Archive for January 2012

Wisdom in a time of “austerity”

You insult your Maker when you exploit the powerless;

when you’re kind to the poor, you honour God.

Proverbs 14: 31 (The Message)

These are words of wisdom for all of us in this time when powerful public figures advocate “austerity” measures that slice through Canada’s social safety net.


Affordable housing in Toronto

A new house in Willowdale

The following letter was submitted to The editor of The Toronto Star:

January 27, 2012

Letters to the Editor

The Toronto Star

One Yonge Street

Toronto, ON

Dear Sir;

On Tuesday, January 24, 2012 the CEO of Toronto Community Housing, Len Koroneos, wrote a column in support of the TCHC proposal to finance repairs to TCHC housing by confiscating other TCHC housing. His proposal seems to be as sensible as cutting a hole in one sleeve of my shirt in order to patch a hole in the other sleeve.

Currently the appointed Board of Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) is proposing to sell off at least 675 units of TCHC housing, and use the money gained to finance repairs that are necessary in other homes that TCHC manages. This would be taking affordable housing from those who need it to provide repairs to affordable housing to a fortunate few. Some might say that it is like robbing Peter in order to pay Paul.

The argument that Mr. Koroneos advocates boils down to a justification for repairing the homes of TCHC tenants by using money from the sale of other TCHC housing. If implemented, this means that the TCHC would have fewer homes available to rent at a time when the waiting list for affordable housing is getting longer and longer. It also means that Toronto will be moving away from a healthy community model of providing a variety of housing types in communities throughout the city.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? It is obvious that neither the City of Toronto, nor the Province of Ontario, have adequately funded the TCHC. TCHC tenants have been robbed of the money fro repairs to their homes in order to prevent tax increases for homeowners and businesses. This has resulted in a situation whereby many homes of TCHC tenants have been permitted to fall into disrepair. Some homes have been neglected to the point where they cannot be occupied without a substantial investment in repairs.

As a citizen of Toronto who wants to have affordable housing for all who require it, I am asking this question about the accountability of the TCHC Board, and the political elite who appointed this Board. Who is responsible for the decisions to under-fund the TCHC? Do these Board members live in TCHC housing? Why did the political elite not provide adequate funding for necessary repairs to TCHC housing? Do they permit their homes to fall into disrepair?

Each week I meet people in my parish who are marginally housed, and some who live on the cold concrete of Toronto’s sidewalks. There are tens of thousands of families on the waiting list for affordable housing here in Toronto. These are people who deserve a place to call home. Providing affordable housing to those who need it is a sign of a just society. We can do it.

The proposal by Mr. Koroneos would reduce the number of TCHC housing units. It does not deal with the fundamental issue of under-funding the TCHC. It also has the possibility of leading us down the road to the ghettoization of social housing in our fair city. If accepted, this would make the present Board as culpable as former TCHC Boards for an injustice perpetrated on the poor of Toronto.

Repairing the funding model is a more appropriate way for the Board of the TCHC, and their political masters, to invest their time and energy. Their current proposal seems to be as sensible as removing one door from the house to replace a broken door in another part of the house.

Yours truly;

Rev. Allan Baker, Newtonbrook United Church

cc Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Housing

cc Margarett Best, M.P.P.

Cc Mayor Ford

Cc Councillor Ainslie

A Prayer for Changing Times

This path leads to ...... ?

The following prayer is based on Mark 1: 14 – 20

which was the Gospel reading for January 22, 2012

A Prayer for Changing Times

Life-giving God,

You touch our lives with healing and renewal;

with both death and resurrection.

Yet we live as if life and all creation were static.

Even in the midst of changing times

we cling to the familiar

and we hesitate to embrace new ways and new life;

we avoid risk,

and we fail to exercise our spiritual muscles of faith.

Help us heal our timidness;

may we remember the rewards of risk,

and we ask your forgiveness for our reluctance to respond

to the call of Jesus: “Follow me.”   Amen

Where will your story take you ?

Chicago - The Bean

On the evening of January 18, 2012, I drove south on Yonge Street in Toronto, Canada towards the 401 highway. I noticed an intriguing slogan on a billboard for a high rise condominium development. The words on the billboard read:

“Where will your storey take you?”

The use of the word “storey” is what linguists might label as a “homophone”. In Wikipedia, a homophone is defined as:

“A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning.”

I wondered if people in the 21st century are asking:

“Where will your story take you?”

The power of our stories to determine our reality is a theme of David Korten’s book, “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. The final chapter in that inspiring book is titled: “Change the story, change the future”.

On his website, David Korten presents a matrix that compares and contrasts the “Empire Story” with the “Earth Community Story.” It can be found at:

When we first arrived at Newtonbrook United Church, Shari and I did a workshop on the topic of Korten’s book, contrasting the “old story”of Empire and domination with the “new story” of an inter-dependent earth community. The current controversy about the Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway pipelines is an example of two stories being in conflict with each other. When I reflect on these controversies, I think that the question for rational people is:

“Where will this story take you?”



“Where will this story take your children and grandchildren?”


Choices we make


“Every tomorrow has two handles.

We can take hold of it with the handle of anxiety,

or the handle of faith.”

Henry Ward Beecher


Like clouds and wind without rain 
   is one who boasts of gifts never given.

Proverbs 25:14 (NIV)

The Proverb above was used as a part of the invitation to the offering on Sunday, January 15, 2012. The people of Newtonbrook United Church were engaged in worship as a part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and their worship was offered at the 255 Finch Ave. West site of the amalgamated congregation.

