My previous brief reflection as to what the present pandemic can teach us ( what I might say to a congregation should I still be in active ministry,) was presented under three main categories: 1. Life and Ourselves... 2 Faith... and 3. God.
Some have indicated a ‘fleshing out’ of the ideas would be helpful, and as I try to do this it will become evident to the reader that my theological perception of humanity, the universe, and Deity is rooted in the evolutionary point of view.
Life and Ourselves
Danger, fear, and uncertainty as previously noted, are not something new to human experience but are always existentially with us and are merely being highlighted again, this time in a dramatic way by the threat of the ongoing viral pandemic.
This ‘Covid Enemy’ may be likened to the visible top of an iceberg- an impressive indicator of a hidden and always wider lurking reality which underlies our fragile existence in the form of uncertainty and threat. Every enterprise, it forcibly reminds us, is ‘up for the melting,’ revealed in the moth that flies into the flame, the tree that dies, the crop that fails and, of most concern to ourselves at the moment, the ways in which we are affected by and strive to cope with this new surprisingly malignant and tricky intruder.
The shock and difficulties we have in coming to terms with this present historical moment also reinforces another fact worth noting regarding human nature itself, namely, the extent to which we humans persistently deceive ourselves into believing in the solidity and permanency of the world and its ability to offer us permanent security when it in itself is not a ‘thing’ but a process, an ongoing energetic movement of which we are but an integral and miniscule part.
On the other hand, lest we sink into the slough of despair, there remains two factors to be celebrated::
The virus reveals the innovative courage of many people once they are faced with a truly difficult challenge- the positive realists, let’s call them.
Already humbled by the fact that the ‘Covidity’ of life itself does not allow them to demand our environment be a ‘Mr.Rogers Neighbourhood,’ they push ahead so that engaging the enemy with sacrifice and common sense and mutual cooperation (three steps ahead, two steps back ) they move ahead to a point we hope, where ‘resolution’ is achieved.
Another remarkable and positive result has come through the back door so to speak with the uncomfortable requirement for Social Isolation. Social isolation has forced us to recognize that although deprived of the regular active patterns of life, and the social warmth, entertainment and support they offer, we still can ‘stay calm and carry on’. Surprise!
Even more importantly for some, Corona Virus Isolation has brought individuals to a point where quiet self-reflection in the present moment has revealed how psychologically victimized we often allow ourselves to be, captured by that often unrecognized inner enemy- the restless demanding mind.
In the midst of regrets about the past and anxieties for the future we are brought through the new availability of time to allow ourselves to investigate what Jesus meant when he spoke about ‘’the peace that passes understanding’’ and ‘’the abundant life.’’ We recognize the dangers of our ‘Inner Covidity’ while also glimpsing new possibilities.
For people of faith, that is those who subscribe to the thought that our Big Bang universe is not simply something which ‘bangs on’ without design or perhaps even meaning, and who persist in trusting the Who/What/That Which Is/ we call God (Lets use the term ‘Intelligent Source’ for now) there is no outstanding ‘theological’ problem with Covid.
The pandemic is not elevated to some apogee of the manifestation of what we call evil. We do not honour it with that status because we know eventually it will itself die of its own virulence (should we humans allow the world to continue). Its dark side can only bring contrasting aspects of light to appear in human conscious awareness.
As suggested, we have dealt with this problem of trust before, in our wrestling with and acceptance of the uncertainties and disasters life generally presents.Despite the world’s paradoxical nature, its yin and yang, our sense of trust in a Greater Reality has not forsaken us. Nor have we lost our appreciation of the wonders of creative manifestation or the general goodness of life. We have not been overwhelmed.This, let us emphasize, is also true of many who have no formal connection with organized religion but who live with an intuitive appreciation of deeper realities. For such individuals trust in Life Itself, even if not clothed in ‘God terminology’ still remains.
Those who reject out of hand the possibility of God’s existence may well find in Covid 19 another handy opportunity to point out the gullibility of believers, not realizing that faith is often linked to doubt and that in Christianity down the centuries the attempt to reconcile the concept of a God presented as love with the chaos of a suffering world has often been addressed under the term of ‘theodicy’- and never, of course, with complete success- but we have tried and continue to do so.
