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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.

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? 

Grace and Peace,


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   


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.  



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.    


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.  



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.  



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.  


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.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Grace and Peace,


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


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.  


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.  


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.   


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.  


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.  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." 


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.  


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.  


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.    

St. Mark's Anglican Church, Niagara on-the-Lake


St. Mark's is a wonderful example of a church that looks to a bright future, transitions in the present, while offering a stately reminder of the heritage of a once great time and place.  


The building was opened in 1810, but burned to the ground by invading American troops during the War of 1812-14.  The church was rebuilt in the neo-classical style though not formally consecrated until 1828.  In 1839 an extension was planned which began to reshape the church into its present Neo-gothic design. Inside, the balcony was removed in 1842 and a high pulpit and lectern were installed in the gothic revival style.  Alterations to the tower were made in 1839.  There is little doubt the original architect would find the place unrecognizable, yet the modern worshipper still feels the comfort of being part of a timeless tradition.  


Nowhere is transition more evident than in the stained glass at St. Mark's.  The large chancel window of 1840 has none of the human figures we are so accustomed to seeing in glass from later periods.  Such figures or anything that might have been construed of as an idol were rarely seen in Protestant churches of the early to mid-19th century as they sought to avoid the offence of graven images.  In those times a Protestant church bore more physical similarity to a synagogue or even mosque than to any Roman Catholic Church.  However all of that changed and the remaining windows most of which were given as memorials in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries seek to lend visual aid to the Biblical story.  These later windows are magnificent in their design and feature the work of three great Toronto studios; Robert McCausland & Son; N.T. Lyon; and Yvonne Williams.  


All but three of the windows are from the McCausland & Son studio and one of these in particular stands out as a very fine example of opalescent stained glass which was particularly popular in late 19th century America thanks to the New York studios of Tiffany and LaFarge.  Upon crossing the border one will quickly come across some of the finest examples of opalescent glass in the world, but this approach to stained glass is rarely found in Ontario.  

So rare is this approach to stained glass in Ontario that generations after its installation legend has it locals simply assumed the window had been imported from the Tiffany studio.  However, the window which depicts a scene of the three myrrh bearing women at the empty tomb on Easter morning, was given by Abraham Fell and crafted at the McCausland Studio of Toronto for St. Mark's Church in 1896.  

It was as if the Canadian studio perhaps went through a stage where they wanted to show the world that it wasn't only Americans who could master the opalescent style.  And master it McCausland did.  An earlier pilgrimage to Pittsburgh revealed a wonderful McCausland opalescent window in the Third Presbyterian Church fitting right in with at least a dozen Tiffany windows.  In the 1880's a McCausland opalescent window was installed in the White House.

In St. Mark's this American style resurrection window crafted by a Canadian is in the east transept and as such the window seen by the Americans from across the Niagara River.  Was the window intended as a statement to the enemy of old who had once burned down the church?  If so, perhaps the imitation of the American style was intended to flatter and the theme of resurrection to offer the hope of a peaceful new beginning.  It has been two centuries since our countries fought along the border, and though we have had our differences in the ensuring centuries, looking across the river, one can't help but be thankful for such neighbours. 


The six remaining McCausland windows are more typical of the style the same studio crafted for Yorkminster Park.  The church also contains one window from the studio of Yvonne Williams, a Toronto artist whose work is a reflection of the Charles Connick mid-twentieth century nee-gothic style which emerged not only as a rejection of the earlier opalescent style, but also of the image and story telling glass.  The Connick style suggests wonder and mystery and Yvonne Williams captured and mastered the style as well as McCausland had mastered Tiffany's style.  The Yvonne Williams window is furthest away from the McCausland opalescent window as if to say there will be no more clashes at this border church.  

Of the two windows that came from the Toronto studio of N.T. Lyon one is a complete mystery.  It shows Jesus in close conversation with a woman while others look on indifferently from a distance.  Corey and I scratched our heads trying to think of a Biblical story to fit the window, but even the Rector, Father Bob Wright, has not been able to identify an accompanying text after years of wondering.  John's gospel concludes that if all the stories of Jesus were written down the world could not contain the books.  Perhaps the Lyon window depicts one of these stories.  


The Rector, Robert Wright was a man of personality and presence whose rich voice  and warm spirit gave the old stone structure new life.  His father had been the Anglican priest in Picton who baptized our organist, William Maddox.  William described the church's two organs as if he had been there before.  In fact he had played the inaugural concert on one.  


