Category Archives: Pastor Thoughts

Why we need this 3rd Pandemic Lent – Pastor Thoughts

The season of Lent began this week with Ash Wednesday. This is the 3rd Lent to take place during the pandemic. 

There are many similarities between Advent and Lent, both are seasons of preparation that culminate with one of the two most important celebrations or feast days of the church year. 

I love Advent. Everything about it speaks to me. The shades of blue, big and small stories from the bible, images of light and dark, the hopeful anticipation in the midst of struggle. Advent is an exercise in contrasts. 

Lent on the other hand is not nearly as playful or vivid… sigh…

While Advent arrives with winter when it is new and exciting, Lent usually comes when we are ready to say goodbye to the snow. And before Lent takes us to Easter, we have to go through Holy Week. Holy Week which is intense, emotional and draining. 

Lent is less like preparing for the Holidays and more of a spiritual spring cleaning or exercise regime. 

Last year, as our second pandemic Lent arrived, many commented on how it felt like Lent had never ended. We had simply wandered in the wilderness for most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. 

Yet today in March of 2022 when the pandemic that has dominated our attention for the better part of 2 years, it is about 4th place in terms of headline news right now.

Someone on Twitter commented that if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were in a horse race, Famine and Death would have been strong for a long time. But Pestilence made a big comeback 2 years ago, only to have War surprise everyone in this homestretch. 

With all that is happening in our world these days – war, protests, economic disaster, disease and more – it can be hard to feel like our small Lenten practices are of any impact. It is a lot easier to watch, listen to, or read the news and feel hopeless about the world. 

And yet, I wonder if taking on a Lenten practice this year might be just what we need more than ever. It can look like giving something up like chocolate, coffee, tv or meat. It can be taking something on like daily prayer and scripture reading, giving alms, or watching mid-week Lenten services (Wednesdays at 7PM on the Facebook Page). 

Having something small and out of our usual routines to focus on each day as a way to draw our attention back to God may be just what is needed these days. When the problems of the world are too much to bear, those small reminders that we do not walk in this wilderness alone can carry us through to the promise of Easter. 

In the early church, Lent wasn’t just a season to wallow in the wilderness waiting for Good Friday. Lent was (and is) the season when catechumens (essentially adult confirmation students) would finalize their preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. And usually all those already baptized would join in the preparation as a reminder of their own baptism. 

Lent and its seasonal practices are meant to provide little disruptions in our lives. Moments and practices that wake us up from the rest of life, and turn us back to God. Turns us back to the promises of God found in baptism of forgiveness, life and salvation. 

Promises that we certainly need reminding of right now, week to week and day to day. 

And so I invite you to consider what your Lent will look like this year and what it might include for you.

Pastor Erik+

Haven’t we seen this before? Pastor Thoughts on the Cycles of History.

For the first part of this week, I couldn’t shake feeling tired and worn out with a mild sense of impending doom. I am sure we have all been there lately. 

There are of course many possible reasons:

Omicron which has certainly broken us and changed this whole pandemic on its head. 

Then there were the “trucker/freedom” protests/ occupations happening across Canada. 

And the question of war that has been lingering in the air over Russia and Ukraine. 

When the news of troop movements followed by explosions and the real outbreak of war, it all started falling into place. 

I have seen this before… I think?

When I was in university, I had a predilection for two areas of study. The first was theology and Christian history, which probably seems obvious. The second was 20th Century history, particularly the two World Wars. In university I was often schlepping between theology classes and history of modern warfare classes. 

Though, I probably sounded like a raving lunatic to most, I have often thought there is a similarity between the past 20 years of history and the period between World War One, the Great Depression and World War Two. 

History can be viewed in cycles, and this 70 year period of relative economic and political peace for much of the (western) world has been an unusual blip on the timeline of humanity.

Finally this week the peace that the western world has known since 1945 was breached. There is now conflict on the soil of Europe for the first time since the Nazis were defeated. 

