Thursday, December 24, 2015

Advent 4: Love & Music, A Wedding and Bagpipes

This fourth week of Advent began with Love Sunday. Instead of a standard service, this Sunday before Christmas has become a music service. Our Music Team of Karen Nell-Bennett and Donna Williams put together the service. Which might lead one to think that I pretty much have the Sunday off and I get to just show up and cheer them on.

And if you thought that this past Sunday, you would be wrong.

Cause I joined the choir. I am not a great singer. Nor do I do especially well at reading music. Hey - I know the higher up the note is on the bars, the higher I sing. But it took me a few tries to realize that if the upper set of bars doesn't have words and the lower set does, that means I don't sing, only the men sing. And breathing is an issue for me. I know Karen can still hear me take deep, gulping breaths of air when I'm, in fact, supposed to be singing. Singing is hard. But I digress.

Anyway, joining the choir meant that I had to be ready to sing with the choir for the three anthems that interspersed Karen's sermon that she and Donna read. (It was awesome, in case you were wondering.) So, no Sunday just taking it easy, drinking coffee, wearing my jeans, hanging out in the Sanctuary. We had to sing a lot and, therefore, sit up on the stage. I thought we sounded pretty good but I'm likely a bit biased. And a little tone deaf.

The theme of the service was Love. Karen spoke beautifully about love. (Click here if you want to read it.) Our prayers were filled with love. And then, we had a wedding.

That's right. Immediately following the Prayers for the People, I married a couple. We surprised the congregation. Very few people knew it was going to happen. The bride is an immigrant from India. The groom is visiting from India for Christmas. They are having a big Indian wedding in March but thought it would be good to have their legal wedding here in Canada. No family here. Just a few friends. Wanted to invite the congregation. I said, why not get married during Sunday worship?

And they did.

It was a wonderful diversion from the service - much like the moments taken for a baptism or Communion. I found myself a little choked up while going through the vows and words of convent with them and the congregation. It seemed to me that God was very near in that space with us on Sunday. It was truly holy ground on which we were standing.

I have no photos to post from Sunday because you can't capture what happened there or what was felt in photos. But, trust me, it was the most perfect way to spend the fourth Sunday of Advent. Awash in love from the start to the end of the service.

And then, to wrap up the whole service, Bret came out, playing his bagpipes. Amazing.
From start to finish.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Advent 3: Joy & A Standing Ovation

Some days things just line up and magic happens. In my world, I would say that the Holy Spirit was moving and God's presence was suddenly very close, very real. You can try to engineer these God-moments but they don't often turn out like you might imagine, despite your best efforts. I find the most spirit-filled God-moments are those that times that the unplanned and the uncertain flow together with the decided details and everyone is a bit surprised by the result. You can't force a God-moment but you can allow for the Holy Spirit to take over and hope for the best.

Like this past Sunday. We (the Royal We of me and the music team) chose Joy for this third Sunday of Advent. It could be argued that Love is the third Sunday in Advent but we went with Joy. For the candle-lighting we have been using a liturgy from a resource that includes the song, "Lift Up Your Eyes". It is a lovely set of readings interspersed with the choir and/or the congregation singing. BUT the order of those readings were Hope, Peace, LOVE and then Joy. The office admin who formats the bulletins and does up the PowerPoint each week, didn't put two and two together and so the LOVE reading was read instead of the JOY reading. No biggie. That's how Advent sometimes goes when you have 7 services in 4 1/2 weeks - things get a little mixed up. But here is where the Holy Spirit was moving in that mix-up...
Our congregation had three visitors at the start of our service. And they came bearing gifts. No joke. Three men from the Muslim Prayer Group which prays in our church each Friday came to be with the congregation on Sunday. They had requested to join us for our prayer time so that they could give thanks to a member of our congregation, Frank. You see, Frank was asked to build some sort of storage units for the prayer mats used by the Muslim folks because they are so heavy to cart around on Fridays. And Frank built the most beautiful boxes ever. The men said that they give thanks to Frank each and every Friday when they put away their mats.

The men came up to the stage (our sanctuary was built as a theatre) and presented Frank with a heart-felt 'Thank You' and their gifts. I asked them to remain on the stage and invited the Chair of our Board to join us. The Chair then read to them a letter of support that we had written together on behalf of the congregation. It expressed our collective frustration at the misrepresentation of the Islam in the news and social media and by politicians, political candidates and national leaders. The letter assured the Prayer Group that they are loved and cared for by our community of faith and that they would always be welcome in our church. Our vision statement is: Your Church at the Centre of the Community. We stated that we would like it to also be: Your Mosque at the Centre of the Community.

When the Chair was finished reading, the congregation burst out in applause and rose from their seats. Everyone was clearly moved.

AND THEN...we all sat down and the Advent Candles were lit. With the wrong liturgy. Instead of expressing joy in the readings, love was expressed instead, with the following words (the bold is the congregation saying the words to together):
In a world torn asunder by violence, Jesus says, “No more.”
“As it is written, a new command I give,
‘Love one another as I have loved you’.”
In a world where hurting people are too often neglected,
Jesus says, “No more.”
“As it is written, a new command I give,
‘Love one another as I have loved you’.”
In a world where another’s needs are too often overlooked,
Jesus says, “No more.”
“As it is written, a new command I give,
‘Love one another as I have loved you’.”

