Saturday, April 26, 2014

May Newsletter Part 2

Wider Church Notes:
Presbytery: A couple of things to note. One is that the Presbytery has been having some intentional visioning discussions. Part of these discussions has been to encourage folks to think regionally, to consider how best to be the United Church presence not only in our home communities but in the Peace District as a whole. Part of that has been some “cluster” discussions. St. Paul's is in our central blob along with Spirit River, Beaverlodge-Wembley-Hythe, Clairmont, and Fairview. Time will tell what will come out of these discussions. The other note is that as of the beginning of June Gord will be the Chair of Northern Lights Presbytery.

General Council (National): At the last meeting of General Council (2012) the Commissioners authorized the creation of a Comprehensive Review Task Group. This group is charged with preparing a proposal for the next meeting (2015) to help the United Church survive and thrive into the future. To that end they have created a discussion paper that outlines a radically different way of being the church. The feedback they get on this discussion paper should guide them as they write their final report and proposal. The Presbytery Executive had a discussion about this work but I would like to hear from the congregation as well. The discussion paper (“Fishing on the Other Side”) can be found online at: Folks are invited to gather in the Friendship Room on Wednesday May 21st at 7 pm to learn more and discuss this question.

May Newsletter

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....


Monday, April 14, 2014

Looking Forward to April 20, 2014 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 118 (VU p.837 Parts 1-3)
  • Matthew 28:1-10
The Sermon title is Earthquakes, Angels, Resurrection. OH MY!

Early Thoughts:  After the darkness comes the light.  After the despair comes the hope.  After the cross comes the empty tomb.

What is it like when the world is changed?  What happens?

In Matthew's account of Easter morning it comes with an earthquake and a bright light, an angel and a lot of fear.

Makes sense to me.

Resurrection (as a faith event, I have not watched the new TV show by that name) is something that shatters our expectations.  It is something that changes how we see and experience the world.  It can feel like a burst of light that chases away shadows.  It can also be terrifying.  Which is probably why we have three references to fear in Matthew's story.

Where is New Life surprising you this year?   Where do you expect to find death and rot, only to find an earthquake, a flash like lightning, a messenger from God and news of resurrection?


Monday, April 7, 2014

Looking Forward to April 13, 2014 -- Palm Sunday, Lord's Prayer Series Concludes.

The Scripture reading this week is Matthew 21:1-11

We will also use (as a way of reflecting on our faith story) a video clip from Jesus Christ Superstar 2000).

The sermon title is Lord, Teach Us to Pray: The Kingdom, The Power, The Glory 

Early Thoughts: It is Palm Sunday.  The day we celebrate the triumphal entry.  We join the crowds proclaiming the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.....

Or maybe not so much.

What kind of king do we celebrate with our Palm parade?  Given what follows, where is the power and the glory?

In our video clip Jesus suggests we misunderstand what power and glory is.  I note that none of the Gospel accounts of the entry tell us what Jesus thinks of the display. in their book The Last Week  John Crossan and Marcus Borg suggest that the triumphal entry is a deliberately staged piece of political street theater.  If so it is likely along the lines of satire...

If the Kingdom and the power and the glory are wholly different than we expect, maybe we need to think about what we are praying for.  And maybe (just maybe) that will help us reconsider how to be the church in a post-Christendom era????

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April Newsletter

Woody Allen once said “I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to bethere when it happens.” As people of Christian faith, are we afraid of death?

You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He is not here, he has been raised.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen
(Matthew 28:6, Luke 24:8 NRSV)

After the cross, after all is lost, something remarkable happens. Where the women expect to find death they find LIFE! We are a resurrection people. We are a people of life!

So where do we find life where we expect to find death? And are we really able to live as resurrection people, to trust that life conquers death, to live through the fear?

I am no longer afraid of death
I know too closely its cold dark corridors
I am no longer afraid of death
I know these caverns that lead to life
(refrain of I Am No Longer Afraid by Linnea Good,

It seems to me that this is an Easter song. As an Easter people we need no longer be afraid of death. As an Easter people we know that death is part of the path that leads to life, that the tomb is a cavern that leads to life.

Death comes in many forms. All things come to an end. Some people will argue that every change (big or small) in life is in fact a bit of a death as the old gives way to the new. Are we able to see through the dark corridor of the end to a new beginning? Or are we afraid of the dark, the unknown, the transition.

If all change is in fact a death and resurrection process, then we live through it ALL THE TIME. Resurrection is around us all the time. So why are we so often afraid of death?

I am afraid of the fear within me,
and others fear that digs their grave.
Who cling to ways that whisper of healing,
but lead a life that cannot save.
(verse 2 of I Am No Longer Afraid by Linnea Good)

That is what I think gets in the way of living into resurrection. In our fear of death we cling to hope that death can be avoided. We hear words that whisper of healing, that suggest “if you just do this then all will be well”. But they don't work. They may delay the inevitable but change comes in some form or another.

On the other hand, if we can embrace the transition, maybe we can help shape it. If we live in faith and trust, if we can let go of the fear, we can find the spark of resurrection. For we are a resurrection people.

This Easter season I have a challenge for all of us. Let go of the fear. Live into the changes. Step boldly into the “cold dark corridors”. Explore the caverns that lead to life.

And let's all enjoy the ride!!!!

Blessed Easter!