Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Minister's Annual Report

We have this ministry and we are not discouraged,
it is by God's own power that we can live and serve.
Openly we share God's word, speaking truth as we believe,
praying that the shadowed world may healing light receive.
We have this ministry, O God receive our living.
(verse 1 of “We Have This Ministry” #510 in Voices United)

We have a ministry of sharing God's Word of light, life and love with the people of Grande Prairie and the wider world. It isn't always easy knowing best how to do that. We struggle with it daily in a thousand different decisions. We explore how God is speaking to us in our times of worship, study, and work. Your Council takes seriously the task of providing leadership, of looking for where the path is headed. In discussions about how our building will look and operate, in discussions about what studies to have, in discussions about what impact we make on our community, in these and many other discussions we, the church, are exploring and living out the key question – how is God calling us to be in the world?

Elsewhere in this report you will find discussions of what we as a church have done this past year. I wonder what the highlights of the year were for you? What were our challenges?

For me one of the highlights was the work your Council has done, steered by Ken, to explore how we respond to the concerns raised in the Annual Meeting a year ago. We have done a much deeper look at causal factors and starting to assess best responses than often happens in a Joint Needs Assessment process. We don't have full answers yet, and I do believe that for St. Paul's to grow as a congregation we will end up looking at more paid Ministry time, but by taking a step back and trying to drop assumptions about the “cure” I believe we have done a good piece of diagnostic work.

Another highlight for me also raises a challenge. At the end of the summer we were in a year-to-date deficit of $30 000. By the end of the year we were at a break-even point. In fact we were even able to decide at our February Council meeting to only put half of the revenue from the Garage Sale and the Beef Dinner & Auction into general revenue with the rest going into Special Projects. Our revenue for general operating was the highest it has ever been! Well done! The challenge was laid down and we rose to meet it.

Looking forward to 2015 I wonder what highlights we will talk about next year. I wonder what challenges will fall into our path.

What new ways will we find to connect with our community? What new ways will the community make an impact on us? How will we share the light of Christ in a world of shadows?

God has called us together as a community. God has called us to share the Kingdom with Grande Prairie. That is our ongoing challenge. But I have confidence that we are up to the challenge. We have the resources to do amazing things. And so I ask if there is something new you want to try?

On a more personal note, one of my tasks for 2015 is planning for 2016. In discussions with the M&P committee I am planning to take a sabbatical leave from Victoria Day to Labour Day in 2016, in part to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my ordination. So this year we need to plan how I will spend that time and how we as a congregation will cover off those three months.

As Shakespeare's Henry V said “once more into the breach dear friends”. Let us head off into the adventure that will be 2015.
GORD

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Looking Forward to February 22, And also March 1....

I am preaching at Presbytery next Sunday.  But since the sermon will also work for our Annual Meeting Sunday, why not use it twice!

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Matthew 28:16-20
  • Joshua 24:1-18
The sermon title is Why Are We Here?

Early Thoughts: A couple of weeks ago I posted a query on-line.  If you had to state the purpose of the church in a tweet (140 characters) what would you say?

In any organization we need to be clear about what our purpose is, what we are all about, what is our mission.  We need to know this in order to plan and live because everything we do needs to follow from our primary purpose/mission.

It is my fear that we in the United Church are no longer clear about our primary mission/purpose.  And so any attempt we make to change the trends that David Ewart ( the so-called 'prophet of doom') keeps pointing out (and note that one specific trend goes back to 1925--since then the UCCan has been shrinking as a percentage of the Canadian population) is going to amount to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic unless we rediscover, or discover anew for the first time, our primary purpose/mission both as a denomination and as individual congregations.

Our problem is not governance.  Well to be frank governance is an issue at all levels of the church.  But the problem will not be solved by rejigging how we operate.  Changing the committee structure doesn't invite more people to become a part of the community, or give them a reasons to stay (though sometimes not doing it might scare them off).  To bring new life into the church means knowing what we are all about and sharing that.

In the near future the Comprehensive Review Task Group will release its report (I think it is already written but is now being translated and prepared for release).  As I read the signs, this report will suggest a radical rejigging of how we as a denomination operate.  As in it will no longer be the denomination we have grown to know.  And I know we will all have opinions about what that report suggests.  But I have a hope.

My hope is that the report begins by stating boldly an understanding of the purpose and mission of the United Church of Canada.   This would be a bold thing -- I am not sure such a statement has been made for many many years.  But the rest of the report about HOW we are the church needs to rest on a statement of WHY we are the church.  Based on what the CRTG has released thus far during their work, I don't expect this to happen.  But I hope it does.

And even if it doesn't we all, as congregations and Presbyteries and Conferences, we all need to ask ourselves "why are we here?".  Then we can build from that foundation.  And in my experience a statement of mission needs to be short and memorable to be much good.  We can (and will) then expand more about what it means to us but we need to put it succinctly -- and succinct is not exactly what the UCCan is known for. 

So what would your tweet be?
--Gord


Monday, February 9, 2015

Looking Forward to February 15, 2015 -- Peter's Confession

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 16:13-28

The sermon title is Who do you say he is?

Early Thoughts:  It is one of the key questions for the Christian church.  Who is Jesus?  In fact many people have made a career in academia trying to answer that question.

Here Simon the Fisherman, Simon who will later (out of fear for his life) deny Jesus 3 times, looks at Jesus and says “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”.  True, only a few verses later Simon tries to instruct Jesus on what that means (and what it does NOT mean), but the confession remains.

