On Sunday, October 1, Rev. Deana Dudley delivered a powerful Lesson for Life of thanks and celebration in honour of the reopening of our beloved Sanctuary following a two-month renovation.
“Well, Welcome Home!
It’s good to be home in our sanctuary, and I hope you feel the gratitude and the joy!
Today marks Homecoming and for our MCC Toronto family, this Homecoming has double significance: not only because we’re seeing many of our members and congregants returning to Service after a summer break, or returning after Covid, or coming for the first time, but because today we’re returning to our beloved Sanctuary following the most significant sanctuary improvements in over 30 years.
Look around. Walls and ceilings repaired. Floors and walls painted. New handrails on the chancel. New lighting under the mezzanine.
And look up – those are what are known as Big Ass Fans. I’m not being cheeky – that’s actually the name of the company that built them. Seriously, they have that name on their trucks, with a picture of a donkey. And I will note that we had installed Big Ass fans in the Social Hall, and they’ve been working really well over the summer, and if you look carefully, these fans in our Sanctuary are almost TWICE the size of the ones in the Social Hall.
For which I personally say, hallelujah! All of these improvements speak not only to the strength of our love for God and for this community, but to the strength of our family, our community, and our connectedness to each other. You need to know that all of these improvements were made possible by donations to our Congregational Campaign in support of our ELEVATION Campaign. Galvanized and inspired by a matching gift provided by Anne Brayley & Nanette Sanson and Andrew Fleming & Roger Keglevich, and led by Campaign Co-Chairs Lori Boyce & Jennifer Alexander and Doug Kerr & Michael Went, YOU, our members and congregants, stepped forward with gifts totaling almost $170,000.
And we are so grateful.
YOU did this. We did this together. That’s the only way we could have done it. On the wall behind the Sound Booth there’s a mock-up of a Dedication Plaque listing the names of all the donors who contributed to this historic effort.
In the weeks ahead it’ll be replaced by a permanent plaque that’ll serve as a testament in perpetuity to the generosity and strength of our MCC Toronto community on this day, October 1, 2023. And also, I’d be remiss if I failed to acknowledge John Farrell, our Senior Director of Development and Communications, who led the fundraising effort over the past 5 years, Santiago Arias, our Interim Facilities Manager, who oversaw this Sanctuary project and our dearest former facilities manager Mark Asselin whose spirit lives on in every aspect of these improvements, and finally all of you – who have bided your time and been patient through this renovation project.
And now, it feels pretty good, doesn’t it?
Can I get an Amen?
It feels good to come home again. And the celebration is going to continue over the next few weeks, as we install some new things, and re-install a few old things. We have some more plaques to go up, and there’ll be something special going on with the chapel later this months.
And you might even notice that our altar cross looks a little different at the moment; that’s because even our crosses are also undergoing a little renovation. But that’s a sermon for a different day. For today, we celebrate! The verses from scripture that Tommy and I read – good job, Tommy, by the way, thank you – speak of the people of God celebrating great things. And they speak of homecoming.
Homecoming into the sanctuary of God, and homecoming into the land after the people of Israel had been in exile, in bondage in Babylon.
So the people that Isaiah was talking to were on their way home. They had been in exile in Babylon for 70 years. Now, I’m not saying the Social Hall was Babylon. I think the McCain Family Social Hall is way, way nicer than Babylon. And the people of Israel were coming home, and rededicating the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem.
A rebuilt sanctuary?
Anyone remember my sermon last week, about holy places?
The temple in Jerusalem was their holiest place, the place where they knew the presence of God. For them, it was a vital place of gathering in God’s name. It was more than a building, it was a sanctuary for spiritual growth, and holy celebration, and connection to one another and to God. Sound like anyplace you know? It was a shelter for the broken-hearted. It was a safe haven in times of trouble. It was the place they had yearned for, a place to experience the love and grace of God, to be embraced by God in homecoming. Like what we have here. And, like what we have here, it was a place of inclusion, a house of prayer for all people.
It’s good to have a home. What does it feel like to come home? What’s it like to go home at the end of a long hard day? It’s supposed to be a soft spot to land. What a privilege that is! To have a home. That’s one of the reasons we as a church do the refugee work we do. So that others might find a safe place, a soft place to land at the end of a long hard journey.
So for those of us who have the grace and privilege of a home, whether it’s where we live or where we come here to connect with God and one another, we need to know that we are so blessed for a purpose. We’re blessed to be a blessing. We create that place for one another. There’s no point in us having this lovely big building, other than to use it to make the world a better place. It’s been the history of MCC Toronto over the past 50 years continually to find ways to express the unconditional love of God in justice-making for others. I’ve said it before, and you’ll probably hear me say it over and over again: Justice is what love looks like in public. Love’s not just a nice feeling; it’s a calling to serve others. When you love, you want the best for the object of your love, and you work for the well-being of the people god loves, the people we are commanded to love, in other words – all people. It’s a calling to make a home, a house of prayer for all people. And we’ve been working towards that calling for the past 50 years, and today we rededicate this place, and ourselves, to continue to fulfill that calling, with the help of God.
Can I get an Amen?
There’s an southern American author, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote a couple of books:
“You Can’t Go Home Again” and “Look Homeward, Angel.”
You might suspect that homecomings were a recurring theme for him, and you’d be right.
One of the things he wrote was:
“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood …back home to a young person’s dreams of glory and of fame …
back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting,
but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
So homecoming is a nostalgic thing, but it’s also an ephemeral thing. And nostalgia can be a powerful force, leading us to reflect on our past, and appreciate our history and the blessings we’ve received, but we need to be aware that things are always changing.Like it says on the Queen Street bridge:
This river I step in is not the river I stand in. It’s a quote from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose theory of meaning was that things are never static, things are always changing. So when Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” it wasn’t literally true, but it was true in the sense that things never stay the same.
Everything is ever changing, but we do not fear change. We embrace it, because we have a solid foundation that does NOT change like we sang a few minutes ago: a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace
Here the love of God shall end divisions: all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. In some ways, this sanctuary is our old, beloved place. And in other ways, it’s a new day, new tasks to take on, new fights for human rights, new people to share our blessings with.
Everything is ever changing, and it’s up to us to make sure that we and the world are changed for good. Amen.
Will you pray with me? If you feel comfortable, extend your hands in an act of blessing, as together we re-dedicate this sanctuary, and ourselves, to the high calling of sharing the unconditional love and the transformative justice of God with the world. Ever living, ever loving God, We gather before You today with hearts full of gratitude as we come to rededicate this sacred space to your work of love & justice in the world.
We acknowledge that this church building is more than just bricks and mortar; it is a place where Your presence dwells, where Your unconditional love is proclaimed, and where Your people come together in connection with you and with one another. God we know that over time, the physical structure of this church may have aged and weathered, but your love and care remain unwavering. As we rededicate this sanctuary, we also rededicate ourselves to Your service, that we might help bring about your dominion on earth as it is in heaven. We pray for Your continued blessing upon us and upon this place, that it may always be a beacon of hope, a source of comfort, a sanctuary of peace for all who enter, and a place from which justice flows down like a mighty river. We thank You, loving God, for the ways in which you have guided us for these 50 years, for the rich history of this church and for the countless lives that have been touched and transformed within these old walls. As we rededicate this sanctuary, we look forward with faith and anticipation to the new chapter You are writing for us.
In all your many names, AMEN.”