Thursday, September 23, 2010

Today's number is:






Happy Birthday Ms. H !!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sermon for the 170th (and last) Anniversary of Lingelbach United Church




It’s funny – this building, this place is an important part of my history and heritage, I’ve passed it countless times on going to and fro on the highway ... I’ve stood numerous times in the cemetary visiting the graves of my dad, my grandparents, and assorted family members who lie there ... I’ve been honoured on a few occassions to come and stand here and preside at worship with you – I can visualize Uncle Bruce sitting in the backrow with a goofy smile listening ... I also know this is the place my family has called home for generations. Funerals, marriage, baptisms, all of the transitions of life have been marked here by the Ankenmanns and the other families who over the 170 years have called this home ...

Lingelbach even began life on our old home farm across the road ... I remember Grandma telling me as a kid that the first services for the church happened in the old stone building that used to lie behind the house. They gathered there until they could build their own building, she said before it caved in on itself – it was the first church.

When we look back over the history – our history – as a people there have been many changes ... services were first conducted in German ... the name on the outside changed from Evangelical to United Evangelical Brethren to United ... the fortunes and attendance has risen and fallen ... and the clergy folks who served here has included some memorable characters like EUB’er Mervyn Reuber and Paul Erb ... but through it all, one thing remained constant – the little yellow brick church on the north side of the highway, and the dedication of the people who called it home ...

Churches are funny things. We don’t really think about what they represent to our lives, or to the community around us until they are threatened, or until something happens ... as one who has watched a church building consumed by fire, and who later that same year helped pack and move the boxes containing the accumulated history of another EUB congregation in Stratford, I’ve come to realize that as important as the physical structure are, Churches are far more than their buildings.

We often sing the little kids ditty that says “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the chuch is not a meeting place ... the Church is a people ...” It then goes on to say – “I am the Church, you are the Church, we are the Church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world. Yes, we’re the Church together.”

We are the Church.

We are people who have called Lingelbach home for almost two centuries ...

We are the people who over countless cups to tea and coffee, through hundreds of weddings, funerals, baptisms and worship services have offered our ministry of care and faith to each other, and to the world around us ...

We are the people who in the coming days will continue to be The Church regardless of where we stand or sit, or where we worship ...

There is an indelible mark – a ribbon that unites us through our common faith, our common heritage, and our common story – and that ribbon will not simply pass away.

When I lived and ministered amongst the Nuxalk people of the North-West Coast, I learned about something they called Smayusta – literally The Story.

The Smayusta is the accumulated narrative of the Nuxalk people – their legends, their myths, their understanding of the world and the cosmos, their songs, their dances, their place in the world ... the smayusta informs the people about every aspect of life – it is their history, their heritage and most of all their legacy handed down from generation to generations. The Smayusta is who they are and what makes them different ...

Every community has a smayusta. The stories we recount when we look back – the events and happenings that have become legends – the moments when we smile and remember what happened when ...

When I preside at funerals and memorials I firmly believe that the most important work – the truly holy work of that service doesn’t happen in the Sanctuary or the chapel, but rather happens afterwards when people gather with a cup of coffee or tea in their hands, or on some occassions a beer or a glass of wine ,,, and they have that conversation that goes something like this:

I remember when ...

And the person facing them says, “oh yeah,” with a smile and adds, “I remember that, and do you remember when ...” and they relate another anecdote ... and so it goes – back and forth, story adding to story as a life is celebrated through remembrance, and for a wonderful and holy moment tears and sorrow are pushed back and life is truly and completely celebrated.

And so, our task in the waning months of life as Lingelbach United Church is not to mourn what we are losing – but rather to celebrate what we and our community has gained over the last 170 years ... our task is to engage in that conversation that begins “I remember when ...”

“Oh yeah, ... and I remember ...”

And in the process we reclaim our past, celebrate our present and entrust into God’s keeping our future ... So long as we remember where we’ve come from The Church that IS Lingelbach United Church continues to live and breath and share its ministry.

I remember the week before I headed to Windsor for my ordination service in 1993. I was puttering around the yard when a car pulled in and Reverend Reuber waved me to the car ... he and I sat and talked for hours that night ... in that moment he became a friend and a mentor and he shared his reflections about ministry, and our common heritage as children of the EUB ... What I remember most clearly was him saying with a smile – “Your name – ANKENMANN, It’s German. It’s EUB. Don’t be ashamed of that, and never forget that ...”

