For those of you who just can't wait until it is distributed, the Ministerial report is in the expanded post.
A colleague of mine in BC has a blog which he calls Looking Backward…Looking Forward. If I had to name the intent of this report that is what I would call it. Here we look back at the year that 2007 was and we look ahead to what 2008 (and beyond) may be.
And what did 2007 bring us? As with most years, it brought a mixture of joy and sorrow, highs and lows. Among the highs were the chances we had to celebrate new life and new hope with the sacrament of Baptism. We also had many chances to share meals together, always a great way to celebrate community. We continue to live out our mission statement by offering ministry to the community: we worship with the residents of Extended Care, we open our hall to use by a variety of community groups, we provide a place for those with little church connection to gather and grieve the loss of a loved one, our meals are open to the whole community
But there are struggles too. As a part of the larger community of Atikokan we share in the losses of Fibratech going bankrupt, of the lay-off at AFP, and of the deaths that took place over the year (in October and November alone the Progress ran 16 obituaries). Within our own community some felt these losses more than others but as a community of love and faith we know that we share the pain and the struggle. Our congregation, as with most others in town, is aging and just holding our own sometimes seems the best victory we can expect. Money is tight, numbers are not as high as some might like (but are remaining fairly steady), energy is taxed. But still, when something needs doing, a way is found. That is cause for excitement – the energy and time and resources are found to do what needs doing.
Some of the other highlights over the year for me have been: the worship and picnic out at French Lake in June, the viewing of An Inconvenient Truth for Earth Day in April, the chance to host An Evening of Singing with Bruce and Cheryl Harding in November, and this year I offered a funeral seminar twice, once in Thunder Bay and once with some folks from Knox United in Fort Frances as they live without paid ministry at this time (I think I have that seminar pretty much down pat by now).
So what about the future? What lies in store for us? Who knows really? The trouble with predicting the future is that it is always in motion, the choices yet unknown will lead us down different paths. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”, which path we take shapes the future in ways yet to be seen. The challenge is to live in comfort with the uncertainty.
What will happen in the local economy? When will things rebound? Will the churches in town die off? Will the town itself die off? These questions continue to bounce back to our consciousness. And in the end they are questions without answers.
On a more concrete level, the future brings my term as Chair of Cambrian Presbytery (May 2008-May 2009). One of the goals I bring to that position is to get Presbytery to ask itself and to ask congregations how it can best offer support to the Pastoral charges and congregation in Northwestern Ontario. Being chair of Presbytery also puts me on the Conference Executive and I may get a chance to raise that same question there. As a church we have to always push ourselves to remember that the local congregation is the central, and most important, piece in the puzzle.
Locally, I see a challenge in our future. It feels like Riverview has been largely in “maintenance mode” for a long time (20 years perhaps). This really isn’t surprising since the town as a whole has been in survival mode for longer than that. But my hope both for the congregation and for the town is to move out of those places. When we are focussed on maintenance or survival it makes growth very difficult. My hope is that we find the vision to leap forward in faith. My hope is that we open ourselves to find out what God is calling us to do and be in this place and time and to live out that calling – even if the answer we get is very different from what we have been doing and/or how we see ourselves. Doing that can be terrifying and a little risky. But I found a quote from Martin Luther King this morning which says: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.” And we are called to be people of faith.
Amidst all the uncertainties, the hopes and the fears of the future, the joys and the sorrows of the present and the past, I do know one thing for certain. God is with us in this place. God is with us in this time. God will be with us in whatever lies ahead. And, armed with the knowledge that God is with us we can indeed take the first step, even if we can’t see where the next one will be.
In closing I offer this prayer as we move forward, embracing the changes and challenges, the joys and the sorrows, the highs and the lows that the future holds:
Spirit God: be our breath, be our song.
Blow through us, bringing strength to move on.
Through change, through challenge, we’ll greet the new dawn…
Spirit God, be our song.
(verse 4 of “Spirit God, Be Our Breath”, #150 in More Voices. ©1997 Bruce Harding Used with permission under license #C6531 LicenSing – Copyright cleared music for churches)
Peace be with you,
Rev. Gord Waldie