Paul and I were away last week to Edmonton. The first two days we were attending an event just for ministers meant to be a time of reflection and inspiration— and it was! There was time to absorb important messages from the three speakers; time to worship; time to reconnect with colleagues and be inspired with all that is going well in their ministries and there was time to rest. Such a well-balanced event is rare, and it was so very welcome.
All of the three speakers, spoke of creating ‘space’.
Rev. Dr. Amy Butler from Riverside Church in New York City spoke of the need for churches and church leaders to enter that most frightening ‘space’ in-between groups of polarized people, recognizing our essential humanity and not the politics that dangerously alienate groups from one another.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Janzen-Ball from Saskatoon spoke to us about the creative natural spaces in nature where the edge of ecosystems meet and create ‘edge habitats’ that incorporate characteristics of multiple naturals spaces into one another. She used this as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual spaces that we are being called to create now.
Rev. Dr. Russell Daye from Halifax spoke to us through the study of Anthropology – explaining that religious practises from all over the world have common characteristics of ‘spirit space’. He spoke of how Western Christianity stopped valuing its own expressions of spirit space and imposed a form of Christianity on colonised peoples that denied the very soul of their experience of the Divine.
It is good to have time apart as ministers and come back to our beloved communities refreshed and renewed. I’m looking forward to exploring sacred, holy spaces with the congregation of Living Spirit United and the Transition Team in this special ‘Interim space’ that we are in.
PICTURE – (Sean O’Keefe and his son Fionn, 16 months, bring flowers to a memorial on Yonge Street Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Toronto, the day after a driver drove a van down sidewalks, striking and killing numerous pedestrians in his path. Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan)
This week we are trying to make sense of another copy-cat nightmare after a young single angry man used a rented van as a weapon on a Toronto street to kill 10 and injure 14 strangers who were just going about their day.
Another young single angry man has copied the actions of other young single angry men before him and has left a crowd of broken, disbelieving victims in his wake of hate and revenge seeking. The Canadian public heart aches once again after the national heartbreak of an accident a mere three weeks ago that ended far too many young lives; and living day by day with the news coming from the legal deliberations of how to punish another young single angry man for the senseless murders of six, and the injury of nineteen faithful Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers in Quebec City sixteen months ago.
The two Canadian young single angry men who caused terror and destruction in Quebec City and Toronto are not being called “terrorists” as they were not acting for a larger cause, or an ideological stance other than their own egotistical need to lash out. They were emulating previous “heroes” wanting their own 15 minutes of fame at far too high a cost. In an interview on CBC, (http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1218434115769/) Sociologist Judith Taylor of the University of Toronto, said that both Canadian men fit a disturbing profile that is growing in on-line communities that allow young single angry men to connect and stew in their collective despair, and sense of rejection. Instead of offering a place where they might find collective strength to take hope and courage to rise beyond their despair and rejection, as a group they tend to blame women and immigrant groups for their suffering. The solution offered by these online groups is to lash out in revenge. (see also http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1219360835736/ about toxic masculinity)
I know and love a number of single young men, first among them being my 25 year old son. We are living in a time that is particularly challenging for single young men. Job prospects are not guaranteed through university degrees or tech training programs- and finding meaningful relationships is much harder than it used to be. The online dating phenomenon does result in satisfying relationships for some, but my son tells me that for most of the young men on those sites… who make up the majority of profiles, it is a painful exercise in rejection- over and over again. Our young men are a large portion of the even larger group of North Americans under the age of 35, most of whom who are living alone. For the first time since we started keeping track of these sorts of things, more under-35’s are single than partnered. Social isolation is a crisis across all age demographics and gender identity and sexual preference spectrum…. but the mixing young men’s anger with their social isolation is turning toxic and deadly.
Jesus’ ministry, and his resurrection were all about relationships and new life. What is being called into life after this latest copy-cat nightmare?
