Category Archives: covid-19

Mary’s story is a story for 2020

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Read the whole passage)

Stir up your power Lord Christ and come. 

Four Candles are finally lit today, and it isn’t long until that central Christ Candle is lit. Advent, as it always, starts by talking about the end, and then giving us two weeks to hear John the Baptists’s preaching about the coming of Messiah. But isn’t until Advent 4 that we get a story the feels like it belongs to the season… or least it isn’t until this Sunday that we hear a story seems to move forward our desire to roll the calendar over to Christmas. 

But before we can bust out the carols and presents, Advent needs to give us our last reminder of what it means to wait for Messiah, a qualifier for our celebration of Christmas. 

Just in case we think the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is a Christmas story, we are reminded today that it is an Advent story. And quite the Advent story it is. We hear this story of Gabriel and Mary and it is easy to imagine a young grade schooler wrapped in a bath robe and shawl, woodenly reading lines as she receives the news that she is pregnant. The pageant version of this story is the one we easily imagine, but certainly unlike the moment when most women find out they are pregnant. 

It is easy to imagine the young virgin, meek and mild, humbly and graciously receiving the angel’s news. It is natural to picture the made for TV Christmas movie version of the story, the version where there is no doubt that whatever tension presents itself in the story everything will turn out in the end. The idyllic nativity sets confirm this. The nostalgia laced Christmas greeting cards confirm this. 

And yet, the actual story was anything but idyllic. 

The story of Gabriel’s annunciation is a story in the real and messy world. A story that is less made for TV movie or Christmas pageant, and more real life stuff that usually happens in the privacy of our personal lives. 

When Gabriel told the young Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, it was likely not welcome news. Mary’s life plan was certainly different than this development. 

In Mary’s world, women had few options. Marriage and motherhood was the ideal, a woman’s worth was in the ability of her body to give sons to her husband. Sons to carry on their father’s lineage who would also be the retirement plan for most women, someone to care for them once their husband died. 

Yet, if a woman couldn’t provide children, or couldn’t reliably provide children that belonged to her husband because she wasn’t virgin before marriage… well that likely meant divorce and being tossed onto the streets. Pregnancy outside of marriage meant becoming a single mother living on the streets in the best case, execution by stoning at worst. 

And so as Gabriel announces this news to Mary, she is right to be much perplexed. This just about the worst thing that could happen to a young unmarried woman. Hardly the stuff we think about during the Christmas pageant. This is messy and real life. This is the kind of stuff that many of us had to deal with – life altering changes of course, 

This is kind of stuff that we know all too well in life. Things that happen to us beyond our control that change the entire course of our lives. Things like job loss, death of a loved one, separation, diagnosis of an illness or unplanned pregnancy…. 

Things like a global pandemic that changes how we live our lives to core. From how we work, shop, maintain relationships, worship and even how we celebrate Christmas. 

Things that take all we have in ourselves just to keep it together. 

Mary’s story is a real life story, a story about the messiness of life. It is a story for 2020 as much as it is a 2000 year old story.  

But Mary’s is also the story of God finding humanity in the mess, finding humanity in the struggle, finding humanity in the realness. 

Long before the angel interrupts Mary’s life plan with news of her pregnancy, Mary lived in a world where she was less of a human and more of a piece of property or livestock, where her marriage was likely arranged by her family as they were making a business deal. And of course there was the messiness of her own people and culture that was compounded by the fact that they all lived under Roman occupation. 

Yet, when the Angel first greets Mary, the Angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Right from the very beginning, God does something new and unexpected with Mary. God determines her worth and value before anything else. Mary is favoured by God. Not because she is a fertile body waiting to be impregnated. Not because she will bear the Messiah. But simply because she is herself. 

Greetings favoured one!

And then God gives Mary a purpose, she will be the one who will bear Messiah to the world. In a twist of irony, by choosing Mary to do the one thing that her world values her for, bear children, God takes away her cultural and social value. And instead, God imbues her with divine value. She is favoured because God has said so, and God then gives her a purpose in bearing the Messiah. God establishes her value and then gives her a purpose, opposite of the way her world works – where value is only given if one produces something considered worthy. 

Right from the beginning of the story, God is at work doing something new, transforming Mary’s life in unexpected ways. 

God is at work in Mary’s real story, her messy, struggled filled story. 

And remarkable as Mary’s real life story is, it is not special. 

Because Mary’s story is a universal story, it is our story. 

God has a way of finding us in the midst of our messy, struggled filled and very real lives too. Even as we are stuck at home, even when it feels like no one know where we are or how alone we feel. 

God finds us in the middle of real life, and breaks through all the things around us that would tell us our value, that our purpose, that life is only worth living based on what we can do in the world… 

God breaks through all the things that would tell Mary she is barely more than a thing that can be owned and that which is less than human. 

God breaks through all the things that would tell us that we are missing this year, all ways our lives have been made small and make us feel less than our true selves. 

God breaks through to us, and declares that we too are favoured. 

