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The Honourable Rev. David MacDonald, Very Rev. Lois Wilson and Very Rev. Bill Phipps share a laugh at the recent Heart and Vision reception in Toronto. Photo by Carolyn Pogue

Celebrating a church

A birthday, an anniversary and a social justice concert

By Carolyn Pogue

I’m always up for a celebration. Last week in Toronto, I had three of them: family, congregation and national church, all celebrating social justice. For all the reasons there are to hibernate and let the world go by, there are always more to strike up the band. And we did.

My husband, Bill Phipps, and I flew to Toronto to celebrate his sister Elda Thomas’s 75th birthday. At her party, her grandson Rhian Wolsing, 21, thanked her for being the best grandmother, for support “no matter what I did,” and for setting an example by acting for social justice. We all celebrated Elda’s life’s work, for which the Governor General has given her the Caring Canadian Award. She has given her professional and volunteer life to walking with people most of us would rather not think about, let alone help: inmates and former inmates. Some of “her guys” still keep in touch after 20 years. Elda is a member at Trinity-St. Paul’s United in Toronto.

Bill also attended myriad meetings in Toronto and preached at Trinity-St. Paul’s, a congregation he served in the 1970s and ’80s. What fun to see old friends there, to reconnect with family and to hear fabulous music from the Fallis family. We were celebrating 100 years of the Stinson family at Trinity-St. Paul’s. Bill’s and Elda’s grandparents, Elda and Fred Stinson, joined this congregation a century ago. Their parents were married in that old Bloor Street sanctuary. Bill conducted his mother’s funeral, baptized his two children and blessed his daughter’s wedding there. Last week on Mother’s Day, he sat on the floor with his daughter Sarah Phipps and granddaughter Kate Phipps Chong, both members, and talked with the children about church families. The sermon that followed, “This is Our Time,” was classic Phipps: passionate preaching. He said, “I believe that this is our time. However beleaguered and marginal we may feel, this is the time for communities of faith to shine and to contribute to the common good.”

Three days later, we were at Metropolitan United for the third annual “Heart and Vision: A musical celebration of The United Church of Canada’s commitment to social justice.” It’s an awesome thing, and fairly rare, to be with nearly 1,000 members of my tribe. I loved it.

The Toronto United Church Council hosted Heart and Vision. The concert paid tribute to Very Rev. Lois Wilson, wise and witty as ever, and musician Gordon Lightfoot. They were honoured for having “raised their uniquely powerful voices for those who are marginalized and vulnerable.” The evening also raised funds for five United Church camps in southern Ontario. In addition to Lightfoot, musicians Monica Schroeder, Yvan Pedneault, Jackie Richardson, and Richard and Lauren Margison raised the roof with folk, pop, spiritual and opera numbers. Actors/comedians Deb McGrath and Colin Mochrie emceed. Awesome. Reconnecting with old and new friends at the reception left me feeling reinvigorated for the work ahead and deeply grateful for people who work for justice in the United Church. There’s nothing like a good celebration. Except, maybe, three of them.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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