Black History Sunday at St. Paul L’Amoreaux, Toronto, is a momentous occasion to celebrate the diversity of God’s kingdom that is reflected in the Anglican Church. It is an especially poignant time for the church to celebrate the presence of African-Canadians, who are so important to our history, and a reminder of where we need the constant reconciliation of Christ.
The history of slavery and segregation in the past, in addition to societal suspicions and poor treatment by the police in the present, continue to be reminders that there is still much room for healing. While the Anglican Church in the past has often been complicit in the negative treatment of black people, Black History Sunday is a time to recognize the deep importance of the spirituality and commitment to Christ that so many black people have to offer.
At St. Paul L’Amoreaux, a large proportion of the congregation is of West Indian or African heritage. Celebrating Black History Sunday is a joyous occasion of music, with a full steel pan band, a contemporary music group, a junior and senior choir, and an “angel” choir of very young children. All participated in the celebration on Feb. 19, and the preacher was the Rev. Vernal Savage, OHC, of St. Peter, Scarborough. In his homily, he touched on systemic racism that often pervades the community and the wider church, even in multicultural Toronto. He urged the Anglican Church to accept its role in systemic racism and to begin the process of repentance that will lead to reconciliation. In so doing, the Anglican Church can find reconciliation between all the races.
“Black History Sunday is an important part of St. Paul’s,” says the Rev. Canon Dean Mercer, incumbent. “It is now one of the four or five largest services of the year.” He notes that the West Indian community comprises the largest community in the parish.
Singer Delicia Raveenthrarajan performed an original solo piece. “One Word” was commissioned by the “Me to We” program and she was sent to perform it at the opening of a new high school in Kenya this past December. It contained the powerful lyrics, “There are obstacles that seem impossible/But with strength in numbers we are unstoppable/Who’s to judge what we can and cannot do.”
After the celebration of the Eucharist, a moving and dramatic reading of quotes from the letters and speeches of Nelson Mandela, arranged by Ian Stuart, was read, reminding everyone of the struggle that he went through for decades during apartheid rule in South Africa. There were quotes such as, “Reconciliation is central to that vision that moved millions of men and women to risk all, including their lives.” The readings showed how his Christian values informed his deep desire to see reconciliation between the black and white people of that country. It was a reminder that the fight for equality can be done in non-violent ways that respect the humanity of people on each side of the conflict.
“The world has come to St. Paul’s,” says Canon Mercer. “In Christ, we are all stronger and richer as a result.”
Robert Knetsch is a member of St. Paul L’Amoreaux, Toronto.