Monday, September 27, 2010

Looking Forward to October 3, 2010 -- Worldwide Communion Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Corinthians 11:17-26
  • Mark 14:22-26

The Sermon title is The Banquet of Hope
Show all
Early Thoughts: What is this thing we call communion? Is it a somber solemn event of mourning and remembrance or a joyful banquet of the kingdom of God?

It is both of course. Over the course of Christian history and theology a variety of understandings of Communion/Eucharist have developed.

It is my opinion that we focus on different aspects of communion at different times. Sometimes it is indeed most appropriate to focus on the meal of memory and sacrifice. Sometimes there is a focus on the salvation found in the cross. Sometimes however we need to focus on the nature of the meal as a foretaste of the reign of God.

My preferred theology of communion is that last one. When we gather at the table for this meal we are pre-figuring the banquet of hope and celebration when the words "thy kingdom come, thy will be done" have come to be a reality. And so this is where I am leaning as we prepare to celebrate Worldwide Communion Sunday. The meal which unites us is the great sign of hope that we shall one day be in fact united.

Besides, we seem to need a reminder of hope these days.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

October Newsletter

Computers, Community, and the Church:

We live in a world where computers surround us. Some would suggest that we live in a world where computers control us. In day-to-day life today people build communities on-line, people meet spouses on-line (one of the first weddings I performed in ministry was a couple who met online while living half a country apart), people do much of their daily business (shopping, banking) online, people do courses and get degrees online, and so much more. The computer and the internet have, for better or worse, become basic to many people's lives.

And what does that mean about being the church? As we try to understand who what and how God is calling us to be in this time and place where does the computer come in?

Some benefits are obvious. Just by sitting at my desk I can connect with colleagues around the world to discuss church life and share sermon thoughts. I take part in a variety of internet-based discussions, I can access resources and commentary that would otherwise be totally unavailable. Through Facebook I can keep up with friends and acquaintances from all over the place. Through e-mail I can avoid playing phone-tag with people as we try to discuss an issue or set up a meeting time. Through Skype I was able to be interviewed by a search committee that was 4 days drive away from my home. The presence of internet-connected computers in the hands of church folk have made many things possible at lower cost of money and time.

But there are downsides too. There is an on-going debate about the nature of community online. Is a Facebook friend the same as a friend who you can actually sit and have coffee with? Is it possible that in relying on e-mail and online connections we lose something vital to the church? Maybe. After all the church is about being in community with each other. And while some of the community building can happen through e-mail and social media, some of it has to be done face-to-face.

So what is my point? Glad you asked. Like many of my colleagues, I continue to look for the balance point in how much ministry happens through a monitor. Because, let's be honest, the computer screen can suck up all your time if you let it. But it has to be used somewhat. Here's some of what I have come up with:
  • Some business (local and wider church) will be done by e-mail. In fact the amount of that is probably growing, replacing phone calls at times. But some will still require meetings (no we can't totally do away with meetings). And so sometimes we have to be willing to say “this needs to be discussed more, when can we get together”.
  • Some information about Pastoral Care needs will come to me through the computer, as well as through the phone and face-to-face. Then once the need is known we can respond.
  • One thing I do as pat of my sermon presentation is post my early thoughts in a blog ( on Monday or Tuesday each week. I welcome folks to visit and share their thoughts – in fact your thoughts may then help me form the final sermon. This place will also include some other “churchy stuff”.
  • Facebook. This is an interesting area. Some clergy use sites like this or Twitter as a way of keeping in touch with congregants. Some don't. I have decided to take the path laid out by colleague in the US when she started in a new congregation. If folks out there want their minister to be a “Facebook friend” then you are free to find me and ask. But I won't go searching for you.
  • Finally, I find I can never get to know folks without spending time with them. And I want to get to know you. I want to visit with you at the church or at home, or over coffee. Give me a call and we can find a time to get together. Getting to know the congregation is one of my main goals for this year. I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looking Forward to September 26, 2010 -- 18th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
  • Psalm 91(VU p.807)
The Sermon Title is Speculative Real Estate

Early Thoughts: The end is near!  The enemy is at the gates. It is only a matter of time. What else would one do but buy some land?

