April 30, 2006

Events in April

Note, this post will stay at the top of the blog until the end of the month.
  • Sunday April 23 -- Communion will be celebrated at regular worship (10:30), Environmental Sunday in honour of Earth Day (April 22)
  • Thursday April 27 -- Worship Service at Extended Care Wing at 10:45am
  • Sunday April 30 -- Camping Sunday. Come to worship dressed for camp, we will be singing to guitar accompaniment, Board Meeting following worship service

April 24, 2006

Footprint Quiz

In yesterday's sermon the Ecological Footprint Quiz was mentioned. It is a chance to look at how sustainable our own lifestyle is. I encourage everyone to try it out for themselves.

Looking Ahead to April 30 -- Third Sunday of Easter, Camping Sunday

This Sunday we pause to celebrate Church Camping, a topic near and dear to many in this congregation who donated much labour and love to Camp Freeman.

For Scriptures we will use passages that were used in 2004 and 2005 at Sunnycove, as well as one which may be used this summer:

For music we will be using the overhead (no hymn books at camp) and singing either a capella or to guitar accompaniment (no pianos or organs at camp). Our music will also be structured differently, and there will be more than usual.

  • Opening song: Kum Ba Yah
  • Singing Block #1: They Will Know We Are Christians, Dem Bones, Peace Like a River
  • Singing Block #2: Pass It On, Jesus Loves Me (Camp Version), This Little Light of Mine
  • Closing Song: Go Now In Peace (sung twice)

The Sermon will be What Happens at Camp?

Every summer United Church folks across the country head out to the lake to share in an outreach ministry. After all, that is really what Camp is -- a chance to reach out to the children and youth of our communities. Many of the children who attend camps are not from families that are active in the church. Some of them have never been to a church event but a friend said "I had a great time at camp, why don't you come too!" Camp is likely one of our most successful ways of reaching out to the "unchurched" (or possibly the under-churched).

At camp we model a different way of living together. No TV, no VCR/DVD, no internet. At camp we all sit down to eat at the same time, something that becomes rare in many families. At camp we try to learn to work together both in games and in sharing chores -- even scrubbing toilets and doing dishes, by hand! At camp we take time to talk about "God and stuff", about how that stuff may even be relevant to us! At camp we offer a different picture of what the church is than many people have in their minds.

Many people, myself included, have a special place in their hearts for church camping. May camping continue to be a vital part of church life for decades to come!


April 23, 2006

Celebrating New Life

And in honour of Earth Day being yesterday.

A fellow in BC has a bald eagle nest close to his house. He started making videos of the nest for his own enjoyment last year. This year it is available as live streaming video. Check out the Eagle Eye Cam.

The eggs are due to hatch April 26-30.

April 19, 2006

Reminder of an Opportunity

Now that Easter is out of the way (so to speak) it is time to get ready for the Funeral Leadership Event. Remember that we want registrations by the 1st of May. Already there have been expressions of interest from Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. All are welcome to take part in this exciting opportunity. Contact us for more information.

April 17, 2006

Looking Ahead to April 23 -- 2nd Sunday of Easter

This Sunday being the day after Earth Day we will be celebrating God's creation in our worship.

The Scripture readings will be:

The Hymns will be (numbers refer to Voices United):
  • #226 For the Beauty of the Earth
  • #296 This is God's Wondrous World
  • #303 For Beauty of Prairies (Tune #264)
  • #468 Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ

The Sermon title is Sustainable Stewardship

From the beginning of the story Scripture reminds us that the world is God's creation. In Genesis we here the mythic account of the creative act. In Job, Job is chastised by God for forgetting this fact in the midst of his misery.

Scripture is also clear that we are to make use of the Earth, we are to get our living from it. Unfortunately we have taken that commandment to mean use and abuse, take what we need and give little thought to the consequences.

It is time to admit that our old ways are not sustainable. It is time to admit that abusing the Earth is a zero-sum game -- one where we all lose. It is time to look for another path, to find a way to, as our creed says, Live with respect in creation.

Here in Atikokan we are looking for ways to move forward, to re-create our town. This may be a chance to envision a town that lives in a new way with the glorious creation around us. As we thank God for the lakes and trees around us, let us also pledge to honour them, to honour all that lives.


