My name is Maria Ling and I’m from Singapore.
I’m a Singaporean Methodist. Later, I joined the United Methodist Church when we moved to the US. In every place we’ve lived, we’ve always gone to a Methodist or United Methodist church. When we arrived in Toronto in June 2012, I could not find a Methodist church.
Anyway, let me tell you something about myself. I’m a pastor by calling, gifting and training. All other times I’m the only child of my parents, the only wife of one husband and the only (biological) mother of David, Evan and Zoe.
My husband, Swee Hong Lim, and I are missionaries and because of that, we’ve lived and worked in many cross-cultural situations. We’re here in Toronto because he came here to teach at Emmanuel College. Prior to this, we were in Waco, Texas because he was teaching at Baylor University. Before that, I was back in Singapore for 2 years while he had been back to teach at Trinity Theological College for four years. In the noughties, I was pastoring a United Methodist church for 7 years in Quakertown, NJ, as well as completing the MDiv at Drew Theological School. In the ‘90s, we were doing graduate studies at Perkins School of Theology in Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. During that time, my husband served as Music Director of a UMC in Arlington, TX. We were also both on staff at Wesley Methodist Church, Singapore from the ‘80s to the ‘90s. So, you can tell we’re pretty much devotees of John and Charles Wesley.
Well, I’m a 4th generation Methodist and very proud of that so it’s taken me a while to call myself an Anglican even though I’ve been worshipping in an Anglican church since arriving in Toronto. But let me assure you, despite my heritage, background and my present association, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.
When we arrived in Toronto in mid-2012, I was invited by a friend to go to St Barnabas Anglican Church. Even though it was in the general area where we were living at that time, I still wanted to look for a church within walking distance. I went to two churches. I am sure they are wonderful churches but for some reason, I did not find a welcome at either of them. At one of them, there was no greeter. I sat alone and no one spoke to me during the Sharing of the Peace. After the service ended, there were some refreshments at the back of the church but yet again I was left by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of person who waits to be approached. In fact, I’m the kind of person who will try to make eye contact and who would be willing to speak first. On another Sunday, I visited another church. During the whole time I was there in worship with them, only the lady I sat next to shook my hand and smiled at me during the Sharing of the Peace. When the service ended, I wanted to speak to the pastor (they had 2 there). I couldn’t tell who the pastors were. So I hung around at the end and when a lady went to the door, I tried to make eye contact with her. I went to her and asked her, “Are you the pastor?” She replied in the affirmative and I introduced myself. Nothing. Soon, I had to move on as the people started to leave and wanted to exit. Till today, both churches have not contacted me even though I signed their guest books. We lived in the area for 4 years and no one from either of those churches ever tried to reach out to us. So, I went to St Barnabas Anglican Church on the Danforth.
You may wonder what brought me to Grace Church on-the-Hill. In June 2016, we moved to this area and because I’m committed to being part of a faith community where I’m located, I started to look for a nearby church. I had been told about Grace Church but I did not come here initially. It was closer to walk to another church. I went regularly for three months but there was not one service of Holy Communion. I filled in the offering envelope every week but no one from the church called me or emailed me even though I indicated that I wanted to make contact. I did meet the Associate Pastor but when he found out who my husband was, he was more interested to contact him.
In September 2015, I started working as the parish administrator at St Barnabas Anglican Church. I would chat regularly with the Honorary Assistant, Fr David Hoopes OHC. In 2016, I told him we were moving and he strongly encouraged me to visit Grace Church. He also told me that Peter Walker would be a good person to talk to about my hopes to seek ordination in the Anglican Church.
So, in September 2016, I came to Grace Church and almost from the start told Pastor Peter that the pastor here (meaning me) needed pastoring (by the Canon) and secondly, that I believe in being in ministry in the neighbourhood I live in – I can’t help being a missionary!
Right from the first Sunday I walked in, there was a warm welcome and a smile. Francesca learned my name and later sent me an email, Don came to welcome me and after the service, well, who can avoid the Canon? Not only that, when I walked out of the church that first Sunday to go to Loblaws to get some groceries, I met a woman walking home. We started conversing because we had been handed flyers about resisting the building of a taller building in the Village. Helen Bradfield and I continued to meet each other outside church and always on the TTC! And because I live and worship in this area, I’ve also bumped into Margaret and Scott around our means of transportation! But there are many more I’ve gotten to know and connect with, too many to mention all the names now. What’s different about Grace is unless I choose to avoid people, there’ll always be someone who will stop and chat or even wave from the other side of the church. Then it’s a matter of spending time to get to know each other better on our spiritual sojourn here on earth.
God’s presence is palpable here and we cannot help but share this reality within and without the walls of this building. The spirit of gracious hospitality is strong here. Are we ready to welcome more people into our fold? I think the answer is obvious because you’ve welcomed me.