This is two short articles, the first by Ruth, the second by me, reflecting on our visit to some of the “religious” venues that were part of Doors Open Toronto. Written on June 7th, 2007
A Saturday in Toronto
Doors Open Ontario is fast becoming our favourite annual free tourist attraction. Many cities and towns on different dates have a variety of businesses, heritage buildings and whatnot welcome the nosy, non-paying public into their turf. There are tours, refreshments, freebies, long line-ups and people to talk to while you wait. Like Disney World, only free. Altogether very fun.
For example, this year we included a few churches on our list and it was really interesting to see, virtually side by side, such different worship styles and histories and infrastructures all dedicated to the exact same purpose.
One was established in Scarborough in 1969 and has grown to a weekly attendance of about 2000. They started with a small building and then moved into their custom built current home, a 3 story, gleaming white 53,000 square footer. It comprises a huge central room with an enclosed balcony, kitchens and offices and 13 classrooms for the J.K. to Grade 12 school that also occupies space in a converted industrial unit just across the 200 space parking lot and two story parking structure. For Doors Open, they had an impressive array of pamphlets and tracts laying out their core beliefs on everything from family, to doctrine, to women (all rather conservative.) Dress is very traditional There was a looping Powerpoint presentation animating their basic beliefs and a video showing activities and programs. Inside, the school halls were decorated with the artwork of the students (flowers and rainbows, for the most part) and, of course, outside there was the inevitable architectural distinctive, 125 feet high. Very plush carpets, large library, gym.
The other stood somewhat in contrast. A younger congregation who meet in a former community center, they average about 50 each week, and there’s no plush carpet or library. No school, either. This is a group who’ve set out on their own because they have more ‘progressive’ views (especially around the issue of women. Yes, you. You’re an issue.) and a more relaxed ‘worship style’. There’s more freedom with respect to visual arts and our guide was quick to point out the symbolism of the changes they’d made to their space. Dress is relaxed and sharing meals is very important. We were invited to join them any time. The first group, while friendly, were more focused on their building and programs and the second, in my opinion, more inviting and welcoming. I told Paul as we were leaving that, given the choice between the two, I would definitely choose the second, smaller, more ‘emergent’ group.
Oh, wait. I just spotted a typo. Up there, where I typed “churches”, see it? I should have spelled it “mosques”. (Insert gasp here.)
All in all it was quite an eye-opener. The changing face of Canada, a multiplicity of spiritualities, bla bla bla.
But this is what I would like to ask you. Just a poser. Something to think about.
Would you, given the opportunity, ever visit a mosque? Do you, given the opportunity, ever visit a Christian church that is different from yours? Different in name? Different in doctrine? More progressive? More liberal? Why not? Where do you draw your own boundary lines?
Toronto Saturday, Take Two
The kids had been asking a lot of questions about comparative religion lately. I guess a picture is worth a thousand words. I should point out that earlier in the day we also visited the largest Hindu Temple in all of Canada. The temple itself is actually under construction and when the grand opening happens in July, you can count on extensive media coverage.
I think that from my perspective, the striking feature was how nice everybody was at both mosques and the mandir (temple). Without actually using the words “salt and light” one of our guides indicated that they are trying to be a positive influence in their sphere of influence so that people are compelled to inquire about their faith. Our tours focused on the forms of worship, not dogmas or doctrines. No question was left unanswered.
I started wondering what would happen if I were asked to give someone a tour of our church. Would I feel that I needed to include a presentation of the gospel message? Would I invite them to join us on Sunday?
But mostly, would I come across as a nice person? (Those of you who know me well can insert your caustic remark here.) Would my 20-minute tour compel them to want to know more about the tenets of Christianity?
By the way, if you’re looking for the faith system that has the most comfortable chairs, the Hindu temple wins. If you’re looking for the best food, the mosque is the place to be. If you’re looking for something to commit to, both systems require extensive commitment as well as learning another language. (I can no longer help my kids with their French Immersion homework, and after taking a dozen Spanish lessons on Saturday mornings this winter, it still takes me about 15 minutes to slide back into the language.)
But if you’re looking for “grace” don’t go to either place. They don’t understand it. Their system doesn’t have it. The doctrine that sets us apart is the concept of God’s grace.
How sweet the sound.
– Paul Wilkinson