“Rooted and Grounded in Love: Reflections from the 4th General Meeting of the PMRC”
Ephesians 3: 14-21 ~ Northwood UC ~ August 28, 2022
Good morning, everyone. I have been invited this morning to share some thoughts and highlights of the Pacific Mountain Region meetings that were held in Prince George in June. Kay Park are I are currently the 2 board reps from Northwood to the Pacific Mountain Region Council. I was very honoured to be able to attend the Pacific Mountain Region Annual meetings in June this year for three days. As many of you know I am relatively new to Northwood and the United Church So it was an amazing experience for me personally. I was able to develop a greater understanding of the wider United Church and the importance of the work and support of the PMRC to us at Northwood.
I really appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to listen and learn from the different speakers and also to meet and spend time with people attending from all over the region. It was a very full three days. All presenters/ speakers shared thoughts, stories, and reflections central to the theme of the meetings “Rooted and Grounded in Love” and the focus scriptures in Ephesians chapter 3 which Kay has read this morning. The keynote Speaker was Jeff Chu. Jeff is a writer, reporter, editor, preacher and ordinand in The Reformed Church in the US. He lives in Michigan with his husband. He was an amazing speaker. Rev Scott is going to share the highlights of his presentations with you later this morning.
We had a very special opportunity to hear Dr Michael Blair General Secretary of the United Church speak to us in person on June 10th. This happened to also be the celebration of 97th Birthday of the United Church. Dr Blair touched on the work of the general Council, the challenging times of discussion and decision making, the churches commitment to be an anti - racist church. He shared that sometimes the church is tired but she has much to do. We must seek to continue loving what God loves. Striving always to be servants of a loving God. God has called each one of us to do his work. Dr Blair spoke about the strategic plan for the life of the church.,Building Hope -we can all cultivate hope by caring for and looking to others. God has called us to be partners with him, he has called us to be bold and connected, to make commitments and to support the affirmation of the church. Dr Blair spoke about the celebration of the affirming ministry of the PMRC. I gained a deeper understanding of the importance and significance of this to the church as a whole and individually. An affirming council seeks to go beyond issues of gender diversity and sexual orientation to work for justice and inclusion for all people.
Dr Michael Blair also shared a very personal story that he experienced some years ago in a church where he was the minister. A new lady started attending the church and he welcomed and spoke with her after church. He followed up by asking if she would like a visit, or perhaps would like to drop by church for coffee or go for lunch she declined. On several occasions he made other suggestions perhaps attend a group lunch, or coffee morning were some of the things he offered.She continued to decline. He did not really understand why. Some time later a new young minister joined him at the church and he extended an invitation to the same lady and she immediately accepted. Dr Blair met with the young man afterwards - and wondered why she had immediately accepted. He asked his colleague what the reason might have been he told him “because you are black” For me that was a very emotional and thought provoking moment.
We also had the opportunity to Listen to Rev John Snow regional indigenous minister. He spoke about Alberta Billy Wa Kai elder who in 1985 demanded an apology from the United Church-of Canada for the residential schools. Her actions and words resulted in the 31st Council of the United Church-in 1986 issuing an apology to the indigenous peoples. It resulted in deep change in the United Church. Alberta Billy died on June 13th this year - she was a remarkable woman.As many of you already know the United Church was the very first of the three major denominations involved in residential schools to formally apologize. I was also very blessed to have a wonderful conversation with Rev Snow at breakfast one morning. Rev Snow also introduced Dr Carmen Landsdowne who has now been inducted as the new Moderator of The United Church of Canada. He introduced us to Jim Angus a residential school survivor who shared a very powerful, emotional message to us all.
The music for the weekend was such a blessing and was provided by Weird Church ( member of the United Church of Canada ) talented Christian musicians from Cumberland on Vancouver island. They played and sang throughout the weekend. They greeted us each morning with music and song before the meetings. They also provided the music for the wonderful church service on Sunday at the end of the meetings. If you are interested in finding our more about Weird Church they have a website.
There were many other very special moments during the three days including learning about the campus ministries. The United Church has ministries at UBC, UVIC, Simon Fraser, and UNBC. The leader at UVIC shared an interesting comment that he had heard from several students “ I wish I believed in something but I can’t find it “ The business part of the meetings- learning about the work of the region, opportunities to meet some of the youth and hear about what they had been learning in the First third program that ran parallel to the meetings. The amazing outdoor barbecue/ affirming street party for the Prince George community, and many meaningful opportunities for worship and prayer. I would be remiss if I did not mention another Very , Very special event when our own Deborah Richardson was inducted for a 3 year term as the new President of Pacific Mountain Regional Council. We at Northwood are truly blessed.
I came away from those three days feeling enriched and blessed with the re - affirmation of God’s abundant undying love for all of us,and for all of creation. If we are rooted and grounded in love we should not feel threatened by different theology and ways of worshiping, and believing in God- we are all children of God. God loves us just the way we are and we should work on being the best version of ourselves - by listening, caring, and looking to others,being open to change,and paying attention to God’s call for us. Lastly one of the speakers spoke about the importance of discipleship which resonated with me - she illustrated this by connecting it to nature through using a flower - naming the petals - prayer, generosity, sharing faith, loving service, worship and bible study.
