General Council – Last thoughts

August 16 It is finished. Yes, General Council is over, and I am exhausted. It’s been absolutely awesome. For seven days we have flown on God’s Spirit, as we worked long hours, worshipped together and even played occasionally. One of the highlights for me came Saturday when we discussed the Saskatchewan proposal suggesting we shift the twenty articles of faith that were set out in 1926 to the status of historical document. I expected hours of heated debate and even anger. Instead, Rev. Dr. John Young, professor at Queen’s Theological College, suggested we add the statement of faith made in the1940’s, the New Creed from the 1960’s, and our most recent document A Song of Faith to the twenty articles. Each one is an expression of faith for the time in which it was written. Each one carries our story. The commissioners received this suggestion with joy. It allowed us to be inclusive of the broad spectrum of beliefs that are held by our United Church members.
Yesterday, goodbyes were tearful, especially for the teens. “I’ve made some really good friends,” one young man said to me. “I sure hope that I will keep them.” Another teen responded, “We have lots of friends on the internet but they don’t seem as close as the friends we’ve made here. This has been really special.”
This week, I glimpsed the church as God intends it to be – warm, loving, accepting people, enthusiastic about their faith. Love and respect for all people opened us to transformation by our encounters with God in the people around us.
As we worked together we practiced giving, not just emotionally but also concretely. Through joyful requests, our teens gathered over $13,000 from us, for the solar water heater at the Naramata Camp and Conference Centre. “These kids can certainly give us lessons in fund raising,” one Commissioner commented.
Our meeting started with a young mom, her eight week old baby asleep in her arms saying, “I’ve worked on this conference for three years. I want baby Nicholas to be here. With your help I will do my best to fulfill my role as chair of business and agenda.” Yesterday as we said good bye she thanked us for our enthusiastic help. We received her work as a job well done, and learned that the You Tube video clip of “Baby in Council” had received the most hits.
We human beings, with all our flaws and fears, can truly follow Jesus’ teaching to love God and love one another. For one whole week, we lived it. I am truly grateful for the experience.
Go to the United Church website at www.united-church.ca for all the details.

Wednesday August 12th – “The Half-Way Mark” (366 words)

The United Church is becoming an intra-cultural church. We are striving to step beyond tolerating others who are different. At this meeting of General Council we are walking with and learning from our Christian brothers and sisters – French, Japanese, Korean, African and more. In 1926, three Protestant denominations came together to form a new, stronger, richer and fuller being called the United Church. Today as a church we are working toward that kind of transformation.
This week enjoyed the rhythm and beauty of many languages as we have worshipped and done our work. Symbols and traditions from other cultures have enriched our understanding. We have embraced our brothers and sisters in the faith with joy. We are learning to be a church in which we truly value, respect and welcome all people.
And there is more. We have incorporated what is called green culture. Gone are the endless paper plates and Styrofoam cups. We carry our own water bottles to taps and jugs to be refilled with local water. The trash cans at UBC are not overflowing because most of what we use is recycled. We share print resources in order to save paper. We’re truly conscious of what we use.
The youth at General Council are leading us. Tuesday, they were an integral part of the discussion about our church’s position on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. This was their message to us. “I’ve been to Palestine. I’ve seen the poverty, the oppression. That wall has six hundred stops. By the time a poor farmer going to market gets through them his fresh fruit has rotted in the cart. We have to use more than words to express our horror at what is happening to the Palestinian people. It was a United Church program that sent me to Palestine to see what was happening. Listen to us.”
Monday morning we sang, “I Am a Child of God”. The words of that song declare the wonder and beauty and confidence of knowing and living the acceptance that Jesus taught. The United Church has stepped beyond having youth and people of other races as tokens among us. They are transforming us. I am grateful.

“Down to the Potter’s House”

