Toronto Catacombs

A journey of David Spencer's faith in Jesus Christ, exploration of Christian faith and Canadian Christians working in media.
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Photo from Toronto Catacombs worship service circa 1974.

Toronto Catacombs

In 1968, students Gord Morris and Don Rossiter desired to begin a Christian club on the campus of their Toronto high school Birchmount Park Collegiate. After approaching their music teacher Merv Watson who was also a Christian, they formed the Catacomb Club. Merv's wife Merla Watson also became involved.

They moved from the school to Merv and Merla's home, and then to the St. Paul's Church turned theatre at Bathurst near Bloor in Toronto, Ontario Canada.

Beginning as a school Christian club in 1968 students having experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit began to gather other students from around Toronto. Based at St Paul's Anglican Church, in Toronto, this church gathered as many as 2000 at a Thurdsday night youth meeting at its peak in 1972, and eventually formed their own church led by Jim McAlister and Merv Watson. Many new choruses and speakers trace their origins to these meetings.

By 1971 they had grown into a group of 850 and began meeting in St. Paul's Anglican Church where they held a Thursday night 'Praise and Worship Celebration' that at its peak attracted 2,500 enthusiastic teenagers. Participants included Byron Hurn, Lynn Muller, Dianne Rainville and Ruth McAlister.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, Merv and Merla Watson led the Toronto Catacombs, drawing from 2-3000 young folk per week, among whom was Benny Hinn who came to the Lord. It was developed out of Merv’s high school class. It met in St. Paul’s Cathedral and resulted in hundreds of young folk committing their lives to the Lord, well over 2000 baptized in the makeshift basement tank, and many going into fulltime Christian service in many parts of the world. Following this, they directed "Shekinah,” an international group of Christian musicians, singers, and dancers in presentations in Canada, Holland, the United States, Switzerland, England, and Israel.

The core group eventually spawned a church that lasted into the late 1980s.

Another related group formed called Christian Church on a Hill ran from 1975 to 1984.

Mark Woodlley, influenced by the Toronto Catacombs, reached out in the parks of Brantford with the good news. The informal meetings that drew many young people and formed a Conerstone Church in 1972.

References

Remembering the Jesus Movement: People and Faces. 2017 Nov 1. <http://one-way.org/jesusmovement/>.

The Jesus People Movement <https://archive.org/search.php?query=http%3A%2F%2Fjesuspeoplemovement.com%2Fresearch-3.html http://jesuspeoplemovement.com/research-3.html>

Toronto Catacombs Alumni Facebook Group. 2017 Nov 1. <https://www.facebook.com/groups/18090012968/>.

Merv and Merla Watson. 2017 Nov 1. <https://www.mervandmerla.com/>.

Jesus People Movement in Canada. 2017 Nov 1. <https://www.academia.edu/901175/The_Uncomfortable_Pew_Christianity_the_New_Left_and_the_Hip_Counterculture_in_Toronto_1965-1975_--_Chapter_Nine>.

The Jesus Movement of the 70s.2017 Nov 1. <http://www.shilohworshipmusic.com/ShilohWorshipMusic/The_Jesus_Movement_of_the_70s.html>.

Di Sabatino, David. The Jesus Movement a Master's Thesis, Chapter 2.