April 16, 2006

Christ Is Risen

THe congregation of Riverview United Church wishes one and all:


Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

April 10, 2006

Looking Ahead to April 16 -- Easter Sunday

The Scripture Readings are:
The Hymns are:
  • 157 Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • 644 I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry
  • 186 Now the Green Blade Rises
  • 173 Thine is the Glory
The Sermon Title is New Life Beyond the Fear

Mark's version of the Easter story is so short, so simple. No discussion with the Risen Christ, no confirmation of the event, just a group of women, a strange sight, and fear.

It strikes me that fear is the most common response to resurrection. Joy may come later. Understanding comes later. But fear is immediate, fear is real.

The promise of Easter though is that there is new life beyond the fear. It doesn't tell us what that new life will be but it does promise new life. THis Sunday we celebrate life as we baptize twins. WE celebrate life as we breathe the spring air. Let the Easter promise of new life and hope help us move past the fear. Let the Easter promise remind us that life keeps breaking out all over. Praise be to God!


Visioning Meeting

This past Saturday a group of about 40 gathered to share ideas about visioning for the United church in the Rainy River District. It was a good meeting although only a start of a process whose end result is yet to be known.

Among the ideas that will be acted on in the shorter term:
  • looking at ways of providing recorded music (burning CD's?) for use in worship when musicians are not available
  • the possibility of a Men's Retreat
  • ways of joint planning for Faith Formation events, with the possibility of running joint events.

Watch for more information as it comes up.

Do You United Church Folks Believe Anything?

A Sermon Preached on April 2, 2006.

Scripture Readings:
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Acts 2:14-39
The Scripture readings we just heard are passages that I used in a paper during my first year of seminary. The paper was to identify the basic message of the early church as revealed in Peter's sermon on Pentecost and Paul's letter to the Corinthians. We continue to express our faith as we read together A New Creed, found on page 918 of Voices United.

We begin with a story. Several years ago, I was just starting a new job; it was probably my 3rd shift. I was working and my relief came in for shift change. As we were talking it came up that I was a candidate for ministry (not that I introduced myself "Hi, I'm Gord, I'm a candidate for ministry", I really have no idea how that came up). "Oh really, what church", came the response. "United". "Oh, the social club".

The social club, not really a proper church, just a social club. Many people across the country can tell similar stories about people's response to the United Church of Canada. And so we come to the question of the sermon title "do you United Church folks believe anything?".

At first I was tempted to stand up, ask that question, say YES and sit down. But I thought that might not be quite what you were looking for. I also think it might not be quite accurate. You see, as I have been asked that question it has tended to have 2 sides to it. One side is the accusation that we don't really believe anything, that we have no doctrine. The other is "are there any limits to what you believe?" Some of you may remember that about a year ago (February 2005) there was an article in the Observer about a movement called progressive Christianity. That article featured a United Church Minister by the name of Greta Vosper, who spoke in Thunder Bay this February as it happens.

Progressive Christianity includes a wide range of beliefs. But among that range is a belief that God does not intervene in human affairs. Also, at its extreme end, is a lack of clarity around Christ. In fact, when Rev. Vosper spoke in Thunder Bay in February a colleague of mine asked at the end where Jesus fit in (apparently she had not yet mentioned him). And the answer was that Jesus was a role-model, someone whose example we should follow. But, and here is the rub, there was no place for Christ in Progressive Christianity. One might ask if it is actually Christianity then. Do you United Church folks believe anything?

The answer is yes, we do have beliefs. And the answer is no, there are limits; we can't just believe anything we want. We aren't Unitarian-Universalists, although I believe some United Church folks may well be more at home in that faith community.

There are at least two real challenges in trying to answer today's question, in trying to distil what the United Church believes. One comes from our heritage. We have, in our roots of Methodism, Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, 2 very distinct theological threads. In W.O Mitchell's play The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon, which is set in the 1930's Saskatchewan, the local United Church minister visits the lead character, a proud Scots Presbyterian. The minister asks why Wullie hasn't been around much. Wullie replies that he was born Presbyterian, will die Presbyterian and now that the church has turned (shudder) Methodist. This scene strikes to the conflict between those two threads.

