Monday, April 02, 2012

A Palm Sunday Epiphany !!!

Yesterday, as I lounged after a VERY long and VERY busy day I had a realization that has connected my past to my present, and is informative to my future path in ministry ...

It began with a conversation at the 80th Birthday celebration for one of our parishoners when a couple who come to our services periodically offered a very profound and humbling compliment. With a broad smile, they said "you know we really enjoy coming to your worship services because it's a good community, and you put so much into every service ..." they then went on to say that they feel that as a minister I come with a deep presence of the Spirit in all that I do, and that joy shows ...

The husband reflected that often clergy seem to be mailing in their services, and don't engage the people or make it seem like they even care ... we chatted about that sad reality in too many corners of the Church and I offered that my ministry foundations rest on the examples of Wes, Mervyn, Ross, Bob, Bill, Barrie, Margaret, and Fr. Brian, who left indelible impressions on me and what I strive to do in ministry ... each of those esteemed mentor and friends were not in this profession because it was a job, they were here because THEY WERE CALLED to the ROLE of minister, and in the process they never avoided the role of Minister as Prophet, nor were they afraid of the radical inclusivity that comes with preaching, proclaiming and celebrating the Gospel.

As a result, I approach Ministry with a deep enthusiasm and passion. I see the necessity for the Church to throw the doors wide and welcome in ALL PEOPLE, not just a select few. I value the radical welcome that we live when we step AWAY from the rules and procedure and dogmas, and let the Spirit guide us ...

Because of the examples of the folks I cited above, I really don't fit in the modern Institution called The Church ... my values are the values we speak, but NOT live ... my world view of The Church is what we find when we read the Scriptures and reflect on our history and heritage, but are NOT what is lived day in and day out in the Institution ...

BUT, yesterday I had an epiphany moment that causes me to celebrate that difference:

I was cruising the internet and visiting web pages of Congregations across Canada. I read their mission statements, newsletters and policies ... and I truly, truly, truly marvelled at the incredible disconnect between the values in the Mission statements and the restrictions found in their wedding, baptism and funeral policies.

On one hand, Churches will ALWAYS say "we are a warm and welcoming community" and stress that everyong is invited to come and join them ... but then I read policies for celebrations that stress the 'IMPORTANCE of one or both partners to be involved in the life of the Congregation.'

On the surface this seems legitimate and okay, but when you step back and really think about this you can't help but see the contradiction between the Mission statement and the PRACTICAL application of that Mission.

How can we say "all welcome", then apply an asterix that limits access to celebrations like Baptism, Weddings and Funerals??

What was more telling to me though, was reading in these congregations the struggles they were having financially ... "all welcome" hangs on the sign outside, but newcomers have to follow certain policies and expectations, and the Congregations wonders why new people aren't coming, staying and being involved? AND as a result they are struggling ...

ALL of this goes directly against EVERYTHING the Church stands for, and that we've been celebrating in our hymns, our liturgies, our creeds and our theological studies for the last fifty years.

The need to loosen the reigns is NOT new.

It was identified in the 1980's by Gordon Turner when he wrote "Outside Looking In" and used the material gathered by dozens of Chruch researchers since the Second World War.

I've sat and read through pages and pages and pages of those previous studies, as well as the words of Turner and Bibby, who have offered a distinctly Canadian stance on Churches and faith in the modern era.

The bottom line for me is found in the evidence that we too often choose to ignore ...

This week at our Council Meeting here in Flesherton I shared the postings that I and Blake (The Laughing Pastor) have offered and shared about recent events in his ministry, and the response from the table was incredibly postive and celebratory. From a distance the folks here in Flesherton affirmed (truly) the Ministry Blake and Pleasantville are discovering together!!

In the days since, I've witnessed a community here that values opening the door and reaching out in care and love to the greater community around itself ... our Market and Bazaar this past weekend continued the intentional and welcoming outreach by offering coffee, muffins and a place to gather on a weekend afternoon ... then this weekend we acknowledged and embraced the profound sadness that has enveloped our community through the tragic events on a nearby highway ... and then over coffee, tea and all the fixings, a milestone was marked and celebrated with community and joy ...

I won't say our community here is perfect - there are no perfect churches ... but the community here accepts their faults and shortcomings and instead of engaging in an anxious defensiveness (something Rabbi Friedman has written extensively about), they in turn smile, laugh and address the issue in a positive, affirming and welcoming way ... and that shows in the orientation of the community and its involvement in the greater community.

The folks here are not afraid to reach out.

They are not afraid to welcome in the stranger or the new comer.

They are not afraid to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy !!

They are not hung up on rules and regulations and limited access to celebrations like Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals.

The folks here see the principles of OUTREACH in everything they do from the prayer circle, through the events and happenings that are part of who we are ... and that Outreach means living the values and principles of faith without hesitation.

My Epiphany moment was realizing how fortunate I am to be in ministry with the folks here at St John's and Eugenia, because they understand what it means to die and experience a Resurrection, and instead of protecting that Holy Experience, they WANT to share it with others. AND that reality shows in the day to day details of our Congregational life including our financials !!!

The Resurrection is not something that needs to be protected. It is something that needs to be shared and LIVED, and I see the evidence of a community doing just THAT every day!!!

And as Holy Week unfold, I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to be here with them living that reality EVERY DAY !!!

It's been a long road, but for the first time in almost 2 decades I really feel like I've stepped out of the wilderness ...


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