Archive for July, 2013

Blog Posts
2013 29 July

The Gift of Ritual – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

“Interment” is such an awkward word. It nearly always needs to be interpreted, as in, “Last week we interred my mother’s ashes.” We placed her ashes into the earth, blessed her memory, and gave thanks to God. We poured the ashes into the hole in the Memorial Garden at St. Andrew’s-Wesley, at the corner of Burrard and Nelson, in the heart of Vancouver, the city she loved. We read a few entries from her journals; and then from the Psalms, “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills – from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We shared a couple of verses from the hymn sung at her funeral, also ather mother’s funeral.

The king of Love my shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
and he is mine forever.

It was a short service, as always; maybe ten, fifteen minutes.

Which was perhaps a good thing, because her great grandchildren were present; ages one, four, six, and eight; filled with an unpredictable combination of sadness, solemnity, and the irrepressible bounce of a kid in a garden.

Only one side of the family was there. After the funeral service, my brother had taken some ashes to plant in his garden, beside his home in Peterborough amidst the peony bushes, offshoots taken from our mother’s garden; indeed, peonies that had come from her mother’s garden – sweet-smelling peonies from “before,” before scent was sacrificed, as with roses, for perfect blooms.

So, me and Tim, three granddaughters, one son-in-law, and four great grandchildren were present. After the service in the Memorial Garden we were gathering down at Second Beach for a picnic, to honour my mother’s memory, yes; but also to celebrate our daughter Emily’s birthday from the previous week; and our grandson Ben’s birthday just a couple of days earlier (who turned four!).

Which meant that I spent the first half of the day cooking for the family picnic feast – broiled chicken; potato salad and pasta salad; devilled eggs, chips and pickles. I felt as if I were channelling my mother all day long. Which was a gift, especially when I got inspired.

You see, when I was a young boy, my mother discovered a recipe for an “elephant cake.” It was such a success at its first appearance, that it became a command birthday tradition, one that I had carried on with my own three girls. An elephant with pink icing. Always pink. Don’t ask me how that part of the tradition began; the only one who could answer that question is gone. (One of many questions, I’m discovering these days, that will go unanswered.) So, a pink elephant birthday cake for my grandson. I had to go out and buy cake pans, it had been such a long time between cakes.


So why do I share all of this with you? Well, for several reasons.

One, to celebrate the gift of ritual that holds us in hard moments. Rituals connect us with each other, with family, with whoever has gathered; and then, with a much larger community and tradition, reminding us that humans have been doing this since the beginning of consciousness. And also, rituals connect us with God, the Mystery that embraces the universe and each one of us, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Also, to offer up a reminder that death (and thus change) is a given; is inevitable. And it always includes loss, no matter how well “the head” understands what is happening. And yet, it also includes the gift of new life, which, if you look in the right direction, is already appearing, demanding to be heard.

Easy to affirm, with spouse, daughters, and grandkids all around; harder to celebrate when loss is big and very present, while new life is sometimes a matter of faith, of trust.

I need reminders that this cycle is equally inevitable for churches, for our church, the United Church. Change is here, it’s happening. And some of those changes include death; and some, new life.

We need to name and recognize the loss. With conversations, tears, and rituals.

AND, we need to figure out how to stay connected with the next generations, sharing wisdom and learning new ways. We need to look for life in unexpected places, expressed in ways that are different and younger. We need to discover how to offer support, wisdom, and excitement.

AND, we need to keep eating together – potlucks, conversations, intimate moments; a welcoming table, where there is always room for a last minute guest, a stranger; a celebration of communion.

Which is what our family did, picnicking at Second Beach; we ate together, just as my mother would have had it. Remembering her; eating; getting on with it. And then after, we played on the swings; we swam in the sea; we went home tired and happy. And me, still a little sad.


2013 12 July

Moderator’s Post Lac-Mégantic

Posted in Steinbach United


By Gary PatersonI have hesitated to say anything about the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic – those who have died, or who are presumed dead; those whose lives are devastated by loss – family, friends, homes, businesses, a community. Sometimes we can only stand silent in the face of such pain and sadness.

