The congregation of St. Peter and St. Simon the Apostle has only been worshipping together for a few weeks, but its members are already finding new joy in downtown Toronto.
“It feels stronger, it feels enthusiastic, it feels prayerful, worshipful and quite celebratory,” says the Rev. Geoffrey Sangwine, priest-in-charge. “Any change can be a bit unsettling because it’s new, but generally the feeling is very positive and very hopeful.”
The parish celebrated its first official service on Oct. 30, with Bishop Patrick Yu as the celebrant and preacher. The congregation was also joined by San Lorenzo Ruiz, a Filipino Anglican community that worships in the same building on Sunday afternoons. “We had the youth group from San Lorenzo use traditional gongs to bring up the offertory, our choir sang glorious music, and it was really quite wonderful,” says Mr. Sangwine.
The partnership between St. Peter, Carlton St. and St. Simon-the-Apostle unfolded over many months of discussion and prayer, and the congregations worshipped together twice last summer. “The first Sunday in August, we went up to St. Simon’s and joined them in their service to welcome Geoff. Then they came down here on the last Sunday in August, and for our last service in October,” says the Rev. Jeanette Lewis, former incumbent of St. Peter’s who now serves as associate priest in the new parish.
The amalgamated congregation is worshipping at the former St. Simon’s, near Bloor and Sherbourne streets. Dixon Hall Neighbourhood Services, an agency that provides a variety of social services in the neighbourhood, is in discussions with the diocese about leasing the St. Peter’s building.
Ms. Lewis says that many members of St. Peter’s were sad to leave their 150-year-old building, but the congregation decided to focus on its people instead. “It’s
more important that the family stay together and continue to be church,” she says. “For a lot of people, this is their only family.”
As members of the new church get to know each other, Mr. Sangwine says their shared way forward will be grounded in worship. “The major focus is worship, and us being a worshipping community together,” he says. “I think worship is our primary reason for being.”
The worship style and structure of the services will be decided over the coming months, involving people from both churches. “There are a lot of little things that will have to be taken into account,” says Ms. Lewis. “Everyone will have to consider that now half the congregation is different than they are.”
The parish is already finding common ground in its shared commitment to social justice and outreach ministries, particularly in the St. James Town neighbourhood. “The needs in downtown Toronto are immense, and it’s going to take us time and energy to see what ministry needs there are – and courage, I expect, too,” says Mr. Sangwine. “We have to be careful not to do everything, and to let God’s gift of time help us through this so that things can begin to happen organically.”
The church also shares a commitment to refugee resettlement, something it is planning to explore further in the coming months. “Our refugee group has really expanded and has lots of interest in doing much more. We’ve just sponsored a refugee who arrived this summer, and now we’re looking at next steps,” says Mr. Sangwine.
As members of St. Peter and St. Simon the Apostle continue to consider new ideas and grow together, Mr. Sangwine says he sees excitement for the future of the new community. “We’ve seen a much fuller church, and that gives people a lot of hope and enthusiasm looking ahead,” he says. “It’s just amazing what more people can do, and new people, new ideas, a fresh look at things.”