A Pandemic Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…. (Read the whole passage)

“You are on mute”

Marlena was waving her arms at her computer screen, trying to look as though she was pointing down at the mute button on the other end of the screen. 

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and she was finishing her final work zoom before Christmas break. 

2020 had been that kind of year. 

Marlena had been working from home for months. Her event planning and corporate workshop business had to quickly transition from being an in-person service to an online one. She spent her days on zoom helping different businesses hold training events and lead them through corporate team building. 

During the same time, Jim’s food distribution company had been incredibly busy. The business they lost from restaurants had shifted quickly to increased deliveries to local grocers and even a residential home delivery service. Jim had to become an expert on COVID-19 protocols overnight. 

Lizzie and David had been doing their school from home in the spring and then blended learning through the fall. It meant that Marlena has become a part-time home-school teacher along with being a corporate zoom meeting facilitator. 

And still even with busy work and added responsibly at home, their lives had become so small. The kids only saw their friends through their phones, while Jim and Marlena’s social calendar had been wiped clean. Marlena’s book club had moved online, but she just couldn’t spend more time on zoom than was absolutely necessary. They hadn’t seen friends and family in-person since March… other than a few summer walks and socially distanced barbecues – which were only weird and awkward. 

“Okay, I can hear you now.” She said to the person on the other end of the call. “Let’s book the next meeting for January”

And then bloop, it was finally done.

____ 

Around lunch time, Lizzie and David emerged from their rooms, headphones on and iPads in hand, to appear at the kitchen table just in time for some grilled cheese sandwiches to be served. 

“Don’t forget, we are packing meals at the soup kitchen this afternoon.” Marlena said the words out loud, but her kids didn’t seem to be aware that she existed. She heard Jim’s car pull into the garage. He came into the house. “What’s for lunch?” He asked. 

Marlena sighed. The two sat down to eat… while David and Lizzie cleared their plates without looking up from their screens. 

“Work is all set until the 27th. 3 days off!” Jim sounded both exhausted and excited at the same time. “I thought we could do to that Candy Cane lane drive-thru after the soup kitchen and before church” he said with a half mouthful of grilled cheese.

“Sounds like fun” Marlena said, but her words didn’t match her expression.

Christmas just wasn’t the same this year. Jim had been trying. He bought a real tree, instead of pulling out the old artificial one in the basement. They weren’t travelling so they could water it every day, he reasoned. 

They had also been watching a Christmas movie a night since mid-November. They were all starting to blend together, except for the night when they watched Die Hard… Marlena kept waiting for the Christmas part of the movie, but it never really came… just lots of explosions. 

Around 5 o’clock, Jim and Marlena, Lizzie and David were all packed into the family car. They were leaving the soup kitchen for their drive down Candy Cane lane. Instead of serving meals like they usually did, they were packing to go containers in a socially distanced kitchen with masks on. Another Christmas tradition that just wasn’t the same.  

The family was quiet as they drove through the empty streets of the city. Marlena looked out the window and kept thinking about all the things that Christmas wasn’t this year. 

All of a sudden her phone started buzzing. 

“Hello” 

“Marlena?” It was Father Angelo, the priest from St. David’s. 

“I have one more meal to deliver, but all the drivers are gone. Are you still close?” 

“Sure” said Marlena. “We can be back to you in 5 minutes.”

——

Father Angelo handed Marlena the meal and an address. 

“Thank you so much” he said. 

Marlena just nodded. 

10 minutes later, Jim was taking the car through a rougher area of town. A lot of run down rental houses and dingy apartment buildings. 

Finally, they pulled up to a particularly unsightly house. 

“I can take it” Jim said. 

“No, I will. But keep the car running.” Marlena answered. 

As Marlena approached the house, the outside light came on and the front door opened. 

A woman appeared from behind the door, and there was young boy hiding in her legs. He couldn’t have been more than 3. The woman had a mask on, just like Marlena did. 

As Marlena approached, she started to feel like there was something familiar about this woman, but Marlena couldn’t place it. 

Marlena was going to leave the box with the meal package on the step, but woman came out to meet her with her arms outstretched.

“Marlena?!?!” The woman gasped. 

“Miriam?” Marlena blurted out. 

Without thinking, Marlena put the box down and the two women hugged… but only for a moment before stepping back. 

