Friday, March 31, 2006
The UCC of late has had a debate within it about the role and place of a union for its clergy. I have been opposed to the notion (for starters it would require a massive reorganization to make it happen), but I can appreciate the motivation and the feelings that lead to wanting a Union to protect our interests and keep us from being abused ...
While I'm not currently in a place where I am being abused, I've been in that place before, and it is not an enjoyable place to be ...
The issues for a Union are legion, but for some of us in ministry it is a matter of being appreciated and feeling valued for what we do ... Would teachers or factory workers continue to work for minimum wage after years and years of service?? Yet, many clergy continue to struggle financially while being paid at the minimums recommended by National. The comments like "you got a raise last year ..." when you went up a category, or the categories marked a whooping 1% increase, are insulting when you consider that for many of us it has require a 7 year commitment to university education (8 in the new system), and a leaving behind of one's family and many of one's support network and friends.
Comments offered even in jest like "buy less books," when you request an increase in your book/study allowance are cutting and insulting to the value we place on continuing our education.
Complicating the whole issue are clergy who say clearly "It's not about the money ..." I can't disagree with that, but when there is a lack of appreciation it becomes about alot more then just the money ...
Small gestures become significant ... small actions become important.
It is hurtful to be the last kid chosen in a sand lot ball game, and it is equally hurtful to knock yourself out only to have EVERYONE else thanked and acknowledged, but because you are the paid staff, you get over looked.
It is hurtful to have the lay leadership note the commitment and devotion of the other staff, offering them thanks and small tokens of appreciation, while as full time you get the same as the part timers, or nothing at all.
It is hurtful to work day in and day out only to be barraged by negative comments about the one little thing you missed that week, and criticizing you for what you didn't do with little or no acknowledgement of what you did do ...
It is hurtful to feel undervalued and under appreciated ... it happens quickly and subtly and it is devestating to the ministry personnel who care deeply about what they do ...
In ministry, it seems that everyone laments you when you announce you are going to leave, but too often they could care less when you slough day in and day out doing far more then what is expected or asked ... I suppose it is stupid to give more then what is asked of you, but in any other profession there would be a reward for hard work ... In ministry it seems that too often, the more you give the more is expected and the less you are appreciated ...
Today we continue to face a crisis of leadership in the United Church of Canada ... we lack new clergy to replace those of us who are resigning and moving on. I no longer wonder why. Too often the neglect of our Pastoral Relations and allowing angry and vindictive people to reign supreme have shortened many wonderful and creative ministries ...
Sadly, I doubt even naming the toxicity will help. I have a shelf of books on conflict in Churches and dealing with unhealthy behaviour ... I wonder if other clergy have the same experience of having the resources, but never seeing the wisdom put into action ... such are the vagaries of the Church.
If it dies by neglect, I wish it well and may actual mourn its passing, but I will look forward to what the Spirit will bring into being to replace it ... I doubt a Union is the answer, but I can appreciate why the question has been raised ... My only hope is that someday our lay people remember that we are people too, and we hurt and bleed and weep just like they do ... we are called by God into ministry, not into spiritual slavery ... and there is a BIG difference.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Tonight we fed over 360 people !!! An enormous number. And we came close to running out of food ... well, we ran out of things like turnips, gravy, stuffing and veggies ... thankfully we fed everyone and no one went away hungry ...
The best part of the night was watching a community come togethe to organize, prepare and serve the meal ... the kitchen was filled with people who rolled up their sleeves and washes, filled, bussed and sorted ... food flowed from the kitchen and the tables were filled. It was great.
There were friends from Rivers, Dauphin, Ochre River, Rivers, Strathclair, Brandon, and almost every point in between ... it was truly awesome. Many came to offer their support to our congregation and to get a meal. The wonderful weather today helped ... but whatever it was that drew the crowd, isn't as important as their presence there. They came, they ate and they helped all of us to continue rebuilding the sense of community that took a beating in the fire.
On the prairies dinners and meals are important ... hanging out on coffee row and getting caught up on the news is important ... any gathering with food and refreshments is important to the life of the community (why else are there community halls all across WestMan??). Tonight we've affirmed the strength of the community around us - thanks to all those who've come and shared a meal with us - and a HUGE thanks to those who made it happen ...
The church is alive and well in Minnedosa ... tonight we've proved it.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
It was quite interesting. We learned alot about the people in our community, and we also generated alot of conversation and interest in what we're about as a Church ... It helped to open some dialogue that reminded us that the Church isn't just the folks who gather on a Sunday morning in the sanctuary. The church is a wide circle of people who look to the Institution for a variety of things ...
