Dedicating a “House of Prayer”

My work at Maranatha CRC, in York, ended on the last Sunday of October. I had fulfilled a year long contract as their interim pastor. A new full time pastor is on his way to the congregation. It was a good year!!!

For the entire time that I was there, construction was going on. First on a new sanctuary and then a complete renovation of the original facility. My time was over before the construction was finished. The Worship Committee of the church graciously invited me to return to lead the dedication service.

Yesterday, with a full house, we sang and made music, shared praise and prayer, listened to God’s word and were sent out into the world. It was an exciting morning. It was good to be there.

What follows is the text of the message, based on Matthew 21:12-17:

I’d like you to close your eyes for a moment.  I want you to picture Jesus. I want you to picture him during his ministry, right up to the time of the last supper.

In your mind’s eye you may see him walking with his disciples, head bent in conversation, you may see him sitting down to teach small groups and large crowds, or maybe squatting down writing in the dirt between an angry crowd and a crying woman,  maybe bending to mix water and dust together to apply to the eyes of a blind man,  or sitting at a well, dusty and hot, speaking about living water with a woman. Some of you I’m sure have visualized him seated with children on his lap.

You can open your eyes now.

Most of you would not have visualized Jesus a being particularly active.

That’s because the Jesus portrayed by the writers of the gospels, is not a man of action, not someone who runs to someone’s aid, who bravely fights enemies, who is an expert with weapons or even martial arts. Jesus is remembered for us as a moderate person, whose temper is well under control, who seems to move through the landscape without leaving much of a trace. He is shown as a person of compassion and contemplation.

That’s the Jesus our minds eye knows, the Jesus you likely imagined

Our Messiah is not a super hero in the way that we have come to know super heroes.

Until we come to this passage and suddenly there is action. Lets read together from Matthew 21:12-17 (New International Version)

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buyingand selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]

14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,

“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’[c]?”

17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

This passage displays a different Jesus than the one we have come to know  from much of the gospel record. Tables are over turned, lambs and doves are going in all directions, coins are rolling across the floor with money-changers and everyone else scuttling around to gather them up. And the noise; there are shouts of indignation from the merchants, anger from those buyers in the middle of their transactions, someone runs to get the temple guards, because it appears that this teacher from Galilee has just gone berserk, swinging a braided rope.

In one way or another, all of the gospel writers record this event. They don’t all agree on the order of events leading up to it, but all are very clear. God’s house, the temple and what happens there is viscerally important to Jesus. It brings out the far side of his emotional reactions. The temple, the place of worship, the place of gathering is extremely important to Jesus. I don’t think on a Sunday when we dedicate a new sanctuary and a re-purposed building, that Jesus passion about what happens here is any different at all, he is very passionate about what happens here, and how  this reflects on him and his Father, how it reflects on God.

Jesus calls the temple a house of prayer, In using these words he is quoting words written centuries before by Isaiah.  As often happens in the gospels, the words Jesus speaks are meant to invoke the memory of an earlier text, one that may have a little more detail,

these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:7 (NIV)

The “these” Isaiah is referring to in this passage are individuals who were being excluded from worshiping in the temple, specifically eunuchs and foreigners.  Isaiah is looking back all the way to Abraham’s call, all the way back to Genesis 12, where God promises the entire world would come to know God through Abraham’s descendants.

That promise is to be fulfilled in the temple, the house of God, a house of prayer for all nations a place for everyone to worship, for everyone to come and know God.

Over time though, the idea of being a house of prayer for all the nations had been replaced by exclusion to the point that even the offerings that were being brought by Jewish people coming from many countries, over great distances, was not accepted in the temple offering boxes, but needed to be changed in the temple court at profit to the money changers. Exclusion even happened in the provision of offerings of doves and lambs which needed to be purchased by those who came from such distances. The poor would not be able to afford them

With such rules in place, you can imagine that anyone who did not know God already would have a much skewed idea of who this God of the Jews was, of what he required, had become an exclusive club, led by a group of self serving priests and scribes.  In driving out both buyers and sellers, Jesus is making a statement about the whole of society, the entire enterprise, not just those profiting from it. This exclusive marketplace was not what God intended. It was not how God wanted to be known to the nations.

