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Music at Christmas

Long before there were Christmas parties, turkey dinners, Christmas trees and lights, prior to services at midnight by glow of candlelight there was Christmas music.  It goes back to the Angelic choir on the very night of Christ's birth stirring the hearts of Bethlehem shepherds with a song that told them of the birth of a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.  The song was life and put a spring in their step as the shepherds set off to see the One whose birth had been made known to them.   

Life at Yorkminster Park is blessed with music and song as some of the finest choirs in the country rehearse here in the evenings and our noonday recitals feature brilliant upcoming instrumentalists.  But at Christmas it is as if the angels have returned. 

Sometimes the music is offered as part of a service set in the context of prayer and worship like the beautiful Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols our choir will offer on December 21st at 4:30 p.m., a service that goes back almost one hundred years to the first Christmas after the end of World War One. 

This Sunday at 4:30 p.m. it will be, Carols by Candlelight, a choral service held here since the Depression of the 1930's when a remarkable gift of candlesticks was made to the church to encourage us to look to Jesus as the light in the midst of a dark time.  The choral music and the carol singing at both of these services rank as high points in our church year. 

On other occasions the music is offered in the form of a concert like our City Carol Sing of last Saturday which will be broadcast in an edited form on CITY TV at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, but can be seen on our website in its entirety at  Watch it and be thrilled with more than just the music and singing.  

We have the privilege of hosting three other remarkable Christmas concerts offered by the great choirs of our city.  On December 10, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir will be presenting their stirring Festival of Choirs with the National Staff Band of the Salvation Army.  There are still tickets available at  but if you are out of town or simply unable to come, a generous donor has made it possible for to have the joy of watching this great concert live online Wedensday, December 10 at 7:30 p.m. EST

On Saturday, December 13 at 7:30 p.m., the Amadeus Choir will be here for their annual Christmas concert 'Sure on this Shining Night.'  Tickets are still available at   

Next Tuesday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m., I will have the great privilege of offering the narration with the Orpheus Choir and Hannaford Street Silver Band as they offer Welcome Christmas 2.  Tickets are still available at

With all the services, concerts and rehearsals there are times when one might shut their eyes and hear the echoes of angels.  I pray the music and services of Christmas will warm our hearts, put a spring in our step and draw us ever closer to Christ. 

Have a truly Merry Christmas! 


A Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.  Psalm 122:6

I love Jerusalem, but what a week it has been in the 'City of Shalom.'  I can envision Jesus weeping over the city all over again.  Four rabbis and a police officer were killed as they prayed in a synagogue by two young Palestinian zealots crying out, "God is great!" 

I happen to agree that God is great, but their despicable murderous act completely negates their testimony.  They obviously knew nothing of the God who weeps over the brokenness of our world, nor that true greatness lies in the service of others and the love of one's neighbour and even one's enemies. 

While the story in the Jerusalem synagogue went viral, and I am glad it did, many similar brutalities against Christians in Iraq and Syria have gone unreported.  Either the media simply has no access to the horror, or it assumes falsely that Christians in the middle-east are part of western colonialism and are therefore not relevant.  In fact the Christians of Iraq and Syria and so many middle-eastern countries are members of ancient Christian communities that have been peacefully following Christ since the first century, but all of that now seems forever changed by forces of evil.  

Earlier today in an article in The New Yorker, Bernard Avishai quoted his wife, Sidra, an Israeli, as saying regarding the Palestinian attacks, "I know why they do it, and I know why we do it, and I don't know what to do."

There has been endless analysis of all sides of the problems in the middle-east and there is so much history it seems almost impossible to unravel it all, but there is something we can and must all do.  The Psalmist said it best, "pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

As Christians we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem but also pray and work for peace throughout the middle-east. In these days we need to especially pray and advocate for our Christian brothers and sisters as few others seem willing to take on their cause.   Yet as we do we will discover there are many Jews and Muslims praying and working with us for the peace of Jerusalem and the middle-east. 

I was encouraged this week by the voice of an Imam who became the first Muslim to ever address the General Synod of the Church of England on Tuesday of this week.  In his speech he condemned violence and expressed a strong commitment to work for peace.  He said, "We must be convinced the issue is not too much religion, but too little good religion."  

