The Varsity Magazine takes a close look at Toronto Oasis

They have the weather right, that’s for sure. The day was blustery and cold. But they also have everything else right, too, and for a magazine article about a topic as nuanced as religion and the secular, that is an amazing feat.

Thank you to Managing Editor Jaren Kerr and journalist Tom Yun for a great article exploring what Toronto Oasis is all about and why most people think of it as being Outside the Circle.

“February 12, 2017 was a Sunday. The roads were treacherous and the sidewalk was slippery. There was a snowstorm; the kind that encourages most people to stay in their homes, but that didn’t stop over 100 people from visiting U of T to talk about anything other than God.

“The first gathering — service, meeting, it’s still not decided what to call it — of the Toronto chapter of the Oasis network was held in the Koffler House Multi-Faith Centre. The Oasis network, established in the US, provides a community similar to that of a church or a mosque for the non-religious, the secular, the skeptical, and the curious.

Read more …

Toronto Oasis Launch


Oasis Soft Launch on February 5th

We have the address. We’ve checked out the room. Flicked the light switches on and off and on and off again. We even know where the tables and chairs are stored. But figuring out how everything is going to work is not something we want to be doing on our big day. So, we’re getting together this Sunday, February 5th, for a “soft launch” and you’re invited.

Stacks and stacks and stacks of chairs.

What we mean by a “soft launch” is that we will arrive at the planned set-up time – 10:00 a.m. – and we’ll run through everything we’re going to need to run through to ensure as smooth a launch possible. We’ll set up the chairs and time how long it takes us to do that. We’ll plug in the sound system to make sure we know how to use it for the big day and every Sunday following. We’ll brew some coffee and figure out how long that takes, too, and figure out where to put the cookies. In fact, we’ll run through as much as we possibly can so that next week, when Toronto Oasis officially launches, we’ll be able to set up easily and focus on the fun.

Spare us the tangles.

But we don’t want to be exclusive about it so we’re inviting you to join us. Yep. This Sunday. The 5th. If you’re interested in getting involved with Canada’s first Oasis community, this is your first opportunity. And you’ll get to hang with some awesome people, see some of the obligatory bloopers, and then head off for Superbowl Sunday at a local hangout.

Sound like fun? Great! Send us an email and let us know you’re coming or just show up at 10 and lend a hand. We’ll be glad to have you with us!

Toronto Oasis will be meeting at the U of T’s Multifaith Centre located at 569 Spadina Avenue. Our gathering will be in the Main Activity Hall on the second floor. 


Rick Miller on Board to Inspire at Toronto Oasis Launch

We are delighted to announce the speaker for Toronto Oasis’ launch. Rick Miller has been a theatrical force for good over the course of his amazing career as a writer, actor, director, and collaborator. Now, he comes to Oasis to share some of his contagious enthusiasm for what is good, what is right, and what is downright awesome.

Rick showed up on the radar of those exploring progressive religious thought when, collaborating with Daniel Brooks and Beth Kate‘s, he created and performed the provocative Bigger Than Jesus in 2004. The play, a critical exploration of the assumptions of Christianity, was a sensation and after its award-winning run in Toronto, went on to play in five different countries in four different languages (all by Rick, of course!).

But Rick’s interests are broader than just religion. In HARDSELL he explored the corporatization of our lives; in MacHomer, he uses his spectacular talents to act out MacBeth by mimicking the voices of over fifty characters from The Simpsons; in BOOM, he brings the entire history of the boomer generation to life through song, story, and a brilliant interweaving of the lives of ordinary three people. Children have been entranced with the Kidoons project and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea captivates all ages. Rick has been an outspoken and creative advocate for Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl project. He is now working on his next theatrical production, MONEY. 

The beautiful Main Hall at Koffler House.

Toronto Oasis, Canada’s first secular Oasis community, is scheduled to launch on February 12th at the University of Toronto’s beautiful Multifaith Centre, Koffler House, 569 Spadina Avenue. The site is accessible. Child care will be provided. Our gathering will officially start at 11:00 but we encourage you to come early to meet others, have a coffee, and help create the energy that Toronto Oasis is sure to build. Plan to stay for a bit after the program to chat with Rick and others about how Toronto Oasis might fit into your life, too.