God breaks through and says that the Lord is with you. 

As we gather virtually, even as we pray and worship at home, God gathers us together, God reminds of words spoken to us at the beginning of our life in Christ, that still hold true today. God reminds us of the water poured on our heads, the sign of the cross that marked and sealed us to the Body of Christ. 

God reminds us that through all the messiness of life, through all the unexpected twists and turns, that we have been claimed in the waters and welcomed by Angels, divine messengers – by siblings in Christ who said to us: 

We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God
and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.

Join us in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world, just as Mary, Mary the God bearer did. 

Just as the Angel, the divine Messenger, tells Mary that she will bear a son, the son of God – that she will bear the Christ, the Christ who is the Word… 

God tells us the same. 

God declares that we are favoured, that we are marked with the cross. 

And that God us will use to bear the word, Christ who is the word, to the whole world. 

So you see, Mary’s story is not truly a pageant story or made for TV Christmas story. 

It is a real story. 

It is our story. 

Today, as Advent takes us through the final parts of the story, the ones that lead us to Christmas, we are reminded that this is a real story. A messy story. A story more like our lives this year than we really know. 

And it is real because it is the story of God’s breaking into our lives. Breaking into our mess in order to bring Messiah, the Word, the Son. 

In order for Christ to come and take flesh among us. 

So, stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

The Unmet Expectations of This Advent Season

John 1:6-8,19-28
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” (Read the whole passage)

Keep Awake!
Prepare the way of the Lord!
I am not the Messiah!

Each week of Advent seems to brings a them of waiting and preparing with it. Each week taking us closer to the coming of Messiah, even in the midst of all the darkness around us. 

We have now crossed into the back half of Advent. We started the season by hearing Jesus proclaim the end of time, to keep awake for God’s coming. Last week, we heard the beginning of the good news, we heard of Mark’s straight the point interpretation of the incarnation, the in flesh God among us. 

Today we hear the Advent twist on the story of John the Baptist. And for that we take a little detour from Mark’s gospel, to the gospel of John. John the Baptist is a familiar, if not odd, figure from the Gospels. A wild hermit preacher dressed in camel hair furs, eating locusts or giant grasshoppers for food. And for the people of ancient Israel, John fits the profile of a prophet, one sent to preach God’s message for the people.

And as John is preaching, teaching and baptizing in the desert, the authorities take notice. The priest and levites, the religious authorities send representatives to find out who this hermit preacher, this potential preacher is.

And so they ask, ‘Are you the Messiah?” A loaded question, a question about their expectations. Is John the one who has come to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, the one who to destroy the enemies and oppressors of Israel, to establish a divine Jewish kingdom on earth. 

But John says, “I am not the Messiah”

And so they ask again, “Are you Elijah?” Is John the one who will herald the end, the one who is the precursor, the advance party, the warning shot of the Messiah. 

But John says, “I am not.”

And so they ask a third time, “Are you the prophet?” Is John the prophet like Isaiah, maybe not the one who will establish the Kingdom of Heaven, but at least establish a new, powerful, and restored-to-former-glory Israel.

But John says, “No”

The Levites, Priests went to hear John the Baptist preach on the banks of the Jordan with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The were worried about the disruption he might cause, the over turning the of the status quo, the systems of power that privileged a few and caused suffering for many. 

The crowds too went to hear John preach with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The hope and light he might reveal, the overturning of the established orders, the oppressors who kept the people under their thumbs. 

And we too might hear John with expectations today. Expectations about who he might be and what might bring into our world. Expectations that our current circumstances can be undone, that there is some quick fix for our current predicament on its way to us. 

As our community, as our world, as we hunker down for a Christmas like none before, it is hard not to be longing for things the way they used to be, for things to go back to normal, for even a little reprieve from restrictions and orders that are keeping us from the Holidays as we know them. From celebrating with family and friends as we usually do, as we have been desperate to do for months now. 

And our expectations and hopes are only pushing towards disappointment and resentment.

And here as we wait for Messiah, halfway through Advent, expectations are everywhere. And while normal Advent and Christmas expectations centre around a lack of time and energy, about family gatherings going sideways, about creating perfect memories… This year we wait for things like case numbers, test positivity and hospitalizations to drop, for vaccines to be distributed and something that looks even a little bit like normal life. 

In 2020, we come to the John, asking he is the Messiah in a world that feels, at times, not too different than the world of those people standing on the banks of the Jordan, listening to John the Baptist. We see darkness, suffering, struggle and hardship in new ways. We understand being powerless and hoping for change in new ways. We know what it means to be waiting and focused on salvation like never before. 

And we come too, wondering if John the Baptist can tell us something about dealing with all of this.  

And John says, “NO”

Instead John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

And that voice in the wilderness is not the Messiah. This desert preacher is not the Messiah, he is not the one who will solve our problems, he is not even the one who to whom we should be looking. John the Baptist is simply a messenger. 