Fuad Nahdi also issued a warning to Muslims from Mohammad's own words, "Beware  whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Muhammad) will complain against the person on the day of judgment."

Karen Armstrong has also now lent her remarkable voice to the debate on religion and violence.  In an interview this morning on Canada AM she was asked if the removal of violence wouldn't make the world a more peaceful place.  She responded by pin-pointing the escalation of violence in the west to the time when religion was removed from the centre of the state.  "Let's not make the mistake of thinking religion is a primary cause of violence in our world."  clipId=488828&playlistId=1.2111012&binId=1.815908&playlistPageNum=1&binPageNum=1

We need to hear these voices this week, because when there has been an attack on a sacred place of worship by zealots giving God the glory, we can't help but wonder about religion ourselves.  But the other voice that needs to be raised is the voice of prayer.  

A Prayer for Jerusalem  

Gracious and merciful God we give you thanks for the beauty and wonder of this world and for sacred places where through the ages women and men have been drawn close to you.  We thank you for Jerusalem where Jesus was drawn to the Temple from the time of his birth until the the time of his death and where he taught and healed and proclaimed the good news of your Kingdom.  We thank you too for communities throughout the middle-east where the good news has been embraced and upheld from that day until now.  May a new day of peace dawn upon the middle-east even as the sun rises tomorrow.   

Yet O God if Jesus wept over the city that had destroyed the prophets before him you must surely be weeping over the violence in those same streets in this day.  You must weep too over the suffering and persecution of so many who call you Father and embrace Jesus as your Son.  O God may the gospel take root in this world in new ways that people might not fear religion, but fear life without your mercy and grace.  Give us ears to hear  afresh the command of Jesus to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute, and so we pray for this world and even for those who persecute and hate in your name.  We pray especially for those who cling to their faith in the One who died for them even when it means dying for him.  O God grant us the grace to live for Christ and to be instruments of his peace from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.   

Grace and Peace,


A Prayer for Buffalo

The weather turned cold this week in Toronto.  Seven days back warm fall breezes had the streets crowded with pedestrians clad even in shorts and t-shirts, but with the snowfall Monday and the cold wind of yesterday most of us have been searching for the gloves and scarves we squirreled away somewhere back in the spring.

But let's not complain.  At least this isn't Buffalo.  That poor city at the other end of the QEW has been dumped on with the storm of a century.  Here we are not an hour and half's drive away with an inch while some parts of that city have upwards of six feet with another meter of snow apparently taking aim at them for later tonight. 

Torontonians love heading down to Buffalo to pick up bargains at the mall or catch a cheap flight to a warmer clime or even to explore some of the remarkable old architecture from a time when Buffalo flourished as the 'Queen City of the Great Lakes,' but this is a day to simiply pray for our neighbours across the lake.  Some were trapped in their vehicles for over thirty hours and others may still be. There must be some in need of medical attention who cannot get out their front door and medical staff also prevented by the weather from getting to the hospital to give attention where it is needed. 

Let's not just be thankful we live on the other side of the lake.   Let's say a prayer for Buffalo. 

Gracious God we thank you for the sun that shines and the rain and snow that nourish and even protect the earth.   We thank you for warm days that invite our participation in your creation and even for the cold that cleanses the earth.  We thank you too for the beauty and wonder of your world and for the senses of sight and hearing of touch and taste that enhance our joy season by season.   

Forgive us for complaining when it is raining and for seeing only the inconvenience while blind to the need of those caught in the eye of a storm. And so we pray for our neighbours in Buffalo and surrounding areas overwhelmed in these hours and days by a winter storm.  Bring strength to those already weary in  caring and serving along the highways and byways. Bring relief to those trapped and disconnected and unable to fend on their own.  And as those bombarded only yesterday brace themselves for yet another storm, may they know the shelter and safety of your care, through Christ our Lord, Amen. 

Grace and Peace,


A Prayer for Marcus

Since Wednesday morning's shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo on duty at the National War Memorial and the subsequent storming of the Canadian Parliament Buildings, I have not been able to find the right words.  There are obvious words like maddening and crazy and tragic, but I am still looking for a better word and don't want to cheapen words like love and forgiveness.  

