Many of you who follow this blog will be well familiar with the situation our church is facing with the Toronto District School Board. Since you’ve been praying for us, I wanted to post an update — we still need your prayers.
If you want to get caught up on the situation to this point, you can start by reading here.
The short version of the story is that our church was given 3 days’ notice on a 450% hike in our permit fees (we meet weekly in a public school). We have been petitioning the TDSB since the beginning of September for some changes and some relief. Though the changes affected other groups as well, the most drastic hikes were targeted specifically at ‘faith based organizations,’ who are now being charged the same rates as ‘for-profit businesses.’
Yesterday I was able to blog about how through some troubles in our church life (specifically relating to our church rental situation), we have been able to see God work. He has consistently taken circumstances that people have meant for evil and worked them for good (Gen 50.20). We’ve seen it, and we’ve rejoiced.
Today I wanted to take a different look at what God is doing. Rather than seeing how God is working through the tough circumstances, I want to think about how God is continuing to work despite the circumstances.
The past few weeks since our problems began with the Toronto District School Board have been pretty hectic. On top of all the usual work that needs to be done in the life of a church, Paul McDonald and I have been busy appealing the decision, speaking out about the issue as God gives opportunity, praying, and searching for a new meeting place for our congregation.
There’s a very real sense in which someone could ask with all of this, ‘Why?’ In the middle of all of this, the question of ‘What is God doing here?’ is pressing.
Perhaps the coolest thing through all of this situation is that we have never had opportunity to doubt, even for a moment, that God is at work. For the sake of God’s glory, today and tomorrow I want to highlight a few ways we’ve seen God at work lately. Today I’ll write about the ways we’ve seen God working through the troubles with the TDSB. Tomorrow I’ll write about how we’ve seen God work despite the situation.
What is God Doing Through This Situation?
An Unexpected Audience
When the situation first broke and I knew we would need to end our relationship with the school one of my first thoughts was to approach the caretaker who has served us at our school. I wanted him to be informed and to know that we still love him and are not leaving because of anything he’s done.
When I went in to speak with him I actually ended up meeting the school’s other caretaker. Over the course of the conversation it came out that he had actually been listening to some of our church’s sermons online! How amazing is that? Just because our church had been meeting in that particular school that particular caretaker was moved to go online and hear the preaching of God’s word!
As many of you are aware, our church plant has been going through a battle of sorts with the Toronto District School Board about some drastic overnight increases to our rent (to the tune of 400+%). Our current response is to pray, appeal however we can, and look for somewhere new to meet as a church as soon as possible.
The story itself has been well documented in Canadian news (National Post, CTV and again, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun and again, CFRB 1010, Winnipeg Free Press, etc.), and also in international news (WORLD Mag, Christianity Today, and an upcoming WDCX interview one week from today). Because of the public pressure that has been mounting, the School Board has been scrambling to create canned responses for newspaper reporters and also for people who write the offices of their local Trustees to complain.
But despite all the rhetoric from the School Board, there are still some pretty profound questions that I think need to be answered in this situation:
Why is a government-funded organization using government funds to discriminate against a government-recognized charity?
In their own ‘Community Use of Schools‘ policy document, they state:
The Board will actively collaborate with the governments of Ontario and Toronto to achieve solutions and ensure affordable and accesible use of public space for community-based programs.’
I’m very thankful for my friend Tim Challies for many reasons (on personal, church, and global-internet levels). Today I’m thankful for him taking up our cause on his blog.
Over the past couple of weeks our church has been thrust into a very difficult situation as the Toronto District School Board has raised our rent in unethical, discriminatory, unwarranted, and unforeseen ways. Since our church meets weekly in the gymnasium of a public school for now — but can no longer afford to go on doing so — we are scrambling to find a place to meet that will accommodate us.
Today on his blog, Tim writes about the larger issue affecting not just us but all churches who rent space from the TDSB.
Toronto is a city of 2.6 million where churches are small and real estate is costly. For this reason many churches meet in gymnasiums and cafeterias they rent from the Toronto District School Board. But now, very suddenly, theTDSB has taken action to get churches out of its schools. At the end of August each of these organizations was notified that they would face an imminent increase in rental fees. The next day they learned that this increase would range from 140% to 800% and that it would begin to go in effect in just four days. Unless the Board can be convinced to change course, they will effectively drive hundreds of churches from its nearly 600 schools.
Read the rest here…
I’m praying our Sovereign Lord would somehow put this blog post on to the screens of the right people with the right connections in the right places so that somehow we would be able to go on renting this publicly owned and taxpayer funded facility at a fair price.