June 9, 2022
The annual cemetery service at St. Paul’s Coulson’s Hill is scheduled for this Sunday (weather permitting), the first one in 3 years. Preparing for the service started me thinking about rituals and traditions in our lives, and the meaning attached to them. If we step back and look at our lives, we have many rituals and traditions, big and small, woven together to create the tapestry of our lives. Many of them come from our family of origin, and so were part of our formation. We have traditions around how we celebrate birthdays and other special holidays, and also traditions associated with weddings, some of which may have passed down through the generations. The traditions and rituals of one family may be very different from another. This is one of the reasons that I ask couples who are part of marriage preparation to name the traditions that they want to bring into their new family and those they may want to leave behind. Couples sometimes discover a tradition that was central to their family is not even known to their partner’s. Traditions and rituals are part of our identity.
There are also traditions and rituals that are part of our faith lives. As someone who is fairly symbolic in my thinking, the traditions and rituals of faith are particularly meaningful to me. When we look at scripture, we see that God’s people have often had traditions and rituals that helped remind them of God’s intervention or action in the past, and of their ongoing connection to God. A primary example is the Israelites as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land and God through Moses gave them a series of festivals with rituals that would remind them of their wilderness experience and God’s presence once their lives changed from nomadic to more settled. Festivals that included Passover (God’s salvation), The Festival of Booths (God’s presence in the wilderness) and Harvest festivals (God’s provision). We as Christians also have festive days that remind us of what God has done, and what God continues to do, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, being primary. We may have different traditions and rituals specific to a congregation or denomination, but these are common to the Christian tradition as a whole, reminding us of God’s incarnation, redemption and gift of the Holy Spirit.
We also have traditions and rituals that mark certain transitions in our life, which have sometimes been jokingly referred to as “Hatching, Matching and Dispatching”. Baptism celebrates our entry or being part Jesus’ followers, whether the commitment is made for us by parents and sponsors or for ourselves when we are old enough to make that choice. Holy Matrimony, which is more than a wedding, through the vows and prayers invites God to be part of our new life as one, and that new life is blessed by God. Funerals have transformed into celebrations of life as we remember and give thanks for that person’s life, but also express our faith in eternal life as we commend our loved one to God’s care. These moments are so important to the cycle of life that as society moves away from faith connections, these rituals have remained important and have often been reshaped without the explicit Christian component. As humans they help us mark transitions in life, but as followers of Jesus they are an expression of our faith and desire for God to be a part of our life, here and in eternal life.
Coming back to the Cemetery Service, as I was planning it this year, I was aware of how much has changed since we last had a service. For me this year’s service is not only about remembering and honouring those who have died and are buried in that cemetery, but remembering those who have died in the last 2 years, some of whom we could not honour and remember in the traditional manner due to restrictions. As well this year we acknowledge the collective grief that many have and do feel, whether related to the pandemic or the ways our eyes have been opened to the wrongs of systemic racism, residential schools, and deeper divisions within society.
Whether you are planning to attend the cemetery service or not, I invite you to take some time and name for yourself the grief and sorrow that you have experienced and those you are carrying even now. Then offer them up to God, to experience the comfort of knowing God cares. Like any grief, it is only in acknowledging and mourning, that we begin to find healing.
June 2, 2022
A few years ago, I wrote a series of articles in this newsletter called “Anglican Words and Phrases,” because we sometimes have a unique language. While we try to avoid it, being a church that dates back centuries, there are times when our language reflects our legacy. In addition to language, the Anglican Church also has its own unique structure and hierarchy, and it can be helpful to know who’s who and how they fit into that structure. Life-long Anglicans are sometimes unaware of it and we are currently in a time of transition when some of the structure is being adapted, so I thought it might be helpful to offer this article.
