parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

June 2018



On May 8, I once again attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast here in Ottawa. All the usual dignitaries were in attendance, including the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition. However, I ran into someone who had sat at a neighbouring table to mine six years ago when I received a text message regarding the fire at Parkdale United on May 1, 2012. (see below for more details) For some reason, after speaking with him my mind gravitated to the bold and engaged conversation that 60 Parkdalers had on May 5 at our recent congregational visioning morning. I was so impressed by the engagement, openness, enthusiasm and wisdom displayed regarding Parkdale’s past, present and future.

I was reminded of the Messenger article that I wrote in the aftermath of the 2012 fire and am sharing it again with you. It is interesting how a number of the themes that emerged at the visioning session on May 5 are in some way anticipated in this six-year old reflection.




Tragedy Yielding



Potentially tragic “near misses” can often be occasions to more intentionally ponder life, priorities and that which we take for granted. I think that the fire here at Parkdale United on May 1 was such an occasion for me, and I wonder if it might not be considered as such for others as well.


While attending the National Prayer Breakfast that morning, I was notified of the fire via a tweet from Rev. Nick Philips in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia – a minister who was a sponsored candidate from this congregation. As I excused myself and rushed over to the Church, all I could think was: “I hope no one was injured. What about the preschool staff who come in before the children arrive? How bad is it?”


I was relieved to discover that no one was injured and that it was not as bad as it could have been. Very soon I was informed by the Fire Chief that we were fortunate that two gentlemen acted quickly to help suppress the fire until his firefighters arrived, thereby limiting the damage. I came to understand that in fact three men had jumped into action once discovering the flames leaping from the southwest main door: they were Jeff Lieper, Steve Brombach and Ryan Pearson. I have spoken to Jeff and Steve, (have not been able to contact Ryan) and have thanked them on behalf of the congregation.


In one of the many media interviews I gave regarding the fire and the congregation, among the things I said was that we were grateful to God that the building was still here as it could have been completely destroyed if the fire had started in the middle of the night. I went on to say however, that even if the church building was destroyed the congregation would still be intact, for the people of the congregation are in fact the church.


Two days after the fire, I took some time to sit and pray in the sanctuary. Amidst the whirring sounds of the air purifiers that were placed there to mitigate the smell of smoke, there I sat giving thanks to God and recalling memories of my tenure here at Parkdale. I thought of the worship services (morning and evening), the music, the weddings, the baptisms, the funerals, the reception of new members, the Christmas pageants, the special guest musicians and choirs and drama performers… It was overwhelming to host that deluge of memories with all the joy and the sadness. I thought to myself: this space has gathered people together to glorify and praise God, to pray and to minister in the name of Christ to people in their joyous celebrations and in their deep and painful experiences. It dawned on me so poignantly that what we do here in God’s name really matters in the lives of people, in the neighbourhood we serve and in the world to which we are sent.


This community of faith that we call Parkdale United nurtures, forms, inspires, blesses, creatively provokes, nudges, heals, challenges and supports all kinds of people in their experience of God through Christ as well as, sends them out to live their faith and bless the world. This is awesome when one stops and ponders it. I wonder how many of us take for granted all that happens to, through and because of the people of this congregation.


In the aftermath of the fire, I was so moved by the overwhelming support both the congregation and I received from the wider Ottawa community (as well as from other parts of Canada) in the form of phone calls, emails and conversations on the streets in the neighbourhood. I was particularly struck however, by people, community organizations and businesses in the neighbourhood who expressed regret at the fire as well as gratitude that it was not worse. I did not expect the generous and passionate testimonies regarding what Parkdale United Church means to them and the neighbourhood. It was not only that it was an historic fixture of the neighbourhood, but that it had a long history of commitment and service to the community. I was told that particularly in the last ten years, the congregation of Parkdale has helped to transform and support the well-being of the local community and was a model of constructive leadership.


After speaking with one representative of the community, I was asked if there was any tangible way the community could assist the congregation. I mentioned that thankfully we were covered by fire insurance but would have to raise $5,000 to pay the deductible. Immediately, this person asked if he could use his community networks to help in this regard. His appeal has yielded a number of monetary donations. God be praised.


May I invite Parkdalers into a reflective exercise? Please take some time and prayerfully reflect on your favourite memories here at Parkdale. In what ways have you been blessed and supported. Whom have you helped? Who has been important to your spiritual journey? What friendships continue to be life-giving for you? If you are new, has this been a place of welcome and inclusion? Take time in prayer to offer gratitude to God; then may I invite you to tell someone here in the congregation, how much they mean to you. Let us bless one another and resist taking God, the ministry of this congregation and one another for granted.


                    <“therefore let us love one another, for love comes from God…”

                                                                                      1 John 4:7


Peace and love