Archive for December, 2014

Blog Posts
2014 25 December


Posted in Youth Blog

Hey everyone,

First of all, Merry Christmas and I hope you all had wonderful days! Secondly, I’ve never actually done a ThrowBack Thursday before, but I’ve been wanting to try one on here and I thought today would be the perfect day to do so. Therefore, I am doing a throwback to the night of Jesus’s birth 🙂


16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 16-20)

2014 13 December

A season of song

Posted in Steinbach United

A message for Christmas from Moderator Rt. Rev. Gary Paterson

December arrives. Nights grow longer and colder, while the Christmas countdown speeds up. Muzak carols permeate the airwaves and the malls, and a certain franticness of spirit grows. More parties; more shopping.

All of which makes me grateful for my congregation’s commitment to launch December with a full-on carol sing. Of course, on Sunday mornings at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United in Vancouver, we still work our way through the hymns of Advent; we know it’s good for our souls. But we have finally admitted in our heart of hearts that what we really need, early in December, is an entire evening of singing all the old familiar, heart-warming, soul-touching carols. We decided to call it our Christmas gift to the community.

The first time we did this, several years ago, we didn’t know who would turn up. Sure, some of the loyal older members of the congregation would be there, people who can probably sing two or three verses of almost every carol by memory. But when we opened the doors, we were amazed (good Christmas word, that!) by the number of people who poured in: almost 400, most of whom we’d never seen before — young and old, families and singles, off the street and dressed for the occasion — and all of us eager to sing our hearts out. I found myself wondering, why such a response?

Well, there’s something that happens when a big crowd starts singing carols. When we hear others around us, we sing freely, loudly, even joyously. There are hints of harmonies and forgiveness of off-key experiments. There’s more smiling, as our hearts recognize that Christmas is best enjoyed in community.

Then there are all those memories of Christmases past that are evoked by special carols — easily dismissed as nostalgia, but surely more than that. We sing Away in a Manger, and I remember dozens of Christmas pageants with children spilling over the stairs; or O Come, All Ye Faithful, and I hear thundering organ with a grand choral procession. When we sing We Three Kings, I’m back in my grandmother’s farmhouse, with extended family gathered around the piano, and my uncle Archie happily booming out the chorus: “O, star of wonder . . .” Silent Night conjures a darkened sanctuary lit only by flickering candles. As we sing carol after carol, the worship space fills with memories — gentle, warm, wistful, hopeful. It’s palpable; you can see it in our faces.

Music and memory, different for each one of us. But sharing such memories — now that would make for a good Advent conversation. Maybe ask the person beside you in the pew, or a friend or family member, “What’s your favourite Christmas carol? And why? Tell me the story that goes with the music.” Sharing such stories can take you closer to the heart of Christmas.

A musician friend of mine, Linnea Good, once told me that music is the way we take deep theological thoughts and move them from our heads into our hearts. What is in our hearts, then, as we sing favourite carols?

Sometimes I think we’re singing out of heartache and sadness, recognizing that too often things are awry in our lives. The haunting quality of some of our favourite carols gives us a certain permission to acknowledge our hurts and regrets. Some carols talk about sins and sorrows, “far as the curse is found.” Others offer more gentle images, of angels floating “o’er all the weary world, above its sad and lowly plains”; of snow falling “in the bleak midwinter”; of stars silently looking down on “dark streets” filled with “hopes and fears.” And when we sing about a stable and a lonely manger, perhaps our hearts remember that for many people, still, there is no room at the inn.

Then, out of that hint of a blue Christmas, there comes the voice of hope for change; some would say for salvation. Our carols point to a dream that God will bring healing — more love, more peace, more joy. We sing the story of a mother and child, of angels and shepherds, a story full of love and surprise. We want it to be true, though we know that hope is precarious, as vulnerable as a newborn baby.

And then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for, yearning for, when the music breaks through our defences and our doubts, and we believe the promises of joy to the world and peace on earth. There’s strength in our singing; we want our carols to be loud and strong. We clap our delight to the rhythms of a gospel carol — “Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born” — celebrating the Incarnation, although we would never use so fancy a word. Instead, we sing of birth and babies and bodies, of a holiness that abides deep within our hearts, of a God whose love pours forth into all Creation, even upon us. We light candles, knowing that for right now, the darkness is bearable, even beautiful. And we lose ourselves in the refrain of a “Gloria” that goes on forever.

2014 10 December

Giving for Christmas – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

-Moderator Gary Paterson…..

I often feel whiplash in the Christmas season… how to celebrate and be joy filled, but not get caught up in the “Christmas machine,” particularly as I walk through the shiny malls with my gift list in hand. I want to give and be generous, to watch family faces light up with delight; but I don’t want to just buy “stuff” that no one really needs; and even more, I want to be responsible, and faithful, and not get too caught up in the allure of our consumer culture. Yes, sometimes I’ve been able to make gifts that are thoughtful and meaningful, but other years – like this one – well, I’ve been on the go pretty much non-stop, and time is in short supply.


Indigenous Language Revitalization[Indigenous Language Revitalization]

My attention was caught by a recent announcement from Pope Francis that he is going to auction off many of the gifts he has received in a great Christmas raffle, and all the money raised will go to assist the poor. Buy a ticket for 10 euros, and you’re in the running for a Papal Fiat, bicycle, coffee maker, camera, silver picture frame, or a Homero Ortega Panama hat, with dozens of belts and briefcases as consolation prizes. I can just imagine how many Christmas stockings will include such a ticket.