Theology and philosophy can never ‘prove’ the existence of God, the God who Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection personally ‘unmasks’ in human terms.
God is revealed in Jesus because Jesus personalizes the Unimagined in a manner geared to our human perception, and speaks according to his times in terms appropriate to a dualistically oriented and mostly uneducated society. How can parables, ( the chief mode of his teachings ) be relevant without the dramatization of acting and reacting individuals who prance, as Shakespeare indicates, on the stage of life? How can the ‘character’ of Deity be maligned when the Mystical Word becomes flesh which, -Amazing Grace’ !!! we recognise in our bones as our very own when prompted by thinkers and seers to be recognised as our very DNA?
This Covid experience may well be the modern ‘tilting point’ for some, especially for those in church communities, when it comes to a recognition, re-evaluation, and acceptance of their growing evolving conceptualization of Deity. Covid reinforces our interest in and sensitivity to the Unknown out of which we emerge and into which, in acceptance and surrender, we go.
Christian preaching has long emulated St.Paul’s speech in Athens in which he notes the Greeks had an altar to an ‘unknown God’ and states that the true God is not kept as an idol in temples but is That, Who, revealed in Jesus the Christ, inhabits all things, gives life to all and is ‘’’the one in whom we live and move and have our being’.This is the God Who is Spirit, not the God as some anti Christians might suggest who needs to be justified, or as some conservative Christians would have it, to be prayed to for relief, seeking an answer provided by the Great and often apparently inadequate Interventionist.
Covid invites us to embrace the God within...this largely unknown God, the God untrammeled by the feckless mnd, the God who is not so much to be preached as lived-Unmasked for the sake of the loving of the world.
The unmasking of God’s Self goes on, and on and on ...and with it, the unmasking of you and me brothers and sisters (and all inbetween).
Tolstoy, toward the ending of his novel ‘War And Peace’ gives us words to ponder-especially at this time.
‘’ Life is everything. Life is God. And while there is life there is joy in the consciousness of the Godhead. To love life is to love God. More difficult and more blessed than all else is to love one’s life in its sufferings, in undeserved sufferings.’’
‘To which we all say…( I trust )
Bring on the sunscreen and sunglasses! It is still pretty chilly to go for a swim at the cottage, but the boaters are having a grand time. A few fish are being caught too.
I hope you all have had a happy week. I am back home to tidy up the yard and do some errands. It will be a good day on Sunday as we celebrate Father's Day. I must buy Dan and Robert a few fishing lures for a little treat. Be sure to share a compliment with the special men in your family. Maybe some of you are planning a tasty breakfast or BBQ for that day.
Congratulations to Tom Virany on the celebration of his 90th birthday this week. He is a very interesting gentleman and I am sure he has had some exciting experiences over his lifetime. Recently I read an article written by a 90 year old. Here are some of his tips for a happy life and good memories:
Before I close, I must share a little joke.
There are two ants. The baby ant asks. "Dad why don't we get coronavirus?" Dad answers "because we have ANTY BODIES."
I am returning to my cottage for the weekend. Unfortunately we do not have an Internet connections, so I will not be e-mailing for some time, but you will be in my thoughts and prayers. Enjoy your summer holiday! KEEP safe and healthy. Share a smile or some kind words with someone.
By Reverend Richard Delrome on his 60th Anniversary of entry into the Order of Ministry in the United Church of Canada, June 1, at Sherbrooke, Quebec.
The sudden realization that it is already 60 years since my ordination has prompted me to ask what I might share in the time of this present pandemic with a congregation should I be in active Ministry.
The results are:
We are taught three things: 1. Something about life and ourselves; 2. Something about faith; and 3. Something about God.
LIFE AND OURSELVES
We are reminded that human beings are at times shown to be fearful people and have every right to be so by the very nature of existence itself. Put bluntly, we are all born to die and asked spiritually to make something out of that period between our point of entry (birth) and our point of exit (death) - what we sometimes call in Christianity ‘Working out our Salvation’.