Magic. Mistake. Coincidence. The Holy Spirit. God coming close. God being with us and amongst us as we prayed together. With our neighbours. With our family. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Advent 2: Peace & Donald Trump

Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
I was supposed to begin an Advent spiritual practice on November 29th. But due to a terrible and intense bout of stomach flu that made its way through our family of six like a slow motion wave of despondency and destruction over a four day period, I did not begin my practice. Because I did not fully enter back into the land of the living until Thursday, December 3rd and I am a little OCD in following the proper order of certain things like prayer practices, I found myself struggling to pick up the spiritual practice that I had ready to do.

I have, however, been thinking quite a bit about what the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love mean to me. Particularly in these months that have known the Syrian refugee crisis and acts of terror and these weeks filled with hate, fear and despair. Where can there be hope when people are willing to bomb one another? How can there be peace when millions are displaced from their homes in war zones? Where is joy when racism, fear-filled rhetoric and hatred are allowed to flourish? What is love when Donald Trump is permitted to spew Islamophobic garbage to a cheering crowd?

In the second week of Advent we are to contemplate peace. In this month of waiting expectantly for the Christ Child's birth, we are called to remember that the people of ancient times lived under a false peace--Pax Romana. Caesar Augustus created a so-called peace throughout the Roman Empire. It was a peace born of fear and made at the end of a sword, dominating and subjugating all those in the lower classes.

In our world we do not need to struggle to remember a lack of peace that has existed in the world's history because this very day we live amongst an absence of peace--as the news and media remind us on an minute-by-minute basis. We do not need to imagine the desperate desire for an end to violence. For killing to stop. Because this, too, is our reality.

I cannot help but wonder how we, the small and insignificant individuals of the world, can end the violence. End the killing. So much of the time I feel helpless and ineffective. The Reverend Murray Speer reminded us this past Sunday that the peace the prophet Isaiah spoke about was between wild and domestic animals. The domestic stock which needed protecting from the wild, fearful beasts from afar would no longer need to be afraid. They could be safe and vulnerable with one another because one would not harm the other, will not use its power and strength to overwhelm those who have less power and strength.

The Christmas carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing tells us that peace will come when God and sinner reconcile. The word sin is a challenge for United Church folks. The concept of being sinful is a difficult one for those of us who do not want to be too quick to condemn another in the name of God. But consider that sin is not simply an action; it can be a state of being. I was taught that one definition of sin is when you are broken with God. When your actions or statements are not aligned with your beliefs and understanding of faith and God. This carol reminds us that until that until we are whole and healthy, the world cannot be whole and healthy. Until we can reconcile ourselves with God, the world cannot be at peace.

Which brings me around to The Donald. And how, my small and insignificant self can make a step towards peace in our world. How each of us can work together to make peace. Because I would say, in the midst of the Islamophobic hate that seems to be spreading like the stomach flu across the continent and world, I am not right with God--WE are not right with God--if we do not say "ENOUGH" to people like Donald Trump. We are broken with God unless we are prepared to say, "STOP" to the haters, the racists, the Islamophobic people of our world. We can only be reconciled with God when we stand up together and declare that we will not allow another holocaust in our world. Genocide will not happen again. EVER.

We want peace. We are desperate for peace. And so we say, with one strong voice:

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Advent 1: Hope & Mass Shootings

This past Sunday, Hope Sunday by some traditions in the schedule of Advent, I took the opportunity to encourage my congregation to consider the role that each of us has in the coming of the Messiah. The scripture reading on Sunday was Luke 3:1-6:

He (John the Baptist) went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

I put forth the challenge that our work this Advent is making straight paths, filling in the valleys and lowering the mountains by being kind. Which is totally radical and counter-intuitive in this world with random terrorist activity--the bombings in Paris being seared into our minds so recently. Which, unfortunately, perpetuates the rhetoric of fear that has developed by government officials, the Gun Lobby, and the media since 9/11. And which, in turn, supports the prevalent North American consumer mentality that feeds on the theology of scarcity;  we do not have enough - we may never have enough. If we believe that we do not have enough, it is difficult to be generous or to share our resources. And so we hunker down and begin to horde--our money, our food, our compassion, our power, our control. Which makes others resentful, impoverished, and desperate.  

To be kind in this world can be a risky endeavor. But our God tells us, through our Christ, that we have no other way to behave. The ministry of Jesus was of kindness, compassion and justice. Love and peace for all people. And it was not easy--for him or his followers. Nor is it easy for us.Clara Hughes quotes a native elder in her memoir (Open Heart, Open Mind),

The strength to be kind is not often asked for, but this is perhaps the most important strength to have.

