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Our home church of First Baptist London has launched a new congregation based on contemporary worship and meaningful community, called Maitland Street Church. It has been a massive undertaking, and since the launch in November has enjoyed a great start.
This should be a major cause to celebrate. In spite of this, I find myself asking – why bother?
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been part of online discussions with other Christians/theologians around the church’s stance on LGBT, and have been deeply troubled by what I have encountered – ranging from perspectives such as “what science teaches us about sexuality doesn’t trump the fact the Bible says homosexuality is sinful” to appeals to “natural theology makes it clear homosexuality is wrong”, with one person saying the idea of a homosexual Christian is something they hadn’t even heard of until very recently, and they find very confusing.
There’s absolutely no way to persuade someone if (their interpretation of) Scripture comes before everything else. Modern psychology and genetics teach that sexuality is not a choice, which to me would indicate to me that the entire sexual spectrum is intentional, yet so many in the church continue to refer to it as a “sinful lifestyle”. The longer the church holds onto these beliefs, the further it drifts into irrelevance.
What does this have to do with Maitland? Very little. But as part of the global church it is part of the massive upheavals happening across the world in respect to Christianity, and religion in general. CBC posted an article today called “Rise in new city churches bucks secular trend”, reporting on the rise and fall of churches in Canada and the demographics behind it. As well, NPR posted this article, “Sunday Assembly: A Church For The Godless Picks Up Steam”. CBC reports:
“…in Australia where, in late December, one in five residents identified themselves as non-religious. New Zealand numbers are even more stark. There, two-fifths of citizens identified as non-religious, pushing Christianity out of its longtime spot as the clear majority.
In Canada in 2011, about 7.8 million people — 24 per cent of the population — cite no religious affiliation, up nine per cent from a decade prior.”
I found this interesting, especially reading it in conjunction with the NPR article, which reports how a non-religious church is gaining attention by giving people a place to meet, dance, sing and have fellowship without religion. This is how they describe it:
It sometimes feels like church in the auditorium of the Professional Musicians union in Hollywood. It’s a Sunday morning, and hundreds of people are gathered to meditate, sing and listen to inspirational poetry and stories.
But then the live band starts up — performing songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jerry Lee Lewis. And instead of a sermon, there’s a lecture by experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Jessica Cail about the biology of gender identification and sexual orientation.
Churches across North America (and elsewhere) are tackling the massive question of how to keep people interested in going to church, and especially how to draw back the many people that have “strayed” – most churches see about a 1/4 rate of retention from youth to young adults/adult congregants. Reginald Bibby, a University of Lethbridge sociology professor suggests in the CBC article “…many churches need to rethink their roles and become more family-focused, something evangelical churches have done right for decades, leaving them as one of the few not experiencing substantial drops in attendance. Evangelicals take for granted that they need to have a top-notch Sunday school for kids so the little kids are going to look forward to coming to church,”.
To me, these kinds of suggestions skate over the fundamental issues plaguing the church by making it sound like something as simple as shaking up Sunday School is the solution. As a young adult in the church, I’ve heard many snide remarks from senior congregants ranging from bemoaning “the moral laxness of this generation” to how the entire world is going to Hell via the unbelieving heathens. Not new sentiments, but one that young ears are sharp to pick up, especially when pointing at issues youth tend to care deeply about – issues like LGBT rights/equality and reproductive rights. Why would we put up this?
I know that by stepping away from an organization I am stepping away for opportunity to add my voice, and only contribute to the monoculture with my absence. But, I find myself starting this year wondering if I am really changing anything by being in church, and if it would be better to step away from it, even temporarily. I have been a hesitant Christian/churchgoer ever since I started about 7 years ago, but I seem to be finding especially few reasons to go now.
