Remembering the Rev. Dr. John N. Gladstone

One hundred years ago today John N. Gladstone was born in the English village of Bury St. Edmunds where his father pastored the local Baptist Church.

His parents’ faith was so strict that John fondly recalled overhearing his mother pray for him the night before he left to serve his country in World War ll.  Her prayer, as he remembered it, was not that he would return safely, but rather that alcohol would never touch his lips.

John did return safely and studied for the Baptist ministry at Manchester.  Following his ordination and marriage to Joyce he served English Baptist churches in Redding, Plymouth and finally Bromley. During those years his two children, Peter and Judith were born.  Yet all of that was a long time ago and an ocean away.  But in February 1965, at a critical time in the history of our church the call went out to this young English preacher to come and serve as the Minister of Yorkminster Park.  And so he did staying until he retired in 1991 at the age of seventy.

The congregations of Park Road and Yorkminster Baptist Churches had merged after a fire at Park Road in 1961 and had together formed Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.  The church had been searching for a new minister for a few years when Lester Randall approached his old friend, the Rev. Leonard Griffith, a Canadian preacher who served at the historic City Temple in London, England, and asked who he considered to be the best Baptist preacher in England.  Without hesitation Leonard said, John Gladstone.  Members of the search committee including Percy Fell visited the Gladstone family on a trip to England and John was invited to preach for a month in 1964 during which time it became clear to the committee and congregation that John Gladstone was the person of God’s calling.

However, there was a growing cynicism in those days among some at seminaries and denominational offices about the usefulness of preaching.  There was a sense that clergy needed to stop being preachy and focus on being counsellors, social workers and executive leaders.  Dr. Gladstone once told me of a few leaders in the denomination who were openly critical of the church for calling him because of his seeming old fashioned approach to ministry.

Yet it wasn’t long till people in the church and well beyond were responding to his remarkable gifts as a preacher.  I remember well the first time I ever heard John preach as I am sure many still do.  He was literate and articulate warm and full of faith and the lilt in his voice had a way of persuading you that he had just the right word for the day – and he usually did.  People came from near and far to hear this gifted servant who wove his words, quotes and images together with an ease that made the message understandable, practical, positive and true.  He conveyed warmth and grace with a touch of humour and without ever losing his true focus on Jesus Christ.

Looking back one of the remarkable things about this man who was both in touch with the world around and so immersed in the scriptures that he was able to find just the right word, is that he did it all without Google and the internet.  Sermons today take considerable time to prepare, but in his day to preach at his level of expertise was a full-time job and to produce different sermons for the morning and evening services made it all the more so.  Speaking with his daughter Judith this week she remembered how on Saturday evenings he would close the door to the study at home not to be seen or heard from for hours as he put the final touches on his preparations for Sunday.  One could point to the sacrifices he made except it was always clear that he loved the preaching life.

The church grew significantly as Dr. Gladstone served almost twenty-seven years as our minister touching countless lives through his faithful preaching and vibrant faith.  The Meals on Wheels program was established in his early years and the House of Compassion came to life in his final years when his vision for the Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship also came to life.

His impact on our church and community was great, but it has been thirty years since he retired and sixteen since he lost his struggle with cancer and though those of us who had the privilege of knowing him will never forget him, to many of the people in our church today he is simply the name on the door of the church library.

I asked Judy how her dad might have responded to the challenges of our day and after a brief pause, she indicated that her dad was born for a different time.  I sensed she was glad for his sake, that he didn’t have to face the challenges of this age.  She said in the end he was tired of the times he was living in as he longed for his heavenly home.

I remember John once returning from having preached at a mid-week worship service in a senior’s home where one of our members, the late Bill Pond, lived.  Bill Pond, who could be a bit of an eccentric character, had sung a solo at the service.  When Bill was introduced by the nursing home chaplain the people were told he was singing for his minister, but Bill cut the chaplain off and said, “I’m not singing for him!” as he pointed at Dr. Gladstone, “I’m singing for Him!” he announced as he pointed up to heaven.  John delighted in telling that story because at the end of the day that was his philosophy too.  He ran the race well and did so to the glory of God.

