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Wednesday, June 19


Living down the street from St. Anne's Anglican Church, I've always admired the Byzantine-inspired architecture and taken visitors inside to marvel at the Arts and Crafts era interior, complete with murals by members of the Group of Seven.  Up until a few years ago, the church proceedings seemed pretty removed from the day-to-day goings-on of Gladstone Avenue.  However, this is all changing with Rev. Gary Van der Meer, the new pastor since 2011.

On arriving in the parish, Van der Meer found a congregation comprising more former residents than current, vestiges of different waves of immigrants who have since moved on to other communities but still commute in every Sunday for service.  His mandate was to make St. Anne's once again a neighbourhood church and increase the number of local people attending services and participating in community events.

He has hit the ground running.  With experience in creating social connections and promoting an inclusive attitude at his former parish in High Park, Van der Meer is also equipped with an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University to accompany his degrees in History and Theology from U of T.  With his leadership, St Anne's is connecting to the neighbourhood through various activities including neighbourhood gallery walks, bicycle tours lead by Toronto Police Division 14 (next happening on June 22), lectures (most recently with Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company), participation in city events such as the recent Dundas West Festival and the upcoming Pride Run (June 29th).  To add to this, there are monthly tours of the church, community dinners, and gardening projects entailing propagation of indigenous species for planting in local parks. 

Van der Meer understands that church is about community.  He first attended an Anglican church as a young adult while working far from home in Chicoutimi, Quebec.  Finding the experience less rigid than the Dutch Reform Church of his childhood, Van der Meer sought out another Anglican congregation on his return to Toronto.  As the work he was doing in the church became more meaningful than his day job, he realized he had found his path.  

We appreciate the welcoming attitude of St Anne's, and the understanding that everyone comes to faith and spirituality in different ways.  Van der Meer explained to us a changing attitude in the church: while formerly it was most important to believe, then to behave, and finally to belong, now the order has been reversed.  Belonging (community involvement) has become the most important aspect, and through belonging the behaviour (attending church and receiving communion) and belief may result.  He explained, "The word 'believe' actually means making a stand about certain principles that these (biblical) stories illustrate."  Van der Meer's desire to effect positive change in the world, as well as his acceptance of and interest in other faiths resonated strongly with us.  He understands that many have turned away from the institutional aspect of the church and that ideas and systems must change with the times for the church to remain relevant and supportive.

Join Rev. Gary Van der Meer for St. Anne's Day this Sunday, an annual celebration of Saint Anne (the Mother of the Virgin Mary) including a service, BBQ, theatrical performance, and music. Find more information here.

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