Not that there hasn’t been liberal movements inside the modern church. Pastor Mark Sandlin has been instrumental in creating The Christian Left and The God Article, which among other movements have provided a liberal perspective in what is otherwise an oppressively conservative culture. Pope Francis has shaken the world since becoming the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, becoming Time’s Person of the Year as he has challenged the Catholic Church to move in the world with compassion over condemnation, breathing fresh air into the church. Despite maintaining the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, the Advocate LGBT magazine named Pope Francis their “Person of the Year”. From the CBC article:
The Advocate magazine said it gave Francis the honour because, although he is still against homosexual marriage, his pontificate so far had shown “a stark change in [anti-gay] rhetoric from his two predecessors”. It hailed as a landmark his famous response last July to a reporter who asked about gay people in the Church: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
I’m grateful to have met other liberal Christians through resources like The Christian Left. I shouldn’t expect to surround myself only with like-minded people, but at the same time, it has been an enormous relief to find a wider of community that have similar struggles to me. And they have helped me continue to see the value of being part of a church community, though there are times like this that I still wonder.
So this is what I continue to struggle with. Should I keep with church and attempt to be a progressive voice, or decide that my energy, time and sanity are better invested elsewhere? I hope to remain and to be a positive influence in the church, and to challenge myself to read scripture, research further and work to expand my understanding of different theologies/philosophies in and outside the church. I believe that scientific and spiritual inquiry can and should work together, and I hope to find ways that this can work, and explore methods others use.
Right now is an exciting time in our church community, as we launch a new church from First Baptist Church London, called Maitland Street Church.
The team that is dedicated to the launch is meeting several times a week in a flurry of enthusiastic activity to iron out details as well as prepare the building (819 Maitland Street) for services starting in the fall. When I first committed to the project, I was likewise excited at the prospect of starting a new church founded on a philosophy of community, relationship and service.
But I’m struggling to remain excited, at no fault of the church or the people there.
I’ve always been hesitant in my Christianity. I came to faith in my early 20’s despite strong misgivings with many aspects of the global church and my experiences growing up (I wrote about it in more detail in my post What I Believe), and am always conscious of the associations that are created by saying I believe and attempt to follow Jesus Christ.
Even as we prepare for our new church, one that may be the closest thing I’ve found yet to a church I may be truly comfortable to call home, I feel more conscious than ever of how much Christians are in the news, in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.
This summer a debate has raged in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over female reproductive rights, with conservative Christians leading the charge for draconian measures that will put many lives in jeopardy. Even as a major victory for equality and civil rights was won when DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional, conservative Christian groups across America continue to push to keep the definition of marriage only one man and one woman. Though it is absolutely no cost to them or their relationship, these conservative Christians are working to continue to deny thousands of homosexual couples the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.
Closer to home, the news isn’t much better.
Metro News reported recently that despite dropping levels of hate crimes in London, not all the news is good:
The bad news is that hate crimes against the LGBT community across the country rose by 10 per cent in 2011 after an increase in 2010 as well.
Local numbers weren’t broken down by race, religion or sexual orientation, but Pride London Festival president Andrew Rossner believes the local LGBT community is still too often the target of abuse.
Far too often the Bible is wielded by ignorant minds and inept hands as a cudgel instead of a message of support and encouragement, and Christians the oppressors instead of allies. In a Metro News article written yesterday on a Pride London event called Ignite Pride (hosted by Aeolian Hall, mirroring other successful events such as Ignite London and Ignite Health), the one commenter chose to quote Romans 1:18 as a Biblical example of why homosexuality is apparently sinful. Pastor and author Mark Sandlin has written the best commentary I’ve read about this kind of misappropriation of scripture, calling such methods “Biblical” gay bashing. I also wrote this post last summer on sexuality and scripture, and why methods like this of lifting text in an attempt to make a point not supported by the entirety of the Bible does a disservice to God and to scripture.
When I marched in the Pride London parade last year, the only mar on an otherwise great day was the clusters of people holding signs along the parade route with scripture similar to Romans 1:18. Unfortunately, so often when I think of Christians, this is what comes to mind: people that worship the same God I do, but (in my mind) doing it so very wrong. What I struggle to accept that we are all part of one broken, splintered and diverse church. And, there are many that are just as unhappy that I’m part of the fold.
What I hope to remember instead as I reflect on my belief and my faith is people like this I met at Pride, instead:
I discovered that day that there are many people that believe like I do, including the directors of a London “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. They conducted a church service in Queen’s Park before the parade got underway on the spirituality of sexuality and on how we are all God’s children. I’m so glad that I happened upon the gathering that day, in doing so I’ve made new friends, and found much needed renewal of my faith.
