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Celebrating Fifty Years of Jubilee

Leviticus 25:10a

Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you.

Theme: Christ enables His jubilant church to celebrate 50 years of Jubilee.

Read: Lev. 25:8-17; 39-43; Isa. 61:1-3; Luke 4:14-21
Text: Lev. 25:10a

Songs: (from Book of Praise, Ango-Genevan Psalter) Ps 65:1,2,3 (opening)
Hy 1a (creed)
Ps 92:1,2,6 (after offertory)
Ps 146:4,5 (after sermon)
Ps 150:1,2,3 (closing)
(alternatives: Ps 68:3; 103:1,4; 107:5,6; 142:4,5)
Date: Preached by Rev. Richard Pot, August 13, 2000
Occasion: 50th anniversary of Orangeville Church (August 13, 1950 - August 13, 2000) See Press Release
Location: Canadian Reformed Church of Orangeville, Ontario

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Once upon a time there was a small gathering of believers in a house.(1) It was also a Sunday afternoon. Also in August. Also the 13th. Just like today. It fact it was today - exactly 50 years ago. There, on that Sunday afternoon, this small gathering of believers of 1950 met in the house of family Dewitt in Georgetown, along with a minister from Holland, Rev. Hettinga. Office-bearers were ordained, the church instituted.

Now today we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary. But what exactly do we celebrate? Do we celebrate the fact that the believers of 1950 had the courage to make a new beginning? Are our celebrations of August 13th, 2000 so very different from the celebrations of the believers on August 13th, 1950? What do the believers of 2000 have in common with the believers of 1950?

I suggest that the celebrations of the believers of 2000 are not so very different from those of the believers of 1950. They are the same. Because what the believers of 1950 celebrated was not their achievement, their work. They celebrated the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the ongoing work of Jesus Christ in preserving His church. What we as believers of 2000 celebrate is no different - it too is not our achievement, our work. Today is a celebration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the ongoing work of Jesus Christ in preserving His Church. Today is not a new celebration. It's an ongoing celebration, a celebration that has been going non-stop in this church for 50 years. I proclaim to you the Word of God with this theme:

Christ enables His jubilant church to celebrate fifty years of Jubilee.

1. The original stipulations of this jubilee.
2. The underlying implications of this jubilee.
3. The present celebrations of this jubilee.
1. The original stipulations of this Jubilee.

In the Old Testament, the Lord also stipulated various times of celebration for His people. These times of celebration are especially marked by the number seven. To begin with, every seven days comes the sabbath day. That is a day to rest from working the land, and celebrate God's goodness. But there isn't only a sabbath day - every seven years comes the sabbath year (25:1-7). This is a whole year to rest from working the land.

But the celebrations of the sabbath day and the sabbath year don't exhaust the celebrations of the sabbath. Here in Leviticus 25 the Lord also stipulates that after every seven times seven years, "seven sabbaths of years" - that's a total of 49 years - there is to be another special year, the year of jubilee. The 50th year is a year of jubilee.(2) So actually that means that there are two sabbath years in a row, first the sabbath year, and the very next year the year of jubilee. You could call it a super sabbath. This is the climax of all the sabbaths. If you think the sabbath day is good, if you think the sabbath year is good, just wait till you hear about the super sabbath, the year of jubilee.

The year of jubilee is announced on the day of atonement by sounding the trumpet.(3) That trumpet sound signals that a number of special stipulations have to be carried out. The first stipulation for the jubilee year is that the land is to have rest, not to be worked (25:11). That's the same as a regular sabbath year (25:4-5).

But there were two special stipulations for the year of jubilee. The first concerned land - you have to go back to your family property. And if it is owned by someone else, you get it back again. The second concerned persons - if you are a slave, you are set free. These stipulations aren't burdensome. They are joyful. So they can be summed up in the jubilee year command - "Proclaim liberty throughout the land." Liberty, freedom - this is a good thing.