In some ways our structure is similar to the Roman Catholic Church, partly because the Church of England styled itself after the Roman Catholic Church with the King in place of the Pope as the head of the Church. The Queen is still considered the head of the Anglican Communion world-wide, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual leader of the Church. Unlike the Pope, the monarchy no longer has any real governing power in other parts of the Anglican Church, but is more of respected figureheads. As part of colonialism, the Church of England sent missionaries to various places that the British Empire was being established. Over time, just as countries became more and more independent, so did the churches in those countries. Now the Provinces of the Church of England mostly govern themselves. In our case we went from the Church of England in Canada, to the Anglican Church of Canada. In my weekly email I have begun highlighting the various Provinces of the Anglican Church as we pray for them each week. I think this is helpful in reminding us that we are still part of a bigger, world-wide Church community. In Canada we began with one diocese that gradually subdivided into the 30 dioceses we have now. What becomes very confusing is that the Anglican Church of Canada is a province of the Anglican Communion, but there are four Ecclesiastical (church) provinces that make up the Anglican Church of Canada – Canada, Ontario, Rupert’s Land and British Columbia and the Yukon (Map). Most dioceses are led by a diocesan bishop, although in recent years a few have been placed under the authority of another bishop, mostly for financial reasons. In the diocese of Toronto, congregations and parishes were gradually further subdivided into four Areas – Trent Durham, York Simcoe, York Scarborough, and York Credit Valley, which are further subdivided into deaneries (we are part of the Tecumseth Deanery). In some cases, a parish may consist of more than one congregation, located in a different community, as was the case at one time with Bradford and Coulson’s Hill. As you can already see there is a fairly complicated hierarchy, which at times becomes more challenging, such as when multiple layers are involved in changes, knowing who has the authority to make changes can be difficult.
In terms of leadership (and titles) with the Anglican Church, a Primate is the head of the National Church or Province like the Anglican Church of Canada. Primates hold the title of Archbishop, and in our case are elected at General Synod (the national governing conference that usually meets every 3 years) and hold that position indefinitely until they retire or resign. Archbishop Linda Nicholls was elected Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada in June 2019. At this time the Primate is also not a diocesan bishop, as it is recognized that being Primate is more than enough work for one person. The four Provinces within the Anglican Church of Canada are each led by a Metropolitan, elected at the synod of that province. They are also called Archbishop, but they also serve as a diocesan bishop. Each Diocese is led by a Diocesan Bishop, in our case Bishop Andrew Asbil, who may be assisted by suffragan or assisting bishop(s). In our case we currently have two suffragan bishops, bishop Kevin Robertson and Bishop Ryscilla Shaw. This is a recent change from four suffragan bishops, after the retirement of Bishop Peter Fenty (November 2020) and the return to parish ministry of Bishop Jenny Andison (February 2021), and the decision not to replace them. As result, rather than one suffragan bishop per Area, the remaining bishops have divided the deaneries in the Areas that were left without a bishop, and Bishop Shaw is now our bishop. The diocese is currently in a time of transition in our leadership model, and who will be responsible for what as we re-introduce Archdeacons who will take over some responsibilities. I am serving in an Episcopal Leadership in Transition working group in which we are discussing potential changes.
The Anglican Church, at least in Canada, is led by archbishops and bishops, but is governed by Synods. I already noted that the national gathering is called General Synod. Synods are composed of bishops, clergy and lay representatives, who meet as a whole and then elect Synod Councils to govern between meetings. The Diocese of Toronto typically meets every other year, but for various reasons, has met annually for a few years. Patti Kergon is Trinity’s lay delegate. The national and provincial synods generally meet every three years, and the clergy and lay delegates to those are elected by the diocesan synods. I was elected in November 2019 to the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario Synod which met in October 2021, and at that synod I was elected to Provincial Council for our diocese, which meets twice a year.
I hope that this gives you some idea how the Anglican Church, at least in Canada, is organized and governed, and gives you a better sense of the larger Anglican Church that Trinity is part of. We are in a time of transition as parishes, as a diocese and I think as a national church, trying to become more adaptable, as has become increasingly important with the constantly changing world we live in. If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them, just ask.
May 26, 2022
The May long weekend is regarded by many across Canada as the unofficial start of summer, with various traditions associated with the beginning of summer, one of which is gardening. I remember being told not to plant anything before May 24 primarily because of frost. I am not a gardener, at least not an avid gardener. I occasionally will see something at a plant sale and think, “it could be fun to grow that,” but mostly gardening is a necessary chore that I do out of guilt rather than enjoy it. The last few years I have bought a few seedlings from the farm where I get my vegetable box. Last year I tried a variety of zucchini that was supposed to grow upright. I learned from that experience that zucchinis are not self-pollinating. I learned how to do artificial insemination using a Q-tip to transfer pollen from the male flower to the female, but each seemed to bloom at different times. Alas, I only got about 3 small zucchinis. This year I bought two regular zucchini plants hoping I will have less pollination to do, along with some dill (because I had a hard time finding it last year when making dill pickles), and a beefsteak tomato. I also bought a herb planter from another farm. Hopefully this year I will have better luck, but I won’t get my hopes too high.
