Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Minister's Annual Report for 2013

You know a dream is like a river Ever changin' as it flows
And a dreamer's just a vessel That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what's behind you And never knowing what's in store
Makes each day a constant battle Just to stay between the shores...
(from The River by Garth Brooks)

The river of time has pulled us along in its current for another year. And now it is time to reflect on the shoreline we have seen before we look ahead to see where the current will take us next.

Much of that shoreline is similar to the shoreline we see every year. Rivers are like that. We have celebrated together, worried together, grieved together, and grown together. We have shared hopes and dreams, we have been there when the community needed us, we have done our best to be the people God calls us to be. But were there significant landmarks along the shore this year?

Earlier in January a colleague of mine posted in a FB group for Below Average Ministers:
“As you look back at 2012 are there accomplishments or positive milestones in ministry that you are grateful for...? How about sharing something good from the year gone by? Such sharing would be good for the spirit.”
and it strikes me that this is a good question for an Annual Report.

There were two milestones that came to my mind to respond to that post. One was the lift. The lift that has been in the plans since the CE wing was built 25 years ago. The lift which has already made such a big difference in how we are together as a community. That seems an obvious one. But there was another, one that I would suggest is just as important. That is the use of our basement by the HIV North Drop in. While this was first set in motion during the fall of 2011, it really took root this past year, and was added to with a youth group that meets on Thursday evenings. These are things that are seemingly outside the “regular” ministry of the church. And yet I think they make a big statement about who we are and our commitment to the communities of which we are a part.

And now I wonder what shorelines we will see as the river continues to pull us forward. Well we don't really know that do we? But your Council has set some goals. We want to build our sense of community and we want to become more visible and better known in the wider community of Grande Prairie. Both of theses will only happen if we all work towards them. For my part, to help with the first goal, I want to visit with more of you. A time for coffee and conversation (although the coffee part is optional). And so I am shamelessly looking for invitations. Give me a call and we can set up a time!

There's bound to be rough waters And I know I'll take some falls
But with the good Lord as my captain I can make it through them all...
Yes, I will sail my vessel 'Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind These waters are my sky
I'll never reach my destination If I never try
So I will sail my vessel 'Til the river runs dry
(from The River by Garth Brooks)

May God cruise with us down the river. And may we remain committed to the journey!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Forward to February 3, 2013 -- 4th Sunday After Epiphany, Year C

The Scripture Reading this week is Luke 4:14-30

The Sermon Title is An Unwelcome Task?  

Early Thoughts: Local boy makes good? Or maybe not so much...

At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus goes to his home community.  And at first all seems well.  You can almost hear the pride of the locals.  And then Jesus seems to decide to tick the hometown folks off...

Look at verse 23.  It is Jesus who seems to change the mood of the gathering.  Jesus, who has claimed for himself a messianic role, who has read out quite a job description for himself, pretty much says to the people he grew up with "I am not sent here, I am sent to help other people".  Is it really all that surprising that people are less than happy with him (although I admit that throwing him off a cliff is a bit of an over-reaction).

What's up there?  There seems to me to be something happening that Luke doesn't tell us.  IS there an undercurrent in the pride of "Isn't that Joseph's boy?" that says "why is he getting so uppity"?  Is there a sense that the people who knew Jesus as a child will not accept him as MEssiah?  Where does the conflict come from?

My hunch that teh conflict comes from a combination of sources.  My hunch is that the weight of what he has just proclaims hangs heavily on Jesus, which may make him more suspicious of the reactions of the hometown crowd.  But also I suspect that Jesus can be seen as being a bit uppity here.  It is not that the task is unwelcome.  It is not that the crowd is overtly hostile.  It is that sometimes "you can't go home again", that there is a reason that prophets were not usually active in their hometowns or regions.  ANd that is what I think we will explore this week...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

February Newsletter

Where are we going? Where should we focus? What should we be working on? What is the top priority?

Do you ever find yourself asking (or being asked) those sorts of questions? They are ones I think we need to ask more often. And out of the answers we can (hopefully) set some goals.

Goals are important for individuals, for couples, for families, and for organizations. One of the things I talk about with couples in pre-marriage discussions is setting goals, because without a goal or a set of goals it is too easy to fall into patterns, or even a rut. Without goals we tend to just keep on keeping on, and while that can be comfortable it can also be dull or even dangerous.

The same thing goes for congregations. Unless we stop and ask ourselves the sorts of questions at the top of this column we very easily fall into a routine. We start to only do things “they way they have always been done”. And while that can be very comforting to those who like “the way things have always been done” it can easily lead us into a state of entropy, and soon into a state of decline. If we want to grow (however you choose to define or measure growth) we need to avoid falling into a sense that the routine is working as well as it once did.

With that in mind, as a part of our regular “Visioning” time during Council meetings I asked/encouraged/told the Council we needed to have some goals for our life and work together as a congregation. Out of our discussions we came up with three broad areas or themes, each of which will have a multitude of sub-goals and/or tasks as they get lived out. These three areas are:
  • Building Community internally
  • Building visibility and community externally
  • Provide an environment of support for our Ministry and staff (this one came from the M&P Committee, my personal note would be to add “Continue to” at the beginning)
To be totally open, honest, and fair we are already doing these things. But in our visioning discussions we noticed a pattern which suggested that we need to do them (particularly the first two) better and more intentionally if we want to grow as a faith community.

