Monday, February 27, 2017

Leadership in Action

There is no old man God,
with a long beard living up in the sky.
This past week I really needed a book that was practical instead of theological as I am still processing Bishop Spong's book from last week. I've been at this project of reading 52 books in 52 weeks for two months and I'm feeling like I have the potential to fall behind very quickly if I don't spend a little more time intentionally reading. I have at least three or four books that will be intense to read--they are dense, academic kind of books or intense, deep novels. I will not, possibly, be able to read them just in a week. So, I will take some time this week to regroup and make sure that I have time set aside for my reading that is manageable with the few other responsibilities that I have.

I have found my reading to be inspirational and exciting with learning new ideas or being affirmed in the ideas and path that I am already travelling along. I am reminded of my ministry training in which me and my fellow students were pushed and pulled every day with new-to-us theology, new understanding of leadership and learning styles and new ideas and concepts for use in worship and encouraging spiritual connections.

As it turns out, the topic of the book I chose last week was congregational growth. It is my second book, on this reading adventure, by Clair Woodbury. He co-wrote this book, Wings Like Eagles: How to be a Thriving Congregation in the 21st Century, with Joyce Madsen. For Symons Valley United, the congregation which I serve, growth of our congregation is a key component to our presence in North Calgary. The congregation will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year but has been in its present location for only eight years. The wider church requested that the congregation make the move as the city began developing new communities in the north. The congregation agreed to move and ended up building a church big enough to accommodate the new communities for a few years and incorporated plans into their building project that would allow for the anticipated growth in their faith communities. With thousands of new families moving into the surrounding area, growth seemed inevitable. But, like many things in life, things did not progress as planned.
What's the expression?

We are now, in the past year and half, seeing the newcomers that were anticipated so long ago. We have visitors every week. People are returning after their first Sunday and they are staying. There is an energetic feeling in the building on Sundays. The ministry that is happening within these doors is full of vitality and God's love. The leadership team of the church, which includes many, many fabulous lay leaders beyond myself and the handful of staff, have worked diligently and faithfully to empowering others in the congregation to be engaged and involved in all aspects of church life--whether they are old-timers or newcomers. Ministries have been expanding and new ideas are being welcomed.

As I read Clair and Joyce's book, I found myself nodding quite a bit and checking things off. Yep, we do that. Yep, the leadership is structured like that. And there were suggestions and ideas that caused me to pause. To wonder if it would benefit SVUC to do this or to do that. One thing that I found affirming as I made my way through Clair and Joyce's words of wisdom and their suggestions around creating strong and healthy congregations, is that the leadership of Symons Valley is clearly committed to this journey of growing a thriving, Christ-centred and faith-filled congregation amongst the new communities of North Calgary. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

To Be An Exiled Christian

I'm overdue in writing this blog. I have hit my first real snag in this whole reading 52 books in 52 weeks. The snag was going on a little holiday. It wasn't for very many days but it was enough that I had to scramble to get my work obligations finished by mid-week and so did not have time to read. I told myself that I would read while the kids were away, skiing. But then this happened. I started sewing. I'm helping to finish the new banners that will be hung in the sanctuary beginning in Lent. I started the HBO series, "Damages" with Glen Close. It is SO GOOD! And so...reading was not a priority.

The book was rather serious so there was some thinking that needed to happen in between the chapters. This past week's book was Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile written by John Shelby Spong while he was the Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop of Newark in New Jersey. I couldn't help but think of Greta Vosper--you might be familiar with the name of the United Church of Canada minister who is at odds with the wider church over her stated atheism. Vosper's book, With or Without God, is in my to-read pile. I am thinking that this book of  Bishop Spong's is a precursor to what Greta will be saying in her book.