Let’s start having conversations. Let’s start by reaching out to our sons and nephews and neighbours who we know are isolated and build up those relationships, so they know they are valued and valuable people. Let’s start having conversations in our faith communities about how we might respond to this epidemic of isolation around us. Let’s be the hands and feet of Christ, and his heart and his eyes as we walk our walk of faith: let’s extend the life-saving love of the Divine One to all who are isolated, and in particular, to the single young angry men whoso badly need this life-saving Love.
The Transition Team for Living Spirit United Church’s Interim time met for the first time on Wed. April 11. The members of the team were mostly selected by your Council who spent time considering people in the congregation who regularly attend worship on Sunday mornings, or were folks in the congregation who accepted the invitation to consider if God was “nudging” them to be a part of this process. Most of the team took time to consider the request and carefully weighed if they could give the time and energy to the work of the Transition Team. The team also includes a person from outside of the congregation representing the United Church and your Interim Minister. Two of the people who were approached to be on the team did not feel that they could be a part of the regular team but were very interested in the process so they have volunteered to be our “go to” people for support as we plan congregational gatherings and other events over the next two years.
Here is your team:
Rev. Jan Craig
Rev. Shannon Mang
This group will meet about every two weeks on your behalf to steer our Interim time together. You will hear from us regularly and see all of us in leadership in different ways over the next two years. The congregational members of the team have intimate knowledge of the history and culture of this congregation, while Rev. Jan Craig and Rev. Shannon Mang bring years of congregational experience and wisdom around how to help congregations heal following difficult times. We are so very blessed to have this group of people to guide this family of faith through a healing time together.
Our “go to” support people are Gillian Aiken and Jocelyn Massey. If you feel that you too would like to join Gillian and Jocelyn in offering support to the Transition Team do let them or Rev. Shannon know and we will build a larger team, as the Transition process can use as much support from the congregation as possible.
This Sunday there is a rare convergence- Easter happens on April Fools Day. This last occurred in 1956. It will happen again in 2029, and then in 2040, and then not until 2108. That is too bad really. Looking at the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection through the lens of humour is great: God played a wonderful cosmic joke on the powers that took Jesus to the cross. The religious elite in Jerusalem and the Roman occupiers needed to be rid of this pesky Galilean who was stirring up trouble with seditious teaching about equality and having outrageous claims made over healings— lots and lots of healings … so they crucified him in one of the most torturous ways on a cross. …. but he didn’t stay dead….
Diana Butler Bass tweeted Mar 27:
God did not send the “gift” of a dead child for salvation. God gave the gift of a child to the world to embody the way of shalom and to upend the empire of death. The Empire killed that child. But God wouldn’t let that execution be the last word. That’s the Easter story.
Jesus was a master joke teller in his teaching so it fits that he would play his part in a masterful prank that denied the death-dealing powers of his time- they could kill him but they couldn’t keep him in the grave!
What made Jesus a great teller of jokes is that he crafted stories and images that pointed out the space between who we are and who God calls us to be. That is the strength of all good joke telling*. Amid terrible oppression there are really funny jokes, often shining a light on the absurdity of the oppression. We saw this in the Occupied Territories where the lives of Palestinians are drastically curtailed and controlled by the policies of Israel and the army. The graffiti artist Banksy has made some of his most poignant art on the separation wall in Bethlehem:
Laughter- jokes- cat videos- cartoons -giggles- stories- all help us put our lives into perspective, even our failures and tragedies. Even those who are suffering often find humour and hope in the middle of the pain and the grief. This is the power of walking through Lent, and particularly the pain of Holy Week right to the cross of Jesus, so we might fully enter into the crazy joy of the resurrection.
There are stories of communities of monks who let loose on Easter Sunday afternoons after the celebrations of Easter morning; they party! They enjoy good food and drink… and they tell jokes! They laugh and laugh… right along with God and the rest of the creation.
This Sunday celebrate the mystery of Easter- play pranks- tell jokes- have fun!
Blessed April Fools Easter- Shannon
There is a time for stillness, for waiting for Christ as he makes his dancing way toward us. And there is a time to be in motion, to set out on a path, knowing that although God is everywhere, and always with us, we sometimes need a journey in order to meet God—and ourselves—anew.
