Happy Father’s Day – Diamonds are Forever

A beautiful innocence rings in the heart when the words ‘Play Ball’ rise up on a summer’s eve. Before the first pitch everyone’s slate is clean and the diamond stretches to eternity. Even in the bleachers of a major league park there is a part of us that is back in the schoolyard of our childhood taking a lead off first and cheering on our chum at the plate.

This week I was there in two different stadiums in two different cities watching four different teams. It is wonderful to share such moments and memories with friends new and old. Earlier in the week I was leading a pilgrimage of sacred spaces in Detroit when a group of us spent an evening watching the Tigers, and on Friday, Janet and I took in a Jay’s home game with Norm and Sandra.

Sometimes I think I catch glimpses of old playground mates in the shadows and hear their voices in the hollers, but sitting in Detroit’s Comerica Park, I was unexpectedly also flooded with memories of all the Tigers games I went to as a boy in the company of my father. I hadn’t been to a game in Detroit since we had moved away when I was thirteen.  Then it dawned on me, dad had crossed the plate safely home six years before to the very day.

The diamond really does stretch to eternity. It is almost like church, where I am often aware of the cloud of witnesses watching over us. They feel a lot closer than those folk looking down from the top of the CN Tower. In fact I was sure I could hear dad cheering me on from the home team dugout. Thanks Dad. Happy Father’s Day!

Walking Yonge

I ventured up Yonge Street today and visited the two makeshift memorials which are still drawing a steady stream of visitors. Retracing last week’s trail of destruction I passed by two addresses where my forebears in this land had settled and farmed. The farmhouse of one of those properties continues as a museum, the Gibson House, where Peter Silas Gibson and his wife Eliza Jane Holmes raised their ten children. I learned the museum staff safely shepherded a class of young school children out immediately after last week’s attack without the children being aware of the danger. The museum staff and the teachers bore the stress in silence. It is people like that who make this city so wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The memorial at the south-east corner of Yonge and Finch, where yesterday the Prime Minister and Premier signed the guestbook, sits on what was once the corner of the farmland owned by my great-grandfather, David Gibson Holmes and his wife, Ellen Harriet Lanning. I couldn’t help but wonder what those farming ancestors would think if they could come back for a day and see what had unfolded on their street, but it was hard enough for me to make any sense of it.

Interestingly, Ellen Harriet Lanning’s parents, Charles Lanning and Harriet McEwan, are not only my great-great grandparents but also the great-grandparents of Canon Peter Walker who presided with me at the Churches on-the-Hill Prayer Vigil. Yet it was standing at the memorial with people of many races, religions, and languages, it dawned on me afresh, we are all related. The sooner that sinks in to our collective soul, the better off this world will be.

A Prayer for Healing and Peace in the City

Gracious and merciful God, this week’s events have reminded us all that we know not what a day may bring.  We commit to your care the souls of those whose lives were taken so suddenly in a terrible act of violence. We pray too for those who now grieve the loss of their loved one’s voice and touch. May they sense your love in the midst of such hatred and come to find that peace which passes all understanding.
We pray for those who were injured in the attack and those who stand at their side and fight with them for recovery. The wounds to the body are real but those to the spirit are deep and vast and the wounded, the bereaved, the first responders and care givers, and indeed our whole city is in need your tender mercies. Speak into horror and the tears that follow and bring peace.
Speak into the souls of all who would entertain evil and hatred and silence the violence with your love. And enable us we pray to live with eyes wide open to the wonders and blessings of each day and lead us on to that great day when suffering and sorrow will be no more, and love and grace will rule in our hearts, and peace and justice will reign in our city streets.  These things we pray through Christ our Lord, Amen.

This prayer was written in the days following a horrific violent attack on Toronto’s Yonge Street in which ten pedestrians were killed and fourteen were wounded.  

 

Walk and Pray

Stop and say a prayer
For Yonge and Everywhere;
For those now in despair,
and all who offer care.

Let us pray for victims and their families, giving them to God as loved ones begin to process such shocking and unbearable loss and suffering. Let us pray for those who fight to recover from injuries sustained and for loved ones who fight with them.  Let us give thanks for our first responders, but also pray that they will be renewed as they process the horror they were called into today. Let us also give thanks for our wonderful medical personal and centres, but pray they will have strength and wisdom in these critical hours. And let us pray for our city that this evil deed will not blind us to the blessings of this place where so many people live and grow in peace.

Yonge Street, where east and west meet in our city, symbolizes the multi-ethnic nature of this metropolis, where people have come from near and far to live in peace. An attack on any other street would have hit us all just as hard, but Yonge Street is our main artery. Today this place of peace was attacked and it cut us all to the heart. Now we grieve and pray for the victims and their families, but tomorrow, grief still in hand, we must take back the street. Yonge Street is one of the greatest pedestrian streets in this country. We mustn’t let anyone take that away. So let’s not just pray. Let’s walk and pray!

Grace & Peace,

Peter

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.

AND IN THAT REGION THERE WERE SHEPHERDS…

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.

AND WRAPPED HIM IN SWADDLING CLOTHES…

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!

AND THE MAGI ASKED, “WHERE IS THE CHILD?”

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.

BETHLEHEM which means, ‘HOUSE OF BREAD’

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.

AND THE STAR… STOPPED AT THE PLACE WHERE THE CHILD WAS

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.

I HEARD THE BELLS…

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.

AN ANGEL CHORUS

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.

ROOM IN THE INN!

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.

KEEPING WATCH BY NIGHT

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.

AND MARY PONDERED THESE THINGS IN HER HEART

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.

…GIFTS OF GOLD, FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH

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,

Peter

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,

Peter

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.