Category Archives: Pastor Thoughts

Taking time for Holy Week – Pastor Thoughts

We have just about made it through our long wilderness journey in Lent. With Holy Week nearly upon us, our Lenten pathway has not been easy nor straightforward. Instead, Lent is a season where we are challenged to offload our baggage, to re-think our assumptions and prepare to be changed. 

There is a lot about life in the Church that has Lenten vibes these days and it is NOT just since the pandemic. If I am honest, I can see the “Lentiness” all the way back to the beginning of my time in ministry. Things have felt scarce. There has been a sense that something is lost. In my first call interview in 2009, people were talking about “getting people back” and returning to what the Church once was. These refrains have only gotten louder over the 14 years following. It is the perspective of a community knowing that they have entered a spiritual wilderness and are looking to go back to where they came from. 

The thing is, we need this wilderness time. We need the wilderness journey. We need to let a lot of our baggage go. We need to learn how to trust that God is leading even if we cannot see the way. We need to be reshaped for the Kingdom again, as we have had a habit of falling out of shape for that work. 

Now that we complete our Lenten journey for this year, we still have to walk the walk of Holy Week. Lent doesn’t land on Christmas Day the way Holy Week lands on Easter Sunday. Instead Lent arrives at the most important week of the year for Christians, and the most difficult. 

The Holy Week story is hard and long and tiring, but it is necessary. We tend to compress the story into short phrases most of the year: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

But Holy Week takes the time to live the narrative. 

We stand along the road waving palms as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. 

We hear the Passion According To Matthew, Mark or Luke to begin the week. 

We gather with the disciples at the table of the of the Last Supper, with feet washed, and bread and wine shared. 

We try to stay awake through the night of betrayal and we go with Jesus as he is arrested, tried and sentenced. 

We help to carry the cross to Golgatha and we weep with mother and son as Jesus breathes his last. 

We hear the Passion According To John on Good Friday and wait for the first day of the week to go with the women to the tomb. 

We do this to remember the long story during all those other weeks of the year. We take our time so that, when we worship a crucified God, that we know what that means. So that we know who washes us at the baptismal font, and who feeds us at the Lord’s Supper. We linger in the stories so that they come to mind when we skim through the details in the Creed, or the Pastor references them in a sermon some time in November, or when we are sitting in Bible study trying to unpack just what God’s promises are rooted in. 

Holy Week imprints the story of the Passion into our bones. It becomes a part of us and we of it. So that when we become Easter people on that First Day of the Week at the empty tomb, we know how we got there. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick. But Lent and Holy Week do transform us – each year – into the Body of Resurrection that we are called to be. 

Pastor Erik+

Call the midwife and Why Serve? – Pastor Thoughts

As we round into the final Sunday and week of Lent, we are coming to our last Soup+Bread study session – “Why Serve?”

We have been asking the “why” questions, beginning with the broad issue of “Why Faith?”. As we have gone along we have narrowed down the topics from Faith, to Christianity, to the Word, to Worship. Along the way we have been building a foundation for understanding why we do this thing called “Church” together. 

Now as we ask the question, “Why Serve?”, we are trying to get at what this foundation means for us in terms of how we ought to live our lives. But to get the answer to that question, you will have to come to the study on Sunday!

However, as a tangent to the question of “Why Serve?”, I will admit that I have often been interested by the monastic life. I cannot say that I would have ever really considered becoming a monk, but the idea of living in a community whose life together is gathered around a singular purpose and governed by ritual, rhythms and patterns has a certain appeal. In some ways I got a parallel taste of that life in my five summers of working at various bible camps. 

For quite a while now, one of my favourite TV shows has been Call the Midwife. It is a British drama set in the 1950s and ‘60s following a group of Anglican nuns and National Health Service (NHS) nurses/midwives serving the fictional community of Poplar in London’s East End. Of all the depictions of Christianity on TV, Call the Midwife has to be one of the best. 

The nuns and nurses live together in Nonnatus House, and from there they serve the community around them. Primarily they serve as midwives during the Baby Boom of the post-war era, helping women to safely give birth to the many children born during this time. Throughout the show, they cover several of the various health crises that marked the time, including the Thalidomide crisis and the Polio epidemic.

Interwoven with stories of their personal lives and those of particular characters in the community, the nuns and nurses live lives of service. The nuns punctuate their busy days of births, pre- and postnatal clinics and general medicine with daily prayer – morning, noon, evening and night. 