—Jan Richardson, from Palm Sunday: Blessing of Palms
The Painted Prayerbook, April 2017
Travelling to the land where the Holy One walked, to be a pilgrim during the season of Lent has been a most humbling experience. Every year all Christians become pilgrims in Lent as we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and through the events of Holy Week.
This gift of the past two weeks, experiencing the landscape of modern Jerusalem, Israel proper and the Occupied Territories has been a journey of meeting God and catching glimpses of Jesus in surprizing ways. Jesus and his first followers are much more human to me from this new vantage point. Seeing them from this modern place, looking back 2000 years, they are real people with real histories living in a complex time of political turmoil.
The Gospel stories of Jesus are now grounded for me in a geography that is sometimes countryside or lakeside, ancient village or city. They are also more clearly grounded in a historic context of Roman occupied Palestine.
I look forward to sharing my journey with you in our time together in the coming months.
Our pilgrim group was made up of many members of an Episcopal congregation from Cashiers, North Carolina who were there with their priest Rev. Rob Wood who faithfully did a photo blog of our time together. Please look at it to get a sense of our journey: https://goodshepherdcashiers.wordpress.com/blog/
This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday where we will listen to the story and walk through Holy Week together. I will share some of the pictures of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, but we will let the Gospel of Mark tell the tale.
There is more than a little puzzlement, anxiety, even fear across the land. How could once solid Conservative Party of Ontario elect Doug Ford, brother of the former mayor of Toronto the late Rob Ford, as its leader to take them into the upcoming provincial election? For many the election of rabid populists only happens in the US and other countries not quite as civilized as we are. After all didn’t the federal Conservative Party soundly defeat Kelly Leitch in favour of the more traditionally sounding Andrew Scheer?
I am not going to pretend to understand the political dynamics or the minds of certain voters. What stands out for me, although I do not support their line of thinking or their brutalist solutions, is the appeal they make to marginalized, disaffected and frightened people. Politicians, it seems, are discovering the vote gathering potential of the too large body of wounded and broken people, and some are willing to exploit that potential to the hilt if it will get them elected.
There is a message here and not just to the government and politicians. The Christian church had its beginnings by connecting with and ministering to the hurt and marginalized of the ancient world. The church stood against the massive enterprise of the Roman Empire, an enterprise with little or no interest in people beyond their ability to produce wealth for the elite in Rome. Look at how many stories about Jesus (the ones we love to hear, maybe?) are about his connecting with troubled people and inviting them into a life giving relationship, into a realm grounded in right relations with others, where people were cared for and valued as children of God rather than for their value to government or corporation.
Because we have become disconnected with our historic roots we have become disconnected from our neighbours and our communities and we have become irrelevant to many. When we don’t know where people are suffering how can we know how to minister to them. When the church does engage in ministry with marginalized people we can move mountains and transform lives – look at the wonderful work that has been done through refugee sponsorship, or providing homes for the homeless! What I am saying is that there are people living in our neighbourhoods that are isolated and alone in their struggles that we are not aware of and we have forgotten how to find them.
The church is and must be a place of comfort and healing. Too often we are content with just being comfortable, and that is very discouraging.
What lifts you up when you are discouraged? I would love to hear some stories of the impact of the church on your life, or how the church can connect with people we are not comfortable with and rather not notice. Feel free to argue with me as I don’t pretend to have all the answers or even some of the answers. I am mainly interested in how we can journey together as God’s children.
The Interim Transition Team is the most important part of the Intentional Interim structure in a congregation going through an Interim period.
Interim Ministers are specially trained to help congregations take the risks involved in transforming themselves. Interim Ministers know about change and transition processes; they know about congregations and how they can get stuck. They bring special techniques to assist a congregation to work through self-study. They also understand how individuals may react to the prospect of change, and can help them cope by offering spiritual guidance and providing pastoral care. Most importantly, Interim Ministers will anchor the transition process in the great biblical stories to help the congregation know that it is not alone in the bewilderment that often comes with change.
