Sticking Out

I read the job description this week for a “Pastor of Discipleship” at another parish church.  It described almost exactly what I was doing here at Christ Church Bolton as a Missional Partner.  It is exciting to see such outward focus and mutual engagement with our neighbours.

So why the feeling of hesitancy and concern on my part for this other parish?

Well, I wonder if they will be willing to step out, take the risks, stand out in the crowd and be patient during the long and many seasons such work takes to develop.  (I am familiar with this parish as I once worked there.  I am hopeful for them.)

I realize my hesitancy isn’t so much about them in particular, but rather the church as a whole.  We don’t like to stick out.  And being missional means sticking out.  Not so much in the world or neighbourhoods we inhabit, but in the culture of an organized religion that is desperately trying to survive using old models of being.

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The Front Garden at Christ Church Bolton, Spring 2017

 

 

This photo of our church’s front garden is such a delight to me.  All those happy daffodils and tulips!  I especially like the one red flower.  You guessed it – because it sticks out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why does being missional mean we stick out in the larger church context?

Mainly because you aren’t doing things the way they have always been done.  Rather than the priest taking the lead, offering authority over a project – being missional means the priest lets go.  Lay folk come up with the idea, take the lead, organize and then support and facilitate the ongoing engagement.

Then you have the mutuality bit.  Most ministry has been historically a form of service or giving.  Christians are quite comfortable helping others.  Missional ministry is mutual.  It means engaging in relationships with our neighbours that involves give and take. Sometime we might need the help, but mostly it is about friendship, community, and mutuality.  A relationship that is not necessarily easy or comfortable for some in the church.

And, it takes time.  Lots of time.  If you work in the church today, or attend a church, you likely don’t feel like there is a lot of time.  For many churches, especially mainline sinkingchurches, it feels like the ship is sinking and we’d better hurry up.  Hurry up and what? Bail out I guess, which seems to only be delaying the inevitable.

What about taking the time we have (while the present ship is sinking) and come up with a new boat that will be sustainable on these new waters.  Let us take the time to dream, envision, experiment, pray, listen, wait, and grow relationships.  It’s risky to take your time when the ship is sinking.  You might get your feet wet, you will feel the fear of drowning and you may not be able to jump onto the new boat until the last minute – as you watch your life flash before your eyes.

Much of the church has, unfortunately, bought into consumer culture and the idea that if something is broken we just need to buy a new and better one.  Well, the church doesn’t work that way, as much as it may try.

Sticking out isn’t so bad.  Especially when the thing that sticks out has been created and blessed by God.  Then it is beautiful.  The rest of the garden may balk at it, challenge it, tell it it doesn’t belong.  But at the end of the day what God has made is good and sustained by the living Spirit.  Amen!

No time to be missional!

It is a bit of an overstatement.

I took over as priest in charge of our parish the beginning of January this year.  Whenever folks asked me in the past why I took “associate” roles as a priest and not an incumbency, I would answer, only half joking, “because I like doing ministry.”

The administration of a parish is filled with varied tasks that keep a priest busy.  Just this past week I chaired two meetings, fixed a toilet, led worship and celebrated the eucharist, talked to a lawyer about a pending lawsuit, folded chairs, wrote a sermon, made a cheese tray and met with my bishop.  At least, those are a few of the things I did.

I chose to remain here at Christ Church as the interim priest because I wanted to see the missional experiments we started through a little longer.  For me the challenge is two-fold now.

First, finding time to make the missional ministry a priority not only for me as a priest, but for the church.  In order to do that, I have to let go of some of the seemingly ‘necessary’ elements of day to day, week to week church life.  It simply cannot all be done.  The first two months as priest in charge has been so filled with the business and busyness of these daily, weekly tasks, I’ve hardly caught my breath.  Now that I have a bit of rhythm down I hear my heart calling me to spend some time and energy focused on the missional endeavours.

The second challenge is letting it go into the hands of the parish.  This is a challenge I actually enjoy.  And I am so pleased with the three or so people who have taken up the ‘banner’ of being missional.  What is more difficult, is getting the rest of the parish to buy more fully into the project.  With my status having gone from “missional partner” to “priest in charge”, some may naturally think the missional aspect of our life together has gone by the wayside.

What a strange irony – the busyness of church life can actually keep us from doing ministry!

I continue to ponder all these things and as we make our way through the last couple of weeks of Lent, I prayerfully ask God to open my heart and my eyes anew to where the Spirit is calling the church.

 

And then suddenly everything changes…

church-door

The sanctuary doors to our little church in Bolton, Ontario, Canada.

