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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   

http://www.bwanet.org/news/news-releases/417-bwa-sends-aid-to-displaced-iraqi-christians

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,

Peter

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  http://www.musicmissionkiev.org

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.   

http://theotherpress.ca/a-treat-for-classical-folk-music-lovers/  


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

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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.  



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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.  

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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.   

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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.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.  

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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,

Peter 

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

http://peter.yorkminsterpark.com/2013/12/pilgrimage-of-sacred-spaces---the-sharon-temple.php

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. 

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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,

Peter

p.s. to learn more about Music Mission Kiev go to   http://www.musicmissionkiev.org 

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.  

Blog-bells8.jpgPeace,

Peter

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.  

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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.  

Peace,

Peter 

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.   

Peace, 

Peter 

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,  http://www.musicaltoronto.org/2014/06/12/review-helena-bowkun-breaks-ten-year-silence-from-the-concert-stage/   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.  

Peace,

Peter

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).

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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. 

Peace,

Peter


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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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