Field Reports of Toronto 2018: Group Mosaic
Students of the Respect program have many chances to go abroad for study trips. From April 25th to May 7th of 2018, students went to Toronto to study multiculturalism of Canada. In the field, students were assigned three research groups: KISS Group; Group Mosaic; Group Saku Karzu. The following is a report of Group Mosaic.
Religious Practices in a Marginal Space: (Re)locating home in Toronto
When our group was asked to choose which particular cluster we wanted to focus on for the Toronto Summer School in Multicultural Studies program, we unanimously agreed to pick the cluster on “Transnationalism, Migration and Religion: Home-making amongst the Diaspora”. Our group, which we later named Team Mosaic, felt that we would be able to relate and compare this topic with our own personal experiences coming from our different backgrounds of Japanese (one of whom practices Christianity), Chinese and Filipino living in Japan.
A major part of this inquiry was the fieldtrip to two churches that cater to diasporic groups: The Pentecostal International Worship Center, a Ghanaian Pentecostal Church (PIWC) and St. Moses and St. Catherine Coptic Orthodox Church, an Egyptian Coptic Church. The lectures given to us by Professor Girish Daswani, an expert on religion and migration, briefed us on what to expect.
On a Sunday morning, we boarded a rented school bus to the Ghanaian Pentecostal Church which is located on the outskirts of Toronto. Normally, to go there would have meant taking a city bus with one transfer. This less than an hour ride brought us initially through an upper middle class residential neighbourhood which later gave way to an expressway where factories are located then onwards to a much more simple part of town. The distance and non-direct bus commute to the PIWC made us think that there might be few churchgoers who would attend. This initial thought was immediately disproved when our bus halted at a parking lot of a two-story nondescript building and we saw streams of Ghanaians arriving in their best Sunday attire. We were welcomed and brought to the second floor where an ongoing Bible Study session was quietly being held.
The energetic singing and dancing that immediately followed the Bible Study session was in stark contrast to the simple building façade and interior. Our group decided to split and observe the worship service in different areas of the room. This performative worship follows the Pentecostal central belief of the power of the Holy Spirit. In this second floor space, we saw bodies moving with the beats of the live band (see Picture 1), unabashed dancing and loud uttering of praises to the Lord. The Ghanaians welcomed us with hugs and most of us loosened our inhibitions and joined them. Those who did not feel like participating felt at home in the company of the young Ghanaians who were sitting down at the back. This younger set were interesting to observe as they seemed to be oblivious to the overall vibe. More and more churchgoers arrived as minutes passed by and the once half-full room that we saw when we came in immediately gave way to a livelier atmosphere of smiling faces that masked the hardships that most of them experience as one of the poorest groups of migrants in Toronto.
Time flew fast and it was time for us to leave. We transferred to the office of the Pastor where pictures of the PIWC’s founder and a world map, which pinpointed to PIWC’s worldwide presence, was conspicuously mounted on the walls. The church volunteers talked about the activities that the PIWC provides to further the sense of belongingness among its members and measures that they take to connect with other groups in Toronto. Apparently, the second floor area was not the only space for religious activities because the room on the first floor was holding a simultaneous service as well. We were only able to have a short glimpse of the activity on the first floor but it could easily be observed that the services were conducted in a much more subdued manner and devoid of the dancing and singing on the second floor. We were told that the service on the first floor was exclusively in the Ghanaian language which was in contrast to the English language service on the second floor.
After lunch, our group walked to the Egyptian Coptic Church (which I will refer to as ECC). In contrast to the PIWC, the ECC is located in downtown Toronto and is relatively more accessible with its location close to Kensington Market, a market which is known to be an enclave for the newly migrated and now a target of gentrification. The ECC’s red brick façade, stained glass windows and exterior signage was relatively more telling as a place of worship compared to the warehouse-like building utilized by the PIWC. Father John, Joey, an ECC member and University of Toronto student, and a handful of their fellow members welcomed our group and ushered us into the basement where we were offered a drink of our choice (either tea, coffee or hot chocolate) and also partook of bread that was passed around. This is a representation of the Coptic Church’s primary belief that centers on wine and bread becoming the blood and body of Jesus Christ, respectively. We were told that this is where they receive people before going to the next floor where mass is held. In this social space, books could freely be borrowed and board games are also available.
The area on the first floor is very different from the social space located below. The walls where the mass is held are lined with icons of their patron saints, St. Moses and St. Catherine, an image of the crucified Jesus Christ, and a relic of St. Moses. Gold is the dominant motif. While there was a lone image of the Jesus Christ on the cross, most of the imagery focused on the Risen Christ. Father John explained that their Church focuses on this rather than the death of Christ. It was unfortunate that we were not able to observe the actual service, however Father John was kind enough to perform a service exclusively for us together with a few members of the group who were present. Like the PIWC, the ECC mass was also a sensorial experience, especially with incense very generously distributed around the room. It also had its distinctive chants and beats that could be said to be associated with the Middle East via the musical instruments used and the extension of the last syllables of words during the singing.
What our group, Team Mosaic (see Picture 2), witnessed were different churches, different cultural practices performed in Toronto transnationally, different groups of people within a diaspora, and individuals with different trajectories of their being and becoming. However, while both groups have different ways of practicing their religion and preserving their culture beyond transnational boundaries, what makes them alike is their similar goal of keeping their group cohesive by being there for each other in their daily struggles in a land that they could not yet entirely call their own.