Let Me God, Be Open
Third Sunday after Easter Year B
April 25, 2009
Let us pray: Amazing Creator, send your Spirit to create us anew this day. Transform our hearts and minds to follow more closely in the way of Christ, speaking the good news of your reign of love. Amen.
I ended last week's reflection with a Stay Tuned, not knowing exactly how or when that invitation would be realised in another reflection. Many of the things that the presidents-elect reflected on in our gathering in Toronto a week ago are still with me. Combined with some of the reflection I've done this week in preparation for the retreat that didn't happen, I find myself coming back to some of the same questions over and over again.
I also mentioned last week that one of the things that happened in Toronto was an evening of focused story-telling where each conference president-elect offered a snapshot of their particular conference which is a way of describing a geographical area within the church. I knew that this was on the agenda, and not wanting just my perspective to be part of the snapshot I delivered, I sent out an invitation to the current president of ANW Conference and also to the staff people who work in the conference because I know that in particular our regional resource people have a pretty good handle on just what is going on in the vast part of Canada that makes up Alberta and Northwest Conference. I know for example that we are the only conference that has to deal with three provincial governments and two territorial governments to say nothing of the feds which of course is a bit higher profile for those of us who live in the Northwest Territories.
I didn't get an overwhelming response from the invitation. Out of six correspondents, only two replied, but the replies were extremely helpful for me in preparing what I would say about our conference, and also in getting a better picture of what is happening in this conference, something that will be helpful for me as I prepare to take on my new leadership role.
One of the responses came from Pat Bourque the regional resource person who works with the three northern presbyteries of ANW Conference, including our own Northern Lights presbytery. Among other things Pat remarked that the Emerging Spirit campaign including wondercafe.ca has been significantly embraced by a portion of the people who belong to the congregations of the Northern Region. This was a surprising bit of news for me. It also befuddled me. I think I'm pretty up on things around the church. I think I have fairly attentive ears when it comes to hearing things that are going on especially when we meet in wider groupings such as presbytery and conference meetings. Until Pat mentioned this embracing of the work of the emerging spirit campaign I wasn't sure about it. Sure I remember my excitement when I received the first package of material in the mail a couple of years ago and I remember commenting on the ad campaign in my reflection on the Sunday following its launch. I even did an Advent series which featured wondercafe.ca but after that it was outside of my radar. I was always aware of the work. I received periodic email updates about what was going on, but I hardly ever surfed to wondercafe.ca and when I did I rarely ventured far beyond the opening page. That's quite an admission for a web monkey like me. But it's true. Oh yes, I also attended the first Emerging Spirit workshop last year in Grande Praire and I have to admit I was pretty underwhelmed by the whole experience. Strangely enough it seemed too slick and too polished. If I were to summarise my analysis, I would say that it wasn't churchy enough and I don't mean that in a derogative way at all, but rather in an affectionate way. The word churchy can often mean homespun, low tech, even kitschy sometimes, but it can also mean warm, counter-cultural, and personal and it is those characteristics which I thought were missing in the first Emerging Spirit workshop.
So, I had all these things swimming around in my noggin as I approached the Presidents-elect gathering and got ready to prepare my snapshot. Atypically I wrote the snapshot on a hotel notepad on Wednesday morning atypical in that I hand wrote it, not atypical in that I was doing it somewhat last-minute of course with a fair amount of reflection on what I would write before the fact.
Part of the other content we received at the gathering was a general overview of the Emerging Spirit work. More grist for the mill that my grey cells had become. And then this week, in preparation for the un-retreat as I'll call it, Lloyd and Cynthia and I met to discuss what we would do to tell about the second Emerging Spirit workshop we had all experienced at the most recent presbytery meeting. The second Emerging Spirit workshop Living the Hope was its name, was very different from the first one. It was very churchy and I mean that in the best sense of the word. It was provocative and informative. In fact so provocative that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, especially in connection with some of the things I've been doing this week.