As a bit of a postscript, I am sure that just as we look back with thanksgiving for those who went before us in our faith, John too would look back on the many who supported and prayerfully encouraged him along the way.  And knowing him as I did, I am certain he would also want me to reassure you that his mother’s prayer did not go unanswered.   Looking back through the years of our lives, so many prayers have been answered and at the end of the day it is always the faithfulness of God for which we give thanks.  It is God who raises people up and brings them into our lives for a time and a season, and it is God who is with us always.

Blessings,

Peter

A Prayer for Truth and Reconciliation

Today is Canada’s First National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

A Prayer for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30, 2021

Gracious and merciful God, Creator of the heavens and the earth we are blessed by the sacred rhythms of the seasons that you have put in place and the setting of the sun which invites us to rest and the rising of the same which offers a new day.

On this first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation we pray for the families of indigenous children and youth who did not rest when the sun set and their children did not return from residential schools.  Only now are they learning of unmarked graves many of which are yet to be discovered and still there is no rest.  O God, forgive us as a nation of people for inflicting this nightmare on our neighbours. Bring healing and hope to each family and to the First Nations of this land and plant the seeds of peace among all the people of this nation.

Faithful Creator, we thank you for the abundance of water in this land and the bounty of the earth’s harvest which offers food enough for all.  And yet O God, we confess that many of our Indigenous neighbours still thirst for water that is fresh and clean and hunger deeply for the food of justice.  Nurture their souls and equip them by your Spirit to preserve their languages and culture.  And strengthen the resolve of the leaders of our nation to work together to overcome the challenges that stand in the way of true reconciliation.

O God as the sun rises across our land on September 30th may it truly begin to usher in a new day for our Indigenous neighbours and indeed for all of Canada.  May this day be marked by a deepening appreciation for the hopes and dreams of Indigenous youth and indeed for the whole nation.  Creator God, Lord of Life and Redeemer of the World, bring justice and peace, healing and hope, through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.

For more information on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation go to:

https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/national-day-truth-reconciliation.html

Where There is Hatred – Let Me Sow LOVE

We learned yesterday of yet another hate crime in our community.  This attack was against a gay man on Toronto Island last weekend.   He was taunted and then beaten almost to death by three homophobic people.  It took place only hours before the hate filled murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.  All of this during a pandemic which has given rise to anti-Asian racism.  An Asian friend has told me how it is not unusual for people to pass her in the street and offer hate filled slurs.  There was a significant rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in our city in the month of May and we know too well that both the black and indigenous communities are constantly combatting hate and racism. 

In a world that doesn’t like talk of sin we must name hate in all its manifestations  as nothing less and call the world around in word and deed to love.  Science tells us the variations in DNA  between all people is so very tiny.  We are all part of the same human family.   Our faith tells us that each one is created in the image of God and precious in God’s eyes.  We are all children of God.  Let us put an end to such hatred and let us love one another. 

Prayer

Gracious God we pray for this world where fear and hate seem to be speaking so loudly.  It is easy to judge and speak against others. Forgive us and open us all in new ways to the light of your love that the shadows in our souls might lose their hold.  And so pray in the words of St. Francis…

Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace

Where there is hatred let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness joy.

O Divine master grant that I may

Not so much seek to be consoled as to console

To be understood, as to understand.

To be loved. as to love

For it’s in giving that we receive

And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned

And it’s in dying that we are born…

To eternal life.  Amen. 

A Prayer For Fayez

The murder of three generations of a Muslim family in London, Ontario on Sunday evening has shaken our nation to the core.  The hatred that motivated this crime is evil.  Hatred may not always manifest itself in violence and terrorism as it now has against Muslims in London and as it did against Muslims in Quebec City, but it is where hate always leads.  Jesus said that if we hate someone we have already put them to death in our hearts.  Enough of hate.  Let’ s be done with hate. 

This must be a day for love.  Jesus called us to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.  It was then they asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbour?” And in response he told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It was Jesus’ way of saying we live in a global village where your neighbour does not always look like you or believe as you do, but where the imperative is always to love.  Love is the only answer to hate and love will win the day. 

But what does such love look like in the days after a Muslim family was intentionally run down and killed on account of their faith?  Many of us know Muslims through work, recreation or in our neighbourhoods.  Reach out to them in the next few days and thank them for who they are and tell them how horrified you are and how horrified we all are. 