I know that some of you are avid gardeners, people who cannot wait to get your hands in the soil. For some, gardening is a way of expressing your creativity, or a way of connecting to God’s creation. I applaud you and I am more than happy to enjoy the fruits of your labours, whether admiring an array of colourful flowers that are carefully planned to bloom in succession or the vegetables people have shared with me (and that have made their way into creations I have shared or sold at our church sale).
Given that Jesus lived in a far more agrarian society, he often took inspiration from that world. Many of his teachings involved sowing, growing and reaping, because people could easily identify. A few examples include the parable of the seed and soil in which Jesus compared different types of soil to our receptiveness to God’s word that shifts and changes during our life (Matthew 16); or when he talked about birds of the air and flowers, reminding us of how God provides, so not to worry about what we will eat or drink (Matthew 6); and finally, in John’s gospel when he calls himself the true vine, and we are branches, inviting us to abide, to be connected to him (John 15:1-8). Jesus took inspiration from the world around him, what was familiar to his audience so that the natural world was an obvious choice.
The reference to the vine and the branches in John 15, also comes with another reminder about life and growth in faith, and the importance of pruning. It is easy to see pruning in a negative light, especially when it is happening to us or in our lives. We don’t like having things removed or to feel like we are being cut back, but as I’ve learned that the health of the plant often requires pruning, to be more productive. On Tuesday I read a wonderful quote from Brother Geoffrey Tristam of Society for St. John the Evangelist. He says, “Like a garden, your life might be full of plants, growing all over the place. Some of these you want to keep; others have to go. They may be good in themselves, or were good in the past, but are no longer good for you. They are in fact stopping you now from thriving and growing, dissipating your energy, preventing you from realizing your vision. Name them. Then, with clippers in hand, ask for the courage to prune, ruthlessly, that you may bear much fruit, to God’s glory.” May we ask God to help us recognize the places we need pruning, the strength to endure and the joy of discovering how God will help us grow as individuals and a community that we may serve God.
May 19, 2022
This week, for the third year in a row, I have been attending The Festival of Homiletics virtual. This year it is actually happening in hybrid, as they are live streaming from Denver, Colorado. The theme this year is “After the Storm: Preaching and Trauma,” recognizing that the last two years plus, has been a time of trauma. Not only have we been living through a pandemic but we have also seen and experienced other traumas like racialized violence and deepening of divisions, and wars. In our Canadian context there has also been the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools and as I have recently written about, traumatic events and revelations in our church with regard to sexual misconduct. All of this cannot help but affect us. There have been too many days that the daily news leaves me shaking my head, sad, shocked, even frustrated, and wondering what else can happen and how to respond.
Attending the Festival of Homiletics someone described is like drinking from a fire hose, with one gifted preacher after another. For preachers who often do not get to hear others preach, it can be inspiring and encouraging, feeding our souls with a wide variety of perspectives and styles. I have been attending/watching sermons, lectures and workshops between my other commitments this week. Thankfully, I also purchased the recording package for those sessions I missed and also because it is being streamed from two venues simultaneously and I cannot be in two places at once even in the virtual world. I look forward to continuing to drink deeply as I continue to watch this week and over the coming months.
Let me share with you one example from this week. As I was preparing and eating lunch on Wednesday I was listening to a sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ordained Lutheran pastor, who is the founder of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, a best-selling author and podcaster. You can learn more about her and find the link to her podcast “The Confessional” at her website (language warning). Her sermon was on Acts 16:16-34 (which is in fact part of this week’s readings), and she focused on the jailer who had been tasked with guarding Paul when he was arrested in Philippi. After there is an earthquake and the jailer realizes that the cell doors are all open, he draws his sword to take his life thinking he has failed and his life is worthless. Bolz-Weber highlighted the hopelessness he was experiencing, and drew a parallel to the hopelessness that is prevalent in our society, not just since the pandemic, but which has been exacerbated by it. Symptomatic of that hopelessness is the sky rocketing suicide rates, drug and alcohol use and abuse to medicate the pain, and increased levels of mental health issues. In part, we feel hopeless because we have heard and believed a life narrative that promotes the self over community that leaves us feeling alone especially when life shakes under our feet. The isolation of the last two years has only heightened that sense of being alone.