Just as I settled into a new year (September often feels like the new year in a church, even though technically it is Advent) everything changed.

The priest that I work with, The Reverend Riscylla Shaw, was elected as one of our suffragan bishops in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.   This is very exciting for all sorts of reasons, but it does mean change at our little parish and change for me in my job.

When Riscylla leaves the end of December I will continue at the parish as the interim priest-in-charge.  I will remain focused on the missional work that we’ve started, but inevitably that focus will start to look different.

As the parish moves into a season of calling a new priest to lead them, I will do my best to transfer the work of the missional partner to lay leaders.  I will simply not have the time to attend to the various missional endeavours I’ve cultivated.  This makes me feel both sad and excited.  Sad, because I have to let go of things I’ve really enjoyed doing, being a part of.  Excited, because I truly believe that there are folks here who are ready to go it alone (even if they are not so sure).

Missional ministry is all about change.  The changes that are happening beyond our control and the changes we can have a say in.  This sudden turn of events doesn’t surprise me terribly.  It’s the kind of thing God likes to do, at least in my experience.  My motto in life is “If things start to feel settled, you know God is about to jump out and surprise you!”  I can hear the Spirit saying, with laughter in her voice, “Keep them on their toes!”

I’m not sure how often I will get to this blog.  I hope at least once a month.  I would like to write about the transition and what I see and learn.  I don’t know yet what the future holds for me in terms of work.  Strangely I have no doubt that there is something and it will jump out and surprise me at just the right time.

A Time for Everything

Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heavens.  Ecclesiastes 3

seasons

I was with a family yesterday planning the funeral of their husband/father.  At the outset they mentioned they wanted nothing religious – no scripture readings, no prayers.  This was to honour the fact that this man did not believe in God.

My first thought was to wonder why the funeral home had called me, an Anglican Priest. Sure, I love to work with people who no longer attend church or never have.  Yet, they usually have a desire to explore the reality of God, of a spiritual life.

I was there, so I decided to be present to these people and to help them as best I could. When you are used to a service being focused around readings and prayers, it is suddenly a challenge to contemplate what you are going to do.

“Non-religious” funeral services are becoming more and more common and there is a wealth of information on the internet for those planning such services.  [As an aside, I find it interesting how many of these resources speak to a denial of death more than an acceptance.]

I did tell some stories – I can’t help myself.  I find usually that people who are adamantly “not religious” are often so because of misunderstanding, or some past pain with the church.  Often their concept of God is more at home in the dark ages than today.  So I talked about the Jewish Scripture that I’ve quoted above – reminding us that there is a time for everything – even life and death.  I told the story about Jesus reassuring his disciples before he died that he prepared a place for them, a place that had many rooms.  I spoke about a God that was much more concerned with how we treat our neighbours than if we attend church on Sunday.

I think the family was a little surprised.  Perhaps they were anticipating a heavier hand.  I was still wondering what I was going to do for the service, whether or not I was honouring my own calling to serve the church by doing a service with no mention of God, when the sister-in-law of the deceased reached across the table, took my hands, and asked if I would pray for them all.  We joined hands and I did pray.  There were tears and only a small bit of awkwardness.

The service will still have no mention of God.

But I suspect that the Spirit will be there, as the Spirit is already with them.  And for all I know, the deceased, a lovely and loving man, may be enjoying the company of the God he never dreamed or imagined in this life.

Indeed, there is a time, a season for everything.  For life, and for death.  For speaking the name of God, and remaining silent so the Spirit can do her work.

Special Report to the Congregation

This time around I’ve decided to write a report that focuses on one of our missional experiments a little more in depth.

We have been exploring a relationship with CAFFI (Caledon Area Families for Inclusion) for a couple of years now.  Here is the report being presented to the congregation this weekend:

Special Report to Christ Church Bolton,  September 2016

Background:

When I first came to Christ Church Bolton (CCB) I explained that any ministry initiatives that were missional would have to come from the congregation.  One of the first suggestions came from Sian Leyshon-Doughty.  She suggested a partnership of sorts with CAFFI, of which she is a member.

Over the course of the past two years (yes, it has been two years now!) we’ve tried a variety of things to develop our relationship with CAFFI.  Along the way we have learned quite a bit and made some new friends.

CAFFI is a self-organized group of parents with adult children who have developmental disabilities.  Once a person turns 21 years old, they no longer have access to the daily routines and activities of the school system.  For a developmentally disabled adult this means there is very little programming available other than privately accessed.  The financial, physical, and emotional demands this places on families is enormous.  In the words of their leader, Patricia Franks, “Having long term friendships /relationships with the community also fosters a sense of its reciprocal nature, that the families are not seeking hand outs but hand ups and true inclusion. Many of the young adults want to belong and participate in their community in whatever capacity that might be.”

