On to York

On November 1st, I began work as the interim pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in the village of York. York is near Hamilton, Ontario. The position is a part time one, so, we are actually living in two places, I continue with my other part time consulting work and J continues to work away in her pottery at least a few hours every week.

When we are in York, we live in a small apartment, a granny flat converted from a two car garage attached to a large rural home. The space, although smaller than any other place we have ever lived, is comfortable and warm. It was built for a beloved family member, not as a source of quick income, so the cabinetry and fixtures are of good quality. There is lots of storage space and lots of parking. We have a gas fireplace….

Even though  the unit was furnished, to make it our own we made a couple of runs to IKEA and bought some furniture. Its a big change for us to be so close to a busy center. During our first weekend we were at Ikea twice and in three different Best Buy stores and were still able to eat meals at home!

church-newMaranatha CRC is a relatively large congregation which has been without a full time pastor for over a year. The church has a very strong leadership and the congregation has a real sense of community. I have already witnessed, a deep heart. They are a congregation where four generations can be found worshiping together, where the nursery is bursting at its seams, where young families and older couples work together.

Oddly enough, the building you see in the picture above is built from the same plans (exactly the same ones borrowed from one building committee by another) as the Lucknow CRC where I last served. It is one set of beams longer so this sanctuary has five more rows of benches. Its very interesting to compare the different direction the two buildings went over four and a half decades and wonder about the discussions that happened which lead to different decisions. Maranatha is currently building a new sanctuary.

Maranatha is a congregation with great energy, and I am looking forward to being part of their story over the next months.

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It’s Really Over Now

The past few days have been difficult. I have come to the end of my time as the interim pastor of the church Where I grew up. The past twenty months or so have been a wonderful time of learning, and growth. I had been accepted as pastor by people I had known all my life, walked with them through trouble and happy times. A number of times I was tempted to stay, to make the job permanent, but each time the voices of those much more experienced than I am, pulled me back. 

 Sunday was my last service. It was a full one with a baptism and five professions of faith. There was a sense of celebration. There was a cake with “Thank You Pastor Ken” emblazoned on it. It all seemed a little unreal though. There was still work to do, still issues to be resolved, discussions to be had, hands to hold, prayers to be said, lives to touch. It was over but didn’t feel like it.

Monday, I moved out of my office. All my books fit in six boxes left from the restoration company after our fire last summer. The room I spent so much time in over the past months looked bare, impersonal, without the books, pictures and pottery. It looked sad, alone.

Yesterday I attended the classis meeting where the new pastor was examined for ordination. He passed with no problem. Next week, he will move into that empty office, take up the many tasks of a village pastor, start to get to know his sheep.

I need to remind myself that the job is over, a new shepherd is in place, the problems of this flock are no longer mine. But, it doesn’t seem that easy. Maybe this too is part of the danger of pastoring a church where you grew up. Walking away from friends and peers, from a supportive and loving community, to leave them in the hands of another, is very difficult. My place there was more than a job, but to really allow the new shepherd to find his place, to grow as a pastor, I need to treat it as if it was just a job and move on to the next thing.

The immediate next thing is beginning today. We are enroute to the airport right now, catching a flight to Vancouver to begin a three month journey across the continent. For the time being, this adventure will keep us occupied.

After that, we don’t know. God has been good, sending some very positive inquiries our way. Even if they don’t materialize, it is very encouraging to be considered.

In Christ Alone

This morning, something momentous happened during the worship service we attended at our daughter’s Christian Reformed Church in Willowdale. It wasn’t the baptism, the age appropriate profession of faith, the stirring Pentecost sermon, or even the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. These were all important, in their own ways, special even, but they would not have caused me to put fingers to keyboard this evening.

We sang the song “In Christ Alone” near the end of the service. I’ve sung this song many times before, love it even, but today, we sang the song in solidarity with the family of Tim Bosma and the Ancaster CRC. We sang along with more than 250 other CRC’s across the continent. Tim was the young father whose burnt remains were found early last week. He was last seen driving off in his truck accompanying a couple of men interested in buying it, a week earlier. A social media campaign brought the image of Tim’s smiling face to many of our computers. The conventional media’s attention was held by this case and they in turn recognized the importance of his church to the person he was and its role in the effort to find him.

