In 2003, Allison and I decided we needed a larger house because we hoped to adopt a child. We found a house in the west end, overlooking the Humber River, and moved from Leaside. As Leaside residents, we had gone to St. Cuthbert’s Anglican Church on Bayview, a church Allison had attended as a child. I felt it was too far to go across the city every Sunday, and wanted to look for a church in the neighbourhood. Accordingly, I went to the web and looked up local churches.
I remember little about the St. John’s web site except the photograph at the head of it. Looking down from the balcony on the congregation grouped around the altar, in my memory you had me at the colours; the beautiful vibrant colours of the church. The composition of the group around the altar, the open circle, also conveyed a clear and striking message. The visual said it: here we practice Christianity as the revolution of love the Bible describes. We set out for worship the next Sunday.
I vividly remember two things from our experience coming to St. John’s for the first time. In the pew near us a family had brought an adult son, clearly autistic, and clearly welcomed. The service itself came from the new prayer book; I suspect Fr. Gary, the priest at the time, had a children’s focus, as he almost always did, but I can’t separate that in my memory from children’s events in services I have attended since. My other very clear memory comes after the service, as we gathered for coffee; Evelyn Butler, now Deacon Evelyn, came up to me, welcomed us to St. John’s, and told us, slightly apologetically, members of the church considered themselves “pretty radical”. I remember having two slightly contradictory thoughts: first, I had found a home, and second, the classic “hold my beer.”
Since then, St. John’s has provided us a place for coming home and taking flight, a comforting structure for serving God’s people, going well beyond the walls of the church or indeed the parish boundaries. Our church has also consistently provided examples of an open and loving welcome, from accommodations for the disabled to the affirmation of Black Lives Matter, from the celebrations of Gay marriage to the welcome, and inclusion, of those struggling with housing.
Nearly every Sunday, we recite the doxology: we affirm the power of God, working through the church, can accomplish “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” The human mind does not have much capacity the grasp the infinite, but we can recognize, sometimes, when a sliver of light breaks through, when we glimpse what God’s people can possibly achieve. At their best, all Christian churches allow this light to break through, and hint at what our lives can fully mean, now and in eternity. St. John’s does this through inclusion, through joyful worship, and through service.