Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sermon for October 31st 2010 - Anniversary Sunday for St John's United Church, Flesherton Ontario

The story of Jesus Christ is this:
The people of this earth waited for a Messiah ... a Saviour ...
and only God would send a little baby king.
The child grew and began to question things as they were,
and ther man moved through his days and through this world,
questioning the system of kings and priests and marketplace.
He was called the New Creation, the New Covenant, the son of God,
who brought to all who listened, who saw, who understood
change and new life.
But Kings and corporations and churches of this world work very hard
to keep things as they are out into forever – AMEN.
And so they killed him, he who said Love one another
he who said feed my sheep.
For they didn’t want to share their bread and their wine.
Now the story should have ended there
except that the story has always been
that our God is the God of the Covenant.
The Good News is that in spite of our faithfulness - God is faithful,
And Jesus Christ was resurrected for God so loved the world
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believed might have everlasting life.
Listen you who have ears to hear,
Listen and sit down to bread and wine with strangers.
Feed his sheep ... love one another, and claim new life in his name.

We are those who are part of the story and heritage of this place – this congregation, this community, this building – this gathering we call The Church, who are here to claim and to share and most of all, to celebrate the new life offered in the name of the Risen Christ ...

For 148 years, a Church community has been part of the fabric of the community of Flesherton. 133 years in this building, going through the many changes and challenges that have been part of the history and heritage and the story of this place ... and oh, what a story it is ...

I spent part of this past week digging through drawers and cupboards in the offices and the upstairs fellowship room, and I unearthed a few wonderful treasures that provide a glimpse into the history of this place, and some of the happenings that have created this community of faith ...

It started with a reference to the first visits by the Methodist Circuit rider who was assigned to this area in 1850 ... it was noted in a brief history compiled my Irene Field that The Reverend S. Brownell came “with his library and toilet arrangements on his back” and travelled up and down the lines ministering to the people ... while most of his services were held in houses and school houses in the area, his very first communion – divine service – was held at Munshaw’s Bar !!

The building of the first timber framed Church which was located downtown not far from the current stop lights, began in 1860, and services were held in the building before its completion in 1861.

In 1874 the two Methodist groups – the Wesleyans and the New Connexion joined as one, and began dreaming of the future. In early 1877 the decision was made to build a new 40’ x 60’ foot brick building on a lot of land purchased from Mr Flesher himself.

History tells us that the corner stone was laid on May 24th 1877 and with 110,000 bricks made by Thomas Bowler of The East Backline and sold for $7 per thousand. Then rounding out the costs was brick laying at $3 per 1000, $150 dollars for the stone basement, $120 for window glazing, $75 for hardware (I don’t think the Duncan’s were in the hardware biz yet though), $300 for the roof, and 8000 board feet of lumber ... On November 11th 1877 the new building was opened and dedicated.

The services and celebration of dedication spanned two weeks of happenings – not unlike the 50th Anniversary service held in 1937. One significant footnote of the original dedication service was the delivery of the sermon by The Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson, the grand old man of Canadian Methodism in Upper Canada and the Province of Ontario ... Having Ryerson come here is a notable occasion.

I did a quick study of Ryerson’s life and learned quite a lot ... in 1836 he founded Upper Canada Academy in Coburg, in 1841 he became principal of Victoria College in Toronto, and in 1847 he founded The Normal School in St James Square in Toronto, which today is part of the University that bears Ryerson’s name.

Ryerson also founded the Christian Guardian in 1829, which would in time form the foundation of the modern United Church publication – The Observer, and in 1844 he became the superintendent of education for the Province of Upper Canada, a position he held until his retirement in 1876. As superintendent Ryerson was responsible for the establishment of the various School Acts that established Ontario’s education system as a world leader in revolutionary education innovation that has many aspects continuing to this day in our schools.

Having The Rev. Dr. Ryerson come to preside at the dedication services for this building is astounding – his term as Superintendent of Education had ended, and his tenure as President of the Methodist Church in Canada was winding down ... and here he stood marking the opening of this building !!

These people who lived six generations back and I(Us) ...
We are linked forever throughout history.
We are the flesh of their flesh, but even more,
We are the heart of their hearts,
For who they are, they gave away to those of us who followed ...
And the children of Israel (back generation after generation after generation)
And I are linked together throughout eternity,
For in the beginning was the Word
And through time the Word is spoken.
Those who hear the story live abundantly,
The love of God written on their hearts ...

Yet, as great as that moment might have been – as significant as the opening of this beautiful building was – it was merely the beginning of a new chapter in the life and work of this faith community ... After the building opened, the ministry of the faith community continued.

