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Yes, I have joined John and Jonanne Fenton on TEAM NORDICKIDS to walk ten kilometres in 'THE COLDEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR,' a charity walk on Saturday, February 20th designed to raise awareness and funding for the homeless across Canada.   

It is going to be cold out there and the walk will remind us of the plight of the homeless who trek back and forth across our city logging endless miles from soup kitchens to Out of the Cold shelters like our own at Yorkminster Park.  Unlike the homeless I will have on a good pair of walking boots with my own bed to look forward to at the journey's end, but hopefully I will come away more appreciative of the importance of the service offered by organizations that work with the homeless and the need to bring an end to homelessness in our land.  

I have joined Team Nordickids, because I have a deep appreciation for John and Jonanne Fenton who support me each Sunday morning in their prayers.  For several years John parked in one of our handicap spaces and even then could barely hobble in to church, but within a short time of taking up nordic pole walking 18 months ago, my 83 year old friend became something of a walking miracle.  

Last year the event literally fell on the coldest night of the year and John and Jonanne's team was the only Toronto team to complete the full ten kilometres.  Nonetheless, the next morning they were in my study praying with me as usual.  It is an honour to have them on my team and I am now honoured to be on theirs.  

Team Nordickids is walking to raise funds for the Yonge Street Mission, an organization for which I have great appreciation and respect.   

To learn more about the walk and to support our team,  or any member of our team, go to:  https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=668329

To watch a CBC interview with John prior to last year's walk go to: https://www.behance.net/gallery/24002295/CBC-NEWS-BROADCAST-John-Fenton-interview

Please pray we won't have to walk for the homeless again next year.  It is time for homelessness to end!   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

Today is Shrove Tuesday also known as Pancake Tuesday.  Once again the ministry team of Yorkminster Park will be serving up pancakes at the church from 5 to 7 p.m. in order to help raise awareness and support for this summer's Mission Trip to the Oneida Reserve.  I hope you can join us.     

The whole idea of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday comes from the meaning of the word, 'shrive,' or to absolve.  Shrove Tuesday was a day to clear out the cupboards and use up the things that might tempt us to abandon the forty day period of Lenten fasting in preparation for Easter.

In the 'Mardi Gras,' or 'Fat Tuesday,' tradition of New Orleans and Rio, the day has evolved into a time to 'live it up' before you have to 'give it up,' for Lent. It is easy to shake our heads at such excesses, but we must remember the authorities often shook their heads at Jesus for eating and drinking with the party crowd.  

No one ever gave it up as Jesus did on the cross, nonetheless it seems that along the way he wasn't afraid to live it up either.  Something tells me he'd be in line for pancakes tonight and not afraid of a little extra maple syrup.  I'll keep my eyes open and hope to see you as well. 

Grace and Peace,


Peter

It was a privilege to participate in the planning and leadership of this year's Toronto Service of the Word for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which not only brought together a vast cross section of Christian leadership, but did so in the heart of the Chaldean community as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians everywhere.  The Chaldean Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, has been centred in Iraq for two thousand years, but in recent years has suffered greatly and been scattered around the world.  

With all of that in mind, the warm welcome and generous hospitality of Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta,  and the people of the Chaldean Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was extraordinary and lifted our spirits on a day we had come in the hope of lifting their morale.  It was hard to find a seat in the vast church.  His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Collin's sermon was a courageous acknowledgment of the vast persecutions of today, but also an inspiring call to action for Christians living in the West. 

The service included a warm welcome to dozens of refugees who have newly arrived in this land of promise, as well as prayers for peace and reconciliation.  Much of the music was sung in the Neo-Aramaic tongue of the Chaldean people - the closest language to that which Jesus' spoke.  The verses of the closing hymn, Children of One Mother Church, went back and forth between English and Chaldean, but the tune was known to all.  Here we were in a Chaldean church singing to the tune Auld Lang Syne on the eve of Robbie Burns' Day.  My sense is that we left the service having entered a whole new chapter of Christian unity and the new acquaintances will not be forgotten.

