Archive for December, 2013

Blog Posts
2013 27 December

Think About It

Posted in Youth Blog

Imagine yourself in the picture below. Mere seconds ago, you were watching your sheep, then BAM! Angels appear from the sky and tell you to go follow a star. You’re probably thinking that you should lay off the egg nog, and hoping that it’s not a shooting star you’re supposed to be following. Begrudgingly, you go to a run-down barn. There, you find three kings down on bended knee. The power of the situation begins to set in. Obviously, this child is important if  three people who are usually bowed at are bowing to him.The tiny baby turns his head and smiles at you. What would you do? Would you play your best for him? Would you go tell it on the mountain? Think about it in this season of love and hope. Merry Christmas everyone!






2013 24 December

A Blessed Christmas – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


Home for the holidays… it feels good to be back here in Vancouver (even if it is raining).

One of the gifts of slowing down is the opportunity to reflect on all that has happened this fall.  It’s been a busy time, with lots of travelling – what stands out for me is how faithful and amazing the United Church truly is. I’ve been at gatherings like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission eventBanff Men’s Conference; orBehold! (our church’s intercultural conference). I’ve spoken at presbytery and congregational events, where we shared our grief and our hope as we talked honestly about all that is happening to our church. I’ve shared worship with congregations across the country, listening and preaching, and together we have dreamed of the future. My heart is full!

I truly believe that we are in an exciting time, when the church is being called by the Spirit into new life. But it’s not easy. We know that change includes loss; that evolution is rooted in extinction; and above all, that resurrection is preceded by crucifixion. But we are people of faith; we know that we are not alone; and we trust that God is doing a new thing.

These past couple of weeks I have been energized by two meetings here at General Council Office. The first was a two-day gathering to begin planning for General Council 42 at Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, in 2015. We began to dream about theme, worship, music (Rev. Maya Landell is the Chair of the Worship and Music committee), business (Rev. Fred Monteith is the Chair of the Business Committee)…and there was lots of conversation about the Comprehensive Review. It was serious stuff – and yet, I can’t remember when I laughed so richly at a church committee meeting; the energy was life-giving, a gift of the Spirit.

The second meeting was of the Comprehensive Review Task Group (CRTG). This task group is always mindful of the importance of the work they have been entrusted with – indeed, sometimes this feels like a burden. But we also know that many people in the church are holding us in prayer. And, once again, we all had a sense of the Spirit’s being with us. We were bringing together insights from the consultations with congregations; feedback from various groups (e.g. General Council Executive, Personnel Ministers, Global Partners, Educational Centres); input from several General Council committees (e.g. on Membership, Effective Leadership, Aboriginal ministries); the research and work we have been doing as a committee. And then, with much prayer, we began to outline next steps, and worked hard on what would be going out for the next round of consultation, this time with presbyteries and Conferences  as we ask for wisdom from those who are involved in these courts of the church. At the same time, we celebrated the launch of the Comprehensive Review new web platform, United Future (, which will enable anyone and everyone to be part of the ongoing conversation.

I am hopeful…sure, there are days when I worry; and times when the future is murky. But the people I meet; the faithfulness I witness, prayer and hard work together; with glimpses of the Spirit’s brooding over us all…these sustain me. And I give thanks.

And then there are other signs…I have recently learned that members of the United Church have contributed over one million dollars to help the people of the Philippines recover from the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan; and, that contributions for Gifts with Vision are already double what they were at this same time last year. There is a deep generosity at the heart of the United Church.

So… in this Christmas season may you know the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.

And, by the way,  you probably won’t be getting any blogs from me until the new year. 🙂


2013 20 December

The Way of Peace – George Feenstra

Posted in Steinbach United

Listen to George Feenstra’s message of Sunday December 8th on You Tube.


2013 11 December

Church & State by Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

I live with a politician…who is also an ordained minister of the United Church. For five years he was a member of the B.C. Provincial legislature, eventually serving as a cabinet minister. For the last eleven years he has been a Councillor for the City of Vancouver. I have lost track of how many election campaigns I have participated in. Faith and politics; church and state…these are staples of our household conversation.

So when I was in Ottawa at the end of last month, I was looking forward to the breakfast meeting where as Moderator I would have an opportunity to connect with those MPs and Senators who were thought to have some connection or affiliation with The United Church of Canada.

But, it was a busy time of the year for politicians – the House was in session, and a number of other breakfast meetings had already been arranged for November 28.  In addition, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities had gathered for its annual Ottawa meeting, and many city councillors and mayors were eager to meet with various MPs.

So it was a small gathering – me, and my spouse, Tim Stevenson; several clergy from the Ottawa area; three Senators; and four MPs. I found myself reflecting on John Young’s essay, “A Golden Age: The United Church of Canada, 1946-1960,” found in The United Church of Canada: A History (ed. Don Schweitzer, Wilfrid Laurier Press, 2012), where he notes it wasn’t unusual for the Moderator during his term of office to have lunch with the Prime Minister and other key political leaders. Such was the influence the United Church enjoyed in Canadian society during those years.

It doesn’t happen that way anymore; times have changed.

And that’s okay. The “mainline church,” as an institution,  now finds itself on the sidelines; we have been “disestablished” and have minimal power to directly impact government decisions. Unlike the influence that United Church members can have when they contact their local MP, when the Moderator or General Secretary send letters or forward statements from General Council, we usually receive a standard letter of reply whether it’s about  Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline; the labelling of products from the settlements in Palestine; or the cutback of part-time prison chaplains.

