Twin Toronto Churches Turn 50

| |

Commuting to downtown Toronto, Ontario, from the far suburbs was not the real challenge for hundreds of young Dutch immigrants who were packing First Christian Reformed Church each Sunday. It was finding a place to sit in the overcrowded church during any of the three Sunday services.

The elders knew that the church was pregnant with possibility, and so the birth plans began. They quickly determined that not just one daughter church but two would be delivered. Thus the twins, Willowdale CRC and Grace CRC in Scarborough, were born.

The families attending First CRC—just shy of 330—were assigned to churches based on where they lived. After much discussion, off they went in October 1963, though many residents of both Willowdale and Scarborough opted to remain at First Toronto to help maintain its ministry.

In the north, newborn Willowdale CRC moved into a rented space on Bathurst and Finch, where it held its first service on October 22, 1963. In 1967, the congregation moved into its own building on Hilda Avenue, where it still resides today.

Further east, Grace CRC, located in Scarborough, held its first official Sunday service on November 10 at the Masonic hall on Ellesmere and Markham Road. There it remained until 1967, when it moved to its permanent home near McCowan Road and Highway 401 in May 1967.

Through their inevitable growing pains, both churches were strong from day one. Grace CRC’s first pastor, Jacob Geuzebroek, took charge of the 84-family church. The congregation did not take long to respond to its calling toward a more community-oriented service open to people of all cultures. By 1967, Dutch was no longer used in the services at Grace, and its cultural diversity continued to lead it toward what Rev. Bart Velthuizen today calls “an example of God’s diverse and unified family.”

Willowdale CRC maintained its Dutch roots much longer, holding its evening services in Dutch until the mid-1980s. Today it is a much more multicultural church.

Meanwhile, First CRC needed to readjust after sending out close to 80 percent of its congregation. For a while only a scattered few young people could be seen in the pews, yet slowly the University of Toronto campus ministry filled that gap. Its Lighthouse Ministry was born as it adapted and focused on urban ministry.

About the Author

Jose Lune is the Banner’s regional news correspondent for classis Toronto.