Green Awakening Network

Green Awakening Network

The Green Awakening Network is a group of congregations of the United Church of Canada in the City of Toronto. We have come together to share ideas and experiences, in partnership with others, on how to respond to the challenge of climate change and how to reduce our “carbon footprint.” At this time our partners are Greening Sacred Spaces and the Centre for Church Development Leadership.

As a “network”, this is not a formal organization and it is intended to act more like a faith-based resource on climate change among UCC congregations. We hope that it will be an inspiration and a catalyst for action for the wider community in which we are located.

The Green Awakening project also provides a focused and action-oriented opportunity for networking among congregations interested in “eco-justice”.

For more information on this exciting initiative – an “awakening” – go to:

Radical Gratitude

Radical Gratitude

Mary Jo Leddy begins her book, Radical Gratitude, with the profound observation that:

What we say with our words is so much less important

than what we mean with our lives.

Only our lives give weight to our words.”

Prayer at Newtonbrook United Church

On the Christian liturgical calendar, today (January 8, 2012) marks the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus.

At Newtonbrook United Church, our prayers for God’s Family and Creation concluded today with the following stanza:

Baptizing God, immerse us in the waters of awareness;

of our relationships with each other;

with our radical belonging in you;

and our relationship with all of creation. Amen.”

Posted January 8, 2012 by allanbaker in Uncategorized

Epiphany 2012 and Moderator Mardi Tindal

Lake Ontario from the Scarborough Bluffs

Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada, has written the
following message for Epiphany, 2012.
Newtonbrook United Church folk may be interested in it.
Epiphany: Witness, Leadership, and a New Path  
Hope was born in a stable, and those the world had judged wise came to see. 
After witnessing this fragile new hope, the Magi "went home by a different way." 
They were not the same. 

My thoughts this Epiphany are filled with both the fragile new hope that I saw
born at the UN climate change talks in Durban, and the bitter disappointment
that calls us to go home by a new and different way. 

On the one hand, according to the best science available, the Durban talks
failed to produce large enough emission reduction targets to avert destructive
climate change, of which last year's extreme weather is the merest foretaste. 

And yet, for the first time ever, all nations have said that they will commit to
enforceable climate action by 2015. 

And even though Canada bitterly disappointed the world, many nations still hold
the fragile hope that Canada will commit itself to a generous way of compassion
and justice. 

If we are to return home by a different way, we are called to nourish this
fragile hope. 

I speak often about the interrelationship of soul, community, and creation. In
my view, everything good begins in the soul, that inner place where we listen
deeply to the "still, small voice" that speaks to us of truth. 

When we hear that still, small voice, our soul longs to fulfill its call in
community. Our souls need community to help us align our inner knowing with our
outer work. This is what allows us to act with integrity in the world. Caring
for God's creation arises from souls and community in harmony with each other. 

Christians and other people of faith have a particular responsibility as people
who listen to that still, small voice and create community where it can be heard
more clearly. In our United Church Song of Faith, we sing of participating in
God's healing of creation. Shared worship and work, prayer, scripture, and other
language of the heart help us find our way home to God, one another, and

In Durban, I met with Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of the Environment. To my
surprise, Mr. Kent was forthright in calling climate change a "disaster in the
making." I became convinced that he understands the causes and consequences of
climate change. He spoke of a climate change presentation in Durban that he said
made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. 

I take Mr. Kent's words to mean that he knows in his soul that Canada must
choose between contributing to global disaster or to global healing-so I wonder
all the more about his resistance to actions that would prevent further climate
change. I therefore feel compassion for him, as he must have a terrible inner
struggle, knowing we could be doing so much more to prevent massive suffering
and death. If he finds the courage to embrace the fragile hope born in Durban,
he will need our support. 

As Moderator I have learned something about the ambiguities of leadership and
the complex interrelationship between the one who is designated "leader" and the
people of his or her community. 

It matters whom we include in our community. We need others with whom our
understanding and compassion will be stretched. I believe this is a fundamental
requirement of leadership. I hope Mr. Kent is able to claim all Canadians and,
indeed, all global citizens as his community. If the relatively small community
of climate skeptics in Canada is the community he chooses to identify with, it
will become harder for him to remember the cries he heard in Africa from people
begging for climate justice, and for their lives. 

For myself, I choose to claim Peter Kent as part of my community. I will not
exclude him from those I am prepared to talk and work with to prevent the
disaster in the making. In Durban, Mr. Kent told the General Secretary of the
Mennonite Church Canada and me that he is prepared to keep meeting with us. This
holds the possibility that a difficult and necessary conversation about the
choices facing Canada will continue. 

As Canadians, we need to convince our leaders that we will support morally
responsible choices for the sake of life for all. Morally responsible choices
embrace the needs and the wisdom of others in our global community. Morally
responsible choices stir us to march alongside youth, to the beat of impatient

A new path 
Hope was born in a stable, a hope for all humanity, a hope for the whole world.
It came as a helpless infant, so all of us should understand the need to nourish
and care for it. God entrusted us to care for God's Son the same way God
entrusted us to care for God's creation. We cannot care for one without caring
for the other. 

As humanity, we have only one home. Science tells us we must limit climate
change in order to survive as a species. Faith tells us we must limit climate
change because God calls us to love one another as God loves us. To return home
means to embrace Earth as the place that sustains us and as the gift God gives

I pray that you will find opportunities this year to listen carefully to that
still, small voice and discover what it means for you to go home by a different
way. I pray that you will feel part of a community that helps you celebrate your
right place and relationships in God's good creation. I pray that together we
will protect and nourish the fragile hope born in Durban. We are people of soul,
community, and creation. 

Mardi Tindal,
The United Church of Canada,
3250 Bloor Street West,
Suite 300,
Toronto, Ontario M8X 2Y4