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”

But John is pointing elsewhere. 
Proclaiming another. 
Revealing someone else. 

John is here to tell the Pharisees and Scribes and crowds… here to tell us that there is another who is coming. There is one coming who will address injustice, oppression, suffering and death. There is one coming into our world who is God in flesh – God with us. And this one, this Messiah is coming to change the world in ways that we cannot imagine, who will transform us beyond our wildest expectations, who will flatten the hills of oppression, straighten the paths of injustice, fill the valleys of suffering, and grant us new life. 

This Messiah isn’t coming to give us Christmas back, to unlock our lives tomorrow.

This Messiah is not here to fix us or take our problems away and make things normal again. 

But rather, this Messiah is coming to fill our hearts, 
and bring us light. 

To light our path through the dark ways ahead.
To lead us through these difficult days with the promise of new life. 
To show us the way to the grace, mercy and love of God.

Half way through Advent, we might be focused on the things we won’t have this Christmas. 

Yet whether we see it or not, whether we realize is to not, 
the light of promise is beginning shine a little brighter. 
The darkness is being pushed away one candle, one light at a time. 

And as much as we carry expectations about a Christmas we cannot have, about a quick fix to world’s problems that won’t come on our timelines, and about the God who we wish was a great problem solver… 

we are getting to that part of the story when all our expectations are blown away.
When the unimaginable happens… 
when to an unmarried immigrant couple, 
when to a young virgin teen, 
when to the most unexpected people
a long hoped for yet unexpected Messiah is born… 

A Messiah born to save us all. 

This is what… who… John the Baptist is talking about.

Amen. 

Manitoba’s Code Red Tweaks allowing drive-ins and a follow-up to the open letter to churches flouting restrictions

I am a pastor serving a congregation in Winnipeg. I am also a blogger, having blogged here since 2013. This blog is full of commentary on issues of the day as they relate to the Church and people of faith. 

Yesterday, (December 8th, 2020) the province announced some changes to public health orders. And as of this week, drive-in worship will be allowed again (for now). 

To be clear, the initial public letter was not about the relative safety of drive-in worship during a pandemic. I am not a public health expert, it is not my place to debate the application of restrictions.

I am also extremely sympathetic to the strain and difficulties that the restrictions on gatherings have added to our lives and communities. During these stressful times when everyone’s inclination is to gather, it is really hard to have to stay apart. So many of us have been apart from family, friends and community for a long time.

Rather, the issue I hopefully articulated, and that others signed onto in the letter, was the flouting of public health orders. It is about faith leaders and faith communities signalling that public orders are okay only as long as they aren’t too inconvenient. And if they are inconvenient it is okay to break them (be fined for it) and fight them in court. 

There is no debate that some faith communities have deliberately defied public health orders and that fines were issued for doing so. 

As the public health orders were “tweaked” yesterday, it might *seem* like a victory for those upset about the brief suspension of drive-in services. 

I think this is the wrong lens through which to view this issue. This is not about winners or losers. The only way to win during this pandemic is to save lives and to care for one another as much as possible. 

If the province changed the rules because of the complaints regarding drive-in gatherings that is problematic. It means that rules are being changed for small interest groups instead of for the health and protection of the public and the health-care system. 

But if, as Dr. Roussin says, public health orders are only in place for the shortest amount of time they are needed and they are being lifted because it is safe for our province to do so, then that is acceptable. 

And knowing that, I have to wonder what on earth was all the protest about?

Just as promised, the restrictions were temporary in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They were not part of grand government design to stamp out Christian faith. 

Yesterday’s tweaks to the orders don’t reveal who won or lost in some perceived debate, instead they reveal some important questions about the past couple of weeks:

What did it serve to break the orders?

What was the point of incurring the fines? 

What was the point of the expensive legal battle? 

And why send the message that our inconveniences as churches and faith communities come before the greater good? 

(Unless the actual issue is that some don’t believe that this pandemic is real and dangerous). 

In my eye, the change in public health orders today only reveals how unnecessary all of this standing up for personal rights and freedoms really has been. 

If there comes a day when the government legitimately tries to stifle the practice of faith, I will be the first to stand up in protest. Today, and any day during this pandemic, is not that day. 

Follow up to the Open Letter

In regards to the Open Letter to Pastor Leon Fontaine and Springs Church regrading their objections to public health restrictions in our province, so far, 79 Clergy from across Manitoba have added their names. Leaders from many different denominations. 47 more clergy from a cross Canada and even the United States have also added their names. 

I have received many, many responses to the letter. Many comments on Facebook and Twitter, over 100 comments on my blog, and almost 200 emails. The majority are positive and supportive, but also many have been negative. 

I have received such gracious support from so many colleagues in ministry. There have been many messages from church folks glad that their faith leaders said something in response to the actions of the churches going against public health orders. And many messages from non-church folks grateful for the witness of the letter. 

The responses that hit me the hardest were from front-line healthcare workers angry and frustrated by the actions of churches fighting against public health orders. The letter and signatories were a welcome response. They helped to calm hurt feelings and anger. 