Love must also be manifest in prayer.  As we pray for an end to hatred we will be planting the seeds of love.  The nine year old son, Fayez Afzaals, has survived the terrorist attack.  He lost his parents, his sister and his grandmother.  We must pray for him too and not simply for a recovery from his physical wounds, but for healing from the attack and the great grief he has to bear.

The London Muslim Mosque at 151 Oxford St W, London, ON N6H 1S1,  is hosting the vigils that have followed.  Let’s take a moment and write to the leadership of the mosque and tell them we are offering ongoing prayers for Fayez and his grieving extended family and faith community. 

Historically, Baptists were often the victims of religious discrimination and persecution and it is for this reason we have traditionally championed the cause of religious freedom.  The Muslim right to practice their religion in peace was also promoted by the earliest Baptists who insisted on freedom of religion for one and all.  We are free.  Let us use our freedom for nothing less than the purpose of love. 

A Prayer For Fayez

Gracious God, comfort and heal Fayez.  May the memories of his family be preserved in his heart and when he longs for the voice of his mother or father, may he hear them by your Spirit.  Surround him with love all the days of his life and protect and preserve his life that in his living he might bear witness to your sacred image in which we were all created.  And aid us all O God in casting out the evil spirit of hate and embracing your gift of love for one and all.  Amen. 

Two Hundred and Fifteen Unmarked Graves

Two hundred and fifteen unmarked graves were discovered last week behind what was once a residential school where government and church conspired to educate the culture out of the indigenous children and youth of our nation as was done in residential schools all across Canada.  In total there were about 130 such schools at which approximately 150,000 indigenous, Inuit and Metis children between the ages of 4 and 16 were schooled beginning in the late 19th century, with the last school closing in 1996. 

The remains of the 215 discovered children cry out begging us to name their names and give ear to their stories, but we can’t for the graves are unmarked.  And what of the parents and families from whom they were taken?  Many no doubt went to their graves grieving and wondering what ever happened to their children.   

By not marking the graves it would seem those who buried them placed no value on the children and the youth and were not going to miss them or grieve their parting.  Many of us visit family graves to silently remember those who have gone on before, but no one can find let alone visit an unmarked grave. 

The unmarked graves shame those who were there and a nation that kept silent.  It is now known that at least four thousand children died in Canadian residential schools, a much higher mortality rate than in the general public.  However it is believed there were thousands more and most lie in unmarked graves.  They died of disease and malnutrition and abuse to name but a few causes.  And when they died it was deemed too costly to send them home, so they were buried one by one and no one stopped to mark their graves. 

The church was part of this.  Oh we can point out that the Baptist church would not get involved with the state and so stayed out of the residential schools, but nonetheless we were silent.  And so it was all done in the name of the One who gave his life that each one of those children might have life abundant and eternal and we did what?  They may not have been treasured in the sight of Canada, but in God’s eyes they were. 

The day prior to the announcement of the discovery, one of the lectionary readings was from Ezekiel 37 where the prophet had a vision of a valley full of dry bones and the Lord asked him, “Mortal, can these bones live?”  And the prophet looked at the absolutely hopeless sight and replied, “O Lord, you know.” 

Indeed as we survey the bones of these unmarked graves we want their names and stories to be held up and we wish they  could come to life and be reunited with those who gave them life.  But we have made too much of a mess.  And we have lost the right to preach to the dry bones, but not the responsibility to pray and the call to work for truth and reconciliation. 

Prayer

O God, we feel ashamed that generations of indigenous youth in our country were not given the dignity that your cross demands for all people.  We feel horror that these little ones were turned away into unmarked places when they were so precious to you. And oh how your name was taken in vain as if it was your agenda to remove the identity of these precious children, destroy families and discard their bodies.   Forgive our nation and heal our land.  For you O God know all of these children by name and already you have raised them up and taken them home.  Where the opening of these graves has reopened old wounds we pray for healing and hope, empathy, kindness, mercy and love.  Heal our land and reconcile our peoples by your Spirit and grace, Amen. 