Congregational members of the team also bring special knowledge to the work of transition. They know the rhythms of the congregation’s life—its customs, rituals, and practices as it moves through the church seasons. They have stories from the past that explain certain things in the present, and they know about those “sacred cows” that are bound to trigger reaction if prodded. The presbytery representatives on the team also play their part, bringing an outside perspective and a knowledge of church policy to the work.
The Interim Minister and the other team members play complementary roles. The minister can affirm and encourage inexperienced congregational representatives who may feel uncertain about what they must do. Team members can help the minister be aware of seemingly insignificant issues by explaining the political realities of the congregation, and its fit within its presbytery. As they interact, the minister gains insight into the congregation, and other team members learn to see the congregation in a new way. As they learn from each other and collaborate, a synergy builds, and together they build an effect greater than the effect either could produce alone.
As well as understanding the technical requirements and procedures of the interim work, members of the Transition Team must learn what is expected of them personally in terms of time, energy, skill, and commitment. However, that knowledge alone will not be sufficient for them to play their pivotal role in the congregation’s life. They must also establish a mutual understanding of and commitment to the principles and values by which the team will work together. They must feel that they can speak freely and honestly, and bring all points of view to bear on important issues, creating the climate that is essential for the discernment and decision-making that lies ahead.
The work of the Transition Team is intensive with the group meeting approximately every two weeks through the Interim time, except for the summer and other holiday times. The Council has been speaking with some members of the congregation who they feel would be excellent members of the Transition Team. We are also inviting people to volunteer to serve if they feel that they might be ‘called’ to do this important work. If you are interested in serving on the Transition Team, or if you would like to suggest another member of the congregation for Council members to speak to, let one of your ministers or the Acting Chair of Council, Bruce Lukey know.
I was in Junior High before I became aware of Lent. It was probably not for want of Sunday School as I was a preacher’s kid (PK) and didn’t have a lot of choice. It had more to do with Lent being something “those Catholics” did, like eating fish on Fridays. Lent was not a big deal in the United Church, or the protestant churches for that matter. It was part of how we knew, in those pre-ecumenical days, that we weren’t like “them” (I won’t remind you of the more pejorative terms that were used way too often). Since the Roman Catholic Vatican II Council in the early 60’s attitudes and practices have changed. Many mainline protestant churches, including the United Church, get along pretty well with the Catholic church and they with us. Along the way the United Church has become more liturgical and some practices, like observing Lent, have become part of who we are.
Becoming more aware of Lent as I grew up I tried “giving up” a favorite thing for the 40 days prior to Easter. I knew it had something to do with Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, and that it was about getting ready for Easter, but not much else. My “practice” was more futile than successful as my Lenten resolve was about as determined as my New Year’s resolve and usually faded away before the first week ended. It certainly didn’t make me feel more like Jesus in the wilderness or gain much appreciation for suffering or sacrifice, especially of the voluntary kind.
As my spiritual growth continued I religiously bought the yearly devotional Lent booklets and was a bit more successful in reading a number of the reflections in them. Still, my rebellious spirit has a tough time with things I tell myself I “should” do. What works better for me is to avoid the “should-ness” of spiritual practices and make a conscious choice to do or not do something. Like choosing to confess some of my struggles, such as I have done here.
On a more interesting note, a few years ago I discovered “Lent Madness” which has made the season educational and fun to boot. Lent Madness was developed by two Episcopal priests who were inspired by basketball’s March Madness playoffs. Five years ago they decided to have a saintly competition each year where each day two saints (not all official or ancient) are pitted against each other. Short biographies are pitched by volunteer writers, posted on the internet and people are invited to read them and vote for their favorite. The favorite is be entered into a bracket and eventually set against another saint until all but one are eliminated with the “winner” receiving the highly coveted “Golden Halo” in time for Easter!
Lent Madness is a great way to become acquainted with some very fine and, more than occasionally, some very quirky people. I could say more but it would be better for you to check it out for yourself at www.lentmadness.org (they even have merchandise) or follow their Facebook page.
I guess I am inviting you to give up some ignorance (not an insult, we all have it) and choose to take up a seriously fun practice for Lent.
Have a blessed 40 days!