I found words that seemed to work when it was New York and then Boston, but this is different.  It is like trying to speak at your parent's funeral.  Many cannot.  The parliament is in many like a parent.  It is the seat of government and the place we turn for leadership. 

So I apologize for my silence, but words have failed me.  The truth is on Wednesday we were bombarded with words and clung to them only to learn that many of the things said in the midst of the storm turned out to be less than true.  And so, one waits for the storm to subside praying that indeed it will.  After all, Wednesday's attack in Ottawa was the second fatal attack on a Canadian forces soldier this week.  If nothing else we must pray this is the end. 

As I continued to wrestle to find the right words, I received an email from my youngest brother, Rob, who had been away for the last two days on business.  He returned this morning only to discover one of his key employees, the man in the office next to his own, is a cousin of Nathan Cirillo.   My brother filled me in on a number of details concerning the family and the young son of the single father, and then my brother asked one simple thing of his brother the minister.  Please pray.  Even when we don't know what to say, we can  pray.  The Scripture assures us that even when our prayer is but a groan, God gets it. 

And so I offer the following prayer to God and offer it to you in the event it might guide you in your own prayers. 

Gracious God, you are the Source of life and all that is good and so we turn to you in this season when we are overwhelmed with news that is bad beyond words.  Yet we come to you, O God, believing that no cacophony of evil is beyond the enlightenment of your Word, nor any darkness beyond the reach of your light.  By your Word which brings life, lighten the load of Nathan Cirillo's family who shoulder the grief of our nation - and enlighten the way forward for Nathan's son, Marcus.  Watch with those who watch over him and watch too with those who stand guard over the freedoms we so cherish.  We pray too O God for the 'radicalized' among us.  Heal the wounds that plague their souls and open their eyes and hearts to that new day when the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and all people will live and worship freely in peace each one according to their conscience.   Protect O God, the institutions which anchor our democracy and strengthen too the resolve of all people to be not afraid, but with faith, hope and love to live for nothing less than that day when disease and hatred and warfare will cease and death itself shall be forever silenced, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.    

Grace and Peace,


My wife and I often play 'name that composer' when driving in the car with the radio on.  For someone not formally trained in music, I do okay.  One day while driving on my own I heard a piece of beautiful music distinctly different, so I pulled over, in part so I could make note of the composer, but also because the music was moving me so deeply I wanted to give my undivided attention.  And as busy as I was, I just didn't want the music to end.  

Looking back I am pretty sure this was the piece 

The composer turned out to be Morten Lauridsen and from that day, I have often turned to his music when I need a touch of peace or a reminder of the transcendent.  One day I phoned a colleague and discovered he was in the midst of preparing a sermon.  I could hear music in the background and I asked, "Is that Lauridsen I hear?"  He said, "Yes, Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna."  

Paul Salamunovich, Music Director Emeritus of the Los Angeles Master Chorale became famous for his recording of the Lux Aeterna and of it he says, "Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God and I feel that this music of Lauridsen is the perfect prayer."  People around the world speak of a connection they hear in his music and often the connection is with God.  

Morten Lauridsen composes from tiny Waldron Island in the Pacific North-West, "looking across the bay," he says, "to Canada."  Now Morten Lauridsen is coming to Canada.  He will be with us at Yorkminster Park on Saturday, October 25 for the Toronto debut of the recent film about his life and music at 3:30, (shown across the street at CCDP), followed by a Gala Concert at 7:30 at YP featuring the choirs of Yorkminster Park, the Orpheus Choir, The U of T MacMillan Singers, the Exultate Singers, and the Cawthra Park School Choir, along with the Talisker Players orchestra.   

Tickets can be purchased on line or on Sunday at church or through the office.  I wish I could say it is free, but I can assure you no one is getting rich.  We are simply aiming to cover all costs and to offer an evening of music that will truly lift our spirits.  I hope you can come, because I can assure you, it will be beautiful and inspiring and worth far more than the cost of admission.  And who knows, maybe one day it will help you win a game of 'name that composer.'   

