Category Archives: Pastor Thoughts

Pastor’s Thoughts – Running on Empty

This week has been a lot of sitting at my kitchen table on my computer while the kids go to school or do activities close by. 

Remote learning has been some of the hardest ever stretches of parenthood. Having to become a sub-par replacement kindergarten teacher, and then a kind of Educational Assistant for subsequent grades has taken all my resolve.

Still, I know that others are also facing again their most difficult moments of this pandemic. Whether it is business owners pivoting, paring back, or just shutting down. Care home residents being locked down again, care home workers barely scraping by short staffed, teachers facing the impossible shift from remote, to in-person, and then to likely hybrid due to chronic widespread absenteeism. And of course, health-care workers. What more is to be said about the unending herculean task being dumped on them? The only comparable I can imagine are the soldiers forever in the trenches during World War I. 

This fall, I had finally felt like the ground was stabilizing under my feet. We had hope for the future, light and the end of the tunnel. Even as Omicron loomed and then appeared just before Christmas, I still maintained a level of optimism. 

But this week I am no longer in that optimistic place. 

I will be honest in saying that our political leaders’ decisions to ostensibly give in to the spread of Omicron was demoralizing. Like so many, I am struggling with sending our kids back to school knowing that they will almost certainly be exposed to the virus. I am heartbroken for health-care workers, who are being left to just manage. I have empathy for all those folks who have been doing everything they possibly can to keep themselves and their community safe, only to now find themselves sick. I am standing with all those facing impossible choices between staying sane by seeing friends and family, putting food on the table, caring for family and almost certainly being exposed to the virus. 

Hope is scarce right now. We are near empty. 

This week, the lectionary comes to us with a story all about running out. 

The wedding at Cana is a key story in the post-Epiphany season. We hear it normally with an ear to the revelation of Christ in the miraculous. 

But this year, that small community of Cana just trying to throw a party and then running out of wine only 3 days into the 7 day affair feels very on point. 

Could we ever use grumpy Jesus and his mom right now! In the midst of emptiness Jesus shows up and provides an abundance. When I use this story at weddings, I usually point out that Jesus provided about 7 bottles of wine per wedding guest. That is an abundance indeed!

It is often at our lowest point, when all there seems to be is emptiness that Jesus has the habit of revealing himself to us. I suspect that right now will be no different. 

Even as we are feeling abandoned, even as we are running out and running on empty…  Jesus will certainly surprise us with abundance. When we are certain that we have run out, Christ will provide us the resolve to care for each other. Jesus will show up with the catalyst of love, mercy and grace that gives us what we need to make it through.  

Okay, so maybe there is sill some optimism in me after all. 

Pastor Thoughts – Christmas Eve and Pandemic Timing

As a kid, Christmas Eve was one of my favourite services of the church year. I can still hear the congregation and choir singing “Glo-o-o-o-ria, in excelsis deo” in 4 parts. I can close my eyes and easily picture the darkened sanctuary, with stained glass dimly glowing in the night. The crowded and full congregation often meaning that we didn’t get to sit in our familiar family pew, but instead a new spot that afforded a new view of proceedings. It was fun to go to church at night for some reason. 

Combine that special service with all the family traditions: our Norwegian menu for Christmas Eve dinner (thankfully Lutefisk was a rare sight), gathering with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, opening presents, singing carols and staying up late!

Christmas Eve was indeed a special night, filled with memories and nostalgia. I am sure many of you feel the same way. 

And then came my first Christmas Eve as a pastor. Things had already been a little dicey. The congregation was used to having a pageant on Christmas Eve, but didn’t have the kids or teachers to pull it off that year. So I was roped into coming up with something, and we decided on the Sunday school kids singing some Christmas carols and reading the nativity gospel. Let me assure you, conducting a kids choir is not a seminary class. Regardless, we practiced and prepared for the big night. 

Knowing that there would be a lot going on, I planned to arrived 15 minutes earlier than I usually did for most Sundays. On my first Christmas Eve, I walked into the church at 5:45 PM for a 7PM service expecting to have a few minutes to myself. Being an hour early most Sundays gave me that opportunity. 

But when I walked over to the church (across the field from the parsonage) the lights were already on, the doors open and several cars already in the parking lot. 

Inside and already sitting in the pews where about 15 people, none of whom I had seen before. This totally threw me. I wasn’t ready to be welcoming and greeting people for over an hour before the service started. We made it through, but it wasn’t my most enjoyable Christmas Eve. 

The next year I got to the church 2 hours early, which left me with 30 minutes to myself, but the night was still a challenge. 

I will confess that, since becoming a pastor, Christmas Eve has taken a sharp fall off my list of favourite services of the year. Most Sundays folks don’t arrive with a complete vision of what is going to happen in worship. And as a pastor it is hard to live up to all those expectations (let alone my own Christmas Eve memories) on the most highly attended service of the year. 

It is also hard to find something to preach that cuts through all that expectation. 

All this adds up to a night that usually fails to live up to my own Christmas Eve desires, and a lot of stress about trying to provide something that meets the desires of others. 

Now, you probably know where I am going with this. 

After last year, when no one’s hopes and dreams for Christmas were met, we find ourselves in a place that we did not expect to be this year. Even just last week, we were pretty sure we were going to get something a whole lot better than watching our computer screens or iPads. Today, as I write this, we are living under a cloud of uncertainty. We have decided to suspend our in-person services.

