Archive for January, 2014

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2014 30 January

Epiphany Explorations 2014 – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


I was a bit wary preaching at Epiphany Explorations this year. You see, two years ago I was doing the same thing, when, in the midst of the sermon, a rare Victoria thunderstorm exploded, and the whole power system went down in a dramatic way. We all wondered whether God was sending a message. Then, after the service was over, and I was in the lobby shaking hands, Ralph Milton (founder of Wood Lake Publishing, and a bit of a prophet in this part of the country) stuffed a note in my pocket and said, “Consider this a call!” When I got home I read the note: “You need to think about letting your name stand for nomination as our church’s Moderator!” Well, that turned out to be a bit of a tipping point in my journey of discernment. I don’t know whether to thank or blame Ralph!

But once again Epiphany Explorations was a great success, with three or four hundred participants, primarily from “the west,” with a handful of people from Ontario and Quebec, and one or two from the Maritimes and the Northwest Territories. It’s amazing to realize that what is probably The United Church of Canada’s biggest and longest lasting educational event (12 years and counting) is congregationally based, a dream of First-Metropolitan United in Victoria, B.C. Actually, that’s good news, as we enter into changing times for other courts of the church, where local, vibrant communities of faith carry more and more of the life of the denomination. It’s worth thinking about how something similar might occur in the east (for instance Halton Presbytery, Hamilton Conference, and  Wellington Square United Church in Burlington, Ontario have been working hard at getting an annual Ministry in Motion conference off the ground; and there may be other events happening that I don’t know about).

The program offered at this year’s Epiphany Explorations reflects, I think, some of the key concerns of the United Church:

  • Dialogue with other faiths: the first session on Thursday was offered by a rabbi; the second, by a Muslim scholar.
  • Conversation between science and faith: three sessions during the weekend  – a filmmaker talking about how to make a documentary about eternity; a theologian,Michael Dowd, exploring what God reveals through science; and, an evening with none other than Bob McDonald from CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks.”
  • Right relations and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples: with an evening of dance and art, and a presentation by Marie Wilson on her work as a Commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, filled with pain, hope, and challenge.
  • The changing landscape of Christianity in the world, and how to respond: with Phyllis Tickle as a key theme presenter, talking about Emergence Christianity; and myself, in a much more limited way, talking about changes happening in the United Church.
  • Practical insights and suggestions for revitalizing congregations: Rev. John Pentland, from Hillhurst United Church in Calgary, presented “Nine Fishing Tips” (riffing on John 21, where the resurrected Jesus invited the disciples to “throw your nets off the other side.”); Rev. Brent Hawkes, lead minister of the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, presented the “Nine Key Factors” that have contributed to the growth of the church he serves. And Rev. Mike Piazza, previously lead minister at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, and currently with theCenter for Progressive Renewal, offered his list of characteristics that under gird congregational growth (and then offered a full-day Monday workshop entitled “Church Craft – Get them to come; Get them to come back; Get them to stay.”)

It was fascinating to see the overlap in these congregational presentations, the commonality of their insights, such as:

  • Vital worship is central; make use of current cultural resources; INVEST in music; do not be BORING! Think about having weekly eucharist.
  • LEAD… the visionary leadership of the senior minister is critical. Consider what matters most, and do it!
  • Pay for what you want, not what you have. Develop an assertive revenue strategy.
  • Discuss values and say who you are. Gather and plant the vision; ensure buy-in.
  • Regular and diverse social opportunities are necessary; pay lots of attention to coffee hour; have lunch after worship, every Sunday.
  • Communication is crucial. A church’s website is a powerful tool for evangelism.

Great ideas; great energy. And these presenters weren’t just offering nice theories – the churches they serve are thriving and vital.

Epiphany Explorations went online this year, and so the 13 main sessions are available via livestreaming until April 30, 2014. To register, see the Epiphany Explorations website.

And finally, a big thanks to First Metropolitan United and all the volunteers who make this happen, especially the Rev. Allan Saunders, lead minister of the church and a key, visionary organizer. It takes a lot of energy to pull off an event like Epiphany Explorations!

P.S. Hope to see you at Epiphany Explorations 2015, January 22-25 at First Metropolitan United Church, Victoria, B.C.!  

2014 24 January

Off to Sochi – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

On February 1, my spouse, Tim Stevenson, will arrive in Sochi.

It began last June, when the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin (with the encouragement and approval, it seems, of the Russian Orthodox Church), passed anti-gay/lesbian legislation, prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” with a very broad definition of what that means, and the threat of prison to back it up. Anti-gay actions are on a sharp increase in Russia – beatings, job losses, gas and gun attacks at gay clubs; there is even a proposed bill to remove children from gay parents.

For many people these homophobic actions raise serious questions about the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. What about LGBT athletes, their friends and families? It’s already difficult enough to be “out” and accepted in the athletic world; now there are larger questions about safety. And what about the contradiction of celebrating the Olympics in a country that is restricting human rights?

There was some talk of boycotting these Olympics, but that would unfairly penalize the athletes, dashing hopes and dreams. Some people suggested that Russian vodka should be boycotted, which might not have been a bad thing for everyone.

But then, Vancouver City Councillor Tim Stevenson came up with another possibility – of his going to the 2014 Winter Olympics as Vancouver’s representative (he would be Deputy Mayor for the month of February) to express the city’s concerns. And City Council unanimously agreed.

So, Tim is going to Sochi to raise questions, to engage in dialogue; simply to be present as the out gay Vancouver Deputy Mayor. On the other hand, he also goes to the games with some specific constructive proposals, not just to raise his voice in protest. He will be asking the International Olympic Committee to change their constitution to specifically include sexual orientation in their charter. Ironically, the Paralympic Games have already done so – perhaps they understand the ugly power of discrimination.

Further, Tim will be asking the IOC to require that any future host city have a “Pride House;” that is, a safe space where LGBT athletes, and their families and supporters, know they will be respected, affirmed, where they can be themselves, without fear. Having a Pride House was an innovation at the Vancouver games, and it was so successful that London followed suit for the 2012 Summer Games; and Rio is intending to do the same at the 2016 Summer Games. When Tim and I were in Korea for the World Council of Churches, Tim went to Seoul and met with government and Korean Olympic Committee officials, to ask if they would consider having a Pride House when they host the 2018 Winter Games. In fact, he will be asking the IOC to institute a policy of not awarding future games to any city that is unwilling to ensure that there is a Pride House for the Olympics.

I am glad that Tim is going to Sochi; it’s the right thing to do. I’m worried, not only about the Russian authorities, but also the threat of terrorism. However, I also know how important it is to keep pressing for human rights, in this case for LGBT people, but for all people, everywhere.

And, I know that Tim goes not only as a Vancouver city councillor, but also as an ordained minister of The United Church of Canada. Our church has been on the forefront of speaking up for LGBT people – in our own denomination, in the wider Christian community, and in Canada. We also have a responsibility to speak to the wider world community, where LGBT people are far too often persecuted, attacked, imprisoned, and murdered.

So Tim’s journey is important. Standing up for human rights is important. He won’t be staying much beyond the opening ceremonies – his work will be done. All being well, he will be back in Vancouver by February 9.

I ask you to hold Tim in your prayers.

2014 10 January

Reality Check

Posted in Steinbach United

This month’s United Church Observer has some thought provoking articles.  Check out  Reality Check  It’s Not Your Fault  by David Ewart at

It’s worth the read.