For more information go to 

Grace and Peace,


Happy Thanksgiving!

On Wednesday evening prior to the magnificent choral concert at the church, the Ukrainian Catholic pastor from Brampton, Father Roman Galadza, turned to me and said, "How wonderful it is that in a world gone mad for war,  we can be here tonight taking in this offering of music to the glory of God."  

He was absolutely right and as the Ukrainian choir sang one piece after another it felt all the more wonderful and true.  Thanksgiving is a like a great piece of music.  It too lifts our spirits as we reflect on the goodness all about us and say, 'Thank you.'  

It is no wonder the psalmist begins with the words, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord and to sing his praise throughout the land,"  (Psalm 92).  God has blessed us in this land with the abundance of harvest not to mention freedom and peace and family and those things we take so for granted, health and strength.   It is good to give thanks! 

The choir members had come from a land marked by warfare and will soon be returning to the same, yet even while here tragedy struck.  Two of the choir members had been left behind in a Calgary hospital after suffering a terrible accident.  Life's been no less tragic for Father Galadza whose magnificent church burned to the ground just prior to Easter.  

But as the conductor reminded us while introducing one of the pieces, "Hallelujah is intended not only for the good times, but also for times of challenge and confusion."  He spoke of the accident and the choir's desire to carry on singing the hallelujahs because their hope is in Jesus Christ who has won the victory.  

There are always mysteries and things we can't get to the bottom of, but we can always rise above them like an hallelujah at Easter.   We do so in part by giving our burdens to God in faith, but also by being a thankful people.  

We have much to be thankful for in the life of our church family.  It is true that offerings are down slightly, but I only mention it because I know your generous spirits.  Just as we looked forward to the music of Wednesday, I look forward to being with you this Sunday as we raise our voices in Thanksgiving!  Thanks be to God!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace and Peace,


On Sunday afternoon a report on CBC Radio One aired about some of the Christians in Iraq taking up arms and forming a militia to face ISIS, (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  It wasn't terribly surprising to hear as they have suffered incredible persecution since the fall of Sadam Hussein which have only intensified with the rise of ISIS.  Christians have been executed and churches have been bombed in some cases and taken over by ISIS in other cases.  The Christians were initially given the opportunity to pay a hefty tax to remain in the villages and homes, but the option was removed and the only choice left was to convert or flee for their lives.  

Some estimate the Christian population of Iraq to have been well in excess of one million not so long ago, but few estimate there are more than 200,000 left in the land and most of those have fled to Kurdish territory within Iraq.   Both the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city with a historic concentration of Christians have been taken over by ISiS and Christian symbolism removed.

A week ago the New York Times ran a feature article on the prevailing silence about the Christians suffering in Iraq.  The writer gave two reasons for the silence.  The press is said to be silent because they operate under the assumption that Christians in Iraq are simply a remnant of white European colonialism, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Most of the Christians in Iraq are part of the ancient Chaldean Church which traces its roots directly back to the Apostle Thomas in the first century.  The church was in Iraq for four centuries before the religion of Islam was founded.  

The Times also suggested that just as the press is silent, so too evangelical Christians who are often enthusiastic sympathizers with the State of Israel understand neither the orthodox traditions of the Arab church, nor their lack of warmth towards Israel and have therefore been slow to rally behind the cause of the Christians persecuted in Iraq.  

The Baptist World Alliance is actively engaged in supporting the Christians who have been displaced from Iraq.  To read more go to

In recent months Pope Francis has also been calling the church to prayer for the end of persecution in Iraq and now for peace.  He has said that he is in constant prayer for the persecuted Christians of Iraq.   

In the midst of all of this along with wars and tensions in Israel/Palestine, Ukraine, South Sudan, Syria, Cardinal Collins recently called for religions leaders in the city to join him to pray for the peace of the world at St. Paul's Basilica at Queen St. E. and Power St.   I was honoured to be invited and to hear various leaders offer readings and prayers from their own traditions.  Many of the lay people were wearing buttons bearing a written message.  The likes of this button I have never seen in my life.  Even an Islamic Imam who had joined us to pray wore the button which said, "Stop Killing Christians!"