Jesus, as Messiah, as God’s son, turns over the tables, drives out merchant and client alike. His Father’s house is to be an inclusive place, a place where all can come freely to meet God, to know God, to speak with God. Jesus is passionate about God’s house, the temple, so passionate that he steps outside of the character his disciples had come to know, surprises them and us with his action.

I don’t think that Jesus passion for God’s house has changed over the centuries since his crucifixion and resurrection. This morning, we are dedicating a new place of worship, a rejuvenated space, and this place is vitally important to our savior, it is the place where the body of Christ gathers, it is of infinite, eternal importance. This is the place where Christ’s body gathers, where God is revealed to the world.

I wonder this morning, what our neighbours here in this community have come to know about God through the things that they see happening at this church, in this new sanctuary, and through the wider Christian community? I wonder, as they have watched the building and renovations going on here over the past year if they see this place as an inclusive place, a place where they would feel welcome to meet God or is it a place of mystery, a place of regimented rules that they are not sure can be understood? Do our neighbours, like the foreigners and eunuchs of Jesus time experience barriers as they wonder about meeting God in this place?

The church, as a body, in North America has had it pretty tough over the past months.

It’s pretty hard for all Christians not to be touched in some way by the evangelical tsunami that brought Donald Trump to the door of the Oval Office in the US. Christian leaders over the past months have made statements that just don’t seem very Christ-like, but because they are leaders give the impression that their opinions are held by all Christians everywhere.  Christians, at least those who call themselves evangelicals, voted overwhelmingly for a leader who for the most part has values that are far away from theirs. We cringe at their political expediency, their seeming self servicing attitudes. The picture they present of God, through their actions and words, is not a welcoming one, it is not inclusive, is not the picture of God we would feel is genuine.

We are very quick, I believe, to let people know, that the church here in York, a church dedicating a new facility today is nothing like those angry evangelicals south of the border, we are welcoming, we don’t discriminate, we would never support a program of deportations, or even forced enrollment of a particular religious group, we want to be welcoming, not build walls, we are not busy trying to protect our place in the political spectrum at the expense of others, at the expense of the moral standards we preach every week, we’re just plainly not like them.  We think we would be right there with Jesus tipping over their tables.

But we do have to wonder, if Jesus came here today, worshiped with us physically, which of our tables he would tip over, how many of our doves and lambs and sacred cows would be let loose in the building this morning, how many of our comfortable chairs would he smash? What would Jesus have to say about our efforts to be a house of prayer to the nations, to our neighbours, to those who are different from us?

Jesus words declaring his father’s house as a den of thieves and robbers is not just for a people many years ago and on the other side of the world, it rings true for us as well, we need to be ever vigilant, always testing our practices and the way that we are church together for ways that we might be moving away from being a house of prayer to the nations. We need to pay attention to Jesus stinging words of judgement.

It would be easy to stop here, to leave the temple with Jesus accusing voice ringing in our ears, to leave wondering what practices he point an accusing finger at, what things we do to prevent this place, which we dedicate today, from truly being a house of prayer to the nations, or at least to our community.  It would be easy to leave here with law ringing in our ears and miss the grace in this passage.

But Matthew doesn’t do that this morning. After proclaiming the temple to be a house of prayer, playing policeman, vigilante even,  we might expect to see Jesus gather his disciples, find a quiet corner and drop to his knees for a couple of hours of prayer, to use God’s house for what he said it was meant for, but that’s not what is reported. Instead he begins healing, the blind, the lame, and he has a bit of a confrontation with the temple bosses over children singing..

It makes you wonder doesn’t it what it means then to be a house of prayer. What does it mean for this place, here in York to be a house of prayer?  Jesus actions in the temple wouldn’t leave us with the impression that he would define a house of prayer as a place of hushed quiet, of murmurs floating toward heaven accompanied by soft music, maybe some candles and a bit of incense. Instead it seems that Jesus house of prayer would be a place from which God’s grace is distributed, where prayer leads to action, where God’s kingdom breaks into the world, a place of action and rejoicing, a place where hosannas rise, where crutches clatter to the floor, a place where miracles happen. That God’s house is a pathway to God,

And that is what we hope for this place as well isn’t it? That it would be a place where God’s grace abounds, a place where our prayers turn into action, a place where we praise God, a place where the community around us comes to know and love God the way we do. A place where we recognize that our prayers move us to action, move us to dispense grace in the world, move us toward the realization of the world that we pray for.