He then went on to describe what the EUB church meant to him, and he said – “you’ll be the last one you know?”

“The last one what?” I asked.

“You’ll be the last EUB’er ... I’m the oldest still standing,” he observed, “and you were born just before Church union. So you’ll be the last one ... be proud of that. Tell everyone that the EUB Church isn’t gone yet ...”

In the few years between that moment and his death, Rev. Reuber and I exchanged a number of letters, particularly when things in ministry got challenging and tough for me. One of his tid-bits of wisdom stands out for me and has become part of my view of the world and the role of the Church.

He wrote one day – “we make a mistake when we want the church to be a namby-pamby social club where everyone gets a warm pink fuzzy hug. We’re the Body of Christ, called to witness to the DEATH and Resurrection of Christ. We’re CALLED to afflict the comfortable, and to comfort the afflicted. We need to stop making apologies and trying to make sure no one gets thier feelings hurt, but instead go out into the world and be faithful KNOWING that is till hurt and offend some, and it will comfort and welcome others ...”

He then went on to talk about how fundamentally, the EUB was different in that ... Reverend Reuber perhaps more than any one else opened my eyes to the necessity for a prophetic voice in our modern Church – a voice that stands outside the power and structures and asks the tough questions that no one else really wants to ask for fear of causing offense.

Faith is about boldness and courage.

Faith is about living out the words we say over and over ...

Faith is about confronting moments like this – preparing to say Good Bye, and continuing to live ...

I’ve often quoted American physician Patch Adams who observed that life is a gift, and that he is surprised that anyone every wastes even a moment of life ... go out and live life fully and unapologetically he urges.

I first encountered this reading around the time I was preparing the funeral service for a 42 year old woman who was dying of lung cancer ... she had been a nurse, raised dalmatians and lived her life fully – surrounded by family and friends ... as she approached death she embraced the concept of WHY waste a moment ... to the very end she was doing the things she liked to do surrounded by family and friends ...

My journey in ministry has at times been challenging. There has been more than a few ups and downs and some unexpected bumps along the way ... I have had moments when I sat feeling utterly alone and wondering where God had gone ... yet through it all, even the deepest darkest moment came the realization that as our United Church creed says – “we are not alone ...”

The holy breaks thru.

Light dispels the darkness.

Fellow pilgrims arrive on the scene, often unexpectedly, and unintentionally, and they reveal the very presence of God by their words and actions ...

At the end of the day – this is the Church in action.

The church is not fixed to a place, nor does it need a specific building. The church is what we do when we live our worship services and go back into the world.

The Church is what we – you and I – do with our faith.

The legacy of Lingelbach will remain so long as we share and live our faith. The legacy of Lingelbach will remain so long as we continue to share the stories of who we are and who we have been – stories of our past and how we became the community of faith that we are and will continue to be.

It is never easy to say good bye ... and the prospect of shutting the door and turning off the lights one last time has little appeal ... yet, we remain a people of the Resurrection.

In the face of death and darkness we proclaim life and light.

As a people of the Resurrection we KNOW in the very fibre of our beings, that God isn’t abandoning us, but is instead calling us to a new ministry – a new way of being Church.

The first step is knowing the foundation on which everything else stands ... knowing our roots, our history, our heritage so we can carry forward what it valuable and important, and leave everything else behind.

Reverend Reuber sitting with me before I left for my ordination service helped to underscore the importance of celebrating and holding on to our roots as EUB’ers. There was and is something special and different about the EUB tradition – we brought more than just two nice church camps into Union despite what the official history says ... we brought a grounding and a passion for faith that comes from our background ...

We are, as Reverend Reuber said – German, and we are predominantly rural, descendents of the folks who came and with blood, sweat and tears earned a living from the land around us ... the view of the world and faith was influenced and coloured by that ... our way of living our faith in the world is influenced by that ... the challenge from here is for the legacy of Lingelbach church to continue as we continue to tell the stories that forged and shaped us, and as we continue to live and share our faith regardless of where we go ...

The seeds have been planted and nurtured, our task is to bring in the harvest and to continue to sow and plant for the future ...
May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...