It also helped me to reconfirm my commitment to the church and the community, something that in writing this I hope to do again. I struggle as I see so many Christians doing what I see as so much damage to the world and each other, but have found that there are others that think as I do, and are willing to remain in the church despite so much pain, knowing that it would be much easier just to leave, knowing what is easy is almost never the right choice.
I know that we need to be the change that we want to see, and that if I were to just turn my back on the church, it would only become even more of what I despise.
And we all have so much we can give to the church, and there is still so much the church can do for the community. Churches continue to be one of the foundations of many communities, supplying counseling, support, encouragement, food and shelter to those that need it most.
This is what I want to focus on as I think of the new church we hope to build. The goal is to create a church founded on community and support, being a relational centre where the members are there for each other, but much more importantly, are there for their community at large. My hope is that I participate in this church by connecting with the community associations in the area and finding ways that we can support each other, while drawing further experience that may assist the Argyle Community Association as well. There are brief moments (including the Awesome London pitch party this week) where I see and feel the power of collaboration and what people can do together when they share experiences and assets to the benefit of all. I hope that as our communities and L0ndoners in general discover their strengths and those of the people around them, these experiences will only grow.
It can be daunting, but it is so important to stand up for what we believe in, and surprisingly community connections can be made when we do. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride London again this year, it is so important to stand up and be seen as an ally, and to celebrate our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you’ve been out to Pride before, I hope that you’ll be there again, and if this is your first time to the event, I especially hope that you’ll come and see what it is about!
Pastors often say that to be truly living a Christ-centred life you need to follow God out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, I feel that it is our duty to give voice to those who are marginalized, to be an ally to those who need support, and to remember that the most clear instruction we receive from Jesus was to love others and love God. If we start looking at the world through the lens of love first, everything else second, it becomes absurd to say my books says you and your partner should have different chromosomes to be together.
Step out of your comfort zone, and love extravagantly. That, to me, is the real purpose of the church.
Last Sunday, our church met to vote on the direction we’d like to move as a congregation, collectively and separately. We debated launching a new church based on a framework of fellowship, community and service. After all the consultations and discussions over the spring, we voted 91% to approve releasing willing members of the congregation to launch this new church.
We’re very excited for this new project, and to have such a high percentage of the congregation behind us. There is still a great deal of logistical work to be done (including further work with our association to secure funding for the venture etc.), but it seems like things may move forward fairly rapidly now. The basic goal that we’re starting from is “to build a new, casual, contemporary, neighbourhood church that embraces spiritual seekers in ever-enlarging circles of compassion”.
Our next steps will be to start meeting together to plan how exactly how this church would work, and strategies on how we would be a part of the community around the church, as well as ways to incorporate the frameworks of fellowship and service we envision in our own home communities.
I think this is what gives me the most hope and optimism for this venture…I feel as if different elements of my life are coming together in a positive way. As we’ve become more involved in our Argyle community and the greater community of London, I’ve come to crave a church that authentically strives to be a part of the city. In this past week at the Tamarack Institute neighbours gathering I feel I’ve also learned ways that community and church leadership can come together to collaborate, insights I hope to share soon.
That isn’t to say in any way that First Baptist isn’t already doing great work for the downtown community, but I’ve still found something lacking in my own goals and aspirations for community involvement as an expression of my faith. This seems to be a sentiment echoed by many I’ve spoken to that hope to be a part of this new church plant. It is my hope that in this work our desires may be fulfilled, and that we may be truly a positive force for good in the city.
Yesterday we experimented with a “pulpit swap” with two other churches, hearing messages from other pastors and sharing in their thoughts and perspective. Our contemporary service welcomed the pastor of our previous church (Egerton Street Baptist) and family friend Dave Snihur. His message centred on the idea of “thinking outside the box”, a familiar theme, but focused on what it can mean for our church plant. I greatly appreciate that he dove fearlessly into what is a somewhat sensitive issue as our church tries to find its direction, and he shared excellent thoughts on what the plant may mean for us.
