College Street United – Pontes de Graça (Bridges of Grace)
Reverend Ricardo Silva is passionate and grateful – passionate about the mission he developed two and a half years ago and the bridges he and others have built with members of the Portuguese community; grateful for the support and guidance of colleagues like Chris Levan and, of course, the Toronto Southeast Presbytery PTCC grant that made this all possible. To learn more, read on…
College Street United, a diverse congregation at the corner of Bathurst and College Streets, is committed to making church a welcoming place for everyone; those just visiting or those looking for a more permanent worship community. It was an ideal place for Ricardo Silva, (a Brazilian and former Baptist pastor – now a United Church minister), to establish “Pontes de Graça”, a lively mission that reaches out to Portuguese-speaking people across the city. Pontes de Graça, translated, means “Bridges of Grace” and that, at its essence, is what this mission is all about.
Ricardo describes his mission as “highly inclusive, welcoming no matter who you are in terms of gender, race, social status; ideal for those looking for a place where people are loved”. It is open to everyone – all ages, those new to Canada, and those who have been here for many years.
The mission aims to build relationships, and help immigrants new to the country, through its bible study groups, Sunday evening services (delivered in Portuguese), counselling (be it on faith, finances or dealing with life’s challenges) and free weekly ESL classes at College Street run by Ricardo and an enthusiastic group of volunteers. All of the bridges provided are designed to instil hope and fellowship.
Up to two dozen Portuguese speaking people, ranging in ages from 25 to 40, attend the Sunday evening services. That number is growing as news of Pontes de Graça spreads by word-of-mouth and is profiled on Facebook. Today their Facebook page (https:www.facebook.com/pontesdegracatoronto) has 960 active followers.
Roughly 350 individuals, including volunteers, have attended the free ESL sessions, some of whom have become regular attendees at the Sunday evening services. In the words of ESL student, Deborah Azevedo, “Bridge is something that serves to unite or connect two points. Grace refers to the affection, love and favour earned by each. Participating in the course, I was able to enrich my vocabulary, make new friendships and help those who were at a level a little lower than mine. I feel very happy when I can be useful to people. And I felt happier still to have participated in and benefitted from a project as beautiful as this.”
Many of the children that the Mission reaches out to, are newly arrived immigrants devoid of winter clothing and many of the things we take for granted, such as food. When a 10 year old child, the son of one of the ESL students, was asked what he wanted for Christmas he replied “I want only a red jacket. I am so cold”- a sentiment shared by many other children like him. So the RED JACKET PROJECT began. Huge kudos to Dorothy Avery who inspired and brought this to life. Word spread. New toys, food baskets, mitts, woolen hats, socks, books, pencils and more were donated, wrapped with love and delivered to families in need – handing out gifts to the children and hope to their parents. This initiative, begun in 2016, will become an annual event.
Ricardo reaches out broadly across the Toronto Portuguese speaking community – one of the largest outside of Brazil and Portugal – building trust and contacts over coffee, in hospitals, in pubs or at community centres. He is a huge advocate of the “power of listening” and “the good things which happen when people engage”.
Ricardo is very grateful for the support he has received over the course of this project from Rev. Christopher Levan, minister at College Street United. “With love and respect, he offers good suggestions on how to address issues. He has been a great mentor to me”. Ricardo sincerely values the support of many others who have contributed to the success of this initiative; among them Dorothy Avery, Rev. John Joseph Mastandrea, Rev. Michael Blair, Rev. Robert Dalgleish, Anne Shirley Sutherland and, in no small way, his wife Emanuella Silva, who has been at his side from the start to help bring this mission to life.
He is also very grateful for the space provided by College Street United that makes this ministry possible. As well, for support from Toronto Conference, the Toronto Southeast Presbytery through the PTCC grant program, and the General Council’s EDGE network which funds innovative ministry development.
Kudos Ricardo. Great job! Keep building bridges!
To learn more visit Grant Opportunites in Toronto Southeast