Bolz-Weber suggested that one of Christianity’s gifts in these times is our sense of community. Just as Paul calls out to the jailer, “Stop, don’t harm yourself, we are all here,” that we need to call out to one another, you are not alone, you are seen, we are here. Further to that, Christianity has a different narrative to offer, that can actually free us from the bondage of the narrative that we are not enough, or that we have not done enough and that we have failed. When we are in those moments of desperation like the jailer, we need others who will declare this alternative story that is filled with hope and new life. It is a reminder that we are not alone and we are enough. We need to affirm one another, that we are not alone, but are part of a larger community and we are seen and loved. In the midst of the traumas and challenges of life right now, may we offer that precious gift to the world, of community, of being seen and the assurance, “we are here.”
May 12, 2022
One of the things I enjoy doing when I am on holidays is listening to podcasts while I walk. On my recent week off I listened to a number of podcasts, including one I recently discovered “Everything Happens” from Kate Bowler. Although I have only recently discovered this podcast, it immediately resonated with me. I had seen Kate’s name pop up in various online conversations, mostly short inspirational quotes, and then someone posted a link to an episode of her podcast. As soon as I listened, I was hooked. Kate was living a “normal life” until seven years ago when she was diagnosed with stage-four colorectal cancer. She has miraculously survived so far, but it led her to question and reflect on most of what she believed, especially about the providence of God. It also led to her first book, “Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved).” In her podcast, she speaks with guests from a variety of backgrounds, some famous, but many I have never heard of, about the wisdom and truth they have discovered through challenging circumstances. Some of her guests’ names I instantly recognized included Katie Couric, Mitch Albom, Rick Mercer, and Archbishop Justin Welby, but all of her guests so far have been inspiring, in part because of their honesty and openness, their vulnerability in talking about the hard moments of life. I love that she addresses all of the taboo topics, ones we are afraid to talk about, or name, including grief and death, pain, and illness. I also appreciate the moments of laughter, finding the humour in challenging moments and experiences. Having just wrapped up the latest season, I’m looking forward to going back and listening to past seasons, and what they have to say.
The honesty and vulnerability, mixed with a bit of humour, of Kate and her guests reminds me how important it is that we have people and places where we can share our challenges. That we all need those safe places where we can admit to not only our fears and doubts, but also be able to laugh at the weird and funny moments that often happen in the midst of challenging times. I believe that the Church has a role to play in listening, empathizing and supporting one another, not just those within the Church, but the wider community as well. This for me is an extension of loving others as God has loved us. It is also a part of our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to be in places that come alongside or even carry others, helping to bear the burdens and celebrate the joys, to be community for one another. Our Soul Survivors group and our study group are both places that have become those safe spaces of love and compassion, of honest sharing and mutual support. This is a good starting place, and we need to continually seek to provide these safe spaces in a hurting world.
If you want to check out Kate Bowler’s Podcast you can find it here, as well as more information about Kate. It’s usually only about 30 minutes and ends with the most amazing and affirming blessings from Kate.
April 29, 2022
(Content warning: Sexual Misconduct)
Dealing with broken trust can be very difficult and can be compounded by or remind us of other incidents, all of which slowly erode our ability to trust. My article this month deals with two recent, but not directly related incidents in the Anglican Church of Canada.
Last Wednesday afternoon (April 20), my social media feed blew up and I spent a few days trying to process what had happened and how it was affecting me. It started with a very tightly scripted announcement from the Anglican Church of Canada, “Public Announcement of the Resignation of Archbishop Mark MacDonald”. The title gave little hint to the shocking news contained in the press release. Archbishop Mark MacDonald, the National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop had voluntarily resigned and relinquished his exercise of ordained ministry due to allegations of sexual misconduct. In an accompanying pastoral letter from Archbishop Linda Nichols, our Primate, she indicated that Archbishop MacDonald had acknowledged the allegations, that he was accepting responsibility for his actions. While I found some comfort that he has acknowledged his wrong-doing, when that has not always been the case, I still felt overwhelming sorrow and grief initially, and later anger.
