Wine Before Breakfast

A city of refuge? Nice idea.

The Torah of Israel had a lot of crazy ideas.

You know, things like the Year of Jubilee when all slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all the land reverted back to its original owners. Crazy! I mean, who would ever do something like that?

Or the provision for cities of refuge. A city where you could find safety if you had inadvertently injured or killed someone and people wanted blood payment right away, regardless of any due process.

And here’s the thing. The Jubilee legislation isn’t some naïve overestimation of the people’s ability to seek economic justice. Rather, we need something like the Jubilee precisely because God knows something about the human penchant for oppression, foreclosure and exploitation.

That same thing can be said about cities of refuge. We have already seen this semester at Wine Before Breakfast that the Bible has no modern liberal cheap optimism about urban life. We have already seen that the city is, in the Bible, ambivalent at best.

Cities are walled-structures – both literally in ancient times and at least metaphorically in modern times. They were originally built for the security of their inhabitants and the areas around them that were under the control of the city.

Cities are places of safety. They actually are supposed to be for refuge.And people continue to come to the cities throughout the world today looking for refuge. Whether we are thinking of the rural poor who gravitate to the city for protection from the poverty and hunger on failing farmlands, refugees fleeing oppressive regimes abroad, or the abused teenage girl who needs refuge from an abusive home, people flock to cities looking for refuge.

But they seldom find it.
Read more Wine Before Breakfast

Wine Before Breakfast

Sodom, Toronto and the Ford Brothers

You don’t generally meet a customs official who makes you laugh out loud. But I did the other night returning from a conference in Indianapolis.

The Canadian customs official asked me what the conference was about.

“Community development,” I replied.

“You should have taken Doug Ford,” the officer quipped as he handed back my passport.

I roared with laughter and told him that he had made my night.

Doug Ford. The brother, side-kick and spokesman for Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto.

I should have taken Doug Ford to a conference on community development because it would seem pretty apparent that neither he nor his brother know anything about community development. Indeed, it almost seems as if anything that would benefit the community but restrain in any way the freedom of individuals (especially car-driving individuals) or require that individuals have a responsibility to community development that would require any kind of taxation for the common good, is all simply outside of the worldview of these leaders of the good city, Toronto.

Now I don’t want to make a quick and cheap analogy between Sodom and Toronto. And I certainly don’t want to make any such parallel on the backs of the gay community – something that fundamentalist Christians continue to do.

But if you allow Ezekiel to interpret Genesis, then the parallels between our prosperous late modern city and the depravity of that ancient city are clear enough.

Here is what Ezekiel says about the sin of Sodom: “she and her daughters had pride, excess of good food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (16.49)

They had excess of good food and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy. Sure sounds to me like the Toronto that the Ford brothers are imagining.

Ours is a city of incredible prosperity, yet we have a growing homeless population and an administration that seems hell-bent on selling off the little and inadequate affordable housing stock that we have. Ours is a city of rich food, wonderful farmers’ markets and world class restaurants, yet the poorest of our neighbours depend on food banks and soup kitchens for their daily bread.
Read more Wine Before Breakfast

Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) – Welcome!

Dear Friends,


There’s no hiding the fact that the next big transition is upon us. The calendar indicates that Labour Day has passed, the weather announces that Fall is arriving, and the buzz of activity on campus declares that a new academic year has begun. Students, supervisors, classes, theses, applications, funding arrangements, future plans and current relationships all call for our attention.

While all this is happening, we take time to grieve the hundreds of thousands of lives tragically lost a decade ago in New York and globally since then in the subsequent responses. We contemplate how to make choices in yet another election campaign of polarizing rhetoric. And we consider the implications of the apparent attempt by our city leaders to ban and criminalize homelessness.

Welcome to September. Welcome to Toronto. Welcome to our world.

But welcome also to another season of our campus ministry communities – Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) and Wine Before Breakfast (WBB). Here in this time, this city, and this world we long to be a small but persistent and Spirit-infused presence of shalom. A people of hope. A place of healing and wholeness.
Read more Graduate Christian Fellowship (GCF) – Welcome!