Our place in the cycle of history seems more assured now, and this is what I have “seen” before.

The war on terrorism and its intractability rings too true with World War One. This pandemic has had similar effects on us as did the Great Depression. And now the Russian Invasion of Ukraine is straight out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook, even down to the speech Vladimir Putin gave this week justifying his attack.

Even if western sanctions, the bravery of ordinary Ukrainian folks and political turmoil back in Russia ends this war before it spreads too far, the damage is done. The balance of our world’s order is forever altered. 

Now what does that have to do with us? With Christians about the world? Lutherans in Canada? With neighbourhood congregations?

Today, we don’t know yet. 

But I suspect it has something to do with our calling as people of faith. The world is stumbling from crisis to crisis. Institutions of governments and power are failing at providing an equitable and just world. People are on the edge. 

And as followers of Jesus, we have a message, a gospel promise that speaks directly to a suffering and dying world.

For people in need of hope, we follow a God of Hope. 

For people in need of new life, we are made alive in a God of empty tombs and resurrection. 

For people in need of love and mercy, we are called to care for a world in need.

As difficult as it is to be the church these days, the world has never needed us more. 

And so we keep following, know that wherever this world is headed, God in Christ is right there with us, giving us what we need.  

February Blahs – Pastor Thoughts

Well, what a week!

The world is a topsy-turvy turmoil these days. 

The freedom convoy rolled through town at the end of the week last week and then made its way to Ottawa, where protestors have taken up residence tormenting the poor folks living there in the name of some misguided sense of freedom. 

One of our nation’s political leaders lost his job, but not the one most were thinking of. 

Manitoba’s government is planning for the pandemic to be over in a few months, regardless of what doctors say.

A large apartment building burned down on our street (but not that close to us). 

The Winter Olympics have begun! 

And the Winnipeg Jets can’t stop losing while my Edmonton Oilers ended a long losing streak of their own with winning a streak!

Did I catch you up on the all the news?

Oh, and as you read this you might have just been digging out your driveway full of another snowfall. (I finally broke down and bought a snowblower 3 weeks ago…)

Also, I have a 26 day streak in Wordle going so far! 

There seems to be a lot going on these days, in the news, on the TV, in pop culture, in politics and more. 

Yet, even with all of that going on, I cannot help but feel the February blahs. Maybe you feel it too. All the positive steps towards a new “post-pandemic” way of life came crashing to a halt at Christmas, and since then it is has been hard to re-engage. I am looking forward to when we can gather again. I am looking forward to walking through the journey of faith with you. I am looking forward to the future. But these past weeks have felt like a deja vu of March/April 2020 but without the sourdough starters, family puzzle time and sense of coming together to support healthcare workers.

At our zoom clergy gathering this week, of all the things to be worried about, my colleagues were most concerned about tired and disengaging members. We were most concerned about our own tiredness and disengagement. 

But there was one thing that lifted my spirits in an unexpected way this week. My annual report. Yes, seriously, writing my annual report. As I read my report on 2020 and then reflected on all that came to pass in 2021, it turned out that this past year in ministry was better than imagined:

  • We came together and created incredible worship despite difficult circumstances. 
  • We gathered in-person for worship many times and shared in Baptism, Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper
  • We delivered sermons to shut-ins and seniors 
  • We started some family ministry events
  • We had 4 sessions with small groups
  • We hosted programs and events for youth as young as grade 3 all the way to young adult
  • We started a committee to call all the members of the congregation 
  • We started a meal team for The Urban
  • We had the choir sing and musicians play
  • We made the Free Press, the Globe and Mail and were featured on CBC, CTV and City News!

I know there was even more than that behind the scenes or things that I am forgetting. 

But somehow in the midst of all the struggle we have endured, we actually did an incredible amount of new and exciting things. I was reminded of the incredible ministry that we have strived to do together, despite all the odds. 

