Friday, 18 September 2020 19:00
Eesti Elu Nr. 37 2020
The annual assembly meeting of the St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto (EELK Toronto Peetri Kogudus) will take place on Sunday September 27th, 2020, immediately following the church service. The church service is at 11:30 a.m. and the meeting is scheduled to start at 12:30 p,m,
In addition to the regular agenda items, such as financial and activity reports, we will need to discuss certain items dealing with the future of the congregation. We need to vote on our future direction and a new constitution and by-laws.
The timing of this meeting in the midst of Covid-19 may be questioned by some. Regrettably, time does not stand still. We had originally scheduled this assembly meeting for April 19th, but at that time, all gatherings were prohibited. None of us knows how long the pandemic will last, but thankfully, we are now able to gather albeit in restricted circumstances. Decisions simply must be reached and cannot be deferred any longer.
The assembly meeting is being organized so that as many members with voting rights may attend, as possible. Invitations and background information have been mailed to members who have fulfilled their financial obligation to the church in 2019/2020. We ask these members to RSVP to the church office. By knowing the number of attendees, we may set up the space accordingly, keeping physical distancing in mind. An option to attend by video conference is also offered. We welcome our younger or technically savvy members to assist their older family members in this endeavour, which would have the additional benefit of reintroducing the younger generations to church.
St Peter’s was founded on August 3, 1948. After a few years, we outgrew the space provided to us at St. John’s Lutheran and our own church needed to be built. Thanks to the hard work of the organizers and the donations of our members, the building of our very own church was completed in 1955.
St. Peter’s was in growth mode. Within the first 10 years, approximately 500 couples were married, hundreds were confirmed and Sunday School was full of children. The filled-to-capacity Christmas Eve services were even immortalized in Olav Kopvillem’s song, where he describes the lost coat buttons, shoes and galoshes as a matter of course. Those days are gone.
Even at the single Christmas Eve service are there seats to be found. Sunday School is a thing of the past. Funerals outnumber christenings ten fold. Our membership has declined to the point where upkeep of the church building is not feasible. This is not news. The situation has been going on for a while and the Assembly was notified already in 2013, when the Internal Audit Committee projected we would have enough funds to continue for another 5 years. Thanks to the prudent actions of our leadership and the blessing that the Salvation Army is renting from us for a limited period of time due to the Metrolinx construction, seven years later we are still operating and expect to be able to continue as we are for another four years.
We are at a critical point where the decisions the assembly reaches on September 27, 2020 will determine whether we continue for another four years and shut down or continue for two, three or more generations.
We are not alone. Many, many churches are for sale. The reasons vary, but the trend in North America is declining church attendance. Our church is at a crossroad. We have to take the steps for a reawakening, or forfeit all that our parents and grandparents built.
In 2018 a Future Committee was formed to focus on solutions for St. Peter’s to continue. It became clear, that statistics do not support the illusion that increased donations are the answer. The committee consulted with various experts in real estate, construction, etc. as well as to Bishop of the ELCIC. There are no christian congregations interested in purchasing or renting a church. Our lot is too small to build around the existing church structure. The only viable solution is to sell the church and property. Thankfully, real estate values in the Mt Pleasant Eglinton area are favourable and the capital realized from the sale would allow us many opportunities for our congregation to continue for decades to come.
Is it the building that unites us? We can all agree that we have countless wonderful memories of time spent at the church and are thankful for the sacrifice our ancestors made. But, it is a building after all, and an ageing one at that.
Or are we willing to acknowledge that it is the congregation that unites us and the gift our ancestors gave us was the opportunity to congregate and share in the word of God?
If the assembly votes to sell, we would have several more years in our church. We would need to find a buyer, negotiate the terms and receive assembly approval. We would have sufficient time to calmly reorganize and plan for the future, starting from moving the columbarium to another location to reorganizing our activities.
An other key agenda item has to do with our constitution and by-laws. As voted by the assembly on March 3, 2019, we have begun the process of leaving Lutheran Church Canada (LCC) and joining Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). With this, a new constitution and by-laws must be adopted. The decision to leave LCC was made for many reasons, not the least of which is that all other Estonian congregations in Canada belong to ELCIC. Having all congregations belong to the same synod would allow for future eventualities.
The second factor is that our existing constitution does not comply with current legislation and must be brought up to date.
Our wish for each voting member is to be grateful for the positive experiences we have shared and proud that we have existed for over 70 years and brave to make the difficult decisions that will ensure there will be a congregation for our children and grandchildren. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Ph 4:6-7
The Executive of St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Toronto:
Kairi Hemingway, Naani Holsmer, Jüri Laansoo, Leena Liivet, Talvi Maimets and Allar Viinamäe