Life with COVID 19 is no different than it has ever been in terms of the threat that life itself poses; this particular unexpected circumstance merely shocks us into the realization that ‘what is, is’ and forces us to grapple with that painful reality in innovative ways.
Faith basically means trust ... acknowledgement that life, despite all, is ultimately good. So how could COVID 19 not help reassure us of that fact by virtue of its ‘badness’ because its dark side can only be seen in the light of its opposite, i.e. the ‘good’ side - just as resurrection is the positive commentary on crucifixion.
Yes God has always had something to say about masks - asking us to show transparency to others by becoming ‘unmasked‘, thereby showing our true selves as love. Jesus is God unmasked, and however we understand the seeming paradoxical nature of Deity, we are called to live that paradox all the more passionately in these difficult times.
Rev. Richard DeLorme, Vancouver, B.C. (With permission, his love and good memories)
Some thoughts from Pauline on the Broadview magazine article entitled "How to Grow a Church"
The most important aspect is the energy that circulates between all these people or groups of people. The first connection is to get plugged to the energy of God by worshiping: not necessarily evangelistic praise, but simple hymns that uplift and help us rejoice the highest power,
Taking time to read Psalms or short prayers that make us feel this energy through our body, mind and soul, taking the time to bathe in this beautiful energy. We aim to feel that harmony and convey it through the congregation. After this, we can bring this energy of encouragement and joy to the community and beyond our community through our conversations and actions. The leadership of a motivated pastor or minister that links and directs this energy working with members of the congregation that follow that flow of energy will create a healthy body of Christ. The respect for the head is essential.
My thoughts on the comparison between the United Church versus the Roman Catholic: In the United Church, the minister is chosen internally which can be a source of pressure and criticism toward his or her decisions or projects which can block energy; whereas, a Catholic priest is chosen (and hired) externally by a higher level of hierarchy.
The members seem to submit and cooperate much easier because the congregation cannot impose expectations and use pressure to obtain tangible results. We are the body of Christ and must be involved in the optimist energy. We all have a responsibility to connect to the optimist energy and spread the love and healing peace around us everywhere we go.
Aylmer United Church congregation has a telephone chain again - did you know that we used to have one? - to help keep our church family "together" while we are apart.
A number of our church family do not have the internet, so they may be unaware that we will be closed until September, the roof will be repaired, and that there are options for contributing financially (if they are not on PAR) via PAR or cheque.
It is also a good way to reach out to ensure that there are none who need help or have issues or questions and are just waiting for a friendly voice on the end of the line to chat with.
Our thanks to those who are participating in the telephone chain - a way to actively practice our Christian faith. If you haven't received a call and would like to be partnered with a caller, please contact us. .
My dear friends- the people of the Aylmer-Eardley Pastoral Charge,
My deep gratitude to you all for your participation in the End of Covenant service and the lovely retirement gathering on Sunday evening. It was a classy affair! Your words, your gifts, your hugs, your smiles and your tears touched my heart. I am forever grateful for my time in ministry with you.
I wish you God's blessing as you journey together toward your new future directions.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.
My forty years of ministry as first a diaconal minister, then ordained, have been fulfilling, frustrating, challenging, and exhilarating. I am blessed with many amazing colleagues with whom I have planned, worshipped, co-celebrated, argued, puzzled, wept and laughed. I have baptized, married, celebrated communion, preached, sung, clowned, danced, prayed and sat silently when there have been no words to share. I have anointed the dying, buried the dead, comforted the sick and grieving, and blessed the newly born. I have led adults through Bible study, teens through confirmation class, children through scripture stories. I have gone on retreat and found God at the bottom of the depths of despair. A more rewarding and interesting career I could not imagine!
I have been an active participant in the United Church of Canada since I was a child. I recall moments as a toddler feeling as safe in the church building as anywhere in the world. I had an interior knowledge that God was with me and that I would be okay, even if I lost track of my parents momentarily. As a teen and young adult the church was a place I felt at home. There my presence mattered and I could make a positive contribution. The community that gathered Sundays and throughout the week nurtured me, supported me and challenged me.'