The “box” he talked about is our comfort zone, where we would like to adapt God’s plan into our own plan. Dave reminded us that God’s path isn’t easy, and very rarely happens where we are comfortable. In particular, he and any others that have been involved in a church plant can tell you that the launch is both exhilarating and exhausting, and has to be a marathon instead of a sprint. It helped me imagine what life might be like for both Sarah and I as we work towards this new church, and to earnestly ask if this church will be something truly new to our community and the city, or if we are just leaving one box for another. It is also a challenge to examine our lives and weigh what is truly important, what our priorities are, and make sure that we don’t become burned out with everything we try to achieve.
I hope to continue to write on this as we work and think and imagine the church and community we’d like to build. There will be plenty of challenges ahead, as we work to find balance between the First Baptist community and this new church, and making sure that both are well supported and cared for. I’m excited for this new possibility, but never at the expense of the parent church. Continued thoughts and prayers as we move through this challenging but exciting process would be greatly appreciated!
Last month, I wrote this series of posts about major changes that may be coming to our congregation, and what it could mean for our entire church. We’re struggling as our contemporary service is rapidly growing, to the point it is at the limits of our capacity as we operate now, while our traditional service is in slow, steady decline.
This has been a very difficult process for everyone, as many solutions have been proposed and debated at length. A merging of the two services was tested last fall, but a vote to make it permanent failed by 3% at a congregational vote. Sharing of space by other means has also been brought forward and mostly vetoed, while many (including myself) question the amount of energy being devoured by debate about worship music style. I grow increasingly frustrated and weary with the entire process.
As this has happened, a new proposal came forward from our associate pastor, looking to launch a church plant from our congregation, lead by people interested in building a church on a foundation of community and service projects. Needless to say, this prospect excited me and many others, and ignited a fire in me that had been missing for a long time in the church. As I’ve become more involved in our community, I’ve come to desire a church that has a deeper connection with the city around it, and would gladly help launch this new church and serve in it, if our present congregation would allow us.
What appealed most to me is the goal to work closer with community organizations, charities, services etc. to better serve London’s communities. I’m disturbed at the thought that I may be participating in a thinly veiled social club. In a time when the credibility and reliability of the global church is crumbling, every effort has to be made to regain it. The church lives and dies by its relevance to the community that surrounds it. If we cannot be a meaningful, helpful, contributing member of London, why do we exist?
As this has happened, I’ve tried my best to examine my motivations, but cannot be certain I am interested in this new venture for the right reasons, or at least, entirely. I want to be sure that I’m not simply leaving the present church, but moving with energy, honesty and authenticity into this new project.
Our church is at another major milestone, and intersection. This Sunday we have a congregational meeting to discuss our collective future, the hopes and fears of all the members, and the direction we would like to take, together. It will be a very difficult meeting, but I hope, also one of great wisdom, honesty and sensitivity.
I’ll be away next week after the meeting at a conference in Kitchener on community and neighbourhoods, but I hope to write about my experiences in our meeting next week. Thoughts and prayers with our congregation for wisdom and discernment through this trying time would be greatly appreciated! It is difficult for all of us, but it is my sincere hope that we will complete this process renewed in faith and fellowship, and if not immediately then in time a more united and strengthened group.
In my previous posts, I outlined the challenges facing our church, and our pastors’ thoughts on what is happening, and where we go from here. With everything happening, how can we move forward together? Are we irreparably damaged, or can we find a solution that everyone can agree to?
There are lots of questions about what move (if any) would be best for the church community, and the greater London community. I sometimes irreverently refer to the protestant church as the Church of the Holy Amoeba, because, given enough time, it will inevitably split. I would naturally question the idea of our church branching in different directions, but as I work with the different communities within the same building, I wonder if it wouldn’t be the best thing for everyone involved if a very specific church plant were to emerge and go in its own direction.
This entire process has been a stark reminder for me, and for our church as a whole, just how fallible and human we are. It has forced us to face ourselves and each other, and to be honest about our weaknesses and shortcomings as well as our strengths. It has been a time of great vulnerability, but I hope that through it we may re-focus on what really matters.