In case you are wondering what Emerging Spirit is, after all this talk about it, let me quote directly from the Emerging Spirit website:
Spirit is an exciting initiative of The United Church of Canada
focused on establishing and nurturing a relationship between the
United Church and Canadians who don't attend church, with a focus on
those between the ages of 30 and 45
Now Keith Howard, the executive director of Emerging Spirit was quick to say at the workshop we attended that Emerging Spirit was not about increasing church attendance, although that was a mystifying comment to me, and I don't quite agree with him, for this also appears on the same web page just a paragraph away:
The aim of Emerging Spirit is to help raise awareness about the ministry of The United Church of Canada and to invite people to join with us on the journey of faith. The media component of Emerging Spirit will proceed hand in hand with work to help congregations and their leaders develop more effective welcoming ministries and connect in a new way with their communities.
Emerging Spirit also offers important opportunities for congregations to reclaim and proclaim the key elements of the gospel they are called to live out in their context, reassess how they are perceived in their local communities, and strategize (sic) about things they might do to be more welcoming to those who don't currently attend a faith community.
The name Emerging Spirit I'm quite sure is taken unabashedly from the so-called Emerging Church movement. I briefly mentioned last week the Great Emergence which was also part of our discussion in Toronto, and talk of which will I'm sure continue to colour my reflections on into the future. Briefly it is a sense that something new and wonderful and strange and different and faithful and transformative is happening in the Christian community. It is still emerging so it is hard to put into words, but it has to do with radical openness and inclusion, radical response to the so-called givens of the world calling into question the economic and political systems in new ways, and a strong interfaith or multi-faith component. There is a sense that the United Church has been in the forefront of this work with the work it has been doing locally, nationally and globally, but I am aware of the sin of pride and therefore I don't want us to claim too big a role in this movement. It's easy not to make this claim as well, because I think in large part the Great Emergence is going on without us, and perhaps even in spite of us. If the Emerging Spirit people are correct in their analysis and I think in large part they are, the emerging church is upon us, there are instances of it all around us, but they are diverse and diffuse and the glimpses right now are fleeting. Only momentarily do they show up within these walls, but they do show up inside of these walls and sometimes it has nothing to do with our current program but it does have something to do with the program and mission that was established for this congregation as much as thirty five years ago.
In case this all sounds a bit mysterious, let me explain. I attended two meetings this week in this very room. On Thursday night it was a town hall kind of meeting as a group of people met to discuss a nascent social plan for the city of Yellowknife. Here we were discussing the various social needs of the city needs that go beyond the paving of streets and building and repairing of sewers which have been a traditional part of the city mandate. But people including our current city council are starting to realise that the city is more than roads and sewers, that a large part of who we are is defined by the quality of life for all of the citizens of Yellowknife. I am hopeful that Thursday's meeting is the start of something important and good a faithful response and perhaps even part of an emerging faith in this community, despite being largely ignored or avoided by church leaders of Yellowknife. The second meeting shouldn't really be called that, although it was. Perhaps you saw the poster in the lobby or heard about it on the radio. Ecology North and Cinema Politica which has quickly groundswelled into quite a movement in our city, teamed up to present Blue Gold a documentary on water featuring Maud Barlow who you might remember from the free trade discussions during the Mulroney years. Ms Barlow is quick to point out in the film and I'm sure in the book which the film is about that her work against the North American Free Trade agreement led her to recognise the importance of water and to act and speak against the commodification of water which for all intents and purposes can be called the fountain of life. This room was full to the edges overflowing into the balcony. I was well above the average age of those attending. And I couldn't help but think that this is the stuff of my faith this is the stuff that helped me to make an adult re-commitment to The United Church of Canada, and that we as a community of faith are missing something here. What would it take for us to tap into the faith that is being expressed by the people who attend these gatherings in such large numbers and for whom the fate of the world is vitally important.
Our gospel reading this morning focused on the question What is
real?. I've been thinking about that question all week. What
happened in this room on Thursday and Friday evening was every much
as real as what we are doing here today and my dream is that the
reality of Thursday and Friday evening and Sunday morning will reach
out and grasp each other in transformative and inspiring ways. And
once again I can do no other than to say: Amen and stay tuned...