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. 


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. 


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)


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.


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. 



Christmas Lights 2020



The lights are up and out of doors.
Three blue spruce shine as never before.
Packed in crates and sprouting doubt
the trees inside are down and out,
as are so many.  But up are the lights,
leading us out of the shadows of night.
Why keep the light inside under a bushel,
when outside an inn unassuming
burns still a bush unconsuming?
In this cold, covid winter stark,
God speaks into the chaos dark.
Light, oh let there be heavenly love.
The Word made flesh, down from above.
Holy human, full of acumen, divine.
So eat the bread, and drink the wine,
take off your shoes, fall on your knees.
God touched the earth and lit up the trees.

JPH 22-11-2020

Let There Be Light!

It was just over a year ago we had the joy and privilege of dedicating the long awaited Creation Window above our west gallery.   The spectacular stained glass window was crafted over a period of two years by the Kathryn and Jane Irwin of the Art Zone Studio to honour the late Betty Howson whose children funded the memorial window. 

The window is also called, ‘Let There Be light,’ from the first day of creation.  Wonderfully, the light often renders variations in the brightness of the reds and yellows and sharpness of the blues depending on the time of day and where the sun is in the sky.  At times it also casts those same colours onto the walls of the nave and up into the chancel depending on the time of year.   The colours dance and sing in sacred wonderment.

One evening last week as the sun was setting the Creation Window appeared to have been transformed.  So great was the variation that one might have thought the artists had returned to stain the glass with new colours, but of course the artist was God, the giver of light.  I pray the wonder and beauty of God’s light and love are reflected as well in our lives as we seek to follow the One who is the Light of the World.    

I was searching for just the right words to sum up the wonder of light when I came across a poem crafted by the British poet Malcolm Guite entitled Seven Whole Days.  While the poem was inspired by the George Herbert hymn, the first day or stanza of the poem almost seems to have been written for our window.  It is published in his book, Parable and Paradox, 2016 Canterbury Press.  Feast your hearts and eyes.

Let there be light as I begin this day,
To draw me from the darkness and the night,
To bless my flesh, to clear and show my way,
Let there be light.
Strong in the depth and shining from the height,
Evening and morning’s interplay,
Blessing and enabling my sight.
Lighten my soul and teach me how to pray,
Lighten my mind and teach me wrong from right,
In all I do and think and see and say
Let there be light. 

Malcolm Guite

Here is a video about the making of our Creation Window



Pray For Lebanon

Yorkminster Park Baptist Church has a longstanding partnership with the Baptist Church in Lebanon and its mission arm known as the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development.   They do remarkable and inspiring work and have a strong presence in the city of Beirut which is suffering terribly this night after a massive explosion ripped through the heart of the city earlier today.  It has taken an extensive toll.   I received the following letter from our dear friend, Nabil Costa, the CEO of LSESD asking us to pray.  Let us endeavour to do so.
Dear Peter,

The massive blast that took place at the port of Beirut late in the afternoon today left an important part of the city laying in apocalyptic ruin. The rumble of the explosion was felt all the way to Cyprus.

Beirut looks like a war zone as the devastating shockwave shattered windows and vitrines sending debris and glass flying in all directions. Initial footage shows collapsed buildings and homes while the national wheat silos have been eviscerated. Hospitals are not able to cope with the number of injured and maimed while the Red Cross is in desperate need of blood donations. The number of casualties is not known at this stage but material losses are in the billions of dollars.

This calamity could not have come at a worse time for a country on the brink of financial collapse and social implosion while the number of coronavirus cases have surged in recent days.

The reasons behind the explosion are still unknown.

  • Please pray for those who have lost their homes and loved ones so that they may find comfort and healing.
  • Please pray for the doctors, nurses and paramedics who are caring for the injured.
  • Please pray for the rescue teams that are trying to find missing family members and neighbors.
  • Please pray for people who are in places of responsibility as they manage the catastrophic human and economic consequences.
  • Please pray for the Church as it seeks to comfort and serve the distressed and brokenhearted.
  • Please pray for the People of God as they seek the Lord and humbly cry out to Him for mercy.
  • Pray for LSESD/MEBO family of ministries and in specific for the Beirut Baptist School and the Gateway Bookshop, which suffered important material damage and for the staff who have been injured by the glass debris.

In Christ,

Nabil Costa
Chief Executive Officer

Photos of Damage to the Beirut Baptist School

Photos of Damage to the LSESD Gateway Bookshop.

Rise With Wings

Rise With Wings
That’s my friend Milton on the right
aside John Lewis, the channel of Light.
Where angels fear to tread went he,
a fool for Love ‘gainst bigotry, inequality…
Dear Milton let me to your coattails cling.
Hold tight to his and we’ll rise with wings!
JPH 28-07-20
My dear friend, Milton Eric Fletcher of Detroit, is pictured with Congressman John Lewis and Milton’s brother, Zaid. My friendship with Milton, and indeed Yorkminster Park’s friendship with Milton, goes back almost twenty years and includes many remarkable highlights. I am so grateful for Milton’s faithful calls and prayerful support during these days of recovery. Milton’s friendship with Congressman Lewis is also an inspiring story. God bless you Milton!  We can’t wait till the border reopens if only to see you again.