Digging in the drawers I found some other interesting tidbits of our history – our story ...

In 1898, the Womans’ Missionary Society of St John’s marked the death of Mr Flesher by sending his widow a beautiful letter that reads in part, “When we think of your dear husband’s constant Christian life, we feel assured that he has entered the holy of holies and beholds the King in his beauty and while you are left to mourn his loss – yet you have the unspeakable comfort of knowing that your loss is his gain. Earnestly, we petition our Father to comfort you in this sore bereavement and sustain you by His grace and mayyou be enabled to to claim the promises He has given to the widow and the fatherless ...”

The letter was signed by twelve members of the society.

In 1901, a letter was sent to the Trustees of the Church suggesting the placement of a private telephone line from the church to the home of J. Blackburns to allow him “to hear the gospel preached from Sabbath to Sabbath.” The letter was requesting the “most serious” approval and support of the Trustees.

Other tid-bits that turned up in my poking around in old files include the receipt issued in March of 1911, to Mr Bellamy for two years of RENT on pew #6 for the sum of $5. As I read this, I thought of the hymn ‘Come in and Sit Down’ that proudly proclaims – “no body here has a claim on a pew.” Apparently, that wasn’t the case in the past ... you not only claimed a pew, you paid rent for the privilege of USING a pew !

In September of 1888, a Mr Fred Ryder tendered for the construction of a new parsonage that was located at the corner of what is now Toronto Rd and Campbell St, where the Bell Canada building now stands ... Mr Ryder estimated it would take 12000 bricks, 60 bushels of lime, 8 yards of sand and he would build the house for $65 dollars for his labour. On the flip side, the total cost of the house was recorded: $65 for brickwork, $80 for the bricks, $7.50 for the lime, and $4.50 for the nails. Adding to this total of $157 were the expenses of $30 for shingles, $3.00 for more nails, $8.00 for tar paper, $35 for the shingling, and $5.00 for the chimneys – rounding off the price of the house at a whooping $238.00!!

A small photo of the house taken sometime in the 1920’s noted on the reverse that the house served as a manse – parsonage until sometime in the early 1920’s when the manse behind the current legion was purchased ... to me there is something delightfully ironic at being able to stand in my kitchen and look out the site where my predecessors once called home. In truth, I wrote much of this sermon sitting at my dining room table with both the parsonage site and the church steeple visible from where I sat ...

I’ve never understood those who say they don’t need the Church.
Mine is a profound need to worship and to live ...
... in solidarity with the community of the faithful.
Of course, I can pray by myself and make decisions by myself,
but it has to be in the context of the covenant that you and I have with God.
To love mercy in the midst of the unmerciful,
to do justice in the jaws of injustice,
to be humbly aware of God’s grace
Takes constant communion with God and the community.
To me, being faithful assumes LIFE in this community
which Christ called his Church.
To me the church is home ...

This place is our home. This Church and its many stories is our home – the place we find life ... sharing the Good News is what first drew people together to form a community of faith – it is what lead them to create this magnificent structure and it is what has kept us together worshipping, ministering and living together as a faith community. The story of this place has not been lacking in its challenges and its set backs ... there are tales of fights and decisions that were less than kind in their outcome, but despite it all, or perhaps IN SPITE of it all – St John’s as a building, a community, a church and a gathering of faithful people remains part of the fabric of Flesherton, and active in its mission to the territory first claimed by Rev. Brownell with his library and toilet arrangements on his back !!

We are part of a legacy of faith that stretches across a vast distance of time and space and that continues far beyond this moment. We, like the members, adherents, and clergy who are part of the history of this place, are part of a great cloud of witnesses who have strived day by day, step by step, and week by week, to share the Good News of the Gospel with our community and our world. We are part of the story – and the story is part of us ...

In the absence of a burning bush or a blinding light or a voice that claims us,
how does one know for sure that it is God who is calling?
Of course, the question could be asked:
How does one know anything for sure?
Perhaps this is where faith comes in ...
... and hope ... and love ... and prayer without ceasing ...
I do know that when the hand of God is laid on the should of our lives
somehow we do know.
We are even given the boldness to say,
“Here am I. Send me.”

The history of this place – this people – this Church, continues ... in 140 years perhaps another generation will gather to remember the fellowship, the knitting group, the dinners, the outreach, the Sunday school programme and the many things that we do, and continue to do as The Church ... in 140 years they will dig through the drawers and cupboards of this place and use the assorted pages and papers they find to speak reverently of our work and our ministry and to give thanks that we actively chose to live the calling of faith and respond in joy to the ministry God placed in our hands ...

May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...

(italicized poems are by Ann Weems and found in her book "Family Faith Stories")

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