Recently in Minnedosa we've come to appreciate the importance of a phone call ... Calls from our sister Church in Brandon Hills who bear the same burden of losing their structure to arson (apparently by the same suspects) ... calls from our leadership in Toronto and Winnipeg ... calls from people for whom the building once held great meaning ... Every phone call was appreciated and valued. Each underscored the simple truth that we say so easily, but sometimes find it challenging to live - the truth that says boldly: "we are NOT alone."
Today I emailed our United Church leadership in Toronto and encouraged them to call the folks in Hartley Bay to send their support and prayers and encouragement after the sinking and rescue operations for the Queen of the North ... in a community of 200, such an undertaking affects everyone. And yet in finest form the people of Hartley Bay rose to the occasion and offered those in need the best they had ... They even risked their own lives to race through the dark and retrieve those who evacuated the Queen as she sank ...
This summer's trip to Port Hardy will be different for our family ... we won't be watching for the Queen of the North as she steams into Hardy Bay around 11pm ... her lights and her presence will be missed ... Tonight I'm mindful that my last night in Port Hardy as a student, we met to review my 16 week internship there, and a heavy fog settled in over the bay. As we sat and discussed the ups and downs and twists and turns of my time in Port Hardy out on the bay echoed the mournful cry of the Queen of the North's fog horn ...
The sound was sad, but the outcome wasn't ... a year later Mag and I were married in Port Hardy, and the rest as we say is history ... and for me it all started with a phone call one weekend saying - "you're student internship site is Port Hardy BC ..." I had to get an atlas out to find it ... but I have few regrets. A phone call can be a powerful thing ...
Monday, March 20, 2006
It was published in the fall 2001 edition of the now defunct publication PMC (Practise of Ministry in Canada). On the suggestion of the friend, I dug out a copy and re-read it ... As I read it, I couldn't help but consider that many of the stanzas here are associated with real people ... for example, the baby discovering her hand is now a wonderful almost 7 year old, the three year old living the Holy Wow is a delightful 9 year old, and the Lego loving 5 year old is still a lego loving 11 year old ... Time has passed, but the reasons I enjoy and live in ministry remain ... It's all about the JOY:
I’m currently in ministry in Minnedosa Manitoba (population bout 3200). Minnedosa is a small rural community halfway between Brandon and Riding Mountain National Park on the Yellowhead Highway. The congregation has about 390 families under pastoral care with an active roll of about 150 families.
Ordained in 1993, I found myself searching for a call in the spring of 2000. As part of the process of applying and interviewing for a call, I was asked by a search committee to summarize my theology of ministry.
The result was something that I continue to feel embraces what my ministry has been about since my student days in Ontario and as a minister to the Nuxalk First Nations people in Bella Coola B.C. where the people live out their joy despite real and challenging social problems throughout the community, as well as in community based ministry in the Lower Mainland of B.C.
In Minnedosa, I have found a community that not only embraces the notion of joy, but has been living it out for many years. Deeply involved in the rural crisis gripping much of the prairie region, the people of Minnedosa also have a deep commitment to the Canadian Food Grains Bank, helping those in need through a church sponsored Food Cupboard, numerous community programmes, and the use of Fair Trade products.
On the personal side, I am the husband and partner to Mag, a registered nurse, the father to Sam, Hannah and Rebekkah, who along with two dogs, and two cats have called Minnedosa home for a little over a year.
In the last year, I have encountered again and again, God’s infinite joy through the community, my co-workers, and my family. When I wrote this, joy was a distant goal, but since then a joyous community has made it an ever present reality.
My Theology of Ministry:
I would describe my theology of ministry in one simple word: JOY.
The definition of Joy in a dictionary refers to great happiness, or a source of great delight, but I want to be clear: I do not see joy as pasting on a happy face and pretending that everything is lovely. To me, JOY is embracing life in its fullness and proclaiming with certainty that we are never separated from God’s love.
Among many things:
Joy is being a child of God.
Joy is being a husband and a dad.
Joy is being welcomed into the most intimate moments of life and being asked to pray, of just be present with family and friends.
Joy is the opportunity to hold someone’s hand in a moment of tragedy.
Joy is holding a new born baby, or baptizing an adopted child.
Joy is weeping with the hurting and laughing with a Bible Study group.
Joy is watching a baby discover, for the third time today, her hand.
Joy is seeing the world through the Holy Wow of a three year old child, who is discovering what a wonder creation is.
Joy is building Lego sets with a five year old, and wiping away his tears when he scrapes his knee falling off a bike.
Joy is crying over injustice and rejoicing that we have a community that truly cares about us.