It doesn't make sense, does it?  The doom that Jeremiah has been predicting is about to fall.  Nebuchadnezzar's army is going to destroy Jerusalem.  Jeremiah himself is imprisoned because of his prophecies (apparently the ruling powers don't take kindly to being told that they are about to be destroyed because of their behaviour).  Buying a piece of land seems to be a strange choice.  But that is the Word of the Lord that Jeremiah receives: “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.”.

Why?  As the land is about to be conquered (it is highly likely that  the parcel of land in question is already held by the Babylonians) and a new regime is taking over it would seem that buying land under the old rules is a waste of time and money.

Or is it an act of defiant hope?  Is Jeremiah taking such pains to protect the deed from destruction as a sign that someday it will be worth something?   So it appears.  The land purchase is a way of saying that there is hope, there is still hope even as the unthinkable is happening

To be a follower of God's Way is to be a person of hope.  And it means being a person of hope even as the world is crashing down around us.

In today's world someone buying property as the world crashes is often accused of being a speculator, of buying low to sell high later (some would call this sound fiscal policy).  But what if it is an act of faith?  What if as the local mill/mine/auto plant announces lay offs and closure we went out and engaged in acts of hope that all will be well?  Would that be an act of faith or madness?

Many have argued over the last few decades that the Babylonians are at the gates of the church, or have already carted us off into exile.  In that case what are the acts of hope that keep us going, that allow us to trust in the Promise?

In a very hard world, where people died young from plague and warfare and revolt, Julian of Norwich was inspired by God to write these words:
All shall be well,
All shall be well,
All manner of things be well
That is our hope too.  But it isn't enough to say we believe it.  It isn't even enough to believe it.  If our hope has any meaning it is because we act it out.  What fields should we be buying on spec?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Presbytery Report Part 2

Saturday morning began with worship and then a workshop on the process of making Pastoral Oversight visits. These visits are a vital part of how we support and nurture the life of our Pastoral Charges. Given that between 14 and 18 visitors will be needed in 2011 it is hoped that this workshop will give Presbyters the confidence and knowledge to take part in this ministry. For more information on how these visits work you can find the Suggested Guidelines as a .pdf file on the Presbytery Website (

Also on Saturday we heard updates from Peter Chynoweth (President of Conference) and a report from Lynn Maki (Conference Executive Secretary). Peter shared that a discussion is being held to determine whether or not a Conference Annual Meeting will be held in 2011. Hopefully a decision will be made on this issue at the Conference Executive Meeting in October. Peter also noted that some visioning work is happening within the Conference as well as some work around becoming an Affirming Conference. Referring back to the idea of a golden time of change, Lynn talked about the major changes that were discussed and approved at the May meeting of General Council Executive.

At this meeting of NLP we were blessed to have a presentation from Marie Wilson and Justice Murray Sinclair from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dealing with the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools. Both of them spoke of how they personally have been touched by that legacy. They detailed what the Commission is, how it was formed out of the settlement agreement, and what it has been asked to do during it's five year mandate. Key issues they mentioned were: that this is a Canadian issue, not an aboriginal issue; that despite all that we have heard and done thus far, we are only at the beginning of a long long process; and that a huge piece of the needed work is in education. Marie pointed out that in all measure of societal malfunction aboriginal women and children are over-represented in Canada and that while Canada as a whole ranks 3rd worldwide in Quality of Life, the aboriginal community in Canada ranks 47th and such a discrepancy is part of our national shame – a term Justice Sinclair used to describe the whole Residential Schools history and legacy.

