What the church can learn from extra curricular activities – Pastor Thoughts

With a second week of school nearly complete, many extra-curriculars are starting up. I had the privilege of sitting around a table in the atrium at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) with some other dance parents for a couple hours. 

Dance parents are like hockey parents, many spend hours sitting outside of dance studios like hockey parents sit in cold arenas. 

I couldn’t help but wonder what was so compelling about dance that these families would bring their kids one to seven (SEVEN!!!) days a week for dance classes for 10 months of the year. Few kids will become professional dancers, maybe some will become dance teachers, but most will dance for as long as they can and eventually move on with life.  

The next morning as I met with clergy colleagues over zoom, the discussion landed on declining volunteer capacity in congregations. Many were lamenting that most churches cannot find committee members, folks for worship roles, coffee makers, and so on.

As my colleagues talked about church, I couldn’t help but wonder what kept people coming back to the RWB week after week (day after day!) and what the church could learn from it. To be clear, the RWB recreational division has suffered a massive decline in enrolment during the pandemic and they have been very open about that. The other dance parents remarked that none of their kids’ classes were full, which was a rare occurrence pre-pandemic. It isn’t just churches that are seeing fewer folks being involved, it is allcommunity institutions: sports, arts, service clubs, etc.…

On top of that Canadians are getting older. 50% of us are over the age of 50. That means that for every family of four like mine, there are two empty-nest couples out there. 

But still, I couldn’t help but wonder what kept folks coming back to dance. I don’t know the answer (if I did, I would get rich selling books!). 

I do have thoughts though:

  • Is it the relative ease in ascertaining the benefit of dance and hockey and piano? Sure; but most kids won’t dance on Broadway, play in the NHL or perform at Carnegie.
  • Is it that there is a value associated with these activities? Should churches have annual fees? (Just kidding of course!)
  • Is it that church has no aging-out process and that adults participate as much as the kids? Most dance, hockey and piano parents don’t actually do the thing they are dragging their kids to. Or did all the kids who attended Sunday School over the past decades “age out” of church, like they did sports, music, dance and scouts?
  • Could it be that Christians have behaved badly lately: cozying up to power, condemning more than offering love, cutting people off more than reaching out? Almost certainly this is a big piece.
  • But also could it be that the free gift of God’s grace, the regular pondering of meaning and purpose in life, and the radical welcome given to imperfect sinners is a little deeper than most folks want to go on a regular basis? I also think this is something significant.
  • Lastly, might it be that churches and church leaders have for a long time assumed that people inherently understood why being part of a church is a good thing? Dance, hockey and all the other extra curriculars regularly “evangelize,” promote and recruit, while citing the benefits of participating. Have we forgotten how to do that? I suspect this might be the biggest piece. 

No doubt, when people aren’t working and taking care of families and households, how people spend their precious leisure time has dramatically changed what people are willing to participate in. And we have not even begun to sort out this pandemic world and its realities. 

Still, in the days, weeks, months and years to come, a lot of what we will be called to do is to let go of the idea that people *should* come to church (because they should know better), and begin to articulate again why following Jesus is a life changing thing for us. 

The whole world is still in the midst of this pandemic reset. As we all slowly rebuild and refashion our lives and what we invest our precious time and energy in, God is calling the church to proclaim again the Good News AND why it matters to us and why it should matter to our neighbour. 

As difficult and scary as this task sounds, it is also exciting. God has big things in mind for us.  

Bonus Episode – Oscar and Maeve’s thoughts about church

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-udx7a-12cab32

Bonus Episode – Pastors Courtenay and Erik invite some special guests on the podcast for some interesting conversation about the church. Oscar (8) and Maeve (6) share some of their favourite things about church and some of their not so favourite things. 

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synodof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

Ep 204 – How important is this to you?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-5ex44-12cab0d

In episode 4 of season 2, Pastor Courtenay and Pastor Erik discuss “how important is this to you?” when speaking of belonging to a faith community. They talk about what this question means for understanding our values and identities as communities and new ways to begin this discussion for congregations. 

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synodof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

Our Complicated Grief for the Queen – Pastor Thoughts

I was sitting in the board room at church last week, having just finished two zoom meetings when the people I was meeting with arrived for my third meeting and told me that the Queen had died. 

