September 23, 2021

Looking at my calendar for the next week, I realized it will be a week of reflecting on topics that are sensitive, fraught with emotion as we seek to understand the impact of systemic racism. First, on Sunday we have our Anti-Racism speaker Jacqui Getfield from Black Anglicans of Canada, with a discussion to follow and then next Thursday is Orange Shirt Day, which will also be the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. These are both important events and topics, but ones that will be difficult for many of us, as they call us to honest self-examination, which requires vulnerability and openness. As challenging as these topics will be, I encourage you to consider participating in some way. 

Our speaker and discussion this Sunday are part of the Social Justice and Advocacy Motion that was discussed and passed at our annual vestry meeting this year. Over the course of the last year, we have become acutely aware of racism and the systemic racism that underlies so much our society. It has been eye-opening to say the least. Like others, I have sought to better understand racism and have read books that challenged me to look more deeply at my own bias, many of which are unconscious or part of larger systems. The diocese has made a commitment to anti-bias/anti-racism training first for all clergy and which will be extending to parishes in the new year. I suspect that this will be challenging, but hopefully can lead to greater understanding and changes where necessary. I want to encourage you to join us on Sunday whether in person or online, to listen to Jacqui, to come with an open mind to hearing a perspective that may be new to you, and then to continue the conversation with her and each other at 1 pm on Zoom. 

This year was also marked by the discovery of unmarked children’s graves at many Residential Schools and the knowledge there are many more still to be found. These discoveries have been re-traumatizing for survivors of the schools, and have raised many questions about our historical identity as a country. This has contributed to added significance for this year’s Orange Shirt Day and now National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th. Orange Shirt Day began in 2013, arising from the personal story of Residential School Survivor Phyllis (Jack) Webstad (you can read her story here). It is a day of remembrance and solidarity with residential school survivors and their families and a day of advocacy for all Indigenous People in Canada. The phrase “Every Child Matters,” which has become one of the catch phrases of the year, comes from Orange Shirt Day. There are a number of ways you can take part: wear an Orange Shirt, make a donation to one of the charities supporting survivors, learn more about the residential schools and subsequent removal of indigenous children from their families (see the announcements below for a September 29th event hosted by Toronto Urban Native Ministry) or participate in an Orange Shirt Day event (there is one on the lawn of the BWG library September 30, 6:30-8 pm). You can also be part of a larger show of solidarity by submitting “selfies” in your Orange Shirt and/or holding signs of solidarity. The pictures will be featured on the Toronto Urban Native Ministry Facebook page and possibly in The Anglican. You can email your photos to diocesan Right Relations Coordinator Leigh Kern (lkern@toronto.anglican.ca). These are just a few examples of how you can participate. 

The coming week will be emotional and challenging as we address these important issues, but I think both of these events are important for us as Christians because they reflect our calling to seek and serve Christ in all persons. As we recognize how some of those who are made in God’s image have been and continue to be discriminated again, it challenges self-examination and change for ourselves and our community, and to be advocates for systemic changes that seek to honour God’s image in all persons. 

September 16, 2021

As part of my sermon preparation, I often listen to a lectionary podcast on the readings. One of the comments that caught my attention, but didn’t find its way into the sermon, was how the pandemic has changed the way we engage in our practice of discipleship. For many of us our discipleship pre-COVID was heavily linked to physical buildings, to physical gatherings and to serving people face-to-face. The church building was central, whether that was attending worship and/or another group, or serving in the Shop, as were other locations such as serving at the Community Meal, or a shelter. For most of the last year and half, those opportunities to be physically together and to serve physically have been few and far between. Only now are some of these opportunities starting to resume, but with significant differences from before. We are more aware of the risks involved when we gather, and especially when we serve in other settings, to take the necessary precautions. What we took for granted before, we are much more keenly aware of now. 