Wine Before Breakfast Returns

WBB, 9/11 … Ten Years Later

Dear friends:

Wine Before Breakfast was born while the smoke was still billowing from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Exactly one week after that fateful September 11, 2001 we gathered for the first time as a worshipping community at the University of Toronto.

No happy praise songs that morning.
No upbeat enthusiasm to gather in the crowds.

Rather, we began our life together as a community in lament.

And over these past ten years lament has never been far from our worship.
Ten years of war.
Ten years of escalating international terrorism.
Ten years of injustice.
Ten years of increased assault on this good creation and its most vulnerable inhabitants.

And the lament has got personal on all kinds of levels.
We have faced death in the community.
We waited and prayed while Jim Loney and three other Christian Peacemakers were held captive in Baghdad.

And our lament has also been deeply personal at times.
Broken relationships. Struggling faith. Deep disappointments.
But we have still been able to sing.
Read more Wine Before Breakfast Returns

Campus Ministry Newsletter – September 2011

Download it here!

Every fall the CRC campus ministries at York University (Shiao Chong, Logos Campus Ministry) and the University of Toronto produce a joint newsletter for distribution in Toronto-area CRC churches. The 2011 edition is hot off the press, and can be downloaded as a PDF document.

Special thanks to our colleague, Shiao Chong, for putting this newsletter together again this year.

A Theology of Dishwashing

[These reflections, collected and written down by Geoff Wichert over a couple of years, were first presented to the Graduate Christian Fellowship on Nov 25, 2010. They can also be downloaded as a Word document.]


These stories and reflections are rooted in the re-creation of the Graduate Christian Fellowship 5 yrs ago (Sept 2006). At that time we wanted to reshape the community, a change that we named in several different ways: a shift from program to community, from a focus on worldview (which is often primarily intellectual) toward character formation (a more holistic approach).

We noted that the Wine Before Breakfast community was characterized by a high level of personal investment, a sense of belonging, and strong loyalty/faithfulness, often showing itself in the enthusiastic invitation of friends and newcomers. We suspected this has something to do with continuity and rhythm, the routines and habits of discipleship cultivated in the regular weekly liturgies

We also supposed it was connected to WBB’s emphasis on hospitality – the regular practice of eating together. Over the years we had tried having “soup & bread” before GCF a number of times, but it was always optional, and never particularly successful. So we decided to make it central to our gatherings, and essential to what we did. We also aimed to establish other practices that would give the community a deliberately distinctive character and “feel”, such as our own weekly worship time.

Out of all that came the model of GCF that we have today. It has certainly evolved over the years, but one feature that has remained constant (for obvious reasons) has been the practice of washing dishes. Because it happened early, and was closely tied to deliberate reflection on the shape of the ministry, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on it, and these are some of the thoughts that have emerged.

There are 3 stories about the practical side of washing dishes: both FYI, but also presented here under the notion of “logistics as pastoral practice.” There is a biblical analogy from Jesus’ teaching, and finally a reflection on liturgical practice. Read more A Theology of Dishwashing

Remembering Gerald Vandezande: Prophet and Friend

by Brian Walsh

Matt Redman’s song “Blessed be your name” is a powerful testimony to praise in the face of both joy and sorrow.

Blessed be your name
in the land that is plentiful
where your streams of abundance flow
blessed be your name
Blessed be your name
when I’m found in a desert place
though I walk through the wilderness
blessed be your name.

Redman has it right. Blessing the name of God is a radical act that happens whether the “world’s ‘all as it should be’” or we’re “on the road marked with suffering.” And so Redman invites us to sing:

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord …

But then in the bridge he pushes the song to a place that I seldom can go. Read more Remembering Gerald Vandezande: Prophet and Friend

Summer GCF: In the Office

Hi everyone,

After a lovely hike last week, we’re back in the office this week for GCF (though we can still share a baked chicken by tearing it apart with our hands if you want, for memory’s sake).

Here’s the low down, since I know you all just skim these emails 🙂

When: 6:30pm
Where: The office, basement of Wycliffe
What: shared pot’luck’ dinner (go to to share what you’re sharing… please), followed by a time of hanging out

Looking forward to seeing all of you this week!