I had just checked the news only about 45 minutes prior and knew that her doctors were concerned. Her family had been summoned and I had seen the Twitter reports that the BBC news readers were already in their black ties. This didn’t feel like the previous health scares. 

Most of us were either very young or not alive at all the last time a monarch died. While 3/4 of my lineage is Norwegian, a quarter of me is Scottish and Welsh.  

I am also the son and grandson of royal watchers, and so had to endure waiting in crowds for the briefest of glimpses of visiting royals growing up. I also had to watch royal weddings and funerals whenever they were broadcast on TV.  But I am sure that I am not the only one whose family had a love for royal things. 

Many of these images provided some of the touchstone moments of our history. Now we are about to witness another in about a week. 

As we grieve the Queen in the days to come, I cannot help but think of my own grandmother, 98 years old. From the same cohort and stock, she was a women whose life was also marked by service to her community as a Pastor’s wife. I am sure we all have loved ones in our lives who come to mind as we ponder the Queen’s 70-year legacy. As much as she was a remarkable woman, the Queen is also symbolic of an era of rapid innovation and loss, from World War 2 and the invention of TV all the way to the internet and COVID-19 Pandemic. 

As I talked with a parishioner this week, our discussion of the Queen led us to memories growing up in the horse a buggy, pre-electricity era. We compared that reality to the fact that my watch today can show pictures, tell me the weather, send text message and measure my heartbeat.

The Queen’s death is a time to grieve all the that has taken place during her reign and how the world in which she first ascended to the throne is completely different from the world she leaves behind.

Just in the days before the Queen died, we also bore witness to the terrible tragedy that just happened at James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon. Horrible acts of violence that will take a long time for families and communities to heal from. Not to mention that the story of the perpetrators of this violence is connected to Canada’s history of colonialism, most clearly symbolized by the Crown. 

They are reminders that in these days we are experiencing grief upon grief, and it is complicated and messy. 

As we contend with our experience of grief in the days to come, we will be reminded of all the change that happened in the world during these past 70 years. We also be reminded of how that change has impacted us personally. 

In a rapidly changing world, there is so much that we must leave behind, so much to feel as though we have lost. It will be a big change to see a different face on our coins, to sing God Save the King, to change the name of all the public institutions titled after the Queen that will now belong to the King. Reminders of change and loss, and I am not so certain that we are ready to find hope in the ‘new’ either quite yet.  

As we grieve the Queen and a changing world, the thing that we can hold onto is our faith. Perhaps more accurately, and what I often tell to families grieving a loved one, God is holding onto us. 

Even as we struggle with all that is taking place around us, even as we feel as though we are losing much to the pace of change, even as there is much grief to bear these days, God promises that we do not bear it alone. 

Instead, we bear it together, we navigate this changing world in the body of Christ, in community. We given each other to hold on to, and we are held by the love of God. God who knows grief and has walked this path before, and who will see us through to the other side. 

Lost Sheep, Lost Coins and Lost in 2022

GOSPEL: Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus.] 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Today we get to hear some familiar parables about the Lost – the Lost Coin and Lost Sheep. There is something deeply familiar about the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep, about the woman who tears apart her house to find her one lost coin. And if we were to continue after this, to hear the story of prodigal son. 

But just maybe this year, there is something different in the way we hear these parables. Something helps us identify different and see our selves differently in the story. 

If I am honest, I should confess my own bias in preaching these stories before. The previous four times I have preached on these parables, I have always found myself identifying with the 99 sheep, the 9 coins or more importantly the grumbling Pharisees. I have found it hard to see myself in the lost thing. Before, I tried to redefine what I meant to be lost or just preached about grumblers. In my sermon from 3 years ago, at the time a father of a 5 year old and 3 year whose whose whole life was chasing after lost people and things, I gave lost things and people a bum rap. 

But this year in 2022, as I read this story of Jesus and these two parables again, and it was almost like hearing them for first time. Since the last time this gospel lesson was read in church, our whole world and lives have been turned upside down.  We have known an experience of being lost and alone, all experiencing it at the same time, that probably many of us had never before endured. We all know today, in new ways what is means to be alone, to feel lost, to be surrounded by danger, and to long to be found and rescued in new and profound ways. And if you don’t, what were you doing during the past two years?