After singing a hymn and praying a blessing on St. Mark's we retired to the church hall for lunch.  The library off the hall contains the oldest collection of books in Upper Canada dating back to the arrival of the first rector.  The books have their own history of being abandoned in boxes in the basement to being relocated to the McMaster University library to being returned St. Mark's.  


It wasn't long till someone noted the Owen Staples etching of St. Mark's Church which hangs in the lobby outside the church hall.  Staples, (1866-1949), has been long recognized as the master etcher and painter of architecture in early 20th century Ontario and regions beyond.  Staples was born in England, trained in Philadelphia, and worshipped Sunday by Sunday at our church, (Park Road location).   Along with the Fell window, the connection with William Maddox and now the Staples etching, it was just one more sign of a common blessing we all share.  


Queenston Baptist Church (former), Queenston, Ontario


On route to Niagara Falls we passed through the wonderful village of Queenston Heights situated on the Niagara River beneath the Brock Monument.  It is a historical town that played a key role in the War of 1812, but it is now a quiet picturesque place half way between the falls and the theatre town of Niagara on-the-Lake. 


We stopped in front of what is now the Queenston Library and Visitor's Centre located in an old Neo-Gothic limestone structure which was erected in 1842 as the home of the Queenston Baptist Church.  The congregation which was closed in 1918 had been founded in 1812 by an American Baptist missionary by the name of Elkanah Holmes.  Say no more.   

St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church, Niagara Falls, Ontario


When one steps inside St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church one would be forgiven if they forgot they were but a stone's throw from the heart of Niagara's busy tourist district.  One could probably walk to the Horseshoe Falls in less than ten minutes from the front door of the church.  And yet its proximity in every other way is half way around the world in the Boyko district of Ukraine.  


The building though not old is nevertheless old world or at least old country.  The Toronto architect, Ihor Stecura built a masterpiece patterned on the churches of the homeland.  From the outside one is drawn to the sight of the central octagon and the smaller octagonal roofed turrets on top of each gable.  Another notable feature from both within and without is the log construction which makes use of British Columbia Douglas Fir.

While the church was constructed without the use of a single nail, one will notice quickly that unlike the former St. Elias church building in Brampton which had been destroyed by fire only weeks before our visit, St. Mary's does have certain other modern features such as electricity.  (After the fire at St. Elias it was suggested a simmering candle may have been the cause.)  The other modern convenience inspired by North American churches is the use of pews in the nave.  Traditionally, pews in eastern orthodox churches are only on the outside of the worship space and reserved for elderly worshippers, but not at St. Mary's.  


The iconography in the church is the work of Vitaly Litwin of Ukraine.   If the outside of the church is not enough to transport the worshipper back to the Ukraine the familiar icons of the homeland and the sense they bring of the communion of saints and the church as an embassy of heaven should provide comfort and hope to worshipers weary of the world.


Although the building and grounds are in tremendous condition, there is a sense of weariness which comes from the congregation's  dramatically diminished size.  The Ukrainian congregation which averaged 250 in attendance less than  twenty years ago has been reduced by 90% through death.  Sadly, the next generation has either moved away or assimilated into the english speaking world around. 

With services held only in the Ukrainian language it is difficult to imagine the church attracting newcomers.  The use of the mother tongue in worship must once have given such comfort to worshippers who had arrived from the Ukraine and struggled with english all week in the work place.   Hearing the language of home in worship must have been a source of comfort and clarity in a confusing new world and it probably still is for those who remain.    


However, for Ukrainian Canadians whose use of the mother tongue is limited, the church is no longer the place of the comfortable and familiar.  And so it is that in a few generations everything has changed and those who once filled the pews are now part of the great cloud of witnesses.  And now with the smaller congregation, the church can no longer afford to pay a pastor full-time and so Father Victor supplements his income by working in a nearby factory during the week.  


Father Victor is a warm and compassionate man of God who gladly opened his doors to a bus load of strangers from Toronto.  We did not end with a hymn as our custom is, but with a prayer for the church and for the troubled country of Ukraine.  

The pressures of assimilation into the surrounding secular culture are difficult enough for english speaking churches in North America, but the added pressure of assimilation into a different language only renders the challenge all the more overwhelming for an ethnic congregation worshiping in the tongue of the motherland.  Although the congregation only traces its Canadian experience to the mid-twentieth century and has no link to the War of 1812, it is almost as if they are fighting a war against foreign forces day by day.  The recent fire at the Church of St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton Ontario has rendered St. Mary's the last of wooden Ukrainian church of its kind in Canada and one can only hope and pray that for the sake of her heritage, but above all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, St. Mary's finds new life in these days of struggle. 

Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre, Niagara Falls, Ontario


In 1875 the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto provided land and mission stations to the Carmelite order for the establishment of a monastery and hospice at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Peace on the escarpment above Niagara Falls.  The parish church was founded in 1837 and given the name of St. Edward the Confessor, but was known more affectionately as the 'Little Church Above the Falls.'  In 1861 as civil war was brewing in the United States, Bishop Lynch appealed to the Pope to transform the church into a shrine for peace and the church took on its new name and mandate and as such became a place of pilgrimage for many seeking peace.  The setting above the falls was a magnificent choice allowing pilgrims to not only accomplish the pilgrimage to Our Lady of Peace, but also to contemplate the majesty and glory of creation.  

Following the arrival of the Carmelites the shrine was dwarfed by both the size and beauty of the monastery and hospitality centre built in 1897 in the romanesque revival style.  In 1925-26 a beautiful chapel was constructed adjoining to the bottom of the "U" shaped monastery.  


The chapel is spectacular.  Perhaps the first thing one notices upon entry is the oak hammer beam ceiling and then the rows of monastic choir stalls set up on each side and facing in to the centre aisle.  Once a seat is taken it is not long before the tiled floor, stained glass windows and decorative carvings all come into focus and the effect is heavenly.  It is a place of beauty and wonder.  


The floor tiles are the brown and yellow colours of the Carmelite order and were crafted by the Minton company of Staffordshire, England.  Minton tiles were crafted for the finest of places and can be found in both the Capital Building in Washington D.C. and in the Smithsonian.  Minton tiles are among the finest in the world.  On the grounds of the decor alone the removal of shoes might well be warranted.  


There is a large rose window with stained glass above the central altar and four windows of stained glass on each side of the chapel.  While the windows on each side do contain scenes from both the life of Mary and the life of the patron saint of the order, the prophet Elijah, it is the decorative glass in between the scenes which has a greater impact through its kaleidoscope effect on the worshiper.  The scenes do point us to the word and to the God who intervenes to save his people, but the decorative aspects of the window speak to beauty and mystery and holiness.  If the floor tiles don't have you removing your shoes the windows will.  


One of the unsolved mysteries of the chapel pertains to the identity of the studio where the windows were crafted.  There are no signatures evident on any of the windows and there is no one left from the days they were ordered and installed.  As a result  there is endless speculation that they may have been crafted in England or Germany.  If anyone could solve such a mystery it would be Corey Keeble, but Corey went on to point out that as the windows were gifts of American dioceses they may well have been crafted in an American studio.  What's more he went on to point out that the work is in many ways similar to work done by Toronto's McCausland Studio in the same time period.  Outside the chapel there are two other stained glass windows which were crafted in Toronto - one by the McCausland studio and the other by the studio of N.T. Lyon.  


The carvings in the chapel are magnificent and were done by a German Canadian carver from Dundas, Ontario.  His workmanship can be seen in the retables at each altar, the stations of the cross, the rood screen which one passes under to enter the chapel.  The carved figures are wonderfully life like and the carved symbols rich in meaning.  Father Jay Comerford, who welcomed us to the chapel and spoke with great appreciation and respect for a space that has been his spiritual home since the mid-nineteen sixties, took particular delight in pointing out that the carver was Lutheran and when asked to carve a rose for the chapel offered the Luther family rose giving the chapel its first taste of ecumenism - a spirit that marks its life and ministry today.  


Like all of the other spaces we had visited on this same day, fire had played a role in the history of the chapel.  In 1967 the north part of the "U" burned to the ground and with it the chapel suffered serious damage when part of the roof collapsed.  Father jay remembers it all too well.  While the north part of the "U" was not restored, thankfully the chapel was.

If there was a complaint about the space it was that one had to strain to hear those who spoke about the space even if they possessed a great voice.  But if one could shut their eyes as perhaps only Father Jay can and go back to a time when the choir stalls would have been filled with monks and students singing and chanting the service in Latin, one would realize that it wasn't built to hear the human voice, but to hear God speaking through the beauty of holiness.  I wouldn't be surprised if from time to time the monks took off their shoes.  

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.  

Temple Beth El, Niagara Falls, New York


The people of Temple Beth El take pride in being the oldest continuously used Jewish House of Worship in Western New York.  In October of this year the temple will celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary.  While at one hundred the building is bound to be showing its age, it is nonetheless a delightful classically inspired structure.  While not large, Corey described the interior as American Art Nouveau and spoke of its proportions and scale as dignified and impressive.  

The opalescent stained glass windows are of a simple design and without characters but each one does contain an important verse of scripture such as "Unless the Lord build the house they that labour build it in vain," and, "Teach us to number our days that we might attain unto wisdom."  The windows add not only light, but warmth and beauty.  One pilgrim commented that this was a place where he could worship.  He found the windows in particular to set the tone of warmth and love.  


There are also three murals within the sanctuary.  The mural at the back shows Moses as the central figure holding the Ten Commandments and around him are gathered a number of figures representing no doubt the elders and prophets of the nation.  The mural  would speak to the worshipper of the importance of both the law and the community reminding them they cannot live the religious life independently of the community.  Another of the murals portrays David as a shepherd caring for the sheep.  This mural would comfort the worshipper in the knowledge that they are within the safety of God's fold.  



The congregation of Temple Beth-El has been greatly diminished in size, but not in spirit.  They welcomed us with open arms and gladly opened their scrolls and read them with joy and thanksgiving.  We were deeply moved by the sound and the sight of the reading of the Torah scrolls.   

It was on our advance visit that the President of the Temple, Bob Duel, informed us of the relationship the synagogue has with the church across the street.  The church and synagogue have forged a friendship by co-hosting a block party and barbecue every summer.  They support and encourage one another and throughout the year.  When speaking of the church's pastor, the President described him as, "A true Man of God."  He spoke with pride about the pastor, because he holds a job throughout the week as the congregation cannot afford to pay him, and yet finds the time and energy to attend to Sundays and also come into the neighbourhood and preach from street corners on weekday evenings..  



Someone reflected on the size of the Jewish congregation and wondered aloud how long they could go on.  I thought of the verse in the window about numbering our days and obtaining wisdom.  The people of Beth El have done the math and chosen wisdom.  

Still within earshot of Niagara Falls we recited together the words of the Hebrew psalmist recorded in Psalm 42.  

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?

My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me continually,
    "Where is your God?"


These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,[a]
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help 6 and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep
    at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
    have gone over me.

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me...

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.   

Sacred Heart Chapel, (Alumni Hall), Niagara University.  

We were welcomed warmly to the university chapel by Father O'Malley of the Vicentian tradition.  The university was established as a mission of the Vicentians who seek to serve the poor in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul, a 17th century Catholic priest.   Their passion for the university is to equip and develop leaders who will carry on this passion for the poor in the world around.  


The building dates back to 1874 when it was a seminary chapel, but many changes have taken place since as the chapel has been restored four times.  The Romanesque revival structure was gutted by fires in both 1898 and 1913.  

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Inside, the altar and nave are separated from the smaller chapel in the chancel by a glass petition or reredos with artistic etchings representing the Biblical story of creation and redemption.  The reredos allows for two separate worship spaces under the same roof.   

Behind the reredos is the Blessed Virgin Mary Chapel the focal point of which is a remarkable modern carving of the Blessed Virgin Mary standing atop the world with her arms open to a series of smaller carvings depicting the five joyful mysteries, the five sorrowful mysteries, and the five glorious mysteries of the Catholic faith.   


The stained glass dates back to the 1800's and came from the Daprato Rigali Studios of Chicago and New York.  The windows offer images of Old Testament prophets, the apostles, saints and scenes from the life of Mary.  While the carvings and reredos are strikingly modern, the windows are a reminder of the great heritage the chapel represents.   


Father O'Malley was introduced as not only the chaplain of the university but also of the school hockey team, the Niagara University Purple Eagles.  Someone enquired about the name of the team and Father O'Malley responded by harkening back to his days as a student when the eagles soared along the banks of the Niagara where the school sits high on the riverbank just north of the Queenston Lewiston Bridge.  For over thirty years the eagles disappeared from the shore, but in recent years they have begun to return and soar high above the banks where the school sits so beautifully.  Father O'Malley found hope in the return of the eagle - hope for his Purple Eagles, but above all hope that their work and mission at the university is enabling students to live and soar by faith.  This hope brought to mind the promise of Psalm 40 

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

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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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