So, what do we make of this Advent season that has barely begun and there are 14 people dead in a mass shooting in California? On Sunday I declared that the most dangerous person in North America today is not the Muslim refugee but young, mostly white men, between the ages of 18-30 who have access to guns. Which is not a statistic that I actually found anywhere reputable but was based on my news-listening knowledge of recent mass shootings in the States. Yesterday, two people, a man, 28, and a woman, 27, for some unknown reason went to a social services centre and opened fire. Killing 14 and wounding 21.

This was not a terrorist attack. Why would terrorists go to a social services centre to make an impact? But, the shooters have middle-Eastern names and so might be Muslim.

Like Muslim people can't have mental illnesses or psychic breakdowns. 

Christians in the States have breakdowns too. ALL THE TIME. Like the young Caucasian American who killed the church members and pastor at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June. Or the older Caucasian American who attacked the Planned Parenthood Clinic last month. I'll bet the mass shooting in California was exactly what it appears to be--somebody went off the rails and killed their co-workers. That both shooters were in a great deal of pain of some sorts and had been hurting for some time. That help had been sought or recognized in some manner in the past but the issue(s) was not fully addressed or resolved. And that they had access to guns that have a stupid-capability of firing multiple rounds and could purchase more bullets than any sane person could argue would be needed for self-protection.

So, what can we hope for as make our way through this first week of Advent? This Advent season in which we are reminded of a time that the people of ancient Judea and Galilee were waiting in desperation from deliverance of the evils of the Roman Empire. And their hope arrived in the form of a helpless baby. That they needed to start making the rough ways smooth so that the baby could grow into adulthood and begin a ministry that showed God's people and the Empire that love will always win out over hate. That kindness and compassion can be difficult to share but are they only paths to the peace God would have for humanity and the world.

Our hope is for ourselves and humankind to be delivered from the fear that permeates our world. To recognize that our fear of losing power, control and authority prevents us from being compassionate and open. Our hope this Advent season is to be freed from feelings of uncertainty, scarcity and distrust so that we may turn to our neighbours, near and far, and love them, truly love them. As we will ourselves. So that loneliness, mental health issues, chronic pain, dis-ease, feelings of disconnection and apathy can be addressed, treated, talked about, acknowledged. So that no one is alone in their pain and despair. So that the solution to never-ending heart-ache is not in attacking the vulnerable and innocent with weapons of mass destruction. But, rather, the solution is in the reaching out to your neighbour, not being afraid to ask for help or accompaniment. Our hope this Advent season is to make kindness our default setting, so that loving and helping one another, no matter who they are, is our first response. And that no one is alone.

**And my hope is that the people and leaders of the United States take back their nation by opposing the Gun Lobby and the NRA and demanding that manufacturing, selling and purchasing automatic weapons be outlawed. Just saying.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vicki Makes a Salad. In Her Own Home. It is Amazing.

There's an ad that runs one the radio that makes me switch stations each time it comes on the air. It goes sorta like this:

Jane gets a cup from the cupboard.
She pours coffee from the coffeemaker into her cup. 
She sits at her kitchen table. 
She drinks her coffee.
For you this is an everyday experience.
For someone like Jane pouring a cup of coffee in her own home is amazing.

I'm not sure why I don't like this commercial. I want to be flippant here and say it's because they are not entertaining but that would not be the truth. I can't help but feel it's maybe about middle-class guilt. Or maybe the discomfort in knowing there are people who do not have a lovely morning routine of sipping tea and reading blogs on one's laptop while trying to wake up. Or maybe because after walking through Calgary's Drop-In Centre on recent early Sunday mornings means the commercials can't be ignored. Maybe the vast number of people sleeping on the floor, passing time on the steps, sitting at small tables waiting for the kitchen counter sliders to open up doesn't permit me to dismiss the commercials as not being real.

At Symons Valley UC, we are finding ourselves being called to address issues around hunger. Particularly local hunger. We have made sandwiches, we have served breakfast, we have helped with supper at Inn From the Cold. We have had people who are striving to end hunger in Calgary come speak during worship services. We are working towards hosting a workshop that will explain why hunger exists in Calgary--what socio-economic factors are at play--and the impact hunger has on your physical, emotional and mental well-being.

I like to think I'm reasonably informed about social-economic inequality. I am a diaconal minister after all--one third of my training focused specifically on social justice issues. But it's one thing to KNOW an issue and another to UNDERSTAND the issue. And, I have to say, after this Sunday's service, I suddenly find myself understanding that commercial.

Pastor Marilyn Gunn was our guest on Sunday. Marilyn is the CEO of Calgary's Community Kitchen. She spoke passionately about hunger and her calling to assist those struggling with not getting enough to eat--especially children and families. Marilyn told the congregation how the cost of fresh food--vegetables and fruit--is prohibitive for those people living in poverty. How after paying the rent, there's hardly anything leftover for good, healthy groceries. How a lack of nutritious food fosters scenarios in which people of all ages can't focus, can't learn, can't be productive.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning as I am preparing to leave for work:

I open the fridge door and remove all manner of fresh vegetables from the shelves and drawers.
I make a salad with lettuce, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes.
I prepare my olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.
I chop celery, onion and peppers for an omelet.
I make my omelet.
I eat my omelet in my own home.