A lot of work has gone into the dream that we realize here this morning, years of planning, and months of hard work for many, in inconvenience for all of us. We are blessed this morning to have a beautiful sanctuary, a wonderful fellowship hall, functional offices, and best of all, most desired of all, plenty of space to accommodate all of our children in the nursery and Sunday School rooms. We have been truly blessed.

But let’s not forget, that this is indeed God’s house, a house of prayer, not just a place for our comfort, and as God’s house, we are called to ensure that this place is a place from which God’s grace flows,  a place of activity, a place of welcome, a place where others are included, and hospitality is extended.

You all know of course that it was high time for a face lift here in York. The old sanctuary was starting to look more than a little tired, the carpet was worn, paint, in places had been damaged, A/V equipment had become dated. It was time for change.

Last week, Jocelyn and I worshiped with our daughter and her children in Victoria BC. At the end of the service, my four year old grandson tossed back a couple of glasses of apple juice, just a little too quickly. Feeling sick he went to find his mom, who was still in the sanctuary and promptly threw up on the carpet.  No one got upset, they were concerned for him and just glad he was there.

And that is my hope for this place, that, it will become worn over time, that children will throw up on the carpet and maybe on the chairs, that young people might become a little too boisterous and scratch a bit of paint, that we will wear out those few chairs with arms, moving them around to accommodate our elderly, that the seats will become worn as week after week you come together in worship and in prayer.

Look around, this is, I hope the best, the newest, this place will ever look. Doing God’s work, becoming a true house of prayer, is tough on facilities, but it is exhilarating.

May this house of prayer be one that is welcoming to all, one that lets the community around see what God is like, who God is, become a conduit of grace, a place where the kingdom breaks into this world.

Amen

Let us pray:

Eternal God,

There is no other god who can compare to you, in heaven or on the earth.

Even the highest heavens cannot contain you!

We pray this morning that this house of prayer,

This new and refurbished building

Would become a beacon in a dark world

That through it and those who gather here to worship

You would become known

Your gift of your son to us would be celebrated

And many would come to welcome your kingdom

Here already and still coming

We pray this

In the name of Jesus Christ

Who loved your house, and who loves and died for us

Amen

 

 

 

2016 Year End Cycling Summary

img_1336

Not the best selfie…but it is a last day shot…

Yesterday, temperatures climbed into the low 20’s (degrees C) and a little bit too close to the end of the day, we got on the tandem and rode down the road. It was a little too late in the day, because darkness comes so quickly now, the sun sliding all too rapidly toward the horizon. By the time we had made our short ride, dusk was falling.

Today it is snowing. A snow squall warning has been issued for tonight and tomorrow morning. Temperatures are now in low single digits, with negative numbers predicted.

I think our riding season is over.

The season shows some pretty good distance, but really, we didn’t ride as much as we have some other years. The trip from home to Halifax occupied more than four weeks of the early summer and contributed around 2500 km. 72544331-cc17-431f-b31c-c91d7b5439c2Living in two places, without bikes at one of them, really pushed down the amount of cycling we got in. It would be even less if it wasn’t for a wonderful group of friends who kept us riding many Friday mornings, always with great conversation and often butter tarts along the way.

We sold a set of bikes this year as well. Stuart and Marg tried our touring bikes during the summer, made a long trip to Ottawa with them, and decided not to give them back. Stuart has caught the bug in a big way and will be riding one of those bikes Sea to Sea next summer as part of a fund raising project to end poverty. You can find his page here. He would appreciate your support.

The final numbers:

Tandem: 3663 km

Touring Bike: 127km

Road Bike: 23 km

Total: 3813 km

The tandem continues to win as our bike of choice. We do enjoy being together, biking together, exploring together.

With our upcoming move to Prince Edward County, we are really hoping to be able to use our bikes more often as a means of transportation. Our new home is a short bike ride to groceries and other errands. Hopefully bikes will become the wheels of choice more often.

