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Street United, Toronto, Canada
Street United, Toronto, Canada.
United Church of Canada.
A Gothic Revival church designed by architect William R. Gregg,
noted for his several churches in the Toronto area and elsewhere,
and completed in 1888. It features a stone exterior, a slate
shingle roof, and two steeples topped with green spires. The
front entrance was demolished when Bloor Street was widened
in 1927; the main entrance is now from the side. In 1954, renovations
were underway when a huge fire broke out, destroying most of
the sanctuary. The rebuilt sanctuary is done in beech and plaster,
giving the space a clean, fresh look. There are two sets of
stained glass windows: the narthex windows, consisting of nine
panels representing the church union movement in Canada; and
the great south window, depicting the ecumenical movement in
the world. Above the chancel are a large Celtic cross and a
sculpture, High Anxiety, which looks like the skeleton
of a boat suspended mid-air. To the side of the building is
a small park, a rare patch of green space in downtown Toronto.
Their several ministries are well documented on their website,
including aid to orphans in Africa and help for newcomers to
Toronto. They are in the midst of a major redevelopment project,
including plans to overhaul the building space, host the new
headquarters of the United Church of Canada, and potentially
erect a condo tower.
The church is located directly in between Spadina and St George
subway stations, making it very easy to get to from just about
anywhere in Toronto.
The Revd Martha ter Kuile, Minister of Worship, Pastoral Care
and Faith Formation.
The date & time:
Sunday, 6 May 2012, 10.30am. [Editor's note: This report was
filed on 10 July 2012.]
What was the name of the
Worship Service and Congregational Lunch Redevelopment
Kick-Off Meeting with B+H Architects.
How full was the building?
The sanctuary can seat almost 1200 people (800 seats with unobstructed
viewing), but there were only about 100 people in the congregation,
mostly seated in the centre pews, with a smattering of people
in the balcony. The congregation were decidedly approaching
retirement age, with a handful of younger folks.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter welcomed me and handed me a service bulletin as I
walked in. He also invited me to have a pre-service tea or coffee.
As it says in the bulletin: "We prefer our churchgoers
to be awake!"
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden bench pew, but what I really appreciated was that there was a box of tissues in each pew. Whether you’re tearing up from being emotionally moved during the service or simply suffering from seasonal allergies, they’ve got you covered!
How would you describe the pre-service
Some people simply flipped through their bulletins waiting for
the service to begin, and others caught up with friends about
their week, but most of the chit-chat took place in the narthex.
What were the exact opening words of the
"On a day when we might have slept in, we are here."
I had to stifle a laugh; the sentiment is very true! It’s the
first line from a call to worship in the United Church lectionary.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Voices United, the hymn and worship book of the United
Church of Canada.
What musical instruments
Over the course of the service we heard piano, organ, guitar,
recorder, tambourine and choir.
Did anything distract
I was honestly so excited about the redevelopment kick-off meeting that I could hardly sit still!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
There was a mix of traditional choral/organ music and folkier
styles. But everything was rendered with your typical churchy
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
3 The Revd Martha ter Kuile used some rather flowery
language and was sometimes vague. She made four main points,
none of which were substantiated, nor did they tie together
to produce a cohesive message.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Her text was Acts 8:26-40 (Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian
eunuch). Her four points were: (1) let go of your plans and
see where the Spirit takes you; (2) assume the one you encounter
might know more than you do; (3) understand that everyone’s
spiritual longing is personal; and (4) once the connection has
been made, let it unfold in its own unique way.
Which part of the service was like being in
The congregational meeting with the architects. Two principals
from the firm made a presentation about the steps involved in
the design process. They then asked the congregation to break
into small groups to complete questionnaires about their vision
of the church today and for the future. Hearing everyone’s suggestions
impressed upon me how much this congregation cares about its
members and the surrounding neighbourhood.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hearing that the pastoral care coordinator position is going
to be cut because of budget constraints. Sad day indeed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The minister was waiting at the back of the sanctuary to shake
hands with everyone on the way out. She invited me to join the
congregation for their monthly after-service lunch. But while
I stood in line for the buffet, no one tried to talk to me.
After filling my plate, I stood around hoping that people would
ask me to join their table, but no one did, so I asked a couple
if I could join them. Once I started talking with people, they
were really quite friendly and interesting, but they just needed
that initial push.
How would you describe the after-service
The lunch was broadly Asian and entirely vegetarian, with fried
vermicelli noodles, spring rolls, salad, and sautéed vegetables.
The flavours were pretty bland, but it wasn’t half-bad. There
was also your typical church coffeehouse selection: loaf cake,
fruit, nuts, and baklava.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I really enjoyed the sense of community at this church,
and with the redevelopment plans just getting underway, it would
obviously be exciting to be part of this congregation. But the
preaching and the worship left much to be desired.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
The service itself didn’t make me feel either way, but the congregational meeting afterwards did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hearing everyone’s suggestions for the new building. I will
definitely be interested to see the final designs.
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