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.!