In the old world of 2019 where feeling lost and alone, abandoned and forgotten was a foreign, or at least private experience… this new world that we are now living in has plenty of loneliness to go around. It doesn’t take much to remember how recently the walls of our homes kept us in and others out, or that the streets and walkways were emptier than we have every seen. We have felt the danger of simply being with others, we have seen the rage of protest and frustration, we have welcomed the refugee fleeing a war that feels too close for comfort.

Just this week, we have born witness to tragedy in James Smith Scree Nation and Weldon. We got the alerts on our phones, TVs and radios. We grieve the violence and loss of life. And we are reminded of the complicated history that Canada bears with indigenous peoples and communities. 

And if that wasn’t enough to endure, the news came on Thursday that Queen Elizabeth died. After 70 years on throne, she is the only monarch that most of us have known or remember well. Her death is not only the loss of a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother whose life was dedicated to service in an role that was not of her own choosing, but she represents in many ways the end of era that spans the time from the Great Depression and World War II all the way to our 21st century pandemic world. We have known that that time late 20th century world was ending, but now it feels even more like we have transitioned fully to a new 21st century existence.

Now with all of that on our plates this week, we know understand now that feeling lost and abandoned, alone and in danger, has been a common experience for human beings through the ages. Being lost seemed like it was just a thing for those on the margins, those who fell into lives of abuse, addiction, and crime. But certainly as Jesus preaches to the Scribes and Pharisees, tax collectors and debtors, we can now understand the ancient world was full hardship and struggle. Feeling lost, hoping for salvation was common place. The people who hear Jesus preach would have known what it was to be lost, at least most of them. 

Their world was not one where there was much mercy and grace to be found. Sinners, debtors and the unclean rarely found help and care, rarely were they able to escape their circumstances. Once in debt it was nearly impossible to get out, once unclean it was a whole process to become clean again, once a sinner the whole community turned its back to you. 

So these crowds following Jesus, listening to his preaching about discipleship would have heard these parables of lost things as radical and unexpected, as stark contrasts to the image of a judgemental God that they were so often warned of. 

When the sinners and debt collectors hear the pharisees and scribes grumbling about Jesus caring for the lost, the expected response would be for Jesus to shape up and start following the rules. It simply wouldn’t track that a shepherd might risk the 99 for the sake of the 1. It is a waste of time and energy to tear apart one’s house just to find a single coin, when you still have 9.

So imagine the crowds hearing Jesus tell the story of the shepherd that leaves the 99 behind to go and find the one lost sheep. The story of the woman who takes apart her whole house in order to find a lost coin and then throws a party to celebrate. And finally the story of the prodigal son, the child who has lost to the world seemingly for good, returns home to the joy of his father and of course the jealous older brother. 

These stories of the lost things would have been radical to the ears of the crowds because they revealed a God far different than the one they had been taught to fear. They tell the story of a God who loves so deeply that God will search and find the lost and forgotten, God will go out to meet those who are alone and abandoned, God cares not just for the whole, the community, the herd, but just as much for the one, the individual, the personal. God who knows us as the family of faith called the Body of Christ, and who knows us that the beloved baptized child in whom God is well pleased. 

And this Shepherding God who goes out for the 1 sheep this finding God who searches frantically for the 1 coin, this loving God who runs out to meet the lost son on the road and goes out to me the resentful son in the field… this God is the One whom finds and gathers us up. Gathers us up from our scattered and separated lonely places, who brings us together in to one Body, one congregation, one family, who rejoices that we have been found, that we have been retuned home, that we are reunited in Christ. 

This same finding God continues to meet us in our world this week. As God weeps and mourns with the communities of James Smith Cree Nation and Weldon, God promises that death is not the end and that there is New Life found in the Shepherd who search for the lost. As a commonwealth grieve’s the death of a beloved Queen and matriarch, while wrestling with the legacy of colonialism, God joins us again and again to a community, a Body and Kingdom in Christ that spans all time and space. As we contend with change that do not know how to manage, God reminds us that God has walked this journey with God’s people before, and God will show us the way now. 

This week, this year, more than ever before in our lives, we may have needed to hear these parables of the Lost as a church. We needed to be reminded of the loving finding God who doesn’t just look for those others that we consider lost, but loves and finds us, all of us. Because God knows knows that we are just as much the one lost sheep as we are the 99. God knows we are just as much the one lost coin as we are the 10 found ones. 

And the God who seeks, finds, knows and loves us is exactly who we need. 

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

%d bloggers like this: