Friday, September 30, 2011

10 years ago...

As we were driving home from Presbytery tonight it struck me that 10 years ago this afternoon I was heading home from my first Presbytery meeting after ordination and settlement.

It had been a good meeting.  In that Presbytery the fall meeting is always the last weekend of September, starting with registration on Thursday night and concluding with worship with the host congregation on Sunday morning (actually the 2001 meeting concluded then but we were encouraged to reassemble 2 hours later for a covenanting service in the next Pastoral Charge).  For theme time that weekend we were talking about First NAtion's issues. 

But the REAL reason to remember that meeting had little to do with business or theme.

Thursday evening as I was wainting to follow my billet home and after the time for registration had ended a lay member of Presbytery came running in yelling "DOn't Leave! I'm here!".  While she waited for her ride to her billet we introduced oursleves and chatted a bit.  Apparently she then spent the next two days arranging to be close to me (and finding out what she could about me).  But I was a little oblivious.  Then at the feast Saturday night we connected.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Still, how many people can say that the first words they ever heard their partner say were "Don't leave! I'm here!"?  (Yes I know she wasn't talking to me, but to the registration people whe were getting ready to leave)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making an Impact

Apparently we like to shape the yards of the places we live.

The first spring and summer I was in my Settlement charge I planted a hedge along the manse sidewalk (which was just getting going nicely by the time we left),  I expanded the vegetable patch from 8x8 to 16x24, and I dug out a bunch of overgrown/rangy/half-dead stuff in the front flowerbeds.  Over the next few years we planted several shrubs and trees (some we bought, some trees one of the trustees brought in from the lake).  We also tried to get the front beds going with perenniels but they never seemed to take hold -- poor soil.  In the time we were there we also had a double pull clothesline put in (60 feet long for a total 120 feet of hanging space, we could hang lots of stuff at once).  The yard was not the same when we left as it was when I arrived.

Fast forward to last year.  When we arrived there were a number of things that we knew needed to be done.  SOme were inside (like replace the crimped water line leading to the dishwasher, install a shower curtain rod, hang a mirror in the bathroom).  SOme were external.  Immediately after we arrived we did some desperately needed fence repairs (the whole fence needs to be redone, a project that will be done in stages starting next spring),  Later in the summer I started turning over sod to make a vegetable garden.  This spring I finished that project and put 10 yards of new dirt in the garden before planting it.  We also added dirt to the side flowerbed.  Then we built our new sidewalk and big front flowerbeds.  This meant getting some shrubs to serve as anchors for those beds and starting to put in perreniels (the front beds will largely be in perreniels), a job that finished for this year last week with some perenniels purchased on sale and some fall bulbs.  Over the summer we have also planted 4 trees.  And we have created a whole bunch of ideas for what else could be done in the yard.

Of course we will never see these efforts come to maturity.  Just like in the manse, we plant things for those who come after to enjoy.  There is a message about faith and life in there I think.

But apparently we like to shape (or re-shape) the yards of the places we live.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Newspaper piece -- What is the Church?

The dedication service of McQueen Presbyterian Church was held on October 8, 1911, with capacity attendance. Its name honored the Rev D.G. McQueen, who had played an important part in the creation of this mission. It was a proud moment for the Rev. And Mrs. Forbes – their first church in their new mission field... (And We Come After page 19)
McQueen Presbyterian would, in due time, become St. Paul's United Church. And our current building is on the same parcel of land as that original log church. 100 years of continual ministry on the same corner where Alexander Forbes originally drove a stake labelled “Presbyterian Church” in 1909!

On that corner have now stood a variety of buildings. First was the log building which now stands in the Museum. Then, 14 years after that first dedication, the congregation built a new building to house a growing community. In the early 1950's a Christian Education building was built. Then the current sanctuary was built in 1956. Finally the Christian Education building was demolished and the “new” wing was built in 1986-87. But none of these buildings have been the church.

That is right none of these buildings, nor any of the other buildings around Grande Prairie that bear the name “Church” are the church. They are merely structures where the church meets. So what is the church?