The long and short of what Bishop Spong has to say is that once we examine the creeds of our faith and look at our scriptures in light of what we have learned through scientific study, it is very difficult for a rational and critical thinker to believe in a theistic God. In other words, it is not reasonable to believe in a God who intervenes in the world on our behalf. And, once we stop believing in that type of God, our God "must either grow or die". The book goes on to give a sense of how our understanding of God has evolved in the years since the first exile from Jerusalem to Babylon to this day, when many Christians struggle with believing in God but know that same God cannot save them from illness, disaster or tragedy.

Which got me to wondering about prayer. What do we do when we are in exile from the Christianity of our ancient and recent past? Bishop Spong speaks of a post-theistic God--no longer the God that appears in human form, specifically an old white man who sits up in the sky somewhere, waiting to be asked to intervene in the world. In our lifetimes, belief in this God was tested when the fullness of Hitler's insanity was made known. I've said it before and I'll say it again here--if God were to have ever intervened in the world, would it not have been at the gas chambers of the Holocaust?

So, if our God is now recognized as not being a person with the gift of reaching out and changing the course of our lives, why then would we pray? This question relentlessly nagged me as a I recently sat with a dear one in hospital, wondering out loud if they would be healed or if their situation would worsen. In the bedside conversation around how frustrating it was that God couldn't make an exception in this case, it occurred to me that the prayer we were all holding was not for God to reach *His* hand down to and alter what was happening. The prayer was the open up of ourselves to the possibility of hope and change.

We pray to hear--out loud or in the quiet of our hearts--our dreams and our sorrows. Naming the joys of our lives gives celebration to what is good in our lives and to give thanks for those wonderful things that are not in our control but yet are a benefit us. By naming aloud those things that scare or terrify us, light can be shed upon them and hopefully push back some the shadow they cause in our lives. In the naming, we bring light upon what is fearful. As "Game of Thrones" reminds us, the night is dark and full of terror. Prayer allows for a light to be lit in the dark. It might only be a flicker but, as any child can tell you, all it takes is for a little light in the night to make the monsters to go away.

Here is one my favourite quotations from this book:
Underneath the prevailing theistic images of God, we see a divine presence called spirit within us and most spectacularly in Jesus of Nazareth. We find our spirits touched by his spirit, our lives enhanced by his life, our being called to a new level by his being.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being Welcomed Sucks

This past Sunday was the conclusion of the Stewardship Campaign. Sandy Crawford did an excellent job of sharing his personal experience of feeling grateful and how his life has been impacted by belonging to Symons Valley United Church. Please see below for an excerpt from his message.

During Sunday's worship service, we also celebrated the sacrament of baptism. Baptism can happen when one is an infant, a child or when they are all grown up. Baptism in the United Church of Canada is a ritual in which the congregation that states, for the baptized:
Welcome to the family!

If the baptized person is not a grown up, the parents of the baby or child are asked to make promises to raise their child in the way of love and the teaching of Jesus. And, in return, the congregation promises to support them and their child on their journey of parenting and growing up as children of God. The time of baptism is usually a reverent moment during the worship service. Water from the River Jordan is added to the water basin. The water is poured slowly, for all to see. The baptized are named and brought forward. Sometimes in the arms of a loved one or sometimes on their own accord. We lay hands on the baptized so that the Holy Spirit may be called upon to be present during this holy time. The words, In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are said. The sign of the cross is made. The presence of the Divine can be easily be noticed at baptism.

Most Sundays. Other Sundays, the Divine sometimes hides around the corner. Of the Communion Table. Or the AV booth. The Divine is there but it can be tricky seeing exactly where because of the giggling. Or outright laughing. By the congregation.

Because. You know. Not everyone WANTS to be baptized. Not. At. All.

Like this Sunday.

We had one young man who was contrary to the whole baptismal thing and was not shy about letting us know that. By guess and by golly we made it through the liturgy, the words were said, the promises were made, water somehow made it onto his person and the cross was VERY LIGHTLTY drawn across his turned away, unhappy back. Amen.

