Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Forest Churches

                                              Lincoln Forest Church Closing Prayer

 I have written about various forms of what are often called Forest Churches, usually informal congregations which meet regularly or occasionally for outdoors worship. You may recall my blog about Rev. Stephen Blackmer who was featured in an excellent Harper's Magazine piece by Fred Bahnson called The Priest in the Trees https://harpers.org/archive/2016/12/the-priest-in-the-trees/2/

I've also written about the later Father Charles Brandt, a priest and hermit who lived on Vancouver Island and led people in contemplative walks near his riverside home. I visited him years ago and the encounter was life-changing. https://www.hakaimagazine.com/features/the-oracle-of-oyster-river/ 


The Cathedral of the Trees ministry was a cosponsor of the Algonquin Park Outdoor Ministry in which I participated.. https://riseabove470.wordpress.com/cathedral-of-the-trees/

I hope these ministries flourish and will be joined by others. I see them as complementing what we consider traditional worship spaces, although truly traditional takes us back to Jesus preaching and teaching on a hillside in Galilee. 

 I came upon something about another Forest Church, this one in Great Britain and thought I'd share their "about us" blurb:  

Lincoln Forest Church is a place for nature lovers, mystics & seekers to come together and explore what it means to journey with the Creator, Christ and Spirit through creation and as created beings... 

Our quarter Meet-ups, held near the Solstices and equinoxes, are a more ritual based form of forest church than our monthly Reflective Walks ...
Though both are a time and space in nature for contemplative activities, involvements, worship, and thoughts.
Therefore we welcome involvement and suggestions from group members and encourage sharing conversation, ideas and discussion as it is through journeying together and understanding each other that we each grow and through which community is formed...

 Lincoln Forest Church generally meets most months (except August) on the fourth Sunday of the month at Whisby Nature Park (LN6 9BW), normally starting at 2pm by the bench (or just opposite it) outside the main entrance of the Natural World Centre. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Orange Shirt Sunday

                                                                          Phyllis Jack Webstad 

A Prayer for Orange Shirt Day*

Today we wear orange
to remember and honour all the Indigenous children who went to residential schools.

Today we wear orange and we pray
for the residential school and intergenerational survivors who are still struggling.

Today we wear orange and we are thankful
for those who speak the truth, and who work to shine a light on injustice.

Today we wear orange in the name of compassion and the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Help us, God, to remember and act on this this every day.


*This prayer was inspired by Honarine Scott’s Orange Shirt Day blog.

A couple of months ago those of us who are part of the Trenton United Church congregation were invited to purchase Every Child Matters tee-shirts in anticipation of Orange Shirt Sunday later that name in September.  This  Sunday is an act of solidarity with those who were taken from their families and essentially incarcerated and indoctrinated under the guise of Residential Schools. 

As is so often the case, dedicated congregation members had stepped up to organize this initiative and not long ago we received word that our shirts had arrived. The description on the United Church website is helpful: 

Why orange? Because of Phyllis Jack Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who went to St. Joseph Mission Residential School. On her first day of school, Phyllis wore an orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. It was immediately taken away, and that marked the beginning of Phyllis’s long separation from her family and community, a separation caused by actions of the church and federal government.

Orange Shirt Day is a time for us all to remember those events, their ongoing impact, and just as importantly the continuing strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. 

The shirts are now available in lots of locations but this concerted effort by a group of concerned Christians is an important act of solidarity. And while Orange Shirt Day is actually September 30th  congregations will be commemorating the event a few days earlier on Sunday, September 26th. Trenton UC has also put up a flag on the building in anticipation of the events. 

If you are interested in participating here is the United Church link with important practical information and food for thought. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Alive Through Music and Praise


                                                  Medieval Plague Doctor or 21st Century Choir Member

All Lands Summoned to Praise God -- A Psalm of thanksgiving.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come into his presence with singing.

Psalm 100 NRSV 

“We are a music-making species — always have been, always will be — and music’s capacity to explore, express and address what it is to be human remains one of our greatest communal gifts.” Clemency Burton-Hill 

This past week I had an exchange of emails with a friend in Colorado whose marriage I performed in Halifax twenty years ago -- it's quite a story. She mentioned that her church choir was resuming practices with special masks to allow for singing. She wasn't looking forward to the masks but glad to be singing with others again. Our congregation has been singing with masks since the resumption of in-person worship at the end of May. 

It's curious that I've had a number of music-related nudges in recent days. We received a little video of our 15-month-old grandson who took a long time to get walking yet there he was, twirling like a dervish to a funky song. He teeters precariously at one point but makes a nice recovery to continue moving to the music. 

