Peter’s Blog

| Share

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 

The Song of the Bells

bells on truck.jpg"Please don't take the bells away," said a passerby at the sight of church bells on a trailer beneath the tower, "they are my favourite thing about Yonge and St. Clair."  "Are they being tuned?" asked another curious pedestrian, adding he hoped he would get to see them tuned one day, but hoped they wouldn't be gone too long.  "I hope someone hasn't complained about the  bells," said someone else, "because that is one thing we don't want to see coming down around here."  The owner of a small business on Yonge Street who is very active in neighbourhood improvements wanted me to convey his appreciation to the church for keeping the grounds so beautiful and for the bells.  

Blog-bells2.jpgAll were relieved and delighted to hear the church bells were not being taken away, but were instead growing in number.  On August 14, ten new memorial bells were added to the four already in the tower.  As for tuning, it will be quite a while before that needs to be done.  A rough estimate for time between tunes on church bells would be at least a thousand years.   

One man from down the road told me that he loves the bells so much he sent a donation to the bell fund of the church.  The bells are paid for by special donations.  The general funds of the church are aimed at ministry and service in the congregation and community. The bells, like the stained glass in the church are funded by memorial donations.  

Blog-bells3.jpgThe true tune of a bell is part of what makes it so special.  Amidst all the ambient noise of a busy street like Yonge Street where are sirens screaming, trucks are rumbling, cars are honking, and construction sites are buzzing, the sound of a great bell cast in bronze stands apart and calls the passerby to rise above the headaches and stresses of the world around and take a moment to consider the transcendent sound of beauty and truth.   There is something greater than what may have us down.  

For some years the four bells have sounded the Westminster chime on the hour from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. They also sound the call to worship prior to services and often peal at the end of a wedding or even a funeral to sound the celebration of life and love and life eternal.    Now with ten additional bells tunes will be played from the tower. Sometimes they will be beloved hymn tunes and other times other music of inspiration and hope all intended to cause us to pause and look up or look deep within for the source of beauty and truth.  


Blog-bells4.jpgBlog-bells5.jpgOn August 14 the bells were not playing but they were the topic of conversation between a handful of folk from the church and the many who passed by during the hours they were being raised up into the tower of the flatbed truck and put into place.  Folk were aglow at the sight of the bells.  The smallest of the ten weighing in at 120 pounds went up fist and was installed alongside the four previously installed bells that had been cast at the same foundry in Holland.  

Blog-bells6.jpgAs the final and largest bell was about to go up, one of the representatives from the Verdin Bell Co. of Cincinnati, directed the crane operator to swing the 1,200 pound bell over towards the sidewalk.  He then put a hard hat on the primary donor, Judy, and handed her a hammer to ring the bell.  It was a glorious sound on a smiling summer's day.  The sight of Judy with the hammer and bell in hand couldn't help but bring the words of an old folk song by Pete Seeger to mind about having a hammer to hammer out justice and a bell to ring out freedom and a song to sing about love between all people.  I pray the bells will be instruments of such goodness and love.  



Welcome Brennan Rabbets

We are pleased to welcome Brennan Rabbets to YP.  Brennan has been appointed to serve as Interim Director of Youth at Yorkminster Park.  Brennan was born and raised in Aylmer, Ontario where he grew up worshipping with his family in the local United Church.  In his final  year of high school Brennan was making plans to enter an engineering program when he was strangely and unexpectedly drawn to enrol at Tyndale University.  It was there he obtained a B.A. in Religious Studies and from there that he went on to complete a Master of Divinity degree from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto.  Since graduating a year ago he has served a one year internship in Youth Ministry at the Toronto Chinese Baptist Church on Beverley Street.  He had previously served at TCBC as an assistant leader.  


During his years of service at TCBC he was one of the primary leaders of a program called The Barnabas Fellowship.  It was a youth gathering each Friday evening with the goal of mentorship and discipleship in the Christian faith.  The program each week included worship, small group study and prayer.  During the first two years the group averaged an attendance of five, but in year three there was significant growth to the point where they were averaging between thirty and forty young people each Friday evening with a group of approximately one hundred youth.  Brennan is excited about the number of young people who graduated from the program and have gone on to enter exciting avenues of ministry and fellowship.  He hopes and prays he can see the Lord work in the lives of young people at YP through the ministry and service he offers.  