I'm can't tell you the expense of those vegetables, but I'm sure they represented a significant portion of the grocery bill. There was a time that I could tell you exactly HOW MUCH vegetables cost because our food budget was that tight. But these days, we have more flexibility with our expenses and can be a little more reckless when picking up food in the produce department. People living at or below the poverty line do not have this luxury of not scrutinizing each and every item being placed in the grocery cart.

But something else struck me Tuesday morning. It took a more than a few minutes to cut everything up and assemble my breakfast and lunch for that day. Not only did I need to have the food to make those meals--I needed to have the TIME. And free access to a kitchen. When your place of rest is a shelter or drop-in centre, you do not have the luxury of time or freedom to use a kitchen at your convenience.

I need to let you know that I am currently reading a book called, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The premise is that a horrible flu more or less has killed most of humanity and the few survivors must create a new world for themselves--one without electricity, cars, air travel, phones--you get the idea. It's kinda of freaking me out a little bit--what do you mean no Internet, no indoor plumbing, central heating, ice cubes? I have found myself fretting about how awful life would be without these things--never mind food, shelter, clean water.

And so, what I found remarkable on Tuesday morning were all the conveniences that exist in my world. How each day I count on turning on taps for hot water, flicking a switches for light, the car that gets me to church when I want to go rather than waiting for a bus that would take FOREVER (probably  only an hour but, still who wants to sit on a bus or an hour?). That my fridge was filled with an abundance of fresh, nutritious food.

Suddenly my privileged, middle-class self who has never gone hungry (unless it's been a self-imposed diet or situational--certainly not because I did not have access to food) got smacked upside the head with just how AMAZING it would be to wake up that first morning after moving into a home of your very own after being homeless or living with many other people. How awesome it would be to know there was food in the cupboard and fridge. And how great it would be to walk to your own cupboard for a mug of your own choosing, not one being handed to you by a volunteer at the shelter. How it might feel to make coffee without having someone waiting behind you. To pour the coffee you made yourself and sitting at the kitchen table. And drinking the coffee at your leisure. In the quiet and calm of your own home.

And Tuesday morning, I finally understood that commercial.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On Being Unwelcomed...

We've been waiting for you. You're the last to arrive! <insert annoyed face here>
{un·wel·come} adj.
Not received with pleasure into one's company or home: an unwelcome guest.
That was the 'welcome' - or should I say, the unwelcome, I received after a very, VERY long day of driving across the state of Montana. After learning how to drive a monster-sized motor-home. On the Interstate. Doing 75 miles an hour. And through construction. Doing 25 miles an hour. After promising the kids we would eat as soon as we got there to hold them over while we did a big grocery shop just a few miles from the campground. Did I mention it had been a long day of driving?

Our family went on a big adventure through the States this summer with a rented motorhome. Two parents, 4 kids between the ages of 11-17 and one grandpa. The first day we picked up the RV and headed to Waterton, AB, just a few hours from our home. The ranger welcoming us to the national park campground was friendly and helpful. It was a lovely way to begin our vacation together.

The second day of traveling required us to cover a lot of ground. Between twisty, turny roads that made people car-sick, trying to find the Interstate in an attempt to prevent being car-sick and construction, the miles did not go by as quickly as we'd hoped. And we were under some serious pressure. The campground at our destination had made it clear when booking it in February that the office closed at 9 pm sharp and we were not to be late. Under any circumstances.

After leaving Waterton by 9:30 am, we pulled into the campground at 8:30 pm - with a half-hour to spare! We were quite relieved. As I jumped down from the cab of the RV, a woman walked toward me from the nearest campsite where she had been sitting with a few folks. And, as she got closer to me, she said, "We've been waiting for you! You're the last to arrive. I've been calling you." Not:
  • Oh my goodness, have you been driving all day? You must be exhausted.
  • Oh dear, it's late, let's get you settled as fast as we can!
  • Do you have kids? Let me help you get them comfortable here so they aren't cooped up anymore.
  • Have you eaten yet? No? Well, let's hurry through this so you can start supper.
My Facebook Profile Picture
Nope. It was all about how we had kept her and her husband waiting. Even though we were on time. And, for anyone who knows me, being on time can be a challenge. So I had been happy and a bit self-congratulatory when I jumped down from that RV cab.

And then I got her unwelcome. Her anxiety, her baggage, prevented her from offering a helpful and kind welcome. If it had been an option to get right back in that RV and driven to the next campground, I would have.  But I couldn't. We had pre-paid for our spot and we were starving.

As we left that campground the next morning, I got to wondering about how we welcome people in our lives? Into those brief moments of interaction in line-ups or with store clerks? To our homes? To our church?

For anyone in church leadership, how people are welcomed at the front door is a concern. If someone new has gone to all the trouble to look up the service time and made the courageous step to walk through the door, we do not want them hearing, 'you're almost late, hurry up and find seat!' Or if someone has been attending our church on and off, trying to decide if we're right for them, we don't want them to be ignored because the Greeters vaguely recognize them and they don't need to be welcomed to a place they should know by now.