When it comes to our discipleship, this has meant adjusting to new ways of engaging, in ways that may require more initiative from us in many cases. While there is some level of commitment required to show up to church on Sunday morning, it takes a different kind of commitment to engage in virtual worship. For example, once we walk through the doors of the church, there are routines, and the space itself draws us into a worshipful spirit, that sets this time apart. On the other hand, when we attend virtual worship, those physical cues and routines are not there and there can be additional distractions that pull our attention away from worship or make it harder to enter into that same worshipful spirit. There are also elements of virtual worship like commenting during the feed – that can either engage us more deeply, or distract us. As the one who is typically leading worship, I am aware that it was much easier for me in many ways to see the reactions of those physically present, because I do not see the comments during the online service, until after the service. The times when I have been on the other side of virtual worship, as the participant rather than leader, I admit I had trouble staying focused at times. Hearing from others, there was a variety of pluses and minuses to virtual worship. The good news is that there is now a choice for those who do feel comfortable returning to the building, but it is different and it may never be the same as it was before, so that also requires some adjustment. For others virtual worship has opened up more opportunities to engage in worship, whether that is parents who found it easier than getting the children to church or worrying about how others might be disturbed by their children, or people who were out of town and could still be part of the worship and community. It has also brought new people into our community, albeit in a very different way. This time though has challenged us about how we engage in worship and put more of the onus for engaging on the individual.   

Worship is just one example of the way that discipleship has shifted during this time, as other groups either went online, which not everyone felt as engaged by, or met in some alternative format like garden knitting and ladies coffee break, which became dependant on the weather. At the same time other opportunities have arisen that invite us to think more deeply about our faith, and to seek to reach out in Jesus’ name. I have heard back from some people that these weekly reflections have been food for thought for them as they seek to deepen their faith and understanding. I was surprised by the number of participants in the midweek service that typically draws upwards of 10 people live, and others who watch later, far more than would come to a weekly midweek service at the church. Others have talked to me about how this time has been a time of reading their bible more, or a deepening of their prayer life. When it comes to serving, we have focused more on collecting items of need, on financial gifts and finding other ways of supporting those on the front lines of serving when we cannot be. All of these are examples of how the pandemic has affected our spiritual discipleship. There has been a renewal of the home as the center of our spiritual lives, supported by the Church through the various virtual offerings and other resources that have been made available. I leave you with a question: how has the pandemic changed your discipleship?

September 9, 2021

I have commented at recent baptisms that children can teach us much about faith because they see the world with fresh eyes, which in turn can bring a fresh perspective to our own understanding of faith and our relationship with God. This week I had such a lesson from my 11-year-old nephew. He loves baseball and especially playing baseball. He was very excited to be able to play this year and especially to try pitching. He proudly told us about how well he was doing and it was obvious how much he is enjoying learning this new aspect of the game. On Tuesday morning I was messaging with him after his playoff game on Monday. I knew from his father that the team had lost 2-1, but that he had pitched well when it was his turn, and had also gotten a triple late in the game that he might have been able to get home on, but the coach had held him at third base. Knowing he was disappointed with the loss, I offered him some encouragement, reminding of the positives, how well he had done personally, both pitching and hitting. I also reminded him that he won’t win every game but if he tried his best, that was what was really important. During my morning walk afterwards, it struck me that we all need to hear a similar reminder from time to time, that we will not succeed at everything we do, rather it is giving our best effort, knowing that we tried, that is really important.

At times when things do not go as we had hoped or planned, it is easy to get into the should have, would have, could have, guessing game. To wonder if we could have changed the outcome if we had done something differently. My nephew was questioning what could have happened if he had gone home instead of stopping at third base as instructed by his coach. On the one hand, he might have been safe and they would have tied or even won the game, but on the other hand, he might have been out and he would not have had the possibility of coming home on someone else’s at bat. There is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been if he had tried to go home. Now he has to learn the tough life lesson to let it go and focus on the next game, which is often hard. You have probably faced similar situations when you wondered if you could have changed the outcome if you had done something differently, had you made a different decision. We do that with relationships, with career decisions, and the one that is often the toughest, is with medical or health decisions. It is easy to look back and wonder, but none of us can go back and change the past. Like my nephew we all need to learn to accept that we did the best we could at the time, given the circumstances, and try to let go and focus on what comes next and the making the most of the present and future. If our lives are filled with regrets about what could have been, or beating ourselves up for the past, we will miss what is right in front of us, the moments that God gives today. 