Of course there were other activities he was involved with at TCBC including an annual five day youth camping trip, youth social events and a summer children's day camp in which he mentored youth involved in the leadership.   Brennan has also been very active with CBOQ Youth activities and has served as registrar of both Blizzard and Avalanche youth retreats for several years.  One of the things that impressed all of us who were involved in the interview process with Brennan was that not only does he share the ministry philosophy Miriam and Sam have so carefully crafted which seeks to holistically involve the congregation and ministry team in the discipleship and mentorship of the family unit, but he seemed able to articulate it more clearly than any of us.  

Brennan is a real person who will hit the ground running or perhaps even skating since he loves to play hockey recreationally.  And don't be surprised if he takes the youth to a Jays game or two as he sports two of the Toronto Star passes for Jays games and he is still going to as many games as he can though the team is now well out of the playoff picture.  I admire him as someone who can hang in and not give up.   He also loves to play board games and can sometimes be found hanging out at the well known Snakes and Lattes Coffee Shop.  I can already imagine Brennan and the youth inviting us all to an evening of board games and perhaps music in a coffee shop atmosphere.  

Brennan is married to Jenny and a month ago they had the joy of welcoming their firstborn, Tobias.  Imagine, another 'Toby' in our midst.  We continue to be sad about Sam leaving us, but we thank God for Brennan who begins at Yorkminster Park on September 2.  Please keep Brennan and our youth in your prayers.  



Happy Canada Day!

For all intents and purposes Canada Day came a week and a half early for me.  On Sunday, June 22 I was the guest preacher at reunion service for the Hastie clan of Crawford, Ontario.  It was the regular morning worship service of the Crawford United Church which was built on a corner of land my ancestors had given to the Presbyterian Church in the mid nineteenth century in order to build a church where they could worship God and train their children in the faith.  

More than one hundred and sixty years later the original farm and many of the surrounding farms are still owned by descendants to the first Hastie settlers and Sunday by Sunday many of them can be found worshipping God in what is now the Crawford United Church.  

Crawford is north of the town of Durham and east of Chesley and Hanover.  It is set in the midst of beautiful rolling hills, numerous small lakes, streams and rivers, treed lots and grazing pastures.  Yes, it does sound beautiful because it is.  Of my three ancestral farms in this province it was the furthest away and the hardest to find.  The Holmes farm was at Yonge and Finch and the Davis farm on the Severn River just west of Severn Bridge. Both these spots are along routes familiar to most.  But Crawford isn't on the radar of many.

Certainly the Rev. Kathleen Addison didn't know where it was until after she had heard the call.  She'd been pretty much a city girl before agreeing to come for a year or two leading into her retirement. Four years later she is still there and she speaks of a rejuvenation she has found in her spirit ministering in what would see to many to be the middle of nowhere. 

If Crawford is hard to find now, what must it have been like for my ancestors who probably came up alongside a wagon train?  They had nine children and after arriving in Guelph they sent the three oldest off to scout out the land they had heard about prior to leaving Moffatt in Scotland.  When the three returned like the dove on Noah's ark it meant the promise was true and in no time the land was staked and a log cabin constructed, though it wasn't much larger than what would today be called a bunkie.  

Where they got all their food and how they managed to survive the winters I will never know, but the fact they did what they had to do and that in the midst of all that challenge and hardship and struggle they built a church and rarely missed a Sunday, sends shivers up my spine.   I know that hard work from Monday to Friday and the sacred rhythm of rest on Sunday was no less important to my ancestors on the Severn River and the Holmes at Yonge and Finch.  It is where we all come from.  

I told the morning congregation in Crawford of what I was told at the Visitor's Centre in Moffat some years back when I asked what type of work our Hastie ancestors might have done in that town in the border country.  Not only did they have no trace of the name Hastie in their records, but they assumed they must therefore have been common cattle thieves who stole from English farms beneath the borders.  When I heard the verdict of the 'old country,' I could almost feel my ancestors rolling in their graves. While I doubt the nonsense about their thievery, I thank God for this country because it allowed my Hastie ancestors the opportunity to start again from scratch and not be judged and allowed them also by the virtue of their hard work and sincere faith to build a better life for the generations to come.  

