St. John’s West Toronto Anglican Church takes pride in its inclusivity, in its welcoming “Open Doors and Open Minds” identity. In my 25-years at St. John’s, I’ve seen many examples of this welcoming inclusivity to the point that it’s almost taken for granted today. However, as our numbers have diminished, our financial stability and very future have been at issue, and as we’ve been more physically distant in recent years, reminders of that welcoming inclusivity have been less apparent. The article elsewhere in this newsletter by Caspian Sawczak, “How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?” provides such a reminder. It focuses on the recent arrival of Bradley, with his guitar and his unique, though perhaps not-all-that-uncommon story of personal struggles, especially with housing, of his personal spirituality, and his need for community and a place to share his music, and the warm welcome he has received. Bradley’s arrival and welcome demonstrated that inclusivity to Caspian, and it also reminded me about it too.
As my research into St. John’s Humberside history shows, that strong identity of welcoming inclusivity can actually be traced to a series of key events, crisis management, and especially to key changes made in our building during the decade from 1983/84 through 1993/94. Indeed, it appears that St. John’s identity of inclusiveness is very much linked to its Humberside home.
“1983 was indeed a year of crisis, challenge and change for St. John’s. As Canon Maurice Poole prepared to retire from his ministry with us, we were all concerned about the future of our church. Some of us viewed the situation as a crisis, others felt there was a challenge to maintain ourselves and we all knew that change was undoubtably upon us.” Such was the first paragraph of the “Warden’s Report” in the 1983 Parish (Vestry) Report. Maurice Poole had led St. John’s with considerable success since Dec. 1964, but during his last years attendance and revenues had declined, an alarming deficit had built up and several costly building issues persisted. A number of factors outside and inside St. John’s, cultural, demographic, economic, and an aging congregation and building, coupled with a comfortable Anglican conservatism, put St. John’s in an uncomfortable position in 1983 as a new Incumbent, Rev. Gordon King, took over.
As Rev. King lived in Scarborough, renting out the Rectory generated some much-needed revenue, and then the sale of the Parish/Church House to the Order of the Holy Cross in early 1985 and the resulting trust fund earnings helped manage some of the outstanding building issues and upgrades, as did the sale of the Rectory in 1986. Addressing the lower attendance and aging congregation required more proactive efforts with internal and external communications. There was also a move from the traditional Book of Common Prayer liturgy to the Book of Alternative Services, coupled with a new altar on a new platform in the nave, moving the service closer to the congregation and welcoming lay members in the service. As was noted in the 1985 Parish Report, Rev. King “guided us through this maze of change and helped us to adjust,” and the Parish list grew. In 1987, with a new Incumbent, Rev. Robert Hagler of the Order of the Holy Cross, there was a new “Reaching Out” initiative. This included providing space for an Alcoholics Anonymous group to meet at St. John’s, as well a partnership with Glendonwyn House, a half-way house for 16-17-year-old boys serving sentences for criminal acts in a more constructive “open-custody” atmosphere.
Moreover, as 1988 began, there was a proposal to convert the St. John’s basement into a day care for some 64 infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers “as a tangible incarnational expression of our ministry and mission in our local community in West Toronto.” Such a ministry to children and parents was vitally needed in the area and the Province and Diocese promised to help in this outreach ministry. A critical part of the renovations was the installation of an elevator in the belltower, thus, as was emphasized in the 1988 Parish (Vestry) Report, making “the church accessible to people who, at present, can only enter with great physical difficulty.” This work was followed in 1989 by “the creation of a trust to allow St John’s to be an umbrella group for families in our parish with special needs children.”
The Rector’s Report for 1989 summed up the recent progress, emphasizing, “For our parish community the 1980s have been a whirlwind experience… One theme and one word seems to being in one way or another a part of all that has happened. That word is INCLUSION.” Rev. Hagler underscored, boldened and capitalized that key word as he looked forward to the new decade, during which St. John’s identity of inclusivity would continue to develop, as will be recounted in Part 2 in a forthcoming newsletter.
Contact Christopher Rutty – email@example.com – with your historical contributions in support of the SJWT-100th, and to volunteer to help out with Doors Open Toronto, as well other special activities and events being planned to celebrate St. John’s 100 years on Humberside.
To learn more about St. John’s rich history, visit: sjwt.ca/100th