Of all the things that have been seemingly bringing me down lately (except that Oilers winning streak!), reviewing what we had done together this past year lifted my spirits tremendously.

But more importantly, they reminded me just how the Spirit has been at work among us. God has been doing unexpected and amazing things in our community. And by the Holy Spirit’s leading, we have been making a difference in our world. That hardly seems possible when I think of all the obstacles in our way. 

I am so grateful for all of you. I am grateful for the ways in which so many have stepped back to keep each other safe, and have stepped forward to lead and drive our ministry. And most of all, I am grateful to be able to see that despite the obstacles that appear before us, God has been leading us in new ways to new life!

Essential Workers, Freedom Convoys and Living on the Edge – Pastor Thoughts

As I write to you this week, I am sitting listening to CBC Radio’s The Current and their discussion on essential workers in Canada. Guests from a variety of sectors are sharing their stories of working during the pandemic: health-care workers, long-term care, grocery stores, food delivery, education and so on. Many are talking about the appreciation and pay increases they received during the early months of the pandemic, and how those had mostly disappeared by the summer of 2020. At the same time, many employers took the opportunity to increase responsibilities and duties, to work in unsafe circumstances, to continue to work while sick, to suffer through threats of job loss and so on. 

At the same time, it has been hard this week to ignore all the news reports about the “Freedom Convoy” that is rolling across the nation in protest of vaccination mandates for cross-boarder truckers. 

Add explosive numbers of Omicron cases that may or may not be flatlining (we just cannot keep track) and inflation not seen in decades, and we can see that we are being squeezed as a society. 

This week in my sermon, I talk about how edgy we are these days. Quick to become frustrated and angry with those around us. 

The lofty visions of getting through this pandemic together that we held onto back at the beginning, are giving way to pulling back, looking out for number one and venting our frustrations with our neighbours. 

All these things, all these parts of life that show us just how little control we have over world are hard to take day-in day-out. Of course that is certain point of privilege, as the vast majority of human beings in history have lived under oppression, during wars and famines, pandemics and conflicts. 

But we are not used to this life. We have become accustomed to lives that are our mostly our own, and that we only share with our neighbour when it suits us. We have not known what it means to be beholden to our neighbour and vulnerable to the world every time we step outside our homes.

You can probably guess that I would support things like Universal Basic Income and a higher minimum wage, especially for essential worker who have endured so much. 

You can probably also guess my feelings about the Freedom Convoy (it is a waste of time and money, and only serves as a populist front for a White Nationalist agenda). 

Regardless, I think there is connection between what our essential workers are feeling and what those who support the Freedom convoy are feeling. What we are all feeling these days. 

The squeeze is on and it is revealing something broken in the world. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer and we are all becoming more vulnerable. Life doesn’t need to be so hard, so many don’t need to struggle to make ends meet. 

When people are squeezed enough, things tend to go sideways in societies. Protests (we are seeing those), violent protests (we can imagine those soon), revolts (January 6th, 2021 Capitol Hill attack) and revolutions. I wish I could say we will turn it around before it gets too bad, but the cycle of history suggests we won’t. 

So what does this depressing situation mean for us, for people of faith?

The Church has born witness to the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms. The Church has walked beside the poor and oppressed in times of struggle, and called powerful to account. 

But most importantly, the church has done what is has always done. We have continued to tell the story of Jesus, we have continued to preach the alternate vision of creation rooted in the Kingdom of God. 

We know that what is going on around isn’t the way things are supposed to be. We have a name for all the troubles – original sin. The reality that human beings have never and will never bring about paradise… we are only good are ruining it. 

But thankfully we also have this promise from God, that our version of the world is not the final one. Instead, God promises a new creation. A world where all belong, where all have enough, where all are welcome. 

That promise, that vision is what we need these days, it is what the world needs. So we will continue to do what we have always done. We will keep telling the story of God, keep proclaiming the coming of Messiah, keep sharing God’s promises and visions for the world. 