Canada has been so good at offering that same opportunity to waves of immigrants first from Europe and then from the Commonwealth and now from the whole world round.  It is a great land where hard work and sincere faith can create opportunities for our children that could not be dreamt of in so many other parts of the world.  

One Sunday evening as I was closing the front doors after our worship service had ended a young man appeared and wanted to come in.  He appeared to be from somewhere in the middle-east, and I was so glad to show him the church.  However, when we arrived at the doors leading into the sanctuary he began to take off his shoes.  Clearly he was Muslim, or was he just so thankful for the opportunities afforded him in this new world.  Perhaps he knew he was on holy ground when he arrived in Canada.   

I suppose some might easily think of Crawford United as a 'no name' kind of  church located as it is hours away from the city at the intersection of a dirt road and a gravel concession, but the pride of the people through the ages was evident from the moment you stepped in the door.  Over the years the building had been painted and added on to and probably even raised to make room for the wonderful hall beneath.  Even on the day of our visit a dear woman had a magnificent handmade afghan on display to be raffled off for the church she loved.  Three tickets for $5!  I don't suppose the church itself is a whole lot larger than our chapel, and I don't know her people, though many of them are kin, but I love that church too almost as much as my own.  

The little wooden pulpit in the country church was nothing compared to the solid stone masterpiece I stand behind Sunday by Sunday and the names of the clergy who had stood in that place through the years were not published in the Toronto papers or heard on the radio like some of my predecessors once were.  But none of that mattered to me.  I wasn't just the guest preacher in Crawford United that Sunday.  I was first and foremost a grateful worshiper.  I didn't expect or want to be paid.  I wanted to put in an offering and thank God for the devotion of my ancestors on that very ground to the things of God.  They planted more than just crops to get them through the winters in that place.  They planted seeds for the kingdom that are still bearing fruit.  I too wanted to take my shoes off.  This was holy ground.  

On Canada Day we should all take off our shoes and thank God for the blessings of this land and of her people.   



O Canada!

Last Sunday a great Canadian who has served this country well was in church and afterwards sent me a note of thanks for the service and a link to an excellent article she has written for the July 1 online issue of the Globe and Mail.  

On her last two visits I have inadvertently called the Honourable Barbara McDougall, 'Jean,' by mistake.  No sooner was the name out of my mouth than I found myself apologizing, but she asked me not to.  She knew I wasn't mistaking her for a Prime Minister she did not serve under, but for her remarkable mother, the late Jean Leamen.

In my early years as Minister of Pastoral Care, Jean was one of my favourite people to visit.  Jean was so alert to everything going in this world and engaged on so many levels.  She had come from a well established family, (I believe her father played a key role in founding the Royal Winter Fair), but it didn't mean her life was easy.  After losing her husband at a young age she raised three girls on her own and  each of them in their own way went on to make this country a better place.  

When Barbara served as the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, I am certain it was the influence of her mother that shaped her leadership as much as anything she had learned at university or in the practice of law.  It is no wonder today, Barbara thanks God for her Canada.   

Here is what Barbara McDougall wrote about this great land. 

This year on Canada Day, between the picnic and the fireworks and the Rock concert and the ice cream cone and walking the dog, I intend to get down on my knees and thank God I live in this country. I live here not because I deserve it or because I am smarter than anyone else, but because I am lucky enough to have ancestors who came here a couple of hundred years ago, from not desperate backgrounds, and whose descendants have lived in modest comfort and incredible freedom ever since.

In the morning I do not wake up on the border of Syria, trying to push my way across into a refugee camp in Lebanon, where a million people have preceded me, desperately hoping there will be enough UN supplied water and food to get me through the day. I do not wake up in the Central African Republic, consumed by fear of my machete-wielding neighbour, or worse still, wielding a machete myself, out to slash my neighbour in the name of some trumped up religious quarrel, before he slashes me. I do not wake up in Israel, where every country in the region is committed to my destruction. I do not wake up in North Korea, where my brain is washed away by fear and propaganda. I do not wake up in northern Nigeria where my niece can be kidnapped for going to school.

