30 Sep 2017

Make Yourself at Home

This past week, I was guest in a couple of different circumstances.
In the first, I was hosted by the coordinator of a conference at which I was speaking.
In the second, I visited a long-time friend in a new ministry setting.
In both, I was welcomed into their homes, into their lives, with a warm "Make yourself at home!" And in both cases, this was a genuine expression of hospitality. Wherever I was, it was home.
It's not always the case, though: in some places where we hear we are welcomed, it comes with provisos... make yourself at home, but... don't walk around without slippers on; don't put the kettle on yourself (instead ask for tea); don't sit on the porch with a novel; &c.
There are hesitations on both parts; one hears of stories where guests leave messes, or insult the hospitality offered, or overstay a welcome; one hears stories where guests don't know what expectations are, or are ignored in the mix of host family life, or feel that they are a burden.
Hospitality: it's a gift, it's a ministry, it's a practice.
And its something we as church need to be intentional about. 
When someone comes into our community, they have already made the choice to walk into our spiritual home, with the hope that they will receive a genuine welcome.  
And once a guest arrives, we - the church - are the hosts. It is up to us to ensure that they know that they are wanted and welcomed, even if they don't know exactly what our traditions are. It is up to us to make sure they have a place, both in pew and in community, no matter how long they will be with us. It is up to us to ensure that these guests feel that they are indeed guests: that their presence is desired, that we hope that they feel that they belong, and that we don't expect too much form them (especially when they are new!). 
It can be tempting to be too keen or too cool to newcomers... our extremes can ask someone to sign up for 5 committees in their first 5 minutes, or can suggest that 5 years is still too short a time for them to be trusted as 'one of us'.
It is up to us to be the church that welcomes, that invites, that engages. 
It's up to us to be the church for all followers of Christ.
It is up to us to be the church that offers a genuine "Make yourself at home!" to all of our guests.

21 Sep 2017

"I Just Want It To Be Right"

     This week was a very exciting, very emotional week in the life of the parish I serve.
     In late January 2016, we launched a refugee sponsorship initiative.
     This week, that family arrived in Canada.
     Now, I would love to say that the sponsorship journey has been a piece of cake - but I'd be lying. We've had objectors, we've had tensions, we've had disappointments; we've encountered racists and religiously biased people, and bigoted folks who don't actually want to learn the facts about what refugee sponsorship is about.
     It's not been easy. But it's the right thing to do, and by the grace of God and the generosity of community, it happened.
     There are still many challenges ahead, and we know that we'll fumble. But we'll do the best that we can. We want it to be right.

     As we were preparing for the imminent arrival, a number of hands began the real work of setting up a new apartment or a not-yet-met family. And the refrain I heard several times from several people was "I just want it to be right." We wanted things to be perfect; to help make this huge transition as smooth as possible for our new friends. We worried about bedspreads and carpets that don't quite match, about what cookies to put in the cookie jar and what we should bring to the airport.
     We just want it to be right.
     I can tell you; when we first met this family, standing in the busy arrivals lounge: It was right. It was overwhelmingly right. A little girl hugged a new stuffed bear. A young boy taught us that "LEGO" is universally understood. A young mother repeated the only English she knows ("good" and "Thank you"). A father beamed at his children, knowing that they now live in safety and hope. The gratitude was tangible despite the exhaustion and reality of their new situation.

     We just wanted it to be right. I think, by the grace of God, it was. For when we act in love, following the mission of God's holy scriptures, delighting in the presence of the Christ in our midst: it is right. Thanks be to God.