And of course what would a Presbytery meeting be without items of business. Here are some of the highlights from the Ministry Group and committee reports:
Nominating – Laurie Pals from Fairview was named as Stewardship & Mission Education Convenor
Living The Faith
  • is looking at a Spring retreat around supporting music ministry in congregations using the resource “Singing Faith Alive”
  • is committed to having a book display at the February Presbytery meeting
  • is looking forward to the possibility of a conference youth event happening in Grande Prairie in the spring of 2012
  • is looking into creating a lending library of resources within NLP
Finance and Assistance
  • brought forward motions regarding Mission Support Grants to South Peace and Fort Nelson Pastoral charges. While both of these were wholehertedly supported there was some discussion of how these grants fit into the missional plan and priorities of the whole Presbytery. This latter issue will need more discussion.
  • the Interim Budget for 2011 was presented. Based on the currently available information it includes a budgeted deficit of $7 800. The Presbytery portion of the budget works out to $26 per identifiable giver within NLP (add in the Conference Assessment and that number roughly doubles to $53 per identifiable giver)
Pastoral Relations
  • welcomed 2 new ministry personnel to the Presbytery: Gord Waldie at St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie and Laura Machin at Hillcrest United in Fort Nelson.
  • brought forward a motion to approve in principal a pilot project involving ministry resource sharing involving Peace River-Nampa, Grimshaw-Berwyn and Rev. Janice Walls
  • the committee is asking Living the Faith to work out a way to provide worship resource support to congregations that are currently without ministry personnel.
  • information was shared about work being done at the conference level regarding Overtime Guidelines and also guidelines regarding Licensed Lay Worship Leaders
  • a clergy retreat is being planned, hopefully in conjunction with the February Presbytery
Education and Students
  • shared that we have 2 students and 1 inquirer in the Presbytery at present.
  • also listed and reaffirmed the 12 Licensed Lay Worship Leaders in NLP
Pastoral Oversight – reviewed the status of visits that are in process and in line to be done for 2010 and 2011

The meeting concluded Sunday morning with the handover of the Presbytery banner to St. Paul's United in Grande Prairie and then Presbyters joined the congregation of WUC for worship and lunch. Monday morning the long bus trip home began...

A great big THANK YOU goes to the folks of Whitehorse United Church. The consensus of Presbyters was that they were wonderful hosts. The food was great, with the local options (bison, elk, moose, salmon, sourdough pancakes...) making the experience truly memorable. And all the other little things that made the weekend run smoothly may not have been noticed but we know that they were there. Thanks again, and you may have set a standard other hosts will have a struggle to meet or beat.

Friday, September 10, 2010

PResbytery Report PArt 1

Well, we are here!

After 2 full days on the bus we pulled in to Whitehorse about 1.75 hours ago.

We left Grande Prairie in the rain about 9:30 yesterday, stopped in Fort St. John for lunch and ended the day's travel in Fort Nelson.  There the folks at Hillcrest United laid out a truly grand meal (3 meats!!!) for us.  Following supper we moved upstairs a covenanting service between Hillcrest United, Northern Lights Presbytery and Rev. Laura Machin (Laura was settled in Fort Nelson this summer).

This morning we started off bright and early at 7:30 and followed teh Alsaka highway to Whitehorse (14 hours later).  We were privileged to have one rider who is intimately acquainted with the route and offered to serve as a tour guide.  And would you believe that 2 Toblerone bars could raise over $100 for the Mission and Service Fund???

Tomorrow morning the meeting starts in earnest, I mean Whitehorse....

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Looking Forward to Semptember 19, 2010 -- 17th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
Amos 8:4-7
Psalm 113 (on insert)
Luke 16:1-13

The Sermon title is Shrewd or a Just a Cheater?

Early Thoughts: In the world around us "shrewd business practices" are often (sometimes unintentionally) rewarded--up to a point. But where is the appropriate dividing line?

[Note, Glenn Beck may not like this sermon, because it seems that the Amos passage calls us to practice that thing called Social Justice]

Sometimes I read a passage of Scripture and am left shaking my head in confusion.  The parable of the dishonest steward is a prime example.   Taken at face value, it sounds as if such dishonest dealings are being commended as a proper way to do business.  But that doesn't make any sense!

Luke would seem to agree.  Luke continues with some commentary about being faithful in the big and the small, and points out that it is difficult (Luke/Jesus suggests impossible) to serve 2 masters.