Then comes the real kicker.  To follow this Messiah means taking up your own cross, means placing yourself second to the Kingdom, means risking everything.

The next thing that happens in the story (Matthew 17:1-8) is the Transfiguration. Jesus is revealed in his glory and God says again "this is my Beloved Son".  The one Peter has already called the Messiah is now claimed by God.  The one who will die, the one who calls his followers to take up their own cross, this is the one who brings God's kingdom into the world.

In that light, are we ready to share Simon Peter's assertion?

Of course then we might have to sort out what it means....
--Gord

Monday, February 2, 2015

Looking Forward to February 8, 2015 -- Feed the Multitudes, Walk on Water

The Scripture Reading this week is: Matthew 14:13-33

The Sermon title is Sink or Swim

Early Thoughts:  It is about trust. And maybe about power.  But then the use of power is also inextricably linked to trust.

Feeding the multitudes---trust that Jesus knew what he was doing.  The disciples were sure it was impossible.  Jesus knew it was.

Storm at sea, Peter stepping out -- trust.  Peter's mixture of trust and fear, which will win out?

There is, I believe, a multitude of hungry folk in the world today, hungry for many things.  Jesus tells us to feed them (as he does at the end of John's gospel).  Do we trust that we can?

There are many stormy winds buffeting us these days.  Sometimes we are sure the water will overwhelm us.  But God invites (or even commands) us to step out of the relative safety of our boats.  Will our fear or our faith and trust win out?

Peter stepped out--and he sank.  He could have given up then and there and drowned.  But Jesus wouldn't let him.  And Simon became Cephas, the rock of faith.

We need to step out, to sink, to swim...or possibly to fly...


As that other Peter tells us, all we need is faith, trust, and a happy thought (which may mean a dream, a vision for what could be?)
--Gord

Monday, January 26, 2015

Looking Ahead to February 1, 2015 -- Do Not Worry

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 6:19-34

The Sermon title is Stop Worrying!

Early Thoughts:  It is about priorities.  That is what will determine how much we worry, or what we worry about.

And what we end up worrying about also shapes how we live.

If we worry about building up storehouses how does that drive our choices?
If we choose to worry less about having "enough" how might that change our choices?

At the same time, it seems wholly unrealistic to not worry at all about things like "what will we eat" or "where will we live" or what will we wear".  There is trust and faith and hope.  Then there is being hopelessly naive.

Isn't there?

But let us be honest.  Our priorities could sometimes use some realignment.  We probably do worry too much about some things and not enough about others.  And while we are being honest, let us admit that worry and anxiety, particularly over things we can not control, tend to rob our lives of zest.

So maybe we can agree that we should stop worrying so much.  We could trust more.  And we could ask ourselves what is most important in life.

Can't we?
--Gord

Monday, January 19, 2015

Looking Forward to January 25, 2015 -- Beatitudes and Woes

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • Luke 6:20-26
The Sermon title is Blessed or Cursed??

Early Thoughts:  Blessed or cursed.  Which are we?

I am sitting here on Martin Luther King Day and have just finished scrolling through Twitter posts under the hashtag #MLKalsoSaid.  You can read them here.

And then I go back to the Gospel passages.  And are we the hungry  or the poor or those who weep or the persecuted?  Or are we in the other categories....

Whenever I read Matthew's version of the Beatitudes I, to a degree, hear Luke in my head.  Partly because I prefer Luke's version (well actually I prefer Luke's Gospel as a whole as it is my "favourite" of the four) as I find it strikes closer to the bone.  I suspect it says more of what we need to hear as we strive to be followers of the Way.  Does Luke make clear what Matthew only hints at?  If some are blessed than others are not so blessed.

Dr. King reminded (and continues to remind) us that to live into the Kingdom of God means acknowledging that the world is not currently a just place.  And in order for it to become a just place we need more than minor changes.  Luke's blessings and woes reminds us that there are winners and losers in those changes.

So which are we?  Which should we be?

Or maybe the real question is WHEN are we blessed and WHEN should we understand that we are on the wrong side of the equation?  Because then we can consciously choose to work towards the Kingdom.

Dr. King said that the moral arc of the universe is long but is bends inexorably towards justice.  HOw will we ride that arc?
--Gord

Monday, January 12, 2015

Looking Forward to January 18, 2015 -- Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 4:1-25

The Sermon title is Who Will He Be? Who Will I Be?

Early Thoughts:  So far in Matthew's Gospel we have learned a variety of things about Jesus.  He has been called Jeshua (Jesus)--the one who saves, and also Emmanuel--God-With-Us.  We are told that the heavens announced his birth as the King of the Jews.  We have learned that John recognized him as the one who would come, the one who is mightier than John, and that at his Baptism the Holy Spirit alighted on him as he was named God's Beloved.  Now what?

Now how will he live out the build up?

One of the things I have always seen in the story of Jesus in the desert is someone figuring out who/how he will be in the world.  And that can not have happened without the presence of the tester.

Because of years of traditions we tend to see the "devil" as someone who is trying to lead Jesus astray, as the demonic face of evil trying to stop the good from triumphing.  I suspect such an image would be foreign to Matthew as he wrote this story down.  It appears that this is more a story of being tested than being tempted.  Not being led astray but refining from a variety of options who he will be, how will he live out the calling of Messiah.

Who will Jesus be?  Will he feed the hungry?  Will he overturn the laws of nature? Will he come in power to rule?

OR will he be something totally different?

And once Jesus gets a clearer picture of who he is he goes straight to work.  Building a following, spreading Good News, changing the world.

Who are we in response to meeting him?
--Gord