Being the president is the greatest gig in the church! I shared those words on Thursday evening in my report to the regions. And believe it or not, I am still saying it now. We have experienced it all this week-end haven’t we? Joy… celebration… anger… grief… confusion… And that was just on stage from your leaders! 😉
Last year when we met, there was a lot of unknowns about our next meeting… and this weekend, for many, it’s been the first time to reconnect since all the changes in our church took effect. And there has been great joy at those re-connections and also great anxiety as we made some decisions to help us determine a way forward for our two regions. A way that respects and celebrates who and what we have been… and recognizes that things are different… and will continue to transform as we live into this new reality.
The Worship Team chose a great passage with which to explore and lift up the theme of this meeting: Faith Forward. But I don’t know about you… but I find those lists in that reading a bit daunting! The things to rid ourselves of… the things to put on…
Being somewhat Trinitarian, and because I can usually only remember three things at a time, the words that I try to shape my ministry and life around are: courage, creativity, and compassion. I try to focus on the positive aspects of life. Where focus goes, energy flows… and I don’t know about you, but I want to focus most of my life and my ministry on things that are positive and life giving, even in the face of challenges. Perhaps Paul didn’t use those specific words in that list, but I think the intent is there. So I am going to elaborate a little on all three of those.
Courage: Rev. Deborah Blood from the United Church of Christ left us with a question to ponder last night: What would we do if we were brave? I think it’s a great question… and it opens up a world of possibilities. The question is not asking us to BE brave, although that might happen. The question is asking us what IF we were brave? How would we live? How would we love? How would that shape our decisions?
It’s a very Creative question!
• I think as a church we could use a bit more creativity.
• It’s hard to be creative when we feel stressed.
• We are stressed with many things; on both the macro and micro level: climate change, food insecurity, opportunities for meaningful employment, rural depopulation, churches in survival mode.
• I know that I want to play a bit more with this… I had initially written, I want to work on this… but working on creativity doesn’t sound like much fun does it?
• So, let’s play a bit more… let’s do some things that seem foolish… imagine the kinds of meetings we had if we all wore silly hats? Or before we got up to the mike, we had to write it out with our non-dominant hand. Someone promised their report in the form of liturgical dance… it must have been someone from region 14, because I didn’t see it! I loved Donna Tourneur’s closing remarks in the form of a poem.
• Courage means to take heart… Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew, tells his terrified disciples, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
• Do we believe that Jesus is with us?
• In this world, do we believe that he is still present?
• Can we take heart, to be of courage?
I am going to save compassion for a bit later and add in one more word to focus on this morning!
We celebrate many things here in the Maritimes, even as we are two separate regions.
• I celebrate the people who stepped forward and offered their gifts of leadership in both regions.
• I celebrate the passion and commitment of the youth.
• I celebrate the profound challenge Emma Seamone offered us in how we make decisions.
• I celebrate Shannon MacLean’s commitment to living large and following where her heart and God leads.
• I celebrate the staff that support us in ways that we often don’t realize.
• Most of all today, I celebrate the ordinands. Their passion, their dedication, their perseverance, their excitement. I wish all of you could have been present to hear them share just a little bit about their journey to this day. If you had been, you would know, without a doubt, that God’s church is in good hands. I’ll say that again; God’s church is in good hands!
Can I get an amen on that?
Can I get a hallelujah?
Three weeks ago, I was on a pilgrimage in Ireland. I spent some time in Belfast, Derry, Dublin, but mostly Corrymeela, a Christian place of peace and reconciliation. It’s an organization in Northern Ireland dedicated to “‘transforming division through human encounter.’ Corrymeela was begun in 1965 by Ray Davey, a former chaplain in World War II. During the war, Ray was captured and incarcerated in a prisoner of war camp in Dresden and there bore witness to the bombing of that city. This experience profoundly changed him. He returned to work as a chaplain in Belfast and became concerned at the tensions brewing between people of different political, religious and ideological differences in Northern Ireland. Corrymeela grew out of this concern. It began before “The Troubles and continues on after “The Troubles,” promoting tolerance between people of differing backgrounds and beliefs. Corrymeela offers space for an analysis of the underlying dynamics of conflict, fracture, scapegoating and violence that we see across so many spheres of our world today.”
To say that my eight days there was intense is an understatement! I wish all of you could have that experience. Shona Bell, one of the programme staff led us in an interactive exercise that helped us have a visual overview of the complexity of the overlapping identities, beliefs and culture of the people of this part of the world. It would be interesting to do a similar exercise in our regions… perhaps not as full councils, but as committees and executives. How many overlapping identities, beliefs and culture do we carry within us? How might that knowledge inform how we interact… with each other… others in our community… the land.
How much compassion could our hearts hold when we deeply know one another… when we are vulnerable with one another? Among all the emotions that this past few days encompassed, I witnessed and experienced so many acts of compassion. From those who stood in solidarity at the microphones… to those who offered a hug just when it was needed… to the messages that the youth handed out last night.
Brene Brown says this about compassion “What I’ve learned for me, is that I don’t know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but my life is better when I work from the assumption that they are.” What if we brought that idea into our daily living? Not just in our church world, but into our work and play worlds. Assuming that everyone is doing their best. And we can link all of those together in love. Love of God, love of neighbour, love of self.
Clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… Bearing with one another, forgiving one another is not work for the faint of heart. It’s a disciplined pattern of redemptive life together (Feasting on the Word).
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of living that way, amen!
Colossians 3: 1-17
Inaugural Meeting of Region # 15, May 26, 2019 – Sackville, NB