Trinity – St. Paul’s United Church:  35 Years of Building Community

Trinity – St. Paul’s United Church: 35 Years of Building Community

Join us for our 35th Anniversary Celebration of the Amalgamation of Trinity and St. Paul’s this Sunday, October 1st 2017 at 10:30am!  Guest speakers Bill Phipps and Susan Mabey.  Celebration cake and refreshments to follow.  Conversation and remembrance of TSP’s foundation and history after the service.

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This year Trinity – St. Paul’s United (TSP) marks our 35th anniversary.  We are celebrating 35 years of a vital, active, and engaged presence for faith, justice and the arts on Bloor Street.


Our congregation was created from two historic faith communities, Trinity United and St. Paul’s – Avenue Road United churches.  Both congregations had deep roots dating to the 1880s in evangelism, community outreach, and international mission and partnerships


By the 1970s, the changing nature and demographics of downtown Toronto led United Church members and leaders to re imagine the role and future of congregations in our neighborhood.  It was out of these discussions that modern day TSP emerged.


At the time the St. Paul’s – Avenue Road building was sold. The revenues were invested in different initiatives including renovating Trinity United and creating the St. Paul’s Centre at Trinity.  This venture was new and bold for downtown congregations.  It was declared at the time “We believe that the new Trinity – St. Paul’s concept is an imaginative use of historic resources, current assets and future hopes.”


Thirty-five years later TSP strives to faithfully live into the future imagined by those who were there at its founding and who are part of its present.  When asked recently about why they are a part of the TSP community, here are what some people said:


  • I come because all kinds of believers, non- believers, all kinds of Christians and non Christians and people of other faiths are welcome
  • We really struggle to live out in equal parts faith, justice, and the arts
  • The music nourishes my soul
  • I walk away feeling hopeful and alive
  • There is always some new kid to be with
  • It is a good time
  • TSP is supportive of the disability community
  • We support and walk with people who are struggling
  • I love the sense of social justice throughout the worship and work of the congregation
  • TSP is geared to helping the community
  • TSP challenges the status quo
  • There is an intense feeling of people who have a faith that is profound and makes a difference in lives.


As we build our future, we draw support and insight from words found in a history of TSP published in 1987.  At the time, the people of TSP wrote:


“The tools of life and faith are in our hands, the avenues of prayer and planning both belong to us.  Then let our future embrace two views: one is the personal and communal nurturing offered by rich worship and deep caring, the other is an unswerving desire to face the suffering and dysfunctions of our contemporary world, and to bring it to the love and justice of God.”


Herein is wisdom.  Thanks be to God!

Jim Lewis





The Rev. Dr. Susan Mabey

After leaving TSP Susan Mabey became the pastor of Christos Metropolitan Community Church. While serving that congregation, Susan earned her Dr. of Ministry, in 1999. She met and married her wife, Katherine in 1994, and together they welcomed their daughter Anna in 2001. Meanwhile, their son, Aaron Miller (who was baptized by Bill Phipps at TSP) was ordained in the United Church and is serving the congregation of University Hill in Vancouver. Aaron and his wife, Kate, have blessed Susan and Katherine with two amazing grandsons, Levi and Jude. Susan left Christos MCC in 2001 to pursue a career in teaching. She currently teaches a grade 1/2 class at Thorncliffe Park Public school. Last year, Susan was the recipient of the Craig Chaplin Memorial award for her work at school during the parent protest against the new sex-ed curriculum. (For fuller description see:


The Very Rev Dr. Bill Phipps

After leaving TSP Bill Phipps became the executive secretary of Alberta and Northwest Conference, 1983-93. He then served as Minister at Scarboro United Church Calgary, 1993-2007, with time out to be moderator of the United Church of Canada, 1997-2000. He retired in 2007. Bill’s major involvements these days are: Living into Right Relations, following up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Climate Change and the Peace Prize and Fundraising Committee of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary. Bill is married to writer Carolyn Pogue who writes a twice-monthly blog for the UCC Observer. Bill’s daughter Sarah lives in Toronto, his son Jeremy lives in Winnipeg, and his step-daughter Andrea lives in Yellowknife. He has four grandchildren living in Toronto and Yellowknife.  (For fuller description see:

Embracing the Primordial

Embracing the Primordial

It is always a pleasure to hear and read reflections from the congregation. I’d like to share this short article I received last week – written directly to the experience at Trinity-St. Paul’s:


“Primordial”, now what the heck does that mean? How about “having existed from the beginning”? Marcus Borg, well known and widely respected New Testament scholar, uses that word to describe the premodern view of the world and human experience. To put it briefly, the primordial view, shared by all premodern societies and cultures, was an understanding and experience of existence as multilayered. The world was made up of rocks, trees, water, animals and humans, with time and space, but it was more. Existence was physical, but the physical was interwoven with the spiritual. The spirit dimensions of life varied greatly from one culture to another. Christians are most familiar with the Jewish understanding of the spiritual dimension of life and existence through our reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. That massive book, with such a wide variety of content and styles, is the attempt by individuals and communities to describe and understand the primordial spiritual world in which “they lived and moved and had their being.”  Scriptures are shaped by powerful spiritual moments and events. Here are examples from one book of the Bible: the burning bush, the Exodus, the Mt. Sinai encounters with the Spirit.