The service included a reading from a Ukrainian Orthodox priest, Father Walter Makarenko whom I had first met on a Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces many years ago. A Bishop from the Syriac Catholic church also participated as did a number of senior Protestant clergy from the city.  Two Rabbis offered readings along with clerics of the Hindu and Buddhist faiths.  As we gathered beforehand there was a very sombre mood some sensing in the tensions of the world a repeat of one hundred years ago when the First World War broke out.  All were anxious to pray.   

The most moving moment in the service came when the Rev. Niaz Toma, Pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in Hamilton and St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Church in Oakville read from Romans 8.  The Chaldean Christian Church of Iraq is one of the oldest in the world and now seems to face extinction if not annihilation at the hands of ISIS and Father Toma was reading from Romans 8.  The words had never sounded more powerful than they did that day when a priest whose own people were in the midst of horrendous persecution read them.   

Romans 8: 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday's report on the CBC ended by saying, "All these Iraqi Christians have left is their faith."  If Father Toma's reading was any indication of the level of their faith, at two thousand years they have only just begun.  

The prayers of Cardinal Collins that day also bear repeating,

With you is life, truth and peace, O God, which you have placed in the heart of every human being.  Forgive the irreverence done towards these gifts, creating despair and discord in so many lives.  We come together to restore our attention to the common bonds of our humanity and to pray.  Attune our ears and hearts once again to your gifts of life, truth and peace.  

O God of life, truth and peace, hear our prayer for all those who are suffering the scourge of war, violence and persecution.  Restore them to fullness of life.  Let truth prevail over injustice, and may a profound and abiding peace spread throughout the world.  For this we pay.  

Pray for Peace,


An Invitation to Prayer

On this day set aside as a day of prayer for our church I invite you to join with us and include another request in your prayers today.  

The Kiev Symphony Orchestra and Choir arrived in Vancouver almost two weeks ago and began their tour of our country starting on the west coast.  They have been singing in churches small and large as they make their way east.  On October 8 at 7 p.m. they will be with us representing the important work of Music Mission Kiev

The following link is to a review of the concert which appeared this week in the newspaper of Vancouver's Douglas College.  One of the two girls pictured in the photograph has since been involved in a terrible accident as outlined below.  

On Tuesday evening I received an alarming email from their conductor informing me and others that two of their members had been in a terrible ATV accident near Calgary.  I share the following message and updates as an invitation to prayer.  Let us indeed keep these folk in our prayers. 

With no time to really organize this well, I'm sending this to some of you with an urgent plea that you pass this along.

Just yesterday, on a beautiful Calgary Monday morning our Ukrainians were enjoying the Calgary foothills when tragedy struck.  Two on an ATV rolled the vehicle twice and sustained very serious injuries.  They have both been in surgery.  They are still in ICU at Foothills Hospital, Calgary. 

Andre, our first violin player has a broken neck and went through surgery last night.  The fusion was successful.  Andreii has very limited movement and feeling in shoulders - and no feeling or movement in lower extremities. We have cried and prayed together.  Of course there is hope for a miracle, and he is receiving the best possible care from the fabulous people in the Foothills Hospital trauma unit.  The spinal cord was crushed but not cut.  Andreii is coherent, speaking, and has never lost consciousness.

Dasha's injuries appear to be more significant and complex.  She is one of the twins, for those who have heard our concerts.  She has multiple broken ribs, both arms broken and broken collar bone.  Her liver was injured and a non-invasive surgical procedure stopped significant bleeding.  The big concern however is a head injury and the cat scan this afternoon suggested  additional swelling.  Dasha is breathing through a ventilator and has not been conscious since the accident.  Her sister Katia is staying with her in Calgary.

Yesterday afternoon, I cancelled our First Alliance Calgary concert and the entire team said emphatically "we must do it."  Vika and Kim co-led the concert while I worked on the start of a crisis management team.  This crisis management team will need to grow.  We now have people in Calgary and an on-going tour.  We are working to bring family members from Kyiv to Calgary.

