Saturday, August 09, 2008

And It Feels Like Home

It's summer in "T-dot" and that means Danifesto has been making the most of it! Toronto has lots of festivals in the summertime (one of the biggest of course being Pride). I love walking through our 'hood, seeing the Filipino men clustered around little tables playing card games, the blankets laden with "treasures" outside Food for Less , and the fruit and vegetable stand where everything is sold for a "toonie."

As you many (or may not) have noticed in my previous posts, lately I've been making church attendance more of a priority in my life. After being extremely active in the small town church in Kansas, I moved to Korea and sporatically attended a variety of churches. My main issue at the time was that I didn't feel like I was able to bring my whole self to the worship service. Most English-speaking churches in Seoul were/are fairly conservative. Talking this over with a Korean friend of mine, he said something that stuck with me. After hearing my litany of issues, he replied "Well that may be true, but you know who you are."

At the time it seemed really condescending but later that statement kept rolling around in my head. (Perhaps God was speaking through him to get to me?) Who I am is a person who goes to church and has most of his life. My father was a minister (ABC-USA) and now is a chaplain at a hospital in Kansas. So all my developmental years were spent immersed in the church, its music, its rituals, its seasons and holidays. Most of my childhood memories revolve around church-related events (Vacation Bible School, camp, men's breakfasts, sunrise services, Christmas plays, potluck dinners, candlelight vigils, sing-a-longs, Maundy Thursday services, Sunday school).

This is why going back to church on a regular weekly basis has meant so much to me. First of all, it's a church that's "a house of prayer for all people" (This is written on the front under the pipe organ- taken from Isaiah 56:7). Everyone is welcomed, not just tolerated. Also, there is no creed that you are required to believe in. They have bedrock beliefs that you are asked to affirm (be aware of) but I was surprised to discover that not everyone agrees with them. It's been a challenge for me to interact with others like this because I excel at making distinctions between myself and others. I had assumed that one's church should agree with everything you believe in and vice versa. But I see now that there's no room for growth in this paradigm- on my part nor in the church's. I liked the metaphor of a mountain that has many paths leading up to the top. The paths may start out far apart but all end up in the same place.

The demographics of my church are also interesting. According to the minister (a former Baptist who went to an Anglican seminary), the majority of church members are former Roman Catholics. The second largest group are former United Church of Christ members. These two major groups were followed by Anglicans (16%) and those we term "unchurched" (6%). Intriguingly enough however, now these last two groups have switched places with a rise in people who have no previous church experience. Over 30 ethnic backgrounds are represented with over 20 countries reported as a place of birth. More than 20 different languages are spoken. Surprisingly, given the origins of this church, the population of the church that identify as heterosexual is 15% and growing.

I've been asked why this church is experiencing growth (an average Sunday attendance of almost 600 with 4K at the Christmas Eve service). I would guess this would be due to the attractiveness of progressive (liberal) theology. Additionally the worship style is both traditional yet dynamic at the same time. There numerous active groups committed to social justice, helping the poor, sick, the church upkeep and worship etc. I think the main reason that this church is so popular is word of mouth. It's a place that people are proud of and enjoy telling others about. New people come to see what it's all about and feel a sense of home and belonging.

Last month, when the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto celebrated it's thirty-fifth anniversary, it seemed somehow fitting that soon I would be celebrating the same number of years. I thank God for sending me to this place and hope that both of us will continue to grow old together!

1 comment:

Jolie said...

I can see why this church is growing. It's attractive to me as an 'unchurched' person from all you have told me about it. Side note: unchurched is such a funny label for people who are attending church. I would think they would have a better title for such folks.

You are definitely doing your 'word of mouth' part. I'm glad you have such great reasons to advertise this church. I wish you many happy years there.