A split by any other name might be just as bitter, some are suggesting. Could this be an amicable church plant, taking those willing in a dynamic direction, or are we just kidding ourselves? Would it just be a spiteful split from the mother church?
There is a great deal of excitement about the plant. An associated church that is close to the downtown have already said that they would give us worship space (including the use of their sanctuary Sunday mornings) and they seem eager to have us as partners. As well, the team that have come together to support the proposed plant want to develop strategies for working closer with the communities around the church, “being” the church for the city instead of focusing/dithering on what happens Sunday mornings. (When a committee has to decide where the lectern will be placed on Sunday morning you have officially missed the point) There is a great deal to work out yet as we see if this move may be feasible, but one of the major stipulations would be to ensure that a strong relationship remains with the main church, including occasional joint services. I and the larger group proposing the plant don’t want to simply “walk away” from our main church, though I feel that having some breathing room may be the best thing for everyone involved.
There is also a great deal of concern, trepidation and consternation about the proposed plant. One of the major concerns is that many of the projects headed by the church currently won’t be properly supported, including youth ministry and outreach work like community dinners, along with a fear that general leadership will leave the church with this move. There are questions of whether any proposed Tangible Kingdom-esque projects could be launched successfully from our existing church, without a plant needing to happen at all. There is also concern that this move is being done for the wrong reasons, out of spite because the group proposing the plant didn’t “get their way” in different changes that have been voted on in the church. There is fear that even if this plant were to happen, both groups would remain poisoned and corrupted, and only spread the contagion further. I definitely agree that no matter what action is taken, healing within the entire church has to happen.
There is a lot of legitimate concern here, and something that would have to be worked out as a proposal was shaped and voted on. There would have to be a lot of discussion of who would go and who would stay should a plant happen. However, with this, I hope there would be a lot of earnest discussion and assessment of strengths, and sharing of power and responsibility as people choose to be part of the plant or remain, perhaps both as their desire and their calling guide them. Many of the younger people from the contemporary service have signalled they would stay with the main church, so in these early days I think it is realistic to believe many of the current and future leaders of the church would stay, so the feared “hollowing out” of the congregation wouldn’t happen.
There is so much more work to be done, and discussions to have together. We will continue to think and pray over what would be best for us, our congregation(s) and the broader community, and I hope to continue to post what is happening here.
In my previous post I laid out the problems and opportunities facing our church, and the possibilities for our future.
One of the possible solutions out there is a church plant from the contemporary service with a very specific focus on mission and community work. This church would be somewhat modelled after ideas like those proposed in the book “Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now” by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. This new church would be lead by one of our pastors and a group of congregants interested in forming this new church. They would most likely be from our contemporary service, focused on being a part of the community around the church, and working deeper to connect with the communities where we live as well.
Recently, our entire church had a congregational meeting lead by an outside moderator to discuss the different strategies that we could use to move forward. They were:
- Do nothing for the present, take time to heal
- Another attempt at a blended service
- Sharing the upstairs sanctuary space, with two distinct services
- Launching a church plant from the contemporary service
Regardless of which direction we decided to move in, it was quickly decided that doing nothing really wasn’t an option, as the problems we face would probably only get larger the longer we leave them to fester.
Before the meeting started, both our pastors spoke from the heart to share their perspectives on everything happening. Here are some of the main thoughts that came from their messages:
- Our church is being tested. Many in the congregation are asking why we can’t simply pull together, make concessions, and continue has a united family. There are challenges ahead for all of us as we imagine what is best for our church community and the city of London.
- Many are meeting-weary and exhausted. Many are feeling frustrated and discouraged, feeling they’re not being listened to, valued or respected. Many different perspectives are being shared at our meetings, and it’s difficult to find common ground and build together.
- There are many questions of which move is best for us and the community. What would be healthiest for us, and enable us to work in the community? Would a new church plant be a better extension into our city, or would it only see our current projects wither? What happens to those currently projects supported by the church?
- Are other churches doing things like this? What other projects are happening elsewhere? What can we learn from them?
