In a special Sunday service celebrating its 75th year, Main Street Church of the Nazarene was hailed as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother church.
By one count, the church has been directly or indirectly involved in starting 11 other churches in and around Toronto.
“That’s a tree of life that represents somewhere in the region of 1,400 people worshipping in those congregations this morning,” said district superintendent Reverend Ian Fitzpatrick, one of several guest speakers at the March 17 service.
“Main Street Church of the Nazarene – thank you for that.”
Tucked in a quiet row of houses just north of the Danforth, the church has had a bigger influence than anyone would guess from its modest size, not to mention its number of parking spots.
In fact, says Reverend Wensell MacLeod, he and just about every other former pastor at Main Street has at some point dreamed of moving to a larger building.
But in the end he said they all found the church’s strength is not in its size.
“It can’t be measured in numbers or nickels or noses,” he said. “It can only be measured by the spirit as people serve.”
Like the Church of the Nazarene as a whole, the church has a strong focus on outreach, running ESL classes, Bible schools, a ministry for seniors at True Davidson Acres and missions abroad.
The church also draws strength from the diversity of the Main and Danforth neighbourhood. During his time as pastor in the 1990s, MacLeod saw the church add new members from the Caribbean, Africa, Russia and eastern Europe.
“As the demographics changed, we had to change,” he said. While the church’s message is the same, its music and its ways of organizing ministries have developed as more and more national flags have been added to the wall just behind the church’s main sanctuary.
Maxine Toomey joined the church in 1954, and it seems to have had the same strong welcome then.
At 19, Toomey had just left many of her friends and family back in New Brunswick. She decided to join the Main Street church after running into a friendly group of younger members who invited her to join their lane at a bowling alley.
“They really made you feel right at home,” she said. “I found that the young people wouldn’t do anything without including everyone who was in the church.”
Soon, Toomey was helping out not only at Main Street, but also at services for the fledgling Mount Albert church as well as open-air services in the big tent that became Kennedy Road Church.
Today, Toomey is one of several experienced leaders in the church community, having taught Sunday school, organized missions and taken on the role of secretary of the church board.
Dr. William Stewart says that having those kind of leadership roles available to all its members is another big reason why the church has nearly doubled the typical 40-year lifespan of a North American church. The former Main Street pastor and retired national church director happens to have been born the same year the church was founded, in 1938.
“My opinion is that you have been one of the most effective and fruitful churches in Canada,” he said.
“Twenty five years from now, you will celebrate your 100th birthday. Won’t that be an occasion? I hope you invite me to come.”