Several poignant moments of the show have shown the nuns praying the prayers of Vespers (evening) and Compline (night): “Into your hands I commend my spirit” with moments of Birth, Life and Death that go along with the practice of midwifery and medicine. 

I encourage you to check the show out. But the way Christianity is portrayed is so different from what is usual for Hollywood dramas. There are no Bible-quoting villains, neither are there heroes sitting in a church praying to an unknown God in a moment of desperation. God and the Church aren’t some foil for misguided virtue or judgmentalism. Faith, as a part of life, informs the care that the nuns offer to the community around them. God isn’t some outside force to be appealed to in a moment when all hope is lost; instead, God is a part of every moment of life. When the skills of midwifery and nursing fail to bring a new child into the world safely or to extend the life of someone sick, there are traditional prayers that remind the nuns, the people of Poplar and us that, in Life and in Death, God is there. 

Service, Caring and Empathy are the main themes of the show. And while not all of us can live such lives of service, the show provides a template for what it looks like to be bound by something larger than ourselves that calls us into the world as people of faith. As we ask the question, “Why Serve?”, an important place to begin answering that question is to explore all the “why” questions we have explored already, to know why Faith is important to us and how to take that Faith is the foundation holding our feet to the ground and turn it into a way of life. 

Pastor Erik+

More Lenten “Why?” Questions

This Lent has been centered around the question of “Why?”

We have been sharing in Soup+Bread Lenten studies following worship and it has been invigorating – at least for me! As a pastor, I really enjoy the opportunities to teach that come along from time to time. But I hope that participants have been getting as much out of our sessions as I have. Our conversations have been lively and I think I have seen moments when people have been opened up to new ideas and understandings. 

So far we have explored the ideas of “Why Faith?” and “Why Christianity?”.

This week we will explore the questions, “Why the Word? Why do we read the Bible?”

Now, if you want to know why we read the Bible as Christians, how we understand it together, why we read it and not other books, you will have to come to our study on Sunday!

But for the past number of months, I have been asking my own “why?” questions about the Bible. Particularly, I have been wondering about how we listen to the Word in worship. How I listen to the Word in worship. 

Now this might seem a like a strange thing to wonder about. Isn’t the answer obvious? Someone reads the reading and the rest of us listen/read along, right? On the surface that is true, but there is a lot more to it than that. 

In fact, in our liturgy class in seminary there was a lot of time devoted to understanding just what we were doing when we read from the Scriptures in worship. 

We talked about how Scripture is read. Does the reader read it like a Shakespearian actor delivering a soliloquy? Or like Ferris Bueller’s teacher taking attendance, with the flattest affect possible? Do you look up to make eye contact or look at the words continuously so as not to lose your place?  

We talked about whether the Sunday readings are for learning and study or for edification and exhortation. 

We talked about how to listen to the readings. For example, the presider should model listening by looking at the reader rather than busily looking at the worship plan. Should we read along with the words or simply use our ears to hear the reading? When we read along, our brains switch into matching the words we are reading to what we are hearing, while deprioritizing comprehension. Simply listening is ideal. And yet making the readings accessible for those who are hard of hearing is important as well. 

And then there are deeper questions about what the readings are for. We tend to think the Word portion of worship is like a Bible study where we learn about each reading. Yet, cramming in a deeper understanding of all four readings each week is a lot to ask in the seven or eight minutes we spend hearing the Word. Similarly, shifting to a system like the Narrative Lectionary is a challenge because it disconnects the readings from the larger liturgical calendar and the ways in which in each Sunday’s set of readings support one another to tell the narrative of each season.

More and more I am coming to the view that it takes a certain kind of skill and attention to hear the Word in worship. Rather than following closely, word matching or studying the Word as if for a test, hearing Scripture in worship is something like going to the symphony. 

At the symphony, there might be a lecture on the music before the concert. There might be things about the history of the music to learn at home. But in the moment, during the concert, we listen attentively. We let the music wash over us catching the emotion, the harmonies and dissonance that evoke different responses or feelings within us. 

Similarly when hearing the Word in worship, we listen best to whatever words inspire or comfort, challenge or compel. We listen for things that God might be saying to us in that moment, and then we let the readings go, as we contemplate what message the Spirit has gifted us with. 

At least for me, this has been a change in how I hear the Word and how I have found myself connected with the readings. I invite you to try it, too. Don’t worry if you remember the story from Sunday school, or whether you know anything about the prophet whose book the reading is from or about which letter of Paul’s the reading is from. Just let the Word of God wash over you as you would a beautiful symphony, and see what God might be saying to you this week.

