With gratitude that we are not alone on this journey of faith, I’ll begin with a quote from “A Song of Faith”, the most recent statement of faith of the United Church of Canada:
We sing of a church
seeking to continue the story of Jesus
by embodying Christ’s presence in the world.
We are called together by Christ
as a community of [imperfect] but hopeful believers,
loving what he loved, living what he taught,
striving to be faithful servants of God
in our time and place.
(A Song of Faith, adapted,The United Church of Canada, 2006)
Eighty-nine years ago this week, the United Church of Canada was born. It was a very long labour—twenty years—to conceive and birth this church I have known and loved my whole
life. It took much struggle and perseverance, visioning and commitment, considerable effort and compromise for three founding denominations (Congregationalist, Methodist and two thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Canada) to come to “essential agreement” on what was considered common ground theologically. The official birthday of the United Church of Canada is June 10, 1925. On that day, 89 years ago, more than eight thousand people gathered in the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto to witness the inaugural service that would officially unite three separate denominations. Those people came from all across Canada representing their individual denominations and left the service as members of the United Church of Canada. At that time this was a unique occurrence as it was “…the first union of churches in the world to cross historical denominational lines and [so it] received international acclaim.” (United Church of Canada website)
This past Tuesday was June 10th and I participated in an hour long webinar that connected United Church members from across our country to celebrate the 89th year of the United Church of Canada. We were blessed to be joined by our current Moderator, Gary Paterson, and six former Moderators:
Mardi Tindal (2009-2012)
Marion Pardy (2000-2003)
Marion Best (1994-1997)
Anne Squire (1986-1988)
Bob Smith (1984-1986)
Bruce McLeod (1972-1974)
After introductions and gathering prayer, our Moderator and former moderators each shared a brief reflection and a quote that was important to them. During this time I was reminded of the abundance of giftedness in our United Church and the immense commitment of service from our members.
I’ll share with you some snippets of wisdom that I gleaned from listening to these esteemed members of our United Church community.
Mardi Tindal, whose mother had died just two days before this gathering, began by remembering the dedication of her mother and others in our Christian faith tradition. I was reminded as I listened to Mardi that ours is a tradition that spans 2,000 years of which the United Church is a very recent incarnation. The church of Jesus Christ was here long before any denominational expression of it and will continue to be represented, in many ways that we cannot now imagine, long into the future. Mardi offered a quote by theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr:
“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…”
Bob Smith reminisced about his love of the United Church while at the same time being excited about being part of a movement toward closer ecumenical relations. Bob believes, as I do, that there is much wisdom to be gleaned from our ecumenical brothers and sisters. During Bob’s term as moderator, the study paper, “Mending the World” was written. The introduction to this document contains a story that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel often told. Rabbi Heschel said that when “God, the Holy One, gets up in the morning, God gathers the angels of heaven around and asks this simple question: ‘Where does my creation need mending today?’ And then Rabbi Heschel would continue, ‘Theology consists of worrying about what God worries about when God gets up in the morning.’ ”
Marion Pardy spoke about the importance of people of goodwill everywhere working together to bring healing, justice and peace to our world. She warned about the dangers of institutional preoccupation in the midst of a suffering world. She offered a prayer by Colin Winter, the visionary Anglican bishop who was expelled from Namibia for his opposition to apartheid:
“Lord, remind me when I need to know, You did not ask me to defend your church but to lay down my life for people.”
Marion Best, emphasizing the importance of moving out of denial and being open and engaged in the world, quoted Margaret Wheatley who said, “When our back is against the wall…we learn from where we are. From here, much more is possible.”
Bruce McLeod, remembered that during his term as moderator in the early 1970’s, that we stopped singing the old missionary songs and changed our attitudes toward other cultures and faith traditions. During this time, a General Council staff person was hired to “listen for the news of God in other faith traditions.” Bruce noted the importance of the words in A New Creed that states, “God…works in us and others by the Spirit.” (A New Creed, The United Church of Canada, 1968, my emphasis) Bruce ended by asking the question, “As God’s world-dwelling heart, into which Jesus is a window, how might we learn more of Christ from others?”
Anne Squire, quoted words of assurance from Paul’s second letter to the early Christian church in Corinth, “Therefore having this ministry, by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1) Anne, the eldest of the past moderators who participated in the webinar, shared a memory from when she was four years old. Anne didn’t know how to read but her sister had taught her that the sign at their church read, Wesley Methodist Church. One Sunday, without her knowing what was going on, two men came to their church and changed the sign. Her sister told her the sign now read, Wesley United Church. Anne says she has spent her whole life learning what it means to be the “united church”.
Our current moderator, Gary Paterson, spoke last and spoke about what it would mean for every person to know they are God’s beloved. Gary encouraged all of us with these succinct and powerful words, “Life is short. We do not have much time so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”
The words, and the presence, of these wise elders in our United Church gave me great comfort and hope this past week. There was the reminder that we are not perfect, as individuals or as a church, but that we are called to do our best to love and serve others. We are reassured that we are not alone. We know that God is with us and that Christ’s spirit and the communion of saints past and present encourage and empower us. The apostle Paul, in the epistle excerpt today, reminds us that the ministry we share as members of the Body of Christ not only supplies our own needs but also overflows to others with many thanksgivings to God. Paul beckons us to live in peace and be aware that we are blessed by the God of love and peace. What matters is not that we are perfect, what matters is what we do with the gifts God has given us.
With this in mind, I’ll close with words of encouragement and affirmation by author and theologian, Ann Weems:
Let’s celebrate the church of Jesus Christ.
Where two or three or thousands can gather together,
and touch this world with the amazing good news
that somebody cares.
That God joins us in community
so that someday the world will be loved to wholeness
and the wonderful wildness of God
breaks through common clay pots,
and fills us with a Holy Spirit that overflows.
May this be our prayer and our commitment to action.