This morning, at First Alliance Church, I gave our Ukrainians an update on the condition of our hospitalized fellow musicians, and then the KSOC tour bus headed north to Edmonton where they will start today's concert at Lendrum MB Church in a few minutes.

Please pray for Andreii and Dasha.  Their conditions are very, very serious.  Many weeks in hospital are likely.  

We purchased $25,000 insurance for each tour member.  Humanly speaking that may be used up quickly.  And so we come to you, the people of God and ask for your prayers; for healing, for provision, that our hearts would be receptive to the Lord's moving in the midst of this tragedy.

In Christ's great love,

Dr. Wes Janzen

President, Music Mission Kyiv

Conductor, Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

update received September 24

Again, I apologize for less than ideal communication here.  I am literally running between wards, offices and meetings.

Dasha is in the most critical condition.  She is still in a comma and breathing with ventilator.  She does move her feet, from time to time.  Most significant injury is to her head and late last night a surgical procedure was done to allow measurement of the pressure inside her head - the pressure, fortunately, is not high.  Once this tube comes out she will get an MRI.  Dasha has broken ribs, both arms are broken and liver bleeding has stopped.  Her condition is very, very serious.  We are flying her parents from Ukraine - they arrive British Airways Calgary on Friday at 8 pm.  

Andreii suffered a broken neck, had surgery, and his condition is a bit better today.  He now has some feeling in his legs and feet, has drunk juice and coffee, and is alert.  His wife Anna is arriving on the same British Airways flight, Friday at 8 pm 

I am meeting with a team at 4pm (in just 15 minutes) in the ICU lounge to plan the accommodation, transportation and meals for these three people who will arrive on Friday.

A wonderful Canadian couple is covering their costs to get here.  We are so thankful.  

We  aware of family members of treating physicians who are praying for our dear Ukrainians.  The medical care that they are receiving at Foothills Hospital in Calgary is world class.  We are so thankful!

Our medical insurance for each was 25k.  We are past 25k for Dasha by a very  wide margin and likely past 25k for Andreii.  We come to the people of God for help.  Those who which to help can call Helmut Wiens at 778 549 8031

While I am in Calgary our tour continues with a concert tonight at McDougal United Church in Edmonton.

Thank you for your prayers.

In Christ's great love,

Dr. Wes Janzen

President, Music Mission Kyiv

Conductor, Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Illuminated in Sharon


On Saturday evening I met someone who had heard the Yorkminster Park Choir at the Sharon Temple the night before and described it as a deeply spiritual experience.  They weren't alone.  It was hard not to think of it that way.  


Now no one would plan to hold a concert in a hall that offers little insulation from the outside environment at a time when there would be a thunder storm, but less than half an hour before we were to begin the downpour began.  Though one might have planned differently, I am not sure it could have turned out any better.  Suddenly the choir's rehearsal was interrupted by the primitive rhythms of raindrops dancing on the roof with heavy boots, lightning attacking on all sides and thunder offering an ovation to its partners.  The choir was all but silenced and so we waited.  


At ten minutes before the appointed hour the sound technicians realized the power was out.  There are no lights and even if there were, they'd have been kept off as The Illumination is based on a 19th century candlelight service of the Children of Peace which was offered on the first Friday of September every year in thanksgiving for the early harvest and in anticipation of work yet to be accomplished.  The candles in the windows were lit as planned and the oldest functioning organ in Canada, which to this day is still pumped by hand, started up with the pumper seeming offering a beat to compliment the organ.  William delighted in playing the old pump organ, which with the power out was more functional than the great Casavant and Freres he is used to playing at Yorkminster Park.   


As 8 o'clock arrived the storm took a back seat and fell all but silent and at last the music took centre stage.  Prior to building the Temple in Sharon, the Children of Peace, as former members of the Newmarket Quaker Meeting House, would not have been in the practice of including music in worship.   Yet from day one it is clear music was to play an enormous role in the life of the temple.  It is hard to know however if The Illumination event was ever punctuated by the music of a storm in the days of David Wilson, but the museum curator, John McIntyre, was quick to point out that with the power out, the event was suddenly more authentic than ever.  It was as if we were right back in the 1830's or 40's.


