June 21, 2010

Looking Ahead to June 27, 2010 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost

This Sunday we celebrate the Sacrament of Baptism as we welcome Ashley Joy into the family of God.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: Isaiah 43:1-7
  • Psalm 77 (VU p.791)
  • From the Letters of the Early Church: Philippians 2:12-18
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

The Hymns this week are:
  • #410 This Day God Gives Me (verses 1 – 3)
  • #644 I Was There to Here Your Borning Cry
  • #558 We Gather Here to Bid Farewell (tune #20)
  • #422 God Be With You till We Meet Again

The Sermon title is So Long, Farewell...

Early Thoughts:  9 years in, how do we say farewell?

There are a couple of quotes echoing in my mind as I prepare worship this week.
Always leave 'em wanting more --- Showbiz proverb
and some words of wisdom often shared among church staff (and campers and homeowners for that matter):
Leave a place in better shape than it was when you arrived.
I sincerely hope I have done both because they are both gems of wisdom.  Don't overstay your welcome, don't hang on too long.  But while you are there, be present, be hopeful, work for the better, strive for mutual improvement and benefit.

June 30, 2001 I arrived in your midst.  And now, after 9 years of ministry together we bring this phase of our lives to a close.  Over that time we have laughed together and wept together.  We have shared moments of joy and of sorrow.  We have shared hopes and fears.  We have found solutions to life's problems--sometimes.  We have lived out a covenant relationship of mutual support and challenge.

Now it is time to pass on the mantle of ministry to other people and other places.  We do so in sorrow and in hope.  We do so knowing that the bonds of care and love continue, even though the relationship changes.  We do so knowing that we continue to be linked by the love that is God-Made-Manifest in our lives.

Our Scriptures this week speak of leavetaking and changes.  They also speak of hope and promise.  As we bring our covenant of ministry to a close may we remember the good times fondly, may we remember the challenges as times of learning, and may we all move forward with hope and trust.

I close my last "Looking Ahead" entry on this blog with words often used to close UCW meetings and church camps I have attended, words from the book of Genesis (never mind that in that context they are as much [or more] curse/warning than blessing), words that are echoed in our closing hymn this Sunday:
May the Lord watch between me and thee; while we are absent one from another

God's blessing and love on all of you today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

June 14, 2010

Looking Ahead to June 20, 2010 -- 4th Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • From the Jewish Scriptures: 1 Kings 9:8-15
  • Psalm 42 & 43 (VU p.768)
  • From the Gospel: Mark 4:35-41

The Hymns this week are:
  • #374 Come and Find the Quiet Centre
  • #245 Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet
  • #660 How Firm a Foundation
  • #649 Walk With Me

The Sermon Title is Anchored or Adrift?

Early Thoughts: Two choices for any community or group (or even for us as individuals and families). Do we tie ourselves fast in place? Or do we sail madly wherever the wind takes us?

Some people and organizations have Will Your Anchor Hold as a theme hymn. They need and like the certainty of being grounded, of knowing where they stand. ANd there is good here. Being anchored and grounded means we know who and where we are. Being anchored allows us to plan carefully. But there is also a risk. We can become to firmly anchored, we can become stuck. We can think that this place where we are comfortable is where we always have to remain.

Some people and organizations have something more along the lines of I Feel the Winds of God Today as a theme hymn. They need and like the freedom to travel where the wind takes them, of being adaptive and changing with the world around them. And there is also good here. Moving with the wind allows us to meet emergent needs as they arise. We avoid becoming stuck and losing our relevancy. But of course there is also a risk here. We need a sense of who we are so that we can plan how to react to the winds. If we just fly free we can become really good at adapting but lose sight of why we are there in the first place.

In the end, most of us don't really live in either place most of the time. It is more helpful to envision a spectrum between those two points. And then we try to place ourselves along that line. Sometimes we are closer to the anchor, sometimes we are closer to the sail. Sometimes it depends where we are/what organization we are a part of/what our role in that place and time is. Because here is the secret. Any good ship needs both anchor and sail. Any good organization needs both as well. We need the benefits of being grounded and the freedom of coasting along.

Where are you on the spectrum? Where are the various communities and organizations of which you are a part?

June 08, 2010

Looking Ahead to June 13, 2010, 3rd Sunday Aftert Pentecost

The Scripture Readings this week are:
From the Letters of the Early Church: Galatians 2:15-21
Psalm 32 (VU p.759)
From the Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3

The Hymns this week are:
#395 Come In, Come In and Sit Down
#266 Amazing Grace
#271 There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
#424 May the God of Hope Go With Us

The Sermon title is Welcomed and Accepted

Early Thoughts: What do you mean we are supposed to welcome people like that? What does it mean to describe our selves as inclusive? Are we aware how well we do that?? Of where we fall short??

As General Council met in Kelowna this past summer the members of the Arctic Commission had this motion on their list of work (it came from Saskatchewan Conference):

That the 40th General Council 2009 adopt a policy that the Session (or Church Board or Church Council), in the exercising its duty of oversight of the order of public worship under 5.10.1 of the Basis of Union, may not discriminate against any group of persons on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, disability or status as divorced persons to the fullest extent, subject only to the laws of Canada, its provinces and territories as may exist from time to time, especially those which protect the vulnerable; and authorize a remit to test the will of the church with respect to this policy.
(There was also a list of "whereas" clauses-- arguments explaining why the proposal was made. You can read them on pages 10 & 11 of this {.pdf} document) So what does it mean?

If passed this proposal would have authorized a poll of the church asking if we wanted to change our constitution to say that all congregations were required to ensure they were open and welcoming to all people, specifically that discrimination (intentional or accidental) was not allowed based on that list of criteria. In some ways this seems common sense -- certainly the church should be as open and welcoming as possible right? In some ways it would be a hard fight -- who is some office somewhere else to tell us how we should operate? ANd certainly it was a major change in how congregations operate.

This proposal would require that all church buildings were barrier-free, that people of any race were openly welcomed, that economic status wouldn't be an issue (this is one of the hidden forms of discrimination in many areas of our country), that your marital status (single, married, divorced, living together) would never be an issue, that newcomers were as important as lifelong residents, and that sexual orientation would not bar anyone from any part of church life--including marriage. It was actually suggesting that a great deal of congregational decision-making be taken away. Why would they make such a suggestion? To hear someone from Saskatchewan speak to that question check out this YouTube video.

One of the cherished self-definitions within the United Church of Canada is that we are an "inclusive" church. We like to claim that as some sort of banner or rallying cry. Personally I am not always sure we know what we mean by it. Certinly I think that in many places we do a relatively poor job of living it out. Because of course, it is hard being inclusive. Our old patterns of believing what is appropriate get in the way. The prejudices and biases that we absorb unconsciously get in the way. And in some cases the percieved costs of being truly inclusive scare us away (think of churches trying to become barrier-free for financial issues, or the social stigma suffered by many within the UCCan due to our stand on issues on sexual orientation over the last 20 years). But we are in good company. People have been wrestling with these questions for centuries.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that we are better than we are. Sometimes we look at others and (either secretly or openly) give thanks that we are not a "Bad off" as they are. Sometimes we are so assured in our "rightness" that we miss the point of what others are doing. SOmetimes we need to be brought up short. Jesus does this in the Gospel lesspn this week as he talks to the Pharisee. He points out that to live the life of the Reign of God means that we welcome everyone, even people like that. As I look at our attempts to live the life of the Reign of God I think we need to open ourselve to questions around how inclusive we are in practice as well as in rhetoric.

Maybe the proposal from Saskatchewan Conference is calling the people of the United Church to seriously consider how wide their field of view is. Maybe we are being urged to ask ourselves what we really mean when we claim to be an inclusive church. Maybe we are being challenged to find ways to ensure that all are welcome, truly welcome, in this place.

It is hard. I know of some congregations that delude themselves. I know that many places truly aren't aware how they exclude some people. I know that some have decided that the costs of change are too big. But we have to take the questions seriously. As it stands, every Pastoral Charge in this conference is now required to answer this question when they produce their Joint Needs Assessment Report when beginning the search for ministry personnel:

THe United church believes that God calls people of all races, ethnicities, abilities and orientations to ministry. Are there any theological or physical factors that would prevent you from welcoming any such persons to your Ministry site? Please specify and include your rationale.
THis is a harder question than it seems. How would you answer it about the church you now attend? About other churches you have attended? How would you like to answer it? Inclsivity, to be meaningful, has to be shown in how we live and not just in words that we say. And yes, it is a hard thing to do at times.

Oh and what happened with the proposal? Well you will have to come on Sunday to find out.