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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 at http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/livecast.php

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

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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.  

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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.  

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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.    

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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.    

Every Common Bush Afire...

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "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."  With the summer beginning to give way to fall, I have been looking for those common bushes aflame with God.  I found the one in this picture barely fifteen feet from the curb on a busy stretch of Yonge Street just north of the church, but I didn't see anyone slow down to admire its beauty let alone take off their shoes.  

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I'm no better. When I lifted my head from the fiery bush I saw an image I had earlier been alerted to - what appeared to be flames hanging from the Kay Gardner Beltline Bridge just another hundred yards up the street. So I ventured up after passing the bush.  The flames are ribbons that look tired enough to have been there all summer.  I don't know who put them up, but each one represents an aboriginal woman who has been murdered or gone missing in this land.  And each ribbon had a name, photo and story attached, though few of those remain.  

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The stories are so dark it is hard to think of it as holy ground, but it struck me as powerfully as the burning bush down the street.  I sensed God is calling us as he once called Moses through the burning bush.   It is time for liberation and justice.  It is time for love and grace.  Each of these women is precious to God and though the names and faces fade from our sight, they are held dear in the palm of God's hand and God will keep the fire burning until each one is home.  It truly is holy ground up there on the bridge, so be ready to put away your blackberries and take off your shoes.  

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Prayers for Peace

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I had the privilege yesterday of participating in an Ecumenical Service of Prayers for Peace initiated by His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins.  In his homily the Cardinal spoke of Christ who Conquers evil with love.  He spoke with great concern of the devastation caused by natural disasters, of the persecution of Christians around the world, and of the need for peace.  Some of the prayers were offered for the Egyptian church.  The Coptic Bishop and many of the Egyptian clergy were in attendance.  

Because the liturgy was written before the hurricanes and earthquake of recent days, with the Cardinal's blessing I somewhat extemporaneously added the following lines to the prayer I was invited to pray.  

Almighty and merciful God, Creator of the heavens and of the earth, we pause to remember those ravaged by today's hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and by last weeks flooding in India, Bangladesh, Texas and other places, and of the earthquake off the coast of Mexico.  O God it would seem the whole creation is groaning and crying out for redemption.  O Christ who walked upon the waters and rode upon the storm speak again your word of peace that the winds and the waves might be still, and bring that peace which you alone can give that we might indeed know that your love conquers the storms without and the storms within, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

Please feel free to use this prayer as your own as we continue to pray for those who suffer as a result of the storms of this world.  

IMG_20170906_1609453.jpgIMG_20170906_1312560.jpgIt has been a delight to welcome the Cnib to the neighbourhood this summer as they seek to make Yonge and St. Clair the most accessible area in Canada for the visually impaired in order to create an activity hub in the heart of the city. One of the first steps in this process has been the installation of beacons in retail stores and public buildings which with the use of a smartphone app provide vocal information enabling the visually impaired to enter into and navigate through buildings in our community. Beacons were installed at YP this week thanks to Shane Launitus and Kat Clarke of the CNIB and the special effort of our Admin Assistant, Cody. Over the course of the next year it is anticipated that as many as 10,000 people with visual impairments will begin to frequent our neighbourhood. I know we will all want to go out of our way to do all we can to welcome them to the neighbourhood. 
I look forward to learning so much from each of these new friends. 


Deborah's Tree

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The Deborah Ban Memorial Tree is looking healthy and strong.  The tree was planted at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in May and dedicated in June to the glory of God in thanksgiving for the life of our former Minister of Discipleship, the Rev Deborah Ban.  The tree is surrounded by a circular garden filled with tall white trumpet shaped flowers which have a magnificent fragrance that like Deborah's faith, seem to intensify in their beauty as the shadows lengthen.  Often as I pass the tree I think of my former colleague and remember Craig and Braelyn with a prayer.  

To all our American friends and family, please be assured that your neighbours to the north are deeply concerned for your country as you go through this time of turmoil and trial. We pray for an awakening that will unite people in the fight against the evils of racism, bigotry, Neo-Nazism, anti-semitism, white supremacy and terrorism. We pray too that leaders at all levels on both sides of our border might embrace and uphold the highest virtues in the promotion of peace, justice and civility that side by side our nations might be bastions of freedom, love, harmony and hope.

