Skylight Expands Its Borders

Rev. Sarah Chapman knew that the Greenbelt Festival, she attended in Great Britain in 2013, was the kind of life changing experience she had to bring home to Canada. As soon as she returned, together with several who went to Greenbelt with her, the minister of Willowdale Emmanuel United Church in North York, began to plan to offer a similar opportunity to progressive Christians in Canada.

The inspirational, activist flavour of the arts and justice festival was emulated in a small festival at the Paris Fairgrounds in the summer of 2015. By the summer of 2016, a highly successful, full-fledged festival, largely funded by the United Church, was launched. Over five hundred people came from all over the country to see concerts and participate in seminars on justice and spirituality.

“There was something so special about Greenbelt,” Chapman said, “the progressive atmosphere, the quality of the performances. I especially enjoyed the music of Martyn Joseph and I was thrilled that he was able to come and be part of the festival last summer.” Chapman attends the Welch composer/musician’s concerts whenever he comes to the Toronto area, because “his lyrics speak so clearly about seeking justice”.

           “The 2017 festival (which ran for three days at the end of July) was consistently good,” she said. “Everything ran smoothly.” Hundreds came from as far away as British Columbia and the Maritimes to watch musical concerts, dramatic presentations, informative talks, to take songwriting workshops and to make meaningful social connections with like-minded individuals.

From early morning, participants of all ages and spiritual backgrounds, attended sessions in venues across the Paris Fairground’s property—indoors and out. The afternoons were filled with music, panel discussions and workshops. Musical concerts lasted late into the night. Children had fun with the giant storybook in the field area, did paintings and played with a giant ball of yarn. And the teenage youth group participated in theatrical workshops and rap music sessions.

Chapman said she was glad to see the ecumenical nature of the gathering expand—to include some fresh expressions Anglicans, a few Presbyterian groups and some Muslims attending. The inclusive programming included co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Toronto, Sandy Hudson, Zarqa Nawaz, creator and producer of the hit comedy, Little Mosque on the Prairie and Adrian Jacobs, Keeper of the Circle from the Sandy Salteaux Spiritual Centre in Manitoba.

The tent village, where participants were able to camp on the Fairground’s property, was larger than it’s ever been. Harcourt United from Guelph had thirty-five people housed in several tents, she said.

Chapman, who is also on Skylight’s vision and relationship teams, said festival organizers plan to hold a stakeholders gathering in the near future to shape the programming for next year’s event. Organizers of the festival are planning to take the faith and justice gathering “up a notch” and make it even more of an interfaith celebration. The goal is to expand Skylight’s border to make it more inclusive in the coming together of many traditions. “Skylight is an important gathering for those who long for faith and justice to be lived out,” she said.

For more about Skylight go to

Livestreamed portions from the Festival 2017 are posted at


To find out more about Greenbelt go to –