We’re on the Move

Right now, Jocelyn and I are between churches. This is one of the difficulties with the sort of interim ministry that I have been doing. By definition, interim ministry is not a stable sort of career. The needs of congregations vary, length of service could be dependent on a full time pastor accepting a call. The uncertainty of the position can make it difficult to arrange the next posting before completing the last one. In the Christian Reformed Church this can be even more true since there is no structure in place to facilitate the connection of ordinary interims (as opposed to Specialized Transition Ministers) with churches. The process is left to occur organically,  through word of mouth contacts are made, the next thing happens.

Church councils move slowly though, and sometimes after months of conversation, interviews, meetings, and even preaching, what seemed like a good opportunity to serve, evaporates,  (collapses might be a better word) and we return to square one. It is amazing though, how when one avenue seems to disappear, another one, or two, turn up to affirm the call to interim ministry.

14925606_673426999500481_6216103199003131789_nSo, with the end of the contract in York, and the acceptance of a call by a full time pastor to that church, I am between churches.

There are opportunities which likely won’t mature until the new year, and to be totally practical, we are really too busy right now to have a job anyway.

We are busy getting ready to move our home base in Huron County, 400 km, to Prince Edward County, to be closer to our daughter and her family. 400 km makes having a relationship with grand children difficult. Our children are spread out over the continent. We would love to park ourselves nearer to all of them, but that is just not possible. this is better than being far from all of them.

Moving comes with conflicted emotions. We’ve lived in Huron County as a couple for 34 years. I’ve been here longer. We have good friends here, lots of people that we know, great business relationships. Living in the area only half the time, while serving in York, did show us that we could make a home elsewhere, make new friends, new relationships. There is both a feeling of excitement and grief as the move approaches.

Moving does bring with it a break from the past. We’ve already sold a number of things on Kijiji, bits of farm equipment, fence rails, picnic tables, and other miscellaneous things collected over the years, each piece holding a bit of history, a bit of identity. We’re sorting too, sending boxes of leftover childhood to our kids, tossing books and papers, short pieces of 2 X 4 saved for a project which never happened. Every decision comes with its own little bit of grief and loss. Change is not easy.

3351_dsc_3943-s-1We are looking forward to the new place though. The house is nearly new, the setting is beautiful, and the area is one that has become something of a destination in the summer months. It is a great place for cycling, and our new home is close enough to town that our bikes could become a more regular means of transportation. A big contrast to our current place.

So, there it is, our move is out there. Every time we talk about it, write about it, the idea of living in another place becomes more of a reality. This thing is happening.

Farewell to Maranatha

 

20161030_102813Yesterday, I led my final service at Maranatha. It was a day of mixed emotions. There was a feeling of accomplishment in a job completed, joy that a new pastor had accepted the call to minister there, hope in two more babies baptized, and sorrow in parting. 

I’ll likely have more to write in another post, but for now, here is yesterday’s message based on 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4,11-12

It’s already been a year here in York.

It was actually more than a year ago, July of 2015, when Jerry made the first contact with me, wondering if I would be interested in talking to the search committee about being your pastor. I told him I wasn’t interested in a full time call, here, or anywhere, and I thought that would be the end of it. He called again two weeks later.

“What about an interim position?”

I came, and visited with your executive, came, and preached on the fourth of October. That week, the executive extended an offer of a one year contract as your interim pastor beginning November 1st.

Jocelyn and I were hesitant. York was a big congregation with two Sunday services, there was a building project trying to get underway, the job was pretty far from our home in Huron County, and we had both become pretty used to not having a regular job since Lucknow had found a full time pastor.

The biggest issue though was housing. We had spent some time with Frank, and decided that we couldn’t justify buying a house for a one year contract, so renting was the only option. The rental market in this area is almost impossible.

Thanksgiving weekend, it has been a tradition to camp with J’s bother and his family. Last year we came to Long Point and on the Saturday made the drive to Caledonia house hunting. After scouring Kijiji, and the local papers, we found that there were two apartments in the area that would be available for a November 1st rental. One was in Caledonia, and when we visited was found to be totally unacceptable, the other was a converted two car garage, outside of town, well appointed but very small.  It would do, and we told the landlords as much, but they had others coming to see the unit, maybe wanted to have some choices besides a middle aged pastor and his wife, were concerned about two people living together in such small space. They told us they wanted to give others a chance and would let us know their decision on Monday evening.