(This message was written on Sunday, August 13th after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The message was posted on my Facebook page on Monday the 14th)

The Pilgrim's Burs

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Please excuse the rather soxy selfie, but after walking through the dunes between the beautiful beaches on the Island of Lindisfarne we found our shoes and socks covered by an invasive bur that has come to this tiny island in the North Atlantic all the way from New Zealand. Pilgrims come to the Holy Island from around the world to walk in the steps of St. Aiden and St. Cuthbert and to get closer to God, not to be covered in burs.
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Judging by our socks, it is pretty clear how the 'Piri-piri bur' arrived and so we picked off the clinging seeds before we ended up bringing any home to our own garden. As we cleaned our shoes and socks before going any further, I couldn't help but think of a verse in Hebrews, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..."
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After our shoes were cleaned we arrived at the most beautiful garden. A faithful pilgrim who follows in the path of the saints will truly want to remove the burs and seeds that don't belong in the garden of God.

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A Canada Day Litany

I wrote the following litany for Yorkminster Park's celebration in worship of Canada's 150th anniversary.   It is rooted in Psalm 72 and in particular, as is Canada's motto, on verse 8.  

Canada Day Litany

Leader: The dominion is yours O God from sea to sea to sea 

People: We commit Canada to your care and offer for her our prayer.

Leader: We thank you that from west of the Rockies to east of the Laurentians, 

this land is blessed with majestic beauty and great abundance

People: We thank you for a land of fertile soils, flowing rivers and clear lakes 

Leader: We thank you for all who came before us in search of a better country

People: And for the work of their hands and the faith of their hearts. 

Leader: We thank you for our first nations and their reverence for you O Creator

People: Forgive us our trespasses and bring healing and reconciliation.   

Leader: We thank you for our institutions offering health care and education for all 

People: We pray for all who serve the public for the common good and for our leaders

Leader: We pray for the Queen, our Prime Minister, Premier and Mayor 

People: Grant wisdom and clarity to all our elected officials and to our judiciary

Leader: We give you thanks for the opportunity to welcome refugees and immigrants

People: Enable us to shine as a beacon of light and truth, of love and hope 

Leader: We thank you for the peace of our home and native land 

People: And for all who gave their lives and for those who continue to protect our nation.

Leader: We pray that you would keep this land glorious and free 

People: And that we would give you dominion from sea to sea to sea

Leader: And may our children and our children's children prosper in this land 

People: And be one in faith, hope and charity, to your honour and glory O God. 


Grace and Peace,

Peter 

"Deep Calls to Deep..."

BlogEugenia1.JPG"Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts..." (Psalm 42:7).  
It wasn't the first time we had been to either Eugenia Falls or Hoggs Falls, but never before had we hiked the section of the Bruce Trail that joins the two. At this time of year Eugenia Falls is like a little Niagara as it cascades beautifully over the same escarpment as does Niagara Falls, but nearly 500 kilometres up trail. Eugenia's is a thirty metre drop into the canyon below is but a hint of the falls at Niagara and certainly in its width Eugenia is but a tiny fraction. Yet it is so picturesque and especially in the spring when the volume of water puts on a spectacular show. Hoggs Falls drops only about twenty-five feet, but it too is beautiful and the sound and spray refreshing after a hike on a warm day. BloggHoggs1.JPG t was a nice way to end our four days of hiking on the Bruce Trail. Like comparing these two small falls with Niagara Falls, our hikes were but a small fraction of the full trail. So to say I have hiked the Bruce Trail, or I know the trail, is far from adequate, because it is all so much bigger, yet, I have had a taste and it is good. Here's the thing, the same water that we saw and heard pouring over the escarpment and down into the depths below will one day fall over the same escarpment all over again without ever climbing an inch. Truly it will travel down the Beaver River and out into Georgian Bay and on to Lake Huron and then down the St. Clair River and eventually into Lake Erie and down the Niagara and over the same escarpment all over again. Eugenia and Hoggs are rehearsals for something so much greater. I believe every day is a rehearsal for something greater - so much greater. It really is deep calling to deep. I hear it calling me back to the trail, but what's more, I hear it calling me to venture on in love and faith.

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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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