So now here comes the big piece. How will we do these things? Council did some brainstorming at our January meeting and the ideas they came up with will be listed in Council minutes. And it is my hope that we will have some discussion about them at the Annual meeting on February 24th. But what do you think? How can we build community within the congregation? What are some ways we can make ourselves more visible/known in the community at large (by the way there are regular times when we have to explain to long-time residents of Grande Prairie where St. Paul's is located)? How does the congregation currently support Carla, Alison and myself? How will you continue to do that?

I look forward to hearing your ideas. Even more I look forward to people seizing the bull by the horns and putting their ideas into practice. Let's see what happens shall we?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Looking Forward to January 27, 2013 -- 3rd Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Reading this week is 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

The Sermon title is What Part are You? What Gift have You?

Early Thoughts: In the Body of God, where do you fit?  But even more crucially, in the Body of God, are all parts equally welcome, equally important?

It is a question that has bedeviled the church since the beginning.  It is fairly obvious that the church in Corinth was a divided body.  Evidence of these divisions appears throughout 1 Corinthians.  And Paul's response is to tell them to get over themselves.

I have to be honest, sometimes I find Paul tedious.  Sometimes I find him tiresome. But sometimes I find him awe-inspiring.  Sometimes he soars.  This chapter of 1 Corinthians is one of those times when he soars. 

To a community where some people have been putting on airs, where some think they are more important than others, Paul says NO.  No you are not.  To a group of people who are arguing about which gifts are most helpful or vital or show more spiritual maturity/depth Paul says WRONG.  Paul affirms that all the gifts come from the same source and therefore are of equal value.  Paul asks what part of the body people would prefer to live without, and names that we are all a part of the same body.

Fast forward a couple millenia.  And guess what?  The Church Universal is still having similar arguments.  We still have people claiming that some other people do not belong or that others are misunderstanding the Gospel of Christ or that they have a faulty/immature relationship with God.  We still have people claiming that some manifestations of God's Spirit in one's life are "better" than others.  And so I think we still need to hear Paul's words.

As I type these words we are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Two weeks ago a group of us gathered in the Friendship Room for prayer.  The reason the Ministerial started that was because as an executive we knew that we had to do something to start building a sense of community within ourselves.  We needed to do something to start building up the body.

Unity is hard.  Unity is hard because it is about being who we are in our diversity.  Uniformity, if you actually have it, is easy because it is all about being the same.  But true unity in diversity is hard.  True unity means we need to meet each other where we are and who we are.  We have to be ready, willing, and able to name, recognize, and honour each other's giftedness (as well as our own).  ANd in the end that is what God calls us to. God calls us to Unity, not to Uniformity.  And in the end, uniformity is kind of dull, but unity in diversity can be really exciting.

So what gift do you have to share with the community?  What part of the body are you?  How do you bring light and colour and variation to our unified community?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Looking Forward to January 20, 2013 -- 2nd Sunday After Epiphany, Year C

The Scripture Reading this week is John 2:1-11

The Sermon Title is More than Enough...

Early Thoughts:  They were out of wine.    It was all gone.  Or was it???

Instead of giving in to the panic (some commentators suggest that this wedding was in Jesus' family, why else would his mother be worried about the lack of wine?  some even go so far as to suggest it is Jesus' wedding) Jesus' mother assumes that the problem will be solved.  And Jesus obliges, even though he seems dubious that this is the place and time for a miracle.

6 stone jars holding 20-30 Gallons.  One Imperial Gallon is 4.5 liters so that translates to 90-135 liters per jar or 540-810 liters total.  A standard bottle of wine (such as in the picture above) is 0.75 liters.  So all of a sudden in our story, where everyone though there was great scarcity we have 720-1080 bottles of wine.  Why does the old Irish Rover's song Wasn't That a Party? suddenly come to mind???

Most sermons I have heard on this passage have focused on how the episode reveals Jesus in his power and majesty.  And that is a possible line.  But most times I have preached on it I have been struck by that amazing abundance when everyone else is worried about running out.

It strikes me that this is a common issue in many people's lives.  We become convinced that we are running out of something and react in panic.  I also wonder how many of those guests who had heard that the wine was gone were skeptical when they heard that not only was the wine NOT gone but the best quality stuff was now available in amounts beyond what they could possibly drink.  When we are convinced that something is scarce then hear that indeed there is plenty are we willing/able to believe it?

WE live in a culture that needs us to believe things are scarce.  We follow the One who promised us life, and that in abundance.  Which will we choose to believe?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Looking Forward to January 13, 2013 -- Baptism of Jesus Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Isaiah 43:1-7
  • Psalm 29 (VU p.756)
  • 1 Peter 2:9-10

The Sermon title is Water and Fire 

Early Thoughts: We are named and claimed by God. What does that mean?

Fire and water are ambiguous elements.  They can be agents of cleansing or of destruction.  They can be essential for life or they can destroy life.  And both are symbols related to the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah talks about God as the one who goes through the fire and the water with us so that we will not be overwhelmed.  And that is a comfort.  But it is also a challenge.

It is a comfort because we know that life in general, and living faithfully to the God who sets out an alternative view of how the world could be in particular, brings it's fair share of challenges.  It is good to be reminded that we are not alone in those challenges.

It is a challenge because it means we should be more willing to take on the paths that lead through fire and water.  It removes the excuse of fear (in theory anyway) that comes with standing up for an alternative worldview.  WE belong to God, who has named and claimed us.  WE stand with God, who has redeemed us.  So now we have the tools we need to take on the fire and water.

How will we embrace the challenge?  How will we live as people who have been named and claimed by God?