So how do we deal with money? And what does that say about us?  Appropriate dealing in financial matters is a big part of the ethics/morals of Scripture.  And, despite what a certain Fox personality might say, Scripture is clear that in such matters we are to espouse and practice Social Justice.  When our finances, our the financial practices of those around us, cause injustice we are to have changes made.  We are to be good stewards of what we have.  We aren't supposed to watch out solely for our own interests but also for the interests of the people around us.

The shrewd or dishonest servant was, simply put, a cheat.  His approach to finances says something about his character.  Amos tells of people whose practices say something about their character.  Neither paints a very attractive picture.  It is my belief that one of the most fundamental theological documents of any organization or individual is their budget and balance sheet. 

What statement is your budget making about you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review

Reframing Hope
by: Carol Howard Merritt
©2010 The Alban Institute

In a world where we so often hear words of doom and gloom it is nice to be offered a chance to think about hope for a change. And in Reframing Hope Carol Howard Merritt invites us to do just that. But, as the title suggests, she also pushes us to see the world a little bit differently in order to see the hope.

Merritt starts out by asking “what is the substance of our hope?” and ends with a reflection on finding “hope in the desert” (this concluding reflection is worth reading even if you don't touch the rest of the book). In between she leads us through a series of “Re”s. She looks at Redistributing Authority, Re-forming Community, Reexamining the Medium, Retelling the Message, Reinventing Activism, Renewing Creation and Retraditioning Spirituality always asking how a post-modern view of society might interact with these things.

It may seem passe to talk about the move from modernism to post-modernism in Western culture (especially since some suggest that the Millenials and the generation that follows them are really post-post-modern) but is so many ways the denominational church has not, on the ground, in the pews, wrestled with that change. And so much of the writing out there on the Emerging Church seems virulently anti-denominational, or at least sees the denominational church as a last gasp of dying Christendom (which sometimes feels true to be honest) that it is helpful and enlivening to have a writer describe how these changes can work within a continuing denominational mindset. At any rate, many readers will likely have met with explanations of how post-modern thought differs from modern thought and will find these passages either repetitious or a helpful refresher.

One of the great gifts I got from this book came in the second chapter. This was Merritt's concept of the “loyal radicals” – people
“who mingle the sensitivities of the emergent movement with their own long-standing denominational traditions...Unless we are kicked out of our denominations, most of us have no intention of leaving—yet we fully realize we are a part of a shift in ecclesial thinking.” (p.36).
As a person who has great attachment to the church and the traditions of the faith, as a person who has a strong understanding of some of the gifts offered by a denominational culture (and the weaknesses of a wholly congregational structure), and as a person who finds that many people throw out the good with the bad as they trash-talk denominations I found Merritt describing me in this section. Make no mistake, denominations have issues, the church is in constant need of re-forming (remember ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda?) but there is a place for the denominational church. It is where many, if not most, people of faith find a home and support. What I found challenging in this is the idea that we in the denominational church need to re-discover what gifts we have to share with people who do not see the world or the faith or the church in the same way as those who built the denomination.

Of course any book that has hope in the title has to be about looking forward, not just describing where we are at now. And Merritt does this well. As she describes the current context she pushes us to look where that may lead us. Thankfully she does so with a sense of realism that, in my mind, is absent in so much discussion of technology and the church (Merritt finds a helpful middle ground to my mind) or in so much discussion of what makes a “successful” church. So how does the church of the future use social networking while not losing the face-to-face that is also so important? How do we continue to tell the old old stories and continue to be agents of change? How do we link our faith lives and communities to an understanding of living with respect in creation? How do we re-connect the personal faith and morality that is a strength of “evangelicalism” with the social justice and activism that is a strength of many denominations (remembering that the fullness of Christian faith calls for both of these things)? The reader may not fully agree with Merritt on all these points but at least she opens up for discussion – as discussion, not as a “this is how it should happen” instruction.

Is there hope for the church? I find myself asking that on a regular basis. And sometimes my soul gets heavy with a doubt that there is. But, in the end, we are people of hope. And this volume, which pushes us to see the world and the church more clearly – which is the prime purpose of re-framing anything – allows me to feel that there is hope. It is hope for a church that will be changed. But it is hope nonetheless. And for that gift I say thank-you.