“Hey Jaclyn, we want to do something fun, what should we do?”
I noticed this sort of request to our own Jaclyn Didiano early in my time at TEMC. The staff would be gathered at the church or elsewhere. We’d have time to kill. And Jaclyn would alleviate our boredom. Soon we would be playing some game or icebreaker, something Jaclyn accrued from her years in camping or recreation. Ice would be broken. Laughs laughed. Tears shed. Humans humanized.
You probably know Jaclyn better for her work in our accounting office, where she has long liaised with folks from our church and beyond, especially around donations. She has often been the first port of call for those with pastoral care needs. Ostensibly they’d phoned about a donation envelope, but it turned out they needed prayer, or a pastoral visit. Jaclyn has often made us ministers look good simply by listening with a compassionate ear, and then directing us where to go.
You may not have known that she has extensive experience in community recreation and event planning. Basically, she knows how to gather people in large groups, feed them well, and send them out happier for having been together. Since she has deployed these skills informally for years among our staff, it seemed wise to deploy them more broadly in our church and neighbourhood. If you attended the reception after my covenanting service, you’ve already benefited from Jaclyn’s excellent hosting skills. If you attend Songs of Love and Passion this Friday, you can experience them again.
So in addition to her responsibilities in accounting, Jaclyn has taken on a new role in community engagement. The goal is to gather folks in our space not just for church events or as renters, both of which we will continue to do. We will also again seek to be a hub for community gathering here in Forest Hill. Toronto real estate is a premium as you know, some of the most expensive in the world. Gathering space is also then a premium. And God has gifted us with the equivalent of a city block. The church sits empty entirely too often. We’d like to see it filled with God’s people, neighbours, those not-yet-interested in God, and more. We have asked Jaclyn to do just that as a Director of Community Engagement.
It is an odd distinction to say that the church should only be open for “religious” activities. We once had a bowling alley in what’s now the West Assembly Hall. Our parking lot used to be tennis courts. Churches in Vancouver used to provide swimming pools. In short, churches were recreation centres before we assumed city government should be the sole provider of sweaty entertainment. This allowed folks to start to think of the building as “theirs” before trying a worship service. Someone needs to be in our space more than a handful of times before they’ll consider joining us for worship. We want our neighbours to think of our building as “theirs.” Because it is. It is not just “ours,” to preserve. It is only “ours” to give away. And there is ultimately no divide between things “religious” and “not”—everything belongs to God, from bowling and swimming to prayer and back again.
As I often preach, especially during this series in Exodus, God’s blessings aren’t for God’s people. They are through God’s people, for everybody else. God’s goodness is like the manna in the wilderness. If you try and hoard it, it rots. But if you use it up, God provides more. The gospel is the kind of treasure you can’t have except by giving it away. So too with our other treasures, including our beloved building. It is God’s first, “ours,” second, and only “ours” insofar as we offer it to others.
We are so grateful to Jaclyn for taking on this role. Please pray for her, as you pray for our church generally. We are excited to see what fruit God will bring to birth through this.