We can understand what is going on when we recall where all this land comes from in the first place. God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). This land is a promise of the covenant. In His grace and mercy, God came and promised them an inheritance. God freed them from slavery in Egypt, brought them into Canaan, gave each of them an inheritance. A parcel of land.(4)

But now consider what happens to that inheritance, to those parcels of land. Not every Israelite is as good at managing their inheritance as the next. This Old Testament church of believers - they were also sinners. Because of sin, some of them make a mess of the inheritance that God gave them. That happened. People get into debt. Huge debts. Crisis time. They have to do something about it. They have to take desperate measures. To sell the family land. That special plot that is their inheritance, the one given to them by the Lord, yes, they have to part with it, sell it, to survive.

It could get even worse though. Sometimes those debts are so big, that selling the land isn't enough. People slide even further into debt, so far that although they have sold the land, they are still in debt! You know what they do then? They don't have any land left to sell, so they sell themselves. That was an option for debt ridden Israelites: selling themselves into slavery. The whole family, dad, mum, children and all, now become servants of others.

But now hear the trumpet! It's the year of jubilee! Now the consequences of those debts are taken away!(5) Jubilee - that means - back to the land, back to the inheritance that the Lord had given. The current owner, the person who had bought it, has to hand it over. At no charge. Simply has to give it back to that family who had to sell it in order to survive. Now it is theirs again. Jubilee - that means also - no more slavery! The family that had sold themselves into slavery because of their debts, is set free. "Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants." Liberty indeed! You can imagine the jubilation as debt ridden families once again make a new beginning with the family plot of land, as debt ridden families in slavery are set free.

In practice, this means that you can never buy someone else's land permanently (25:23). You only have it temporarily, until the year of Jubilee - then it goes back to the original owner. So in practice, people aren't buying the land. They are renting it. The Lord instructed that the cost of the land was equal to the number of crops remaining until the year of jubilee (25:15-16). That's how much it is worth. It's like a lease.

The same applies to Israelite slaves - they are not to be slaves permanently (25:42,46). They are only slaves temporarily, until the year of Jubilee.(6) In fact, this is why God specifically stipulates that they are not to be treated as slaves. Just like land, in practice people are rented or hired, until the time of the year of jubilee (25:39-42,47-53). So they have to be treated not like slaves, but like "hired workers" (25:42,46).

How wonderful this year of jubilee was! Over fifty years people can get into a real mess. Also in our own congregation, while some families have financially successful, there have also been other families who have struggled, and at times failed. Imagine that at the end of fifty years you get a clean start. A new beginning! This is at the heart of the stipulations for the year of jubilee. The consequences of their debts are scratched out, so people can start over. Even if you got yourself into a big financial hole, the biggest hole you could get into was only 50 years big. It never gets worse than that, because every 50 years there is a fresh start - the year of jubilee.

2. The underlying implications of this Jubilee.

But now why did God give these stipulations? Why did the Lord want every fifty years to be a fresh start? Underlying the stipulations of the year of jubilee, is the idea that the land belongs to the Lord (25:23). Not to the Israelites. No one can become a financial super-power, owning half the land and half the people. Because God owns everything, the land, and its people.

But in His love, the Lord gives this land to His people as an inheritance. That is a gift of the covenant. An undeserved gift. People who used to be slaves in Egypt are given a land of milk and honey. Just as the Lord comes to helpless infants born under the curse of slavery to sin, and in their baptism gives them the promise of a heavenly inheritance, so the Lord comes to a helpless people in slavery to Egypt, and gives them the promise of an inheritance in Canaan. Freedom from slavery in Egypt, a promised land - this is liberty!

But now because of sin, this freedom gets distorted. The people of the covenant are sinners. Some of them end up losing that land the Lord gave them, some of them end up becoming slaves. This is the effect of sin. The consequences of sin, for some of God's people, means that they can no longer enjoy the blessings of the covenant. They are strangled by debts instead. Sad - a people freed from slavery, in the promised land end up in slavery once again.

But here's God's love: the Lord does not want His people to go back into slavery. He wants all His people - all of them - to enjoy the blessings of the inheritance He gave them in grace. And so the Lord makes it possible for people to be restored to these blessings, even when they themselves have got themselves into the hole of debt. In the year of jubilee, the Lord teaches His people that they are not utterly ruined! They are not slaves! They get a new start. In the year of jubilee, they get to taste the blessings of the Lord afresh. Those for whom milk and honey have turned into dry bread and water are allowed to enjoy milk and honey again! And nobody is to miss out! Proclaim liberty "throughout the land to all its inhabitants." All its inhabitants - all the people of the church, they all have to hear that God's covenant blessings are for them, none of them is to think that their sins are too great, that they have no share in God's grace. The Lord wants all His people to share in His blessings of the land.

