Coming up this month (May 21st last I heard) is the first of what is hoped to be an annual event in Grande Prairie – a Mayor's Interfaith Breakfast. In one of the discussions to plan for this event I was we were talking about possible guest speakers. And one of the possible criteria was that we wanted someone to talk about how faith communities contribute to the development and strengthening of the wider community.
Which got me thinking......
How has St. Paul's contributed to the development and strengthening of the wider community of Grande Prairie over the last 100 years?
How do we contribute today?
How do we intend to contribute in the future?
As it happens, I just finished a book called A Church With the Soul of a Nation, a look back at the history of the United Church of Canada. This question of how we contribute to the development and strengthening of a community has been part of the United Church attempts to understand its raison d'etre for generations. Are we to be part of a process to “Christianize” the social order (as we once believed)? Are we to be a voice calling for social programs, programs once led by the church but then given over to the government? This also is a part of our history. What are we all about?
There is a partner question I like to ask folks. In addition to asking them to consider how they have/are/will an influence on the community around them I like to ask the negative version. What would people notice if your community of faith disappeared tomorrow?
I asked that question at our council meeting a while back. And there were a variety of answers. Some noted that the agencies with whom we partner (Food Bank, Room of Plenty, Elders Caring Shelter) would notice the lack. One person honestly said that a number of people would drive by and say “what used to be on that corner???” (the equivalent response in another place was “there would be a redevelopment of that piece of property”). Others said that a significant form of Christian witness and discussion would be lost to the community.
How do we impact the community? What would be lost if something took us away?
I think these are questions we have to answer as congregations but also as a denomination. I also think that we have to be open to the answers that surprise us. Historically not all the impact of the United Church of Canada has been positive. We sometimes stumble in our attempts to understand ourselves, the world around us, and God's hope for both those things. But we keep asking.
We keep asking because those questions are two of the keys to understanding where we go from here. This year Council has been very intentional about continuing the discussion that began at the Annual Meeting. We believe that St. Paul's has a role to play in the future development of Grande Prairie. We just aren't quite sure yet what the role is and how we will make it happen. Please feel free to join in the discussion....