Leaning into the Rhythms and Patterns – Pastor Thoughts

Way back in March 2020, on the 18th  or 19th I think, I received a text from my family in Edmonton that a close contact of theirs had tested positive for COVID. Within days, my family had also tested positive. Shortly thereafter, my parents and sister endured a rough couple of weeks with COVID-19. They have subsequently been dealing with some long-Covid symptoms that still linger almost two years on. 

Those first few weeks of the pandemic were punctuated by the terrifying news reports, scenes of lockdowns in Italy, and growing cases in New York City…all alongside cheers and banging pots for healthcare workers at shift-change, sourdough starters and family puzzle time. But for me and my family, they also included worried texts and phone calls to family, constantly checking in every few hours. 

At that time, knowing someone who had COVID-19 was fairly uncommon. But hearing the daily struggle from people I cared about and loved impacted me deeply. It has coloured my approach and view of this pandemic. It is one of the reasons I have been outspoken about our need to care for each other and do what we can to keep our community safe. 

Of all the devastating waves of COVID-19 so far, it has only been in this month that I have been hearing about friends, colleagues and neighbours being sick. Some part of me expected April 2020 to be like this. 

Thankfully in January of 2022 most of us have been vaccinated – I was able to get my six month booster this week, exactly 6 months to the day from my 2nd dose. My kids will get their second doses of the vaccine on the 8-week mark from their first dose. And we have been illness free – at least we think – but this Omicron variant has a high level of asymptomatic or extremely mild cases. So the news about cases happening seemingly all around, is not quite as concerning as it would have been earlier on in the pandemic.

Still, here we are anticipating being exposed to the virus that we have spent nearly two years trying to avoid. Even after all we have endured during these trying years, it was hard even 5 weeks ago to imagine that this is where we would be. 

I have been thinking about what this change in circumstances will mean for us – as individuals and families, as a community and a congregation, as province and nation. I think most of us were ready for the pandemic to wind down. Wishfully some seem to think that Omicron will be the last wave, but I don’t think that it is likely. 

Instead, I think we might see a time where we live in a pattern of waves. Peaks and troughs as waves of new variants sweep through (there is already a Delta+Omicron variant called ‘Deltacron’). Vaccines will be updated as they are with flus, and I suspect that none of us will have rolled up our sleeves for the final time. I think we could live through patterns where we increase our activity in the troughs of the waves and pull back during the peaks. How our government and public health officials manage this is for another article. 

But as we come into the season after Epiphany, I am mindful that as a community of faith, we know something about living through patterns. We know what it means to ramp up our activity at certain times, to pull back at others. We know what it is like to live our lives governed by patterns that change us and what we do. 

The scriptures are full of patterns. The 7 days of creation that is the template for our 7 weekly habit of fathering for worship on the Lord’s day. Our pattern of daily prayer (usually observed by monks and nuns): morning, evening and night prayer rooted in the psalms.

The church governs our time and seasons with patterns and rhythms. Our calendar that builds from Advent to Christmas, pulls back again after Epiphany, and then marches us through Lent, preparing for Easter. Then we pull back through the long season of green after Pentecost and begin our building again by Thanksgiving, Reformation, All Saints and Christ the King.  

And as Christians, we know that these patterns help us to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. They form and shape us as people and as a community. They remind us that in the midst of all the other things of life, that God’s story is beside us. That God is with us along the way, informing and interpreting our experiences, relationships, hopes, dreams and fears. 

As this pandemic begins to form patterns and shapes that dictate how we live, we already know how to do this as people of faith. God has prepared us to live according to rhythms that change and adapt us as we go. 

But we also know that whatever life throws at us, whatever struggles or hardships are placed upon us, that God and God’s story goes along with us. And that God’s story is one of forgiveness, mercy and grace. God’s story is one of New Life even when surrounded by suffering and death. 

And God has a way of turning our story into God’s story, our living and our dying, into the abundant New Life found in Christ.