150816 – Church on the Rock

Yr B ~ Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-16

(A Newfoundland greeting) How’s she going? – Best kind!

Here’s some wisdom I heard on the rock:
“We’re selling these dish cloths for a dollar each or 3 for $5. (That’s how we became a ‘have’ province!)”
Moderator Gary: “I’m going to say something because it’s my last day and if you don’t like it you can fire me.”
And Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde who famously said: “There are many roads to the Creator. I just encourage people to get on one.”synergy

For the last 12 days I’ve been in Corner Brook, Newfoundland attending The General Council of the United Church of Canada. GC draws together around 360 commissioners (half lay, half clergy) from across our church once every three years to articulate our denominational voice and make oodles of decisions about how we do our church’s mission and ministry. It’s part festival, part worship, and part business, including electing a new Moderator. This was my second General Council, and I had a very intense and wonderful experience.

After such an intense experience I’m grateful that we approved something called Full Communion with the United Church of Christ in the States which means if I snap one winter’s day shovelling snow I can now go to Florida and become a minister there! We’re not amalgamating but we could change our Facebook status to “in a relationship”!

In other big pieces of work we approved doing minister training in some different ways, but we sent some aspects back for more study.

Much to my chagrin we approved something called “One Order of Ministry” that suggests new ways to understand the relationships among ordained, diaconal, and designated lay ministers. It’s tricky, and highly contentious stuff, and frankly I think we got it wrong. But it isn’t a done deal yet.

We approved all sorts of things about the environment and carbon taxes, divestment of our pension funds from Goldcorp and fossil fuel companies (which is highly sensitive in some regions of our church), calling for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and further refinement of our Israel/Palestine position. Some were done in the whole court and some in Commissions where we divided into 3 to handle important but not necessarily “denomination shaping” proposals. I believe all of our decisions are or will be available on the gc42.ca website.

I told you about a very important proposal, in my view, which committed us to conduct a comprehensive examination of our denomination’s vision, mission, and ethos. They approved the vision part – with hopefully the others to flow from it. That’s still a huge win for the church!

But the biggest issue of the week was the massive restructuring of how our denomination structure works. After 2 ½ years of study called the ‘Comprehensive Review’ the Task Group proposed 7 massive restructuring proposals. Those generated over 100 response proposals from churches, presbyteries, and conferences.

How do 360 commissioners handle a complex conversation among so many divergent voices with so many proposals in play? They don’t. They select a group of 17 people to meet for 4 days before everyone else arrives and wrestle the stuff to the ground to provide a second big document that offers what the original stuff would look like if the responses were heard. What kind of a fool would sign up for 4 days sequestered in a bunker doing that discernment? Me.

I was one of the co-chairs of that Sessional Committee, and it actually took us 6 days – which meant we effectively missed most of the first 2 regular days of the Council because the job was just so big and complex. We finished at 3:00 am on Monday morning and presented it to the court at 9:30 (yes, I’m tired).

I asked you to pray for me. It worked! It was an intense and insanely complicated task, but the group that gathered to do the work was awesome. I won’t be able to tell you a lot about General Council as a whole because I was so dialed in to this work – but I can tell you something about those people who gave such a great gift to the church.

gc42-sessionalThey were a dynamic, intelligent, wise, and faithful team. They brought a fantastic variety of diverse gifts and skills and the synergy of the group was energizing. But the thing that moved me was their passion for our church, and their dedication to the task and especially to one another.

It hadn’t occurred to me when I took on this work that I would receive such a gift – and that gift is their friendship! We became a community. Good friendships have taken root.

At one point, after we had given our report and were receiving initial feedback and questions, it was just me and my co-chair Jean and our resource staff David who were still working. One of the members of our Sessional saw us and came to help. Then another. David, Jean and I had to step away for a minute and when we returned there were 5 of them there digging in. That, my friends, is church!

Ephesians 4:15-16 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, in synergy and united by every fastening band with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

That was my group. Synergy, united, banded together, promoting the body’s growth and building itself up in love!
And that’s what reverberated through the whole General Council.