On the other side, I have also received many comments, posts, emails and voicemails from those who did not appreciate or agree with the letter. Many from folks who support the churches going against orders, and some non-Christians who are frustrated with public health restrictions.

Some have been polite, most have not. Most have accused me (and the other signatories) of acting in poor faith, being attention seeking, being un-Christian, being a poor pastor, not being a real pastor, clinging to a dying church. Some have even compared me and the other signers to the German church that collaborated with the Nazis. Some have tried to go around me and contact my congregation directly insisting that I be fired, along with any other church staff. And some comments I won’t share here at all. (Many of the comments are publicly viewable on my blog and Facebook page.)

Many have asked if I have been in touch with Pastor Leon from Springs. I posted to Spring’s Facebook page after the initial plans to proceed with their services, despite public health orders, were first announced. I also tried to find some direct ways to contact Pastor Leon through the church website, but there is no email or phone number that provides direct access to him. Most contact is initiated through contact forms, which are a way for businesses and organizations to obtain contact information like names, addresses, emails and phone numbers. Eventually, I found a generic church email address that let me email the church directly (without using a website contact form) and have emailed the church inviting conversation. I have not heard back. 

But just as importantly, the office of pastor is a public office. This means that the things one says and does while occupying that office are public. The instructions on resolving conflict in Matthew 18 correspond to conflict between siblings in faith. Yet, when Pastor Leon issued his press releases he was providing a public narrative that purported to speak for all Christians and communities of faith. This narrative needed to be addressed – publicly. 

John the Baptist preached publicly about his concerns with other faith leaders. Peter addressed other faith leaders publicly in the book of Acts. The Apostle Paul wrote public letters (which we have included in scripture!) addressing faith leaders and communities. Jesus often had public conversations with the faith leaders of Israel. 

Pastors are called, by virtue of our office, to speak publicly for our communities and that sometimes involves addressing other faith leaders in public.

Some Biblical Foundations

Some responses have claimed that the open letter was not biblical. So let me clearly address some biblical foundations. 

First off, the issue of personal rights is not a biblical one. Rather, as this excellent blog post by Dr. Brian Cooper explains, personal rights are a modern political concept. When the Apostle Paul addresses the issue of personal rights he talks about setting them aside for the sake of the gospel. 

Secondly, one approximate analogy to the suspension of in-person (or drive-in) gatherings in scripture is when Jesus heals the man with the withered hand in Mark 3. The Pharisees were trying to entrap Jesus into breaking the law on the sabbath day by doing “work” and healing the man. Jesus responds by saying, 

“Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”

The laws of the sabbath governed the way the people of Israel observed their day of worship. Yet, Jesus insisted on setting aside the rules in order to heal and care for people. He did not insist on setting aside the rules for his personal rights and freedoms. But always for the sake of the other. Always for the sake of caring for the most vulnerable in his community. 

Certainly, given Jesus’ consistent example in the gospels of transgressing boundaries and rules for the sake others, particularly the most vulnerable, Jesus would have been the first to forego in-person gatherings for a short time, in order to save lives. 

Thirdly, the Apostle Paul  also addresses the way a community worships in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthian church was struggling to discern its own membership and community. Some were eating their fill together before coming to worship at the Lord’s table while leaving other members of the church to go hungry. Paul admonishes this behaviour. He writes explicitly that the obligation is for the Corinthians to make sure that needs and well being of the whole community is looked after before gathering to worship. 

Paul writes that those who fail to discern the body – fail to understand just who is a part of their community and needs to be cared for – do so to their own condemnation. I don’t think this is prescriptive but rather descriptive. 

When we struggle and fail to discern who in our community needs to be cared for and put our own needs first, we are poorer for it as people of faith. 

Over the past 8 months, we have been asked over and over again by our community – by the leaders of the our province – to do our part to care for our community, even when that comes with personal sacrifice. 

As Christians and as people of faith, we should recognize this call as biblical and central to how we live out our faith during this pandemic. 

Preparing the Way – There is No Answer in Waiting

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
(Read the whole passage)

It has been a while hasn’t it. 

Many of you know that back on November 2nd, I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. I am still recovering, as the nerve in the right side of my face continues to be inflamed and refuses to send the the signals to my face muscles to do their job. 

So I have been on sick leave for a few weeks. Still sending emails and sharing worship, but this week I am trying a little more. Including a sermon. 

When you last heard from me, it was on All Saints Sunday. Now, we are into the second week of Advent. We have started a new church year which brings with it a new gospel to focus on. This is the year of Mark. 

As we begin making our way through Mark’s gospel this church year, it stands in contrast to the other gospels. Unlike the start of Matthew or Luke, Mark’s telling of the incarnation – of Jesus coming into the world – is a little different than what we might expect. 

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 

There are no angels, pregnant virgins, shepherds or mangers. There’s no Christmas pageant using Mark’s account. No shepherds in bathrobes awkwardly delivering Mark’s dialogue. 