The Oasis Network!

At our Annual Meeting in February, the congregation voted to affiliate with the Oasis Network, a growing group of secular communities. While our affiliation will make little difference to what happens at West Hill in Scarborough, we hope it will provide inspiration and a framework for the development of new communities in other areas of the city and perhaps even further afield as the network becomes more established in Canada.

The seeds for the Oasis Network were planted in 2012, when Mike Aus, after a long process of rationalizing his Christian faith, left the congregation he had been pastoring, convinced that he could no longer lead them as a non-believer. But within a few weeks of his departure, members of his former congregation approached him about starting a community for those who were questioning traditional beliefs or who had already transitioned beyond them.

Gathering a leadership team together, Mike and a handful of other interested people worked together to create a community. They opened the doors of their rented conference facilities that September. Over a hundred people showed up and Houston Oasis was launched. Since then it has become a thriving community and a model that freethinkers in other cities have begun to emulate.

A little over a year later, Helen Stringer (that’s her in the striped top!), a life-long church goer, sat down at her computer in Kansas City and Googled “atheist church”. Finding a kindred spirit in Mike, who happily shared ideas with her, Helen, too, pulled together a leadership team, and in April 2014, launched Kansas City Oasis with over two hundred in attendance. Along the way, Helen and Mike created the Oasis Network. Its mission is to help others form their own Oasis communities by providing support, a working model, resources, and a greater community at large.

West Hill and the Oasis Network have much in common. The Oasis’ core values resonate with our VisionWorks, a document Mike immediately recognized as a fuller expression of the Oasis’ succinct, five-point list:

People are more important than beliefs.
Reality is known through reason.
Meaning comes from making a difference.
Human hands solve human problems.
Be accepting and be accepted.

There are now five active Oasis communities in the States. In addition to Houston and Kansas City, leadership teams have come together and launched communities in Boston, MA, and in Logan and Provo, Utah. Seven more teams are in the process of developing communities in other cities across the States. West Hill is both the first Canadian community to affiliate and the first existing community to do so.

There are two principles that are essential to the Oasis Network beyond its core values: collaboration and autonomy.

Each community affiliated has access to whatever learning previous communities have amassed and that can be incredibly helpful. (For example, the Network has collated their most successful practices in a comprehensive document for starting new communities.) And resources can be shared within the network. West Hill, over the past fifteen years, has been challenged to source or create resources that respect the diverse perspectives of its members; there is a dearth of material out there. Now, we will have access to materials created or used in other Oasis communities and we will share our resources with them.

As for autonomy, each community can create a style that suits their context and the people who gather. So far, most meet on Sunday mornings but one could just as easily decide that Wednesday evenings are best. West Hill, to date, is the only Oasis community that has communal singing, something that others have not introduced or found to be a barrier to participation. And before being affiliated with Oasis, our West West Hill community determined that it wanted to meet around a potluck meal. That’s the kind of autonomy Oasis expects and inspires. In other words, Oasis communities can do almost anything they want to do as long as they do it in a way that respects the core values the network has identified.

But there are a few things that Oasis communities won’t do and these are so alike West Hill that we thought them worth sharing. They won’t require adherence to a belief system or the lack of one; participants represent a wide spectrum of religious and ideological beliefs, just like West Hill. And, also just like West Hill, they won’t provide a soapbox for anti-religious rhetoric. Those who have been at one of our services or who attend regularly know that disparaging believers isn’t welcome here. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have people in our community who actively pursue the right to freedom from religion through other avenues in their lives. Gretta often speaks publicly to the need for public space that is free from religious intrusion. But our Sunday morning gatherings seek to create a barrier free space and, in order to do that, that space needs to be as comfortable for religious believers as it is for those who are not.

We’re looking forward to the collaboration that affiliation will provide and we’re excited about working with Mike, Helen, and others like them. If you have any questions about what our affiliation with the Oasis Network means, don’t hesitate to talk with a member of the Board or gretta.