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Avenue Baptist, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Ossington Avenue Baptist, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, Toronto
Itís a brick building with some Gothic Revival attributes,
such as the ogival arched windows and the decorative buttresses
on the east side. The most noticeable feature of the church
from the outside is the LED board that faces diagonally into
the intersection with the service times. Genius.
They are in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood not too far
from Koreatown, so I assumed that I would be sitting in a
mixed congregation with a Korean pastor. Wrong! I found out
when I walked in that the congregation are predominantly black.
I think that many are Jamaican in heritage, based on the several
references to Jamaica during the service. When the pastor
asked if there were any visitors (I was the only one), I silently
willed myself to blend in so I wouldnít have to stand up and
introduce myself to the congregation. It didnít work; Iím
The church is located at the corner of Bloor Street and Ossington
Avenue, directly across from the Ossington subway station.
This area has historically been an ethnically diverse community,
with large Portuguese, Italian, and Ethiopian populations.
However, more recently, the neighbourhood has been infiltrated
by hipsters and is becoming rapidly gentrified.
The Revd Anthony Chung, pastor.
The date & time:
Sunday, April 15, 2012, 11.00am.
What was the name of
Family Worship Service.
How full was the building?
About half full. Iíd estimate that there were 100-150 people
in the congregation, primarily older people and young families.
Did anyone welcome you
I was welcomed by a greeter when I entered the sanctuary but
was confused when he didnít hand me a bulletin. It turned
out the bulletins werenít ready yet, which led to a bit of
a mad dash for them when they finally arrived right as the
service was beginning.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was your basic bench pew. Since the church was only about
half full, there was plenty of room to put my bag and jacket
beside me, as well as to lay out my bulletin, notebook, and
Bible. Thatís right, I like to claim my territory.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
There was lots of chatting, and a few people were roaming
around the sanctuary saying hi to their friends. People definitely
know one another in this church, and as an unfamiliar face,
I got a lot of head-turns when I walked in. A few people welcomed
me, but most people just looked at me with curiosity until
the pastor invited me to introduce myself during the service.
My presence then became somehow sanctioned, and everyone rushed
to shake my hand during the greetings.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good morning, friends. Greetings to you all in the name
of Jesus, the Lord and Risen One."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
None. There were copies of the The Holy Bible, King James
Version, and the Hymnal for Worship and Celebration
in each pew, but we never used them. Scripture readings and
song lyrics were displayed on the PowerPoint instead.
What musical instruments
Officially, piano, drums, and a 15-person choir. Iíd say that
there were soloists, but really, I just mean that everyone
in the choir was singing the melody but some people got microphones.
Unofficially (I think), a tambourine and a cabasa (another
small hand percussion instrument) seemed to appear out of
nowhere in the congregation.
Did anything distract
This congregation definitely put on their Sunday best every
week: the men were in suits and ties, and the women wore hats
that could rival the headgear youíd see at the Royal Ascot.
I spent a lot of time marveling at their hats.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
The music consisted largely of contemporary praise and worship
songs, such as "Here I Am to Worship", "Trading
My Sorrows", and "My Redeemer Lives." The band
did its best to capture the energy and spirit of this music,
but the results were pretty square. I was confused about the
role of the choir: since everyone was just singing the melody,
it didnít seem necessary to have so many people up there,
especially when those who werenít "soloists" mostly
just stood around looking blasť. Fortunately, their listless
attitude did not rub off on the congregation, who sang enthusiastically
and tried to clap along to the music or whipped out
their own instruments. Thereís a common perception that black
people have a better sense of rhythm, but the congregation
here were charmingly incapable of finding the beat. Based
on my experiences at other churches, I think that Christians
of all stripes just have a horrible sense of rhythm.
Exactly how long was
37 minutes in itself, 43 minutes including the video clip
of "We Fall Down" that Pastor Anthony played at
the end of his sermon. Thatís six whole minutes of Donnie
McClurkin singing ad nauseam, "We fall down, but we get
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
7 The pastor used the usual three-point sermon structure,
which was clearly outlined on the PowerPoint, but every point
had subpoints and subpoints within subpoints, which made his
sermon very long. Nonetheless, his sermon was easy to follow,
and every point had both a scriptural reference and an application,
which I appreciated.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "You Can Begin Again: Rise Up,
Return, and Be Restored." It was a discussion of the
concept of personal resurrection using the parable of the
prodigal son. The basic outline is that we need to (1) recognize
when and from where we have fallen, (2) forsake our present
state and accept the consequences of our fall, and (3) accept
Godís forgiveness and advance beyond our past failures. Pretty
basic stuff, but he managed to make it sound fresh, and I
certainly found it applicable to my own life.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Everything about the service was very heartfelt. The singing
wasnít pitch-perfect, and the sermon was a bit unwieldy, but
you could tell that it was all done with faith and joy. The
congregation was also clearly in tune with the pastor, and
there were frequent nods of "Amen" throughout the
service. It was a true community of believers.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
By the time the sermon started, we were already an hour into
the service. I had a dreading feeling at this point that the
sermon would be long, but I had no idea how long. It felt
even longer than it actually was because I was hungry, I was
going to be late for my brunch plans, and I badly needed to
visit the facilities. The service clocked in at two full hours
(even without communion), and I made a beeline for the washroom
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
The bulletin specifically asked that we "remain seated
in prayerful meditation during the musical postlude."
However, no one seemed to pay
attention to this request, and everyone began immediately
buzzing about afterwards. People crowded around to greet me
and invited me to come back, and one woman made sure I knew
that there were refreshments in the Sunday school hall downstairs.
Several people came by to chat with me while I was waiting
in line for snacks or nibbling on them afterwards. They seemed
really excited to have a visitor.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The offerings were abundant. Iíve never seen such a large
buffet of after-service snacks at any church: cheese, crackers,
fruit, baked goods, candy, beef patties. (I could definitely
get used to the beef patties.) There was also a choice of
tea and "church juice", which the server joked was
made from a secret recipe. Letís be honest: it was probably
just a mix of every juice that happened to be on sale at the
supermarket that week, but it tasted delicious.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
5 I enjoyed the sermon and found there was a strong
sense of community, but the service was way too long, and
I felt like too much of a novelty item as someone who doesnít
fit into the general demographic of the congregation.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! The service was a heartfelt, joyful expression of faith,
and the congregation seems like a real community.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Finding out that the Reverend Anthony Chung is not only not
Asian, but is a black man. Oh, boy!
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