- Quite shaken up by the possibility of a new plant, opportunity but also very painful. Loves everything about our church (community, staff, the downtown, the Karen community from Burma/Myanmar, diversity of beliefs/nations/worshipping styles), doesn’t want to see it all fall apart. But, also sees the passion and energy of those working towards the plant, what can we do but bless those seeking this new way, and set them free?
- This shouldn’t be seen as a split. Our church has had several healthy church plants in our history, and would maintain a strong connection with this new church should it go forward.
- Read the book Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter 5 years ago, and since then have tried to follow this method. Teaches how to fixate less on worship time as the primary focus, and how to really “do” ministry. Less talk, more serving.
- Goal of “TK” ministry is to work more in relational networks, and do tangible work in our communities. Many people mourn the loss of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, this returns focus on being there for one another, get to know your community, being good neighbours.
- Important not to do work with motives (ie. end goal getting neighbours to join your church etc.), but because it is a good and fulfilling thing to do. Be a positive force in our communities, see our city transform for the better.
- Has shared vision with others in the church association, there seems to be a lot of excitement and potential support for a plant.
- This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to how things have been going, has been contemplating such an action for years. Ever since starting ministry, has dreamt of leading this kind of project, think that the time has come.
- Maintaining a strong connection to mother church is a must.
- There is a fear that all the young congregants/families will be leaving, but this isn’t the case. Each person/family will have to choose what is best for them, and many have said they want to part of this new adventure, but many want to remain as well. There is a very good mix.
- This church plant would be a “win-win” for everyone. There is a church that would be willing to host the new plant close to the downtown, and the existing church would be left with a large reserve of money and a prime downtown building.
- We need to make clear judgements, know that we are making right decisions for right reasons. Hope that this new plant and mother church will only strengthen and grow together as we go our own directions, see each as extension of other.
- There is great excitement to be “blessed and released” by our church, hope that this project can happen, and others can see that this is positive for everyone involved.
In my next post, I’ll look at the different perspectives shared at the meeting, and share some thoughts on how we can move forward. I hope to continue to consider and develop an understanding of what might be best for our church, as well as the larger global community. This is a time of great difficulty, but I hope, also a time of great opportunity to be a greater force for good in our communities.
Over the past while (days/months/years) of our church, we’ve struggled to find a way to move forward for the benefit of everyone, including (and hopefully especially) the entire city of London. Our church is like many others across North America. Upstairs in the sanctuary with the choir, organ, hard wooden pews and hymnals the congregation is shrinking. Meanwhile, the basement space we use for our contemporary service (I’ve been a member for about 5 years now) with comfortable moveable/stackable seats, coffee and treats served, a worship band and a terrific sound and projection system is almost at capacity every Sunday now. In fact, in an area of Canada that is among the most difficult places in North America to foster a church, we have the rare reality of a church seeing good overall growth.
This is both our strength and our dilemma.
We want to see more growth, see more people join our community, more people come to faith, see more work done in and through the church in our downtown community and throughout the city. But how do we continue to expand our services?
We’ve attempted several solutions over the years. At one time we had two different service times, but the children’s ministries found it difficult to find enough people to care for the children all morning, so we now have both services at 10:30. However, because of this, we can’t have both services in the massive upstairs space. Another difficulty with proposing sharing the space is that many of the traditional service congregants didn’t want the sanctuary “tampered” with, in that sound, projection or instruments/equipment should be added.
An 8 week trial period for a blended service was attempted last fall culminating in Christmas, which attempted to blend both contemporary and traditional service styles. This has worked very well in other churches (Sarah’s church in Stoney Creek had a great service in this style since the mid-90’s), but though some seemed to think it struck a good balance, many from both groups seemed to prefer remaining in their own services, despite the constrictions facing the contemporary service.
At the end of the trial period early in the New Year, a congregational meeting was held to discuss the blended service, and to vote on whether to adopt that style of worship going forward. With a 2/3 vote needed to pass to move to the new style, the vote was 64% yes.
Many left feeling disappointed, not only for the decision, which would take us back to the drawing board and to our own services until something new was put forward, but also for what it signalled. Clearly, we are a congregation divided.