The Presbyterians and Congregationalists came from the Reformed theological tradition, the strand descended from John Calvin. Methodists came from a movement within the Anglican Church founded by John and Charles Wesley. The two traditions held some things in common but disagreed strenuously on others, especially around the doctrine of humanity and free will. The tension between those two streams still exists in many places within the United Church. And it is because of that tension that it can be hard to say "this fully contains what we believe".

The second challenge also comes from our roots, specifically from the Congregationalists. They were a denomination where each congregation was quite independent, which is where the name comes from. Many churches are what we call Confessional churches. That is to say that when you become a member you agree to adhere to a specific set of beliefs -- some even require you to sign a statement to that effect. The United Church is non-Confessional. The story goes that at the time of union the Presbyterians truly wanted to have all members of the Order of Ministry sign in agreement with the Articles of Faith but the Congregationalists said no, we don't want that. Instead we are required to be in essential agreement. Believe me, in final year classes in seminaries across the country there is a lot of discussion about what essential agreement actually means. I believe that it is good that we are non-Confessional. It is good because is allows us to lift up the diversity and inclusivity that is a hallmark of United Church faith.

Whatever else we believe, we believe that we don't all have to be the same. And so it is hard to determine what we believe sometimes. In fact we were talking about this at our Conference Communication Committee meeting last month. One of the goals of the Communication committee is to get the United Church's story out there. And we realize that what most of us do is say "I can't speak for the church, I can't say what we believe or what we think. Somebody might disagree with me." But we realized that what we can all do, especially those of us who are long-time members of the United Church, who have grown in this church, is say "this is what I believe!". We say that and trust that the church has shaped us, shaped our beliefs so that by saying what I believe I help lay out what the United Church believes. What I believe has been shaped by where I have grown. If I had been raised Catholic or Baptist I would believe different things. Certainly there are things that we share. We share that message that Paul shared with the church in Corinth. We believe with the rest of Christianity that Christ died and that Christ was raised, that this has something to do with the forgiveness of sins (even if there is debate about how that forgiveness is tied to cross and tomb).

In preparing for this sermon I did some research, looking at various ways we can find out what the church, as an institution says what it believes. This is the United Church Manual. It is our constitution as a church. At the beginning is the Basis of Union, the document hammered out almost 100 years ago to bring the United Church into being. Part of that document is the 20 articles of Faith, those things ordained and diaconal ministers are required to be in essential agreement with. They are in old language, they are hard to interpret at times, and there are things that we find hard to agree with -- which is why essential agreement comes in handy. For example, here is part of the first Article Of God We believe in the one only living and true God, a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in His being and perfections; the Lord Almighty, who is love, most just in all His ways, most glorious in holiness, unsearchable in wisdom, plenteous in mercy -- and then it goes on from there. As I said, it is 100 years old, not language that we use all that often anymore.

In 1940 the church issued a Statement of Faith. It's article on God begins: We believe in God, the eternal personal Spirit, Creator and Upholder of all things. We believe that God, as sovereign Lord exalted above the world, orders and overrules all things in it to the accomplishment of His holy, wise, and good purposes. And then it goes on from there.

Later we have the New Creed, first written in 1968 and updated in 1980 (when the language was made inclusive) and in the mid 1990's when the line to live with respect in creation was added. And the church is in the process of drafting a new statement of faith. It is 12 full pages long. One of the results of our diversity and inclusivity is that our statements of faith get longer. The new statement of faith's discussion about God covers 3 pages, as they try to cover the breadth and depth of our understanding of God.

So there are ways to find out what the church says. Why so many different ones? Because it is in our roots to say that in each new generation the church needs to restate the faith in the language and terms of that generation. As the preamble to the 1940 statement puts it: Christians of each new generation are called to state it afresh in terms of the thought of their own age and with the emphasis their age needs. In fact at the time of Union in 1925 there were already voices claiming that the Articles of Faith, then roughly 20 years old, were dated and inaccurate.