It is understood that there are three primary reasons why people in this modern age want to go to church. Because they believe in the God the church follows. Or because they want to behave as the congregation does--in outreach or social justice issues. Or because they want to belong. And you will not belong if you do not feel welcomed.
So much of welcoming is to be present, to be in the moment. If you are fretting or worrying or angry, it's pretty difficult to be open, to anticipate what is needed, to discern if someone would prefer to explore on their own or if they would like to have information offered to them. Whether they want to talk or simply sneak into the sanctuary and observe.

Romans 12:13 - "Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers."

There is a gift of being welcoming--the Christian practice of hospitality. As Christians, we are called to offer hospitality to all, particularly the stranger, the one new to our community, the one looking for safety and security. At Symons Valley United Church, we find ourselves amongst several newly-built communities in North Calgary, a city of over a million people. Many residents of these communities attended a church when they were younger or are Christians who have immigrated in recent years to Canada. And many have never been to church. We have people walking through our doors each Sunday who have not attended a worship service here before. Our Greeters are intentional about acknowledging each and every person who walks through the front doors. We strive to make all people welcome when they enter into our faith community.

The challenge for SVUC, as I see it, is two-fold. First, how do we make known to all of our neighbours in North Calgary that we are an inclusive, affirming congregation that welcomes all people? And second, understanding how our welcoming impacts whether someone will return or seek out other activities offered during the week? Because, as I realized at that campground in Montana, just because you show up and stay, it doesn't mean you will return.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Duggars Make It Hard to Admit You're Christian

Last Sunday the scripture reading I had chosen from the Lectionary, for some forgotten reason, was Ephesians 6:10-20. Paraphrased, it goes like this:
Ephesians! Wear your armour of God to protect you from the evil and temptations that exist all around you. Wear the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Helmet of Salvation (that's right, I said it, Helmet of Salvation), Belt of Truth, Shield of Faith, Sword of the Spirit and very sturdy sandals so that you may stand FIRM in order to proclaim the gospel of peace. (If you want the actual, non-paraphrased version, click here.) Oh yeah, and...pray all the time. I really don't like this scripture. I like the bit about praying all the time. That’s a good piece of wisdom. It’s the all other bits. I feel the need to put this piece of scripture in a time out--to send it to the corner for the time being.

Vicki, why so grumpy today about this sixth chapter of Ephesians? It's cause of the Duggars. The Duggars happened. JOSH happened. AGAIN.
The armour of God was to protect the early followers of Christ and to allow them to stand firm against evil. I would venture a guess that each and every one of the Duggars knows this list by heart. They are righteous. And they have stood firm. The problem, for me, it is implied that in order to don all of this gear, one must be worthy of putting it on in the first place. To have a full and confident understanding what it all means—what righteousness is all about, what salvation is, what conquests God would have us use the sword of faith in God’s name, what obedience looks like. You can’t don it unless you know exactly what the wills of God and Christ were. Without a doubt. And doesn’t that sound like an attempt to be perfect in one’s faith? Without question or doubt?  And, God only knows, and as the Duggars are figuring out, it’s pretty damn hard to be perfect all the time. And that armour must get pretty darn heavy over time. It gets heavy and can make it hard to breath after awhile. Hard to fill up your lungs and take a deep, life-giving breath. If you are wearing impenetrable armour all the time, how do you grow? Stretch? Evolve?

Leonard Cohen once wrote, “forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. And we know, where there are cracks letting in sunshine, that is the place, however improbable, where things grow, where, despite all odds, life takes hold and grows. I just don’t like this scripture as I read it today. I don’t see where it allows for pluralism, the understanding that there are many paths to God, not just the path Jesus has set before this United Church of ours. The armour does not allow for diversity, for expansion of thought and theology, for growth in understanding others in our world. When someone is standing so firmly, wearing their breastplate of righteousness, they cannot possible see that another is as good and loved by God as they believe themselves to be. Forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. If we follow this author’s urging to don this protective armour in order to keep out what might distract us from Christ’s Way, I’m afraid we will not learn and grow from the beautiful diversity that is our world, our United Church and our very own faith community. In light of the many decisions made recently at the 42nd General Council of the United Church, it is evident that there is broad range of belief in what decisions were right or wrong.

But we have chosen to be together in the same denomination, the same congregation, so how do we be in relationship with one another, to be friends, allies and advocates together on things we do agree on if the armour is preventing us from learning from one another about the things we don’t agree on? Our church, the United Church of Canada, was built upon a solid foundation of social justice issues and has taken many of a controversial stance on certain topics over the years. Remember 1988 anyone? The year General Council voted, to the great consternation to a vocal opposition, to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian people into ministry? There can be a great tension in being a member of this church, this church that struggles to listen for those not often heard, this church that seeks out those who live at the margins and do not experience the privilege of speaking the common language, being the dominant colour or race, who do not process thoughts, ideas, concepts fast enough to keep up with those around them, who struggle to live with limited mobility or chronic illness. And yet again, we have some challenges before us, trying to sort our way through the tension of being a denomination rooted in social justice and the living it out in our day-to-day lives.