We were discouraged, it looked like coming to York was going to be out. We prayed together, and decided that if the apartment did not come through we would decline the contract to York. In a sense we put out a fleece. After a bite to eat a Tim Horton’s we headed back to Long Point, back to our trailer. On the way out of Caledonia, I asked J to check my phone. To our surprise, there was a text message from the landlord, he had called his other prospects and told them the apartment was rented. Our fleece was wet. We knew we were to come to York.

And now it has been a year and I can echo the words of Paul to the church at Thessalonica, his words of thankfulness, his words of boasting. It’s actually sort of cool that the lectionary happened to assign this text as the epistle reading for today.

Paul had started the church in Thessalonica, arriving there from Philippi, but had only been with the congregation there for eight months, a shorter time than my time here. His first letter, which used virtually identical words of thanksgiving for them, was written very shortly after he left, the second is thought to be very shortly after the first.

Paul boasts about this church.

He boasts about their faith, the way it is growing and growing, he boasts about their perseverance in the face of persecution. He wasn’t with this church very long, he didn’t spend decades as their pastor, but still he boasts about them to others.

Boasting, I think, always has something to do with the one who boasts as well as those that are boasted about. Paul boasts about the church in Thessalonica, not because he made and formed them, gave them faith, the strength to persevere, he recognizes that as the work of the Holy spirit,  but because he was part of them, he was there at the start, God allowed him to be part of something great, and for this reason he has a right to boast. He has some ownership in what has happened.

After a year here, I boast too. Not because I have done anything amazing, but because in this past year I have been part of something. There is much to boast about here. God has been and continues to be faithful, the Holy Spirit continues to move.

We can boast about God’s blessing of children and young families in this congregation, packed Sunday School rooms, and a very busy nursery. While many churches fear the end, as only grey heads remain, this congregation can look to the future with hope.

We can boast in God’s provision with this new sanctuary, boast about the vision that was given, the planning that went into it, the skills and talents that decorated, the generosity with which members shared their money, the patience that has been displayed as we have been inconvenienced by construction over this past year.

We have reason to boast as well about God’s faithfulness to us in times of trouble. My time here began with tragedy. Almost every week has had one or more of our members in hospital, often with very serious issues. Our prayer list has never been empty. Often those prayers were answered in amazing ways, but not always, and during this year God has carried us through grief and loss a number of times, walked with us through dark valleys, the community has rallied around, we have struggled, and yet using Paul’s words I boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

There are many other things we could boast about this morning, that I could boast about because I was privileged to be here, to be part of them, to be part of you.

It’s the second part of our text this morning really provides me with my parting words

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.[c]

That will be my prayer as I leave you,

That God would make you worthy of his calling.

And what is that calling?

We’ve talked about calling a lot over this past year. My messages often used the words “God is calling us this morning” our benedictions often began with the words “go now and” God’s call on your lives as God’s children and the life of this church as Christ’s body, has been clear.

We are to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

We are to lift the downtrodden, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and feed the hungry.

We are to share the good news that God is near to a world thirsty for any sort of Good News.

We are to be models of love, push away hatred, and fear.

We are to be kingdom bringers, agents of change, God’s hands and feet in our communities and in our world.

I pray that God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, would give you the strength, would give you the desire, would make you take hold of your calling, to be worthy of it.

The second part of my prayer borrowed from Paul this morning is that God would bring to fruition your desire for goodness.

Last Sunday evening, as an ending to our series on the Holy Spirit, we talked about a big word: Sanctification. We learned that Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, that to sanctify, means “to make holy.” We learned that immediately following the work of Christ in our lives, the work of justification, the grace filled taking of our sins and nailing them to the cross, the work of sanctification, making holy, begins. It begins immediately. As Christians it is our desire to be sanctified, to be made more and more holy. We have what Paul calls a desire for goodness.  And it’s only through this work of sanctification that we can indeed be worthy of our calling, that we will have the desire and the strength to be kingdom bringers.

And finally, along with Paul I pray that God would bless every deed that is prompted by faith.

