We first came to Toronto First after many months of wandering in the wilderness. We had stopped attending church as it had become a chore for both our children and us. For our children because there was nothing to engage them. For us because our efforts to engage them during the ritual completely negated any benefit we could receive by our attendance. This coupled with the furtive glances of disapproval cast our way by other members of that church whose children, seemingly, had never behaved this way....
Of course abstinence is always fraught with conflicting emotions and so it was with us. Forcing them into an hour of drudgery was pointless and unfair. However the absence of any spiritual exposure weighed heavily on our minds.
One afternoon I got to chatting with another parent, Rachel Morris, who told me of the marvelous RE program run by Toronto First. I was intrigued as this seemed to be the way to get them back into a weekly environment where they could explore and develop a sense of their values.
We decided to attend a service the next day. Having arrived late we entered with much trepidation. We experienced our first miracle as Gillian Burton came over with pencils and crayons for our kids and helped us to find a seat. This was all done wordlessly but she exuded a warmth and goodwill that deeply touched us.
The children’s Re program that day consisted of creating The Golden Rule song which was performed by the kids several weeks later. This exceeded my expectations and we begin to see we had made a good decision.
After church we attended coffee hour. Normally, for first timers, this would be an occasion of awkwardness and tentative interaction. The experience for both of us was the opposite. We felt as if we had returned home and were among old friends. To this day the miracle of this experience continues to amaze us as neither of us had ever experienced this before.
We marvelled at this on our way home that day and during that week prepared ourselves for a lesser experience putting our feelings down to being new visitors. Our initial experience, to our amazement, continued each week afterwards.
We were convinced that we had found the right place, however we kept waiting for this first blush to pass. Sunday after Sunday we attended, marveling at the warmth and friendliness we encountered and the fact that this remained consistent. It was due to this that we agreed to join the family retreat 6 weeks later.
Almost four years later attendance at Toronto First continues to be the highlight of our week. For our children as well as for us.
In my mind Toronto First is one of Toronto’s best kept secrets. Each week we have the privilege of experiencing the prodigious talents of Shawn Newton as he uplifts, inspires and stirs our hearts with his homily. Lisa Iwasaki, our pianist, plays music of deep beauty, delivered with virtuoso quality. The music talents of the resident musicians and the choir repeatedly moves us to joy and gratitude for their gifts to us.
The RE program directed by Angela Klassen is the feature for our Kids. It affords them experiences they would probably never otherwise have, in a safe and supportive environment. Our kids hate to miss it.
And then there are the members, yourselves. This is a community rich in goodwill providing fertile ground for one to find and express their authentic self. The variety of personalities within our community is testament to this.
This church is a model of what our world could be. Of course, it can only continue to exist with support from us. Through the continuous investment of ourselves and our resources.
As many things of beauty in this world its existence is fragile. This church depends on our commitment to it. On choosing this over the many other things that compete for our attention.
There is much good work being done here which is worthy of our investment.
In the meantime, I look forward to the years ahead as our family continues to grow in this community and stand committed to welcoming newcomers who find their way here in the same spirit which we ourselves were welcomed.