Today I was thinking how funny it was that this kid was resistant to the whole act of being welcomed into the family of Christ and our congregation. Of course, the welcome wasn't really what he was resisting - I imagine it was more about being up on the stage, of having to do what he was told in that exact moment of time, of dealing with me, the water and all that darn touching.

But it got me thinking, what do we do when our people resist being welcomed in? Our people, our family, our children, our friends who resist being in the family unit (anyone who remembers being 16 knows that being a part of your family is just absolutely painful at times). What about those who withdraw, for whatever reason, from the circle of friends, the family gatherings, the support group, the small group ministry? What happens when, no matter how much love we have, it is not enough to keep them close in certain times of life?

I think that our response to those moments has to be the response I hope would happen when I, myself, feel out in the cold and unable to enter into whatever circle I am missing from. The response is not to shut the door. The response is to keep the door open, keep current the invite to return and join once again, and to be prepared to make the circle wider when I do choose or am able to enter back in.

I'm sure there's this nice door image that could be found to represent this metaphor of keeping the door open but I can't help but think of a picture I saw floating around on Facebook last Christmas. It was the Christmas card photo that the Australian politician Andrew Leigh's put out for their family Christmas card. One of their children was clearly unhappy about having to participate in the dumb photo shoot and made his feelings known. Rather than force the issue or reschedule, Leigh and his spouse decided to show the world that not every moment of their lives was photo-perfect. Nor did they cut him out of the picture, so to speak. I love how the little guy is sitting at the edge of the group, not apart of it but not far apart from it. He set himself aside but the family looks ready to welcome him back in once a few things have been sorted out - with himself and his gosh-darn parents.

Sometimes it sucks being welcomed. But it would suck more to not be invited back in.

{Talk about a Prodigal Son moment - go read it. Luke 15:11–32.}

And now for a word from the sermon and Sandy Crawford:

How do we show our gratitude? “You are the light of the world,” Jesus said to his followers. Those words from what we call “The Sermon on the Mount”, are a small part of Jesus’ lessons about what it means to live in this world.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said so long ago. But is Jesus really talking about me? About you? As someone who does not feel like something as essential or purifying as salt or as illuminating as light, I wonder if Jesus really means these words about me. Surely he means people who don’t yell at their kids, who always say YES when asked to volunteer and who never act like the world has ended just because a traffic snarl has messed up their carefully planned day. Surely those whom Jesus calls salt of the earth and light of the world are a superior class of people, nothing like myself.

So, just whom is Jesus speaking to, if not to us?

Maybe we need to backtrack again. A few verses before this sermon, we hear exactly whom Jesus is speaking to: “News about [Jesus] spread all over Syria , and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering from severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures (probably because they had been caught in a traffic jam too!) and the paralyzed and he healed them.”

And here’s why it’s a good thing to realize who Jesus was speaking to. Because it is so easy for us to believe that Jesus was speaking to a special class of people that day.  But in reality they were those who sought him because they had to. Because they needed him. The ones we are told came to Jesus that day, the ones he spoke to, were the sick, those in pain -  those who yelled at their kids – and those who lost their temper over trivial issues. They were people in need of God. And because they stood in need of God, they needed that blessing.  Just like us.

To the broken and hurting, Jesus gives that blessing. And then he says they are of the earth and of the breath of God. To the flawed and imperfect he says that their bodies are wonders filled with light. Simple and direct – you are salt; you are light.

And then he tells us to get on with it! Salt has to be used to fulfil its purpose!  Hiding your light under a basket isn’t going to help anyone!

Go. Be salt. Be light. Go.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Church Is My Hockey

They lost. 5-0. Sigh.
I am getting ready to head out for a hockey game. Our hockey player is in Midget now and the games are usually fast and fun to watch. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don't. This hasn't always been the case. For awhile, our hockey team was great at being the second winners.