So the underlying idea of the year of jubilee is freedom. "Proclaim liberty throughout the land." God has set His people free, but when they turn freedom into slavery with their debts, the Lord restores life by getting them out of debt, once again giving them freedom! The underlying problem of debt and sin, in the year of jubilee meets the underlying solution - freedom and release.

That's why it's no accident that the year of jubilee is to be announced on the Day of Atonement (25:9). The day of atonement - this is the day held once a year when all the sins of all the people are symbolically placed on a goat, and taken away (Lev 16). A shadow of the work of Jesus Christ, on whom God would lay the sins of His people, and so take them away. This is where the year of jubilee takes it starting point. From the work of Jesus Christ. Because in the work of Jesus Christ, sins are forgiven. Believers may have got themselves into the biggest hole imaginable, but there's no sinful hole too big for the work of Jesus Christ. And starting from the Day of Atonement, starting from the work of Jesus Christ, life is restored for God's fallen people. As a people freed by Christ, debts are taken away, they are once again free! This is why there is constant reference to the fact that God has brought his people out of Egypt, they are not slaves, they are free (25:38,42,55).(7) In the year of jubilee the Lord removes the consequences of His people's sins, and restores His people to this freedom. Ultimately, what's behind this jubilee, this super sabbath, is the same concept that was behind the weekly sabbath and the yearly sabbath also - rest and freedom in Christ.

So what the Old Testament church experiences in the year of jubilee, is the gospel of Jesus Christ. By receiving back the family land, by being released from slavery, believers of the Old Testament church are allowed to enjoy restored life given through the coming work of Jesus Christ, are allowed to make a new beginning. "Proclaim liberty" - this is the gospel of Christ! The good news that through Jesus Christ, the Atonement Day goat, God's people are freed from all their sins, and from the consequences of their sins. Freedom and liberty - the year of jubilee is ultimately a proclamation of the gospel, the good news of forgiveness and renewal through Jesus Christ.

So it's no wonder that in the book of Isaiah the Lord connects the underlying concept of the year of jubilee to the coming Messiah, the Christ. In the time of Isaiah the people have once again got themselves into a mess because of their sins. In fact, it is that bad, that they don't just end up selling land or selling themselves into slavery. The whole nation ends up in slavery again. They are taken away from the land to Babylon. Captivity.

How good the message of jubilee must sound to this people in captivity. Liberty? Would it happen? Isaiah says "Yes". He prophesies that the Messiah is coming, and He will bring liberty. The Messiah who says "the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor." (Isa 61:1-3) Messiah is coming, and He will proclaim liberty, will proclaim the year of jubilee. He will announce freedom for a people who have again become slaves - not just a people who have lost their land, but a people who are in the dark hole of sin. Through the coming Messiah, life will be restored, all will be made well again, their sins forgiven! Jubilee!

And so Jesus Christ takes these words of Isaiah 61 on his lips and He says "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21). In other words, this is about me! The year of jubilee is about me! I am the one who gives freedom to God's people! I am the one who gives release and freedom, who takes away your debts of sin, who renews your life and gives you a new start. I maintain my covenant promise - despite your sins, here is your inheritance. Here's forgiveness of sin. Wonderful: the consequences of sin are not eternal! The Lord will not allow His church people to forfeit the life that He gives, He preserves that life, gives eternal life. Ultimately, the year of jubilee finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ - He is its truth, He is the one who sets captives to sin and Satan free (Luke 13:11,12,16; Matt 11:28-30; Jn 8:36).

3. The present celebrations of this Jubilee.

So how do we today celebrate the year of jubilee? The Roman Catholic church has a grand idea how we can do that.(8) In 1998, the pope issued a papal bull, declaring that "the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 will begin on Christmas Eve 1999." So this jubilee starts on December 25th, 1999, and it runs until January 6th, 2001. A holy year. According to official Roman Catholic doctrine, this is the modern equivalent of the Old Testament concept of the year of jubilee. They actually do this more often - they've been having these jubilee years every fifty years since the year 1300.