My initial theological training came through the “New Curriculum” of the 1960’s and 70’s. Even then I realized that my church was radically different from other churches that some of my friends attended. I was curious to know why my church was different. So I asked lots of questions. And I was proud of the United Church for taking stands on important social issues.
My participation as a commissioner to General Council in 1988 solidified my trust in the UCC to be leader in justice issues not only in Canada but around the world. What surprised me most at that GC meeting was not the fact that we did indeed vote to “ordain and commission self declared homosexual persons”, but the positive and supportive response from our ecumenical guests. A woman Religious who I had become friends with told me she was so proud and humbled by the boldness of the UCC and believed that the UCC would give courage to her church to move forward. She had unknowingly commissioned me to continue justice work as a high priority for my ministry wherever that would lead me.
As a contemplative and introvert by nature, there are some challenges to overtly speak truth to power. But that was (is!) part of my call. It was inherent in my early years at home and at church. It seeped into my bones during my foundational education at the Centre for Christian Studies. It was named again and again in the work I was called into in Presbytery, Conference and pastoral work and as part of Gender Justice work (Saskatchewan Conference and General Council). I was a GC rep to the End of the Decade for Churches in Solidarity with Women at the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998. I will never forget nor cease to be inspired by our host African women whose stories still tear at my heart.
About 20 years ago I was invited to develop a program to teach spiritual direction to church leaders through the Faculty of Theology, U of Winnipeg. Thus the Prairie Jubilee Program was born. I directed the program until I left the Prairie many years later. In this work my deep love for the contemplative and my persistent call to serve Creation were able to mesh beautifully. I am grateful to my students and colleagues who taught me so much. I am grateful to be now working with a similar program out of the Tatamagouche Centre in NS - Contemplative Pathways. One retirement project!
I have always had a desire to explore embodied spirituality. So I learned, then taught liturgical dance and embodied prayer, became a Reiki practitioner then studied 3 years of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and more to become a registered massage therapist. It is amazing how well this body work supported my ministry. The integrity of mind, body, spirit became even more important in my work and life.
A number of years ago, at a challenging time in my ministry a friend gave me a pin that was created by women in the Church of England. It says “In spite of considerable provocation I will not leave the church.” It goes with me everywhere. I have said many times over the years “I cannot NOT do this work.” It is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking work, but as people of Jesus it is the work we are called to do. It brings me deep joy to be connected with God’s people and all Creation in this web of relationship.
As for the future Time for family - my husband (retired UC minister Boyd Drake) my grandchildren, children, sister and parents - is a high priority for retirement. As is Support to a place I call home - the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer in Ft Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan.
Thanks to all of you who attended our worship and workshop last Sunday. It was a great success. And it was fun (we promised some fun didn't we?!) We are so grateful to the Rev Sharon Moon who facilitated the process for us.
You listened carefully to the work of the Strategic Planning Working Group. You took time to ask questions and add our own thoughts. You considered four scenarios which the SPWG had developed from the work you had done at the previous workshops. Weighing the pros and cons of these scenarios helped you discern your sense of direction as Aylmer United Church. At the end of the day there was a sense of accomplishment, and a satisfaction about that direction. You let God's Spirit guide you.
If you were not at the event then plan to come 10 or 15 minutes early this Sunday to find out what happened, and to see where your gifts and skills might support to work going forward. Members of the SPWG will greet you and explain the process we went through with the help of visuals.
I am excited for you as you look to the future! I am happy to have been part of this energizing process! If you keep up this good work the future of Aylmer United Church within the community looks bright. Let your light shine. Be faithful to the Spirit of Christ who calls you to listen and to respond, and who calls you to compassion and action. May it be so!