I pray that God would continue to bless every initiative you a congregation embark on, prayerfully, in faith. I pray that every time the mission team goes out, every time we work to reach our community, every time we reach out to those in need around us, every time that we collect funds, make milk bag mats, volunteer our time at thrift stores, food banks, pregnancy centers. Every time we reach out to the refugees languishing in camps, wrap our arms around someone who is grieving, visit someone’s bedside, that God’s hand of blessing would be on those actions. That through the blessing our efforts would be redoubled, that we would be spurred on to more, and higher. That those around us might see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven

That is why I pray this prayer, a prayer to make you worthy of God’s Calling, to move you toward goodness, to bless the work and actions of this congregation, not so that the good name of Maranatha CRC in York might be lifted up, so that I could boast that I was part of that church’s history when it was just small. Not so that this church, or even you as individuals, might be praised for your faithfulness, recognized in the community for you social action, for your spiritual fervor, for your self-giving attitude, but so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ would be glorified.

This is our calling, this is my prayer.

It is so easy to pat ourselves on the back isn’t it. So easy to point to this new sanctuary, the seats filled this morning, the many children we have been blessed with, another baptism this morning, the programs we are running, the causes we support, the huge pile of Christmas Boxes that will be here in a couple of weeks, and become proud.  It’s easy to feel like stopping here for a bit, slowing down, enjoying what we have accomplished, to drink in the blessings. But we are not called to stop, we don’t bring anything to fruition if we stop, there is no blessing in standing still. Our calling is still in front of us, our desire for holiness, for goodness, drives us on, and God’s blessing awaits us in the good deeds we are prompted to perform.

God is at work here. I have felt the Holy Spirit whispering through you seeking to move you. I have seen you searching for direction, striving to answer God’s call on your life as a church, I know that you continue to reach for holiness, continue to desire to grow in faith and in community. I have heard your desire for blessing, and have seen the result of that blessing already and know that there is much, much, more to come. God has great plans for you, plans for you to bring glory to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, plans that have been crafted in grace, through grace and with grace.

Grace is what it’s all about isn’t it.

My landlord extended grace to Jocelyn and I when he canceled those other appointments a year ago and told us the apartment was ours. He didn’t have to do that, he could have checked out the others first just to see if they might be more suitable, to see if they might stay a little longer, been less demanding. He didn’t do that though he extended grace and without even knowing it, or knowing God, became part of God’s plan for this church.

God doesn’t hold back grace either. And that’s why I know my prayer for you will be answered that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he will bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.

My prayer will not be answered in any way that you or I can now imagine, because God is bigger than that, but I know that in grace, and through grace God will answer that prayer.

Because that, in the end, is what it is all about, God’s grace to us and God’s love for us.

Let us pray.

 

Loving, living God,
be among us now.
Show us your ways.
Guide our steps.
Live in us,
that we may be people of steadfast hope
Help us hear your words,
challenging us
Help us remember
that all we are and all we have
are gifts from you,
gifts to be shared in service and love

To glorify the name of our lord Jesus Christ
Holy One among us,
help us be a holy people
who receive your word with joy
and live your message with love.

Relying on your grace we pray.

Amen.

 

 

A “Moving” Service

Churches are pretty stable entities, so being able to lead a service in a brand new, or even renovated sanctuary, is something all pastors will not be able to experience. This morning, I was privileged to lead the second “1st service” of my pastoral career.

IMG_0750

The newly renovated sanctuary in Lucknow as it was in February of 2015. The old sanctuary in York was built in 1971 using the same plans.

The first one was in Lucknow following the major renovation, and repair, that came as a result of a fire in the sanctuary. Many things were put back in the same way that they were before the fire, but changes were made  that enhanced the feel of the place, changed the layout a little, and upgraded the entire audio visual system. That first service was exciting as we came home from temporary facilities in the Presbyterian Church and celebrated with the community in our own place again.

IMG_1305

Gathering before the move. The new sanctuary is to the left, behind the plywood wall.

This morning was more than a little different. We were moving into a brand new worship space, one that had been planned and debated for more than a decade. This was not just a new coat of paint, but an entire building project aimed at providing more space for teaching and children and an improved fellowship hall. The new sanctuary though, is the crowning glory of the project. Bright and airy, with padded chairs rather than benches, an improved audio visual system and wonderful acoustics, this place will serve as a beautiful place of worship for many years.