The service can be viewed at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKygMKop868#t=11 

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

A Matthew House Christmas

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On Saturday evening I had the privilege of attending the Matthew House Christmas Dinner at Yorkminster Park, an annual event going back at least a dozen years.  Matthew House, (there are three houses), is a ministry of the Baptist Church in Toronto offering short-term housing and hospitality to homeless refugee claimants in the heart of our city. http://www.matthewhouse.ca

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Through its 17 years of existence, Matthew House has offered a warm and hopeful welcome to hundreds and hundreds of people from all around the world and even after their residents leave they stay in touch.  Once a month on a Saturday evening Yorkminster Park hosts a dinner and event for the Matthew House community.  Each month the event is attended by newcomers to Canada and by others  too who have established themselves but refuse to forget the hardships and their friends at Matthew House where they received help. The latter are often an encouragement to those who have recently arrived.  Each month is special, but the Christmas Dinner is extra special.  

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It was special for me to sit down to a meal in celebration of Christ's birth, with people from all over the earth and to add my voice to the collective voice of welcome.   And it was special for me to see the kind folk of Yorkminster Park, both men and women, busy in the kitchen like Martha of old with but one intent, to play the role of Mary in blessing and anointing these new friends with a feast of love.  

Anne Woolger, the founder and long time Executive Director of Matthew House, says it was named Matthew House for the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25 where we read that Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me... When you did it unto the least of these, you did it as unto me."   The name Matthew House also makes sense because it was Matthew who told us that Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt as refugees with the baby Jesus.  

Matthew House has offered a Christ like  presence and a grace in the heart of our city for a hurting world.  

Merry Christmas Matthew House and thanks to Mary and Martha and all the women and men who helped in the kitchen on Saturday night.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

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Christmas In July?

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Christmas In July?

Many years including the previous, Toronto has been up to its ankles in snow by mid-December, and sometimes far deeper, but this year the ground is still warm and the temperatures outside have us walking without coats and there are far more December pedestrians than I can remember and many bikes still on the road.   

Frigid temperatures in mid-October had me digging up the garden and putting my dahlias away for the winter, but the winter has shown no signs of arriving in time for the solstice, if at all.  In other parts of the garden some plants are even pushing 

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through the ground and others that had refused to die earlier are offering small glimpses of summer colour.  Yes there are flowers in my garden in mid-December.  It's a little bit like Christmas in July!  

Of course I am deeply concerned about the disruptions of climate change, but I refuse to be blind to beauty in the midst.  

Grace and Peace, 

Peter 

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An Early Christmas Gift!

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Christmas came early tonight when Charlene and Chancella arrived at Pearson Airport to the awaiting arms of the Yorkminster Park Refugee Support Committee.  The committee began the process of sponsorship nine months ago, but the journey has been much longer for the sisters who fled the Central African Republic when their family members were killed.  Ultimately the story is theirs to tell or not, and only in their time, but sufficient to say, it was no longer safe for them to live as Christians in their homeland.  On foot they travelled through Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo and finally on to a refugee camp in Ghana where they lived until this week.  

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For nine months we have been communicating with them and praying for them.  Along the way we were even told the process would take at least six years, which seemed so unfair to us, not to mention how it must have felt to Charlene and Chancella.  Yet here they are - an early Christmas present like few others I have ever witnessed.  

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We were surrounded by news crews and curious citizens hoping for a glimpse of the first plane load of Syrian refugees arriving in our country as part of the government's new program.  We were approached by several media groups curious about our sponsorship, but upon learning our refugee family was not from Syria most of the media turned and left.  In some ways it was a sad reminder of how the media decides for us what is newsworthy.  Why is the story of a Syrian refugee arriving from a camp in Lebanon any more significant than two sisters who have traversed Africa by foot on route to a new life?  Yet we weren't complaining.  We were just thankful they had arrived safe and sound.  Besides who wants to arrive in a foreign land and be bombarded with lights, cameras and microphones in your face.   What's more, the fourteen of us had the sisters all to ourselves for an emotional first greeting.    

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There were tears and hugs and prayers all around as a group of fourteen people from the church had the joy of welcoming Charlene and Chancella to their new home.  We will all welcome them during the 11 a.m. service on Sunday and continue to welcome them for weeks to come as they get their feet safely on the ground.  God bless Charlene and Chancella.  


Grace & Peace,
Peter 

Tiny Dancers

On Saturday evening I went to The Gathering, a monthly worship service at YP based on the Messy Church movement out of the UK.  It is very casual compared to the usual offerings of worship at YP.  The worship is offered after a common meal and in the context of a craft for the children and families which usually corresponds with the theme of the worship.  The youth lead the worship and sometimes the children get quite involved.  

At the previous Gathering there was an opportunity for participants to voice their thanksgivings.  The unofficial context of the worship that day was baseball fever.  One of the children thanked God for baseball and another for the Blue Jays and finally, in an act of great Christian charity, a very young child thanked God for the Kansas City Royals.  There was a gasp, but as this very young child led us we were reminded that God loves the whole world.   

At this Saturday's Gathering one of the mother's, Julia, was our preacher of sorts.  At each Gathering someone is invited to share a testimony more than a sermon and this was a wonderful testimony.  Julia, who was raised in a corner of the vineyard where dancing was frowned upon, shared how she had gotten involved in a most unlikely calling of sorts by teaching ballroom dance in an elementary school.  

Her work as an instructor is patterned after Pierre Dulaine, a professional dancer who brought his passion into the classroom of young boys and girls whom he believed would benefit from the discipline and grace of dance.  (Back in the 1990's the film, Take the Lead, was based on his work in New York City.)  The lessons help children overcome fears and instil confidence in some children who might have a hard time fitting in.  It is a beautiful idea. 

Julia's heartfelt testimony took me back to the year my wife and I took ballroom dancing lessons.  I found dancing corresponds to the walk of faith in many ways.  Some had a hard time following the lead.  So many want to take the lead in life and go their own way, but all of us are called to be followers of Christ.  Ultimately it is the music that leads us and in faith the music of love and grace must live in us and flow through us.  The other thing I remember was having to practice every day and without going over the steps daily come lesson time it just wasn't there.  So too in the faith.  If we don't put the faith into practice all week it isn't someone else's fault if church doesn't make sense to us.  

Back to Julia's story.  She shared something very powerful. Her mentor, Pierre, recently returned to his birthplace in the land he left as a young child to teach dance among Jewish and Palestinian children in Jaffa, Israel.  These children have so much to be afraid of, but the music and the teacher empower them to see beyond the fears and once they dance together their world will never be the same.  The following is a trailer Julia showed us of an award winning documentary which has been made about his ground shaking work in Jaffa. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31IBboTu6-s

On Saturday night we didn't have a moment of silence for the victims in Beirut and Paris, nor did we end with the "La Marseillaise" as we did on Sunday morning, but we did go away with a hopeful spring in our step dancing towards the Kingdom.  There is so much reason to be hopeful.  By the way, Pierre has now taken his dancing program into the schools of Northern Ireland where Catholic and Protestant children are responding to new steps and higher harmonies.  

Thanks Julia.  By the way is this one of your children in the next video? 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gqPM_GT8Qw 

Grace and Peace,

Peter

A Prayer for Beirut, Paris and the world 

Yesterday two ISIS suicide bombers attacked the heart of south Beirut killing more than forty civilians and injuring hundreds of others.  The attack was meant to send a message to Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian President.  It was the same motive that appears to have been behind the recent bombing of a Russian passenger jet full of civilians leaving Egypt.

Yorkminster Park works closely with the Baptist Church of Lebanon whose headquarters are in North Beirut, but the Baptists in Lebanon also run a school and church in the south of the city.  We have been assured today by the leaders of the church that both the church and school are safe, but that the city is in shock and grief.   