I kinda suck at being a Hockey Mom. It doesn't come naturally to me. I don't like being cold. There are games ALL THE TIME. I'm still not certain what 'icing' entails. You can't visit during game time cause you actually need to be paying attention when (if) your hockey player accomplishes something while on the ice. There's the potential for breakage, such as the boy's collarbone (2014). Until they were big enough to stay on their own, I would gladly stayed home with the other three children while my dear spouse went to hockey. I did go, but certainly not at every opportunity.

One time our hockey player had forgotten his water bottle so I popped into the change room to give it to him. It was the last season when dads and moms were still permitted to enter the dressing room--although God only knows why you would want to (you know what I'm talking about if you have smelled the inside of hockey dressing room, but I digress). Anyway, I found out that, after I left the dressing room, the parents who were there had turned to each after I left and asked, "WHO was that?" It wouldn't be so sad if it wasn't 2/3 the way through the season.

There was one season in which both the coach and team manager were hyper-excited about hockey. They were all amped up for the many possibilities for team bonding and the extra ice time that could be purchased. At the end of it all, we parents had to endure multiple cash-calls, sell raffle tickets and had to transport our hockey players around town A LOT. It was driving my dear spouse and I a little around the bend--cause, you know, this was only ONE of FOUR children we had to accommodate for extracurricular activities. Within a month of hockey starting that season, we had to sit down and talk it through with each other because if we didn't get right with hockey sooner than later, we might have to kill the coach and team manager. Kill them DEAD.

What we concluded, after a good discussion and a few beers, is that hockey was the coach's and team manager's epicentre. Each of their lives were centred around hockey--their family's schedule, their charitable giving {we also had to do fundraisers for charity in this season of hockey cause 'that's how the kids will learn to give back'}, their socializing {sure! let's go in another tournament so we can all stay in a hotel together and have fun each evening!}. It all began to make sense. For them, the world revolved around the hockey schedule. Hockey was their community, their family, their support network.

Not so for us. Church is our hockey.

Particularly when our our family was younger, our week would involve a church meeting or two for either my dear spouse or I, the kids would go to youth group on Friday, there might be a family social event on Saturday and the week would conclude with the church worship and Sunday School on Sundays. Now that I'm clergy and all four children are in youth group, church is even more a part of our week. A great portion of our charitable givings are done through the church. Social events often involve being at the church or being with church people. Church is our hockey.
Church is also Anne Lamott's hockey. I have already a book by Anne Lamott in the 52in52 Book Challenge but once I like an author I usually start collecting all their books. So, there is more than one Lamott book in to-read pile. This week I picked up, Stitches. It was a quick read but powerful. I feel like I shouldn't HAVE to say it was powerful, being that it was an Anne Lamott book--you should just KNOW that her work is powerful. She is such an amazing writer. Anne is quite frank about her brokenness, her desire for wholeness and her open, tender heart that cannot stop her from loving other broken and vulnerable people. It's not hard to relate to what she has to say.

Anne talks about the struggles of being human in God's perfectly imperfect world. She talks about loss, grief, pain and hurt. She also speaks about love beyond measure, healing, hope and the utter and total kindness that is possible in this broken and damaged world. She speaks about the necessity of being with people who love you and with those you love. The necessity of making a family through which you can strive to heal and become whole. Where you will be supported and where you can offer support. And love. Always love. Anne tells of her church family and how it has given shape to her life journey for over thirty years. This is book of how miracles exist in this world of ours. Thanks be to God.

This is Anne speaking of her church using the metaphor of darning and the use of a darning egg:
The repaired sock..."This is sort of a miracle--good enough again. Wow. You're weaving, in effect, starting with raggedy edges, going back a bit to the one spot that can still hold new thread. It definitely helps to have a darning egg as you go through life. Trust me on this. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Love said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.