All of our “whys?” might be different

A week into the season of Lent, and I cannot seem to escape reasons to continue thinking about some of the “Why?” questions at the heart of our faith. Of course, I brought it on myself by planning a Lenten study on the theme of “Why?” questions. 

But just a few days ago I was asked my professional opinion about what kind of groups qualified as Christian ministries or churches. For example, could a ministry to gang members that worked to “rehabilitate” former members (and still maintained some connection to gangs) be considered a legitimate ministry? The scenario was a complicated one, which I won’t share here. But the question did bring me back to that core question of Lent, asking “Why Church?”

The answers to this kind of question can vary wildly. In fact, if you were to poll most people sitting in the pews or watching church online these days, you would likely find some vastly different reasons for why folks are present or watching. 

The starting place for the question has to be sorting out these answers for ourselves before we can ask them of others, before we can begin to have conversations about what we ought to be and do together as communities of faith. 

Last week our Lenten study asked the question, “Why faith?” And it took us on a journey to explore why we believe in something or someone rather than believing in nothing. 

As we continue our Lenten study this week, we will be exploring “Why Christianity?” Why does this version of believing in something or someone capture our attention, imagination and faithfulness more than something else? Why don’t we believe in re-incarnation or the power of the human spirit or that Mohammed is the prophet of Allah?

I know that I won’t be able to provide THE answer or, maybe that I won’t be able to necessarily provide the answer that makes sense for you. But it is a question that I have been working on since I was young man imagining what I might be when I grew up and the idea of becoming a pastor kept floating to the top of the list of possibilities. 

So when you come and explore this question at our Soup+Bread Lenten study this week, or you just take some time to ponder this question on your own, I hope that exploring these “Why?” questions are a way for us to journey through Lent together. That, as we seek to understand who and what we are as a community of faith, and why we do what we do, it will help us seek God’s leading for our future. 

Blessings on the journey. 

Why Worship? – Pastor Thoughts

Back when I was still going to seminary (pastor school), I found myself in church on a Sunday contemplating, “Why are we all here, doing this?” When I stepped back, I really wanted to know why all the people who were there on Sunday had come to sing, pray, read the Bible and receive the bread and wine together. Why did they do this, instead of all the other possible things that they could do on a Sunday morning?

Our theme of asking ‘Why?” continues this week. 

So far our Lenten journey has taken us through “Why Faith?”, “Why Christianity?”, and “Why the Bible?”.

Now we ask,“Why Worship?”.

As we have unpacked these “why” questions in our Lenten study, we have examined why we have faith in something rather than in nothing. We looked at how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus offer a compelling experiment of God’s mercy and grace. We have seen the ways that Christ the Word is witnessed to in the pages of Scripture. 

On this fourth week we start to put some of these pieces together as we contemplate why we worship. 

As we have already explored, there are a whole lot of complicated reasons that bring us to church, but once we are here it isn’t always obvious to ask why we are doing this rather than that. Instead, we often default to “I like that rather than this” and congregations can fall into the dread worship wars. Strong lines of preference are drawn over music styles, worship times, service length, the frequency of communion and a host of other things that can be easy to fight about. 

But they aren’t matters of “why.” Why do we come together? Why do we sing and pray and hear the Bible together? Why is that stuff important to do together in a church building rather than alone or in some other place?

And if we are honest with ourselves and each other, a lot of people are asking why it is important to take the time every week to show up at all – and they are coming to the conclusion that it isn’t important. A big part of that might be because we don’t often talk about the “why” of worship, but operate with a system that says, “It just IS important and you should all know why!”

Back on that Sunday in seminary, I wanted to know why we were all sitting in the pews for this strange worship of which we were a part. People don’t generally sing, pray and read the Bible with other folks anywhere else in their world, did they? So why did we do it here?

I have been thinking about that question ever since. While I know that there are at least as many reasons as there are people in the pews, I think it has something to do with knowing that we simply cannot do faith alone. We cannot believe it, practice it, hear it, teach it, and pass it on alone. And so God brings us together, even if is strange. Especially because it is strange and we don’t do the stuff we do in worship just about anywhere else in our lives. 

If you want to really unpack this question, you will have to join us for Lenten study this week. But suffice it to say, after 15 years serving in parish ministry, I am starting to see that, despite all the weird things that we do as a part of worship, that God is up to even more incredible things with us. And that coming together for worship is one of the few ways we can begin to see and imagine what God is doing with us.