THROUGH MY STUDY WINDOW

The view from my study window
has me in awe this week.
It must have been on a day like this
the poet put her pen to paper
to mark the holy ground.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861)

THE PANDEMIC AND A PRAYER

A year ago today the World Health Organization officially classified the spread of the Covid-19 virus as a pandemic.  In a few months it had gone global.  On the evening of that same day a number of our key leaders met in the Friendship Room to discuss how this would  effect our church.  We sat at close quarters around a table with no thought of masking up as we sought to act but not overreact to the growing concern.  However, things were escalating quickly and the next day we made a decision to do something I had never seen the likes of in my life.  We decided to webcast our worship on Sundays for at least a few weeks from behind closed doors.  Within days the government was telling all places of worship to do the same and the weeks soon became months. 

The pandemic has come to define our life together over the last year and has probably in many ways changed the way we will live in the long term.  Though we have not met together face to face we have discovered how strong the bonds of love and compassion are as you have so faithfully reached out to one another and dug deeply to support your church.   Thank you. 

Today I think back not just to a year ago but to a dozen or more years ago when the late Len Cullen was so convinced that Yorkminster Park’s worship was broadcast worthy that he underwrote a study into the possibility.  Thanks to another very generous gift from Bill Waters and the time and talent of Dave King and the late Al Brown we were soon webcasting.  Yet who among us would have anticipated an entire year of only being able to attend church via the webcast?  It was truly a gift of God and has become something of a calling on Dave’s life.  Neither Dave nor Jim Weir have missed a Sunday since the pandemic began!  Dave has also enabled us to be creative with our webcasting presenting a variety of additional programming.  As we look back on a year we are all appreciative of Dave and Jim and of those early pioneers who encouraged us to explore.

We are also grateful to our Chair of Communications, Janice Ivory Smith, who has been instrumental in helping us get the word out on multiple platforms.  When I first started here the Communications Committee agenda was primarily the weekly advertisement of the Sunday service in the Toronto Star and the publication of the church newsletter.  Now with social media and the internet as well as traditional sources the work of the committee chair is endless.  Thank you Janice.  I also want to pay tribute to our Admin Assistant, Cody Barevich.  I had never thought of Cody as a jock, but he quarterbacked our office from the church and home and has coached us through endless zoom meetings.  He has been a godsend. 

There are so many others we could thank including our Parish Nurse, Lily.  The list could go on and on, but above all we thank God.  In that spirit I offer the following prayer.

A PRAYER

Gracious God with humble hearts we come to you confessing that Covid-19 has tested our spirits and we are weary.  Thank you that all along the way we have not been alone.  You have been with us in Christ who took upon himself our flesh and walked through the fearful shadows of our mortality that we might reach out and know that come what may the Good Shepherd will lead, guide and protect us.  We thank you for all front line health workers and all who faced risk to serve the public good.  We thank you for the scientists who have worked tirelessly to find treatments and cures.  Continue to bless and guide them.  Thank you too that within your Creation are the remedies to all that ails us and by your redemptive hand not even death can separate us from your love.  Watch over and protect us all and bring an end to this pandemic we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ in whom we have the true peace which passes all understanding, Amen. 

Martin Luther King – A Man for Today

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA and after all that has gone on there in recent weeks the message and memory of King would seem to be needed now more than ever.  King’s commitment to social justice through non-violent means and his passionate pursuit of nothing less than the fullness of God’s Kingdom stand in sharp contrast with the hate filled racism that erupted on Capital Hill earlier this month.  When the opposition to the Civil Rights Movement led to wild threats and bloodshed, King’s response was not to raise a fist, but to raise his voice by literally singing hymns, preaching the word, and pressing on with his sights set firmly on Christ. 

Yesterday my colleague, John Torrance, referred to Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize wining 1988 book, Parting the Waters.  It had been a long time since I had read his 900 plus page account of America in the King Years of 1954 – 1963, but John’s mention of it in his sermon led me to start reading it again.  Branch tells many insightful stories about King and others, but one of the stories that seems to speak to our day is the account of King’s visit to the White House in the spring of 1963 at which time King was pressured by the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy and  by President John F. Kennedy to break ties with two of the leaders in his Southern Christian Leadership Conference because the President claimed to have intelligence information proving they were communists. 

