Covenanting Service for Christine Dudley, October 16, 2011

Reflection presented by Rev. Barbara Langton

How many of you are over the age of 60?

How many of you are under the age of 60?

How many of you would rather not say?

For those of you who are over the age of 60, you might remember some of these comments about this United Church of ours. These particular comments come from Kimberley United Church, although you will probably find similar ones in your congregation. Listen for things that might be a little different today:

From Bishop Black to the Session of Kimberley United Church, September 4th, 1931.

Dear Sirs
Having heard of the possible  vacancy of your pulpit I wish to make application for the same. I was formerly a minister in the Methodist Church, having been ordained in 1916. After the war in 1923 I returned to the University of BC and took by BA degree, then my BD degree at Union College, Vancouver, under Dr. Brown’s administration.
On account of the surplus of minister in the United Church in 1927, I went over  the line and for nearly four years have supplied a Presbyterian church in the USA. It was and always has been my intention to return to Canada whenever a position opens up for me in this province… I would gladly come over to Kimberley to preach for you any Sunday on condition that you pay the travelling expenses from Vancouver, where I lie. Unfortunately I am not able to pay out any money as I have been unemployed for several months and I do not know how soon I can get a position.
…Trusting to hear from you in the near future I remain,
yours fraternally,
Bishop Black.

In case you are curious, they did not hire him, but called Rev. Cribb of Creston.

We’re using a little time travel here, moving forward to the Annual Report of 1949.The Session’s report contained these statistics:

Again this year there has been an increase in nearly all of the activities over which the Session has supervision. Six joined the church on profession of faith and three by transfer. One member was removed by death and one by transfer leaving the present membership at 229.  There were 36 baptisms, 11 funerals and 18 weddings.

The receipts for the year were $4008.77 and expenses were $3585.75  The minister’s salary was $1927.43, Income tax was $9.40, Fuel and light cost $344.03, repairs were $58.04. The congregation sent $393.83 to the Missionary and Maintenance Fund in Toronto.

Not much later – in 1955-56, every family in the church received a letter, telling them about an upcoming Stewardship Campaign:

The Challenge for Our Church
There are only four kinds of good churches:
— The infant church is the mission or small church in which the members are giving as much as possible and are only about to meet the current expense requirements.
— The adolescent church is one with equally good giving that is engaged in a major building program.
— The adult church is one that is giving to missions or benevolences more than it is spending for an an adequate current operating expense budget.
— A Great Church is one that is giving to missions or benevolences more than twice as much as it is spending on an adequate current operating expense budget.

There is no limit to the use of spiritual dollars.

The last one I share with you is from the end of 1959. Its title is The Rise and Fall (?) of Sunday School Population. I’d love to know why they gave it this title… perhaps they could read the future better than we can.

October 1943 – average attendance   teachers 10    students 43
January 1945 central staff 13, students 98 average
January 1947 – central staff 11, students 80
January 1949 – sound out protestant churches re Kindergarten
February 1951 – enrolled students 368, teachers 39. Average attendance 259  Cradle roll 183
March 1955 – Overcrowding. Noise.
January 1958 – total enrolment 328
November 1959 – enrolment 438

I could have read more, but I know you get the point. The church is not the same. It is not the same in many ways.

For a starter, we are having difficulty attracting enough ministry personnel for our 13 remaining pastoral charges in Kootenay Presbytery.

Secondly, no church councils are made up solely of men.

Thirdly, if we added up the total Presbytery enrolment in our Sunday Schools, I know it would not come up to 438, the November 1959 enrolment of Kimberley United Church Sunday School.

It is a different church in 2011 than it was in 1931. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s not just the United Church.  In a report to General Council in August 2009, I found these observations:

Between 1991 and 2001

  • the number of Canadians who identified as either Roman Catholic or Protestant went from 80% to 72%
  • those who said they had no religion went from 12% to 16%
  • Presbyterians lost 36% of their membership; Pentecostals declined by 15%, the UCC by 8%, Anglicans by 7%, Lutherans by 5%
  • the number of Canadians aged 15 and over who reported that they HAD attended worship in the last 12 months prior to the survey went from 28% to 20%, and the number of Canadian adults who reported that they had NOT attended religious services went from 26% to 43%

We are a very different church from the one some of us knew 50 years ago. To this different church, you at Kimberley United and we in Kootenay Presbytery, have called and invited Christine Dudley to minister among you.

In 1931, you would not have called a woman to Kimberley, because women were not allowed to be ordained in 1931.  Probably even in 1959 you would not have considered calling a woman. Some of you may still have some difficulty with women in ministry, but that’s not today’s reflection.