I wake up here, to the smell of morning coffee. I complain about the traffic, and shake my fist at the construction. I worry about the effects of last winter's ice storm on my boxwood hedge. I discuss with my husband the possibility of going to the country this weekend.  I tsk-tsk at the price of imported mangoes. I telephone my city councillor to rail against the Chorley Park switchback. I chuckle with friends at the trouble a politician is in over remarks he made over Mothers Day - or was it Fathers Day? - of such importance that it was the lead item on the national news. We decide we shouldn't even have greeting card holidays. We watch tennis matches on television. We vigorously disagree on the results of the provincial election. I decide to go to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a long postponed browse. 

What did I, and so many of us, do to deserve this incredible good fortune? To live in a country where no wars have been fought for two hundred years. A country with big freedoms - freedom of movement, freedom of political choice, freedom of religion, freedom from arbitrary persecution. But equally important a country of small freedoms: where we don't have to think about politics every day, where the idea of armies marching up our streets is unthinkable, where daily life is secure and can consist of innumerable small decisions made freely and safely.

Yes, I am aware that Canada is no Utopia. I know about poverty and racism and workplace safety and the environment and all the other problems people wrestle with - including, sometimes, even me. On July 2 I will get back on to doing something about those issues where I can.

But today, on this one day, for our nation, Canada, I will offer fervent thanks.  

Barbara J. McDougall

June 29, 2014


Thank you Barbara!

Bowkun Benevolence

On Tuesday evening Helena Bowkun ended ten years of silence on the public stage when she sat down at the Steinway at Yorkminster Park to offer her amazing gifts as a pianist in support of the church's Benevolent fund.  Helena has been an enormous talent at the keyboard since an early age and played to many an enthusiastic audience over the years, but until Tuesday it had been ten years.  

During that long absence from the concert stage there had been several debilitating injuries, which had caused her to wonder if she would ever play again.  There had also been other discouraging challenges along the way.  Ten years is a long time for anyone to sit on the sidelines nursing injuries.  

And so to be called back into action after such a stretch would fill the strongest of characters with fear and trembling regardless of the nature of the talent they were putting on display, but with faith and grace Helena made her way back.  There no doubt were some who wanted to protect her and shelter her, but as she would report in after her rehearsals it was clear that the wonder and beauty of the music that lives within her was filling her with joy as it found its voice again.  It was an honour to behold.  The wings once clipped were restored and the artist was soaring to new heights.  

I loved the music, but I am not a musician and so whatever I write about her playing on Tuesday will be discounted.  However, a review of the concert written by Michael Vincent and published online in Musical Toronto sums it all up well,   Needless to say the music critic was greatly impressed and delighted by her return to the stage.  I hope you will read it and realize what a great talent she is and how blessed we are to hear her play.  

Thank you to Helena for the gift of her music and for the kindness of her support of the church's benevolent fund.  Thanks too to those who stood with her and supported and encouraged this return to the stage.  Now that the silence is broken, let's hope and pray Tuesday was but the prelude to a whole new adventure for Helena as a concert artist.  



Inch by Inch

"Inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow, someone warm them from below, till the rains come tumbling down." (From the Garden Song by John Denver).


Meet Rosemary and Leslie, two City of Toronto employees whose work assignment includes blessing the Yorkminster Park gardens with the work of their hands.  I met them one morning last week hard at work around the Meditation Circle.  They love the grounds of the church and speak so appreciatively of the interest and care the church has taken in their upkeep.  Rosemary and Leslie also have some great ideas for the gardens.  If you see them, please say 'hello,' and encourage them in their work, but please don't get in their way.  I don's say this because they carry pitchforks, but because they long to see the full flowering of their efforts. 




Redeeming Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is not simply a documentary film about the untold life of a remarkable 20th century Chicago street photographer, but at the heart of it all, it is a story of redemption.  It begins with a young man buying a trunk from an auction of mystery items that were seized from storage units on which the payments were in default.  He only knew the trunk was full of old photographic negatives which he thought might serve him well for a book he was in the process of putting together about real estate in his city.  He knew a lot about real estate, but next to nothing about photography.   

Now three hundred and eighty dollars would seem like a lot of money for unseen photographs, but it would turn out to be one of the greatest investments in his life.  Once he finally gets around to looking at the photos Maloof is spellbound in admiration.  Before long he has tracked down almost all of Vivian Maier's boxes and has a complete set of 100,000 photographic negatives and untold amounts of unprocessed film and short movies.   Even to this day, there are more of Vivian's photos that Maloof has not seen than he has seen, and it would seem there are not many bad pictures in the lot.  

