parkdale united church

429 Parkdale Avenue, OTTAWA, Ontario K1Y 1H3

June 2019


Fellow Parkdalers,


I have been thinking a lot about our congregation and why we matter. I think about the many ways I witness God’s Spirit moving in the midst of us. I think about the stories I hear from so many of you about the kindnesses, and caring, and thoughtfulness that are readily on offer in this congregation. I hear from some of our new members how important it has been for their life and their spiritual well-being to have found and now belong to the community of Parkdale United.

Recently I stopped in at Fils Diner on Wellington at 8:00 am for breakfast. The server took time to speak with me wanting to know what good things Parkdale United was up to these days. The breakfast cook came out to sit in my booth and chat, eager to share some news about the new repairs he was making on his truck. Three patrons overheard my conversation with the server about Parkdale’s Global 6K run (June 1) and started talking with me about clean water and poverty and what we need to do with our privilege and abundance here in Canada. They said in different ways, “Your church sure is trying to change the neighbourhood and world for the better.” This all fills me with thanksgiving to God and admiration for who, in the power of God, we are and who we are trying to be as a congregation.


Fellow saints; who we are being formed to be, what we are discerning we are meant to be doing, and how we are proclaiming and living the gospel, all matters to God. Dare I say; it also matters to this neighbourhood and community.


This month I am reprising the Messenger article I wrote in 2012, because it rather interestingly offers some perspective on our ongoing discernment of how we can most faithfully steward and deploy our faithfulness, our mission, our property, and the passion we have to serve the vulnerable in our city.




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, perhaps 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 a 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.

à Whom have you helped?

à Who has been important to your spiritual journey?

à What friendships continue to be life-giving for you?

à 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