The choir sang music fitting to an illumination such as Stainer's 'Hail Gladdening Light,' Soweby's 'Eternal Light,' and 'Holy is the True Light' by William H. Harris, but it was when the choir was singing an old hymn of Charles Wesley, whose hymns the Children of Peace often sang, 'Christ whose glory fills the skies,' that the heavens seemed to noticeably answer back with almost constant flashes of lightning far enough away that the thunder did not disturb, but close enough to make sure we didn't miss the point, that indeed Christ's glory does fill the skies.  As long as I live I don't think I will ever forget the light show from above as the heavens harmonized with the choir to emphasize and reinforce the truth of it all.  


Neither will we soon forget three women from the choir, Dawn, Margaret, and Jessica who ascended and descended what is known at the Temple as Jacob's ladder, an unusually narrow and steep staircase that is indeed more like a ladder and the only way up to the musicians gallery above.  One of the women commented that it was easier going up in the dark during the Illumination than in the light at rehearsal.  In the dark there were no distractions looking down and she had to trust.  Like the women who were first to the tomb in the darkness of the first Easter, these three brought us to the light with their angelic voices.  


Between the offerings of music William Maddox had explained the acoustic and Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus of the ROM had helped bring it to life as he wandered about without anyone missing a word as he spoke on the history and architecture of the space.  With the music, the mysteries in the sky above and all that had been said there was little need for a homily so I spoke but briefly on the tradition of silence the Children of Peace had carried with them from the Quaker Meeting House and for a brief moment we kept that silence and reflected on things too deep for words.  


Several commented afterwards that we must go back to the Sharon Temple and perhaps one day we will, but the experience of illumination from above with music all around was as distinctive as the building itself and indeed, deeply spiritual.  

The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence... 

Grace and Peace,


To read of our previous visit to the Sharon Temple go to

A Choir that Sings For Their...

"I am not kidding," said conductor Wes Janzen, "these musicians are singing for..." and at that he paused as he used recordings and photographs to introduce us to The Kiev Symphony Orchestra and Choir that will be offering a concert at Yorkminster Park on Wednesday, October 8th.  The choir arrives in Canada next week to launch a cross Canada concert tour.  

I have known Wes Janzen since my youth though our paths have not crossed in almost thirty-five years.  When I introduced him to the others I informed them that his father and my father had served together many years ago, one as minister and the other as choir director at a Baptist Church in Victoria, B.C.  It would seem the apple didn't fall far from the tree as Wes has served as a professor in the choral department of Trinity Western University for many years.  However, he has recently left that behind to become conductor of the choir and President of Music Mission Kiev.  

I must confess that prior to our meeting I had thought I was going to simply learn about a visiting choir and how we might best prepare for their arrival.  We knew we were to provide billets and dinner, so I figured perhaps in response to Wes's words, "these musicians would be singing for their supper."  We did learn what would be expected of us as hosts and we were even able hear recordings of this remarkable slavic choir, but we also heard an impassioned plea for prayer for these musicians and their country. 


These Ukrainian musicians are not only in the studios and sanctuaries offering their songs, but also in the streets caring for the poor as part of the work of Music Mission Kiev.  They perform and teach music at the highest level, but they are also engaged in offering lowly Christian service and charity to refugees, orphans and impoverished widows.   

And the streets in which they serve are not always kind.  There were times in the last year when the central square was riddled with bullets intended to break the growing prayers and protests of the people.  And so it is in a city whose streets have been littered with corpses, and into which refugees have fled from occupied areas, a song has gone up in word and in deed raising consciousness and faith in the One who is the source of all beauty, love and peace.  

The service and love offered by these musicians in the midst of such horrors has  added to the beauty of their song, a song heard often in the great concert halls and cathedrals of their land.  At the playing of a well known national song, A Prayer for Ukraine, one of the two Ukrainians attending the meeting broke into song and the other into tears.  The story and song of this choir evoke both.  "For these musicians are singing for their lives," said Wes.  On October the 8th at 7 p.m. they will also be singing for us.  It is a concert not to be missed. 

Grace and Peace,


p.s. to learn more about Music Mission Kiev go to 

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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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