Cantate means “sing a long” in Latin and this Christmas season the congregation at St. Anne’s Anglican Church are looking to join their voices with the broader neighbourhood in support of a local scholarship.
St. Anne’s Anglican Church, 270 Gladstone Avenue, will present Cantate, an afternoon of entertainment featuring singing and dancing on Dec. 8. But this program isn’t just intended for the congregants of the 150-year-old church at Dufferin and Dundas, explained Rev. Gary van der Meer, it is for the entire community.
“At St. Anne’s what we had been recognizing over the past year was a real desire to connect more deeply with the neighbourhood,” he said.
The church leaders started to visit community organizations and introduced themselves, which led them to the Toronto Police 14 Division and its Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). The CPLC hosts a monthly meeting that brings together residents’ associations, business improvement areas, and community organizations, which van der Meer attended. This is where they learned the 14 Division CPLC raises funds for a Community Safety Scholarship which is administered through Scadding Court Community Centre and is awarded to students from within 14 Division’s boundary who demonstrate leadership and community involvement.
“We wanted to be more present and related to the neighbourhood and the scholarship seemed like the perfect thing,” van der Meer said.
Coincidently van der Meer had been, at around the same time, meeting with the church’s music director about freshening up their music program so they came up with the idea of hosting a Christmas concert in support of the CPLC scholarship.
That came into question, however, in July with the shooting death of Sammy Yatim by police. “Immediately there were members of the congregation who said, ‘this scholarship is for the police, I’m not so sure about that,’” van der Meer said. “And the media seemed to be so anti police for a while.”
But van der Meer said the leadership at the church knew they needed to do something with the community in light of the tragedy.
“It became an opportunity in disguise in that if we really cared about the community we should care about the issue of mental health and people in our neighbourhood who have mental health challenges,” van der Meer said. “We needed to be better informed about the issue in order to be a better community partner.”
St. Anne’s went to Workman Arts where Lisa Brown, the executive director there, suggested the church host a community reading of a play Workman made in 1993 about a police shooting of a person with mental health challenges.
In September, St. Anne’s presented a reading of the play Vincent, about a young schizophrenic man shot by a police officer, to help the community grow in its understanding of a complicated situation. Based on a true story the play has extensively toured North America since its publication twenty years ago.
In September three parishioners performed the reading at the church and there was a panel of special guests: Mike Federico, Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police, and Jennifer Chambers of the Empowerment Council, affiliated with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“The beauty of it was that the police are not allowed to talk about this case because it is before the courts, but when you put on a play that has all the same issues... but they said together such sensible things.”
It was such a rich event, van der Meer said, and the result was anyone who had questions about supporting the 14 Division CPLC Community Safety Scholarship came around to feeling it was right to put on the Christmas concert.
“We hope it will bring all kinds of people from the neighbourhood who might not otherwise be at St. Anne’s, and that they will recognize that they are community partners in the long term, helping the neighbourhood and that they will enjoy doing Christmas with us,” said van der Meer.
Cantate will have three elements: a performance by the church choir and the Junction Trio; a Christmas carol sing-along; and then a dance performance by the Pia Bouman School of Ballet and Creative Movement.
The afternoon will also feature greetings from representatives from other faith groups.
“Christmas is a wonderful season and the language of love that is in our faith we can express that not just by singing, but we will have interfaith guests,” van der Meer said.
Also one of the recipients of the scholarship will be on hand to talk about his work in the neighbourhood and what the scholarship has done for him.
Cantate is on Sunday, December 8, at 2 p.m. at St. Anne’s Anglican Church. Admission is $10 a person, children are free. All of the proceeds will go to the CPLC Community Safety Scholarship.