“Sorry” they both said. 

“Miriam, I thought you and Jesse had gone up north?”

“We did” said Miriam. “For a few years we were. But back in March the work dried up for Jesse. So we came to the city. Jesse has had work off and on since then. Enough to get by, at least until the latest lockdown. Now… it’s been hard this past month. “ said Miriam. 

Marlena’s heart was full of compassion in a way that it hadn’t been in a while. She looked down at the little boy in Miriam’s legs. 

“And are you Christopher?” Marlena gasped. “You’re huge” she laughed.

“Marlena is the very first person to hold you, ever” Miriam said to her son. Christopher’s jaw dropped the way little kids jaws do. 

“I met you the day you were born. Your mom and dad, and my family were all snowed in at a hotel for Christmas. You came a week early. Wait… tomorrow must be your birthday!” 

Christopher smiled a big smile… while Miriam had a moment of saddness cross her face. Then she turned back to the house. 

“Jesse!” She called “It’s Marlena and Jim. You know, from the motel. When Christopher was born!” 

Jesse came to the door, a big grin on his face. As he walked through the light, Marlena could see that he was holding something… or no, it was someone. 

“This is Lilly” said Miriam.

“Lilly Marlena” said Jesse. 

Marlena gasped. 

___

Soon the two families, all bundled up for winter, were walking down the street. It was a mild and clear winter night. 

David and Lizzie were playing peek-a-boo with Christopher behind trees and bushes along the walk. Jim and Jesse were talking about their jobs and the pandemic. 

Marlena was looking at Lilly as she walked with Miriam.

“She is only 2 weeks old.” Said Miriam. “She is the reason we came to the city for Jesse to find work.”

“Why didn’t you look us up?” Asked Marlena. 

“I don’t know… it felt like it was so long ago. And it was only a two days that we were together. I just didn’t feel like I could ask for help again. You saved us once already.”

“No” Marlena said. “You saved us. You saved me. We were miserable that year. I wanted so bad for it to be the perfect Christmas that I was cranky with my family all month. Then when we were snowed in, I just lost all hope. But when you and Jesse… and Christopher came into our lives, you reminded me, us, that Christmas isn’t about perfect moments and memories.”

Miriam just nodded.

“And here were are again… and we are different kind of miserable. The whole world is.” Marlena’s voice started to break, she took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. 

“But look at my kids.” David and Lizzie were smiling and laughing like they hadn’t for months. 

“And look at our husbands.” Jim and Jesses were chuckling about something. 

“And look at me. Look at you.” Marlena stopped and turned to Miriam “Look at Lilly, this little Christmas baby. I see you and her and your family. And you remind not to let my version of the world take up too much space. You remind me that there is something more going on, even when everything feels heavy and dark. You mind me that God is up to things in this world that are both bigger than I can imagine, but also happening in the smallest out of the places that I forget to look.”

The two women looked at each other and at their families. 

Marlena looked to Lilly. “In this child, this little baby, I see hope and promise. I see a future. I see God breaking into this broken world, bringing light and life for us all, when we need it so desperately.

The tears were streaming down both women’s faces now. 

Just then some music began playing. It was coming from the school yard nearby. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth, receive her king. 

Miriam and Marlena started to laugh with joy. Just then the kids and the dads gasped as a giant firework erupted over head. 

“Let every heart, prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing”

Miriam looked at Marlena and said, 

“Thank you.” 

Marlena shook her head., “No, thanks be to God for you.”

St. David’s Christmas Eve at the Motel
St. David’s Christmas Day the Motel
St. David’s Advent 4 Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Eve Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Day Refugees

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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.

Ep 7 The Pandemic Reformation and the Post-Pandemic Church Part II

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-3djue-f53b1c

So, it has been a while. Just after recording our last episode, Pastor Erik developed a case of Bell’s palsy. It took a few extra weeks to heal and be able to talk properly again, but it is good to be back. Pastor Courtenay and Pastor Erik continue their conversation about the Pandemic Reformation and the Post-Pandemic Church. We continue to talk about way the church can look to a future that has been forever changed by this pandemic, but also by the other crises facing our world. 

In Episode 7, we map out our hopes, dreams and wishes for a post-pandemic church coming through this Pandemic Reformation. 

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

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

Music by Audionautix.com

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

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. 

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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