A brief history of the Ruah community...
In May 1996, a small group of seekers met to begin to explore the possibility of creating a new spiritual community in Toronto. Toni Delabbio, then on staff at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, was working toward her Master of Divinity. It was her vision and leadership that brought seekers together. (The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto is a congregation of the worldwide Metropolitan Community Church movement located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is a welcoming congregation openly affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual and transgender people.)
The fledgling group was inspired by the idea of a faith community in which members would be deeply involved in theological discussion and the creation of the community's weekly sacred ceremonies. Members sought to connect with a faith tradition that would contain and honour the depth of their lived experience: women and men, homosexual and heterosexual, diversity of race, culture and religious background.
The common spirituality of the emerging community was based on progressive Christian thought articulated in liberation and feminist theologies. These theologies supported the community's emerging focus on creation-centred spirituality.
After months of discernment, the name "Ruah" was adopted. Ruah, a Hebrew word, found in the book of Genesis, means "breath of God" or "mighty wind of the Spirit”. In 1997, the community was registered as a charity and incorporated as a non-profit faith community and Toni Delabbio was ordained as its first minister.
Over the years, the spiritual orientation evolved from its initial Christo-centric theological foundation, to a more deeply ecumenical, cosmic and Earth centred spirituality, influenced by such thinkers as Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Starhawk, Matthew Fox, Joanna Macy and Christina Baldwin. The community now includes members from both Jewish and Christian backgrounds.
In 2002, Ruah's Board gave voice to "Ruah Dreams".
Come to a deeper understanding and communication of a creation-centred ruah by drawing on a spirituality embedded in the sacred revelation of the Universe.
Integrate children and the "child within" in all our programmes,
Create greater alignment between what we say and do, e.g. rituals centred around the Universe story and gatherings which re-connect us deeply with creation, and
Ensure a sustainable workload for all who contribute their time and effort to the life of the community by simplifying our practice.
At the outset, the Ruah community was structured according to a traditional pastoral model, headed by a clergy leader who was supported and advised by a board of directors that functioned as a church council. Toni Delabbio was the community’s pastoral leader until early 2003 when she began a two-year sabbatical. This signaled an evolution in how our community would be led.
While there had always been a significant level of community participation in both ritual planning and leadership, the community now discerned we were being drawn into shared leadership. The transition was rapid and successful.
The model of leadership that emerged was three intersecting circles. They were: the Spirituality and Discernment Circle, the Ritual Circle and the Circle of Care. Members of the community stepped forward into one or more of these circles as they felt called to do so.
The board of directors was elected each year (a requirement of a non-profit organization) and attended to the business needs of the community such as budgeting and communications, and provided support for the functioning of the circles. The Board of Directors became a fourth circle, The Circle of Support.
The Spirituality and Discernment Circle was responsible for setting the theological direction of the community by listening to the ruah, gathering resources to feed our evolving understanding, and facilitating forums of education for the community. The Ritual Circle co-ordinated and created weekly gatherings.
In 2005/2006, Toni Delabbio realized she was not able to continue in the pastoral role. The community felt the loss of her and realized there would be continued need for listening to the Spirit so that we might continue to thrive as an alternative faith community.
The next five years were flourishing times. Teams of community members worked together to plumb the depths of earth-centred spirituality using theme ideas such as the ecological self. We asked ourselves how we might bridge the profound separateness most humans feel from the natural, given world.
Over time, the Spirituality and Discernment Circle began to meet less and less and a feeling of “drift” grew in the community as a whole. Fewer organizational meetings and simplified gatherings helped to ease the way, but by June 2011, we realized quite starkly, we were running low on “gas”.
In response, the Ruah community slowed down and listened to see what emerged as a sustainable way forward — or not, as the Spirit declared. Through fall 2011, we continued to meet, discern and work toward an approach that would be consonant with the real capacity of our group.
Committed individuals stepped forward, a larger discernment role was given to the Circle of Support, and this helped carry the organization in essential ways up to 2019. Discussions began then, and by June 2020, in the midst of COVID, we let go of our organizational structures held with Revenue Canada and became a more loosely woven organization. Now, three anchor persons hold down three Sunday cycles: “Root” (meditation); “Trunk” (study); and “Branches” (ritual).
Since 1997, Ruah made its home at the east Toronto community centre, The Ralph Thornton Centre. But, as of March 2020, due to COVID, all gatherings moved online using Zoom. This has had a remarkable and happy outcome. Many of our Ruah community members are now far-flung across Canada, so our online presence has made it possible to welcome back old members as well as new visitors.
As we have done for 25 years, the Ruah community will continue to evolve, called by Earth and Sky, responsive to the needs and energy of our group and to the wider community.