The universal and varied primordial views of the world began to disappear in the 17th and 18th centuries with the coming of the Enlightenment. The world became limited to what you can see with your eyes, touch with your hands, hear with your ears, taste with your tongue and calculate through thinking and experience. That’s all there is: an effective understanding of existence which has enabled humanity to do remarkable things. Just think of the medical, the communication, the comfort and safety possibilities that have emerged in the modern world. There is lots of negative too, e.g. armaments, but let’s celebrate and embrace the positive dimensions of modernity.

Why should us Christians embrace the primordial? Affirming the spiritual/primordial dimension of existence is integral to Christian faith. Being a spiritual person in this secular urban environment ain’t easy. That is an especially challenging dimension of our faith individually and collectively.  We can celebrate the fact that there seem to be an increasing number of people who say, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Let’s find out what it means. Closer to home, what does “the spiritual” mean in your faith, in your life, and in mine?

Embracing the primordial means exploring and affirming the spiritual dimension of our faith. Here’s an example. On Advent One, Rev. Emily talked in her sermon about Hope and she challenged us to distinguish between “hope for” and “hope in.” I suggest the former is an expression of modernism (nothing wrong with that) and the latter is an expression of the primordial and with it comes challenging spiritual implications.

TSP has taken the spiritual/primordial dimension of Christian faith seriously as we move into two years of our congregational life under the leadership of Rev. Judith and the Interim Ministry Team. Remember how the interim process began? Yes, with the “Listening to the Spirit” initiative, a primordial beginning. Let’s make sure the “the spiritual” plays a significant role going forward. Perhaps TSP is seriously toying with the idea of embracing “the primordial”!

* This article is inspired by chapter 6, “Root Images and the Way We See: The Primordial Tradition and the Biblical Tradition” in Marcus Borg’s JESUS IN CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARSHIP

Rev. Douglas Varey
December 2015

Creation and the City: The Congregation Reflects

Creation and the City: The Congregation Reflects

Here are some reflections (in words and photos), that have been shared by people in the congregation at Trinity-St. Paul’s in response to Creation Time this year, as we explore the theme of Creation and our City.


Adam Mason

Photo by Adam Mason



Carolyn Barber shared “A Tribute to the Earth,” originally written for Trinity-St. Paul’s service on April 22, 2007, which includes these beautiful words:

In the past week or so, as I looked for words that could convey my love for nature for this Earth tribute, I found that is was only the images of nature, not words, that came to mind. I was surprised to discover that many things I love in nature don’t require travelling to Georgian Bay, but can be found here in the busyness of downtown Toronto.

I remembered a late afternoon last fall when I was rushing to pick up something on the Danforth. By sheer luck I happened to glance up to see the western sky absolutely ablaze with giant brushstrokes of orange and rose and mauve, and a whole myriad of other colours that the English language has no words for, all surrounded by the deepest of indigo. I had a feeling that it must be just for me, as everyone else was still rushing by…. a feeling of being enveloped and at one with the beauty of sky. I felt rich and privileged beyond measure.


Philip Bell 2

Photo by Phillip Bell (Sunrise)


In late March, exploring my back yard, I stopped in amazement. Here, right beside a pile of melting snow, with winds howling, a little bush was already blooming its heart out. ….the witch hazel that I planted only last year had survived the winter, and was covered in dark red seed pods splashing out tiny pompoms of vivid lemon – blossoms as strangely exotic looking as anything from the rain forests of Costa Rica or Ecuador. But not at all an imported plant, rather a proud native Canadian, with the courage to bloom long before the forsythia had even thought of making the effort and making my day. . . .



Marion Kirkwood 4

Photo by Marion Kirkwood


How often do we experience momentary gifts from nature like these ones, yet fail to realize that it could be God’s way of trying to lead us back to ourselves through nature. God, for these moments of connectedness, we say thank you.

But let us not neglect our own creations, our built environment, the song and music that make us unique in the Universe. Here at TSP . . . [we have] A century-old building with its foundations of Ontario clay bricks. Clay that is no doubt rich in minerals like zinc and magnesium and copper and more… the same minerals that are found in the compost that nurtures the little witch hazel, the same minerals that flow though our arteries and keep our human hearts beating and open to the wonders of an October sky. Surely, when we try to pick out one piece of life around us, we find it hitched to everything in the universe.


Monarch of all monarchs

Photo by Jeanne Moffat (Monarch of all monarchs)