In the end we made all things new – and it was more Revelation than Isaiah so I was very pleased. GC42 approved the entire Sessional document with what I’d call minor revisions. But that was only achieved after days of hard slogging, and wordsmithing, and procedural this and thats, and misunderstandings and all manner of challenges. But we got there. Together. We collectively owned the idea of a 3 level structure instead of 4 (without a College of Ministers) and the entire package was approved in one single vote at 95%.

The big, burning questions on everyone’s minds were about how many regions there would be, and what the assessment percentage would be, and we told them those questions were too big for our Sessional committee to answer, and then in a bold move we told them those questions were too big for them to answer too and it needed more work – and in the end they accepted that wisdom and agreed to it all. Wow! It gave me hope to see trust emerge.

However, changes this big need to also be agreed to by the whole church, so a process called Remits will test that out. A majority of pastoral charges and presbyteries have to agree to get it passed. A monumental task awaits.

How’s she going? – Best kind!

Another major and monumentally important piece of work we did was to approve our passionate commitment to living out the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools and right relations with indigenous people. It was a deeply moving presentation and our commitment is rock solid.

Personal highlights for me were former Moderator Peter Short’s moving reflection on “reaching the substrate of grace,” a youth delegate’s passionately authentic sharing of how important his faith journey has been and how he’s learning to trust and risk (it brought the place to its feet), and reconnecting with my friend Mike who is now a military chaplain but back in the day we were settled side-by-side in Nova Scotia.

And I have to tell you about “Beer and Hymns.” On Wednessday night after many days work we took over the campus pub, shared a beverage of a sociable nature, and lustily sang old, hardcore gospel hymns like Battle Hymn of the Republic, and even Onward Christian Soldiers! We shook the rafters, ignoring the theological debates about the language and theology of some of it and just revelled in the joy of singing our faith loud and proud. I sat at the rowdy table in the back – and every time they left out a verse we’d keep singing and the corwd laughed and sang too. I called Cynthia and let her hear the joy in the room. As they say on the rock: We had ourselves a time!

But the best thing was my pod, my roommates. My good friend David was with me, and we met two great guys named Blair and Greg. Greg is a truly gifted guy who was on the Sessional with me and I am really grateful that I’ve become friends with him. We all laughed loud and hard, and stayed up late (and yes, we sampled some Screech), and we talked deeply about Jesus and church and faith. It was perfect!

A moment of profound sadness happened when my dear friend and mentor the Rev. Dr. John Young was, for the second General Council in a row, the runner up in Moderator voting. John would have made a fantastic Moderator.

gc42-jordan2So, our new Moderator is the Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell from Saskatchewan. I can’t tell you much about her but people I know and respect say she has gifts and depth. I’m still hurting for my friend, but I am ready to discover what Jordan will bring to the church. I trust the Spirit. I am already praying for her to be who the church needs in this season.

I encourage you to visit gc42.ca and the United Church YouTube page and read stories and watch videos from the week. There are daily summaries available there too, along with the detailed lists of what many of the decisions were.

The next General Council meeting will be right here in our presbytery – in Oshawa at UOIT in July 2018. I’m actually going to be the planning chair for it. (Silly people, giving me the keys!) You’ll have a chance to see it all in person because we’ll be needing legions of help!

I know that the goings on at the denominational level of the church sometimes feel so far removed that they’re irrelevant. But one thing that the church said this year with a clear and strong voice is that being connectional – being part of one another’s lives – being interconnected with the wider church near and far to support and encourage our individual and collective mission and ministry is a fundamental core value for us.

We are not individual churches living in silos. We are part of a body – part of Christ’s body. And from time to time it’s important for the members of Christ’s body to get together and hash things out no matter how messy and disorganized it might seem at times. This church, and our whole church, is filled with passionate, faithful, inspiring and inspired followers of the Way of Jesus. And that was reinforced in spades for me this past 12 days. That was church on the Rock! How’s she gong? – Best kind!gc42-worship-sm

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, in synergy and united by every fastening band with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Behold! I am making all things new!

May it be so! Amen.