We are now a prophetic voice coming from the margins. And yet, that can be a powerful position, especially when we aren’t just pointing the finger at someone else, but are also engaged in our own hard work of repentance, change, and transformation. I think particularly of our church’s witness in the long journey towards reconciliation with Aboriginal peoples; our apology for participation in Indian Residential Schools, and the terrible destruction that resulted; and then, of our ongoing witness to and conversation with the government about issues of compensation, reparation, national apology, and right relations. We had a lived experience to draw upon, a real word to offer.

The breakfast meeting was a good one. I had come with a couple of questions; first, hoping to have a conversation about how faith influences the way one does politics and makes decisions. And then, did they, the politicians, have any suggestions about how the church might better express its prophetic voice?

Interestingly, though, we didn’t actually spend much time on those questions. Rather, three or four of these MPs and Senators represented rural ridings, and they were full of concern and dismay about the closure of churches in the small towns of this country – and what were we doing about it? The conversation was good, and heartfelt.

Six different times these politicians talked about the need for “comfort.” That’s what people needed, they said, when so much of traditional rural life was disappearing; when other community institutions were closing down; when jobs were gone and young people were leaving, searching for work and a future.

It was tempting to dismiss this plea for comfort – that’s not what church is about, I thought to myself, thinking of mission, discipleship, changing the world. And yet, and yet…there was a wisdom here, from politicians who were listening to their people. What are we doing as our small rural churches struggle to stay open in these changing times? How do we offer support and comfort? And what’s wrong with comfort, anyhow? Maybe we need to rethink the word, and learn to offer a comfort that is honest, that helps people deal with grief and loss; that brings insight and strength so as to enable people to live into the inevitable changes that arrive, both personal and community-based …“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God, speak tenderly to Jerusalem….” (Isaiah 40:1)

Recently Pope Francis spoke about the church being like “a field hospital after battle” – the need is to care for people, listening to them, responding to where they are hurting, and doing what can be done to bring healing, and… well, yes, comfort.  Perhaps the church is called to speak of God’s love and care, even in, or perhaps especially in, tough times. The Holy Spirit not only energizes for mission, but also brings comfort; John’s “Paraclete” can be translated in so many ways: Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Helper, and, yes, Comforter.

Who knows what you’ll learn at an Ottawa breakfast meeting!

2013 6 December

CANA Wine – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

CANA Wine – Moderator Gary Paterson

I had been planning to head home to Vancouver when the General Council Executive meeting finished on November 18; instead, I found myself on a plane to Washington, D.C., to participate in the CANA Initiative. The CANA Initiative brought together close to a hundred people who, in one way or another, are involved in progressive, emergentCana1Christianity – people like Brian McLarenDiana Butler Bass,Philip Clayton (a process theologian on faculty at Claremont Theological School),Doug Pagitt (minister atSolomon’s Porch in Minneapolis), Gareth Higgins, (Director of Wild Goose Festival– American offshoot from the Greenbelt Festival); along with people from SojournersFaith and Action, and many other justice-seeking groups; a handful of denominational and seminary experimenters and initiators; bloggers, “Revangelicals” and Christian environmentalists.

C for Convening (or Connecting)   Cana0

A for Advocating;

N for Networking (or Nourishing)

A for Action

The purpose of this gathering was to create a “network of networks,” so as to energize a new movement in the United States, wanting to counter right-wing, conservative, fundamentalist forces that for the last 40 years have been Christianity’s most dominant voice in North America.

At this CANA Initiative people talked about what is happening in their country – an economy rooted in materialism and consumerism, centered on the individual; a culture of violence; growing inequality between rich and poor; the destruction of the environment. Didn’t sound all that different from Canada, actually.

Cana2Now, as perhaps never before, a different Christianity needs to be heard from, one that is rooted in a moral vision of justice and peace, of hope and good news, that springs from our being followers of Jesus. Here’s how it got phrased at one point:


Post-evangelicals and post-liberals are coming together, in an emergent, progressive Christianity, with spiritual vibrancy, theological depth, and holistic mission, that offers a simple, compelling articulation of good news and life practice…following the movement of the Spirit, by seeking reconciliation with God, our neighbours, and the earth; making a fierce and constant commitment to God’s justice; nourishing generous Christian communities that unapologetically proclaim and seek God’s Kingdom in their shared life and in the world…. We can do more together than we could ever dream of alone.

Check out their website.

I am hoping and believe that The United Church of Canada, in our search for identity, will Cana3express something like this as the core vision of our denomination.

Diana Butler Bass wrote me a note during the conference, “The United Church rocks. Love you guys. You’ve given me many gifts in the last decade.” And so I ask myself, where are similar like-minded voices and groups here in Canada? Who do we need to network with, to build a generous, progressive, emergent Christian voice that focusses on the work of justice and care for the earth?

One thought – what are the possibilities of creating a “Greenbelt/Wild Goose Festival” here in Canada, where faith and the arts and justice collide, where experimental, edgy, and progressive voices come together to celebrate, network and organize?

By the way, one of the CANA organizers, Doug Pagitt, recently bought the rights to a website domain, “Andthatswhy” with a dream of people endlessly posting stories that begin and/or end with “I’m a Christian, and that’s why I….”

How would you end that sentence?


P.S. Please join us for an online conversation in this vein connected to the Comprehensive Review. “Digital Church?”, Thursday, Dec. 5 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. Hope to see you there!