Once again, this Christmas Eve will not meet the expectations of our memories and nostalgia.  

But a secret that I learned after those first couple of challenging Christmas Eves as a pastor… unmet and unrealized expectations are, in fact, at the heart of the Christmas story. 

The first Christmas was nothing but things not going as folks expected. An unwed teenage mother, a fiancée who was not the father, no room at the inn, shepherds and sheep crashing a birth, and the Messiah born into this mess in the back corner of this supremely unimportant place in the world. 

Leaning into all the ways that this story of Messiah’s birth challenges our expectations and challenges our versions of what Christmas ought to be is sometimes precisely what we need. 

Sure, I would rather just be trying to meet all the regular expectations about Christmas Eve than having to deal with a relentless pandemic with bad timing. 

But I also know that the promised Messiah is born regardless. Born to a people walking in darkness. Born to be our new light in the world. 

If Messiah could be born in a stable in 1st Century Judea, Messiah can meet us wherever we are and how ever we worship on Christmas Eve. 

Pastor Thoughts – What are we going to do about Christmas?

The world has changed (again) this week.

It feels strange to be looking back on the beginning of this pandemic like it was in the ancient past, but I have found my thoughts drawn there this week. 

My first clear pandemic memory is from January of 2020. I was attending the Alberta Synod Study Conference in Canmore, AB. Each night as we flipped on the TV before bed, the news kept talking about this Novel Coronavirus. I knew that I should be paying more attention to this, but the things happening more immediately around me pushed those thoughts away. It was still 6 weeks before that fateful week in March when the whole world changed.  

Back in mid-November when Omicron was identified as a variant of concern, I had a similar feeling to the one I did in that hotel room in Canmore. 

And this week has felt an awful lot like March 2020. When things that seemed to be on certain footing just a few days ago have become shifting sand. 

I am sure there are many who are wondering about Christmas. Some might be hoping that we may be able to hold on and still get our in-person gatherings with family or at church. Others are probably already adjusting plans, and re-thinking things that felt set in stone for weeks or even months. 

With the new public health orders that arrived Friday afternoon, we know that as of today, our capacity will be limited to 50%. For this reason we will be adding a second service at 4PM in order to spread out our attendance and to keep from having to turn folks away.     

We are committed to keeping everyone as safe as possible at Sherwood Park. And in addition to the extra 4PM service, online services continue to be available no matter what. 

This pandemic has again certainly put a damper on the season. I also suspect that the new year will bring a challenging time and things might feel like they are going back to those early days of the pandemic. 

But we have been here before. We have weathered this storm before. And this time we know how to make things work. 

And remember that first Christmas had a number of bumps along the way as well: government required travel, full inns, mangers for beds. And yet the Angels still appeared, a crowd still gathered even if in an unconventional way and the Christ-child was still born. 

Thoughts for Advent 3 – Perspective Shift

When my grandfather’s family immigrated from Norway, my understanding is that they landed first in Minnesota, where a lot of Scandinavian immigrants settled. But before long, many of these immigrants were longing for home, particularly for the Fjords of Norway. So a group of them decided to pick up and move to a place that reminded them of home the most. From Minnesota they moved to the coast of BC, to a place called Bella Coola. A tiny community nestled in the Fjords of BC. A community on the water but also among the mountains. A place where  sometime in late fall the sun would fall behind the mountains, not to be seen again until the end of winter. 

I always thought this was a strange decision and I wondered why my ancestors made it. 

Then I moved to the Red River Valley myself. Most Manitobans probably don’t think about this much, but there are virtually no hills here, no variation to the topography. If you know where to look you can find a hill, but they are not common. And no, driving over the Disraeli bridge does not count as a hill. 

The uncommon hills here are nothing compared to the hills and valleys found around Edmonton where I grew up, or the rolling prairie to the east, or mountains to the west. 

There are times when I long for a hill or two. And certainly there is strong sense of belonging whenever I am in the mountains – I think it is my Nordic blood. 

A few years ago, on one of our trips to see family out west, we were coming into the mountains just outside of Calgary when our daughter Maeve started complaining that she couldn’t see. We thought she meant she couldn’t see because of a pillow or blanket blocking her window, but we quickly sorted out that it was in fact the mountains themselves that were blocking her view of the sky (I think we are raising a real Manitoban…). 

Maeve is not the first prairie person to get panicky driving a mountain highway. I also know a few folks from BC who find the open skies of the prairies unnerving. 

As we navigate our way through the mountains, valleys, and flat places of Advent, I think there is something to the way God is working in and through our different perspectives. 

Flattened mountains and filled in valleys and straight paths don’t particularly excite me, but they might be a relief for some. 

The short days and long nights of winter might be something to be endured for some, but a sun that falls behind the mountains might feel like home for others. 

Advent is all about shifting our perspective. The stories we tell demand that we re-think the way we see the world. 

The End becomes the Beginning. 

John the Baptist’s bombastic preaching to wilderness crowds points us to a baby born in quiet and out-of-the-way manger. 

A young teenager, getting pregnant out of wedlock becomes the one in whom God is birthed into the world. 

The Messiah joins in with the life of creation in order to overcome death on the cross, and show us to new life. 

And finally, when we are tired, achy, slowing down, feeling as though we might be dying… when our lives, when the church, when the world feels as though things are falling apart… it might actually be something else. 

We just might be pregnant with new possibilities, soon to be entering into our world, changing our perspective on just what God is doing with us.