Photographs in the basement of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Toronto’s west end show a congregation that has undergone massive change.

In a photo from 1939, lily white girls in lily white dresses sit primly, flanked by a row of white boys and a couple of white church elders.

One taken last year could have been snapped at the United Nations. Worshippers have come from Sri Lanka, Ghana, Zaire, Eritrea and the West Indies, to name a few locales. On any given Sunday, hymns are sung in Tamil, Congolese and Tigrinya (the language of Eritrea), as well as English.

It was precisely because of this diversity that high-ranking Lutheran leaders booted the church’s multi-hued membership, locked down the building and tried to sell it off, according to a lawsuit filed by worshippers.

“(To) all of a sudden be told you don’t belong, it was devastating. It was highly emotional. It was disturbing,” says Berhane Tsehaye, an Eritrean-Canadian church member and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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