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, who is a wonderful instrument of peace in the Church as he as alerted us to listen and care. Next week I hope to introduce more friends to them, but along the way I have been deeply moved to discover how many people from Yorkminster Park have also been reaching out to them. One of our members has been dropping in on the men every day since they have arrived. He is such an encouragement to them that they call him Elder Bruno. May the sacred flame touch all our hearts and this land be healed.