In part for me, it was shocking because Archbishop MacDonald was a highly respected figure in the Anglican Church of Canada, a leader in the ongoing process of creating and establishing a Self-Determining Anglican Indigenous Church of Canada. At the 2019 General Synod (National governing meeting) it seemed we were well on the way to achieving this goal after decades of work and that was when MacDonald was elevated from a National Indigenous bishop to archbishop in recognition of the equality of the Indigenous Church as a partner with the Anglican Church of Canada. Over the last year especially, he was someone indigenous and settlers (non-indigenous) looked to as unmarked graves at former residential schools were discovered. He led prayer vigils and healing services, and was one of the people instrumental in inviting and arranging for Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury to come to Canada and meet with Residential School Survivors and their families – happening in a few weeks from now. He was also recognized with an award from the Archbishop of Canterbury for his climate change advocacy. This was a man who was highly trusted by indigenous and settlers alike, which for me at least made it all the more shocking. When someone is highly trusted, it often leads to the breach of that trust being felt more keenly.
This has also highlighted a recent, but unrelated controversy in the Anglican Church of Canada regarding another breach of trust at the highest level of the Church. It began with an open letter published just before Lent from a group called #ACCToo, which stands for Anglican Church of Canada Too, in reference to the MeToo campaign a few years ago. The open letter, which I have since signed along with hundreds of others, stemmed from an article being written about the experiences of 3 survivors of clergy sexual misconduct. The controversy was not the way it was handled, but repeated breaches of confidentiality and trust, when the unedited article was shared without the knowledge of the survivors. The letter from #ACCToo called for the release of the findings of the investigation into the matter to the survivors or their representative, the dismissal of the individual at the center of the breach and a public apology. You can read more about this at https://www.acctoo.ca. While this was a breach of trust itself, the controversy surrounding it is now more about the responses or lack thereof, from various levels of the Anglican Church to the letter and allegations contained within it. This is an ongoing matter, so not directly related, but is related as it pertains to how we as a church and individuals deal with broken trust.
So, I come back to the question at the beginning: how do we deal with situations or events when our trust is broken? As an institution, The Church has a responsibility for protecting vulnerable people. It is not always obvious who are the vulnerable, so we need policies in place that provide appropriate boundaries, and procedures for what we do when those boundaries are broken. As well, awareness and training are essential. These help us to spot potential problems, and how to respond. I know that I have heard at times that it feels like we spend too much time on this training that seems like common sense, but until incidents described above no longer happen, we need to keep talking about it and keep doing the training. As individuals we also need to take responsibility for not only our safety and conduct but being aware of those around us, of being willing to speak up and stand with those who have been victimized. I think our only hope of rebuilding trust after it is broken, is by being open and honest about how we are feeling and taking an active role in being part of the solution, including advocacy and holding those who violated trust accountable for the collateral damage that has been done.
I still feel sad and a bit angry, but a week later I feel more hopeful. Seeing the outpouring of vulnerability and honesty around this latest incident, shows that we are willing to talk about it, which is the first step toward healing.
If this article has stirred anything in you that you want to talk about, please reach out to me. You can also contact either of our wardens, Patti Kergon or Gretchen Dewhirst if you need to talk about an incident. Together we are responsible for creating a safe space for all.
April 21, 2022
We are in the glorious Easter season. Easter is not just one day on which we celebrate the resurrection, but 50 days of celebrating and reflecting on the Good News and the hope that it signifies. One of the things I love about the Easter season in the church is that over the seven Sundays, we read from the Acts of the Apostles as our first reading, rather than from the Old Testament, as we read about the impact of the resurrection in the days, weeks and years that follow. Like much of history it can be tempting to look back on this time through rose-coloured glasses, but we are reminded through these readings that it was anything but idyllic or easy. Beginning with the resurrection accounts in each of the gospels, we hear how chaotic and confusing those earliest days were as Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a world like nothing they had experienced before. We have a few accounts of Jesus’ appearing to the disciples in those first 40 days before he ascended a final time, but for the most part the disciples were trying to grapple with not only what it meant that Jesus was alive, but even more challenging was where and what they did now. They knew that they could not return to their lives as before, as though nothing had happened, but they also could not continue on in the manner or way of life as it had been when they were following Jesus, learning from him and witnessing what he did. I am struck by the similarities between those early days and our own times, when we too are navigating a new way of life, that reflects the many changes that have come about because of COVID-19, and as we gradually, hopefully, transition into a new world and way of being not dominated by the virus. We can appreciate the angst, confusion and even frustration of the disciples as they navigated who they were and what they did after the resurrection.