Other places to look would be what people have written about us. Both of these books, written as introductions to the United Church have a chapter on the faith. One is by Ralph Milton and is often used in confirmation classes This United Church of Ours, the other is by someone known to this congregation, Rev. Steven Chambers, it is called This is Your Church. They are good ways to look at who the United Church is.

We need to believe things to be a church. We believe in God who created the world, who was made known in Jesus of Nazareth. Some may remember about 10 years ago when then Moderator Very Rev. Bill Phipps was being interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen and made some relatively controversial statements about Jesus -- specifically that he did not believe Jesus of Nazareth was God. We debate how God worked through Jesus the man but we believe that God was revealed in Jesus. WE as a United Church of Canada believe that the cross is important. You can't always tell by looking at many United Churches on Good Friday but the cross is important. We believe talking about injustice is important, and the cross is a part of that discussion. WE also believe that Easter Sunday is important. We believe, as the New Creed says, in life, in death, in life beyond death God is with us. We are people of hope.

We also believe that it is important to take account of ourselves. It is important to ask ourselves how we express our faith and how that does or doesn't shut out people. And to ask if it should shut out people. We ask about shutting people out because our ethos, our way of living together says that we want to be seen as welcoming and open. We want to recognize diversity and welcome it. We want to recognize that the breadth of God's love expands human barriers, it is not set by human barriers. And so we believe that we had to take seriously question of gender equality, and human sexuality, and race relations. We don't always agree on where we get to, but if we take seriously a belief that diversity and inclusivity are valuable then we have no choice but to accept disagreement. And that disagreement and diversity continue to make it hard to describe this church in a sound bite, or in one article, or in one telling.

The answer, I believe, is to return to story. I don't think we ask for one over-arching statement. I think we start talking about what we as individuals believe and how the church has shaped that. Yes, sometimes that shaping happens because the church says something with which we disagree, and so we are pushed to put into words why we disagree. One of the things I have learned is that nothing pushes us to say what we believe as having friends and colleagues who will debate them with you. In debate we can grow -- when we don't engage our faith we run the danger of growing stale. We need to tell the stories of how the church has comforted, challenged, and led us as we grow in faith. The debate is not a sign of falling apart, it is a sign of honest, engaged Christians who take their church seriously. And as we tell enough stories we will start to get a picture of who the United Church is and what we believe.

The United Church does believe things. The United Church doesn't believe just anything. We are a diverse lot so it seems that we are fuzzy in our faith. But we believe in the God of love who is working in the world to change it. We believe that the faith we have inherited needs to be our own, which means that it will grow and change with the world. Our strength is in our diversity. Our witness is in our stories. Do you United Church folks believe anything? YES! Yes we do. Thanks be to God who challenges us to name and explore our faith.

Available On the United Church Website:
Summary of United Church Beliefs http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/summary.shtm

Important Statements of our Doctrine http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/webelieve.shtm

The 20 Articles of Faith from the Basis of Union (also available in every copy of the United Church Manual) http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/basisofunion/

The 1940 Statement of Faith http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/faithstatement.shtm

The New Creed (Voices United p.918) http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/newcreed/home.shtm

The New Statement of Faith (Draft) http://www.united-church.ca/ucc/faithtalk/pdf/faithtalk2.pdf

Books Worth a Look
Chambers, Steven: This is Your Church: A Guide to the Beliefs, Policies and Positions of the United Church of Canada ©1993 The United Church Publishing House.

Milton, Ralph: This United Church of Ours ©2000 Wood Lake Books

April 09, 2006

Looking Ahead to April 14 -- Good Friday

In the morning we invite all to join in the Ecumenical walk starting at the Church of the Good Shepherd following their service (approximately 10:45-11:00).

Riverview will have a service at 7 pm.
The Scriptures read at that service will be:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 52:13-53:12
  • From the Gospel: John 18:1-19:42
  • Psalm 22 (VU p.744 Part One)

The Hymns we will sing are:

  • #144 Were You There
  • #182 Stay with Us through the Night

The meditation is titled The Many Crosses

From time to time someone brings out the old story that Jesus didn't actually die on the cross. Sometimes it is an attempt to explain the empty tomb. Sometimes it is to prove some sort of conspiracy story. But of course it isn't based in Scripture, or in history.

