Tag Archives: Pastor Thoughts

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.

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.