By Siobhan Cole
When you ask David Lewis-Peart about faith, he pauses. As a founding member of the trans-denominational community Sunset Service Toronto, it’s something that he has been asked quite a bit over these last four years. What do you believe? What does faith mean to you? It’s not an easy answer, and for David, its response is one that has evolved over the years.
Faith, for a lot of people, is akin to a function. It is understood in terms of adherence to traditions and rituals, each of which are set in stone – go to this building at this time, pray in this particular way, wear only these clothes, eat only certain foods, etc. Consequently, people will give you a variety of answer on what faith means to them dependant on their beliefs or lack thereof.
“I’m not here to convert anyone or ask that everyone drink my lemonade,” he laughs. “Because of Sunset Service’s radically-inclusive stance, those who are quite traditional just aren’t likely to come to our service. It’s a community for the misfits and seekers; those people who recognize the black and white only tell part of the story, and are open to exploring the uncomfortable grey.”
Perhaps David senses some skepticism on my part – a spiritual service with no tangible parameters is something that not many people have experience with.
He tells me, that during a more evangelical period for him some years ago, he was questioned while riding on a Toronto bus with a friend critical of what she saw as his rigidly over-optimistic faith. “David”, she said, “we are on this bus and you see only green lights – each one sent specifically for you by a God who is working things out for your good. But that’s not true. It’s just green lights!” David recalls countering “Maybe. But we’re both sitting here, same bus, but having completely different experiences of the ride; me seeing only green lights, and you seeing only the red – convinced once again that life is messing with you” David shared that for a time, he used that story to illustrate his idea of steadfast faith. “Later, I realized whether seeing only red lights or seeing only green, both stories are equally incomplete” David’s own personal red light moments forced him to reconsider his previous stance. “What if faith wasn’t about holding on to something, but rather about letting go? Just being present to the experience of the bus ride, without adding anything else to it, whatever comes up; red lights, green lights, short turns and traffic stops. No story.” In that moment something changed for David, “I recognized that when I was honest, what I believed and what I knew to be true were in fact two separate things. Of the few things I would discover I certainly knew, it was that we are all on this life bus together.”
It’s an analogy that as a minister and a public speaker he has employed before. It’s one that perhaps best explains Sunset Service to those who don’t fully understand the concept.
The ministry, which he began with his close friend, author and artist Chiedza Pasipanodya, is incredibly active across the city. Lead by this pair, the small ministry has been included in a number of large events from Manifesto Festival to Nuit Blanche and even World Pride. Every second Saturday of each month, Sunset Service holds a two-hour prayer, meditation and conversation gathering at The 519, a Toronto-based space that is dedicated to serving the LGBTQ community. Each quarter, the group hosts a themed performance art service to mark the new season, which attracts large numbers of people from all walks of life. The services, says David, are a place that celebrate many things, but mostly provide a safe space for all faiths (and no faith) to come together. “These gatherings are just spaces to tell story, and the stories we aim to tell whether through music, movement, or messages are what we know to be true about everyone on the planet; we live, we’ll leave and if we’re lucky in-between those two points we create the space to love”
It is exactly the creation of spaces for love and community that Sunset Service has devoted itself to over these past four years. This group is creatively challenging – through the arts – limiting ideas about faith, race, sexuality and even God.
After all, says David, it’s all about improving the bus ride for others.