History In The Making

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Midtown Campus finds new location in historic church. 

This story begins almost a hundred and forty years ago. In 1875, Canada is a newly-minted nation. Horse-drawn streetcars clop along Yonge Street. And in the Village of Yorkville just north of Toronto, a new church opens its doors. The new home of the Olivet Congregational Church features unique Carpenter Gothic architecture with charming Victorian details and elegant stained glass windows. The board and batten structure rings out with hymns as congregants sing praises to the Lord.

"Midtown needed a new home – and fast!"

Fast forward to September 2012. Jason and Veronique Golloher, Lead Pastors of Catch The Fire Toronto’s Midtown congregation have received shocking news. For the past six years, Midtown met every Sunday in the gym of a school rented from the Toronto District School Board. A few days before Labour Day 2012, the TDSB suddenly announced a raise in rent for non-profits. Midtown’s rate tripled overnight. The school was no longer viable as a location. Midtown needed a new home – and fast!

Step back in time again to 1923. The Village of Yorkville has become part of the City of Toronto. The Olivet Congregational Church has outgrown its sanctuary. The Toronto “Heliconian Club,” a group for women in the creative arts, purchases the old church building as a meeting place, and renames it the “Heliconian Hall.” 

Jump forward to 2012 again. Pastor Jay and Veronique sense that the Lord will provide an old church as a new location for Midtown. But after two weeks of phone calls, visits and endless googling, nothing comes through. Members of the congregation pitch in to help. Calls go out to realtors, community centres, wedding halls, private schools, theatres, even synagogues. Nothing works out. As the weeks pass, the pressure builds.

Finally, a place called the “Heliconian Hall” turns up. Jay and Veronique’s interest is piqued. The hall is owned by the “Heliconian Club,” Canada’s oldest association for women in the creative arts. The Club has lovingly preserved the hall, which was named a national historic site in 2008. Members’ paintings hang in the sanctuary. The Club offers the hall as a venue for cultural events. The Sunday morning slot, however, was rarely booked. The week that Midtown inquired about renting the hall, the Club’s Executive Committee coincidentally decided to lower the rent for Sunday mornings. The reduced rent was within Midtown’s budget. After arranging a few more details, the Club offered the Sunday morning slot to Midtown. The whole process took about one week. Plus 137 years.

"We are expecting God to blow our minds and expectations in the next season."

At Midtown’s first service in the Heliconian Hall, the worship team sang “Shekinah Glory,” by Cory Asbury. The song starts out, “We wait for you … we wait for you…” If the walls of the Heliconian Hall could speak, that is what they might have said. The old building has not had a full-time church in over a hundred years. The congregation of Midtown waited a few weeks for a new building. This historic church waited decades for a new congregation.

Pastor Jay and Veronique have long prayed for the opportunity to use an old church for its original purpose. “We are amazed by God's faithfulness,” said Veronique. “We have been praying for an old church building for years … that the Church would re-possess the ‘old wells,’ the buildings once intended to be used for God's glory. After a few weeks [at the Heliconian Hall], we still can hardly believe our eyes that we are indeed re-possessing a ‘well’ in the city, in Yorkville out of all places! We are expecting God to blow our minds and expectations in the next season."

"Since Catch The Fire Midtown has taken up residence, visitors on Sunday mornings won't see a monument to the past. They will encounter a living church that worships the living God."

Midtown’s new home seems well-suited to impacting Toronto. Today Yorkville is a hub for the city’s varied populations. The University of Toronto lies just to the south, as do the financial, media and government centres of the city. Lower income residential areas are only a few blocks away. The Heliconian Hall is in an upscale shopping district that has been called Toronto’s version of Fifth Avenue. Movie stars and Toronto’s elite dine in bistros and shop in pricy boutiques just steps away. Yet in all the wealth and power there is spiritual poverty and emotional need.

Nestled between bridal boutiques and luxury shops, the Heliconian Hall is an historic and spiritual treasure. The Hall is on many "must see" lists of tourist destinations in Toronto. But since Catch The Fire Midtown has taken up residence, visitors on Sunday mornings won't see a monument to the past. They will encounter a living church that worships the living God.

Catch The Fire Midtown meets Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at the Heliconian Hall, 35 Hazelton Avenue, Toronto, ON.

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