Vicki & Scot with Imam Shahid & Ali
Following the worship service this past Sunday, during which I got my dander up a bit while I was preaching, someone remarked, "Donald Trump has sure gotten under your skin, hey Vicki?" To which I replied that it was not DT that I was fired up about - it is what is happening within our society (let's be honest, our Canadian society is heavily influenced by American society) as a result of the new presidential administration's decisions and directives.
Vicki reading the letter during prayers
Shoes & Hospitality
On the Friday after the Executive Order on Immigration was enforced in the USA and the shooting at the mosque in Quebec, leaders of Symons Valley United Church made muffins, tea and coffee for the Muslim Prayer Group which has prayed in our building for the past several years. The Chair of the Board and I co-wrote a letter of support (found at the end of this post), which I was invited to read at both of the prayer services that afternoon. We had a sign made up that is a play on our own vision statement.

We visited with the many, many people who came for prayers that day. The men, women and children were so grateful to be remembered by our Christian community. One Muslim man asked if he could attend our Sunday worship. I told, 'of course!'. He then asked, 'but will people be afraid when they see me arrive?' Seriously, that's what our world has come to? That he feels the need to ask this question!!? I assured him he would be welcomed with open arms. Which, of course, he was.

Following the afternoon prayers, two of us made our way downtown, in the cold and the snow, to stand vigil at a multi-faith gathering at City Hall. It was a no brainer on what needed to be preached on Sunday morning. Please see below for excerpts from my sermon. For the full text, please go to SVUC's website.

Rev Tracy (St.Thomas UC),
Colleen & Vicki
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-16 & Matthew 22:34-40
In the ancient biblical world, salt was a precious commodity—one of the most important necessities of lifeSalt was used to preserve as well as to season food—it added flavour and zest. Salt was also used with sacrifices—spread upon cereal offerings and burnt offerings. It was used for making covenants and representing commitment as we heard today in the reading from Leviticus. Just like when you open a bag of potato chips and you just can’t eat one because the salt compels your taste buds to demand another chip and then another, back in the day salt also made people thirst for something more. Jesus knew this applied to more than food. He wanted his disciples to give flavour and zest to the world through his teaching; to preserve the truth as he proclaimed it to the world; to make the world thirst for more. The concern that "salt has lost its flavour" is difficult for us to understand today, especially because of the purity of the salt we use. In the time of Jesus, salt was not purified in the manner, as we know it but was collected from deposits left by the Dead Sea as it dried. This salt was exposed to the elements and could break apart resulting in its loss of flavour. As such, salt was an excellent metaphor for discipleship, which can and does lose its vigor over time if care is not taken to keep it alive. And you can always tell when cook has forgotten the salt, right? Meatloaf is just not the same with the absence of salt, is it?

Light has the characteristic of dispelling darkness, of warming all it reaches, of exalting what it is we hold dear—portraits, statues, memorials. This is done with the speed of light—the reference we use when we want to covey it is faster than fast. Being the light of the world means, for Christians, spreading everywhere the light that comes from on high, form our God, magnified by our teacher, Jesus. It means fighting darkness created by systemic evils—those most often caused by ignorance, prejudice, selfishness and greed. By inviting us to be "light," Jesus invites us to make him present in the world.  Just as the presence of salt and light cannot be hidden and their absences will be noticed, kindness and love cannot be denied. 

So, we sit here and listen to these very wise and inspiring words, understanding that if all the world cared first about being salt and light, our world would find the peace of God’s Kingdom in the blink of an eye. But we are here today, with a week behind us like no other in recent history. I may already said this a little a bit in the days since the American election, but last weekend seemed to cement it—the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Executive orders. Shooting people as they pray inn their house of worship. In Canada. More Executive Orders this week. You know, when I was in Israel and Palestine in 2012 I spent a lot of time in the Occupied territory talking with local, Palestinians. The conversations covered the themes you would expect—right of return to the homes that they had to abandon or which were taken away, safety issues, education for the children, clean water. But what made my heart break a little bit was the repeated stories of the lack of freedom experienced by those people without documents. Not just travel documents. So many Palestinians do not belong to a nation—they live in no-man’s land and therefore do not possess a passport. And, when they want travel, just there across the town or get out of Gaza, or make their way to the airport because they might have been so lucky to have a family member who is able to sponsor them to come out and live in another part of the world, they have to line up to cross the checkpoints. If they arrive when the border guard is in a bad mood, if what ever papers they have seem out of order, if the checkpoint is EVEN OPEN, they cannot cross that day. Or maybe the next. Or the next. There is not freedom of movement in Palestine. And that is what Trump has done. Here. In North American. The new Promised Land. The tired, the worn out, the persecuted, the desperate, DO NOT HAVE FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT. Rights and freedoms are rapidly falling by the wayside. It’s all going to hell in a handbasket.

