The point wasn’t to recreate a taste of a heaven to look forward to, but to make the vision of the [universal] church...more real. While stuck in our local neighborhoods, in our familiar buildings, the universal church had grown to be a concept rather than tangible. And it was in nights like this when we had to realign our perspective to see that vision again.

On a particularly fresh Sunday night, the first of its kind since Toronto finally left winter in the dust, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church aired out the evening with their third installment of ‘Singspiration’. 

The brain child of three pastors, conceived over coffee, ‘Singspiration’ worked like a magnet, reuniting not only the trio’s friendship but their churches. This combination brought joy to their hearts for a reason that we were to discover that night. Since then they have been taking turns hosting the event. Naturally the first happened in Scarborough Baptist Church, since according to Pastor Stephen Hamburger: ‘it always starts in Scarborough’. But that night it was finally Mount Pleasant’s turn, hosted by Pastor Lucien Atchale, promising an eclectic spread of colors and harmonies with the addition of Thistletown Baptist Church and Living Hope Baptist Church. 

The praise team tackled the challenge of re-energizing a crowd that had just church’ed an entire morning service hours ago. But a warm rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ did the trick, and the room buzzed in anticipation for the performances that rolled one after another. The Lok Siblings (Joshua and Esther) from Scarborough Baptist Church transformed Mount Pleasant’s mini-grand into its own concert hall, melting the melody and accompaniment of ‘Glorious Day’ into a cohesive, soaring medley.  When Mount Pleasant’s children climbed onto the stage,  ‘Prince of Peace’ could not shy away from the rendition trend that night. This time the lyrics, which are usually sung so often, glistened with significance. Maybe it was because for once we weren’t the ones singing or maybe it was because we were hearing it in a higher pitch. 

You’d think choir after choir would sooner or later blend into each other, but each one brought their own flavor to the mix-and-matched fashion of ‘Singspiration’. Living Hope and Christie spread across the stage singing ‘Behold Our God’, directed by the piano which climbed and fell to the melody with the help of their steady bass and drums. The song rose like the sun, building up into a zenith fanfare, until it died down gently, holding the congregation in a trance like a sunset. Mount Pleasant’s choir sang a lesser known version of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ vibrato as rounded and delicate as the painted clouds in Mount Pleasant’s backdrop. As Christie Baptist’s choir made their way to the stage, Manuela, the conductor, apologized for the lesser-than-expected numbers. Yet the harmonies were solid among their six voices. The altercating staccatos almost as infectious as their smiles when their voices cascaded down the scales. Living Hope Baptist slipped a trio into the program, accompanied with piano, singing ‘Blessed Redeemer’, unraveling the song by its three part harmonies, stringing them across the song only to intertwine them together and wrap the music around the room, bringing the congregation closer.   

Among the choirs, two other acts, though seamless in transition, stuck out in their uniqueness. (Or maybe just rarity in the church-scene.) Scarborough made heads turn, when Ronna Wetmore and the earlier Lok Siblings, including their brother Josiah, carried their brass instruments to the stage. Their golden, honey notes foreign to most people’s ears, echoed off the walls, making for an unforgettable number. Living Hope presented a spoken word, which settled in juxtaposition between rhythmic rap and stylized poetry. It took liberties by comparing the death of Jesus to winter, picking at the scabs that winter had left that April evening.

Halfway through the program, Pastor Jerome reconvened everyone to ground level. He asked us ‘among the sights we had just heard and seen’ what was there to truly behold. He dug into Psalm 133, which relished the joy “when God’s people live together in unity”. Then standing back to look at the congregation, he called out the pastors in the room from those who had established ‘Singspiration’, to Pastor Hassan Bell from Thistletown and Pastor RJ Umandap from Living Hope. From his view on the stage he said what he was seeing right now was that sight to behold; that our summit, touching base in Mount Pleasant from across the GTA, was a vivid and almost-image of heaven on earth. The point wasn’t to recreate a taste of a heaven to look forward to, but to make the vision of the church, the church the universal one, more real. While stuck in our local neighborhoods, in our familiar buildings, the universal church had grown to be a concept rather than tangible. And it was in nights like this when we had to realign our perspective to see that vision again. 

And maybe we did get to see that view from Pastor Jerome’s eyes at one point. The very last item on the program dictated clearly that all the men would go on stage to sing ‘Solid Rock’. The math involved was especially amusing, since half of the congregation were left on the pews and a third of the people on the stage were in impromptu-mode, since they learned about their participation only a few moments ago.  But the lovely bass notes, sang with a cooperated confidence not often heard, drove the energy of the accumulated acts of worship down the carpeted stairs of Mount Pleasant and into the streets that Sunday evening, when the sun had already gone down and the lights from inside were glowing warmly.