Ah, a new year and with it the theme for Forest Hill United Church in 2019. This theme has been bubbling under the surface of the work that Ellen and I have been planning but it wasn’t until I listened to an episode of CBC’s, Tapestry, that I had the big ‘Ah Ha’.
As an aside, we are in the season of Epiphany which literally means ‘Ah Ha.’ So the theme is “A Year of Digging Deeper.” (Reactivate Your Spirituality). As I said, it came to me listening to the discussion that the host of Tapestry, Mary Hind, had with a blogger by the name of Dan Cain. Cain said that he has a guitar, a pile of books on speaking French and a number of oil paints and other art supplies in his house but in each case they are gathering dust.
He thought that if he were in prison and didn’t have access to anything other than what he already had, he would be a good guitar player who speaks French and has time to paint as well. Hind asked him what stops us from using the things we already have? Cain guessed that it is an addiction to novelty. He said, “it’s like we have a sweet tooth for novelty.” So he, in an off-handed way, blogged that maybe we need to do a “depth Year.” A year that people would go deeper not wider. The response for those who read his blog was immediate and excited. “I’m in” one of his readers exclaimed and then she detailed what she was going to do.
When Ellen and I thought about her new study starting Wednesday, January 16th at 7:14 pm, based on the book “We Make the Road by Walking” by Brian McLaren, the pieces really dropped into place.
“He said, “it’s like we have a sweet tooth for novelty.”
What stops us from having a deep and rich spirituality? The reasons range from fear that we don’t know enough; that we are lacking in our Bible knowledge or prayer life; or that the way spirituality has been offered just doesn’t work for many. Yet all the roadways past all these stumbling blocks are already in our house. It just means taking the opportunity to focus in on the gifts to which we already have access. It is a challenge to try and stop ourselves from buying new things or if we do buy something new, to commit to fully exploring that new thing so it doesn’t gather dust in the corner. I would ask you to think about what one or two things you want to focus in on in the next year?
Many of us have a stack of books not read, an instrument not played, a spiritual curiosity not pursued. Think about the pleasure that comes when you conquer what you have right now!
For example you not only get to enjoy the books you have but you get to see that pile of the ‘left undone’ being reduced. In effect the challenge is to replace the sweet tooth of buying new with the sweet tooth of going deeper.
Ellen will have the book study. I’ll be scheduling a time for folks to gather for coffee, conversation and support in how we might ‘go deep not wide.’ And in all things that’s what we will encourage the leadership at FHUC to be doing in 2019.
A new church year is dawning my friends and so September 9th marks it’s kick off and the celebration of the church structure. At that service we want to hold up each Unit and what they do as part of the whole governance structure. If we used a metaphor of being on a journey, the Units, their teams and the Council are like the car that we travel in together. The Holy Currencies program is the road we travel and our mission is where we are going. Over the last year that Ellen and I have been here we have talked about the governance structure and Holy Currencies, but there has been less talk about the mission or destination. Often churches have these long mission statements which say everything and nothing about who a congregation is and where they want to go on a shared faith journey. I believe we need to be clear about our mission and I don’t think we need endless questionnaires or focus group to discern it.
I believe we only need to look at what ‘we’ as a community of faith are already doing. A Jesus says, “Where your heart is, that is where your treasure can be found.”
As I take in all of last year, I want to name to the congregation what I believe is the heart, the treasure of Forest Hill United Church. It is in Outreach, Unity of Community and in Transformation of the self and our society. I would like to challenge the congregation and the Units to think about if what Ellen and I have seen is what you also perceive? Are there other elements that seem important to Forest Hill that we have missed? Or could it really be that simple that our mission at Forest Hill is to aid: in personal and societal transformation; Increasing a sense of belonging or unity within community and outreach to those in our society who need help?
I like stories to help us understand big or difficult subjects so here are a couple of stories about how Holy Currencies work in helping us reach our mission. There are so many places where the Currency of Truth plays a vital role in moving us forward in transformation. For example hearing truth about why there is so much pain and addiction within First Nations peoples is hard because it puts heroes like John A. MacDonald in a bad light. We see flaws in his (and other leaders of the time) aspirations to “kill the Indian in the native.” This truth about them forces us to ask what biases do we carry, unquestioningly, within us? What role do we play in the continued victimization of First Nations people? Truth is essential in the process of transformation.
How about the Currency of Relationship particularly when it comes to building community. Certainly we want to build community within the congregation but that is pretty low hanging fruit. For the most part we at Forest Hill look alike, dress alike, have the same mother tongue and church experience.
The Currency of Relationship challenges us to expand our circle of care, respect and dignity. This September 25th, Forest Hill will be hosting Waterloo Presbytery. Let this be your first invitation to offer to make a pot of soup or chilli to help feed our guests. Now we could have asked you, the congregation, to offer bread as well BUT if you remember from the service and potluck we had with the Tigran Faith Mission Church they make some pretty amazing bread. So we asked them if they would supply bread for the meal. They very happily said, “yes.” This offered them dignity and an appreciation for what they can offer. It introduces them to the wider church and it gives them a chance to support the ministry of Forest Hill. It also draws us all into community where we feel supported and appreciated for the gifts we have to offer. This is the kind of community the church is called to be.
And lastly, there are just so many stories of how outreach has transformed all those involved. Whether it is the gracious leadership of Linda Davis, Sue Hummel, and Shelley Steele (and their partners) or the work of Donna and Dennis Dechert or Chris Robinson in the Be In Community Unit. Every time people have said yes to helping in events where they actually meet new people, they have been changed/transformed. It happens at the Food Bank or Christmas Supper or Strawberry Social at Chandler-Mowat. It happens at the Food Trucks and it happens whenever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name. It has involved risk of getting out of our comfort zones and sometimes digging in garbage (spiritual or literal) and it has meant that our world and our place in it changed. This, too, is what the church is called to be. A place where the transformative power of Christ comes to us in the most humble of means.
So as the fall comes, look for a clearer focus of our church mission and an invitation for you to be part of it.
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 doesn’t 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 it’s