26 May 2018

How Can I Make Your Day Better?

Guinness, my happy-licky lab frolicking in the park
            After a week of hearing and overhearing a plethora of unhappy people, I decided to intentionally focus on making situations and relationships better.
            Summary results: it's been a fun week.
            In phoning a call centre, I used the agent's name, asked how he was, and after he helped me I commented that I hoped his supervisors recognised his good work.  In a store line-up, I offered the deep-sighing, watch-checking man behind to go ahead of me.  At the hospital coffee shop, I offered to buy the coffee for a woman was holding back tears as she counted her change before ordering.
            More than random acts of kindness, I explicitly asked people I know how I could make their day better.
            A parishioner leaving my office requested prayers for an unrelated but worrying situation; a colleague cancelled a meeting, but asked if we could still meet for coffee and conversation; a friend, after a fun and long chat, asked me to proofread his resume.  A neighbour (who enjoys giving my dogs cookies on our walk) admitted missing his dog, and that a moment of furry attention was exactly what he wanted. (My happy black lab reacted with many licks).
            Making someone else's day better often doesn't take much, and it makes our day better, too.
            We may need to ask outright, or we may need to start paying more attention. The response may be what we anticipate, or might be something completely unexpected. Our offers may be refused or rejected. The rationale may be explained, or we may never know.
            Whatever it is, we need to follow through on our offer (within reason!), and how the person has asked. We don't need to ask for details, or cast judgement, or change what we offer based on our opinion.
            It's communication, it's community-building, it's kingdom-building.  It's loving neighbour as self.  It's making ourselves vulnerable and available to someone else, indicating that they matter to us, that their happiness brings us happiness, and that we genuinely want their day to be better.
            I hope your day is going well; I hope someone finds a way to make your day better; I hope you find a way to make someone else's day better.

19 May 2018

Putting/Keeping God First

         This past Monday the parish I serve had it's monthly Parish Council meeting. Obviously, there was much rejoicing, because there's nothing more fun that can happen on a Monday night!
         All kidding aside: our Parish Council is a great group of people, and I thank God for them. They are committed to being the church, and celebrating their ministry as we muddle through the realities of the business of the church. Summary: we put God first.
         This past Monday coincided with another occasion: a playoff hockey game, where my team was participating.
         So the mental and moral debate happened: call in sick? Reschedule the meeting? Bring a computer in to stream the game?
         The answer: none of the above. We held the meeting at the original date and time, with me in attendance, without dividing my focus. Not even score-checking on my phone: I was dedicated to being fully present at the meeting.
         I will admit: I was attired to provide a subtle cue that the puck dropped 30 minutes after our meeting started: just to non-verbally remind folks of the benefits of brevity. (And hey, a Winnipeg Jets jersey goes really well over clericals. Just saying.) We all had a giggle about it.
         The meeting was a good one. We had much to discuss, much to consider, much to remind ourselves about: from committee updates to worship schedules to finances to planning our annual feast day celebrations. We laughed, we shared, we brainstormed, we prayed.
         We *did* have a slightly shorter meeting than normal, but we didn't skip over anything in the meeting. Because we, as a parish council, put church first. And that happens because we, as individuals and as a community, put God first.
         There will always be something else that is happening: a game, a show, a guest, a [whatever event]. There will always be someone who is making a choice. But when we keep our focus on who and whose we are, we make the right choice.

         So we put God first. We made the meeting our priority that night. We live our faith in all we do. We exercise our ministry. We find ways to love the world the way that God first loved us. 
         Sometimes that means missing the first period, or the ninth inning, or the cliff-hanger, or the [whatever event]. But when it means keeping our focus on the God who never lets us out of their sight - it's a decision well made.

