Sunday, November 30, 2008



I don't got to church much - blame Richard Dawkins - but I love gospel music, particularly at Christmas.
The Christmas concert has a special niche in my nostalgia and to hell with those who ban them.
Life wasn't exactly great for my sisters Joyce and Joanne and I when we were kids, but the Christmas concert in the little Baptist church on the hill was a highlight of the season.
Mary is a faithful Mass goer and ignores my idiosyncratic approach to religion where I listen to the Gaither gospel hour on TV but church is for weddings and funerals these days.
As Editor of the Toronto Sun, my intense evangelical past was no secret to faithful readers who not only perservered through my defenses of Christmas but also noticed that the replies at the end of our letters - a Sun tradition that became so popular, polls showed more read the replies than the letters - often had a Biblical flavour, thanks to my boyhood where we read a chapter of the Bible after every meal.
I'm reporting to all who figure I'm backsliding towards hellfire that I've already attended my first Christmas concert of the year. And I hope it won't be the last.
The local Anglican church, All Saints, like other wonderful Toronto churches, has an out-of-the-cold program every Friday for the homeless. The first twenty get a bed for the night, and there's a hearty meal and free warm clothing for another 60 or so. They start lining up at 3 p.m.
Other churches, families and groups help the 100 or so volunteers at this Kingsway church. And then there is the annual Christmas concert, now eight years old, held in Our Ladies of Sorrows church where five other churches gather in the Catholic church to listen to a combined choir of 120 voices, reinforced by the Kingsway Ringers and an orchestra called The Talisker Players. And of course we sing too.
The Kingsway business association supports it all, and so does Etobicoke"s Guardian newspaper, which means there is free chocolate and doughtnuts after, plus a chocolate Santa in tinfoil, and the offering during the concert, which last year was around $8,000, goes to the out-of-the-cold program.
It is a community effort, and feels like it too, in all its warm and hearty detail. There were mistakes during the program, like the troupe bringing gifts during a play came down the aisle too soon, but we all laughed as if a neighbour had just said something funny over the fence. ( And I remembered as a child soloist that I discovered half-way through that I had screwed up the hymn and I stopped in awkward silence.)
I've lived near Royal York and Bloor since 1963 - the longest I've lived anywhere after bouncing between 13 addresses as I grew up. But it's only because of such events that I feel like I really belong on these familiar streets, that the Kingsway really is a grand name for a place to call home.
The city may be 2.5 million strong, with another 2 million just outside. But it really is a mass of neighbourhood and villages, and it is possible to go to a big church on a busy street near the subway, and there sing the glorious music of Christendom in an event that is possible because the doctors and restaurants and shops I patronize - even the local pool hall - unite to help an honourable program during a wonderful holiday season.
And then there are jerks who want to cloak the Christmas in this holiday. How dare they when surely all religions believe its fundamental message of peace on earth good wiil to all. Humbug to them, and not to us.

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