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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.  



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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.  

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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.   

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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.  

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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.   

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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."  

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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.  

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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. 

Driving home from church a week and a half ago I heard an interview on the CBC radio show, Tapestry, with folksinger, Veda Hille.  I must confess that I didn't know of the Vancouver singer or her music, and it would seem she knew little of the Christian faith or church, beyond a childhood memory of sitting through two boring services with her grandmother.   But all of that changed after her grandmother died and left her Presbyterian hymnbook of 1930 to her musical granddaughter.   

Her grandmother's hymnbook coupled with a visit to an old log church in the Arctic changed her music.  Sometime after receiving the hymnbook Hille participated in a government sponsored tour of the Arctic for Canadian artists offered in the hope of inspiring the artists to write and create new images of the north.  As Veda reflected on her time in the north she realized that the church buildings dotting the landscape had moved her deeply.   

In particular she'd been inspired by a log church in Tuktoyaktuk with a seal skin altar and an old pump organ.  Once inside, she sat at the organ, opened the hymn book and played.  The discovery of hymns and the experience in the old log church led her to write a hymn of her own called the Tuktoyaktuk Hymn based on the old familiar, "Jesus where'er Thy people meet."

Belief and faith have come into her life, though it would not be fair to refer to her faith in terms that I would describe as orthodox or even Christian, but she is no less on a spiritual journey on which she has clearly discovered the need to align her heart and life with the God who is so much bigger, and to lift it up in song.  And to think such a journey all started with her grandma's hymnbook from which she still sings and gains inspiration.  Of course there is no telling where the journey might yet lead.   

In the end of the interview I was left with more questions than answers, but oftentimes that is good.  I marvelled at the power of the old hymns to speak to a modern soul and wondered why the church of today has all but left the hymns behind.  I marvelled too at the God who has used an old book and a quiet building on the edge of nowhere to speak to a young urban soul of greater things. But why not?  It was on Palm Sunday that Jesus said if the children didn't offer praise the stones would cry out.  There's no telling what music might yet come from grandma's old hymn book.  

I don't have grandchildren yet, but if hymnbooks continue to fall into disuse and churches keep closing, my grandchildren will be growing up in a world where these things are harder to come by.  So I am not going to wait till I die.  I think I will give them all a hymnbook for their first birthday and sing them the old old story whenever I babysit. 

The Tuktoyaktuk Hymn ends with the final verse of William Cowper's hymn of 1769.  If you need proof of the relevance of a hymn, you need look no further...   

Lord we are few, but Thou art near;  

Nor short Thine arm, nor deaf Think ear; 

O rend the heavens, come quickly down, 

And make a thousand hearts Thine own!  



p.s. To hear Veda Hille's 'Tuktoyaktuk Hymn' go to...

For the last four weeks the world has been baffled and mystified by the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370.  Even with earthquakes, wars and rumours of wars abounding in other parts of the world the story will not go away.  The baffling disappearance of a airplane has raised so many unanswered questions and caused much heart wrenching speculation.   

On the news we see weary family members taking out frustrations on public figures whose statements they find less then helpful, but something that may not get as much publicity is the way the people have turned to prayer.   A Wall of Hope was erected in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on which people of various faiths posted their prayers for others to read and pray.   Similar Walls of Hope were erected in malls and other public places in Malaysia as in the face of mystery and confusion the people turned to God.  Walls of Hope have been erected in other places and prayers are accumulating online.  

In referring to the prayers being offered one public figure in Malaysia said, "We have been reminded of what really matters."  I was offering up short prayers from time to time when I would hear the latest report, but a few Sundays back I looked into the eyes of two of our members who are from that part of the world and soon discovered they have numerous friends working for Malaysian Air all of whom have been impacted greatly.  Speaking with them, even briefly, was different than watching the news.  I promised I would pray with them and soon after I returned home and wrote this prayer.  

I haven't posted my prayer on any Wall of Hope, but I share it with you in the hope it might help you pray and perhaps prompt a prayerful response from your heart regarding this or any of the other events and happenings weighing heavily on our collective minds in these days.  

So, let us pray.... 