In 1931, you would not even have considered calling a diaconal woman. The church hardly used that term in 1961, 50 years ago. We had a few deaconesses, but they were always, I believe, 2nd ministers in a larger congregation and they did Christian Education work. Occasionally, they might have been allowed to preach.

And if, by chance, in 1961, you had called a woman in ministry, you would have expected her to be single, not married. Some people thought that women could not manage marriage as well as work…..

So much is different, but many things are the same.

For example, remember the words Moses had with God in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (we used to call it the Old Testament, and some of you may still do so):

God had called  Moses to accompany the Hebrew people on a journey. In their case it was a physical journey toward a land filled with milk and honey, a land where they could live together in peace, worship together without fear, and not have to worry about being slaves in a foreign land. It took them 40 years of wandering in the wilderness to get there. But along the way, they came to know something new about Yahweh, God. They came to understand that, as God told Moses “ My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Not that the journey was easy. It wasn’t. They ran into leadership problems.  They fussed when Moses went up the mountain to meet God and did not come back as quickly as they liked. They fussed about whether or not they had enough food. They fussed about whether or not they had enough water. They fussed about whether or not Moses and the other leaders even knew what they were doing. If they’d had a building, I’m sure they would have fussed about whether or not they had the funds to keep it up. If they’d had ‘paid accountable leadership’ such as we have, I’m sure they would have fussed about whether or not they could pay the minimum salary. And if they’d had to do a JNAC, or form a Joint Search Committee, I’m convinced they might have decided to turn around and go back to Egypt, where life was hard, but at least it was predictable.

Yet still they pressed on. From time to time, they believed that God had forgotten them. From time to time, they knew that God was still with them.  From time to time, they slipped into the old ways, but from time to time, they began to understand that God was calling them not just to a new land but to a new way of living.

A month or so ago, I was talking on the phone with my mother. She reads the United Church Observer from cover to cover, which is more than I do. She had read a letter to the editor that was written by the Rev. Dan MacQuarrie, who was a supervisor of mine when I was on what they called then, a summer mission field in Salmon Arm. She saw his name on the letter and asked me if I had read his letter. I had not. So I got out the issue of the Observer, and read his letter referring to an even earlier issue and an article written by The Rev. Connnie denBok, minister of Alderwood United in Toronto. Her article is titled Techtonic Shift and is about the changing Christian Church. Part of that short article outlines her perception of the inflexibility of our church structures. I quote three short paragraphs:

I am so heartened that front-line church leaders recognize that the world has changed and that the church is never again going to have as many members as it did in 1963. The showdown for this generation is not between modernists and fundamentalists. It is between those who believe that God evolves but church structures are sacrosanct, and those who believe God’s mission through Christ is unchanging but our church structures must transform.

To quote David Bosch, the late South African missiologist, “It is not the church of God that has a mission in the world, but the God of mission who has a church in the world.”

We in the United Church may have created the most cumbersome procedural structures of any institution since the old Soviet bloc, but God’s reign is like water, which finds its way over, under or around obstacles whether or not policy permits, directs or forbids…a God of miracles walks in our midst. We need a little of that.

Friends of Kimberley United Church, you are embarking on a new journey with Christine. She is not Jeff,  she is not Henry, she is not me, she is not Moses and she is not the Messiah. (sorry, Christine), She may not be the Messiah, but she has a faith to impart, a story to tell, a gospel to share and a mission in this community.

There will be times when you rejoice together and, be assured, there will be times when you grumble. There will be times when you wonder if the leadership of this church even knows what it is doing. And you may be right.

Some have said that as we go through this 21st Century, it is like a new reformation. We have moved from the old place, but we are not exactly sure where the journey to “the promised land” will take us, but we know now that we are on the move, as was Moses and the people of Israel.

If you learn something again on this journey with Christine, may it be the commandment — the word of Grace — Jesus used so often:

Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbour as yourself – don’t just love your neighbour – love your neighbour as yourself.

If you learn nothing else on this journey with Christine, may it be that word of love. If you set aside something on this journey with Christine, may it be the conviction that it is all about you – your wants, your needs, your desires, your church. For it is not about you. It is about our mission in this changing, surprising, difficult world of ours.  And it is a mission that you cannot do alone, for it requires, I believe, a community in which to do it.

I close with a quote from the American Theologian Reinhold Neibuhr, who penned these words I read when I was reading a novel, of all things.  (I think it was Upon This Mountain by Jan Karon)

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime – therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history – therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

And in the Christian church, in this community of faith, you don’t have to go to a website to download the manual. It’s already here:

1 Corinthians 13:

And now I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of all humans and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always loves, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I grew up, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (from The New International Version)

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