Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Proud of My Church

I was a young pastor ready to embark on one of the most dangerous tasks: helping to lead a congregation through a building process. Building projects are notorious for doing in pastors. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone has a preference. Everyone is an owner. It is a context readymade for conflict.

With underdeveloped wisdom – not yet  baptized with the wounds of heated congregational meetings, I leapt into the context. And what a context: two congregations sold their separate buildings, amalgamated and decided to build a new building together.

I stood behind the wooden pulpit, looked across the congregation and dared to throw out the challenge.

“Building projects are known for producing congregational fighting” I said. “But we will have the opportunity to show the community something different.”

“The building committee will bring us decisions that will need to be made; colour of paint, carpet etc. But this is not about our individual preferences. Some have said that the church is primarily for those who do not belong to it. If so, then perhaps we should be asking our neighbours their preference for colours and textures. How would they like this church to look?”

The congregation rose to the occasion. They toiled together. They displayed the qualities of a community working together for the glory of God.

I was proud of the new building. I was proud of the process. I was proud to be their pastor.

I find myself in a similar situation now. The stakes are higher. Now I look across hundreds of congregations. Each unique and dissimilar and yet every one with a common yearning to display the wondrous love of our holy and passionate God.

This time it is not the construction of a new church building. It is a discernment process of a deeply personal and emotional matter: how to respond to persons attracted to the same sex. For many the stakes seem very high.

This too is a topic notorious for conflict.

But generally speaking, I have seen the Spirit of God at work in our community of faith. I have seen passion expressed: evidence of our love for God and the church. I have seen bold expressions of solidarity: evidence of our love for God and others.

I have seen a people listen to each other’s stories and passions because we know that that listening to one another positions us best to hear the voice of God.

I have seen a people who know that understanding someone is not the same as agreeing with someone, but seeking to understand is the same as seeking to maintain our unity in Christ.

The world is watching the church. It always has. I want the world to see a church that is unashamed to be in disagreement as they discern – because they are confident of God’s righteous grace and holy mercy. A church that knows how to lovingly disagree is a church that is ready to navigate the future.

We are Mennonite Church Canada; congregations representing a wealth of experience, passion and commitment. I am called upon to represent this body of believers. I am called upon to explain this body of believers. I do this with joy. I do this with confidence. I do this with gratitude – for in the midst of emotional disagreement – I see a people committed to extending the reconciling love of Christ.

I am not traumatized by these fearful times. I am grateful for a People of God ready to be church in fearful times. This is my church, and I am proud of my church. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Taking Notice in 2015

We have begun a New Year and as expected, we've seen the usual barrage of media attention to New Year’s resolutions. People have shared their hopes for personal improvements. Many will strive to make positive changes in their behaviours throughout 2015. Some will recommit themselves to learning and understanding more about God.

My friend helps me to better understand God. As is often the case, it is not by anything that is said. Instead it is a behaviour that seems to exude a God quality. I marvel at the quality. I pray that I might exhibit the same attribute.

Whenever we are with a group of people, my friend notices things unnoticed by others. As conversation develops my friend detects those who are not speaking and things that are unspoken.  As shared laughter bounces off the walls, my friend observes the places of silence. I admire this, and note it.

As people mix and engage one another, I watch my friend gravitate to those not in the conversations; to those on the sidelines. Soon small talk evolves into smiles and the quiet are drawn into the circle. It is a beautiful thing to watch. It is watching God at work through my friend.

I think this is a quality that needs to be exhibited by the People of God. It reflects the character and activity of God. While society spots the obvious, the People of God recognize the undetected. Empowered by the Spirit of God, subtle changes are detected: the groaning of creation, the yearning for acceptance, the readiness for restoration. Such expressions are never ignored by God and should not be discounted by the People of God.

The Spirit of God also draws attention to that which is overlooked by society; sometimes by neglect, sometimes by a discriminating absence of concern. But the Spirit of God does not cooperate with such disregard. For the People of God attuned to the heart of the Creator, the over 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada must be noticed. God hears every cry; the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s voices may be silent but cannot be ignored by God`s People.

When a group this large has no voice, the silence becomes a deafening chorus. The church cannot hear everything that is detected by God. Perhaps God is using the family and friends of the missing women to amplify the silence so that the church can hear this throng of indigenous female voices. It would be easier to stay within the confines of society`s selective hearing, but for the People of God such luxury is unacceptable. We are compelled by the acute hearing of God; the One who detects every sparrow falling to the ground.

I am proud of a church that offers a voice into the obvious, but also draws attention to that which is overlooked.

I watch my friend push aside a desire to be in the centre of the conversational energy and instead be directed by the Spirit of God and draw in those on the periphery. I smile with gratitude.

I am glad that I am part of a church that seeks to pay close attention to the yearning of God`s heart. May we always take notice of that which attracts the attention of God and seek to position ourselves in such a way that the Spirit of God may flow through us to the world.

This is my prayer for this New Year.