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Inspiration from Attawapiskat

Today's online edition of the Globe and Mail contains a story about the people of Attawapiskat who in recent months have faced an epidemic of suicides and attempted suicides about which Canada feels deeply grieved.    However, the article was not reporting on the crisis, but rather on a donation the people of Attawapiskat have raised to help the people of Fort McMurray.  The news jumps off the page because instinctively we think that when we are in need we have to focus solely on our own well being.  The gift is so counter-intuitive that when the Red Cross received it they contacted the Chief of Attawapiskat, Bruce Shisheesh and quoted him as saying, "We want to help."  It was the Red Cross who broke the story, not the people of Attawapiskat.   

I found the news inspiring.  It's not that it was an extraordinary amount of money, but it reminded me of a wise saying a Jewish friend once offered me, "One is never too poor to be generous."   The news from Attawapiskat offers us hope as it also brings to mind a line from St. Francis' prayer, "It is in giving that we receive."   There is a great spiritual depth in our First Nation community and we do well to learn from it.   My prayer is that through this act of caring and helping Fort McMurray, the people of Attawapiskat will discover the truth of Jesus' words when he taught that true greatness comes in serving others.  I pray too, that as such greatness is achieved, it will turn the world on its ears and as Jesus said, "The first shall be last and the last first."  

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

A Prayer for Fort McMurray

The fire that is raging in Fort McMurray, Alberta has gone viral and the images which have spread around the world are being called 'apocalyptic.'  There have been many 'great fires' that have consumed portions of great cities, but most of them took place before the radical advances made in firefighting and fire prevention over the last 150 years and before the advances of modern photography, and so there simply aren't many photographs of anything quite like it in our country.  And a great part of the shock of course is that it is within our own borders and a town which so many of us have a connection to through a relative or friend who has made Fort McMurray their home if only for a chapter in their lives.  

We may not hear much about them anymore, but Toronto has suffered at least three great fires in its history.  The fire of 1849 destroyed St. James Cathedral and the St. Lawrence Market district.  It was said the flames of the fire could be seen across the lake in St. Catharines.  The fire of 1904 started at Bay and Wellington and consumed entire blocks of our city before it could finally be brought under control, but only after firefighters from Hamilton and Buffalo arrived on the scene to help.  In the end they said it was rain that put it out.  They are now saying that rain is what is needed in Fort McMurray.  

Some will remind us that a fire can have beneficial long term results and it is very true, but this is not the time for such philosophical comforts.  A fire also has devastating short term effects.   The 1904 fire in Toronto left 5,000 people without jobs and the 1900 Hull, Quebec fire left 40% of the Hull population homeless before jumping the river and similarly effecting 15% of Ottawa's population. Fort McMurray appears to be on just such a path of devastation and destruction.  Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed.  Homes filled with priceless memories and keepsakes and computers filled with work and information are gone.  Thankfully there have not been many deaths yet, but our hearts can't help go out to its countless citizens on the highway of refugees leading south.  

Wonderfully, communities to the south are opening their homes and community centres and politicians are promising help.  These things can bring out the best in us and we must pray it continues to do so, but some voices are already being less than kind in search of someone or something to blame.  After the London fire rumours persisted that the fires were started by foreigners and xenophobia spread like a second fire.  We must silence these voices.  These people have left everything behind and have no idea if or when they can return.  Many will have lost their jobs, businesses and livelihood.  Children have been dislodged from the only home they have known.  Our hearts have to go out to them.  As Canadians we must offer our help wherever we can in their aid and as believers we must pray.  I invite you to use this prayer to guide you in your prayers.   


Gracious God you are our one true hope in all the calamities of life.  Through the generations you have been our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble, and so we turn to you as we think of the people of Fort McMurray who now gather their children and flee for safety.  Watch over their steps and keep them safe and well.  We pray for the children taken from home and school and the friendships they enjoy.  Comfort them in your peace.   We pray for those fighting the fire and all who stay behind to offer help and assistance.  Protect them.  We pray for the land parched, thirsty and now burned.  Bring rain to halt the fire and heal the wounded earth. Breath hope into the hearts of the people.  Restore the community, strengthen her spirit and unite us as a nation in our resolve to care for our brothers and sisters now stranded like refugees within our own borders.  Merrciful God, restore too the dreams that have been shattered and the hopes that have been eclipsed.   All of these things we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.  


Grace and Peace, 

Peter 

"My sheep listen to my voice..."

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"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me."  These words of Jesus from John chapter ten were the text for my sermon last week and speak deeply into my own faith.  The words brought to mind a day five years ago when 

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while exploring ancient Greek, Roman and Christian ruins outside the Biblical town of Sardis, I looked up an embankment and discovered a lamb looking down at me.  