Almighty and merciful God, you are the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  There is not a distant galaxy that you do not know just as well as you know the hairs upon our heads and the sand upon the shore.  Whether we are on a beach staring out at the ocean, or walking beneath a starry sky, we marvel at how great you truly are. But we are also painfully aware in these days of how small and finite we are.  As crews from around the world scour the Indian Ocean from air and sea in search of any remains from flight MH 370 we sense within us the fear and helplessness of the families left behind.  

We long O God for the mystery to be solved, but it seems beyond the reach of our best minds.  We affirm our trust in you, O God, believing that neither those whose flight has been lost to us, nor those loved ones who feel lost in the confusion, are lost to you.  And so we pray, O God, that you would guide the steps of those who search and lead them safely to the truth.  We ask that you would also give the families and  loved ones burdened by heavy grief and mystifying confusion, the peace which passes all understanding. And as we journey on O God, may we be ever mindful of those things which truly do matter in this life and may our hearts and lives overflow with thanksgiving and love, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.    



Pancake Tuesday

I don't know if the local pancake restaurants close down today or not, but it seems to me that nowadays half the churches in the city are sponsoring pancake suppers on Shrove Tuesday.  For the most part it is embraced as a nice family activity and perhaps a chance to help raise a few dollars for charity, but behind it is an important tradition about getting ready for Lent.  

Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  Lent is the 40 day period of penance, fasting, prayer and devotion in preparation for Easter.  In other words during Lent we get serious with God.  And so to prepare ourselves we clear the cupboard of all that can interfere with the disciplines of Lent. In the old days, the first thing to go had to be the lard and so it is we cook up pancakes the night before it all begins.  The tradition was to get rid of all the fat in order to trim down to the basics of life and elevate one's faith in God.  

Whether it is Lent or not, it is always a good idea to cut back on some of the excesses of our lives and especially to do so to deepen our spiritual disciplines and heighten our attention to God.  Lent is a good time to also do an inventory of the heart and clear the cupboards of the mind of all the things that get in the way and hold us back.  For some it may be a critical attitude, for another it may be an old offense, for another a bad habit hidden from everyone - except God.  Most of us have something to deal with and now is the time. 

Let's get ready. 



Keep the Beat and Beat the Winter

I am not usually one to pay much heed to those commercials that promise to help beat the winter blahs.  After all, winter after winter of late the green Christmases have lingered into the new year where what was once the 'January Thaw' of a few days has grown into weeks of balmy weather as Torontonians have sat on park benches sipping their lattes conversing about global warming. 

But that was then and this is now. Winter in Toronto this year has been real, as in real cold and relentlessly so.  Day after day we are reaching new lows.  And so it is, for the first time in years my ears perk up when I hear an ad for faraway beaches sure to beat the winter blahs.   Even some skiers are ready to take flight.  I can't imagine how cold it must feel on the face as one skies down the escarpment with wind chill gales south of minus 30 C. coming in off Georgian Bay. 

I may well be desperate to get to some faraway beach this winter were it not for MUSIC. Apart from my wonderful family and home and the church and people I love to serve, one of the best things about working at Yorkminster Park is all the music.  I just have to leave my door open when William or the weekly noon hour recitalist are rehearsing on the organ, or wander down to the Centre Hall where Richard Margison has been auditioning singers throughout the month, or up to Cameron Hall where Gene DiNovi and some of his friends have been working on a new jazz program, and Helena Bowkun preparing for the preludes on the Steinway, and where the church choir, the Orpheus Choir and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir have all been rehearsing.

This week it has been Mendelssohn rehearsing morning, noon and night for a special concert at the church on tomorrow, (Saturday, Feb 1), at 3 p.m.  This is a great opportunity to not only beat the winter blahs, but enjoy some magnificent music by one of the finest choirs in the land.  Hear works by Canadian composers including Corlis, Raminsh and Willan and excerpts from classical masterworks: Dona nobis pacem from Bach's B Minor Mass; Zigeunerlieder by Brahms; The Lord is Great from Haydn's The Creation and Hear my prayer, O Lord by Purcell.

And if the thought of such glorious music doesn't take your blahs away maybe this will.  It is FREE.  There is no charge and collection will not be passed.  The only thing they ask is that in exchange we help relieve others of their winter blahs, by bringing non-perishable food items for the Churches on-the-Hill Food Bank.  It is no wonder the forecast is calling for warmer conditions tomorrow.  Thanks Mendelssohn!  See you tomorrow.



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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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