As I said, our first reading on Sundays throughout Easter comes from the Acts of the Apostles, which is Luke’s follow-up or part two, of his gospel. Luke is the one who gives us the history of this transition into being a fellowship that followed Jesus without him physically present. Jesus had not left them a detailed plan of what to do, or even which traditions and rituals they should carry forward and which they should change or leave behind. Jesus’ instructions had focused on following in his pattern of life, and continuing to share his message of radical love, of grace and mercy. Our Sunday morning readings highlight some of the challenges, from the questioning by the temple authorities for what they were teaching, to Paul’s conversion and then some of his early travels, and finally their wrestling with whether and how to include Gentiles in the fledgling fellowship. Life was not easy, but throughout these early years we see prayer, fellowship, and talking through their difference and openness to God’s leading as the foundation upon which they built their lives and fellowship.
This Easter season I highly encourage you to read the book of Acts of the Apostles, only 28 chapters, so less than a chapter a day over the 50 days of Easter. As you read to reflect on what it was like during this time of transition. I also want to invite us as a community to a time of prayer for our congregation and for the wider church, as we, like the early church discover new ways of being the people of God in our own time and context. To pray for God’s guidance, but also God’s encouragement to step out in faith, to seek to see the new things that God is doing, as God was doing in the early church, and seek to rediscover what it means to be community at this time in history.
The Easter season is one of new beginnings, and this Easter season is our new beginning. It may not happen as we imagined it, or even how we hoped, but if we are willing to step out in faith following Jesus, we may discover a way of life that is beyond our imaginings, and even our dreams.
April 7, 2022
The last two weeks much of my focus seems to be on Holy Week and Easter. First, I was solidifying the plans for the services, at least enough to be able to share the basics in the Easter Letter, which I hope you have had a chance to read and think about which services you plan to attend either in person or online. Last week it was time to focus on some of the finer details, and especially the music, which is so much a part of our worship.
While I am not particularly musically inclined, music is an important part of worship for me. It can enhance or detract from the tone of a service; it can emphasize or be in conflict with the intended message or focus of the service. Given that the services over the next week each have their own distractive focus, but also work together to move us through the week, the music needs to compliment that journey. So, I spent part of last week not only listening to various hymns (not being musical I need to hear the tune to know if it fits), but reading the words as well. It is easy at times to sing a song or hymn and not pay attention to the words we are singing, but the words are also important. Just as we teach children their alphabet, numbers and body parts with songs, songs and hymns were among the earliest ways that theology and faith was taught, and remain key ways that we both learn and express what we believe. We see that in the psalms which were often sung, and were used to teach everything from the Hebrew alphabet (Psalm 119) to the history of God’s people (i.e., psalm 78). In times when literacy was low, Christian hymns were a primary way of teaching about God and all that God had done in Jesus. If you read the words of some of the older hymns, you can see this. It is also true when I look at some of the more recent hymns and Christian hymns teach us and challenge us about how we live out our faith. A few examples from our Holy Week hymns include “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us with Your Love (CP 504) which we sing in Maundy Thursday as a reminder of our call to service and “Come and Journey with a Saviour” (CP 482) which reminds us that the journey is inward, outward, and upward. On Good Friday, the haunting words of “Were You There” (CP 192) invite us to imagine what it would have been like to witness the crucifixion.
One of the challenges can be, that as our theology or beliefs have shifted and evolved over time, the words of the hymns may no longer fit fully what we believe. There are some hymns that have a mix of good and bad theology, when a line or two of a favourite hymn can raise an eyebrow if we are paying attention, “is that really what I believe?” It doesn’t mean we stop singing them but why it is important to pay attention to the words we are singing, so that we can question what they are saying and whether we agree.