Joy is having tea with an elder who shares her memories of a world seven decades away.
Joy is having a pop with a group of teens who think everything is “cool” or “awesome.”
Joy is struggling to find our way, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
Joy is leading a worship service erupting with the noise of children and quiet with the reflective wisdom of seniors.
Joy is the quiet presence of the cognitively impaired in a care home.
Joy is knowing that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Joy is the enthusiasm of welcoming in the visitor or the newcomer.
Joy is asking the tough questions and sometimes agreeing only to disagree, but knowing that we love each other anyway.
Joy is sharing the Gospel with the help of my puppet friends.
Joy is love eternal and everlasting.
Joy is knowing God’s love and being able to share it every day in some little way.
Joy is breaking bread and sharing the cup, then having a cup of coffee and a good chat afterwards.
Joy is planning a memorial service of a cancer victim, and sharing laughter and tears as a life is celebrated.
Joy is trusting one another enough to share life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that together we share God’s love.
Joy is embracing the homeless.
Joy is loving the unlovable.
Joy is praying for the sick and visiting the hospitalized.
Joy is making worship relevant, exciting and fun.
Joy is communication and community.
Joy is facing controversy and conflict and journeying to reflection, resolution and healing.
Joy is the ministry of all of God’s people.
Joy is being a servant of God journeying with God’s children and sharing the ups and downs of everyday life with openness, with honesty, and most of all with love.
Joy is making a difference in one life everyday.
Joy is the church, the children of God in action.
Joy is the journey of faith through all the twists and turns of life.
I could go on. But suffice to say, to me the theology of ministry is about doing, not taking. It is about using the gifts and talents which God provides to care for those around us and to welcome in all of God’s children.
A friend recently described my approach to ministry as “hospitality” and observed that I move to the periphery and work very hard to draw the circle in. He may be right. I value the outreach of the church, but sometimes we need to look close by and embrace those who are hurting right beside us in the pews, and that may be the toughest challenge we face, but it is a challenge I embrace and value.
To me, ministry is about action. It is doing, not theorizing. I’m not afraid of facing issues head-on, but at the end of the day, we must, as God’s children, be able to break bread and share the cup in faith, and if conflict prevents this, then we have to roll up our sleeves and work. I am not afraid of that.
It is not easy to summarize my theology of ministry on a couple of pieces of paper. Instead I am most comfortable going out into the world and living out my faith and ministry with JOY.
My understanding of ministry is living out the word JOY in all its infinite fullness.
Even in Minnedosa computers and cels are the rule of the day. In many ways, we can't do the work of the Church without the technology. Finances are done on the computer ... bulletins are done on the computer ... sermons are done on the computer ... even the lowly cel phone plays a role in keeping in touch with the community around us.
Our fire on Feb 12th showed the strengths and the weaknesses of our dependency on technology ... the fire cut off the telephone lines - yet, that simple fact didn't stop people from calling the Church phone number (bear with me on this - the fire leveled the building - yet, people continued to phone ... luckily for us, we had a phone company voice mail service, and not an answering machine) - nonetheless, for the first couple of days after the fire, I was able to check the voice mail from home, or from my cel phone. The cel phone too became indispensible in the days prior to establishing and getting an office running. It rang constantly and I have no doubt my air time is off the scale ...
Then in the hours and days that came right after the fire, the internet and the web became an equally indispensible means of communication. The blog I had established earlier for the posting of Church news quickly became a means of keeping our Church family around the world in touch with what was happening. The record of hits on the site meter I put on the blog site, had a wide variety of countries represented - from all over Canada, across the US, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Thailand and others ... People from around the world came and visited the blog.
Emails have come and gone from a wide variety of places. Words of encouragement and best wishes from across the United Church and from sisters and brothers of faith ... technology can be an amazing thing.
Rightly used it is a means of communications and even community ... wrongly used it can be a means of devestation and destruction ... Thankfully in Minnedosa recently we've proven the benefits of the technology around us.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
There are moments I have to wonder - WHY ??? Why bother teaching our children values that are based on respect, care and so forth?? Why not encourage the to embrace the ethos of the market - sieze the moment, take whatever is your, don't worry about anyone else, and do it for yourself cause no one else will look out for you ...
I wonder why it is that we are surprised when execs are caught with their hand in the cookies jar ... we fail to express our appreciation for a job well done ... and then our outraged when folks help themselves, or seek bigger and bigger rewards ... We can't have it both ways can we??
Either we teach our children respectful and caring attitudes, and treat others accordingly, or our world will continue to spiral into oblivion ... I fear that it is a lesson we might be too long in realizing ... I hope not though, but tonight I'm not so sure ...
