On September 2, 1992, a Chinese United Brethren church opened in Toronto, Ontario. The service was held on a Sunday afternoon at the Bloem Avenue (now New Hope) UB church in Toronto. The pastor was Phil Burkett. He and his family had recently concluded four years of ministry in Macau, so they knew plenty about reaching Chinese people and could speak the language.
In North America, Toronto’s Chinese population ranked second only to New York City’s. A large percentage had emigrated from Hong Kong, the exodus spurred by the specter of 1997 and by Canada’s comparatively lenient immigration policies. The immigrants tended to be financially secure; many retained businesses in Hong Kong and shuttled back and forth.
The vision for a Chinese ministry at Toronto had existed for a while. Just two years before, the conference had embedded Chinese ministry into a long-range plan, and Phil Burkett was appointed pastor in 1991 with the expressed purpose of making it happen.
In April 1992, the Toronto church sent letters to about 20 Chinese Christian contacts in the greater Toronto area, telling about the ministry-in-the-works. The next day, Phil Burkett received a call from Stephen Chan. He and his wife were members of St. Luke’s UB church in Hong Kong before moving to Canada 20 years before. Chan was excited about starting a Chinese church in Toronto.
The Burketts and Chans got together in May 1992. The Chans mentioned a Hong Kong pastor, Isaac Hor (pronounced HAW), who had been ordained in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church. Hor had moved to Canada about the same time the Burketts did with the intention of planting a Chinese church. That project didn’t pan out, so he was seeking a new ministry in Toronto.
How convenient. The Hor family—Isaac, wife Sarah, and their two children—attended Bloem Avenue UB on May 31 and met with members of the Chinese Planning Committee. The Ontario Conference not only approved him, but agreed to fund his support for a six-month trial. Hor officially started on July 1, 1992.
“Statistics show that a newly-arrived Chinese person has a much higher likelihood of coming to Christ than a multiple-generation North American,” wrote Phil Burkett in the United Brethren magazine. “Chinese churches in Toronto are growing (some say exploding) at an unbelievable rate. New Chinese churches spring up almost weekly.”
After that opening service on September 2, the church launched an English Language Program similar to what the Burketts helped found in Macau. Classes started September 14 and ran through December 2, with 6-8 students. A second term drew 10-12 students. Teachers came from both the English-speaking congregation and the Chinese congregation. In October 1992, a group of seven persons from the New York Chinese church drove up to help with an evangelistic outreach.
Turns out the Bloem Avenue church was too far from where most Chinese lived. So in September 1993, they relocated to a junior high school about 25 miles away on the northeast side of metro Toronto in an area densely populated by Chinese; a couple families in the core group already lived there. The Hor family moved to a townhouse near the school. Services were held in the school cafeteria.
The English Language Program started up on September 20, 1993, this time drawing 40 students—an excellent enrollment.
After six years in Toronto, the Burketts left in 1996, when Phil became Minister of Music at College Park UB in Huntington, Ind. The Toronto Chinese church closed in 2002. Isaac Hor returned to Hong Kong in July 2002 to minister with a Lutheran church.