When I read this scripture today, in light of the decisions made at this year’s General Council, in light of the striving-to-be-perfect Josh Duggar falling from grace because of multiple infractions against his faith, his family and the covenant he made with his wife, I worry that this armour listed in Ephesians might get in the way of us trying to figure out how we will sort our way through what the church is calling us to be, what the church understands as God calling us to be. There were many decisions besides divestment and Israel/Palestine that were made at General Council that we, as a community, need to learn and talk about, to discuss, argue and agree about. So, can those of us who choose to enter onto holy ground together agree to not put on our armour, our breastplate of righteousness, our helmets of salvation, our shields of utter confidence that God will protect our beliefs, our belts of truth, the shoes for standing firmly and our swords of the Spirit, ready to conquer instead of listening. Can we set aside the armour, maybe go put in the corner for little while in a time out. Can we forget our perfect offering and allow the cracks to let in the sun? Do we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another? To offer ourselves, our thoughts and our beliefs and trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ in the UCC will not harm us? Will you strive not harm another with your own worry and concern? Will we hear and try to understand each other’s points of view? Will we know each other’s truths to be real just as our own truths are real? I think we can. Because we love one another. We care for one another. Knowing that God is always with us and that God will not leave us, can we forget our perfect offering? Can we let the cracks show and let the light in? May it be so.

Photo: Cimento-Vivo

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

We Just Did What!?

Here at the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada, some 340+ Commissioners have gathered to do the work of our denomination.

The plenary working its way through the Comprehensive Review.
Those of us who have been elected from our Conferences were required to read through and examine a 1100+ page Workbook. Very many proposals have been put forward for the Council. The biggest (in length of the pages & potential impact on the structure and future of the UCC) proposal is the Comprehensive Review but there are many other issues up for discussion. Membership, ministry training,  justice for Israel/Palestine, reducing carbon emissions, fossil fuel divestments, calls for public inquiries for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, concerns for inmates enduring solitary confinement and implementing a Child Well-Being Index are just a few of the topics being decided at GC42.

Yesterday we met in our Commissions. Each of the Commissioners were assigned to a Commission: Blueberry, Partridgeberry or Bakeapple. All proposals not of the Comprehensive Review or not foundational in terms of our denomination were given to the Commission to discuss and decide upon. My Commission, the Partridgeberry Commission voted on issues mostly concerning the church itself: how does a person proceed through training for ministry, should we do a review of the theological statements that are in the covenant for those people being ordained or commissioned, can those people not 'full members' of a congregation vote on all matters of the church?

Bakeapple Berries
When we left the second round of Commissions yesterday, at 7:15 pm in NFLD, some of us discovered that the Bakeapple Commission passed a proposal stating that the United Church will divest from fossil fuel companies. To the dismay to many Commissioners from Alberta and Northwest Conference, it was also clear that the national news programs were already reporting on this decision.

This has put me and my ANW Conference fellow Commissioners in the uncomfortable position of supposedly being at the meeting where this huge vote took place but not formally understanding what exactly was passed. There were many variations of the proposal to divest from fossil fuels - some more far-reaching than others. As well, the proposals may have been amended before being voted upon, so even though I have access to all the original proposals, I don't know the final wording or even which proposal was the one that passed. The wider gathering, the plenary, will hear reports from each of the Commissions on Friday. So, we know there was a vote and divestment form fossil fuel companies has been called for but we really do not know anything else at this moment in time.

And so, my friends of north Calgary, Symons Valley United Church and Alberta & Northwest Conference, what I am trying to say is:

Breathe deeply, know that we are not alone. Our United Church of ours is a diverse body of Christ grounded in social justice and which has great compassion for our world and all of God's creation. We have come together, following Jesus and being led by the Spirit. God is with us. God has been before us and will be after us. We are God's people. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reading 1100 Pages. Say WHAT?!

The 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada began tonight. The hundreds of us that have gathered in Corner Brook, NL are commissioners (elected by our home Conferences), stewards (volunteers), ecumenical guests, visitors and staff of the national church. We were welcomed by a variety of folks, including Vice Chief Kevin Barnes of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq people, the town mayor and the Vice President of the university campus that we are making use of. We worshiped together, lifting our voices in song and prayer, knowing that this next week will be a time of huge decisions and changes for our United Church of Canada.

Best line of the evening was from the guest preacher, Ian March-MacCuish (using his spouse's words), "We could say that the the church has crapped out. Let's go home. After the kitchen party."

This is not from the aforementioned kitchen party - that will be Thursday. This is the campus bar called The Backlot, being inclusive and welcoming, as all good Newfoundlanders are. (Thanks David Pollard for the photo.)

Ian did go on to say some lovely, inspiring words that will keep us here for the next week, working diligently to make sure the church doesn't, in fact, crap out in the near (or, hopefully in the far) future. Stuff like, "Be not afraid" and "We are the people who are called to help find the way".

