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Church Hosts Poetry Sessions to Build Community

Poet Debbie Sawzcak spoke at the April 2019 poetry night pilot at Neilson Park Creative Centre.
Poet Debbie Sawzcak spoke at the April 2019 poetry night pilot at Neilson Park Creative Centre.

Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont., kicked off a joint venture with the Neilson Park Creative Centre in September, launching a series of open mic poetry sessions. Sponsored in part by the League of Canadian Poets and the Ontario Arts Council, the church hopes the series will bring communities together through the expression of the arts. The series is an extension of an inaugural event in April. 

Community ministry pastor Mark Broadus chose the neighborhood art gallery as a venue, directing his congregation outward. Events like this help to realize Fellowship’s stated goals of being outward facing, working collectively, collaborating with outside organizations, and reducing cultural obstacles, he said. The goal of the partnership was to build a poetic community, one of inclusion to be a bridge of reconciliation. 

Broadus said the long-term partnership is an opportunity to take risks, while allowing featured poets to choose their own themes. The Sept. 29 kick-off featured one guest poet, Honey Novick, along with an open mic session welcome to all. At the pilot event in April, two guest poets were featured. About 20 people attended the September session, and three poets braved the open mic, including Fellowship CRC member Bethany Chong, 18.

But people from outside the church contributed as well. Leah Liora, a volunteer at Toronto’s Art Bar, said she had been invited by the featured poet Novick, who had recently read at another event at Art Bar. Liora shared her experience of reading, “This was such a warm and receptive audience of people of all ages. I felt encouraged when I read this new poem.”

Petra Nyendick, executive director at the Neilson Park Creative Centre, said “We partner with a wide range of community organizations for many of our events, both locally and regionally.” She explained, “The benefit of partnering with a church is that we are able to offer the event to a large and diverse segment of the community.”

Fellowship CRC and the creative center will alternate hosting the poetry sessions over the next six months. Fellowship CRC invited Debbie Sawczak as the guest poet for the second session Oct. 24. Every session is a "pay-what-you-can" event with each featured poet paid a stipend. Funds are generated through "pass-the-hat" contributions.

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