Half a century ago the Toronto St. Peter’s Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church broke new ground when the minister and members of the congregation realized the need for an English language sector. It was not an admission of assimilation. Rather, the goal was to meet the spiritual needs of English speakers who had married members of the Estonian congregation.
Led by Rev. Oskar Puhm and Voldemar Peterson, among others, the first English language service was held in the new church on Mt. Pleasant Avenue on October 27, 1957. Almost a half century to the day, on a lovely, crisp and clear Reformation Sunday, October 28th, St. Peter’s vibrant English sector marked their 50th anniversary with a worship service. The numbers in the pews reflected the importance of the day.
Three pastors celebrated along with the congregation: Rev. Dr. Andres Taul, Rev. Robert Cole, who is the English sector’s pastor, and the Lutheran Church of Canada East District President, the Very Rev. Al Maleske.
The Very Rev. Maleske is quite familiar with both the congregation and the church, having participated in numerous important ceremonies in the recent past, including the 50th anniversary of the church building and the consecration of Dr. Taul to the archbishop’s position. His sermon was based on Psalm 46, which begins “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
This was one of Martin Luther’s favourite psalms, and an appropriate choice on Reformation Sunday. Rev. Maleske emphasized Luther’s role in restoring the truth of the word of God to the world. The 95 Theses, nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31st, 1517 – 490 years ago — were Luther’s call on the competent church authorities of the day with a pressing need for reform. The spiritual impact of God being our refuge and strength, our mighty fortress, shaped Luther’s life and preaching.
The guest choir, the Toronto Estonian Male Chorus under the direction of Charles Kipper, echoed the message delivered in the sermon. Their selection of spiritual songs were based on passages from the Bible that emphasized the strength of the Temple of God which lives in us all, and of Jehovah’s dwelling, built for the believers.
After the service the English sector celebrated further with a luncheon in the church hall. The number of second generation Estonians present indicates that the decision to establish an English sector at St. Peter’s fifty years ago was prescient. Today it very much acknowledges the reality of a part of the Estonian community in Toronto — tied by heritage and marriage, sharing spiritual beliefs through English as part of a united and strong congregation.
St. Peter’s English sector jubilee