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I climbed the embankment and discovered a scattered flock, but a few moments later a shepherd appeared in the distance calling the sheep and one by one they responded and followed him.  Indeed the sheep knew his voice and clearly he knew each one.   It wasn't long before the shepherd reached me and with a smile handed me the young lamb that had been looking down at me.  In that moment I was reminded of Jesus words to Peter, "Feed my sheep."  The words of the Risen Christ to Peter were full of grace and that moment I had with the shepherd was for me a sign of a greater grace in my own life. 

To hear me tell the story of the shepherd go to:  http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/index.php

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

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In the Smell of Bread

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Had I shut my eyes before I entered the church today I'd have thought I'd passed through the front door of a bakery.  There is something almost sacred about the smell of fresh bread in a church.  Legend has it that Garfield Weston was taken onto the bakery floor in the arms of his father George when he was only days old in order to put him in the smell of bread.  I like that story and I referred to it in a sermon a few weeks back, because I think that is what the church should be doing.  

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But there was something almost spicy in the air today as well.  So I followed my nose to the main kitchen and surprise, surprise, there I found Rhoda Hill, Mary Stevens and Glenyce MacDonald baking hot cross buns for a great cause.   The buns will be on sale tomorrow for $5 a tray and the proceeds will go towards the Oneida STM in August.  

Hot cross buns have traditionally been associated with Good Friday and the end of Lent.  The cross on top symbolizes the cross of Christ and the spices represent the burial of Jesus.  I hope the smell of bread lingers in the church till tomorrow.  I hope it never fades.  Church should always be seeking to put us in the smell of bread, the Bread of Life. 

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

p.s. Don't forget to set your clocks ahead an hour tonight or the buns may be all gone before you arrive.

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Coldest Night of the Year - NOT

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The Nordickids, or as I prefer to call them, the Fenton Flyers, completed the full 10K of the Coldest Night of the Year Walk on a night that was mercifully mild.  The warmer temperatures made the sidewalks more crowded, and at some points made the problem of homelessness all the more obvious.   Raising awareness about homelessness in Canada is the purpose for the walk as well as to raise funds for organizations that work directly with them.  

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The Toronto walk brought out hundreds of enthusiastic young walkers all of whom were raising money for the Yonge Street Mission.  It was nice to be reunited with my old friend Rick Tobias, who has been with the mission for well over thirty years.  Kim and Ben were there too, to lend the generous support of the Dalton School to our team.  John wore the Dalton backpack with pride!  Alana Walker was also there though she'd been drafted in the first round to walk with another team, but we were all in it for the same great cause.  

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As for our team, we were led by our courageous octogenarian captain, John Fenton, whose wife, Jonanne, was with him every step of the way.  Our team included our dear friend Ibrahim who stayed close to John, and Christopher Milthorpe who stayed a step ahead.  For those who didn't think I would make it, I had my wife at my side along with my son, Jamie, and daughter, Caitlin along with her boyfriend Chris Reid a kilometre or two ahead.  

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Our captain, John Fenton, was awarded at the outset for being the leading fundraiser with almost $14,000 in support.  The team as a whole raised close to $27,000, so thanks to one and all for your support.  

If only we could say there will be no need for such a walk next year as we are so much closer to eliminating the problem of homelessness.  Let's keep hoping and praying and walking too.  

Grace & Peace 

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There perched on the branches outside my study window on the coldest day of the year was a visitor from another season to remind me that spring cannot be far away.  

The fur like feathers of the robin's breast on a cold winter's day sang to me of the wonder of it all.  The Creator has provided us with the warmth we need to endure the cold and hard times. In the human family we do not have feathers to fly away or fur to keep us warm, but we have the communion of one other and we have the love that builds and binds community.       

When life is cold and hard we can learn from this robin who was there to drink of the fruit of the vine.  We too must stay close to the Vine, which is Christ, and drink of his blood soaked grace that our lives might be immersed in his love. As we do, the cold will lose its hold and the spring of new beginnings will rise within our hearts.  

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

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HOC2.jpgI was with our friend, John McDermott, today at one of my favourite places, The House of Compassion, where John presented Sister Susan Davy csj, the Executive Director of the House of Compassion, with a gift from the proceeds of the John McDermott Family Christmas Concert at Yorkminster Park back on December 22.  Sister Susan and the staff were thrilled with the gift of more than $9,300.  The House of Compassion is so grateful and the church so blessed by John's great music and generous spirit.   HOC3.JPG

But that's not all John did.  On an earlier visit to the House of Compassion John had noticed the Chef, Keith Bundock, mixing dough the old fashioned way and realized that preparing multiple meals each day for the twenty-one residents plus staff, Keith might benefit from some better equipment.  It felt like Christmas all over again when John presented Keith with a new KitchenAid Mix Master.  Bravo John!    

