Friends, if you’ve been in our sanctuary recently, I hope you’ve noticed our heritage cabinet on our eastern wall, not far from the entry to the atrium. There, our own Charles Sweetman has been gathering mementos, photos, articles, and memories from our history. He has done this with seasonable appropriateness: first Christmas, then Valentine's, then St. Patrick, then Easter, and perhaps more that I missed. His displays have been beautiful, poignant, funny, and profound.
These displays show us a church that is somewhat different than it is today. For years we were a place for social clubs like the Trident and others. We hosted formal dances. We had sports teams that competed around the city. We even looked physically different—that parking lot we compete for space in now? It was tennis courts at one time. That enormous West Assembly Hall room under our sanctuary? It had bowling alleys once. Churches often served then as recreation centres for a whole community. Today, most of us expect the city to provide these services on our tax dollar; then, it was religious institutions that provided public recreation, if it was to be found at all. We are trying to re-create some of this with our outreach efforts in sports today.
I’m also struck that these activities weren’t limited to the narrowly churchly. Church is a place not just to worship God, but to dance. To exercise. To befriend, even to meet and marry. There is no cleanly distinguishable “religious” part of life that can be isolated from the rest of what it means to be human, or vice-versa.
And yet, for all those differences, there are more similarities. We are still Jesus’ people, gathering on St. Clair Avenue, for worship and growth in grace. This worship has high points, mountain tops, in the calendar: Christmas, which says God is with us in our flesh. Easter, which says God conquers death and liberates hell. Those are the events from which flows all else we do.
I am so grateful to Charles for offering his time as a volunteer archivist, not just treasuring our momentos, but carefully and beautifully displaying them for the rest of us to learn from and enjoy. I am hopeful that others will also volunteer our time and energy for ministry: teaching faith to children, organizing calendars, offering inspiration for new ministry, helping us be the invitational presence God longs for at 230 St. Clair Ave. Thank you Charles. And thank you . . . you. Whoever you are, reading this far. How do you want to offer your time, ideas, inspiration, and sweat, to God?