One of my friends has a wonderful saying, “Was it good? Was it enough? Then it was good enough.” While it would be wonderful if everything that we do is a resounding success, sometimes “Good Enough” is our best. It all comes back to doing your best, giving your all in the moment. Also, there are times in life, when our best effort is not the same as at other times because of different circumstances, but it is all we can do in that moment and that is good enough. We also cannot compare ourselves to others, what they can do and their successes, because we are not the same people with the same gifts and talents. We cannot be anyone other than ourselves, and we can only do what we are capable of. Each of us have different gifts and abilities, which lead to different accomplishments. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), each servant was given differing amounts, which produced differing results. Both of those who did their best with what they received were commended, it was only the one who hid his talent, who did not even try, that was criticized. We are called to do the best we can with what we have been given, and trust that we did enough. 

This week I want to invite you to offer up to God the disappointments, the what ifs, and the regrets. May we forgive ourselves when things do not turn out the way we hoped, knowing that God has already forgiven us. May you know that you are enough, and when you have done your best may you sense God saying to you, “well done good and faithful servant.” 

September 2, 2021

September 1st was World Day of Prayer for Creation, which kicked off the Season of Creation, which continues until October 4, the Feast of St. Francis. The Season of Creation is not a liturgical or church season like Advent or Lent, but a time of prayer, education and action celebrating God’s gift of creation and our commitment to its care as stewards of that gift. The first day of prayer was declared by the Orthodox Church in 1989 and through the World Council of Churches the Season was extended to its current dates. Some Anglican Church of Canada congregations have been observing it over the years, but in 2019 at General Synod (our National Governance Meeting) a resolution passed adopting the Season of Creation and encouraging dioceses and parishes to participate. While I have been aware of it, and heard mention of it in conversations with colleagues, it was not something I paid much attention to. In part because it happens at the same time with the fall start-up of programs and groups, which seems to take centerstage, pushing other things to the margins. In September 2019 I did participate and write about the Climate Change March that coincided with visit of Greta Thunberg to North America and her speech at the United Nations. That experience was a powerful one, as I shared at that time. Unfortunately, the pandemic soon took over most of our focus, once again pushing environmental concerns to the back burner. Recent Facebook posts and emails though have caught my attention, and inspired me to write about it this month, and to share some resources you might find helpful. 

Creation and creation care have been an emerging issue for well over 30 years, with increasing attention as we become more aware of climate change and its devastating effects on not just the earth, but also on human life. There has been a growing awareness that we as humans, have not been good stewards of creation. There are times in our history that we have exploited the resources given to us by God, believing they were endless, and without thought to the damage we were doing to the earth from the extraction of natural resources, to the long-term effects of industrial revolution and urbanization, to the pollution and the disposable society mentality. Scientists have warned us that some of this damage is likely irreversible, and we have long heard warnings that we need to change our ways if there is any hope of saving the planet. As we see and experience the effects of climate change, including droughts, fires, and rising ocean waters that are slowly enveloping some island nations, there is no denying something is wrong and things need to change. 

Change has been happening, from the reduce, reuse, recycle campaigns, the changes to factories, cars and other sources of pollution, and the conversion to more renewable sources for electricity like solar and wind, to name but a few. But we also know that positive change is happening slower than the negative changes and consequently, that we are losing the battle. As humans we know we need to change, and even more, Christian faith calls us to be good stewards of creation. We know and believe that creation is a gift from God, a gift we need to honour, cherish and care for. In recognition of this, in 2010 there was a movement within the Anglican Church of Canada to incorporate an additional question into the baptismal covenant, and in 2013 “Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?” was officially added to our baptism service. We have also seen this commitment to environment reflected in the 2019 Social Justice and Advocacy Motion in the Diocese of Toronto, which led to our parish commitment to a solar light, a new tree and a waste audit. While the pandemic slowed the course, we have completed the first two and working toward the third as part of re-opening plans. We know this is just a start, and we have far more to do as a congregation, and individually. 

As for the Season of Creation this year, how can each of us take this time as an opportunity to pray, learn and act when it comes to creation care? First, we can incorporate prayers for creation into our daily prayers. Throughout this season, the Morning Prayer from the Rectory on Wednesday mornings will include different prayers with a focus on creation care. These services are live and available afterwards for one week. Second, we can seek to learn more about environmental issues, such as climate change. One resource that may be helpful is the Love of Creation, faith conversations guides, that while intended for groups have information and guided questions you can reflect on whether you are new to this conversation or have been involved in it for years. Finally, we can act, seeking to change our behaviour and to be advocates for creation. As the letter of James says, faith without deeds, that is without some tangible action, is dead. For each of us, the changes we make will be different as they reflect our own lives and situations. Being in the midst of a federal election, this is a good time to ask candidates about their party’s commitment to environmental issues. Below are links to other resources you may find informative and helpful. May we pray for God’s creation, learn more about what we can do, and take action as faithful stewards of this precious gift we have been given. 