There are many opportunities to participate during the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week, too many to engage all of them. However, it is important to try! The challenge is to find at least one event to attend even if it means cancelling something else. This is important! And even better if you can fill your passport with stamps. A list of events is available at https://www.calgaryinterfaithcouncil.org/world-interfaith-harmony-week/
Unfortunately this Sunday at Living Spirit won’t be one of those opportunities, but not for lack of trying. The idea was to have a pulpit exchange and we were matched with B’nai Tikvah, our neighbouring synagogue and former home of Riverview United. Scheduling difficulties ruled this weekend out though. All is not lost however as we will be working out another weekend and, hopefully, our congregation will be able to attend a service there as well as hosting their congregation on a Sunday morning. I really don’t want it to be just a clergy swap! The plan is to have it happen before summer, so we will let you know when we have the details. Stay tuned!
Our focus in worship this Sunday will still be Inter-Faith harmony, so please consider being a part of our struggle in overcoming brokenness, finding our strength and humanity, and taking another few steps toward harmony with our sisters and brothers in faith and peace in our world.
Communion and Baptism are the two sacraments that are celebrated in the United Church of Canada.
In our Song of Faith we affirm:
To point to the presence of the holy in the world,
the church receives, consecrates, and shares
visible signs of the grace of God.
In company with the churches
of the Reformed and Methodist traditions,
we celebrate two sacraments as gifts of Christ:
baptism and holy communion.
In these sacraments the ordinary things of life
—water, bread, wine—
point beyond themselves to God and God’s love,
teaching us to be alert
to the sacred in the midst of life.
Before conscious thought or action on our part,
we are born into the brokenness of this world.
Before conscious thought or action on our part,
we are surrounded by God’s redeeming love.
… Carrying a vision of creation healed and restored,
we welcome all in the name of Christ.
Invited to the table where none shall go hungry,
we gather as Christ’s guests and friends.
In holy communion
we are commissioned to feed as we have been fed,
forgive as we have been forgiven,
love as we have been loved.
The open table speaks of the shining promise
of barriers broken and creation healed.
In the communion meal, wine poured out and bread broken,
we remember Jesus.
We remember not only the promise but also the price that he paid
for who he was,
for what he did and said,
and for the world’s brokenness.
We taste the mystery of God’s great love for us,
and are renewed in faith and hope.
Here is a brief church history lesson: from the time of Union in 1925 to the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, most United Churches celebrated the sacrament of Communion four times a year. These were considered special occasions. In many congregations lay “Elders” would make home visits to members of the church in their Elder’s district to hand deliver their ‘communicant’s card’ that would allow that member to take part in the sacrament. This practise, while positive in making sure all members of a congregation got a home visit from their Elder four times a year, did reinforce the idea that only adult church members were welcome to take part in communion. The value of having an ‘open table’ at communion became more and more important, where all persons present were invited to participate in communion… including children. The frequency of communion was another topic of discussion as many congregations moved from having communion only four times each year to having it monthly. There was considerable discussion across the church about both Baptism and Communion and what membership in the United Church meant through the 1980’s until the first decade of the 2000’s. It turned out that the church did not make concrete policy changes about these issues, but the practise of congregations certainly did shift significantly. Now, most United Churches intentionally practise having an open table at communion, and many churches practice monthly communion with children taking part. These new practices were reflected in the Song of Faith in 2006.
Living Spirit United Church has started celebrating the sacrament of Communion once a month. I am not sure if this is returning Living Spirit to a previously held practise of monthly communion or if this is a new practise for this faith family. For those of you who have been a part of this congregation since your amalgamation, and before, I would love to hear your history of communion practises.
Frequent access to Communion changes us. Coming to the Table of Jesus Christ can help bring healing to a community that has suffered deep grief or divisions. There is abundant grace available to the church family that meets together at the Table of Jesus Christ in the same way that both body and soul are nourished when friends and family come together around a dinner table to share a meal. In this Interim time of healing in this church family, we will come to the Table of Jesus Christ frequently to take full advantage of God’s grace through the gift of Communion. I look forward to seeing you at the Table!