Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 10, 2012 - Reflection by Peter Lee

June 10, 2012
87th Anniversary of The United Church of Canada

I often like to be challenged; last weekend I travelled to Oliver with my youngest daughter to participate in an athletic event on Sunday morning. At 7 AM, along with 1000 other people, we swam 2K, followed by a 90 K bike ride, and then we ran for 21.1 K or a half marathon. But when I we tell story about athletic challenges-this is something I train for, I prepare for, I enjoy, so I feel somewhat in my element and I believe I can achieve it. It helps to eliminate the self doubt.
When I was contemplating the writing and delivery of this reflection though, I was asking myself what would be the greater challenge for me between these 2 activities?
I think we tend to always feel challenged when we move out of our element, our comfort zone, whether that be by doing something, or by meeting someone or by representing something, that is out of the normal day to day routine. Where we have to think and act outside the lines. We often feel inadequate, vulnerable, uncomfortable, weak. We know it takes preparation, planning and believing. It takes courage.
That's one of the reasons I like our purpose statement, "We dare to live the way of Jesus, embodying the love of God". Because the first thing someone might ask is "How Dare You?" Or, "I dare you to..." Its a challenge. To love your fellow human, or all creations; and sometimes we don't get it right and we are continually forgiven. You are being challenged again. We dare, we have the inner courage to dare, the inner strength to persevere. It takes resolve and your belief that you can. This Christianity, it's a tough business to be in.
Someone once said the greatest strength of any organization is its ability to adapt to change. The challenges brought about by the possibility of change and what it might represent.
When we look at the institutions that survive and the ones that don't, we often find that it in the difference between those who are willing to put everything up for grabs including abandoning their core values, their raison d'√™tre; and those who didn't.
In today's world, we can't seem to slow down, we write things off as being obsolete and throw them away in a desperate need to stay relevant in a world that is demanding constant change, with those that survive and those that don't. While we seem to think that technology is enabling a global community and connecting us more than ever, it is alienating us as a people by undermining the need for human contact and socialization, that fundamental human need. We have therefore come to believe that to be strong and sustainable we must have the ability to rapidly adapt to change.
So when we think about the United Church of Canada and its 87 years, we wonder if it and organized religion generally, will survive another 87 years. From the website — "The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. We minister to close to 3 million people in over 3500 congregations across the country." By my math that represents about 8.6% of all Canadians. But 70% of Canadians live in cities with populations over 100,000 and nearly 50% of Canada's population of 34.8 million people live in only six cities: Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto and Montreal. And yet, 50% of United Church congregations and 30% of its members are in communities with populations fewer than 2,000 people." There's no question that sustainability is an issue. There are challenges to be sure. The question is continually asked, "Why don't people come to church, why don't they worship?"
The question is self evident if people do not feel they have a purpose in coming, if they don't feel they are welcome or that they belong. In a time when many of our membership is aging and their traditions are founded in attending a church from when they were born, many young people are coming from a place where they have little or no experience with attending church as children. The institution of the church is foreign to them, and many do not perceive the value of attending regular service.
Who has the greater challenge? The person who walks through the front door of the church for the first time to attend Sunday service or, those of us waiting inside to embrace them? The anxious anticipation of something new.
And yet this place of worship is a welcoming place, reaching out to the community in so many ways, 7 days a week. The bridge between our church as a community facility and, as a place of worship is still not fully connected for many people. It is a challenge for us that we continue to strive for.
We are so efficient as we all try to keep up with the pace of change, we seem to be so eager to get caught up in change and dispense with what is identified as no longer being relevant to the new world order, It had its day, it was a pillar of society in its heyday, but not so much now, its lost its market share; we consider these things as we would a corporate entity in a competitive global marketplace.
Sometimes we lose sight of our core values in our attempts to rush to a new approach. But the truth is, the more we change the greater our need for stability. What was our original purpose for being relevant anyway? Core beliefs and values don't change. We are not a retail business; we need not be obsessed with our numbers; that in itself is counter to our spiritual belief; to the humility of spirituality.
But we have made the United Church into so much more than what happens within our buildings. It's about the people who are beyond our doors, the ones whose lives we help to heal, the ones we help to support , the ones who have no voice or power, in our community and globally. In our own humility we reach out to help, we do make a difference, because our beliefs go beyond ethics, politics, they go beyond compassion, they go much deeper to the point where we recognize the inalienable right of every human to be loved and to receive love; and we respond to that need. We centre our direction on the focal point of human love. The United Church is the enabler for us to achieve that purpose.
The United Churches record on human rights and social justice, welcoming diversity, inclusiveness, its entire range of policy positions and its advocacy on them are all reasons, I think, we want to be a part of this Christian community. We dare to be party to this. We believe.
The sometimes controversial positions this church has taken over its 87 years history have not always been perfect but have been courageous because they have been centred on the human need and not what the organizational consequences or impacts to the bottom line might be, what would be the secondary outcomes, the collateral damage? It was the principled decision based on what Christ would have us do. There is nothing that could make us more proud than that.
Our United Church moderator, Mardi Tindal is currently travelling across Canada by train to engage Canadians on the issue of climate change. Getting perspective from people about God's creation.
"We know we have been far from perfect as church. For our failings, we ask your forgiveness—for the harm we have done to First Nations, for our neglect of our mission, for our insecurity and our lack of generosity. For not being whole—and for choosing to remain that way—forgive us, we pray."
We sometimes worry in modern society that the "Word is not being Heard". The position of the United Church of Canada on the Bible and Scripture gives us the direction to be challenged:
" However we approach the Bible, it confirms our identity as Christians and provides us with stories and literature through which God continues to speak. It is through scripture that we frequently hear the Word of God naming, calling, challenging, and redeeming us. The Spirit of God uses this literature and metaphors to speak to our spirits, inviting us into wholeness, renewal, and new life. So now let us listen to ancient words, so the living Word of God might be heard among us afresh."
Songwriters—the prophets of our times, like Sarah McLaughlin, one of the most influential songwriters of the last decade, writes in her song, World on Fire:
I watch the heavens but I find no calling
Something I can do to change what's coming
Stay close to me while the sky is falling
Don't wanna be left alone, don't wanna be alone