There has also been bitterness seeping into the relationship. From the contemporary perspective, the traditional congregants don’t see them as equal partners, or respect the hard work and dedication they put into the church and community. From the traditional side, they tend to believe they are the main financial support to the church, and that the younger generations are steamrolling them despite the decades of service they’ve given the church.
Lots of valid thoughts and beliefs on both sides, but how to find a common solution, especially when perspectives are so different and varied? Suggestions have been made to attempt another joint service or use by both services of the sanctuary, but there is fear that both continued connection would only bring more friction. There is also concern that having the two groups further separated wouldn’t really be solving the underlying problems.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time as we work through this process, and hope to share fairly everything that’s been happening to everyone involved, and convey the spirit of what’s in everyone’s hearts and minds as best I can. With so many conflicting perspectives and emotions running high, it’s hard to capture the essence of the issues we’re having. I also wonder if seen from an outside perspective, if these issues seem as terribly minimal and petty as I fear they are.
After the vote failing, the two services have returned to the way they had before, with the contemporary service continuing to push the space constraints of the space downstairs, and the traditional service in the sanctuary slowly declining. A week ago, a congregational meeting was held to discuss what action (if any) we should do to find a solution.
One of the possibilities put forward was a church plant from the contemporary service with a very specific focus on mission and community work.
Through all of this, I keep wondering, where is God in this? How do we move to start addressing what really matters?
There is so much work to do, and a lot of healing that needs to happen. I don’t want to diminish that at all. But in the end, we need to find the directions that lead to working in unity towards strengthening our city, especially as it struggles. We need to fix ourselves before we can consider helping others, but that should always be the goal we keep focused on.
I worry that as we bicker and argue and get bogged in excruciatingly small details, we only give those outside the church more reason to scorn us. With pervading perspective on the global church as a navel-gazing, insular, isolated, irrelevant, hypocritical and overall unattractive part of society, are we not only hurting our own congregation but the greater global community by helping confirm those suspicions? As we work through this, there are many times I think of how much easier it would be to be completely dismissive, and walk away from it all.
But I believe there is always great strength and potential in the church, despite my own personal misgivings. We are a diverse and complicated family, but that curse is also our strength. Only by sticking through these issues, by teaching and learning together do we grow individually and as a group. Despite it all, I want to find a way to work with my community in and out of the church, find ways to aid our city, and hopefully for ways that we can improve ourselves too.
Today is Easter Sunday!
Today is the day that we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death, his resurrection. Today we look back on the terrible events that lead up to this day, and rejoice that they are over, that the doubt and fear of Holy Saturday has become the light of Sunday morning. In the resurrection the ancient promise of the messiah is fulfilled. We celebrate that Christ not only returned from the grave, but that when he rose again he raised us up with him, restoring us from sin, something only he could do for us.
Today we remember how the disciples and followers of Jesus doubted as he lay interred, only to be bewildered at how he came to reveal himself to them. It is told this way in John 20:1-18:
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have take the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead).
Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’.”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Though Christ went to the grave alone, all of humanity was raised out of sin when we ascended.
We may never truly grasp the enormity of this single event.
Instead, we can only celebrate God and what he has done for us, and refresh our hearts and souls for the year ahead. When we next take the communion cup, may we remember again for the first time what it means to be in community together, to be part of a global humanity saved through God’s grace. Let us carry the meaning of Easter with us everywhere, remember in the darkness of the soul that the most devote disciples had doubts and fears, and carry the light of the message that God rose again, for us all.
Let us remember the disciple Thomas, who even after all he had seen and done while he travelled with Jesus, and the words of the other disciples that had encountered the resurrected Jesus, could not believe that he had truly returned to life. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25) Only when Jesus met him, and let him see and feel with his own eyes and hands did he cry out “My Lord and my God!” Let us renew our faith in God, knowing that all that he promised has been fulfilled.
He is risen!
