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Transformation – a Gift of Change

Jul 5, 2018   //   by admin   //   The Message  // 

Over the last couple of weeks I have taken the time in worship to celebrate who we are as the United Church and talk about the changes that we are looking at come General Council at the end of July.  In these sermons I am making the case that this is all for the good.  In the New Testament a common theme is  transformation.  Moving from life to new life after death is the biggest  transformation but Jesus is pretty clear that we are to be transformed before that date.

Some of those transformations will be known only by us.  While other  transformations will be seen by those around us.  In some cases the metaphor used for transformation is an actual physical change or healing.

I can’t help but notice how many people here at Forest Hill have participated in studying the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown and some have participated in the follow up study of “Cup of Blessing” by Joyce Rupp.

The intention of these studies is transformation and it doesnt mean that we have found life unbearable before, but those of us who have participated, want more out of life. We seek happiness with ourselves, happiness within
relationships and within the world. We know at a spiritual level that this happiness is within our grasp and are willing to risk a little to achieve it.
This summer the whole denomination is seeking that happiness and has dedicated thousands and thousands of staff and volunteer hours to fully appreciate our reality, dream something new and then put those dreams on paper for thousands of United Church folks from coast to coast to pray and struggle over. It might fall on its face and us with it but there is no doubt that we will be transformed in the process. I have felt here at Forest Hill the same desire to grow and a willingness to risk.
It might fall on its face and us with it but there is no doubt that we
will be transformed in the process.
In the fall Ellen and I both will be leading studies that encourage grow and deepening of our spiritual lives. I invite you now to consider joining one of these short studies. It just might be the best gift you give yourself, even if its
a little imperfect.
Peace, Gary

The Messenger: July 2018

Jul 5, 2018   //   by admin   //   The Newsletter  // 

The Messenger:July 2018  JULY 2018

The Messenger: June 2018

Jun 10, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

To Read More Click Here:      JUNE 2018

Are You a Scatterer or a Gatherer?

Jun 10, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

Here it is Monday, the day after the Hamilton Conference weekend that Rev Gary, Diane Dunseith, one of Forest Hill’s Presbytery  representatives and I attended over the last 3 days. I had promised Tanya that I would have this article ready for her by the time she came in this morning, but alas I had to ask for forgiveness! Suffice it to say it was a full and rich time and, I am sure I can say with some agreement, we were all pretty knackered by the time we arrived back last night!!!
I have to say it was a wonderful conference from my little peephole. This year’s theme “The Changing Seasons“ based on Ecclesiastes 3 “For everything there is a season” was so well integrated  throughout all the discussions, the small table conversations, the presentations, the reflections, and worship.

Needless to say Rev Gary was in his element with the youth and the  wonderful energy they added to the court!!!! Those young people are so  coming into who they have been created to be…their prayers and reflection offerings gave me goosebumps as I experienced on how they are becoming important change agents in this changing season of our church.
For me, personally, it was great to reconnect with many of the ministry folks that I have shared and crossed paths with over the years; taking the time to share a meal with my diaconal sisters and brothers and to make some new relational connections. As the 2 new candidates addressed the court, I found myself reliving my own commissioning 4 years ago and how the seasons of my life have changed in those years.
But this year’s conference was also special and different because it is  probably the last time that our presbyteries and Hamilton Conference itself will meet in it’s present form.

The church has asked and most Pastoral Charges, Presbyteries and  Conferences have voted to change to a new 3 court system at General Council this summer. About half of Hamilton Conference (Kitchener Waterloo included) will join with others like Huron-Perth presbytery, where Gary was in ministry, into what will be known as Region 8.
The conference invited both a time of lament of what is being let go of as  Hamilton Conference and a time of celebration of who we have been and who we, as a church in this time, are being into! There was a lot of “raising the glass” before we had a wonderful meal together as we closed the conference.
If I have even 1 “ahh” take-away from a conference I am a happy camper and this weekend came through!
During a 2 minute theological reflection exercise we were to consider whether we were a gathering congregation or a scattering congregation.

My immediate response was that Forest Hill is a scattering church with its many ways of reaching out to others within our congregation, in our relationships with those  sharing our church space, and in our community. I see a lot of scattering of hospitality. Earlier this morning, I came back to the concept of scattering or gathering and I  decided that in many ways we are also a gathering congregation. In my time here I have seen so many gatherings of different groups and I can’t help but acknowledge how many have gathered around the food trucks and the classes offered. Which speaks to how you see yourself and our faith community? Are you more comfortable as a scatterer or a gatherer?  Could you consider your gifts with more courage to risk stepping out of your comfort zone to do something different?
Which leads me to the conclusion that it is not an issue of either/ or but …both / and. A perfect example, in my mind, is the pastoral team here at Forest Hill. We recently gathered to check in about our visiting and to look for areas where we might scatter more in our visiting and holding others in prayer.
As ministers, Gary and I depend on the community to let us know of any concerns about those in our faith community. Your eyes and ears and compassionate caring are well appreciated. Because there are so many interconnecting relationships in this growing congregation, we are not always aware of someone in need. So thank you for keeping us in the pastoral concern loop. It is helpful in becoming aware when a  friendly telephone call or visit could be helpful. Both Gary and I are all too willing to offer prayers on a Sunday for people both within our church and beyond the walls. However it is important to be aware that we can offer general prayers without naming the person(s) or… with permission we can name the individual. We will be placing the prayer box in a more visible place very shortly and everyone is invited to place a  prayer request in it. Prayers of gratitude and celebrations are also welcome. Please be assured that each week a prayer will be offered on behalf of the prayers placed in the prayer box.
With blessings for gathering and scattering within the changing seasons of all life,

