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.

A Disjointed Time

Its now more than a month since we loaded our bike in Thessalon and came home to walk mom’s last days with her. If we had finished our ride we would have returned to Ontario last Tuesday, but those plans were just not to be.

The unplanned month at home has left us feeling a little disjointed, a little lost. We are people who work closely with our calendar and are likely most comfortable with a rather full one. For the past month, the calendar has been empty. There have been lots of things to do, a funeral to plan, visitors to entertain, invitations for meals and fires, a dog to baby sit, coffee to drink. J has done a couple of days in her pottery. I’ve built a new work bench for her and installed a kitchen sink for washing up her clay spattered tools. I’ve picked up a bit of consulting work, visited some farms, balanced some rations. A quite a number of books have been read and some naps taken.  But until this past weekend the calendar was pretty much empty.

Its a weird place to be, to get up in the morning with nothing scheduled, the day ahead with no firm plan, no commitments, no deadlines. Almost like we are still on some sort of pilgrimage, in a liminal place, neither here nor there, an in between time.

11907367_10153537011289464_4163995848782596250_nThis past weekend I officiated at a wedding on Saturday and preached at a church looking for an interim on Sunday. It was good to preach again, good to feel like there was some purpose in life, something to rush about for.

I don’t think I’m ready to retire yet.

Isabel’s Baptism

Today we baptized Isabel. She is all of 26 days old and already has gone to church twice. This time she got really wet (and not the diaper kind of wet) in front of a whole church full of people. She was very brave too and only cried a little when the somewhat cold water hit her little head.

20140720_112751Baptizing Isabel is one of the cool side benefits of being ordained, a pastor, in the Christian Reformed Church. Since M and J, Isabel’s parents attend a CRC, and their pastor was away on holiday, it was like I was doing their church a favour by coming to lead their service today, but really, I was the one winning on this deal.

Every baptism is special, but spilling water from the baptismal font on a grandchild, saying those words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; putting my hand on her little head and pronouncing a blessing on her; it just doesn’t get much better.

In it all is the deep symbolism of God’s love for us, covenant love. Isabel came to churchisabelwater today, loved and accepted, was marked, wearing the same gown my mother put on me almost fifty five years ago. The same gown my grandmother put on her sons. The same gown our children wore as J and I made much the same promises M and J made today. Baptism ties us together, in God’s faithfulness. We felt that faithfulness again today.

It was a day of celebration. The morning rain cleared and great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends enjoyed a day with Isabel (rather than a campfire) as the center of attention.

A gift.

Today We Butchered the Easter Bunny (in Church)

I’ve never really understood what Easter Bunnies, and Easter Eggs, have to do with an empty tomb other than a way for the merchandising machine to capitalize on this holiday. Chocolate tombs, or tomb closing stones for that matter, really wouldn’t cut it up on the shelves of our local grocery store. Bunnies do though.

So today, for the children’s message, I looked for a way to link the two ideas. There is a common thread, but to get there, we needed to butcher the bunny.

After getting the bunny out of its pink cardboard and cellophane box, he was laid on a cutting board and a very large knife was produced. One of the fifteen or so kids suggested that the bunny’s head be cut off. So that is what we did, in one fell swoop.

Guess what we found out. The bunny is empty, just like the tomb on Easter Sunday. There is nothing inside. One of the kids even thought looking down the bunny’s headless torso, that the emptiness looked like a cave, an empty cave.

So there you have it. The Easter Bunny is a legitimate purchase since it helps us remember the tomb is empty, while at the same time providing a chocolate fix.

The Almost Final Step

On Wednesday of this week, I was examined by Classis Huron of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). It’s the last step in the process toward ordination. I’ve been working on, and finished a Master of Divinity. I’ve been examined by the faculty of Calvin Seminary, the Candidacy Committee of the CRCNA, and received a call (job offer) from a church. The examination is the last hurdle.

Of all of the exams, this one is the most onerous. Two examiners are assigned, one to delve into practical matters and one to cover theology. Both contacted me, in one way or another, before the event and gave a very broad idea of what they might ask. It was broad enough that virtually anything was on the table. There were about a hundred people in the audience and they were allowed to ask questions as well (there weren’t many of those).

After about two hours, the questions stopped and all but the delegates were asked to leave the room. It seemed to take a long time, but we were called back in and, while the chairman tried to add some drama, implying failure, I was passed.