Holy Father, thank you once again for the wondrous gift of your one and only son, who walked among us, lived with us and died for us. Today we rejoice that you are a living God, that your grace and compassion are available to us every moment. May we keep this blessed truth close to our hearts every day, and with that knowledge, be through our words and actions reflections of your mercy. Though we are made mortal and tempted to sin, may we live in compassion and grace, as you have for us. Thank you once again for the cross, and all that it represents. May it shape our hearts and minds, so we may be more like you every day. In Christ’s glorious name, amen.
Today we mark Holy Saturday. This is the day Jesus remained interred in the tomb after the crucifixion. Today we think of the doubt and fear of the disciples and followers of Jesus as they considered their experiences and the promises made by Christ. Little is said about this time in scripture, though services today dwell on the disciplines’ situation as Jesus lay dead in the tomb, and some consider what Christ may have had to do to overcome death and rescue us from sin.
This is how the burial of Christ is told in Matthew 27:57-61:
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)
Although there is little New Testament scripture on the day we call Holy Saturday, the Book of Lamentations is often used in Holy Saturday services, as an illustration of Christ’s suffering, and faith overcoming:
He has made me dwell in darkness, like those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked (3: 6-9)
I remember my afflictions and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hopes are in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (3:19-26).
This Holy Saturday, let us consider what Christ’s first followers went through; the fear and doubt that wracked them as they waited after his death. Jesus promised that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days by his hands, yet they could not imagine that the temple was his body, broken and renewed so that we may be set free. We mourn Saturday knowing Sunday is coming, but though they were his most devout followers, they questioned everything that had come before, and questioned if Christ was truly the saviour they had believed him to be.
Let us remember their doubt, and let it remind us of how fragile our faithfulness can be.
Holy Father, this Holy Saturday, let us remember you, and the struggle of your followers as they were mocked for their faith, as you laid in the tomb. Dismayed at your death, unable to believe that you were dead, and filled with terror of what may come next. They waited to see what would happen, though in the darkness of their hearts, even after your wondrous works, they imagined you were merely mortal after all. May we remember today the weakness in us all, and remember how quickly the rejoicing of your followers turned to anger, how quickly the devotion of your disciples turned to doubt and fear. This Easter, may we prepare to face the cross, examine our sins, and reignite our resolve to follow you. May we find the places where fear and doubt continue to reside, and strengthen our resolve to follow your mission of compassion, generosity and forgiveness. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Today is Good Friday.
Today is one of the most important days of the Christian calendar. It is a day of terrible, conflicting emotions, as we mark the day that Jesus was mocked, scorn, beaten, whipped, and finally nailed to the cross, and yet simultaneously look forward to the time he was resurrected and restored to Heaven. We remember how the people that surrounded him as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to cheers and cries of “Hosanna!” now brandish swords, the words on their lips now “Crucify him!”
It is a memorial of the suffering he subjected himself to for us, the torment people inflicted on him. It is a time to remember the disciples that were shown many signs of his power and compassion, yet in this dark hour still fled, and the one that betrayed him.
His last hours are told in this way in Matthew 15:33:
At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
The power of the act of sacrifice for us is almost beyond description or comprehension. Everything in the Old Testament tradition lead to the fulfillment of God’s covenant with humanity, from the early laws laid out for God’s exclusive people, to the salvation promised for all mankind. However, hopelessness and despair reigned as the supposed Son of God and king of salvation was put to horrible death by the oppressors the people had imagined Christ had come to rescue them from. Today let us contemplate both exactly what God has done for us through the cross, and what the disciples and followers went through as Jesus died for them.
Holy Father, we cannot imagine the depth of your suffering, as you were subjected to terrible punishment and abuse, before finally being put to death on the cross. We remember the sacrifice you made for us, even as we struggle to comprehend just how much it truly means. Though we sin, we are saved by your grace. Today we hold in our hearts the knowledge of all you have done for us, and work to better be your hands and feet in the world around us. You came to earth so that we may be saved, may we work to be the light in the world in your absence, until we may see you again. In Christ’s name, Amen.
*This year, our contemporary service is trying something very different with our Good Friday service. Instead of a congregational service, we’re meeting in home church services across the city in our local neighbourhoods. Sarah and I will be hosting our local home church, I talked about it in this post and hope to write more about the experience afterwards. A little nervous, but excited for the experience!