Rev. Ellen

The Spring at Forest Hill

May 5, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

I think it is safe to say that Spring has sprung.  All the signs are there and everyone has t-shirts and shorts at the ready to enjoy the wonderful outdoors.  There is something about the sun that draws us to it.  Maybe, it is that house bound feeling that we long to be free from or maybe, there is a certain excitement of being alive when we are outside and warmed by the sun.  Whatever it is, we love it and it shows.
Over the last couple of weeks we have being doing a stewardship campaign.  It is what would be considered a soft sell.  By that I mean, the stewardship guys have shared in a lighthearted way the needs of the congregations and have gently encouraged everyone to increase their support to meet those financial needs.

It looks like people are responding and it is gratifying to see how excited folks are to be able to respond positively.  I think, when we hear about concrete needs like the increased utility costs or the monthly food bank challenge, it draws us out just like the sun into the warmth of giving.  There is something about our faith and grace- freely given to us by God -that calls us to respond with equal joy.  I also see that when folks respond they feel good about  themselves and this community that they have chosen to join.

Not everyone can respond to these financial needs and many people want more from their relationship with the church.  How can we do something about this?  Well, a number of us went to an event in Guelph that introduced us to the work of Rev. Dr. John Pentland who ministers with Hillhurst United in Calgary.  When Rev. John went there, the membership didn’t see much  future in the church.  In fact they outright told him that he would probably be their last minister “so do whatever you want.”  Rev. John began to ask for a number of small changes that added up to a big difference.

The small changes he put into a book called, “Fishing Tips” and our group got to hear about some of those tips. One such tip that I want to share is this: 20% of any organization does 80% of the work.  Which means 80% of the people stand on the margins of these organizations.  The big problem is that  eventually the 20% burn out from carrying the load and the folks on the  margins don’t feel that they have the gifts or skills to help in any meaningful way.
What Rev. John suggests and I would like to try here at Forest Hill United  is to move folks from ‘The Outside – In.’  If you are an insider, you know one of the 20% doing a lot.  Please invite one more person to help you do whatever you are passionately doing in the church.  If every insider did that then in the space of one year 40% of our people would be doing 80% of the work.  In two years 80% of the people would be doing 80% of the work and in three years every single person in the whole church would be personally invited into sharing the work and joy of the community.
Imagine how much freer, more appreciated and supported all the core leaders would be in less than three years.  Imagine someone coming to you and  asking you to share a small part in the ministries of Forest Hill where your  personal gifts and skills can be appreciated and grown.  It would be like the sun calling you into the joy and excitement of community participation.

This means that if you ever felt called into a central leadership position that you would never feel like you were stuck holding the bag.  Instead, you would be supported and connected to the whole congregation.  It is no surprise that with small changes like this Hillhurst United went from being on death’s door to being the most thriving and every member engaged congregation in Calgary.
So in the year ahead, I propose that we start doing ministry from the Outside – In.  If you are not presently engaged in a ministry here at Forest Hill don’t be surprised if someone taps you on the shoulder and invites you in. I encourage you to say yes and enjoy the ‘Son’ shine.

Peace, Gary


The Messenger: May 2018

May 5, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

To Read More Click Here:  MAY 2018

The Messenger: April 2018

Mar 30, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

To read more click here:  APR 2018

Courage, Compassion, Connection

Mar 30, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life; loving ourselves.”  So writes Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of  Imperfection

Through this Lenten season, on our walk towards yet another Easter morning of new life and renewed hope, a group of us have been courageously connecting our life experiences with compassion as we dig deeper into our spiritual beingness; opening ourselves to observe and to reflect on some of the things that get in the way of our living from a grounded center of loving ourselves even though…….
I think it safe to say that we are more aware that wholehearted living is not a  onetime choice. It is the journey of our lifetime. In the Fireside Room there is a poster which illustrates our conversations about living from a center of  wholeheartedness. Have a look. I believe it is eye-opening!  Living from a peephole of wholeheartedness invites us to dig deeper and perhaps to stir up the humus of who we are as Creator God’s loved ones and who we have come to be in this  wonderfully vast human experience.