I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to be offering words of hope, goodness and love and tell you, don’t worry, God’s got this, we’ll be okay. But you know what? After the Second World War ended and the fullness of truth about the holocaust, the mass genocide, the internment camps, when the world finally knew the totality of Hitler’s insanity and cruelty, there was an existential crisis in the world—particularly amongst people of faith. They wondered, where was God in the chaos of the Nazi regime? God is dead it was declared because if ever God were to have intervened in the world, it would have been with the gas chambers. With the starvation. With the separation of parents from the their children. With the death of more than 6 million people. If God was to ever break into the world, it would have been then, would it not? But, that was the wrong question. God is there forevermore. The question is not where was God. No. The question should have been, ‘where were the Christians? Where were the people of all faiths who believe, above all, that we are to be love. To offer hospitality, kindness and seek justice for all those in need. The question then and now, is not where is God? The question we need to ask ourselves in this time of western society fraying at the edges, the question is, ‘where are we?’

And I want to answer this question, just a little bit, by throwing the big C Christians completely and thoroughly under the bus. When I say big C Christians, I mean those self-proclaimed “Christians” who, instead of putting the needs of the poor, the sick, the widowed, the orphaned, instead of putting their needs ahead of their own, use the Bible as a weapon, use God’s words for hate and twist and turn the teaching of Jesus to first benefit themselves rather than for the collective good, working towards peace for all. Essentially, denying their necessary and active role in the bringing about of God’s Kingdom here upon our earth, in our here and now. Okay—you know what I’m talking about, you feel me? ‘Those’ Christians do not understand there are many paths of faith to God. Our United Church is pluralistic—we United Church Protestants are not the only possessors of the knowledge of God’s love. But many other denominations do not agree. They, their doctrine, their pastors, their flocks, look towards ONE line that Jesus said and use that as confirmation that Christianity is the only religion worthy of God.

The line comes at the end of a piece of scripture often spoken during funerals. It’s from chapter 14 in the Book of John. The lead up is this (I left in the reference to God as Father because this how conservative Christians would read this passage): Jesus is telling the disciples, “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’” And then comes the line used to deny every other religion besides Christianity. “Jesus said to Thomas, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” And so, Muslims matter not. Hindus matter not. Sikhs matter not. Indigenous beliefs matter not. Religious freedom matters not. As long as Christians have the ability to carry on doing whatever they want to, the needs and wants of those who practice a different religion MATTERS NOT.

But what if? What if we read that passage again, knowing that Jesus came to earth, as God’s beloved, to be love, to be filled with love and to be love for others. To teach others how to love, fully and completely? What if we read this as Jesus is love? Thomas said, ‘We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’” In reply, “Love said to Thomas, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.” What if. We are to love God with all our heart, our soul and our mind. And we are to love our neighbour has ourselves. Because it is from God’s love that we have been created and it is to God’s love that we return. Peace on this earth will come only when we love one another with abandon. When we love without ceasing. When we love first and foremost. No matter what.