“God is good,” shouted Right Rev. David Giuliani into the microphone.
“all the time,” responded the more than six hundred committed, passionate people of faith who filled the gymnasium at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna.
“All the time,” shouted Right Rev. David Giuliani.
“God is good,” responded the people.
Thus, began the first day of the fortieth meeting of the General Council of the United Church of Canada.
That same spontaneous energy -God’s Spirit – surrounded me all day. Signs of a healthy faithful church were everywhere, from the enthusiastic happy faces of the young people to music that called us to sing and dance to walls decorated with hundreds of prayer flags made by congregations from across our country. It’s been an amazing day.
We worshipped as two potters worked with clay on their potter’s wheels. “Working with clay is messy,” our Moderator said. “The potter kneads the clay to work out the memory of the shape the clay has been. Once centered, the wheel begins to turn, and the potter’s hands gently and carefully push and scrape to mold something new and exciting. During this time together, God the potter will be working with us, kneading us to help us let go of the past, and centering us in faith in order to bring forth from us something new and exciting.”
The sunny yellow shirts and happy smiles of the local volunteers who care for us were everywhere. We heard the drums of the local native people who welcomed us as partners in our love for God’s creation.
Lively discussion as we set the agenda, told me that change will be painful. We are a church, alive and healthy, that will make decisions cautiously and carefully. We have solid roots and strong faith, and still change brings fear.
I looked at nine week old Nicholas, asleep in his mother’s arms, heard the youth commissioner at our table speak of God’s call to him to be here, and took a deep breath. This will be work, and this will be fun.
Tonight I am thankful for the privilege of being here.

Reflection on Days 1&2 of our journey

REFLECTION ON DAYS ONE AND TWO OF OUR JOURNEY by Janet Stobie.

“Co-incidences” or “God Incidents?” (542 words)

Our journey west began with worship along the river at Queen Street United Church. Although the dawn had brought clouds and threat of rain, by 9:30 the sun was playing peek-a-boo with us. I asked the congregation to consider the “co-incidences” we experience as “God Incidents”, God’s action in our lives. For example: every Sunday morning of our rainy July, we had enjoyed a few hours of sunshine for our outdoor worship – a “co-incidence” or “God Incident”.
After receiving blessings for safe travel, Tom and I headed out. Traffic was reasonable. Our simple first leg of the journey into the welcoming arms of my sister in Sudbury ended by 4:30 – a great beginning!
Monday morning, at 7:30, we hugged Sharon goodbye. Tom drove for most of the next thirteen hours and I read General Council proposals. The border crossing at the Sault took more than an hour. We started our wait about halfway across the bridge. Usually the scenery just flashes by when we travel over huge bridges. This time our wait gave us opportunity to soak in the view.
For most of this day, we drove within a tunnel of trees. Sometimes the trees were scraggly, sometimes huge and robust, most were evergreen. As a child in Southwestern Ontario, trees were my friends. I soared in my swing that was suspended from their spreading branches. The ancient maples, that lined our driveway, gathered my sister and I into their arms as we climbed among them. I loved their strength. The trees of this tunnel felt different. They glowered over me. Instead of friendship and fun, I felt majesty and menace. .
The highway slashed the landscape, cutting through rocks, wandering around bends and marching across bogs. Occasionally, the tunnel opened to a farmer’s field, a town, or patches of the glistening blue water of Lake Superior.
Yet another construction area loomed in the distance. A flag lady, standing in the sun, leaned on her stop sign. We rolled down our windows and turned off the car, prepared for a long wait. Just a few yards from the road, in a beach parking area, a young family with a tiny baby returned to their car.
Always friendly and willing to talk, Tom stuck his head out the window and said to our flag lady, “Did you see the cute wee baby over there.” She turned her head to look. He added, “that sounded like a grandfather, didn’t it.”
She grinned and came over to the car. We talked a bit about grandchildren. She told us about her oldest granddaughter. “She’d be seventeen if she had lived,” she said.
“What happened?” Tom asked.
The story of the car accident poured forth. We listened. We offered our compassion and caring. It was just a moment’s conversation, and yet our souls had connected. Was this a “co-incidence” or a ”God-incident?”
At 7:30 we chose a tiny gas station in Sidnaw, to call ahead to our motel. Lacking a pay phone, he offered his own, no charge. Why did we choose this place? “Coincidence?”
Tonight, in Ironwood Michigan, as we snuggle down to sleep, I give thanks to God for surrounding us with blessings through people and places – God-Incidents. It’s been a good day.

Can I Hold Him?

Can I Hold Him? Christmas Stories for All Ages

Table of Contents
1. Isn’t He Beautiful! 2. I’m An Angel 3. Can I Hold Him
4. That’s Not Your Baby! 5. The Last Shall Be First
6. The Reluctant Shepherd 7. The Third Wiseman
8. A Life Completed 9. The Refugees
10. An Ancient Love Story 11. Santa’s Story
Can I Hold Him? has many uses:
Read it at home as part of your Christmas preparations.

Give it as a gift of faith to a friend or neighbor or grandchild.

Use it with your Sunday School Class as part of the lesson or as a resource for writing a skit.

Use it with adults and children as a resource for Christmas Programs and Christmas Eve worship