Summer at St. Mark’s

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Summertime is usually a slower time in congregational life. But this summer was very busy for St. Mark’s, Don Mills, Toronto. The congregation initiated and now runs ecumenically a full summer day camp called Footprints (footprintssummerdaycamp.org). The camp welcomes 50 children (aged six to 13) and Leaders in Training (L.I.T.s, aged 14 to 16) and is run by a staff of six young adults and many volunteers. Many of the children, youth and staff come from our churches and have made Footprints a focus of their summer plans. It is also a great opportunity for fun, learning, spirituality and employment for our young people; a tangible way the church can support and engage them meaningfully.

The camp also receives subsidized funding from our churches, the PCC Cookes Fund as well as the federal government. This allows us to welcome any child no matter what their families can pay. This year we were privileged to open up spaces for refugee children, one of whom is part of a family St. Mark’s has sponsored. Some of the L.I.T.s also brought friends who belong to other faith traditions (like Islam) whose parents were supportive because Footprints represents a sister faith. Christ is proclaimed in many unique ways through this camp and we welcome one and all—people of faith or no faith.

In addition, on July 26, St. Mark’s welcomed a family the congregation has sponsored that has been accepted by the Canadian government on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. While the children were able to attend a great camp experience and begin to learn some English with other children from our churches, the congregation was busy organizing furniture, the search for an apartment and all the health, educational and public registrations necessary. The hope was to have the family reunited and moving in to their apartment by Sept. 1. A lot of planning by a lot of volunteers was necessary to pull this off. We had a wonderful celebration service on Sept. 25, with representatives from Presbyterian World Service & Development and our local Member of Parliament, Yasmin Ratansi.

Finally, the Noor Cultural Centre and Mosque invited me and the St. Mark’s congregation to their afternoon prayer service in August. I, along with Azeezah Kanji (Toronto Star columnist on Muslim issues) offered short sermons dialogically on John the Baptist in our two traditions. A wonderful time of fellowship was enjoyed following the service. Even though we have different understandings of the primacy of Christ, we also share so much more than we ever imagined.

Summertime is a great time to relax and enjoy life and God’s wondrous creation. But it is also a wonderful time to serve God’s creative love and bear witness to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit to change lives and build bridges beyond the many walls around us.

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About Harris Athanasiadis

Rev. Dr. Harris Athanasiadis is minister at St. Mark’s, Don Mills, Toronto.