Ministry Team Messages
November 8th, 2019
I spotted one of THOSE church signs this week. It read: “We remember the sacrifice of many, and the crucifixion of the one”…. as opposed to the United Church sign down the way that simply read “Remembrance Day” and gave the time of the Sunday service. The sentiment of the first sign set me to pondering the motivation behind it. Was that church wanting to make it clear that it was okay to focus on the sacrifice of war veterans as long as you don’t let it overshadow (or in any way equal!) the sacrifice of Christ on the cross?
Over my years in ministry, the occasion of Remembrance Day (particularly when it falls on a Sunday) has presented something of a dilemma. I remember the days when we regularly had “Veterans’ Parades” as part of the Sunday service, and sometimes the ceremonial placing of the flags and the saluting did seem a bit jarring and militaristic in the midst of worship. So perhaps, in some sense, I have shared the concern of those who composed the aforementioned church sign: that remembering the fallen might overshadow our worship of God.
I have also served as Legion Padre in several places, and know the need to honour and uphold all those who have served our country, and the need to couple some of the militaristic rituals with prayer and praise. My encounters with veterans also taught me that they were some of the most ardent peace-seekers one could ever meet, for they knew the horror that was war.
Whatever way you choose to remember, and to worship this weekend, may it bring peace to your soul, and continually inspire us to work for peace, with justice, in our world.
Maggie, for the Ministry Team
November 1st, 2019
Nov. 1 – All Saints Day
For many years, in the Protestant tradition, we were not much given to “praying for the dead”. Perhaps, especially in the United Church of Canada, we like to emphasize what faith means for the living here and now on earth rather than focusing on life in the heavenly realm. As we worship together through the church seasons, our themes are often built around connecting our faith story with the issues of the world rather than focusing on Saints’ Days which celebrate the long-departed.
Near the end of the long green season after Pentecost, however, the world around us begins to die and become less green, the leaves begin to fall and gardens begin to shrink into themselves, the nights begin to lengthen and the harvest work begins. And at this time we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, a celebration of those of faith who have gone before and now exist in the nearer presence of God.
In the earliest years of the Christian church, there was a strong desire to affirm the connection between the living and the dead, with various dates proposed to celebrate the saints and martyrs of the church who had gone before. Then the date moved to November 1 when, in the eighth-century, Pope Gregory III founded an oratory in St. Peter’s basilica for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.” Since then, this day has long been connected to a Celtic holiday of Samhain, a harvest festival that falls nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It was a time that Celtic people believed the lines between our world and the world of the spirits blurred a little. We see similar observances in Latino culture in Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead, which recognizes All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day as sort of a Triduum, or three Holy Days, a time when people pray for those who have gone before, when they go and decorate their graves, when they laugh in the face of death.
In contemporary Christianity, this desire to celebrate the connection between the living and the dead persists and I would say that, over my lifetime, I have seen this desire actually increase – even in this VERY Protestant United Church of ours. For many of us, it has become important to include in the Sunday worship service closest to November 1, some kind of ritual of remembering – remembering specific people who have died – and remembering that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who might still inspire our life of faith.
As part of this Sunday’s service there will be a time of lighting candles and praying for the dead. We have specifically invited those who have lost a loved one in the past year to join with us for this time of commemoration. We pray it will be a healing and inspiring time for us all.
Blessings to you – in this season, and all seasons,
Maggie, for the Ministry Team
October 25th, 2019
It is not about numbers – or is it?
We have a wonderful and faithful person in our congregation who, week-to-week, counts how many people are sitting in the pews (on Sundays and on Wednesdays!) and then reports these numbers to the worship committee. When I see the numbers dipping, I wonder if that is something to which we should pay attention. It would be easy to pull out the old scriptural justification and piously intone “wherever two or three are gathered, there is Christ in our midst” - so let us not worry about the numbers! But on the other hand, maybe this is cause for pause and a chance to reflect on what we are doing (or not doing) as a church in terms of engaging people and making this a community where people want to show up.
I know that the reasons people don’t make it to a particular church service are legion. And it is always difficult for me to ask folks for their reasons without inflicting guilt. It is painful for me to see that sinking look on someone’s face as I approach them in the grocery aisle – for the person so often feels they have to explain their absences…. and I never want to be thought of like the school principal calling the truants to account. I do, however, want to invite people to make church involvement and relationship with God priorities in life.
