2014 2 September

The Power of Rendez-vous

Posted in Steinbach United

by Gary Paterson, Moderator United Church of Canada

Wow! That’s what we all kept saying for the three days of Rendez-vous, from Thursday to Saturday, August 13-16, as some 450 youth, young adults, leaders, and staff from coast to coast, (some travelling in bus “pilgrimages” that lasted for four days, picking up more and more participants with each stop) came together at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, for worship, singing, dancing, learning, connecting.  And OMG (in almost every sense of that acronym), the energy, the grace, the ministry, the church was amazing.


Things I learned:

  • The importance of hospitality! United Church people from Winnipeg were omnipresent it seemed, wearing bright pink T-shirts, making sure everyone got to where they needed to get to, and had a great time. All of us felt so welcomed! The key organizer of all the volunteers was the President-elect of Manitoba Northwest Ontario Conference, Joey Dearborn, and he just happens to be 21 years old.


  • Music, and then, more music, that had us up on our feet, dancing, clapping, and singing. Music with keyboard, with ukulele, with drums, bass, and guitar. Music in worship, in concert, on talent night. Music as prayer, as inspiration, challenge, and invitation to revolution. I’m still living with “ear worms” that have me breaking out in song, from rEvolve’s “Let your whole life speak, let your heart move on; set your body free, should your mind hold on;” to music from More Voices, like, “As long as we follow in the way that God is leading… malembe, malembe, malembe tokotambola” (MV 140), or the final chant as we ended the conference with outdoor communion, “I am walking a path of peace… lead me home, lead me home.” (MV 221). I remain amazed at the gifts of ReGenesis, the lead music group at Rendez-vous – a 10-person youth band and music group from Bedford United Church (Nova Scotia), under the leadership of Rick Gunn. Oh, could they play and sing. Note to self: Never underestimate the importance of music!


  • The power of inspirational speakers: There were three keynote speakersWab Kinew, a First Nation musician, broadcaster, and educator who opened up the challenges of right relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in a way that demanded response without loading people with guilt; Kofi Hope, Rhodes Scholar, community activist, passionate youth advocate, who embodied the intertwining of faith and justice; and Nicole Marquez, a dancer who shared her story of recovery after a six-story fall from her New York apartment left her so physically damaged that she was told she would never walk again. Her long journey continues to be full of faith, perseverance, and hope. The response of Rendez-vous participants was huge – people are hungry to hear real-life stories filled with challenge and hope. I found myself almost wistful, wishing that our too frequently business-filled church meetings for “adults” could include this kind of inspiration – we’d be a changed church!
  • Scripture speaks: Ross Lockhart was our theological reflector, and he brought alive some powerful gospel stories. When preaching is personal and contextual, people listen. When the parable of the Prodigal Son (or Loving Father, or Elder Son) was dramatized, we were spellbound, each one of us right up there on stage, and we couldn’t help but clap when the parable ended with hugs all round. I was fascinated to watch how the prodigal and the elder son shared a happy high-five at the end – a conclusion that was left up in the air in Jesus’ telling of the parable. Frankly, in that moment, forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation seemed not only wonderful, but possible.


  • Energy! It rumbled and exploded throughout Rendez-vous – in worship, Q&A after speakers, in home groups, workshops, and talent night; in dancing and singing; the buzz of conversation and connecting over meals, or in intense small groups late at night; in music, communion, meditation and silence. This is the energy I crave for the church – why isn’t this more possible “back at home”?
  • Big events: Something happens when youth and young adults gather together – critical mass, synergy, the sum is more than the parts. Organizing such events is something the national and conference/regional levels of the church must keep investing in.


  • My own commitment: During the closing worship, I had a chance to preach, and I finished by inviting everyone to join with me in a long-ago chant from the 70s. Simple tune, simple words: “Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song – I will never forget you, I will never forsake you.” It is, for me, a chant that God sings to all of us, in love and grace; and, that we sing back to God as best we can. It’s also a song we sing to those around us, celebrating our commitment to each other, to family, friends, neighbours, community. We also sing it, each one of us, to our best and deepest selves, promising to be true to that holy, inner calling of someone made in the image of the Holy. And in those final moments of Rendez-vous, it went even further for me, it was me singing to the young people of our church, “I will never forget you, I will never forsake you.” And because I was singing not only as Gary, but as Moderator, I was singing on behalf of all of us in the United Church – our promise never to forget or forsake the youth and young adults around us. May it be so!

(Bonus content: Take a look at the Rendez-vous video highlights here!)

[All photos and video by John Wray.]