Not a lot of news to share with you this week. Part of me wants to report to you the people I've bumped into on the street (great to see you Sue Parkin!) because it feels so nice to actually see people face to face - and to chat! I'm sure you know what I mean.
Today I wanted to share a with you some of what I heard yesterday during a webinar that I participated in. It is a part of what is called "Missional Commons" and involved ministry leaders from across Canada. There were 6 people on the panel, and then the rest of us joined in through the "chat room" by offering comments, sharing stories and asking questions.
The theme for the webinar was "What do you see God up to in your neighbourhoods?"
The stories that were shared were very similar to the stories we are hearing from you as well. Neighbours sharing food, talking over the fence (sometimes to neighbours you only saw in passing before), starting up conversations with strangers who are waiting with you in the line up to get into the grocery store. Stories about thanking the cashiers and postal workers and health care workers and seeing true gratitude for your gratitude. Stories about connection that go beyond what we usually experience in our day to day, busy and hectic "normal" lives.
The stories revolved around front yards and sidewalks and porches, not (I noticed) virtual church services or phone calls (as important and lovely as those are). During the webinar the conversation turned to the question, "Is it possible God is doing something new and teaching the church something new during this difficult time?" The answer seemed to be a resounding "Yes!"
The conversation did not ignore the difficulties, the sorrows, the grief that many are experiencing. We talked about the importance of lamenting and of caring for those who are really struggling - financially, in terms mental health, parents of young children, caregivers of those with dementia - just to name a few.
We have been talking for years about the changes that are unfolding in our churches. Declining attendance and declining income, lack of relevance to the larger community and less need for religious services more broadly in public situations. I read an interesting article this week about the fact that the church is not considered an "essential service" - and what that means for people of faith.
Those kinds of conversations can lead to a sense of hopelessness and a wondering if the church is, at least as we've known it, is seeing its last days.
Well, yesterdays conversation during this webinar would lead me to say - absolutely not! Let me share with you some of the stories of light that I heard yesterday and the wonderings about the purposefulness of the church, the relevance we very much still have and the people in our neighbourhoods who are hungry and thirsty for it.
- The intentional church community in a poorer part of Calgary that has been going for 10 years. They've been facilitating a community garden which some of their neighbours have been accessing. Last week they put out a table in front with "free seeds" and plants for people to come and take if they wished. What happened was that not only did more neighbours than they expected come out, but they stayed to chat and learn about growing food for themselves - some of them for the first time in their lives. Neighbours met other neighbours for the first time, and some people who live in places where healthy food is scarce, are envisioning local produce being available.
- The ministry leader who wondered outloud what it is the church could be saying to the broader community right now about creation care and stewardship. Can we start now, before restrictions relax, to think creatively about using our cars less, about buying into local food sharing programs (for us CSA - through Willowtree Farm, Forsythe Family Farms, Hinterland Growers - to name a few) - anything that offers a healing hand to our environmental issues? Remember that one of our baptismal vows, which we renew yearly is...
"Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?”
“I will, with God’s help.”
- The pastor who shared a story about having opened their home to a friend of their daughter's, prior to the pandemic restrictions, for a week. What was meant to be a week, has turned into a month and half with no end in sight. Their daughter (now out of school) has also moved back in, along with the friend's partner - all of them out of work. The pastor and his wife, once empty nesters, now find themselves in close quarters with three young adults. They purposely eat dinner together each night and the conversations have evolved. The daughter's friend, a devout Bhuddist, has been teaching the pastor things he never knew before, and the pastor is finding himself, in the breaking of bread, loving people he'd never have the oppportunity to really know otherwise.
So I put the question to you. Where are you seeing God in your neighbourhood? And as you see these encounters with the living God in our midst, what is it telling you about how we can be church to our parish - in ways that are meaningful, relevant, and loving. Recongzing that, yes, we will return to gathering, to our beloved liturgies, but perhaps we will also return with a broader sense of what it means to be the church week by week, day by day, with our neighbours who may never attend one of our liturgies, but would love to know us as their brothers and sisters in Christ.