As we sing our way through Holy Week and Easter, may the hymns we sing help us to mark each of the days, setting the mood and reminding us why they are each important to the larger picture and celebration.
March 31, 2022
Each year, Holy Week and Easter invites us into the events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, some of the holiest moments of our faith. It is a full week that is rich in meaning from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, to the Last Supper, the trial and crucifixion to finally the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. As events that are at the core of our faith, the services throughout the week which commemorate many of them, have added meaning for us. The challenge for those of us who have been around the Church and a part of these celebrations over the years, is separating our memories and emotional attachments of specific services we have been a part of, especially those that have been meaningful for us, from what the services invite us to reflect on. This can be a bit like untangling strands of a rope; they are often deeply intertwined.
I have memories of past Holy Week services that are particularly meaningful for me, such as a Good Friday in my home parish when I was discerning my call to ordained ministry, which became a part of my sense of call. Another Good Friday service was on a mountain top with only my mother. The first Easter Vigil as a deacon when I led the procession into the church with the paschal candle will continue to be special. The first time as a priest that I washed someone’s feet, or the flowering cross that was a part of the Easter Sunday service in one parish I served. These are all special memories for me, but I also realize the meaning for me and my attachment to them was less about the events we were commemorating, and more about the personal meaning of the services. We all have services like these that have been particularly meaningful. This is not a problem as long as we do not confuse our attachment to the service with the meaning of the services themselves, thus placing more emphasis on how we celebrate than what we celebrate.
Perhaps it is two pandemic Holy Weeks and Easters, when many of the traditional services could not be held, at least not in same way, or it may be our Tuesday night study group that has been looking at these events in more detail, separate from our church celebrations, but I find myself approaching this year differently. I find myself asking how the liturgies can help me to enter more fully into the events, questioning what aspects are helpful for me and what is distracting for me? I suspect that the answer to these two questions will be different for each person, that what I find meaningful would be different from what someone else might find meaningful.
One of the blessings for me this year from the Tuesday evening Study Group has been the invitation to imagine myself as either an active participant or as a bystander to these events. For example, to think about what it would have been like to be in the crowd that entered Jerusalem with Jesus, whether as a follower or simply another pilgrim on the road. To reflect on the celebratory atmosphere that kicked off that final week. As we then approach Palm Sunday celebrations, how does that influence how I celebrate or mark the occasion? Each of the events of that final week, similarly invites us to enter in, to imagine ourselves as part of them, to hear Jesus’ words with fresh ears, whether to the disciples in the Upper Room or Pilate when he is questioned. Throughout Holy Week I want to invite you, whether you are with us in person, online or even privately on your own, to reflect on each of the events, and what it reveals to you about Jesus, about God and about yourself as you enter into the story. I believe it is only by following Jesus through this week from the joy and celebration of the palms, through the challenges he faced, through the conversations he had with crowds and disciples, to finally experiencing the sorrow and horror of the cross, that we fully appreciate the hope and joy of the new life symbolized by the empty tomb. I am looking forward to experiencing Holy Week and Easter, on entering the story and inviting you to join me.
March 24, 2022
This Sunday we have two speakers joining us from the Helping Hands Food Bank here in Bradford as part of our Lenten focus on Food Insecurity.
While I am not preaching this week, I wanted to offer a reflection that connects our gospel to the focus of the week, food insecurity. In the gospel for this Sunday, we have a familiar parable about a father and two sons. The link to the text is in the “worship this week” below if you would like to read it again. It is the last of three parables that Jesus tells in response to the grumbling from some onlookers about Jesus spending time and even eating with outcasts and sinners. By associating with “those people” Jesus seems to be condoning their lives and choices, which for some were seen as questionable.
As I listened to this parable as part of a lectionary study group that I am part of, I was struck by the way that the younger son when he finds himself in trouble, his life spiraled downward, chooses to hire himself out rather than return home, probably a bit ashamed and even fearful of the reception he’d receive. He does this in hopes of having a roof over his head and food to eat, although as we hear even that is far from adequate. In this parable the younger son’s problems are often seen as the result of his own so-called wild living. I noticed for the first time though, that it is also in part because of the famine that struck the land. In an agrarian culture, a famine was one of the worst disasters that could happen and you had no control over it.