Please take a couple of minutes to read the attached Toronto Star article outlining the Ontario Ombudsman’s recent report regarding social services for those with developmental disabilities.

What we have done:

Our connection with CAFFI predates my (Ruthanne’s) arrival at CCB and some of you have been involved in those events in the past.

This past year we invited CAFFI to use our facilities monthly for their meetings.  We also, during these meetings, provide a program of sorts for their young adult children.  While the parents meet, some CCB volunteers play games, listen to music, talk and generally just hang out with the young adults.  This enables more parents to attend the meetings as either they are unable to afford or find caregiving help at that time.  Another CCB volunteer takes the minutes of their meetings which again frees up the parents to be focused on the conversation at hand.

Last Christmas, we (CCB) invited CAFFI to have their Christmas party with us at the church.  Together we made the dinner, set the tables, shared the food, participated in some carol singing and craft activity.  An invitation to donate according to each persons ability more than covered the cost of the evening.  Of the many benefits of such an event, the best one was getting to know people and families individually, getting to understand what their day to day lives are like and receiving their genuine appreciation.

Ruthanne meets once or twice a year with their de facto leader, Patricia Franks, to listen to what CAFFI is engaged with, excited about and to engage in some dreaming.

What CAFFI has communicated with us regarding their needs and hopes in our partnership:

The number one thing that has been communicated to us is:

– we want/need understanding – unless you care for an adult (or child) with a developmental disability you really do not know what these families are facing.  Some have resources and support, others do not.  Some have extended families that help out, others do not.  CAFFI members first and foremost simply want us to get to know them as friends, to listen to their stories.

They also invite us to:

– offer what we have as friends, not what we don’t.  As a community that has historically done the hospitality bit really well, this is our best offering to CAFFI at this point.  We’ve done so with the Christmas dinner and with offering our facilities and people presence for their monthly meetings.  Are there ways we can expand this?

– offer our personal gifts, connections and resources – as we are able, and when needed.  Unless we engage in the listening conversations with CAFFI families, we will not know what it is we have to offer to them as their neighbours in this community.  We didn’t know that simply providing a volunteer to take minutes at their meetings would be such a big help, so deeply appreciated.  Recently a local accountant has offered to help as needed, and a local politician has given advice on navigating the local political scene in terms of advocacy.

– dream and experiment with ways we can help facilitate these young adult’s participation within the community through “work”, volunteering, day programs.

What we hope to do:

In October we are hosting a Bread-baking workshop/ Community Development exercise.  This will be held at Christ Church on October 15th, 9 am – 1 pm.  This is a limited enrolment event.  So far the CAFFI side of the event is full, but the CCB side only has one registrant!  During this event participants will get to make bread they can take home, will get a free lunch and will participate in that essential relationship building with the CAFFI community.

Continue to offer space and volunteers for monthly meetings.  Every single member of CCB is invited to come one time to one of their monthly meetings simply to sit in, listen and to ask any questions that might arise.  This will help all of us to connect and learn more about CAFFI.

Christmas Dinner – will be happening again this year.  December 9th.  Volunteers are needed for the following:  prepare the menu & buy food, help cook the food, help with set up and/or clean up, participate in the craft activity, just come and eat dinner and make new friends.  Remember that CAFFI members, both parents and adult children participate in all aspects of this event.  The cost is covered with donations according to ability of those who attend.

What we are asking each member of CCB to consider:

Come to one meeting of CAFFI.  They meet on the last Tuesday of the month, from 7 – 8:30.  Simply sit in on the meeting, listen to what they are discussing and ask questions for clarification you might have.  Talk to Ruthanne Ward or Sally Landy.

Volunteer one time to play games/ hang out with the young adults during the CAFFI meeting.  There is always at least one other volunteer familiar with the routines, so you simply have to come and have some fun!  (Meetings are the last Tuesday of the month at 7 pm, except for December, July, August).  Talk to Ruthanne Ward.

Consider joining us for our Christmas Party on December 9th.  Whether you enjoy cooking, would like to participate in making crafts or just want to show up to have a good meal and meet new friends, please consider joining us.  More information and sign up will happen in November.

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.    Jean Vanier

Disruption

disruptionI am not sure why I am so compelled by change, by our reaction to change, by the dimensions of change in our present context – but I am.  There are many people writing and talking about these issues within society and within the church.

There was an interesting interview on CBC radio yesterday with the author of “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance”, Chris Kutarna.  You can listen to it here:  

 What the Renaissance can teach us about our Disruptive Age.