I felt a lot better as it was announced this was behind me. I don’t suffer a lot from nervousness, but this experience, with its broad scope, and answers, which are, by their very nature, sometimes controversial, did push me as far as I have been pushed in recent years.

The title of this post is “The Almost Final Step”. There is one more, the Ordination Service. It will be a celebration, not a trial, but it is the final step in this journey. That service will be held February 28th at 7:30.

During the questions, I was asked to reflect on God’s work in this whole process. All along the way, God has been pushing, prodding, and opening doors. The presence is much clearer in retrospect than it is in the moment, but, I know that as this journey continues to unfold, God will continue to be there, out front, marking the way.

The Journey to Ordination: An Update

It’s been a little while since I shared anything here about the ongoing trip toward ordination. This is mostly because there has been little to tell.

DSCN1831Back in September, I was called as the bi-vocational interim pastor of the church where I have been a member for most of my life. This call was the trigger to start the final steps of the process. You see, to be ordained legitimately you need to have both an internal call (you recognizing yourself that God is telling you this is the direction your life is meant to go) and and an external call ( a group of people, a church, telling you that this is a suitable direction, God’s direction, for your life). The external call and the internal call affirm each other. Ordination requires both.

With the external call realized, the bureaucracy moves into gear. Examiners are assigned to make sure, even though both calls are recognized, the candidate has the necessary skills, and gifts, to actually function in the role of “minister of the word”. The examinations cover sermon writing, delivery, and worship leadership, as well as theology and practical ministry.

Back in December, I was assigned 1 Samuel 3 as my examination sermon. Two weeks ago, I led a service and preached the resulting sermon in my own church with two pastors present. (you can view the sermon here)  By the next evening, I had their report, three single spaced pages critiquing not only the sermon but the entire service, as well as two other sermons which I had submitted earlier. It was a valuable exercise which, while painful in places, did conclude with the words “we heartily recommend”. This sort of input is actually quite unusual in the every day world of preaching because ministers so rarely hear each other, and when they do are hesitant to comment on what they have heard.

The next stop in the process is almost the last one. On February 12th, fully five months after being called, I will be examined, orally, (no they are not going to look in my mouth) at the regular meeting of the classis (a body consisting of ministers and elders from 22 churches) There is 40 minutes allotted for this on the agenda, but, I suspect the questions may go on longer. Two ministers have been assigned to lead off the questioning, but, at some point, the floor will be opened and anyone is able to ask virtually anything. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to this experience.

With the examinations passed, if I am successful, there will be a time of celebration, an ordination service, likely a couple of weeks after the oral examination. The rules say you can’t set the date or start planning this event until after the successful completion of the exams, so I can’t tell you a date. Hopefully, I can in a couple of weeks.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the first post on this blog. I wonder if the title of this blog will need to change once this piece of the journey is complete.

The Call

Lucknow CCRC

Lucknow CCRC

This morning, the Lucknow Community Christian Reformed Church called me to be their pastor. It seems a little surreal.  My was name put before folks who are, and have been, part of my life, some of them for fifty years. They overwhelmingly supported a proposal to have me to fill a position left vacant in June when our former pastor, effective and very well loved, moved to follow a call to another congregation.

This church, is my home church. I grew up in it;   been part of it for all but a few years since 1963. I preached for the first time here when I was seventeen, coached by a forward thinking youth elder, supported, way back then, by a council who must have seen something in a young man to allow him the pulpit.

I’ve been active in this church, served on it’s council as an elder through some hard times, which led to times of blessing. I was blessed to be part of the youth program for many years, and through this ministry taught weekly and led youth services. It is the folks in this church who helped me to recognize God given gifts, encouraged me to develop those gifts and ultimately use them. They’ve walked along side me and J as health issues led to career changes and ultimately a return to school. They’ve continued to be supportive as I have preached these past couple of years at times when the full time pastor had to be elsewhere. And now, they’ve offered to hire me as their interim pastor, a bi-vocational interim pastor on a two year contract, to lead them in this period between full time pastors.

Today’s call is the next step on a journey toward ordination, the place where this road I am on seems to be leading. even more so today as a door is thrown wide open, inviting, even encouraging me to walk through to the next steps on this trip.