Mark gets straight to the point. Yet, there is a lot being said in the economy of Mark’s words. 

The good news starts now. The good news starts with this one named Jesus. And this one named Jesus is the son of God. 

Then to explain that statement about the good news and Jesus, Mark quotes from the prophet Isaiah. But Mark expects a lot of his readers, and when he quotes from Isaiah, he expects that the first line is enough for us to fill in the rest and get the picture. Fortunately for those of who haven’t memorized the 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah, we read the passage that Mark quotes just a few moments ago. 

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to her, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

This passage from Isaiah comes at key moment for the people of Israel. The first 39 chapters told of the story of the exile into the Babylon, when the religious and royal class of Israel was forcibly removed from their home and sent to live in Babylon for generations. 

Yet we come into the story precisely a the moment that everything changes. The exile has ended, and Isaiah pleads with God to be gentle with God’s weary people. They have endured a lot and need the time to recover. And now begins the story of the return of God’s people to their homeland. God is no longer the wrathful God who has angrily sent the exiles away because of their sins, rather God is now the gentle saviour redeeming the tired and weary people of Israel. The exiles’ experience of God is completely transformed from this moment onwards. 

And Mark quotes Isaiah expecting that we know this story well, the story of exile and return from exile. Even more so Mark expects that we will see that he is connecting Jesus to this important moment when everything changes for the Israelites. 

Mark is saying, “Hey remember that moment when God changed everything by bringing the exiles home? Well, this Jesus is changing everything too.”

And then Mark takes another left turn, keeping us on our toes only a few lines into the story, by introducing us to John the Baptist. 

John, the rough around the edges desert preacher and prophet, who is attracting crowds and gaining the popularity of the people while drawing the ire of those in charge. John is quite the character dressed in camel hair, eating giant desert insects and preaching from a river. 

But perhaps most jarring of all in this short passage of Mark’s, is that John is quite the opposite to Isaiah. If Isaiah is pleading to God for comfort, compassion, and tenderness for God’s weary people, John is warning of the swift kick in the pants to come if they don’t repent. 

So is anyone confused by all this stuff in Mark? Good, that is the point. 

Not unlike the Israelites, we might know a little something about being tired… about being weary… we might know about longing and waiting for God… for Messiah to show up, to transform our lives. It is exhausting trying to keep the faith and have hope for the future.

More so than just about any Advent that we have lived through, we understand the waiting of the people of Israel. We know what is it to live under the thumb of a power that we are powerless against. We know what it is to hope for salvation, so live day to day until something changes, until a new world comes about, one that we simply do not know when it will arrive. 

The ways in which we labour, strive, suffering and struggle these days is not a short list. Whether we are suffering lonliness, anticipating a much reduced Christmas than ever imagined. Whether it is the threat of loss of business, jobs, income and offering. 

Whether it is stressed out health care-workers, teachers, front-line workers, parents and children. 

Whether it is families serparated by quarantines and restrictions, distances that cannot be travelled or public health orders that cannot be broken. 

Whether it is those suffering from COVID-19, contracting the illness and its hard to endue symptoms. 

Whether is families who are grieving as dozens die each day across our province. 

Take your pick. 

The list of burdens and suffering is long. It’s no wonder we feel weary. It’s no wonder we wait for God to show up in our lives and in the lives of our family, friends and neighbours. 

Here’s the thing about Advent: when waiting for Messiah becomes about things deeper than opening the little doors on advent calendars and collecting our chocolate treat, or counting the days until Christmas, it raises questions. Questions about where this Messiah that we are waiting for is in our world. Where Messiah is in our lives.

We long for the God of Isaiah to come and show us weary people some compassion and tenderness. 

We know that we need the Messiah of John the Baptist to come and give us swift kick the pants to keeps from atrophy. 

But it’s the waiting… the waiting is what we cannot abide. 

Because waiting has no answers until it is over. 

This is what John and Isaiah have in common. They are both speaking to the waiting of God’s people. Whether they are proclaiming a tender God who brings comfort or a powerful God who comes preaching repentance… they both are speaking to people who wait. To exiles whose waiting in exile is about to end, to Israelites waiting under oppression for Messiah. 

To 21st century Christians waiting for God in the midst of pandemic lockdowns. 

The promise is and has always been that Messiah is coming soon. 

As Isaiah says: 

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

    and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Take you pick of burdens that cause us to wait, 

valleys or hills and mountains, 

crooked paths and rough ways, 

Messiah is coming for all it. 

For people who need the tender compassion of God, 

for people who need the swift kick in the pants. 

For people who carry the burdens of work and communities, 

Of sepearated families

Of caregivers living through hell

Of families grieving through unimaginable loss

Messiah is coming for all of that too. 

And yes, not knowing when Messiah is coming, and having to wait is the hardest part of all. 

Having live in Advent not just for 4 weeks this year but 40 weeks with no end in sight, with its questions about where God is in our world and in our lives is not easy. We want to know, how, where, when. 