During the interview, Mr. Kutarna speaks of, like the title of the book, the fact we are in a new renaissance.  Similarly, the late Phyllis Tickle spoke to the church being in a time of reformation.  Words like ‘disruption’, ‘adaptation’ and the inevitable ‘change’ follow in these discussions.

Back in 2012, Diarmuid O’Murchu, a catholic priest and social psychologist, wrote ‘God in the Midst of Change: Wisdom for Confusing Times.’  It is a small book, but utterly thought provoking, even four years later.  I’ve been reading a bit of it each morning recently as part of my devotions.  Some of what he has to say is frightening to be honest.

…it is only a small step to a computer that can surpass our brainpower.  There would then be little point in our designing future computers; ultra-intelligent machines would be able to design better ones, and do so at a faster pace.

What happens next is quite unclear, but there are indicators that, in all probability, will be proved to be reasonably accurate.  Some propose that humans would become obsolete; machines would become the vanguard of evolution…

And where would that leave humanity? Precisely where we have been many times when we encountered previous shifts of evolutionary magnitude.  Those who are ready may make it through; those who are not ready are likely to lose out – and the number of casualties could exceed millions.

God in the Midst of Chaos, O’Murchu, 2012, pg. 64 – 65

Yet, thank God, he is a man of faith – creative, Spirit-embracing faith I would say – so he also speaks words of hope.  Hope that is held in challenge, a challenge we desperately need to respond to.  In direct response to the above thoughts he writes:

Our calling at this time is certainly a vocation with an accountability that is both human and divine.  What was one time the reserve of an exclusive holiness known as mysticism, is now an evolutionary imperative for all of us.  It transcends the passive submission often associated with formal religion, and it has little room for a patriarchal God ruling from beyond the sky.  Instead the pendulum is swinging towards what indigenous peoples have long known as the Great Spirit, the co-creative life-force, once again reshuffling creation’s chaos, and inviting us to daring new horizons which evolution is reshaping at this time.

ibid, pg. 66

As inspired as I am by these thoughts, they leave me with more questions than answers and I am still trying to be comfortable with that inequality.  It seems that is where God wants me for the moment.  Could it be where God wants the church to be?  In a time of disruption that leaves us with more questions than answers?

 

 

New Perspective Only a Holiday Can Give

keepcalmholiday

My holidays were lovely…thanks for asking.  One highlight was hiking around Flowerpot Island, one of the Fathom Five National Marine Parks  (Parks Canada) with fantastic scenery.  Check it out…

Holidays are good for a number of reasons.  In this particular season of life they are good for me because I get to spend extended time with my kids mostly playing.  I get to rest (I love sleeping in), read voraciously and reacquaint myself with my knitting projects.  I know, it sounds terribly exciting!

On a more profound note (though playing with my kids is profound, seriously), I find holidays a time to think a little more freely, more deeply.  And I usually come away with new perspective.  This often leads to a deluge of blogging as I think sharing those thoughts is worthwhile.  At least a few of them.

New Directions

One of those new perspectives regards the direction of this blog.  For the most part this blog is not read by the parishioners I work with.  That was the original intent.  It was to be a communication tool between me and them.  I suspect the demographic I am working with is the main factor for this, but I also suspect it has a lot to do with the lack of desire to be in conversation about the new directions the church is taking.  For the most part people don’t want to talk about it.

For the coming months, and perhaps for the whole year, I am going to use this blog more as a personal/professional journal.  I want to share with you, whoever you are, my thoughts and musings more directly as I stumble along in this ministry.  I think you will find me more direct, more blunt.  Possibly provocative.  Anything to get a good conversation going!

The point will be to be honest.  I am desperate for conversation on these matters and find so few interested in a real conversation.  Either folks are far too invested in the past and trying to maintain that or too convinced by what the future looks like to entertain any holy doubt.

I was provoked by the thought this morning that being wrong is so important.  When we are convinced we are right, there isn’t much space to be moved by the Holy Spirit.  Yet we live in an age where a good politician has to tell us they know exactly what to do to rescue us from the current situation.  Where claiming our authority as church leaders is equated, for some reason, with knowing exactly what direction to take our local churches.

Holy Doubt

Increasingly I am filled with Holy Doubt.  By that I do not mean doubt in God.  Rather doubt in me, in us, in this world.  Not a despairing doubt, but rather a hopeful doubt.  A doubt that allows me to ask the question, “Is God up to something that I do not yet see or perceive?”

And so I enter into another year of work as the missional partner of this lovely little community.  Prayers and conversation are always welcome.