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The windows had been dedicated in memory of the pioneers who settled Minnedosa 50 years earlier. With the help of bequests from two saints who had gone before us, and the hard work and generosity of people in Minnedosa and beyond - we had a two year period of renovations:
- the basement (new kitchen and washrooms with a revamped Centre)
- the windows
- the bell tower
Today those renovations have simply gone up in smoke ... makes you wonder why we should bother ... why put the work and effort into anything when in the blink of an eye a cold and calculating act can rob a comunity of its legacy ...
Yet, to do nothing - to sit on our hands and to not take a risk is letting the cold and calculating among us triumph ... as the saying goes: all that evil requires to triumph is for people of good faith (and conscience) to do NOTHING.
In Minnedosa, we can shrug our shoulders ... count our losses and take stock of our blessings and get on with the task ahead ... the next time we take a picture like the one above will be when the new windows are being installed in our new church ... it may be a few months away, but it WILL happen ...
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
It's funny how pictures taken incidentally suddenly can become cherished items ...
I have a photo of my dad on my office wall that was taken during his stag ... at his elbow is a bottle of beer, he's playing card and he's likely had a couple ... My Grandfather took it many years ago, and after he died, my Grandma gave it to me ... it is a cherished heirloom.
I have another photo of my dad taken in his police uniform. It was taken for a safety column in the local Stratford paper. It is the only picture I've ever seen of him in uniform ...
Lately I find myself searching out photos taken of the Church Building here in Minnedosa. The one to the left, is a photo I took last summer when my friend Garth was visiting from Jamaica. We went down to the church building one afternoon and took a photo for posterity's sake ... Today that photo has added meaning. It's special because it is a photo of a cherished friend, but it has added meaning, because the place he is standing no longer exists ... I hope in the coming days and weeks more and more incidental photos turn up, and we are able to share the imagery of a special place that is no longer.
The advantage, or blessing (to use a churchie term) right now is that the sanctuary and the heritage building that we've lost is still standing in our memories ... we can still sit in its pews, walk down it's aisles, and prowl through its stairs and hallways ... the fire hasn't robbed us of the memories, and it never will.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Not being in our own building means everything gets moved from one place to another ... if I forget something it could be disasterous ... who would have thought I would actually be using check lists??? (when I was a student way back in 91, my then supervisor recommended them and I scoffed ... sheesh, it took 15 years, but I see the wisdom in the recommendation ...)
Not being in our own building also means that my tendancy to do last minute prep has to be abandoned ... when you have to be in another building, seperate from your office and your computer - you have to be prepared in ADVANCE ...
Not being in our building means that the locale has a different feel - it's not the semi-circle of seating that we had ... it's a wonderful, friendly and great place - but it still isn't our home. I'm not advocating for a rapid redevelopment, but rather I want us to proceed slowly and carefully, and build a building and a space that is a HOME to us ... right now, we are temporarily homeles, and even though we have a borrowed space to offer our services - it's not HOME.
Like the Psalmist asks: "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" ... the land we're in now is friendly and wonderful and warm - but it is not OUR land ... We've been warmly welcomed in and given a place ... but it is not OUR home ...
As we celebrated a life and gave thanks for his legacy, I couldn't help but ponder, how much nicer the service would have flowed in our own sanctuary ... we'll never know for certain, but in time we will return to a home that is ours ... for now the journey of a pilgrim people continues ...
Thursday, March 02, 2006
The day, Ash Wednesday, ended with Mother Nature providing a heavy coating of white to cover the lot on which the building once stood ... like a canvas awaiting an artist, the lot will be a pristine white canvas awaiting the work of art that will in time rise from it once again ...
Today is a day of penitence and looking back ... today as a community we look back on what we've lost and we begin to look forward to what we have to gain ...
It's hard to realize that the grand old building that for 105 years has been at the heart of our faith community is actually gone ... I still head down the street and expect to see it, to step through the doors and go into the offices that were created just before our arrival here in 2000 ... I still have the keys on my key ring ...
I expect the vision in my head to be the reality in my eyes ... but there is a disconnect ... something we expected to remain for another Century or so, has been ruthlessly wrenched from us ... and like a family losing a loved one - we've lost an old friend ...
Today we haven't marked our foreheads with ashes ... today the fresh fallen snow has covered our ashes and invited us to move into the Lenten Journey that leads us to Easter ... our Lenten Journey may continue for a couple of years ... but we will one day stand gazing at a resurrected Church Building on Main St ... it may take time, but today the snow has offered us a canvas that is clean and blank ... the rest is up to the people of God who are temporarily homeless here in Minnedosa ...