Our Place, Victoria, BC[Our Place, Victoria, BC]

I’m not sure how we ever find a balance in our gift giving, but once again I know that I will be turning to our United Church’s giving catalogue, Gifts with Vision. Last year, everyone in my family received a catalogue in their Christmas stocking, with a “gift of money” that they could give to whatever project they chose from Gifts with Vision. We had fun reading about all the different possibilities; pondering our decisions; and then knowing that this Christmas, in a small way, we had made a difference.

As I look through this year’s catalogue I recognize people, places, and actions that I have encountered in my time as Moderator. I have talked to First Nations peoples about their vision of reclaiming their languages, and met a young man in Bella Coola who shared how difficult and yet how wonderful it was to learn his native tongue. I have spent time in Colombia and know how desperate life can be for the country’s five million displaced people (the world’s highest level of displacement until the catastrophe unfolding in Syria and Iraq), and I saw firsthand how our partner, the Colombian Methodist Church, is trying to respond. I ate lunch at Saint Columba House in Montreal; had a tour of Our Place in downtown Victoria; and have spent time at First United in Vancouver. I’ve had conversation with the new General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement, Rick Garland, at the SCM booth that was present at last August’s  youth and young adult event, Rendez-vous, and I know how important it is to maintain a progressive Christian presence on campus.


Student Christian Movement[Student Christian Movement]

I know what important work our church is doing, across the country, around the globe. So I have no hesitation in saying, as you think about your gift list, think Gifts with Vision.





Gary Paterson | December 5, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Tags: Aboriginal, Christmas, Colombian 
2014 6 December

More About Third Space – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United


-Moderator Gary Paterson…….


I have found myself thinking more about “third space” possibilities as a way of expressing our United Church’s “love of the neighbour[hood]”, and our commitment to justice. It’s an idea that is very much alive in the United States at the moment as events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri. Many churches there are providing a place of refuge and comfort. Making churches “third spaces” can offer the community a safe place to talk about difficult topics – like race – something that is so desperately needed in these times.

Home is first space; work is second. Third spaces are those places where community members can gather to have conversations that matter; where differences of opinion and ideas can be explored; where public issues and concerns can be engaged. It’s a bit like the concept of the “public square,” where different voices can weigh in on social issues and help the community think about the common good. These days it seems to me that such spaces are few and far between.

Maybe the church could be a place where such discussion could happen. However, in aprevious blog on this concept, one person expressed a worry that she would not find a safe space in a church, and that instead of open discussion and exploration, there would “right answers” accompanied by judgment. It’s an important question!

I had suggested in that previous blog that third space might be a way for the church to facilitate public engagement with “end of life” issues. So, I was interested when visiting the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Toronto (as part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Canadian Council of Churches) to discover that they are doing just that – on November 27 they are offering a panel discussion on palliative care, assisted death, and other related topics, with a doctor, a legal expert, a consent and capacity board member, and a theologian.

Let me offer some other examples.

Sometimes it might be as simple as offering space to community groups, perhaps free of charge, and with no “religious strings” attached. So, for instance, when I was visiting Yellowknife, I met some younger women who, though they were not active participants in Sunday morning worship, still considered the United Church to be “their” church, because that’s where they gathered two or three times a week for meetings and events held by various community outreach and environmental groups.


beaconsfield_sign[Beaconsfield United Church, Beaconsfield, Quebec.]

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Beaconsfield United Church in Montreal Presbytery (part of my “official” visit to Montreal and Ottawa Conference). That congregation, in their work of  “loving the neighbourhood,” had recognized that no programs for LGBTQ youth existed in the West Island of Montreal, and so a couple of years ago, they opened a LGBTQ Youth Centre, offering up church space for a permanent and dedicated Lounge,  a safe and welcoming environment for LGTBQ young people. In addition, centre staff offer support to parents, families, and friends of these youth, and have also connected with neighbourhood schools, helping to organize gay-straight alliances. Then, because many of the volunteers (both church and non-church) who help out at the centre are themselves LGBTQ, the congregation now offers space and support for two other groups – one for LGBTQ adults and another for LGBTQ seniors.

But what really caught my attention was the following statement:

“We [LGBTQ Youth Centre] are located within the Beaconsfield United Church building. We receive support from the church, an Affirming congregation that explicitly welcomes and celebrates LGBTQ people. However, the centre itself has no religious affiliation. All faiths (or lack thereof) are welcome!”

It’s that “no religious strings attached” approach that strikes a chord – which is included in the invitation to the adult groups as well. Now, it may well be that some people start asking faith questions; maybe even find a church home – but that’s not what this is all about. It’s offering space; it’s being committed to loving the neighbour.


St_Pauls-Grande_Prairie[St. Paul’s United Church, Grande Prairie, Alberta]

Organizing and supporting interfaith conversations is another way to engage in “third space ministry.” I came across a Facebook conversation started by Rev. Gordon Waldie in Grande Prairie, expressing concern about a Christian group in his community that held a public event with a speaker who offered a very negative take on Islam – so negative, in fact, that Muslims were contacting the mayor’s office with real worry. Gordon wondered if the United Church might offer a different voice, and, in partnership with Muslim leaders, develop some kind of “Islam 101” for the community, to help people understand more about Islam, about their neighbours, and in so doing create a stronger and more tolerant community. Rev. Waldie’s church, St. Paul’s United, is in the process of developing an information evening in January on just this point. What a vision of a congregation that loves the neighbourhood!

A couple of comments on my previous blog that talked about third space indicated that churches are already engaged in such ministry. I’d be interested to hear of other examples and possibilities… ideas that may find traction in other communities.