And yet, over the week I have discovered once again that it helps to pray…as a way of being vulnerable myself to the tragedy of what has happened; to become open to the ache, the tears, the bewilderment, the anger, the horror. I can choose through prayer to be connected with the people of Lac-Mégantic, to carry with them, in some very small way, the grief they are experiencing; to be in solidarity with their pain. I can choose not to avoid, and move on to the next news story, but rather, to remember, to feel; to keep praying…not asking for God to “do” anything – but rather, simply to lift the people of this town into the heart of the Holy. (See “A Prayer for Lac-Mégantic.”)

I am living this week with the story of the Good Samaritan, the gospel lesson for July 14, where Jesus challenges us to love our neighbour in concrete, practical ways. I keep asking myself, what does that mean in the context of this tragedy? Financial gifts? Perhaps. Letters to government, encouraging and commending them to use our tax dollars generously? Possibly. To somehow let the residents of Lac-Mégantic know we are thinking of them, and that we will be in solidarity with them as they move into whatever the future holds.

Maybe being a neighbour means looking at larger issues…transportation of oil; environmental concerns; safety regulations; transportation routes. What doesn’t help, it seems to me, is a “blame game,” with various politicians or business leaders trying to score points, even if it turns out one or some individuals were negligent. The questions are bigger and more important than that, more systemic; and so are the changes that will help us avoid similar tragedies.

There is something so senseless in such a tragedy. I find myself reflecting on the stories of how arbitrary survival can be…one person goes home early from the bar – and lives; another person stays on – and dies. No explanations; no higher purpose. How do we humans live in such a world, both beautiful and tragic? How do we discover the presence of God in such events as these? And, how do we hold to our faith in such a way that there is nothing which can separate us from the love of God? Which brings me back to both silence and prayer; and the people of Lac-Mégantic.

2013 5 July

Under the Big Tent – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

Last Sunday I was over on Vancouver Island, as the United Churches at the south end of the island gathered together for a “combined worship service.” It started last year, whenShady Creek, a small, rural United Church out in the farmland of Saanich, was celebrating its 150th anniversary, and the congregation wanted everyone in the presbytery to join with them in a big celebration. Out west, 150 years is a LONG time and a BIG deal! So they rented space at the Saanich Fairgrounds, put up a big tent, and sent out the invitations. Well, it turned out to be such a success that everyone wanted to do it again!

Wow1So last June 30, most of the churches in Victoria Presbytery chose not to worship in their separate congregations, but instead, encouraged everyone to gather in the big tent out at the fairgrounds to experience a day of “WOnder and aWe” – or “WOW” for short. They were blessed by perfect weather, not a cloud in the sky (and yes, we do have such days on the west coast). Some 700 people showed up, which meant that the tent was filled to overflowing, and lawn chairs sprouted up all around the edges. Folk were hot, but happy.

Gordon Miller, music minister from Oak Bay United Church, joined by an upbeat Indie band called “West My Friend,” had the crowd rocking, and even managed to get us all clapping on the off-beat. The scripture reading, all about Jesus calming the storm, was dramatized, then followed up with a modern-day storm story, during which, artists painted the action on a huge canvas. And then, caught up in the energy of a tent meeting, I launched into a sermon which ended up with all of us humming together, “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand….” and then the band broke  into “Over my head, I hear music in the air….” It was about as close to a gospel revival service as I’ve shared with a United Church crowd for some time. And then we had lunch.

WOW3It was a great day, so many people, from different congregations, mixing, buzzing, experiencing “church” in a way that was larger than congregational life, engaged in a style of worship that was different from their regular Sunday morning “at home.” How could it not be so, under the big tent?

Such events can be a real shot in the arm, emphasizing our interconnectedness, not just living as separate (and often struggling) congregations, but as part of something bigger, a larger community, with history and an ongoing mission.  I wonder if you’ve had such gatherings in your neck of the woods? Let me know.

(Photos courtesy of United Churches of Southern Vancouver Island.)

2013 2 July

Canada Day

Posted in Youth Blog


“God keep our land glorious and free”.
Happy Canada Day everyone!