2015 5 June

An Invitation to Pilgrimage – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

An Invitation to Pilgrimage

The United Church is about to turn 90 years old!

I hope you celebrate well, looking back over the years with much gratitude, giving thanks for all the good times in the life of your congregation and the wider United Church. The American writer, Robert Bly, has said that the more experiences for which we can give thanks, the stronger we will be. So let’s tell our stories of joy, of “a love that will not let us go” – and, also, the stories of challenge and struggle, remembering how we survived… and were changed.

I could make a long list for why I am grateful for the United Church, and for the particular faith communities I have been part of; and I bet you can too. Sharing our stories brings new energy for moving into the future, whatever it will hold, trusting that God truly is doing a new thing even if it remains unclear to us. “Be not afraid!” is a constant biblical refrain, one which we would do well to hold in our hearts.

[View from the top of Gros Morne. Photo by IK T, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

I find anniversaries are a good time for asking questions, like…

  • What are you passionate about in your faith journey? And what excites you about your church? 
  • What would it mean for you… and your community of faith… to continue to follow Jesus in these changing times? What would it look like? 
  • What must you let go of… and what is precious and essential? Have you had a glimpse of a “new thing” that God is doing? 
  • What would it mean to love not only your neighbour, but also the neighbourhood?Where are you feeling called to join with God in mending the world?

There’s no quick answer to questions like these, and others that may be in our hearts. And so I want to invite us all into a pilgrimage of prayer, as we make our way to the “Rock,” to Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador. If we start on June 30 we will have 40 days before General Council opens on the evening of August 8 – enough time for some serious pondering.

You might offer up prayers of gratitude each day of the pilgrimage – 40 days to name your joys, to give thanks – it will make us stronger. Prayers for each day are being prepared by fellow pilgrims, and may help you as you journey. Watch for them soon on the GC42 website.

You may want to spend some time praying about the challenges and changes facing the United Church, and your own congregation in particular.

You may want to spend some time praying about reconciliation and right relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; or about what is happening to the environment, and climate change, and how we, as people of faith, are being called to love and care for the earth.

You may want to pray for the Youth Forum Pilgrimage, as 13 young people make their way across the country, listening to and speaking with church communities as they travel.

You may want to spend some time praying for the commissioners who will gather August 8-15, for the 42nd General Council – all 356 of them – that they may be open to the Spirit, as they discern how the United Church is being called into a new future.

When I was elected Moderator, almost three years ago, my first prayer for the church came from the Letter to the Ephesians:

I pray that God may strengthen our inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love… to God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine. Amen. 

In this time of pilgrimage, as we live with our questions, and face the task of discernment and decision-making, feeling worried and hopeful, apprehensive, and excited, I will continue to pray for the United Church. And I hope that you, too, will be part of the pilgrimage.