After 9/11 religious persecution and cultural fear did not allow Muslims the freedom to pray in any given space. Prayer groups were denied access to spaces they had been renting peacefully for years. Syed Sohowardy told me it that the United Church was one of the only places Muslims found safe harbor in Canada following the devastating attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001. The United Church, understanding Islam to be a religion of peace and knowing extremists exist within their tradition JUST AS extremists exist within Christianity, decided to stand up and tell the world that they would not give into fear and hate and churches across the country opened their doors for prayer groups. As our congregation did when this building was opened.  In 2008 the Al-Makkah of the Calgary Islamic Assembly began meeting here on Fridays and other Islamic high holy days to pray to their God. Our God. For Allah and God are one and the same. The God of Abraham who fathered both Ishmael and Isaac—the beginnings of Islam and Judaism. 

Your stewardship allows for us to band together, to plan together, to take strength from one another, to be emboldened by the word of God and the example of Jesus. Through your stewardship, this congregation can live out the words from John: Love said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to God except through me.” Loves compels us to  not stand idly by in these difficult times. Let us not be silent when Muslims are banned. When people can be fired for practicing a faith tradition that is not one of Jesus. When places of worship are defaced. When people are targeted for hate speak. When people are killed for being a people of peace. When they are at their most vulnerable. We, as Christians will not stand idly by and let others blame this on God. God despairs with us. God weeps with us. This time around, we will not stand idly by. This time we will stand and say no to hate. Say no to lies. Say no to mistruths, alternate facts, to hidden agendas. We will stand. We will be salty and full of light. Being salt and light is not optional. Jesus did not say you can be...or you have the potential to be...He said you are. Go, be the salt the world needs. Go, be the light the world craves. Go, knowing the love of God goes with you, the courage and strength of Jesus our Christ is alongside you and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit is behind you.

Friday, February 3, 2017

I am a BAMMER (Below Average Minister)

The average age of ministers in the United Church of Canada is 56 years old. For those of us under that age, there is a Facebook group called BAM! (Below Average Age) that we can take part in for collegial support, lively discussions and for asking for help figuring out what book is best for a child who's grandparent has passed away or if there is a prayer out there somewhere for a Sunday after a week of tragedy.

While the group started out as being limited to those under the average age of ministers, I know that a few have gained entry after arguing they were 'younger at heart'. Regardless of age, the group is insightful, encouraging and, often times, highly irreverent. There can be full on theological arguments going on in the thread of one post while the next will simply have this image posted...↝

When I began my call at Symons Valley United Church, my mentor suggested to me that I take care to let congregation members know that I wasn't as young as I might look. While I didn't feel all that young, I could have been mistaken for someone with less life experience than I possessed. And, the congregation knew I was just finishing my ministry training. And I was following an older male. So, being a younger-looking woman, fresh out of school might not help in gaining confidence in my leadership potential. My mentor told me, 'every time you get the chance, tell people about your 14 year old son' - giving people a sense that I did have some years of experience in life behind me.

I thought that perhaps this advice was a little over the top until one day, three months after I started at SVUC. In a discussion with a male member of the congregation who was, at most, ten years older than me, I was told that my leadership was great considering I was under the age of thirty. THIRTY?! I was on the verge of exiting my thirties at that point and he thought I was even younger than thirty. I broke the news that I was about to turn forty and he didn't know what to do with that information. We just let the conversation end there. 

When I was commissioned, a great friend gave me this book, The Girlfriends' Clergy Companion by Melissa DeRosia, Marianne Grano, Amy Morgan and Amanda Riley. These women, recognizing how challenging it can be for people under the age of thirty to be taken seriously in ministry, particularly women, found support with one another during their first calls after being ordained. And then they wrote this book together to help other young female ministers.

Most of the issues these young women ministers face are not really applicable to me at this stage of my life and this stage of my ministry but it was interesting to have a look at what issues do arise for new grads and ministry candidates. I hope that I now have some extra wisdom to offer the next fresh-faced ministry student and/or recent grad so that I can be of help just as my mentor was of help to me.

