The congregation of St. Mary and St. Martha is living up to its name, says the priest-in-charge of the diocese’s newest church. “There is a wonderful combination of spirited devotion and discipleship with a ministry of hospitality and welcome,” says the Rev. Beth Benson.
That was on full display at the church’s inaugural service on Oct. 11, when 145 people gathered for worship and to celebrate the long-awaited beginning of their new parish. On the following Sunday, the church held a potluck lunch that drew another large crowd.
“I was touched by the hymnody and prayerfulness of that first service,” says Ms. Benson. “People were singing from their hearts.”
St. Mary and St. Martha – a name that is unique in the diocese – is an amalgamation of four former churches in Toronto’s north-west corner – the Church of the Advent, the Church of the Good Shepherd, St. David’s on Lawrence Avenue and St. John, Weston. The congregation is worshipping in the building of the former Church of the Good Shepherd, located at 1149 Weston Rd.
For many, the first service also contained another key ingredient – people. Many had come from dwindling congregations that had been struggling to keep up their mission and ministry.
“After the service, people were coming up to me and saying, ‘We haven’t worshipped in a congregation anything near this size for many years,’” says Ms. Benson. “They’re starting to feel again what it is like to be part of a big family.”
Sandra Lewis, one of the churchwardens, says the service reminded her of the large Christmas Eve services back in her native Grenada. “I couldn’t remember the last time I saw so many people in church,” she says. “The hymns were wonderful. It was like – we Anglicans can sing!”
Ms. Benson says the transformation of four congregations into one is like the birthing process, where time and patience are essential. “All the ingredients are here; we just need care and patience for each other to create the space for this birth to happen. I know there’s a real desire for it.”
To help with the transition, the church has incorporated some things from the former parishes into its worship. It uses a candle stand and some vestments from the Church of the Advent, sacred vessels and linen from the Church of the Good Shepherd, and a processional cross from St. John’s.
The church will stay at its current location for the foreseeable future. It plans to sell the rectory belonging to the former Church of the Good Shepherd to pay for renovations to the building. The future of the three former church properties has yet to be decided. Bishop Philip Poole, the area bishop of York-Simcoe, is in discussions with the parish, the diocese and city planners.
Ms. Benson says that despite some early growing pains, St. Mary and St. Martha has an exciting future. “I am privileged to serve alongside what God is doing in this part of the diocese. The best days are yet to come.”