Today, terrorists launched six simultaneous attacks on Paris, France, killing more than 140 civilians.  Again, early reports link the attacks to ISIS as a pay back for involvement in Syria.  

Someone wrote to me this evening to ask what hope there is for the world.  Our hope of course is in the Risen Christ who will return to our world and make things right establishing a new heaven and a new earth.  Our calling is, as the prophet Micah put it, to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.  But we must also pray for this world in the midst of such evil and terror.  Jesus taught us to pray that God's kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.  

I invite you to make this prayer your own.  

Gracious and merciful God, as Beirut and Paris wake up to grief and the world around to fear, we pray that your church might not lose sight of Christ's longing for God's reign of righteousness and peace to envelop this world as your will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  We pray for a spirit of healing and calm to be upon these cities and upon our world as we shudder at the thought of such evil.  Only you O God can arrest evil and turn the world to the light, and so we give our fears and cares to you.  

As Christ taught us, we pray for our enemies and ask that the hearts of all who consider the call to terrorism might be turned away from this evil and towards your light.  May potential terrorists look in the mirror and find at least enough of your  image to hear you still calling them to the ways of love and peace.  And may they beckon this call that we might live in harmony throughout the world.  

We pray for Canadians entrusted with the task of sorting through thousands of refugee applications over the next few weeks. Grant to them clarity in the task and free them and all of us from the anxiety of the moment.  Grant too O God that we might not lose sight of beauty and wonder in this world.  Help us to see all that is good and give thanks to you.  

May the freedom our veterans died to preserve continue to grow and even offer liberation to refugees arriving who know nothing better than to be left out and left behind.  Grant to us as Christians the courage to welcome strangers and love our enemies at all times.  Help us also to address injustice and inequity.  Keep the minds and hearts of Christians in Beirut and Paris free from fear so that the light of Christ's love might freely shine and speak through them into this world in fresh ways, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.  

Grace and Peace   

Peter 

The earth is such a wondrous place.  I marvel when I see photos of our blue planet taken from outer space, but, believe it or not, up close it can be even better.  

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I have just returned from a noon hour walk through Mt. Pleasant Cemetery where the air was so still I could hear the beginning of rain drops even before they touched the ground.  It was just a gentle rain that came and went, yet made me not want to leave at all, but to stay and watch as the maples, oaks and beeches begin to put on an autumn show for the ages.    



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Winter is coming there can be no doubt.  We have had a few cold nights of late, but in my garden the earth is still warm and the flowers, though only weeks away from the first frost, seem more alive than ever.  I have dahlias that without much tending or feeding since the Labour Day weekend are now offering up an endless supply of buds as if they are preparing thousands of extra seeds to outlast whatever winter wants to bring.  It is a glorious time and the earth is so full of beauty.  

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Sadly the hummingbirds that came to our feeder through the summer have now left for the winter and the last of the monarch butterflies has waved goodbye.  Next it will be the robins, or have they already started to leave?  And the goldfinch are fast losing their colour.   Nonetheless after being all but decimated in this city by the West Nile Virus, we saw a bluejay at our feeder yesterday for the first time in a dozen years.  And it wasn't just one but nine on and all around the feeder at once while three male cardinals waited their turn on the ground below.   And even if everyone did try to use the incident to tally their prediction for the score in the final game of the world series, it was no less awesome a sight.  

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I am not denying that winter is only around the corner, but with the sweet and gentle rain in the percussion section and the winged choir robed in blues and reds, and a thousand floral seeds spreading the good news of faith in God's endless day, how can we keep from singing.  

Perhaps it was with all of this in mind and the Christian hope rooted in Christ's victory over sin and death that in the face of the coming winter and whatever other storms may come our way we would with boldness offer up a chorus of thanksgiving to our Creator and Redeemer.  Thanks be to God.  

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Last Sunday evening our choir sang, How Can I Keep From Singing, and it was their song that opened my eyes to the beauty all around and the hope that rings forever true.  