But the only answer is a promise, a promise that we hear every Advent again and again.

Messiah is coming.

Messiah is coming for a world in need. 

Messiah is coming for people of faith who hate waiting 

Messiah is coming for  you and for me. 

Messiah is coming… 

Soon. 

Amen.

An Open Letter to Pastor Leon Fontaine and Springs Church, Winnipeg

Dear Pastor Leon and the members of Springs Church, 

We are writing to you as clergy also serving faith communities in Manitoba and beyond. 

During the past two weeks, Springs Church has garnered a lot of local media attention and sparked debate in our city and province regarding COVID-19 pandemic restrictions implemented by public health authorities. Springs Church has deliberately violated these restrictions in the name of religious freedom and subsequently lost a court challenge of these restrictions. 

Much of the rhetoric coming from Springs church centres on the right of Christians to worship under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. You have claimed that your drive-in services are safe and your right to gather in-person to worship outweighs the Province of Manitoba’s right to restrict gatherings for the sake of public health. 

Drive-in services may be relatively safe (but not as a safe as staying home) and the question of how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is weighed against these public health orders has not been settled in court. 

However, we are not writing to you regarding the epidemiology or legality of drive-in services. 

We are writing to you as peers and siblings in Christ and as called and ordained ministers of Christ’s Church.

We find that your actions during the past days of encouraging Christians to disobey public health orders in the name of freedom are not an example of following Christ. 

We find that your insistence on the right to worship is not in keeping with Christ’s command to love our neighbour. 

We find that your actions disregard the dangers of COVID-19 in our community and that they only serve to create potential harm for our healthcare system and healthcare workers already pushed beyond capacity. 

We find that your insistence on individual freedoms over collective responsibility are an affront to the many individuals, families, friends, community groups and other faith communities who are refraining from gathering for the sake of our neighbours. 

We find that your focus on your own perceived loss (of not being able to gather for a short time) to be offensive to those 381 Manitoban families (as of December 5th) who have lost loved ones as a result of this pandemic. 

Therefore we call on you to take the following actions:

That you repent of your actions and publicly apologize for putting your individual right to worship ahead of the good of our community. 

That you publicly encourage your church members to remain at home and worship online while public health restrictions remain in place. 

That you cease all legal action against the province and redirect those funds intended for legal costs towards a charity that truly helps Manitobans, such as Harvest Manitoba. 

If and when these actions are undertaken, it would be our hope that they be a first step towards reconciliation between Springs and your sibling communities of faith in Manitoba. 

Finally, knowing that we are not the first people of faith to live through a pandemic, we offer you the following quote from Martin Luther, written in 1527, about how Christians ought to respond to the Black Death:

Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid persons and places where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

*This letter also applies to any congregation refusing to follow public health orders under the guise of religious persecution including the Church of God Restoration South of Steinbach. *

Yours in Christ, 

** If you are a clergy-person and would like to add your name to this letter please email your name, title and church affiliation to pastor@sherpark.ca

Manitoba Clergy:
The Rev. Erik Parker, Sherwood Park Lutheran Church, Winnipeg (Letter Author)

The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, Messiah Lutheran Church, Winnipeg

Bishop Elaine Sauer, St Chad’s Anglican Parish, Winnipeg

The Rev. Rick Sauer, St. Mark’s Lutheran, Winnipeg.

The Rev. Ken Kuhn, retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada)

The Rev. Richard D. Schulz Pastor, Gimli Lutheran Church

The Rev. Nancy Walker, retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada)

The Reverend Theo Robinson, BTh, Incumbent St. Michael’s Anglican Church, Victoria Beach & Pastor, Interlake Regional Shared Ministry, MNO Synod

The Rev. Don Engel, retired, (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada)

The Rev. Father Chad McCharles, Anglican Priest of the Diocese of Brandon, Incumbent of Neepawa United-Anglican Church

Jeraldine Bjornson, retired DLM, United Church of Canada

The Rev. Barton Coleman, Zion Lutheran Church Beausejour, Manitoba

The Rev. Kolleen Karlowsky-Clark, retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada)

Rev. Rachel Twigg, Saint Benedict’s Table Anglican, Winnipeg

The Rev. Jennifer Marlor, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Winnipeg

Rev. Liz Carter-Morgan, St. Paul’s United Church, Virden MB

The Rev. Canon Dr. Murray Still, Church of St Stephen and St Bede Anglican-Lutheran, Winnipeg

The Rev. Trudy Thorarinson, Grace-St.John’s Anglican-Lutheran, Carman, MB

Rev. Matthew Brough,  Prairie Presbyterian Church, Winnipeg

Paul Peters Derry, Ordained Minister, United Church of Canada (Retired), Postulate for Ordination, Anglican Church of Canada (Diocese of Rupert’s Land)