If you missed the concert you can still watch it online at:  http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/index.php?id=388

The House of Compassion of Toronto is a charitable organization founded in 1988 by people from Yorkminster Park to provide a permanent supportive home to people living with severe and persistent mental illness. The 24 hour support provided by staff enables our residents to live in the community with dignity, respect and hope.  

Sister Susan will be introduced to the congregation at Yorkminster Park on Sunday morning and a reception will be held following the service.  Please come and help us welcome her to this new calling.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

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Yes, I have joined John and Jonanne Fenton on TEAM NORDICKIDS to walk ten kilometres in 'THE COLDEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR,' a charity walk on Saturday, February 20th designed to raise awareness and funding for the homeless across Canada.   

It is going to be cold out there and the walk will remind us of the plight of the homeless who trek back and forth across our city logging endless miles from soup kitchens to Out of the Cold shelters like our own at Yorkminster Park.  Unlike the homeless I will have on a good pair of walking boots with my own bed to look forward to at the journey's end, but hopefully I will come away more appreciative of the importance of the service offered by organizations that work with the homeless and the need to bring an end to homelessness in our land.  

I have joined Team Nordickids, because I have a deep appreciation for John and Jonanne Fenton who support me each Sunday morning in their prayers.  For several years John parked in one of our handicap spaces and even then could barely hobble in to church, but within a short time of taking up nordic pole walking 18 months ago, my 83 year old friend became something of a walking miracle.  

Last year the event literally fell on the coldest night of the year and John and Jonanne's team was the only Toronto team to complete the full ten kilometres.  Nonetheless, the next morning they were in my study praying with me as usual.  It is an honour to have them on my team and I am now honoured to be on theirs.  

Team Nordickids is walking to raise funds for the Yonge Street Mission, an organization for which I have great appreciation and respect.   

To learn more about the walk and to support our team,  or any member of our team, go to:  https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=668329

To watch a CBC interview with John prior to last year's walk go to: https://www.behance.net/gallery/24002295/CBC-NEWS-BROADCAST-John-Fenton-interview

Please pray we won't have to walk for the homeless again next year.  It is time for homelessness to end!   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

Today is Shrove Tuesday also known as Pancake Tuesday.  Once again the ministry team of Yorkminster Park will be serving up pancakes at the church from 5 to 7 p.m. in order to help raise awareness and support for this summer's Mission Trip to the Oneida Reserve.  I hope you can join us.     

The whole idea of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday comes from the meaning of the word, 'shrive,' or to absolve.  Shrove Tuesday was a day to clear out the cupboards and use up the things that might tempt us to abandon the forty day period of Lenten fasting in preparation for Easter.

In the 'Mardi Gras,' or 'Fat Tuesday,' tradition of New Orleans and Rio, the day has evolved into a time to 'live it up' before you have to 'give it up,' for Lent. It is easy to shake our heads at such excesses, but we must remember the authorities often shook their heads at Jesus for eating and drinking with the party crowd.  

No one ever gave it up as Jesus did on the cross, nonetheless it seems that along the way he wasn't afraid to live it up either.  Something tells me he'd be in line for pancakes tonight and not afraid of a little extra maple syrup.  I'll keep my eyes open and hope to see you as well. 

Grace and Peace,


Peter

It was a privilege to participate in the planning and leadership of this year's Toronto Service of the Word for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which not only brought together a vast cross section of Christian leadership, but did so in the heart of the Chaldean community as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians everywhere.  The Chaldean Christian community, one of the oldest in the world, has been centred in Iraq for two thousand years, but in recent years has suffered greatly and been scattered around the world.  

With all of that in mind, the warm welcome and generous hospitality of Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta,  and the people of the Chaldean Cathedral of the Good Shepherd was extraordinary and lifted our spirits on a day we had come in the hope of lifting their morale.  It was hard to find a seat in the vast church.  His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Collin's sermon was a courageous acknowledgment of the vast persecutions of today, but also an inspiring call to action for Christians living in the West. 

The service included a warm welcome to dozens of refugees who have newly arrived in this land of promise, as well as prayers for peace and reconciliation.  Much of the music was sung in the Neo-Aramaic tongue of the Chaldean people - the closest language to that which Jesus' spoke.  The verses of the closing hymn, Children of One Mother Church, went back and forth between English and Chaldean, but the tune was known to all.  Here we were in a Chaldean church singing to the tune Auld Lang Syne on the eve of Robbie Burns' Day.  My sense is that we left the service having entered a whole new chapter of Christian unity and the new acquaintances will not be forgotten.

The service can be viewed at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKygMKop868#t=11 

Grace & 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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