17 Sep 2017

First Day Photos

Screengrab of image search for "first day of school reusable board"
     Like so many others, I had my first day of school this week.
     I did the maths - it's my 32nd 'first day of school'.  (Life-long-learner is an understatement!) I refrained from taking a photo of myself, bookbag in one hand, info board in the other. (Height: tall, taller in heels. Weight: not telling. Favourite drink: coffee.)
     I found it interesting that these types of photos popped up all over my social media feeds - lots of information about an individual, marking a significant day. (Even after 32 years, I think a 'first day of school' is significant!) We want to acknowledge these days and remember them, how we were/are at that moment in time.
     It made me wonder how we recognise and chronicle significant dates in our Christian education and faith nurture.
     Do we remember the date of our baptism? Did we keep the certificate? What about our confirmation? Re-affirmations? Ordinations (confession: this year I celebrated my ordination anniversary with cupcakes - having forgotten my own birthday! Priorities!)
     What about our more individual but not-less significant dates? Do we remember the first time we committed ourselves to being a Christian? The first time we challenged our faith? The first time we doubted - and when we returned? What compelled us to leave a church community, or to join one? What evoked in us a desire to remain in the church year after year, and what inspired us to ministry in our unique calling?
     Maybe we do, maybe we don't. However, these are all 'first day' events, no less important in our journey than the first day of school is in our education.
     We recognise the beauty of a series of firsts for our schooling in culture and society; I wonder what witness could be experienced if we celebrated such firsts in our life-long Christian eduation.
     Maybe I'll take a picture of the 'first day of book study, 2017' when it starts next week - a day to cherish somewhere down the road!

10 Sep 2017

Thinking Outside the (shoe)Box

A sampling of my well-loved Fluevogs!
            My favourite brand of (non-athletic) shoes happen to be a lot of other people's favourite brand of shoes. They're well made, by a Canadian designer, and cover the spectrum of stylish: my closet includes funky heels and vibrant boots, even a pair of flats a bishop complimented this week (win!).
            As a result, they are in high demand, and there are numerous opportunities to buy, sell, and trade our pre-loved shoes. There are several groups where we share advice on matching outfits, our favourite styles and colours, you name it. We are a community of folks around a shared interest; with emphasis on positivity and support and the sharing of goodness.
            I was thrilled when a new sub-group was formed within this particular community. In lieu of selling or trading our beloved pre-loveds, or purging the closets to a local thrift shop, people are offering them to one another. Rather than receive money for selling our shoes, we are asking the recipient to donate a suggested amount to one of our favourite charities.  Folks who cannot afford a cash donation are encouraged to donate time at a local charity. These can be local or international, small or huge, and work "for the betterment of humanity, the environment, animals or the arts."
            The response to this new initiative has been delightful. People are sharing their joy at being part of something like this, an innovative way to share our passion for justice and compassion. We're able to literally live the Christian mission of sharing one with another, in a multitude of ways. In a mere 3 weeks, over $2000 (US currency!) has been donated to worthwhile causes, and people are keen to go find a pair of unworn beauties they can offer to the group.
            This highlights how we all have something we can share; it articulates how we can all provide some benefit to the broader community. We don't always have to just write a cheque in order to be giving, sometimes what we have to give is hiding in our closets... or our skillsets... or our knowledge... or our time.
            It's a win-win-win group. Someone gets a new pair of shoes they wanted. Someone else gets new space in their closet. Someone else benefits form the time and/or money that supports a good cause. And a lot of us get to connect with other like-minded people.

            Imagine the possibilities, if we were all willing to think outside the (shoe)box. Imagine how we can continue to build and strengthen the communities to which we belong. And - dare to do it!

3 Sep 2017

Prayer for the End of Human Trafficking

While 30 july is the date that the UN has declared as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (see http://www.un.org/en/events/humantrafficking/), this prayer came through my inbox. Shared by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J., it seemed appropriate to continue sharing.

God of freedom, beauty and truth
we believe that your deepest desire,
your most powerful energy,
is that all creation might know abundant life.

We raise our voices in anguished prayer for our sisters and brothers,
women and girls, men and boys,
who are modern day slaves;

They are your beloved daughters and sons, exploited sexually or forced to work because of human violence and greed.

Fill us with your holy anger and your sacred passion
that those who are trafficked might know healing and justice;

that traffickers will come to repentance and conversion; that all of us might live in such a way
that others are not made to pay the price
for our comfort and convenience.

Hasten the coming of the day when all people
and our precious Earth itself
will be treated, not as a commodity,
but as radiant images of your freedom, beauty and truth. Amen.

Prayer shared by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, Convent Station, N.J. Source https://www.chausa.org/docs/default-source/prayers/a-prayer-to-end-human-trafficking.pdf?sfvrsn=2