ANYWAY, it's dawning on me that the business portion of this gathering is starting tomorrow and I'm fretting about whether I've got me readings all sorted. The Workbook for GC42 is over 1100 pages. That's right. 1100 pages!!

In a moment of overwhelmed-ness, trying to read the Workbook page by page, I wondered (as EACH AND EVERY Commissioner has in the past month), "how much of this thing do I actually need to READ?" And so I took a break from reading - cause let's face it, there are only so many proposals asking, 'for the love of God, change the name of Chasing the Spirit' that one can read before distraction is required.

And this is what I found when I went through the Workbook as a whole:

  • 45 pages of Contents, Letters of Welcome, Instructions and Guest Profiles
  • 14 pages are profiles of the youth on Pilgrimage
  • 7 pages are dedicated to those folks in the UCC who have died since GC41
  • 39 pages are profiles of the Moderator nominees
  • 17 pages list the origins of each (EACH!) proposal and the financial implications of each one
  • 197 (!!) pages are reports
  • 8 pages of proposals that we need to deal with right off the bat to even convene the official meeting
  • 170 pages of proposals that we likely won't deal with directly--a sub-group has taken those on - thanks be to God for them
  • 57 pages of plenary proposals - okay, now we are talking turkey
  • 138 pages of proposals that will be dealt with in the smaller Commissions - my Commission (lovingly called the Partridgeberry Commission - apparently there really is a thing called a partridgeberry - see below) has responsibility for 33 pages
  • 407 (!!!!) pages of General Council Executive meeting minutes and references
So, yes. Answering my question above, I DO have all my readings sorted. And they are sorted good. Time for some sleep. I need to rest up for the big discussions about to happen in the next 6 days - during the business time AND at The Backlot!!

The Partridgeberry

Friday, August 7, 2015

What Time Is It Again?

I got up at 3:50 am today. 3. 50. AM.
As in, ten minutes BEFORE 4 am. In the morning. Today.
And now, it's some 13 hours later and it's 10:30 pm.
No, I didn't forget to tell time and math is not being hard for me today. The time shift is easy to explain. All I need is one word.

That's right. Newfoundland happened to me today.
This morning started out like a bad joke you play on a good friend by setting their alarm clock to a random time in the middle of the night, hoping they don't actually look at the time but assume it really is time to get up. The problem was, it WAS time to get up. So, no happy relief after having a shower, realizing I could go back to bed for a few hours. Nope. It was time to go to the airport. And, of course, Tim's for a steeped tea. Mmmm. LOVE steeped tea.

I was quickly on my way to Corner Brook, NL for the United Church of Canada's 42nd General Council (otherwise known as GC42). Those of us going to GC42 from Alberta & Northwest Conference were asked to post their travelling photos so I set mine up as church-geeky as I could while waiting for my second flight.
My UCC jacket, the latest Observer (United Church magazine), the DUCC (Diakonia of the United Church of Canada) banner to hang up at GC42, proof of my diligent readings of the 1100 page GC42 Workbook opened to the controversial One Order of Ministry Proposal that will cause a bit of aggravation this next week and my second round of caffeine - Starbuck's version of the London Fog.

Our little plane to Corner Brook was filled with only two types of people:
  • United Church people
  • Other (not random Others but a big group going on some sort of cruise. It sounded like fun.)
The confusion really set in when leaving Deer Lake Airport. 

Have you ever been to Deer Lake Airport? If you have, I would totally understand you saying, "Vicki. How could you ever be confused at Deer Lake Airport? It's that tiny." But then, I would know you haven't read my second blog post. I can get lost in a paper bag. However, this time it wasn't my fault. And I wasn't really lost. Just confused. Remember? Sheesh. Keep up.

Anyway, I left the airport to discover there were two, almost exactly the same coach buses waiting for passengers. Which one was for the cruise and which one was for GC? No signage, no one I recognize. Sigh. Luckily the super nice and welcoming lady at the GC42 table crossing off names and offering cookies came outside just as I was having anxious flashbacks of the time I had to choose which change room to go into: "US" or "THEM" (let's just say I chose wrongly and there was more than enough embarrassment for everyone involved). She pointed to me to the correct bus and I didn't end up on a cruise I had paid for. Hmm. Maybe I need to rethink that.

So, I'm all safe and sound in Corner Brook at the Grenfall Campus, ensconced nicely in my dorm room, wondering who my room mate next door will be.

I DO know who my room mate in the bathroom is and that's this guy. He's sketchy. And I don't trust him. And I can't squish bugs. And I have no outside door close enough to shoo him. I hope he doesn't come into my room. My mom could squish bugs. Sometimes, I suppose, you just need your mom to come save you and that's that.

So now that's it's almost 11 pm here in Newfoundland, I will try to trick myself that it's bedtime and get some sleep. Wish me luck!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Getting Lost in the Drop In Centre

Last month a few of us from Symons Valley United Church went on a tour of The Drop In Centre. Our congregation began making sandwiches for The DI every Communion Sunday since last October and we thought it would be good to understand the organization and people we trying help. So Jordan from The DI gave us a tour one Saturday morning.