Rev. Don Schau, Atlantic-Garden City United Church, Winnipeg

The Rev. Philip G. Read, St. Mary’s Road United Church, Winnipeg

Reverend Barbara Roberts, ordained retired minister United Church of Canada

The Rev. John H. Giroux, St. Mary Anglican Church, Winnipeg

The Rev. Judith Whitmore Anglican, Belair, Manitoba

The Rev. Dr. Kara Mandryk Coordinator, Henry Budd College for Ministry, and Regional Dean, The Pas Deanery, Diocese of Brandon

Rev. Lynell Bergen, Hope Mennonite Church, Winnipeg

The Venerable Gordon Payne, retired, Priest of the Diocese of British Columbia. (But living and serving in Winnipeg)

Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Pastoral Leader Little Flowers Community (Mennonite Church Manitoba)

Kim Arpin-Ricci, Pastoral Leader, Little Flowers Community (Mennonite Church Manitoba)

Rev. Tyler Gingrich, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Winnipeg

Rev. Bonita E. Garrett, Retired, United Church of Canada

Michael Pahl, Lead Pastor, Morden Mennonite Church

Rev. Margrét Kristjansson, Rivers United Church, Rivers, MB

Rev. Donna J. Smalley, Retired [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] Winnipeg

 M.A.McCartney. Team Minister Oak Bank United Church, Oak Bank, MB

The Rev. Thomas J. Lurvey, retired (North American Lutheran Church), Winnipeg

Rev. Harold Peters-Fransen, Elim Mennonite Church, Grunthal, MB

Rev. Jim Vickers, retired, (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) Waldersee, MB

The Venerable Helen Kennedy Archdeacon of Winnipeg / St John
Priest of St George’s, Transcona.

Rev. Bruce Gelhorn, Grace Lutheran Church, Winnipeg Manitoba. 

Rev. Christopher Smith, The Bridge Church of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Winnipeg. 

Rev. Kathy Koop, First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg

Rev. Barb Jardine- Retired, serving Forrest and Brookdale, United Church of Canada. 

Josué Sánchez, Ordained Pastor, Seventy-day Adventist, Winnipeg

Rev. Stafford Greer, Morden Alliance Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Morden MB

The Reverend Lynette Miller, retired, The United Church of Canada, Winnipeg

The Reverend Patricia Langlois, (Retired), Team Vicar, The South Parkland Parrish Anglican Diocese of Brandon

Rev. Michael Kurtz, First Lutheran  Church, Winnipeg

The Rev. Canon Rick Condo, retired, Diocese of Ruperts Land, Winnipeg

Kevin Drudge, Pastor, Covenant Mennonite Church, Winkler MB

Ron Fischer, Teaching Elder, Kildonan Community Church, Winnipeg MB

Rev, Susan Tillman, United Church Grey Street in Winnipeg and St.Paul’s in Beausejour, MB

Father Sam Argenziano, Pastor of Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, Winnipeg

Rev. Brian McNarry, Grand Valley Church of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Brandon MB

Rev. Margaret Mullin, Place of Hope Indigenous Presbyterian Church, Winnipeg MB

Rev. Kristin Woodburke, DM, OakBank United Church, Oakbank, MB

Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson, Charleswood United Church, Winnipeg, MB.

The Rev. Kenneth Stright, retired, The Presbyterian Church in Canada

The Rev. Jeanne  M.M. Stright, retired, The United Church of Canada.

The Rev’d Diane K Guilford, St. Thomas Anglican Church, Morden, MB

The Rev. Glen Krentz, Retired, (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Winnipeg

The Reverend R. David Lowe, On Leave from Call, ELCIC Winnipeg

The Rev. Lanny Knutson, retired, (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Winnipeg

Rev. Ken Thomas, Augustine United Church, Winnipeg

Rev. Noelle Bowles, Spirit Path United Church in Winnipeg 

Rev. Anthon Bouw, minister, Knox Presbyterian Church, Selkirk.

Pastor Jonathon Shierman, Lead Minister, Moosomin Baptist Church

Reverend Cole Grambo, Minister, Selkirk United Church

Ha Na Park, the minister at Immanuel United Church, Winnipeg

Min-Goo Kang, the minister at Fort Garry United Church, Winnipeg

Rev. Lynne Hutchison, Pastor, St. Luke’s Zion Lutheran Church, Winnipeg

The Rev. Andrew Rampton, Priest Incumbent, Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Winnipeg.