Spirit has been blowing through the planning meetings of the Strategic Planning Working Group (SPWG) these past few weeks as we prepare for our congregational worship and workshop this Sunday! There have been many meetings - often two a week with sub-groups meeting together as well as numerous emails and phone calls. The bulk of the work has been taking what we all have done together in our congregational workshops throughout the year and preparing recommendations and scenarios going forward as the the people of Aylmer United Church. I am so grateful to the faithful members of this group who will offer leadership this Sunday - Anne Little, Darlene Turiff, Deborah Buck, Ewan Vost, Leslie Jamieson and Richard Van Ravenswaay,
Things are happening! Energy is moving! You will definitely want to be part of the gathering on Sunday as we hear and see the work we have already done. You will be asked once again this Sunday to participate in the vision and the direction for the congregation, and to discern the next steps.
Once again Sharon Moon will facilitate our discussions.
There will be lots of food (come at 10:15 for coffee and muffins). We will share lunch together (please bring a salad or desert to share). We will meet in the downstairs hall for both worship and the workshop. We will be finished up by 2:00.
Come and be ready to feel the Spirit of God blow within and amongst us!
As I mentioned last week, the Strategic Planning Working Group (SPWG) has done a lot of reading over the past year. I would be very grateful if you would allow me to share some of the ideas found in Holy Currencies by Rev. Eric H.F. Law, an Episcopal priest who founded an American institute to provide training and resources to churches throughout North America. In 2009, he noticed that half of the 37 congregations that he surveyed had concerns about money. Interestingly, Rev. Law discovered that those who spoke about being missional tended not to talk about sustainability, and those who spoke about sustainability, were often preoccupied by money as the only currency, and tended not to talk about being missional. Sound familiar?
Over half of the church leaders of these congregations also wanted resources to move their churches towards becoming both sustainable and missional. Rev. Law found that there weren’t many resources to help churches become more missional (until his book). So, what is a missional church and why is this important to Aylmer United? “It is a community of people who look outward and are able to connect with others who are not already members of any church organization”. Some of the questions the SPWG asked ourselves included whether we were focussed externally or were we so caught up on finances that we’ve lost the big picture of being a church? What is God’s plan for us and what makes Aylmer United different from the Knights of Columbus or the Optimists?
Rev. Law’s research summarized that in sustainable ministries, in addition to money, at least five other currencies flow through them: time and place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, and wellness. Essentially, these currencies flow through the ministry and are exchanged for each other (like a barter system), which he called the Cycle of Blessings. I will elaborate on these currencies in future blogs. However, the sequence of the exchanges does not always follow the same pattern and not only replenishes the currency that was spent initially, but recirculates resources and regenerates more currencies, allowing the ministry to grow and expand. This model is based on the premises that God owns everything (we live in God’s creation after all), that God gives abundantly (all of the resources are here already), that we are to circulate God’s resources rather than keep them, and that God’s blessings are then recycled to create more blessings. Rev. Law notes that there is a Chinese saying “Water is money” and talks about how money and resources need to move and flow to do good and that if they stagnate, they become breeding pools for trouble and unsustainability.
The choice is ours, we can choose whether we use our currencies to flow in life-giving, truth-telling, relationship-building and community-building ways, or not. However, to be sustainable, Law summarized that it is the flow that gives these currencies value, that all of the currencies need to be used (not just some of them) and that the flow of these currencies must recirculate back to replenish depleted currencies, in fact making the ministry grow and be sustainable. Law also talked about doing more with less and how there were always people over at his house for Sunday dinner. He did not know that they were not well off and assumed that this meant that his family was “rich”. The reality was that his mother stretched the food into a feast for $3 by bargaining and careful purchasing AND there were leftovers! The interesting thing about that was that each member would refuse to take the leftovers and offer them to another person at the table who was more “deserving”. Each person would name someone else to eat the leftovers with a corresponding reason. Ultimately, they were used in the meal the following day. Talk about a “less is more exercise” and validating each individual person’s worth as deserving!
This is the kind of thinking about abundance and generosity that keeps these currencies flowing and continues this giving and receiving cycle. On Sunday and in the coming weeks, I would like to continue this discussion and try to impart some more of Rev. Law’s findings and how they related to the work that the SPWG is doing.