Here is a moving rendition of the same song.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPnq9XCm8C0

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

In April 2014 Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus of the ROM, William Maddox and I led a two day pilgrimage of sacred spaces along both sides of the Niagara River.  I am posting commentary and photos from the pilgrimage in anticipation of our upcoming pilgrimage on Friday, November 20.   

St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Niagara on-the-Lake

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St Andrew's Church was established in Niagara on-the-Lake in 1794 in what was then called Newark.  It wasn't the charming festival town we think of today, but it was the capital of Upper Canada and as such it was far more significant than Fort York, (Toronto), directly across Lake Ontario.  

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During the War of 1812 St. Andrew's Church was used by the British troops as an infirmary and the tower as a watchtower against attacks from the Americans, although, its distance from the border makes one wonder to what effect.  After all the fort had a much closer vantage point.  Nonetheless the use of the church for military reasons was costly.  In 1813 invading American troops burned it to the ground.  

Architect James Cooper was engaged and the congregation rebuilt a classical Greek masterpiece worthy of any capital in the new world and reminiscent of many New England churches of the same era.  With her stately tower and six doric columns it was as if the zenith had risen from the ashes to proclaim victory in the war to a height visible well beyond the border.  

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However the victory at home took longer to achieve.  It was several years before the legislature agreed to compensate the church for damages suffered in service of the homeland.  One can almost imagine the Scots in the church haggling with those in the legislature across town over the four hundred pounds stirling which was finally granted.  

As if being burned to the ground during a war wasn't enough for one church to suffer in a lifetime, in 1854 a mighty wind passed through town and it wasn't Pentecost Sunday nor the gift of the Holy Spirit. A tornado damaged the church's spire, roof and rear gable wall.  Another architect was brought in and the roof lines were altered raising the ceiling and adding a taste of Georgian to the Greek edifice.   

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When a church building is almost two hundred years old there will undoubtedly have been subsequent work.  The church was restored in 1937 under the guiding eye of Eric Arthur and again in 1991.  However it was the 1937 restoration that caught our eye in the form of the large marble monument marking the dedication and bearing the name of Lieutenant-Governor Albert Matthews who belonged to our church and whose family still bless us with their presence and leadership.  

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While the Honourable Lieutenant-Governor presided over the dedication, the monument also indicated the source of the funds to restore the church was none other than Mayor Thomas Foster of Toronto whose mausoleum outside of Uxbridge was the final visit on our previous tour of sacred spaces.  http://peter.yorkminsterpark.com/2013/12/the-thomas-foster-memorial.php  In Uxbridge we had learned of his legacy of real estate development and tree-planting in the city but had no idea of his generous heart towards the church.  Foster did a good deed in restoring St. Andrew's not only because of its historical significance, but also because, as Curator Corey Keeble said, "In terms of both architecture and age there is nothing else quite like it in Ontario." 

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The church's interior is set apart by its boxed pews and double-decker pulpit which would have allowed the preacher to look straight into the eyes of those up in the balcony in the event their faith was not as well grounded as those below.  We were told the people of the church are pleased their minister, The Rev. Barb McGale, continues to climb the stairs to offer her sermons from on high.  Perhaps it serves to remind the smaller flock of their history and the great cloud of witnesses that surround us when we gather in the name of Christ and seek to offer worship and service faithful to his name.  


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So much has changed since the days when Niagara-on-the-Lake was the capital of Upper Canada and St. Andrew's must have been the high kirk of the land, but come late June each year the crowds gather from far and wide on the vast church grounds for the annual strawberry festival at which time one can imagine how busy a Sunday must once have been around the old kirk.  

Of course when everything seems to change there are some things that one can always count on.  As pilgrims we sang 'Shall we gather at the river," beckoning our minds to the end of the street and the river which has been a constant force in the lives of all who have lived in the village and worshipped in the church.  


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The constancy of the river is a small reminder of the faithfulness of God, whose compassions fail not season by season all the life long.  St. Andrew's was a good place to begin our pilgrimage early in the morning on the first day.  And with the singing of a hymn we went out.    

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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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