I didn’t actually know Tim at all, and while I do know some people who know folks related to  Tim’s widow, I really don’t know her either, and yet, as we sang together this morning, I, like many others who didn’t know these folks either, experienced a deep emotional reaction. There were tears throughout the sanctuary, voices broke, some could no longer stand. I recognized that while I don’t actually know Tim or Sharlene, I really did. Tim’s face, smiling out of the “Missing” poster is so familiar, the face of many of the young men in our communities. Sharlene’s tear filled face exclaiming “It’s only a truck” could be the face of one of my daughters, or any of the young mothers in our congregation. Tim and Sharlene in their strangeness are not strangers. They are one of us. Part of our extended family; our church family. They are us.

And suddenly we found our mostly middle class church communities violated. We find “powers of hell,  schemes of man” breaking into our quiet, peaceful, safe lives and we find ourselves shaken. This sort of thing happens at Jane and Finch but not where we live and suddenly we realize there is no safety. We can’t count on our hard work, our precautions, even our strong communities. There is no safe place.

So today we sang. We stood up against those powers and schemes and held on to the only power we can really count on.

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

As we sang, and cried, we did sing for Tim, his family, his church, but in reality we were singing our faith into the world. We’ve been given a glimpse of hell, the power of the schemes of men, and we stood together and sang out against those powers, holding up in front of us, for all to see, the power that really counts in this world.

In Christ alone our hope is found.

The Lectionary

How do you choose a text for a sermon? I haven’t got all that many sermons under my belt  yet, but this question always dogs me as I begin to write new one. My tradition in the Christian Reformed Church leaves the choice of the text fairly open, each pastor finding an appropriate passage to work with. There is the mandate, stated in the Church Order, to preach weekly from the Heidelberg Catechism. As second Sunday services have declined, so has catechism preaching. Many pastors roll through the Bible choosing texts, some will preach a series of sermons focusing on a particular theme, chapter or book of the Bible. Some will use the work of a popular Christian authour to guide them through a theme and provide a starting scripture for their work.

One of the beneficial bits coming from my training at the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary has been my introduction to the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides scripture readings for each Sunday of the year in a three-year rotation. These choices include and Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an epistle, and a reading from the Gospels. Each year focuses on one of the first three gospels so that parishioners will hear a consistent gospel voice over the year rather than the random readings often found in non-lectionary churches. This common lectionary is used by liturgical protestant churches, Lutherans, Presbyterians along with others, and by Roman Catholic congregations. While it is not mandatory in these situations to always follow the lectionary, it is advised.  There are a few pastors in the CRC using the lectionary regularly, but not many.

The lectionary serves to tie the churches together. Recently, I preached a sermon on the parable of the Prodigal Son which just happened to be the lectionary assignment that day. As I drove to the church, I passed others where the sermon theme was posted on the sign out front and saw all sorts of renditions of my sermon title. It was neat to realize, even though we may be separated denominationally, we are hearing the same word and are joined in it. This week will be the same, but in this case, I actually went to the lectionary for the text and found it both challenging and new. Preaching from the lectionary takes away the tendency to find a text which matches the theme of the sermon you want to preach. It forces the sermon writer to begin with the text.

0664237983Those in the pew can benefit from the lectionary as well. Since the texts for the week are set, they can study those texts, live with them, for the week, and then recognize them as they are blended into the service. A number of study helps have been designed just for this purpose. One of these came a cross my desk this week from Westminster press. Daily Feast:Meditations from Feasting on the Word, provides a structured approach to meditating on the texts for the week along with thought-provoking questions to take the reader further into the text and to apply it to real life. Written reflections, while short, are well written and take the reader to the heart of the text, preparing the reader for Sunday worship, but also keeping them in the Word throughout the week.