By Leslie Scrivener TORONTO STAR
For decades, wedding parties danced the night away at the Luna Ballroom, but with a prayer and the snip of scissors yesterday, the banquet hall became a house of God.
Praise Jesus! took the place of calls to Kiss the bride!
The gowns were just as gorgeous, and the dancing, well, it's hard to believe even in the ballroom's glory days anyone could beat the shimmying and shaking of the new owners, Rev. Charles Mantey's Disciples Revival Church.
For all those trained to be good and quiet and never move a body part except to raise a hymn book, church was never like this - hanky waving, hip shaking, the shimmer of gold-threaded turbans, the rustle of African brocades, and the irresistible rhythms of tambourines, saxophone and drums.
These disciples raise the roof and make the floor tremble.
They are also faithful enough to believe that God answers their prayers, but as Agnes Acheampong said, in the downstairs kitchen where dinner for 500 was in the works, "We didn't expect it to be like this."
It's a young church with about 230 members, most from Ghana. For nearly 30 years, the Luna, near Jane St. and Highway 401, catered to the Italian community, though not exclusively, as a wedding and banquet hall.
A church it may be, but it's still a ballroom in its soul, despite Rev. Jack Ozard's invocation that "this House be set apart forever from profane and common uses."
Listening to the gospel music and seeing the newcomers embrace the ballroom as their own at yesterday's dedication and ribbon-cutting provided a bittersweet moment for Dolores and Art La Caprara Jr., daughter and son of the late owner, Art La Caprara.
Both were married at the Luna. Dolores worked there as manager. They remembered it when the pillars were swathed in organza, when the rooms were lit by candlelight, when balloons fell from the ceiling on New Year's Eve.
Mantey's growing congregation, part of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, wanted the ballroom but despite their best efforts and fervent prayers - everything helps - they couldn't raise enough for the downpayment.
Oddly enough, the elder La Caprara wanted the church to have the Luna. A kind of chemistry sprung up between the Roman Catholic businessman, who come to Canada as a penniless immigrant, and the evangelical preacher from Africa.
So they made a deal, said Dolores. "It would have fallen through, but God works in strange ways. We accepted what they had and they were to pay the rest in instalments.
"I can tell you, when we first met the reverend - the charisma. You knew it was the right thing."
"There was a lot of trust in this - that's not usual in a business transaction, " said Art Jr.
La Caprara, who was 75, died of a heart attack last March, shortly after the deal was finalized.
Mantey started the Disciples Revival Church eight years ago in the basement of the apartment building where he lived with his wife and five children. Membership grew steadily as they moved from building to building in search of a permanent home.
'IT WAS GORGEOUS'
"We knew, right from day one, if our work was to be rooted we needed a place of worship."
But when he saw the Luna, "it was so big and beautiful, it was gorgeous, I didn't think it could belong to us. The first night after I saw this, I had a dream of having services here. I thought this is God speaking to us."