The crucial, double-edged question is: how do we inspire commitment without inflicting guilt? And probably the best answer (as it so often is) is by example. People are inspired when they see a congregation that takes its faith seriously in terms of attendance at worship and engagement with the world. If we, as regular attenders, are willing to forego other activities on Sunday mornings then it says something to our neighbours and friends. If we, as Pacific Spirit United Church, are seen living out our faith by working in organizations and causes that make the earth greener and society more just, then the community takes notice.
In this continuing season of thanksgiving and stewardship, I invite you to consider your commitment to our faith community, and what that might mean in terms of your attendance, and your life.
Blessings without guilt,
Maggie, for the Ministry Team
September 27th, 2019
Some people brought their children to Jesus, so that he could place his hands on them and pray for them. His disciples told the people to stop bothering him. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and don’t try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.”[b] 15 . Matthew 19:13-14
Children have been much on my mind this week as the news is filled with stories of a Global Climate Strike. Businesses, schools and institutions all over the world are taking to the streets on Friday to point to a ground-shaking turnaround that needs to happen in our global economic order. Otherwise, we will not be able to avert catastrophic effects from inaction on climate change. At the centre of this movement is a 16 year-old Swedish girl who is bringing her anger and fears to the most powerful policy makers on the planet. Greta Thunberg and her generation will not be set aside.
At the same time, September 30 marks the seventh year we have commemorated Orange Shirt Day. A day that recalls the destruction in the lives of children who were taken into the Canadian residential school system; a process by which they lost so much including their language, their relationships, their safety, their hair, their identity and their clothing.
The Orange shirt was at the centre of a story told by Phyllis Webstad of Williams Lake, when as a 6-year-old she excitedly chose to wear that colour shirt for her first day of school. It was taken from her, and she never saw it again. Orange Shirt Day asks us to recall the reality and legacy of the Residential School System, and to boldly proclaim with our words and our lives, “Every Child Matters.”
I have always liked the story of Jesus who wanted the children near him, when others thought he had more important things to do, more significant people to see. The children of this world need engaged, strong and hopeful adults in their lives. Adults who bless them, not only with our prayers, but our muscle. The kingdom of God…the way the world would be if God were leading and not the present leaders…is in the ones who are like those children.
If you have an orange shirt to wear on Sunday, bring it, wear it, share the message:
Every child matters. And we, who follow in the way of Jesus, bring our faithful action to that hope.
(for the ministry team)
September 20th, 2019
Living out the Inclusion Vision – it’s bigger and tougher than you’d think!
This Sunday we get to celebrate becoming an officially (big “A”) Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Canada…. And many have expressed to me the sentiment that it feels like a bit of formality because, really, we were already “welcoming of everyone”. And I do give thanks for the many ways that Pacific Spirit and its heritage congregations have been leaders in welcoming and affirming the LGBTQ+ community.
The challenge comes in trying to do a both/and kind of welcome.
How do we truly make welcome:
…both people who are homosexual AND people who are homophobic?
....those who have a more orthodox faith AND those who want to sing to the Mother Gaia?
…people who have a passion for justice that they want to speak about every week AND people who don’t want to have to listen to it?
…people who want to host fundraisers to aid in the finances of the church, AND those who feel that cost should never be a barrier to attending a church function?
…people who have a penchant for close personal space and signs of affection AND people who don’t want to be touched?
…and not to sound too trivial or trite, but people who need to wear an anti-allergic cream that carries a scent AND those for whom even the slightest scent sets off an allergic reaction?!
For as soon as you have a community of individuals you have differing needs and competing rights. I remember writing a paper in theological school where I tried to examine the similarities between moral imperatives and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As I ran back and forth between the UBC Law Library and the VST Religious Library (which, by the way, were located in close proximity, at the time), I realized that there was more competition than cohesion between the two. Rights language really doesn’t get us very far in terms of living in harmony. When my neighbour’s right to free speech means they say something that I have a right not to hear - the only solution is for us to stay far apart. Our hope in the church is that we will not only come together and stay together, but actually love each other despite our differences.
I guess that is why being part of the church calls for radical love and a sometimes uncomfortable pew. It means sometimes letting go of your “druthers”, and even your rights, to think about the rights (and needs and comfort and love) of others.
Please know you have a right not to read this message… but somehow, I hope you do.
More than that, I really hope you join us this Sunday for the Celebration of being an Affirming Ministry – as we continue to live into what it means to be affirming and inclusive of all peoples.