Jordan had his three year old with him. Sarah, my ministry teammate carried her 7 month old in a baby carrier. Our preteen and teenage children came along. We saw where the 1200+ clients are served meals and the classrooms where clients can earn certificates and industry tickets. We wound our way carefully through the back area where the intoxicated were on the floor, sleeping off whatever it is they were on. We saw the working poor's modest sleeping accommodations that they return to each evening after a day of work.

We wanted to buy the t-shirts The DI are promoting as a fundraiser. I agreed to take orders and go pick them up. So I did. Cause I always do what I say I'm going to do. Almost always. Generally. And, for proof that I did, here they are:

It sounds like an every day sort of thing, doesn't it, going to pick up some shirts? But it wasn't. It really wasn't.

First of all, I suck at navigating. Let's just say if I were ever to be accepted on the Amazing Race (which would be the MOST AWESOME THING EVER!), I would have to do the driving cause I am just that bad at navigation. I cannot orient myself in the world. Direction and distance are often a mystery to me. I would die of exposure if ever lost in the forest before I could ever find my way out.

Anyway, let's just say I got a bit turned around once leaving the fly-over into downtown from Memorial. I saw a fair section of the downtown core before admitting defeat and getting Google map my way there. My next vehicle will talk me through situations like this - the Yukon is disappointingly silent in these times of crisis. Talk about First World problems.

The staff pointed me in the right direction but I must of looked a wee bit wary (see above regarding my navigational issues) because one of the security staff offered to take me to Admin Office. We walked through a locked door, across that back room I mentioned above, which was surprisingly full of people sleeping considering it was only noon. And then through another locked door. 

The nice security fellow called the elevator for me with his special badge. And then used the badge to push the button for the sixth floor. He noted that the B button was already lit up. He explained the elevator would first go to the basement and then to the sixth. After he assured me that it was easy to find the office once I departed from the elevator, I thanked him and he let me go my merry way. 

Which was a mistake. The elevator did, indeed, descend to the basement. Doors opened and closed without anyone else boarding. And then the elevator ascended back to the main floor. The doors opened and light on the sixth floor button went out. Apparently the elevator was going no where without a special badge.

Sigh. I exited and looked around to see what help I could find. No help. No one was there. And, as The Drop In Centre takes security very seriously, I discovered I was locked into the receiving warehouse. Any internal doors were locked. I wasn't sure if I went through the stairway doors that I could get through any other door onto the above floors.I could get outside but I wasn't sure where I would end up. Remember, I don't orient well at all.

Luckily I had my phone with me and my momma didn't raise no fool. I looked up the phone number for The DI, called the Centre and asked for Jake, the nice guy selling me the t-shirts. I sheepishly explained to him that I was lost somewhere in the very same building he was working in and asked if he would come get me. Which he did. Cause he's nice that way. And then he walked me to my truck. Let's just say he's made my gratitude list for today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You Can Only Have One First Blog Post

Do I say, 'Welcome' or 'Hello' when this is a first entry to a brand-new blog? I don't know. Likely one of the many reasons why I haven't started blogging before. Because I don't know the rules. And I am a rules sort of person.

Often people see me breaking the rules but, internally, I need rules to follow.

So they can be broken.

It can get complicated being me. Never mind being my spouse.

So, I made some rules. To be disregarded as needed. Naturally.

Whew! Aren't you glad that's settled?

So, now we arrive at...

Welcome! Hello!

I've been wondering what my first ever blog post should be about. I've been sitting here in my office, contemplating my options, cause you know, I want to get this just right. You only write your first blog post once, correct? Knowing I am not of the Born Again blog posters, it's true - the first post is the only first post I get.

Anyway, as I'm contemplating what my potentially wise and fabulous first blog post will be about when my eye was drawn to a bit of colour in the outer office. And I knew exactly what I wanted to share with you in this first post of mine.

It is a gift I received on Sunday from two youth that were in Confirmation Class with me last year. And who also happen to be very good friends of my two eldest children. Here it is:

Get this--all three scenes above are the SAME PICTURE!!

It is one of those very cheesy plastic pictures. Depending on which way you tilt the picture, you get a different scene. One picture, three scenes. Takes me back to grade four.

The teenage boys were killing themselves trying not laugh as they waited for my reaction. They bought me the picture at Comic Con. I think they were trying to get a rise out of me. Maybe hoping for a rant about how Jesus wasn't white people!! Well, I burst out laughing and couldn't stop. It is just so awful.

Naturally I brought the picture to the church and propped it beside the admin's desk. Cause it sure as heck isn't living in my office. I showed off the picture to congregation members who were in the building last night. The funny thing was them trying to decide if they needed to compliment the picture because maybe I genuinely liked it or if they could roll their eyes at its awfulness like they actually wanted to!

I love being in ministry. You just never know where your day is going to end up. Sunday was a gong show--worship service, newcomers luncheon, funeral for a baby born 18 weeks too early and then this gift. This fabulous, wonderfully awful gift that brought laughter at the end of a very long day. So awesome.

And so ends my first blog post.