At first glance one might say, “Why bother, my life is just fine, thank you very much!”…..until you notice that something in your life and/or your relationship isn’t quite working out the way you planned. A dedicated spiritual practice of  introspection encourages and invites us to more fully engage in our lives from a place of courage, compassion and connection because,  Even though we may feel vulnerable and fearful; sometimes wracked with shame or guilt, we are also brave, worthy of love and …we belong in God’s kin-dom unconditionally. In God’s eyes we are enough. Our task is to live into that reality on our spiritual faith journey.
Wholehearted living is about cultivating, risking and engaging in that which is  spiritually enlivening. It is about letting go of those concepts, ideas, and beliefs that can cause us distress and shrinking in our human experiences.

“… in fact, all of us in some way or another miss the mark of perfection in our humanity….BUT the good news is that regardless of all the woulds, shoulds and coulds in our human imperfections,  WE ARE ENOUGH!!” ”

Brown offers 10 guideposts to “Wholehearted Living”:
Cultivating:                                                                   Letting Go of:
Authenticity                                                            of what people think

Self-compassion                                                       of perfectionism

A Resilient Spirit                                              of numbing and powerlessness

Gratitude and Joy                                             of scarcity and fear of the dark

Intuition and Trusting faith                                of the need for certainty

Creativity                                                                      of comparison

Rest and Play                                                   of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

Calm and Stillness                                                  of anxiety as a lifestyle

Meaningful work                                            of self-doubt and “supposed to”

Laughter, song and dance                           of being cool and “always in control”

In these times when our homes, our communities and our world are stretched in so many diverse and conflicting ways; when isolation and loneliness are huge societal problems (even within churches), we can take heart and learn from our Master Wayshower Jesus as he courageously walked his human path with wholehearted compassion and risk taking to connect with the “other.”
In this Easter season may we each, in our own way, grow in our awareness that our stories matter, because we matter and then reach out to one another with courage and compassion so that another also gets to know that they too matter and are loved!
Jesus lived His love out loud! Can we say the same about ourselves???? Something to ponder!
Easter Blessings,
Rev Ellen


You’ve Missed the Point

Mar 11, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

I have heard more than once from friends who want to get under my skin that they are giving up church for Lent. I usually shake my head and roll my eyes and say, “ I think you have missed the point of Lent.” The purpose of Lent is to do something, be it scripture study, regular prayer, meditation, deep breathing or just day long mindfulness to appreciate life and our relationship with God who gives that life. It isn’t easy to do that meditative something so there are lots of resources and technology to help.

I stumbled across this site from the Catholic church for daily 3 minute retreats that can be emailed to your computer (3 Minute Retreats hold down the Ctrl key and click on the coloured text to link immediately). A friend showed me an app on her phone that reminds her to daily take time for a 10 minute break for relaxation and meditation. So much technology out there to help us care for ourselves. The interesting thing for me is that the secular world has awakened to the reality that our bodies and minds need quiet time – time when we are not rushing nor asleep but we are giving as a gift to our bodies. Yoga is another way to give this gift.

Lent as a part of our Christian tradition is an opportunity for spiritual and bodily refreshment. The church has known how important this refreshment time is to help us as humans be grounded in the face of the ever changing realities of life. The thing the church wants us to give up is the notion that we are too busy to give ourselves that time. Chocolate is a great thing to give up for 40 days because, well, less sugar is better for our bodies but that sacrifice does our soul and our human-being no good. Unless that is, when we crave the chocolate, we stop what we are doing and try to ask ourselves if it’s truly chocolate or something else we crave. Maybe we really need affirmations, maybe we really need a sense of control or maybe, we hunger for physical connection and chocolate is a cheap substitute. So, stopping what we are doing to ask, ”What am I really hungry for?” might be life changing. This is the essence of Lent. To take time for life examination.

In a recent sermon I quoted Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Lent gives us the space to drag the unconscious motivations that control us out of the shadows and into the light of day where we can consciously decide if that is who we want to be and how we want to be in the world. It takes our future out of the hands of ‘fate’ and consciously puts it in our hands. Strangely enough, I think Annual Meetings give us a Lenten chance to do the same thing for our congregation. What are the unconscious assumptions and expectations that control how we are in this community and who will pay for those expectations? Everyone of us comes through the doors of the church with an unconscious list of what we expect from the congregation. This isn’t a bad thing. Annual Meetings give us a chance to make that unconscious list, conscious – to consider not just the past year but what do we want to see happen in the year ahead and how do imagine it being paid for.

This past week we had our Forest Hill United Church Annual Meeting. Together, we took time to consciously decide what is our budget for 2018 and therefore, what programs would be financed. I hope you made the meeting because we are going to be asking everyone, including our user groups, to give a little more to finance the now conscious congregational hopes and needs. What we do in Lent, be it 3 minutes at a time or at our AGM, changes our lives for the whole year ahead.

The Messenger: March 2018

Mar 11, 2018   //   by admin   //   News  // 

To Read More Click Here:MAR 2018