The Very Rev. Paul N. Johnson, Dean, Diocese of Rupert’s Land
Rector, Cathedral Church of St. John the Evangelist, Anglican Church of Canada, Winnipeg

The Ven. Simon Blaikie, Executive Archdeacon, Diocese of Rupert’s Land, Winnipeg

The Rev. Bill Blackburn.  St. John’s Anglican Pilot Mound, Manitoba

The Rev Fr Wayne McIntosh, priest, St Francis Anglican Church, Winnipeg, MB

The Rev. M. Dwight Rutherford, Hon Asst, The Parish Church of St Luke,
Winnipeg

Rev. Deacon Marline Wruck, Anglican deacon serving at Lutheran Church of the Cross, Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba

The Rev. John Dolloff St. Mary’s la Prairie Anglican Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

The Rev’d Tim Sale, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Fort Garry, Manitoba

Rev. Elaine Pinto, honorary deacon at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg

Clergy outside of Manitoba:
The Rev. Matthew Diegel, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Thunder Bay, ON

The Rev. Ed Long, Hilldale Lutheran Church, Thunder Bay, Ontario

The Ven. Wilma Woods, St Giles Anglican, Estevan, SK

The Rev. Brian Woods, St Giles Anglican, Estevan, SK

The Rev. Jerry Borkowsky, Assistant to the Bishop Saskatchewan Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

The Rev’d Robyn King, St Paul’s Anglican, Leduc, AB

Rev. Fran Ota, United Church of Canada, Toronto, ON

Diaconal Minister Beth Kerr, Trinity and Atwood United Churches, North Perth, ON

The Rev. Arleen Berg Leishman, retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) Thunder Bay, ON

The Rev. Murray Halvorson, New Hope Lutheran Church, Regina, SK

The Rev’d Justin Cheng, All Saints Anglican, Diocese of New Westminster, Burnaby, BC

Rev. Reg Berg, Prince of Faith Lutheran Church, Calgary, AB

The Rev. Lindsay Hognestad, Retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada) Regina, SK

The Rev’d Brandon Witwer, Christ Church Anglican, Calgary, AB

The Rev. Lyndon Sayers, Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria, BC

The Rev. Richard Engel, Hospital Chaplain, Lutheran Ministry in Hospitals of Saskatoon (LuMinHoS)

Bishop Cindy Halmarson, Retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Cobourg, Ontario

The Rev. Joseph McLellan, Bishop, Progressive Catholic Church of Canada

Rev. Sarah Bruer, Diaconal Minister (in search of call), North Perth Ontario.

Rev. Melany Cassidy-Wise, Ordained Minister,  Rural United Ministry. Easton’s Corners United Church, North Augusta Pastoral Charge, Bishop’s Oxford Pastoral Charge, Maitland, Ontario

Rev. Wendy Molnar, Coronado Gibbons United Church, Sturgeon County, AB

Rev. Linda K. Douglas Grace Lutheran Church, Victoria, BC

Fr. Dick+ Kennedy, Palliser Parish, Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle.

The Reverend Boyd Drake, The United Church of Canada, Gatineau QC

Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier, priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, serving an Anglican-Lutheran Shared Ministry in Watrous, SK.

The Rev. Aneeta Saroop, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church, Vancouver, BC

Rev. Sharilynn Upsdell Diaconal Minister United Church of Canada, Chaplain at Good Samaritan Mountainview Village Care Home, Kelowna BC

The Rev. Seth Perry, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Kingston, ON

REV. LINDA C. HUNTER, Ordained Minister in The United Church of Canada, serving Central United Church in Calgary, Alberta.

Rev. Audrey Lounder, President, Fundy St Lawrence Dawning Waters Region, United Church of Canada

Reverend Susan Butler-Jones, United Church of Canada, Gatineau QC

Rev. Sarah Dymund, Trinity Lutheran Church, Regina, SK

Rev. Murdo Marple, Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Calgary, Alberta.

The Rev. Karen Stepko, Christ Lutheran Church, Rhein, Saskatchewan

The Rev. Laura Kavanagh, Knox Presbyterian Church, Victoria BC

Deacon Gretchen Peterson, Assistant to the National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Saskatoon, SK

Rev. Stephen W. Overall, Retired United Methodist Clergy, and formerly served as Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care Education at the Victoria General Hospital (1971-1979). Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Rev. Joy Cowan, Minister at Heritage United Church, Regina, SK

Rev. Beth W Johnston, United Church of Canada Nipawin SK

Rev. Dr Adela Torchia, Two Saints Anglican Ministry in Victoria, BC

The Rev. Stewart Miller, Bread of Life Lutheran Church, Regina, SK

The Rev. Dr. Chris Nojonen, retired (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Thunder Bay

The Rev. M Kornfeld, St Albert Lutheran Church, St Albert, AB

Rev. Mark L. Malek (retired) Trinity United Church, Vernon ,B.C

Rev. Lloyd Huber, emeritus, LCC, Drumheller, AB

 The Rev Margaret Murray, (retired), Minister of the United Church of Canada, Woodstock, ON

 The Rev’d Grace Pritchard Burson, Anglican Church of All Saints by the Lake, Dorval, QC

The Rev. Lyndon Sayers, Lutheran Church of the Cross, Victoria, BC

The Rev. Scott Agur, Retired United Church of Canada, Courtenay, BC

The Reverend Fergus Tyson, Incumbent, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Calgary, AB

Rev. Joan Jespersen (retired),Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

The Rev Catherine M Dorcas, Presbyterian Church in Canada, Moosomin, SK