The more we take, the less we become
The fortune of one that means less for some
We tend to forget that the Word is all around us, and people are listening. As we listen outside these walls we realize The Word is all around us, expressed in so many ways. We are in a world full of questions, what is the right thing to do? What would be the Christian thing to do? What would God have us do?
And, in our own Nelson United Church we experience these same challenges.
"The decades of the 80's and 90's were difficult ones for the United Church. Declining Sunday Schools and attendance, changes in the social make-up of Nelson and re-evaluation of priorities meant challenges for both Fairview and St. Paul's-Trinity congregations. To meet these challenges it was determined that the two churches amalgamate. On July 2, 1995, by the amalgamation of Fairview United Church and St. Paul's-Trinity United Church, with the Rev. David Boyd as it's first minister, Nelson United Church was constituted."—17 years ago...
And so we turn to our United Church and think about what does it mean for each of us as members of the Christian community? When we look to the back of the sanctuary, you will see the banners celebrating the Pentecost, the second Sunday in our holy season. At the beginning of July these will be replaced with the five chancel banners of PeaceLoveJoyHope and Song. Bob Emory made those. For most of the calendar year when we attend services we see these beautiful banners, they are the words of our ministry; they represent the actions of the church community. They are beautiful and reflect a desired state. They are the words of Christ and what he or she represents; they are the words of his realm. But those words have opposites: WarHateSadnessRemorse and Silence. We continually live in the space between these words; and our Christian mission is to journey between, to be challenged, and to have the courage to believe. From war to peace, from hatred to joy, from remorse to hope and from silence to song.
We render those things to God in our love for our fellow person and all that has been created by God. That is our mission and that is what will sustain us.
This is the challenge of our ministry, the church is in each one of us; this is where we are dared to live the way of Jesus; the fire that burns bright within us; it's where we belong and where we welcome others. We are not alone; we are coming home.
Happy Birthday United Church!
May it be so, Amen
"For the church as it is today, we ask your blessing, and for our interfaith relations. Inspire us anew with a passion for your gospel and with wondrous knowledge of your love. Bless us with aliveness and with joy, and with a heart and vision for mission. Bless our Anniversary partners, our global partners, and the whole church, we pray."
A New Creed:
We are not alone,
We live in God's world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God's presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope. 

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.
    Thanks be to God.

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