When I was first in Junior Choir we learned a song whose first verse went:
The church is not a building the church is not a steeple
the church is not a resting place the church is a people
That is where the church is. The church is in the people who gather in buildings large and small, sharing stories of faith, singing songs, and then going back out into the world. The church is not in what happens on Sunday morning it is in what happens 7 days a week. As St. Paul's celebrates its centennial this Thanksgiving weekend we remember how it has lived out being the church. We remember that as long as Alcoholics Anonymous has been in this area, there has been a connection with St. Paul's. We remember that folks from this congregation helped get the Community Dorm started, and the Native Friendship Center. We remember that folks from this congregation have served the community in many ways, sometimes under the name of the congregation but more often simply because they were moved to serve. And many other congregations in this community could tell similar stories. This is the church.

The church is present in the world to help God transform the world. We aren't called to be an insular members-only place. We are called to welcome all, to recognize the gifts that all have to offer. The church is called to have an impact on the world, on individuals and on communities.

After he had won the civil war and wrested the kingship of Israel from Saul, David promised God that he would build a grand temple in which God could live. God told him NO. God asked why God would need such a dwelling now when God had never needed it before. God continues to remind us that our buildings are not the church. They are tools that help us BE the church.

At this point in time, as the people with whom I try to be the church celebrate the centennial of our buildings, I have one question for all of us. How is God calling us to be in the world today? Who is God calling us to be today and in the years to come? Here is a hint, taken from the Gospel of Matthew:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ ...Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
At the time of this anniversary we have stories of thanksgiving to tell about how those who came before us have been the church in this place. What stories will those who come after us tell about the impact we made on the world?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10Y 120M 3652D ........ and counting

(remember that 2004 and 2008 were leap years)

I realize that the world does not need another 9/11 blog post.  But here goes.

It was a Tuesday morning.  As I was getting ready for the day I happened to flick past a news channel as it was covering the fire after the first plane had hit.  I started watching just in time o see the second plane hit.  Then I knew it was not accidental.  Over the next hour I watched while having breakfast and so on.  I headed over to the church shortly after teh first tower fell.

Like most of the Western World I spent most of the rest of the day listening to the radio or watching TV.  Noot that it was a healthy thing to do though.  The saturation point was reached by noon EDT after all.  My memories include people coming by the church to talk, and the comment "he'll [President Bush] go to war now".  I remember another person coming to the realization that they were commercial jets used whle sitting in the office.

LAter that afternoon (or maybe the next morning) I called the church musician and we totally redid the hymn selections as we realized we needed to plan not the upbeat servic I had thought but rather something more akin to a memorial.  There would be a time for analysis and prophetic words, but not that week.

What happened over the next years is a matter of history.

But where are we now?  Are we better off? NO    Safer? Not likely     Closer to the PEaceable Kingdom of our faith?  If so the signs are few and far between.

Wiser people than I have mused openly over the last decade how a window that opened that day was closed quickly.  How the US Government parlayed worldwide attention and sympathy into almost pariah status within a few short years.  How instead of seeking justice it sought vengeance.

But as a person of faith I think it gets simpler.  Instead of looking for another way the West fell victim to base animalistic human intstincts.  the desire to strike back, to inflict pain, to get payback.  But as people of faith we are called to another path.  We are called to seek justice through forgiveness, peace through justice, and part of that is finding the way to forgiveness.

The desire for vengeance that has led us here does damage to all parties.  Arguably it has damaged the US more than anyone else.  There is wisdom is the old warning that we have to avoid becoming that which we hate.  I think the US has used the events of 10 years ago as an excuse for many things (I am sure a reason to invade Iraq at least and possibly Afghanistan as well would have been created either way) but many of those things have harmed not only their  reputation (which wasn't as clear as some would like to claim anyway) but also the soul of the country.  This morning I preached about forgiveness and on the way out one person described the quest for revenge as holding a red hot iron for years in the hope that you might have a chance to jab it at someone else for a few seconds.  Who gets burnt more?

SO where do we go from here?  How do we get back to the path of forgiveness justice and peace?

I don't know.  Other than it will require transformative change in our understandings of interpersonal and international relations.  But as a person of faith I believe that such transformative change is possible.  AS the old hymn says (one I used to bookend the sermon this morning):
We shall overcome
we shall overcome
we shall over come some day
deep in my heart, I do believe
we shall overcome some day