How is it a year of jubilee? Explains the pope: its "distinctive sign" is "the indulgence, which is one of the constitutive elements of the Jubilee." Yes you heard that right. The indulgence. Maybe you thought these haven't been around since the time of the Reformation. Not so. Indulgences are very much alive in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, you can get one right now from your local catholic church, this year - but this year only - because it's a year of jubilee. If you wait too long, you'll have to wait another 50 years until the next year of jubilee.

What's this indulgence about? Here's the official word: "The indulgence itself is not a remission or absolution of sin. Rather, it is the remission of temporal or purgatorial punishment still due after the forgiveness of sins."(9) Notice: remission of temporal or purgatorial punishment. So in other words, you're still going to hurt on this earth, and you're still going to burn for a while in purgatory before you enter heaven, but having an indulgence means that your punishment is a bit less.

And these indulgences are not free. The pope has set out a number of conditions. There are certain "acts" you have to do before you get one, 1. You need to receive the sacrament of penance; 2. You need to receive the eucharist; 3. You need to pray; 4. You need to do a jubilee exercise, which involves making a pilgrimage to your local Cathedral church or some other specified church. If you can't quite manage the pilgrimage, other charitable works like visiting the sick or giving money will do it too.

So what do you notice about this year of jubilee? Is it a proclamation of liberty, of freedom? No it's not. Firstly this "liberty" is not freely given, because you need to earn it by various works. And secondly this "liberty" doesn't give freedom, because its only reduces temporal and purgatorial punishment. It doesn't do the whole job, it's not true freedom!

In contrast to the Roman Catholic church, we today as a Reformed church celebrate the true year of jubilee. Because it is not true that the year of jubilee now comes only once every fifty years. Jesus Christ said that "today is the acceptable year of the Lord." That "today" is ongoing. It's still the year of jubilee. We live in the ongoing year of jubilee, that began with the coming of Jesus Christ.

And this, congregation, is what we today celebrate at our fiftieth anniversary. What Israel celebrated only every fifty years, we celebrated every week over the last fifty years. It's what the believers of 1950 celebrated, it's what the believers of 2000 celebrate. It's what was celebrated every Sunday in between. Because every Sunday, we hear the gospel! The proclamation of liberty and freedom to God's people! (cf Ex 20:2; Jn 8:32,36; Acts 13:38-39; Gal 5:1,13) The proclamation that through the work of Jesus Christ, salvation is freely given and freely received. Freely given - no works, just faith. And true freedom - not just a reduced burning, but complete salvation. Every Sunday, we heard the preaching of freedom - forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ (cf Rom 6:17-18).

It's not automatic. The liberty of jubilee is enjoyed through faith.(10) By believing and applying the announcement of freedom. That's why you want to be in church every Sunday - to hear this good news announced, to embrace it in faith. This is why believers from 1950 to 2000 have been eager to come to church, to hear the gospel of jubilee announced every Sunday. Eager to hear it, they did done everything they could to get to church. Even if in the old days it meant picking up three other families on the way to church, pushing the car up the hill, riding on the back of a truck, or hitch-hiking. They had to come to church because here they heard the jubilee gospel of freedom.

That's why you and I are to be here too. God's people remain in slavery if they don't come to hear and believe the gospel of jubilee. And so come you will, every Sunday, to hear the gospel of freedom. Sometimes you and I come to church with a heavy heart. Burdened with sins and struggles. A weight on our shoulders. Baptized we are, with the promise of a heavenly inheritance, but look what we've done with it in our life. More debts. You and I see sins in our life, and sometimes we have to live with the consequences of them for the rest of our life. We feel in the hole.

But on Sunday, you come to church and you hear the gospel of jubilee.(11) The good news of liberty: Christ pays for your sins. He gives you a new beginning! Your sins may burden you, but He takes away sins. The inheritance promised in your baptism is not lost, for He clears your debts, allows you to hear the promise of your baptism anew. To start afresh. The chains of sin are gone, you are free!

