The Sunset Service Gatherings create a safe space for the spiritual expression of people of colour, sexual minorities and other marginalized people in and across various faiths and traditions. Gatherings take place in a spirit of affirmation and acceptance by combining art, prayer, poetry, performance, meditation and music.
The Sunset Service Best Practice is the implementation of arts-based, community-led, interfaith, intergenerational and culturally inclusive spiritual gatherings for communities of colour and their allies.
Grounded in respect for cultural pluralism, the project is informed by community needs and intentional about community representation (racial, religious, age-related, gender, etc.) among leadership, performers, speakers and attendees.
The Sunset Service Gatherings were inspired by the faith, diversity and inclusion outreach work that was being done by its founders, Rev. Chiedza Pasipanodya and Rev. David Lewis-Peart, at schools and conferences in Toronto.
The first gathering was held for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people of colour at a Back to Our Roots event prior to the 2012 Pride festivities. It brought together a number of local faith leaders of colour – from within and outside the LGBT community – representing Islam, Judaism, West African Traditional and Christianity, and drew 150 participants.
Sunset Service Gatherings challenge spiritual bigotry and discrimination, particularly within communities of colour, by modeling meaningful inclusion of marginalized communities, respect for diversity, interfaith collaboration, a commitment to social justice and a reverence for Indigenous knowledge.
LGBT individuals and youth often feel disenfranchised – in their families and faith communities – by an institutionalized intolerance towards sexual minorities that tends to exist within religious communities.
Faith communities typically serve as a source of strength and resilience for racialized communities and losing that support exacerbates the disenfranchisement experienced by people of colour.
Sunset Service Gatherings provide a platform for alternative narratives about faith, community, connection and belonging. They offer an affirming space for communities that are most affected by spiritual bigotry, discrimination (racism, classism, ageism, homophobia and transphobia), and devaluation of Indigenous practices.
Similarly, the gatherings combat the religious intolerance and ignorance that exists between faith groups, by making space for dialogue and visibility, with a focus on essential truths and shared values.
Being attentive to marginalized folks, building bridges across communities and faith groups, acknowledging embodied practice and Indigenous knowledge, and responding to local community needs have been paramount.
Making a Difference
There are few other examples of this type of project in Toronto.
The Sunset Service Gatherings have received strong community support and attendance, and have resulted in collaborations and partnerships with a variety of faith-based and secular groups.
Attendees have said that they have gained a greater understanding of other faiths, ethno-racial communities and LGBT issues. In addition, some have said the gathering helped them reconcile their identities with their spiritual or religious practice.
Challenges have included a lack of consistent monetary support and limited human resources for implementation of the gatherings. While community support and attendance at gatherings has been high, financial and human resources have not always been so. Ways of overcoming these challenges have been to increase outreach within community networks, actively seek volunteers and, in some cases, to also seek out donations of time and physical space. In terms of financial support, Sunset Service has applied for grants and solicited small donations in kind for specific needs from community partners. To date, this has been successful and services have gone forward with little disruption.
Vision for the Future
Organizers intend to capture and document this model project so it can be implemented by faith groups across the province and country.
About Sunset Service Gatherings
Sunset Service Gatherings are led by Co-Pastors Cheidza Pasipanodya and David Lewis-Peart, who bring their lived knowledge and experience together with their practice as trans-denominational (inter-faith) metaphysical ministers trained in the New Thought tradition.
The gatherings are focused on communities of colour, but also take an open approach by welcoming people from across faith communities and cultural backgrounds, remaining steadfast in the desire to support those who have been marginalized from traditional spiritual communities.
Best Practice Contact
Pastor David Lewis-Peart, Sunset Service Gatherings
20 Victoria Avenue, 4th Fl. Toronto, ON M5C 2N8