From the chapter titled, "Married...with PKs", written by Melissa DeRosia. (A PK is a preacher's kid.)
A colleague asked me once which day I took off each week. I laughed. I laughed hard. Day off? How, as a pastor, mother, and wife, would you define as a day off?
For the record, my definition of a day off is - the day when the kids are in school, the dear spouse is at work and I am in my craft room. 😄

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Toothpaste, No Cell Phone, What Are We Going To Do?!

Michelle Middleton
This past Sunday was the second Sunday in the Stewardship Campaign at Symons Valley United Church. The Stewardship Committee led the service and the treasurer, Michelle Middleton, offered a reflection for the sermon time. The Committee has been using the UCC's General Council resource, Salt & Light. The liturgy and message suggestions for the Campaign have been full of imagery of God's people being called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Michelle spoke about being salt and light for the mission of the church, both locally and throughout God's world. I have been told she did a very good job and that she even received applause!
The Zambia2017 Team

I was not at SVUC for Sunday's worship service. Instead, I was at St. Andrew's United Church in Cochrane, Alberta very much enjoying a youth-led service. I spent the weekend in Cochrane in a retreat with a group of youth, young adults and leaders. We gathered because we are a team of people who will be traveling together to the Copperbelt region of Zambia, in the southern region of Africa, during August of this year.

Our trip, the Zambia Youth Exposure Tour 2017, has four sponsoring churches in Calgary Presbytery - Symons Valley, St. Thomas, St. Andrews (Calgary) and Deer Park. There are seven leaders from these four congregations and sixteen youth and young adults (Grade 9 to first year post-secondary) from these congregations plus Wild Rose and Balzac United Churches. The focus of this trip will be education with an emphasis on the social, economic, cultural and religious realities in Zambia. We will visit and interact with members of the United Church of Zambia and with students from Racecourse Community School. We will tour the hospital, various health clinics and meet with community leaders to learn about the challenges of illnesses, such as HIV and TB. We will learn about the economic and environmental impact of copper mining in the region.

We held our retreat to so that we could do some team bonding and do some intensive learning about what privilege is and how power is wielded by those who have privilege. We also had Heather MacKenzie travel from Edmonton to share with us her story of Racecourse Community School - an organization that the United Church in Alberta Northwest Conference has had a long and deep relationship with over the years. I visited with the teachers and students of Racecourse when I first traveled to Zambia in 2003 and then again in 2008.

16 Confiscated Cell Phones
One purpose of the retreat is to stress the participants a little bit so they can 'practice' in the safety of home ground. We gave them a packing list that was sparse - we were to be away only for 48 hours. Toothpaste, hairbrushes/combs, makeup and cell phones did not make the list. And so they were taken away. The kids managed surprisingly well with having some of their belongings put into garbage bags and taken away. Their cell phones and other electronic paraphernalia were placed in Ziploc bags. Occasionally they had access to the phones but for the better part of the weekend, we were technology-free. We also went swimming and had McKay's ice cream.

The participants used Micah 6:8 as the scripture reading focus for planning worship on Sunday.

What does God require from you?
To seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Children's Time
We began the worship service by ringing St. Andrew's church bell (as is their tradition) cause they have a FOR REAL church bell that they ring every Sunday - how awesome is that!!? The youth wrote the prayers and chose the hymns for the worship service. One of the youth led children's time - a brilliant piece about people not listening to what people themselves say they NEED versus what it is believed is best for them.

Worship Service
The participants are divided into three home groups for when we travel and they decided that each home group would prepare one third of the sermon. One group took 'seek justice', another took 'love kindness' and the final group took 'walk humbly with God'. The result was a meaningful and profound message expressing why they are going to Zambia and what they hope to accomplish by going to learn, listen and be children of God with all whom they have the good fortune to meet along the way.

I missed being with the good folks of SVUC this past weekend but it was an absolute blast spending time with these amazing youth, young adults and fellow leaders. If you are able, please join us on Sunday February 26th as the SVUC Zambia youth share their retreat service with the congregation - I'm absolutely sure you will love it!