This spirit of jubilee, of freedom from sin and the restoration of life is also to be put into practice in your life. The elders have a role, in encouraging the congregation in the fight of sin, to no longer live in slavery to sin. The deacons have a role, in making sure that people of the church are not burdened by financial needs, by loneliness, by sickness. You all have a role, in making sure all your fellow members live in the joy and freedom Christ gives, a life without burdens. Sometimes recipients of the deacons' care find Christ's love in the spirit of jubilee too good to be true. They ask: "When do we have to pay it back by? What's the interest rate?" But this is a free gift, it's part of the jubilee and reflects Christ's love who freely gives grace and liberty to His people.

It seems too good to be true, but it is true. That's why we celebrate it. The believers of 2000 celebrate it today, just as the believers of 1950 celebrated it on this day fifty years ago. This is the gospel of true freedom! And over the years, Christ has preserved this freedom. He's kept this good news of liberty free - in the 16th century Reformation He kept it free from the yoke of unscriptural Roman Catholic doctrine, in 1944 Liberation he kept it free from the yoke of hierarchical synods and false doctrine. Christ's church today is a liberated church, and today we celebrate the liberation Christ gives and preserves. Today we celebrate 50 years as a Reformed church -50 years of gospel preaching, jubilee preaching.

Yet it gets better still. Because today you still live in a broken world. Some consequences of sin face you every day of your life. There is still brokenness. Even as we hear the message of jubilee, you still have to face troubles and trials. But not forever! Because Scripture tells us that the trumpet sound that marked the jubilee year will be sounded again when Christ returns (Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:52). Then you will enter the eternal sabbath (Heb 4), the eternal super sabbath, the eternal jubilee. Then all of life will be totally freed, even creation will be freed from bondage (Rom 8:18-25). You will be freed from the last chains of bondage that still tie you down now. Then the believers of 2000, and the believers of 1950 will be united with the believers of all time, in the celebration of an eternal jubilee. An eternal celebration.


End Notes

1. For a more detailed description of this and subsequent events, including part of the minutes of this meeting, see John Van Bodegom "Orangeville: 25 years" in Clarion, August 9, 1975 (Vol. 24, No. 16) pp. 2-4. (return to main text)

2. There is some disagreement as to whether the year of jubilee constituted the 49th year and coincided with the seventh sabbath year, or whether it constituted the 50th year, following the 49th year (the seventh sabbath year), and thus involved two consecutive sabbath years. I found the exegesis of Keil favoring the latter interpretation most persuasive. This understanding is also supported by early Jewish tradition. Whichever exegesis one favours, the theological significance of the year of jubilee remains unchanged. (return to main text)

3. This trumpet was made from a ram's horn, and elsewhere in Scripture is described with the word jobel (Josh 6:4ff). Literally, the year of jubilee is the year of the jobel, the year of the trumpet sound. The English word jubilee originates from the Vulgate Latin annus jubileus, which is essentially a transliteration from the Hebrew word jobel ("ram's horn, trumpet"). The English word jubilation originates from the Latin jubilo (jubilare) "to rejoice", but I suspect that origin of this word is not Hebrew. It appears to me that the close proximity in English between "jubilee" and "jubilation" is a most fortunate coincidence (which I have capitalized on in the theme of this sermon), a proximity which is not found in the original Hebrew. The literal rendering of the Hebrew is thus "year of the trumpet", not "year of jubilation". (return to main text)

4. The Levites did not receive an inheritance in the land - their portion was the Lord, which concretely meant that they received the first fruits of the land and the meat from the offerings (Deut 18:1-5). (return to main text)

5. Provisions were also given for redeeming both land (25:24-34) and persons in slavery (25:47-53) before the year of jubilee. The theological significance of this concept of redemption in connection with the work of Christ is referred to frequently in the New Testament. However, since this redemption was a provision for early release, and was not a feature of the year of jubilee itself, it is outside the scope of the text dealing with the year of jubilee itself, and has not been worked out in this sermon. (return to main text)