13 May 2018

The sanctity of the sanctuary

St John's Anglican, Lunenburg
            Last weekend, the parish provided a rest(rooms) and refreshment stop for a local 'house tour' - we were colloquially calling it the "tea and pee" stop. We used the opportunity to invite people to have a peek inside the church itself, sharing some history about our space, community, and the stained glass windows so beloved of the parishioners. We welcomed over 300 people.
            One of the organisers brought forth a concern that guests were taking photographs of the windows over the altar - was that okay?
            Obviously, it was. And, I thought, how kind and respectful that this organiser was concerned to maintain the sanctity of the sacred space.
            The sanctuary - the space around the altar - is the holy of holies. It is that beautiful location where the Eucharist is consecrated, where offerings are blessed, where we gather as the children of God to share in the foretaste of the Kingdom.  Part of my presence during the tour was to help people understand that that space is holy because it is accessible to anyone seeking Christ in their hearts.
            This is why there are no secret or private events that take place in the sanctuary: to make something private is to deny someone else access to the sacred space.  Our liturgies express this, for example the rubrics are clear that Baptisms are to be celebrated in the context of the community, and the Eucharist is only to be celebrated with a minimum of 2 gathered.
            While we want people to feel at home in the sanctuary - God's space for God's people - we hope that they will approach it with respect. We want people to understand why it is a holy place, while affirming that they are welcome there. It's a delicate balance.
            We must be careful to avoid making the space inaccessible: I've heard legends of altar guilds who only let 'their' vacuum clean the space (the Holy Hoover? Sacred Sucker?), or of florists told that their 'unblessed hands' prevent them from delivering flowers beyond the door. I've heard people claim the sanctuary as 'their personal space' to use as they see fit.
            These legends - and any attitudes behind them - are just as unhelpful as those who fail to appreciate the holiness of the space. They suggest that the sanctuary is property, a personal commodity. It is not. And it is part of the ministry of clergy to ensure that such attitudes
            Part of my ministry is to welcome people to encounter God at the altar; and so I am responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the sanctuary. I aim to do this with prayer. Every time I enter the sanctuary, I pray that it will be a safe space for all of God's people; that the peace of God is in the hearts of all who enter; that any divisions will cease as people approach the altar. I pray that the space will be respected, the people will be respected, and that the community will be respected.
            May the sanctuary always be a place of holy inclusion, of divine welcome, of accessible refuge. May the sanctuary always be a respected centre of holiness.

6 May 2018

Reaching Out Through Our Baptism

"Religious Things"
CC BY 2.0 by Håkan Dahlstrōm. Source: Flickr
            Last Sunday, we celebrated a baptism within our community. We had the privilege of hearing baptismal vows taken on behalf of a gorgeous little one, as we delighted to formally welcome her into the household of God.
            I love that we all affirm our vows during such liturgies, reminding us that these vows are important, life-long commitments: we strive to engage in these ministries, with God's help, every day.
            One of the vows strikes home with the community-focused ministry we practice at this parish. We intentionally find ways in which what we are offering may benefit the most vulnerable in our local community.
            We collect food for the local food bank. We have a number of baskets at the back of the worship space, and we now have a 'monthly challenge' - each month suggesting one type of item that might be needed (May, for example, is tinned fruits and vegetables). A committed parishioner is taking hundreds of pounds of food every month to be distributed through the food bank.
            Another new ministry has connected us with another church; a group of ladies there weave milk bags into water-resistant mats for the homeless. So we collect these bags, and get them to the weavers. It's a simple, no-cost initiative that is of benefit to those that receive.
            We also initiated, with 2 other local Anglican churches, a program of 'dignity kits' - we collect items of personal hygiene and well-being (such as soap and shampoo, underwear and lip balm), and assemble kits that can be distributed to folks in need. The distribution happens through a partnership with a local social services agency; our ministry is the assembling and storing of these kits. It's in a church basement, and it's not snazzy or flashy - but we are regularly reminded that there is an unending need for these kits, and that they are gratefully received (to date over 400 kits have been shared, in just under a year).
            For us, this is one facet of our baptismal reality. We made a covenant with God and community, to “respect the dignity of every human being.” (and other vows). So, we know that God heard and hears these vows, and that God has called us to live into the vow.
            While we recognise the need to work against the systems and structures that cause the vulnerable to be in such need; we also respond to that need as best we can, with kits of necessities, and with dignity - as we vowed.
            It's a joyous journey of discernment as we intentionally find ways to meet the needs of our community - not just guessing what we think others *might* want or need, but through conversations and partnerships with those who can benefit. As needs can change month to month, so too must our response. This journey is one of relationship.
            Within the parish, we have seen profound generosity. Within the comunity, we have seen abundant opportunities to engage. Within ourselves, we have seen abundant love to actively live the vows that we have made, and affirm, and re-affirm.
            What a privilege to be baptised: not as an event that happened one day in the past, but as a daily delight to live into the full potential of being a child of God. For that is what we do: with God's help.