In closing I would like to share a prayer From the FIRST THIRD MINISTRY. Loving God,help me see you in the face and heart of every child, every family, every youth, you place in front of me today. When I see you I will embrace you and serve you Humble me God so that my pride will not keep me from recognizing you. Amen Thank you for listening.
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
I will follow up on Jenny’s words this morning with some specific reflections on our Pacific Mountain Region’s celebration of becoming an ‘Affirming Ministry’ and also some highlights from our keynote speaker. On the July 31st service, we spent a lot of time focusing on the Affirming movement in the church. As we learned, affirmation of one’s sexuality moves beyond mere toleration. It is one of acknowledging one’s human sexuality as part of the myriad ways in which we are created.
The official statement from our regional council reads as follows:
Pacific Mountain Regional Council of The United Church of Canada acknowledges and laments that the Church, its traditions and teachings have caused great harm to members of the 2SLGBTQAiP+ communities. By contrast, we believe that the PMRC is called to follow Jesus’ wisdom in the way of a radically inclusive love. We do this as evidence of our belief that all people are unconditionally loved by Creator whose divine image we reflect.
The PMRC will live out its ministry by intentionally creating safer spaces of belonging with members of the 2SLGBTQAIP+ communities and their families. We affirm that someone’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation is sacred, will be celebrated, and will not be a barrier towards full participation. We affirm that people will be fully included in all aspects of The Region’s life, leadership, and ministry without limitation based on identity, expression or orientation. We commit ourselves to the intersectionality that living into becoming an Affirming Ministry will require.
Together we will use tangible resources to embody a ministry that is public, intentional and explicit of our call to live out these values, and that, even as we make mistakes, we commit to continually learning and evolving.
I think, more than ever before, the church is realizing its call to stand with the marginalized and oppressed in the world, now in the form of sexual discrimination. The church, following in the way of Jesus, has stood with people marginalized based on their colour, their gender, their socioeconomic status. In the affirming movement, the church is continuing to fulfill its call to stand with all in the world…and say ‘you are a beautiful part of God’s diverse creation, God created you in love, you are complete, and you are welcome here’. And so, our PMRC did a lot of work and study since its last meeting, created the statement that I just read (that is posted on its website), AND we held a street party to celebrate. In fact, the city was so excited that they put it on! Music, food and celebration for this bold new move.
The theme presenter was a wise young theologian named Jeff Chu. Coming out of the Christian Reformed Church, Jeff is a graduate of Princeton Seminary. To hear him speak, you quickly learn that he is extremely articulate and deeply faithful. We also learned the harsh reality that his denomination continues to refuse to ordain him due to his sexuality. One might expect him to be bitter about this situation. What we learned was that he is a deeply faithful gay man who loves his church and loves his husband. As you can see, Jeff’s presence was very timely for us as we made steps ahead in our affirming status as a Regional Council.
Jeff works with images and metaphors, and as he spoke we found his words took roots and quickly began growing in our minds. I would like to share a few of the images he shared as we consider how WE might continue to be the faithful church ahead.
One moving presentation centred on love. Working with our weekend theme ‘Rooted and Grounded in Love’, Jeff began to unpack the difference between knowing God’s love and feeling God’s love. There is a difference between these two. To truly feel God’s love is a powerful gift, and one that will carry us through the storms and challenges of life. (It was something that did that for him). There is a call, a discipline, in letting God love you. It requires a belief that you are wonderfully made, that God delighted in creating you, and that God cares for you deeply. If you can establish this basis in our faith relationship, we can move through mountainous challenges. ALL of us were deeply moved to hear this distinction! Can you truly be vulnerable enough to feel God’s love (with your heart), and not just (with your head) know that God loves you?
Subsequent presentations built upon earlier ones. He later talked about flourishing and ask the question of ‘who you want to be in the world’. He made the bold statement that ‘the church cannot flourish WITHOUT you. It is only when we have a deeper sense of who God wants us to be that we can then become a better parent, spouse, neighbour, and so on. And, by extension, the church cannot flourish without you showing up and being your best self. What is your best self? And who is God calling you to be?
And finally, Jeff offered us the wisdom of the compost pile. Over the last decade or so, many of us have been learning about composting. Taking, what we thought was ready for the trash, and finding even more life for it beyond the trash bin. Things ranging from vegetable peelings, eggshells, meat bones, and garden trimmings all find new life when they are not thrown out. But rather, when they are placed in our compost bin and they nurture new soil and life in future soil. Jeff’s wisdom of the compost pile was very timely for a church that was making many changes. The importance of trimming things away that no longer feed or nourish, that no longer are representative of our life and faith. But, also of honouring our history. Lamenting our past when wrongs have been made, as we do with land acknowledgement and special services through the year. Remembering our tradition, our elders, our history, that brought us to where we are today….and faithfully discerning what is to be composted, what is to be held as wheat and how we are to move ahead as the faithful church.
And if we can hold on to this precious gift of feeling God’s love. If we can show up as our ‘best selves’ ~ and our ‘best church’ at this step of the journey. And if we can live the wisdom of the compost pile, our United Church is in for a most wonderful centennial anniversary in 3 years! For we will faithfully be the United Church of Canada going into our 2nd 100 years!