Many of the additional belongings which he eventually laid claim to, had not been  headed for the auction, but straight to the trash.  In fact it all might easily have ended up in a landfill sight.  The only thing google turned up when he entered her name was an obituary notice and even that didn't come up on his first search.  Most I am certain would have given up any hope.  Vivian Maier was dead, yet from the moment Maloof redeemed the first of her boxes she was starting to come back to life and into focus in a way she had never been seen while alive.  

And it wasn't Vivian alone who was coming back to life but the countless folk in the streets of Chicago whose photos she had taken.  Many of them were probably long dead and forgotten.  As it turns out Vivian had spent her days off and any spare hours walking through the streets of the poorer parts of the city often photographing people whose pictures no one else might want, but all of  whom in one way or another were fascinating and wonderful to look at through her lens.  

Maloof investigated every clue he could uncover about the true identity of the deceased Vivian Maier, and slowly over time tracked down people who knew her, or thought they did, because none of them were aware of her artistic genius.  They all thought of her as an eccentric nanny, but also as a hoarder with signs of untreated mental illness.  The tragic side of the tale is that while she was living it would seem she was never able to trust anyone enough to share her vision of the world.  

Maloof, who knew little of photography before he started, began by displaying the pictures online and asking others what he should do with them.  In the first 24 hours after posting them on a flicker account he had received over 200 responses and everyone was enthusiastic about Vivian's work.  Experts in the field were soon brought into the conversation and they too marvelled at her framing of a shot and her use of light and her ability to get very close to a human subject without losing the most remarkable expressions. 

Since Maloof's discovery and quest which started in 2009, the photos have been displayed to record crowds in galleries across North America and Europe, yet there are still art critics who refuse to accept the work of a seemingly untrained woman who didn't bother to develop the film or print the negatives while she was living.     

At the same time Maloof's quest has slowly turned up more information about Vivian Maier.  She was born in New York, but when her parents divorced she returned with her mother to their ancestral village in France where she lived until she returned to America in her twenties to gain employment as a nanny.  Most of those who had known her remembered her French accent, though one linguistic scholar whose family she had served had never been convinced it was authentic.  To this day he believes Vivian was putting it on and not particularly well.  

While living, those who knew Vivian kept her in a box where she remained as undeveloped as her film.  Their picture of her was of someone inauthentic, private, troubled, and ill and little more.  Part of that picture was no doubt true, but there was so much more to be seen in Vivian Maier.  Perhaps it was an awareness of that something more which enabled Maier to search for the same in the marginalized people in the streets of her city.   Her camera hung from around her neck and as she gazed down into it she was almost always looking up to people the world would only look down on.  Looking up at these folk enabled her to draw closer to their true person.  

Vivian saw people the way Christ sees us.  Rather than look down and judge us from above, he came and embraced life on our level in our dusty and impoverished streets.  Christ reached out and reaches out still to the untouchables of this world to bring them into a better light and to redeem the image of God within.  

As he tries to piece her life together, Maloof discovers that Maier did indeed spend years in a French village but he cannot find any indication of either the name or location of the village.  However, when he discover a series of pictures taken in a small French town he goes online in search of the one dominant landmark in the town which happens to be the church steeple.  Eventually after inspecting hundreds of church steeples online he finds the match and Maloof is soon off to France and into the streets of Vivian's ancestral village, Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur.  

It isn't long till he has met her family and former acquaintances.  When he reveals her photos of the townsfolk taken years before, the village comes to life as the images of many who have long since died come back into focus.  People are amazed to see pictures of those most dear to them who had been all but forgotten by everyone else.  It turns out that in an earlier day photos were rarely taken in this town except at weddings and baptisms, but now the village had photographs of everyday life in an earlier generation.  It was beautiful to see people respond to the images.  

Apart from that steeple there is no mention of God or religion in the film.  To most the film is simply an excellent documentary on one man's mission to do forensic archival work, but to one who has been redeemed. it is a vision of so much more.   As Vivian's voice and vision come to life again and again there is a deep sense of what it is to be raised up to new life in Christ and to be in communion with the saints who have gone on before.  



YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 238 copy.jpg

On our Lenten Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaced in 2010 we journeyed out from Yorkminster Park early one Friday morning with one hundred pilgrims and visited three sacred spaces in the Hamilton area followed by an unforgettable visit to St. Elias the Prophet Ukrainian Catholic Church east of Brampton.  Since opening almost twenty years ago, the wooden structure has been a beacon for all who immigrated from Ukraine.  In a land where everything was so different, it was one of the closest reminders of home.  

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 256.jpg

St. Elias the Prophet was built in the style of the Boyko Wooden Churches of Western Ukraine.  The tall timber structure built with its majestic onion domes stood out from a significant distance.  With nothing but farms all around it, one might easily happen upon it and wonder if they weren't in Ukraine, rather than in the countryside west of Brampton, Ontario.  But to step inside with the icons 'written' as they say, rather than 'painted,' was to get a glimpse of heaven itself.  This is the very intent of orthodoxy to remind the faithful that heaven has come to earth, whereas in the west we tend to think of the church as a place to lift earth up to heaven and so it is we have built our churches in the shape of the cross and spoken of them as the  nave or ark.   In the east the church gathers beneath a dome where it is intended to be the focal point of heaven's love and mercy.   

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 264 copy.jpg

The Ukrainian church was unlike anything most of us had ever seen, but even we felt strangely at home.  The priest, Father Roman Galadza explained with humour many of the traditions and insisted we sing a Baptist hymn in a church where hymns like ours are not part of the liturgy.  Our co-leader, Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus of the Royal Ontario Museum, had prepared us all for our visit by describing Father Galadza as kind, open-hearted, witty, generous and wise.  In fact the description was so generous that we were quite certain no one could live up to it, but the Ukrainian priest did not disappoint.  He was outgoing and energetic and so warm in his welcome.  

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 283.jpg

Once he had us gathered inside, Father Roman sang some of his own liturgy with us and even had us chanting with him, but it was when someone asked him who St. Elias was, that Father Roman did something people are still talking about.  He said, "I always thought St. Elias was a Baptist, because you are the ones with a hymn about him and then he started to sing the old spiritual, "Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home..."  In no time he had a hundred voice Baptist choir singing its heart out beneath the dome of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  In that moment it was as if all that divides the church was lost and forgotten and heaven had come to earth and we too were home.   

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 280 copy.jpg

The church was named for Elijah and like her namesake she, who had been heaven on earth, left this world in a chariot of fire.  In the sake of Elijah it was a liberation from death, but in the case of St. Elias Church it was as Father Roman has said, "Good Friday two weeks early."  On Saturday morning, St. Elias the Prophet Church caught fire and in no time the timber building was tragically destroyed.  For the faithful, there are few things worse than the sight of one's beloved church going up in flames.  And this was no ordinary church.  "Yet the church is not a building," Father Roman insisted.  "It is the people."  

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 284.jpgYPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 272.jpg

One of the things that impressed me most about Father Roman was his desire to spread the gospel to all people.   He spoke about the importance of holding their services in english because that is the language of the world around.  He was not trying to keep Ukrainian culture alive in a strange land, but rather responding to the living Christ here and now by reaching out to the world beyond. The magnificent structure that was destroyed on Saturday, may appear to have been his legacy, but in fact his legacy is alive.  It is the hundreds of people who lent their voices to the hymns and chants during yesterday's liturgy at a nearby school.  

Judging by the tremendous coverage the fire has received in local and national media, I believe God will use this tragedy to speak of the power of faith and love.  As eloquent an interpreter as Father Roman was of his sacred space, he is even more faithful as a witness to the power of Christ.  St. Elias has had Good Friday come early, but Easter will not let them down.  One day they will rebuild, but I believe God has already started.  

YPBC 2010 Lenten visit to Sacred Places. 287.jpg

Yesterday we prayed for the St. Elias Church, but as they rise out of the ashes in the days to come there will be much to learn from them.  



All of the above photographs were taken by Henry Regehr on the occasion of our pilgrimage to St. Elias.  Thanks Henry!   

p.s. We will be visiting a very similar wooden Ukrainian Catholic Church on our upcoming pilgrimage of sacred spaces in May 2014. 

Back to top

Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

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

More »

This blog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.