Resource links:

Anglican Church of Canada – Season of Creation

Ecumenical, International – Season of Creation 

Canadian Ecumenical Movement (mentioned above) For the Love of Creation

August 26, 2021

In recent weeks I have heard in the news and in conversations with colleagues, the issue of the intersection of individual rights and collective responsibility— where should the one end and the other begin. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we hope, there has a been a lot of talk about where individual rights end and our collective responsibility begins, especially when it comes to recommended and required health measures like wearing masks, vaccines and even proof of vaccination. How can our Christian faith influence our perspective and behaviour? 

I have a number of colleagues in the United States who are dealing with controversy around masks in public spaces from children in school, to worship attendance to entertainment venues. It is shocking to me the hostile responses that friends are encountering, as there is huge backlash against requiring masks. I am relieved that for the most part this has not been as controversial here in Canada. For me, many of the public health regulations and recommendations are about erring on the side of caution, because we don’t know who could be a carrier even if they are double vaccinated and who could possibly be infected, and the consequences for them if they are. While I suspect that few of us enjoy wearing a mask, especially on these hot and humid days, many of us recognize that it is a part of the bigger health and safety strategy. It is not about living in fear, but for me a healthy dose of precaution, when there are still so many unknowns about this virus and particularly variants.   

In our context, both nationally and provincially, the hot button issue has been vaccinations and vaccination policies. We have seen our vaccination rates plateau, as the majority of those who are eligible and wish to be vaccinated have at least had their first shot and many are fully vaccinated. Now the challenge becomes reaching the other 20% or so who are eligible, who are also at the highest risk of being infected according to statistics for new infections and hospitalization. In recent weeks there have been announcements of vaccination policies for many of the public sector jobs like healthcare, education, and transportation, among others. As well, more and more venues, including sports stadiums and performance venues are requiring proof of vaccination for entry. We know that vaccines are primarily defensive, protecting us from others who could be carriers, but they are also about protecting the most vulnerable and those who cannot be vaccinated either because they are not yet eligible or because of a medical or health condition. As we begin to see rising infection rates and now hospital admissions, it is also about avoiding overwhelming the healthcare system as we have seen in previous waves and reducing disruptions to other hospital services that are already faced with long backlogs. 

As we contemplate the intersection of personal rights and communal responsibility, some of the questions we are wrestling with are: Is there a point where the public good outweighs the right to choose whether or not to be vaccinated? For those not vaccinated, should there be added restrictions? Given the confidential status of health information, who has the right to ask or know about medical information such as vaccination status or the reason for a medical exemption? Should tax dollars be spent treating those who choose not be vaccinated if they are infected? Similarly, should or could insurance benefits or disability insurance claims be denied, if people choose to not be vaccinated?  These are just a few of the questions I have heard posed in recent weeks. They are not easy questions, but ones that are being talked about as we try to balance personal rights and freedoms, with our collective responsibility when it comes to health and safety in this ongoing pandemic.

As Christians I believe the scales tilt toward our collective responsibility. As those made in the image God and called to seek and serve Christ in others, we are called to consider how our actions impact those around us. We know that we do not live in isolation but are part of much larger and more complex system, much like the human body. I appreciate the analogy that Paul uses of the body for the human family and the call to unity and care for each other. In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that all parts of the body are necessary and cannot say to another for example “I don’t need you.” (1 Cor. 12:21) In fact Paul calls us to added care and attention to the “lesser” parts of the body, the ones often overlooked or seen as less honourable. In the same way, through vaccines, through adherence to public health requirement and recommendations, we are caring for each other. 

As we wrestle with the issues of the day around personal freedoms and rights, and our community or collective responsibility, let us seek to honour and protect one another, loving our neighbour as ourself. Wear a mask, respect distancing, wash your hands and get vaccinated!