The early church, it seems, had trouble with the crucifixion. One wonders if they wouldn't have welcomed a chance to get out of it by saying Jesus didn't really die on that cross. Modern Christians, it seems would also like to forget the cross. We want to move from the triumph of Palms to the glory of empty tomb. We don't want shadows in our story.

But we can't do that of course. We have to acknowledge the reality of the cross. Not only because it is the only way the story makes any sense (how can there be resurrection without death?) but also because acknowledging the reality of that cross allows us to name the reality of the many crosses in our world today.

Friday night we will take time to name some of those crosses, and to think about what our response is/could be.


April 08, 2006

Funeral Leadership Event

Ministers take holidays and study leave. Sometimes ministers are sick. Sometimes a congregation has no regularly settled/called minister. Unfortunately death doesn't recognize these times. As part of the body of Christ we are called to offer support and healing during the times of mourning. But who will do the funeral when the "regular" minister isn't available?

The answer: anybody can! Unlike say weddings or baptisms, funerals can be led by anyone chosen by the family. But most of us would want some orientation and preparation before offering to do such a thing. On May 5th and 6th Riverview is hosting an educational event for laypersons interested in offering leadership for funerals. We will begin at 7pm on the Friday and finish by 3:30 on Saturday afternoon.

We will arrange Billets if so desired. Registration is $25.

If you have any questions please contact us.

April 07, 2006

How To Find Us

For anyone coming to Atikokan and wanting to join us in worship here is how to get to us.

From Highway 17
Take Highway 622 south to Atikokan. As you come into town turn Right on Hawthorne Road (opposite Bunnell Park). Follow Hawthorne down to Hemlock Avenue (the Catholic Church is on this corner) and turn Left. The first street you come to will be Pine Crescent, where you once again turn Left. The church will be a half block down Pine.

From Highway 11:
After turning onto Highway 11B continue on into town (this will become Mackenzie Avenue) until you come to Mercury Avenue (there is an Esso service station on the corner) where you turn Right. Go up Mercury to Hemlock Avenue where you turn Right again. The first street is Pine Crescent where you turn Right again. The church will be about a half block down Pine.

April 03, 2006

Looking Ahead to April 9 -- Palm Sunday

The Scriptures will be:

The Hymns will be (all numbers refer to Voices United):
  • #123 Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
  • #646 We Are Walking (sung 3x, either language)
  • #117 Jesus Christ is Waiting
  • #127 Ride On! Ride On in Majesty (tune #20)

The Sermon title is: Taking to the Streets

Normally we think of the Palm Sunday story as a triumphant parade but maybe there is something else there. This year as I sat down to prepare for Palm Sunday I had a vision of a protest march.

Here is a parade that really is a protest against the Roman Imperial authorities. In the face of the Roman Legions (and the Jewish authorities set up to help keep the people in line) people are rejoicing at the arrival of a new king, a new kind of king. In this light I see the procession along the same lines as the civil rights marches of the 1960's, or the work of Gandhi in India, or the protests in Seattle and elsewhere against the World Trade Organization and globalization.

In all of those crowds were people with different ideas about how to bring on the new world. And so sometimes things got violent. But in the crowds on that day of palm branches there were people who thought this would bring on a revolution. The reality is that we are called to protest, called to the streets, not violently but non-violently. This Palm Sunday we are still called to shout "Save Us!" (Hosanna) and to announce the coming of a new way of being in the world.


April 01, 2006

Scent-Free Zone

At the Board Meeting last Sunday a request was brought forward that we consider declaring Riverview United Church to be a Scent-Free Zone.

Many people these days find themselves having allergic reactions to scented products (perfume/cologne, deodorant, candles, hair products etc.). As a result many places and meetings are asking people to refrain from wearing/using such products.

As a Board we decided that we would not pass a policy at this point. Instead, we will ask people not to use these products and invite dialogue within the congregation. At a later point we may pass a policy declaring our building to be a Scent-Free Zone (much like we are already a smoke-free zone). The Board would like to hear feedback/questions on this topic.