6. Deut 15 & Ex 21 give provisions for release from slavery every seventh year. The relation between these provisions and the Jubilee provisions of Lev 25 have been variously explained. One interpretation is that the year of jubilee gave slaves an opportunity for freedom before the seventh year, and that if the year of jubilee came before the seventh year, they received an early release. Another interpretation is that the year of jubilee gave freedom for slaves who were not normally released in the seventh year, because they were all the more entrenched in debt and the normal means of getting out of debt had already been exhausted. Regardless of which interpretation one favours, the theological significance of the year of jubilee as a proclamation of freedom for slaves is unchanged. (return to main text)

7. It is noteworthy that the command to rest on the sabbath day is similarly grounded in the redemption from slavery in Egypt (Deut 5:15) (return to main text)

8. The following sources give a wealth of information regarding the "Great Jubilee of the Year 2000" (official site)
I have also benefited from the excellent Biblical critique on the Roman Catholic concept of the year of jubilee offered by Prof. David J. Engelsma
(return to main text)

9. Dr. Aurelie A. Hagstrom, "A Reflection on Indulgences and the Jubilee Year"
(return to main text)

10. There is little evidence to suggest that the people of Israel celebrated the year of jubilee faithfully on a regular basis. They failed to enjoy the benefits of the jubilee, because they did not receive it in faith. (return to main text)

11. It is tempting to connect the trumpet sound we hear from the organ as we enter church with the trumpet sound that preceded to the proclamation of liberty in the year jubilee. Of course this is merely wishful thinking and has no Biblical basis, although it could be argued (though certainly not very convincingly!) that joyful music prior to the service do set the tone of joy that marks the proclamation of the gospel. (return to main text)

Local Church Celebrates Fiftieth Anniversary

Photo from Orangeville Citizen

The Orangeville Canadian Reformed Church is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary on Sunday, August 13th.

At the time of the institution in 1950, the members of the church first met regularly in Georgetown. But the church soon moved to Orangeville. A church building was built on C-Line in 1960, and is used for worship twice every Sunday and church activities throughout the week.

We talked with the church's current pastor, Rev. Richard Pot, about the church and the anniversary.

"This is a special event for us," he tells us. "We established a special committee to organize a number of events to celebrate the anniversary."

On Friday August 11th, past and present members of the church will gather for a festive evening of skits, speeches and music. On Sunday, August 13th, the date of the anniversary, the 2:30pm worship service will be dedicated to the anniversary, with a special commemorative sermon. On top of all that, a church picnic is planned for Saturday, August 19th.

"We have lots of reason for celebration," says Rev. Pot. "Ultimately, we are not celebrating what we have done over the last fifty years, but what God has done over fifty years. Actually, it is a celebration of what God did 2000 years ago, by sending Jesus Christ to work salvation for all true believers."

Rev. Pot is a young pastor, and this is the first church he has served. There is an unmistakable foreign accent when he speaks. "Yes, that's an Australian accent. I grew up down under. Often people regard our church as a Dutch church but you just have to look at the pastor and you see that this isn't the case!"

Historically, the Canadian Reformed Churches were established by immigrants from the Netherlands after the Second World War. "Many of our members do have Dutch roots," adds Rev. Pot. "But we are not a Dutch church. The Bible tells us that the church is for all true believers, no matter what nationality. We welcome all true believers, and are eager to unite with everyone who wants to submit completely to the truth of the Bible."

The Canadian Reformed Church is part of a federation of nearly fifty churches throughout Canada and the United States. But the Orangeville congregation was the first to be established as a Canadian Reformed Church in Ontario.

"Probably what makes our churches distinctive," says Rev. Pot, "is that we strive to ensure that we are Reformed." He explains that Reformed means to be shaped and guided by the Bible.

This certainly comes out in Canadian Reformed worship services. "Many churches aim to make worship services entertaining. You won't find that here. We are convinced that worship is intended to please God, not people."

The main focus of worship in the Canadian Reformed Church is the preaching. "Bible based preaching is definitely our focus. Our services normally are just over an hour long, and half that time is preaching. Salvation is 100% the work of God from beginning to end, and He especially uses preaching to work faith in people's hearts."

The membership of the church now numbers around 370. "Many of our members have lived in Orangeville their whole life," adds Rev. Pot. "It's a lovely community, and we are thankful to be part of it."

Published in The Orangeville Citizen

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