Photo by Christie Harper.
Greenborough Community Church, at 2000 Keele Street, isn’t afraid to get political. Since October 26, 2010—the day after Toronto’s municipal election—the sign on the interdenominational church’s front lawn has read:
LET US PRAY FOR OUR NEW MUNICIPAL LEADERS.
GOD HELP US
To uncover the meaning behind this message, we talked with the church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Michel Belzile, who told us that the text reflects both disappointment with the election and optimism for the future.
According to Belzile, while the sign is meant to be “tongue-in-cheek,” the message was also crafted to make a statement about civic engagement. “It was a way to recognize that whether we got who we wanted elected or didn’t get who we wanted elected—it’s time to get on board,” he told Torontoist. “Secular society uses ‘God Help Us’ as a derogatory term; for Christians ‘God Help Us’ is a prayer…we’re praying for our politicians as they move forward.”
The sign’s message also ties into a sermon on citizenship that Belzile delivered before the election, in which he used Romans 13:1–7—a section of the New Testament on civic responsibility and the importance of paying taxes—to critique the election’s “more for less” mantra, and to argue that, going forward, our elected officials will still need our help and continued participation.
“We’ve created an environment where, whether being intentional or not, we’ve turned politics into a product that we provide to consumers,” Belzile told us. “That’s not the original idea of citizenship. Citizenship is a collective body of people seeking to better society. We don’t exist to consume products or services that our government gives us….just because we don’t have kids in school, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have to pay school taxes. As citizens, we need to be less concerned about voting for the person who’s going to give us the things we want, and more concerned with who will advance the community we want to become.”
For Belzile, none of the mayoral front-runners displayed a “vision beyond their mandate,” which he says helped reinforce a “city versus suburban focus,” where the question for voters became “Where am I going to get the most bang for my buck?”
But despite his disappointment, Belzile intends to work with the new administration and the councillors in his area—the church is in Ward 12, York South-Weston, to continue to find better ways to serve the community. “You dance with the ones that you come with,” he told us. “That’s [who] you have to work with right now.”
And as it turns out, this isn’t the first time that Greenborough has posted an edgy sign. The church did a sermon series last year entitled “What I hate about the Christians,” which it also advertised on its sign, Belzile explains. “The series was about where we as Christians fall wrong,” he explains. “I remember getting lots of calls about that one.”