Both Robert and John F. Kennedy were in support of the civil rights movement and seeking to take helpful civil rights legislation through Congress, but President Kennedy told King all of that was in jeopardy if it came out that there were communists close to King.  The two SCLC leaders King was being asked to remove were indeed close to him, but not irreplaceable.  Yet King refused to budge even when the President warned King that he was also being watched.  King reminded them both that he too had been called a communist as had Bobby Kennedy, but that the claims were false and he would assume these claims were also false unless he saw the evidence.  He also told them that both of the accused were working far too hard in the civil rights movement to possibly have any other irons in the fire.    

Imagine the nerve of anyone questioning information provided by the President of the United States of America in a private face to face conversation.  King didn’t accuse the President of lying, but simply demanded proof.  King was no doubt grateful for Kennedy’s support of civil rights, but it didn’t make him infallible.  King’s refusal had people in the White House wondering who this unelected man was to question the President, but King’s true allegiance was to God.  How might things in the USA be different today had Christians who shared the same party and political priorities as the President acted like Martin Luther King and simply asked for proof when the President condemned people and procedures?   

But underneath King’s questioning of the President lay a deep loyalty and allegiance to friendship.  At the end of the day it wasn’t just that King was a man of truth, but also of love.  King chose to overlook rumours and believe the best about people unless there was proof otherwise.  It was this faith and his faith in God that fuelled his dream that continues to inspire the world.  Yet how often do  we cut people off or turn away from them on the basis of hearsay and gossip?  Martin Luther King once said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”  King’s allegiance to truth and love and heaven itself was greater than his allegiance to any political leader.  He believed that God always has the last word and love always wins. 

On this day set aside to honour the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, let us pray his memory will bring healing and hope and help this world recover his Dream.

A Prayer For the Turning of the Year

Gracious God this past year reminded us again that we know not what a year or even a day may bring and we are aware that as we begin the new year the pandemic is still with us.  So grant that we may we not lose sight of your faithful blessings day by day, for we know that whatever lies ahead you are always with us.  Help us to trust you as we begin this new year and come what may, grant to us your peace which passes all understanding.  When bad news overwhelms us, keep our hearts open to all that is good in this world.  Thank you that even on the worst days of the pandemic there were so many kind hands making a difference and bright minds seeking solutions and you were there in the midst, for where love is, God is.  O Lord enter this new year with us, and draw us closer to yourself and to one another as a sign of that day when sickness and death will be no more, and all the masks and veils will be removed and we shall see you face to face and understand even as we have been understood, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

JPH 31-12-20

A Chanukah Grace

Early in the year a woman named Sonita made an appointment to visit our church in order to see our most recent stained glass window known as ‘The Creation Window – Let There Be Light.’  She was drawn to the window as it had been donated by a dear friend.  However, she also had a great knowledge and appreciation of stained glass and a heart open to the window’s theme.

We were somewhat taken aback a few months later when this same woman contacted us again wanting to offer a meaningful gift to our church in honour of the friendship and support given by the donor of the window to her late husband.  I was on medical leave during this time, but after conversations with Dale Rose and Ralph Neal, she decided to honour us and the particular member of our community with the gift of a new Communion Chalice.   

At Yorkminster Park we have been deeply moved by the offering of this gift, not only because the Sacrament of Communion is such an important part of our life and liturgy, but also because the one who gave it does not identify as a Christian.  The beautiful chalice was gifted to us by a devout member of a Jewish congregation, a congregation which also happens to be part of our Neighbourhood Interfaith Group.  One friend described the gift as a mitzvah.  To us it is also a grace.     

Neither by design nor coincidence the gift happened to arrive in my office on December 10th, the first day of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.  This kind and meaningful gesture from a Jewish neighbour has reminded us in this time of darkness that we are all called to participate in God’s new creation by letting our light shine.  I pray this gift will forever speak to our church family of what it means to love God and one’s neighbour as oneself, and that it will inspire us to deeds of kindness and generosity. 

At our Christmas Day Communion service the chalice will be dedicated to the glory of God and with thanksgiving for the friendship of Rick Howson, and used in that same service for the Communion. 

And so to Sonita and all our Jewish friends and neighbours we wish you a Happy Chanukah and we thank you for letting the light of your faith and love shine in our community and world. 

Shalom,

Peter