United Church of Canada

Links for October 22, 2015: Adulterous Bible, Marilynne Robinson, and Full Communion

Marilynne Robinson with Barack Obama from the article linked below.

Marilynne Robinson with Barack Obama from the article linked below.

I haven't written too much in-depth on the pastor's blog lately. So I thought I might share a few pieces I've been reading off the internet that have caught my interest lately:

  1. Apparently a rare 400 year old Bible bearing a typo: "thou shalt commit adultery" just went on sale for 15 000 English pounds. A significant typo, you might say.
  2. One of my favorite novelists and fellow John Calvin enthusiast, Marilynne Robinson was recently interviewed by President Obama (of all people). Robinson, who is a member of the United Church of Christ in the USA (a denomination in communion with the United Church of Canada), is known as one of our most thoughtful contemporary novelists. Her novels such as Gilead and Home pretty much illustrate the unseen, surprising grace of God. Plus their main characters are Pastors, so that's a bonus.
  3. Speaking of the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada signed and celebrated a "full communion" agreement with this US denomination. A full communion agreement allows two or more churches to recognize each others' sacraments and the ordination of ministers, granting ministers the privilege to be called by congregations of either denomination.
  4. And speaking again about Marilynne Robinson, wrote a provocative piece in the New York Review of Books challenging the culture of fear pervading North America. "First," she says, "contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind."

May God bless you all in the coming week.

Ringing in 90 Years of the United Church of Canada

Gathered bell ringers

Gathered bell ringers

If you were in downtown Courtenay this morning, you likely heard the unusual sound of church bells. This morning about 15 people from the St. George’s United Church community celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the United Church of Canada with a service of prayer, singing, and bell ringing. Each person got a chance to ring the bell (Ellen Wise was nearly sucked up into the bell tower due to the force of her tugs on the rope). It was a time of reflection and good humor punctuated by a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" United Church.

St. George’s, along with over three-thousand other communities of faith across the country were invited to celebrate by ringing their church bells 90 times to mark the special occasion. United Church Moderator Gary Paterson gave the invitation to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord!" the video below:

The United Church of Canada came into being on Wednesday, June 10, 1925 at the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto with an inaugural worship service held at 10:30am. The United Church was the union of three distinct Christian traditions: Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist churches. These churches believed that by putting aside some distinctive of their own tradition, they could focus on essentials they share. They believed that their venture would not only improve operational efficiency, but also create better persons, better communities and a better nation.  There has been much by way of the last 90 years that is unique, and worth celebrating. St. George's was barely a dozen years old at the time of Union, having been a Presbyterian Church.

An image of the 1925 Inaugural Service

An image of the 1925 Inaugural Service

Nonetheless, while there is much to celebrate, this anniversary is also a time for deep reflection. United Church historian Phyllis Airhart asks if we "still believe that something vital is in the making?" as they did in 1925 while Toronto minister Michael Kooiman suggests seven reasons for a "muted celebration" this year. The changes in Canadian culture in the past 50 years have created many challenges in terms of meaning and relevance for the Christian Church. It is once again asking itself the same question posed to its founders 90 years ago as to what the “essentials” of following Jesus are in our present context. To a denomination that once saw itself as “Canada’s church” it must come to terms with existing in a now pluralistic and largely secular society with an increased sense of respect and humility. In many ways we are adrift in terms of what our mission and purpose is now that Canada is no longer culturally Christian. So we have some major rethinking, and re-tooling to do.

Yet, the good news is that long before the United Church was, God was. And long after the United Church is gone, God will be. And God is active and present today as ever. And I think we're discovering that as a community with the growth and signs of life we are experiencing right now. So we celebrate 90 years this year. Not just what we have done in the past, however. Rather, we as St. George's are celebrating our present and future hope in the God who brought us together in 1925. Together, we are looking forward constantly to where God is moving ahead of us, showing the way as the people of Jesus. This 90th year is an exciting time as ever to be "called to be the church, and to celebrate God's presence." In this same vein, we ended our celebration with the following prayer by United Church Minister at Dominion-Chalmers in Ottawa, James Murray:

Holy God, this day marks 90 years of our being The United Church of Canada.

We give thanks for the times when we have been communities of Christ Followers who have shared the gospel in word, sacrament and deed.

We give thanks for the presence of your Holy Spirit to guide us all of our days.

We give thanks for how your gift of salvation, reconciliation, healing and forgiveness has shaped our ministry to mend the world.

We confess those times when we failed to share your grace.

Forgive us for those times when we failed to live out your love for this world.

We pause to honour the cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us in the faith.

We give thanks for our leaders, educators, preachers, administrators, caregivers, dishwashers, builders, bakers, storytellers, quilters, peacemakers, musicians and singers, who served you with their gifts of faith.

As we face an uncertain future, may we trust that you will walk with us.

Trusting in the Spirit’s guidance, may we share the joy of journeying together in hope. Amen.

Amen indeed.