IMG_1306

The cross in the new worship space came from the old one, refinished, reminding us of the history of the place and where we find our identity.

IMG_1203We began our service this morning in the old sanctuary, heard God’s greeting there for the last time, spent some time in thoughtful reflection, before moving in procession to the new space, carrying the old pulpit bible, the baptismal bowl and pitcher, and the communion chalice and wine jug, bibles and hymnals.

Once settled in our new place, we spent another moment in reflection, before being greeted by God again, for the first time in this space, and then, sharing the Lord’s Supper together, recognizing that we find our identity in Christ, not in a building.

It was wonderful, again, to be part of something new, to in some small way, lead a congregation in celebrating God’s goodness, God’s provision, and God’s care.

 

Our Companion

It’s a week since we rolled into Halifax to end our cross country trip, a week of being tourists, of driving hard for home, of laundry, grass cutting, putting flower beds right, and worshipping with our home church. This afternoon, we visited the stone that was placed on my mother’s gravesite sometime during the time we were gone. 


My mother has been a large part of our travels over the past thirteen months. The dark cloud of her diagnosis rode with us through much of last year’s trip which ended in our being called home after making it to Northern Ontario. We were able to visit with her during the last week and a half of her life. She had questions about our trip, about the things we had seen the people we had met, the things we had experienced. 

We continue to grieve her loss.

She came with us again as we picked up the journey, many times as a deepened sense of loss. The recognition that she would not be here when we got back, that she would not be there to ask questions about our experiences, to fill us in on what we had missed at home, how the family had changed, that we would not hear her characteristic “Oh?” as we dreamt out loud about next adventures. 

That’s how grief works, isn’t it. It’s never really gone, you just need to learn how to live into the new reality. 

We visited today. It was a quiet visit in a beautiful space. The stone, with it’s picture of a shepherd and a lamb, the words “The Lord is My Shepherd” carved deeply into it, provides a testimony to a life well lived, a woman sorely missed.

The Liminal Place

Yesterday: 99.5 km, 20.4km/hr, total: 2538km

As we were at the beginnng, May 17, 2015


We have completed our journey across the country. It has taken us ten months longer than we had originally planned. Ten months that have seen more than their share of grief, and loss, and sorrow. We’ve learned through this year that even when we make water-tight plans, we are not actually in control. Since we set off on May 14th 2015 we seem to have been in something of a liminal place.

As we were, May 27 2016


I’d never actually heard the word liminal until I went off to seminary, and then a lot more as J and I participated in a trip to Spain studying pilgrimage. A liminal space, or time, is a time of disorientation. It could literally mean being at the threshold of something. It is sometimes described as an in-between experience, neither here nor there. For some, being in a liminal place in life can be a time of self exploration, of personal revelation. For others, being in such a place is frightening, upsetting, and to be avoided at all costs.

This past year has been a year of transitions, a year of stepping into unknown places. After we began our journey last year, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Worry and grief accompanied us over the mountains and across the prairies until we were called home to be with her in the last weeks, just as we entered Ontario. We went through the liminal experience of not knowing if the call I feel to ministry would actually result in a second posting. After some months of searching a position was offered in York. Another threshold crossed. And then,in February, J’s father was suddenly taken from us. Another transition. 

I know that these transitions in life, these thresholds we need to cross, are not going to end, they are part of life. When we arrive home next week, cross back over the threshold of our home, this one that we have imposed on ourselves will be over. 

Did we learn through the experience? Most definitely! We are not the same people who set out last year. We’ve learned practical things, like the importance of keeping a close eye on tire pressure, and not being fooled off of the planned route by a rail trail that looks like it might be flatter, and that going past a Tim Hortons bathroom might not be a good idea. We’ve learned to accept praise and gifts graciously, and to share our story generously, with encouragement. We’ve learned that, as a team we are strong enough for the challenge in front of us even when we have to walk the odd hill. We’ve been reminded, over and over, that we are not in control and thank the one who is, for protection, and care, as we have traveled in this liminal space.