30 May 2018

Pre-Ordination "Address"

On Sunday May 27, 2018, I was ordained to the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Pastoral Care in the United Church of Canada at the annual meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.  The United Church of Canada has a bottom-up approach to polity and governance; therefore the final vote (and therefore the final accountability) for my ordination, after all of the interviews and paperwork were complete, came from the delegates, clergy and lay, at this meeting.

In this Conference, before the vote is taken, each candidate is invited to address the meeting.  We were given very few guidelines:  "Please keep your speech to 4-5 minutes.  If you wish, you may incorporate the theme of the meeting, 'Remembering, Celebrating, Imagining.'  If you wish, you may speak about what excites you about entering ministry at this time in the United Church of Canada."

And so, on the Friday morning of the meeting, three of us addressed the gathered delegates, and shortly thereafter they voted to ordain the three of us.  What follows is the script of (approximately) what I said in my 4-5 minutes as I addressed the annual meeting in a time when our denomination is facing some significant structural changes.

Friday May 25, 2018
Annual Meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario
University Centre, University of Manitoba

I have to confess that it is a bit surreal to be standing here, at this time and in this place, addressing what will likely be the final annual meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.  Over this weekend, we are remembering who we have been in the past, celebrating what we have done and what we continue to do, and imagining who God is calling us to be as we move in to the future.

I also have to confess that I feel a bit of sadness at the ending of our Presbyteries and Conference, as I carry with me many fond memories of time spent in meetings, building relationships with one another as we did the work of being the Body of Christ in our world.  And yet mixed with the sadness, there is also excitement as we move towards who we will be as the Body of Christ in our time and our place.

The story of our faith is not a static story – it is one of constant change.  God’s people left slavery in Egypt for the unknown in the desert; they then left the desert-time where God had provided for them in very tangible ways and crossed the Jordan River into a new land; God’s people left their homes for exile; and two generations later they left the land of exile to return to a land that none of them had known.  And then in the fullness of time, God did yet another new thing and the Word became Flesh; and God became present in the world in a new way, calling people to leave behind their nets and follow God in a new way.

Though the place and the circumstances were always changing, one thing stayed the same – the God who had been with the people in the past was still with them in the new thing.

Our personal lives too tend towards change.  The last time I was able to attend the annual meeting of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario was in 2014 in Swan River – at the time, I was living in Thunder Bay and working as a physiotherapist.  Since then, I have moved to Halifax where I completed my Master of Divinity at the Atlantic School of Theology; then moved across the country to the town of Chetwynd in the Peace Region of BC for my Internship, and now I am on the move again, headed to Two Rivers Pastoral Charge in New Brunswick.

Our denomination too is changing.  We are changing the way we have organized ourselves as the church – structures that we have collectively known for the past 93 years will be no more.  Right now, we are in a liminal time, an in-between time, on the threshold of something new that we don’t quite know yet.

But what I do know is that the same God who has been with us and who had guided us in the past, is still with us as we are in this in-between time, and will still be with us as we step into the future.  As the church, we listen for the Holy Spirit; and as we move into the future, we can continue to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into the Body of Christ so that we can do God’s work in the time and place where we find ourselves.

And so, despite my sadness at what might be lost as we move forward, and perhaps a little bit of trepidation with all of the changes, I am excited to be called to ministry with the United Church of Canada in this threshold moment of time.  I am excited to see where God is calling us as we move forward, and what new things we are being called to.  I am excited to minister with the church, to listen for the Spirit, and follow where the Spirit is calling us to go.

And so let us always remember that
"God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God!" [1]

[1] The United Church of Canada, “A New Creed,” https://www.united-church.ca/community-faith/welcome-united-church-canada/new-creed

 (Three New Ministers in the United Church of Canada:
Kate Jones, Don Sellsted, Patrick Woodbeck)