When we hear this parable, it is easy to blame him, overlooking the factors that were beyond his control that also led to him feeding pigs, even envious of their food. Over the years, as I’ve listened to people’s stories, it is scary to realize how life and our security can change in an instant. One of my roles in my first parish was as a liaison with residents of Glebe House, the former rectory which was at the time transitional housing for older women. These women were all in their mid to late 50’s, most were well educated (in the first group of 5 women there were 7 university degrees), some had been married and raised their families. Many of their stories were similar, of going from financially stable, even well off, to needing somewhere to live, often in a blink of an eye. Company downsizings, divorce, and even death of a spouse, were among the reasons they were now living at Glebe House. In relation to our focus on food insecurity, factors that contribute to people needing to access a food bank are often complex and interconnected. As noted by the Ontario Association of Food Banks, a lack of affordable housing is a major driver of food bank use in Ontario. A September 2020 survey of food bank clients found that nearly half of respondents were worried about being evicted or defaulting on their mortgage, and one in five skipped a meal in order to pay for rent. (https://feedontario.ca/research/housing-gap/).
This year as we listen to this parable once again, I invite you to reflect on the way the younger son’s life changed so dramatically in part because of circumstances beyond his control and how it spiraled downward. Many who face food insecurity today, do so because of life changes, some of which are beyond their control. When we give to helping agencies such as the food bank, we are helping people just like us, who could be us.
March 17, 2022
Over the last month many of us have watched with horror at the Russian invasion and attack on Ukraine. We have seen the devastation of bombing, heard the stories of people hiding in subway stations, of refugees fleeing the country pouring over the borders into neighbouring countries who have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of refugees. We have also seen the bravery of Ukrainians who have stayed to fight, to defend their country, led by their president. As someone said to me recently, look in most family trees and you will find some connection, but if not, we all know those who do have connections to Ukraine. It can feel so far away, leaving us feeling both removed from the situation but also too far away to help in meaningful ways. At the same time, because of the way media connects us, our televisions, newspapers, social media feeds are filled with images and stories that bring this war into our homes and lives in ways that make it very intimate and personal.
I have to admit that before this I was not as aware of the history and ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. Only a few weeks ago I learned that I should stop referring to it as “the” Ukraine because that title was a leftover from the time when Ukraine was not an independent nation, but part of the United Soviet Socialist Republic and that it is Kyiv not Kiev for the same reason. The last few weeks have been a learning experience as I come to better understand the ongoing struggle for independence that Ukraine has faced even though they became an independent nation in 1991. Born and raised in Canada, I sometimes struggle to comprehend the aggression and tension with neighbouring nations, given our only land border is the longest undefended border. We may joke about being the mouse on top of an elephant, but it is a relatively friendly relationship. We do not really worry about an invasion, at least not since we won the war of 1812 (or at least we think we did). The Russia-Ukraine war and other ongoing hostilities between nations and ethnic groups right now, have reminded me of how blessed we are to live in this country. It has also reminded me of our responsibility to care for one another, not just those immediately around us, but around the world. I recognize that there are limited ways I can help, but I can pray, I can educate myself and speak out where appropriate, and I can offer financial assistance to those who are able to offer help on the ground.
One of those ways is through The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) that works through those already engaged in the work through the ACT Alliance, a Christian organization of humanitarian assistance. To learn more about ACT Alliance, you can read about them here. The PWRDF made an initial grant of $20,000 that has been increased to $50,000. The grants will fund the work of ACT member Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA). HIA has been working in Ukraine for more than 25 years in humanitarian and development projects. It had already shipped 28 tons of food to support those fleeing to Hungary, and their staff has been working with refugees at the Ukraine/Hungary border. You can read more about this work on the PWRDF website.
You can donate directly to PWRDF, click here, or go to pwrdf.org/give-today and click on Response in Ukraine. You may also donate by phone at 416-822-9083 or leave a voicemail toll-free at 1-866-308-7973 and PWRDF will return your call. We will also be collecting financial donation until April 3, if you would rather donate through Trinity. Please mark your donations Ukraine so we know where to direct it.
Remembering our commitment in baptism to strive for peace and justice among all people, let us continue in our efforts, including praying for refugees, for those who remain in Ukraine and all those with friends and families affected by this war.