In the novel I mentioned recently to which we're listening as we travel about, a musicologist examines previously unknown four hundred year old musical scores which she surmises will prove to be very valuable. She shares her view with a co-worker that in her opinion these documents are not music in themselves and probably shouldn't be revered. It is the expression of the notes through instruments and voice which are the true treasure. 

I also came across a brainpickings blog called Music and the Mystery of Aliveness which had the header quote you see above.  Rather than attempting to explain its thoughtful content I'll encourage you to read it.

Congregations will be expressing themselves in music today as an aspect of worship, whether in person or virtually. It is essential to our praise because we are a music-making species, a reflection of God's image.Sing on!


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Beginning With God


During my years of ministry I chose to begin worship with a Call or Invitation to Worship, then an Opening Prayer or Prayer of Invocation -- literally invoking God's presence in that place and time. I realized that this wasn't the custom for many congregations which chose instead to start out with announcements and then move to the God stuff. I even ruffled some 'we've always done it this way" feathers knowing that this has been a relatively recent development in United Churches. I've done it as a guest worship leader, but...

I can be quite opinionated, for good or bad, and I've chafed at times when announcements in services drag on before we've even acknowledged God in the house. Am I right? -- of course I am. Hey, I'm not really sure, but seeking God's presence in the company of the faithful is why I'm there, whether in the pulpit or the pew. It's my Sunday morning aha moment. 

I saw this  in the New York Times the other day and because it supports my preconceived notions I liked it. Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church and author of a couple of books, including Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work, or Watch, or Weep. While I never used such a basic Trinitarian formula to get our motor running I appreciate what she's saying:

Each Sunday in my Anglican church in Austin, Texas, the priest leading the service takes his or her place in front of the congregation and begins by saying the opening acclamation, usually, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

What has surprised me since I first attended an Anglican service just over a decade ago is that we begin not with welcoming anyone in the pews but with a direct announcement about God.

This just rings true for me, as much as I really enjoy seeing the human congregants. Beginning with God seems like a good start. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

St. Britney of Spears?

                                                                        St. Britney of Spears? 

 Britney Spears was a teenage pop music star who began her career so young that for most of us she is very old news even though at 39 she has lots of life before her. That's the hope anyway and she is determined to live those years free of the constraints of a conservatorship held by her father. Britney is a wealthy woman and still performing but emotional troubles of the past resulted in this strange legal relationship between daughter and parent. She is involved in a court battle to regain autonomy and it appears that she still has legions of fans rooting for her. 

I find celebrity fascinating in the way that our supposedly secular society seems to have replaced the religious saints of the past with music and film versions. In the United States they become governors and presidents with little evidence that they are equipped for the roles. Some of the most adored are "famous for being famous" and we often give a free pass to celebs when it comes to their behaviour. Glam and fame have replaced miracles and martyrdom. 

We were listening to an audiobook novel a few days ago where two characters, one a researcher of music from previous ages, chat about relics of the saints, the dubious bits and pieces of the religious rock stars which became prized possessions of churches and princes. It all seems rather macabre but as absurd as it sounds, what are up to in our time? 

It does seem that the courts should allow Britney to take control of her life as she's on the precipice of middle age, even if she crashes and burns. 

How about we stick with Jesus for our devotion and forget the vast array of other saintly figures, divine and profane? 

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Last of the Samaritans



                                                        Dan Balilty for The New York Times

During our son Isaac's previous pastorate he helped form a praise ensemble of which he was a guitar-playing, singing, member. After several possibilities were floated for a name they settled on The Fairly Good Samaritans, which made me laugh out loud. It's a playful take on the name often given to Jesus' parable found only in Luke about am excellent Samaritan who cares for a beaten man after supposedly devout Jews pass him by. Samaritans were regarded with disdain in  Jesus' time because of religious practices which digressed from traditional Judaism. 

Despite this, Jesus the Jew had his longest recorded interaction in the gospels with a woman from Samaria, and there is also a story about Jesus healing lepers in Samaria. With the Good Samaritan parable this is a fair amount of airplay.

Every once in a while I come across a news piece about the Samaritans of today -- yup, they're still around, although their numbers are dwindling. In the fifth century there may have been more than a million Samaritans but after centuries of persecution, their numbers have dwindled to about 800. In the recent New York Times piece it's noted that: 

As children, they grow up speaking Arabic. As teenagers, they study at schools run by the Palestinian Authority. As retirees, many regularly smoke shisha in the Palestinian city of Nablus, farther down the slopes of Mount Gerizim.

But they also hold Israeli citizenship, often work in Israel, pay for Israeli health insurance and visit relatives in a suburb of Tel Aviv. In Israeli elections, several say they vote for the right-wing, pro-settler Likud party. Yet the Samaritans are still represented on the dormant council of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

So it goes in Al Tor, a five-street village, known as Kiryat Luza in Hebrew, whose beige houses are home to some of the last members of the Samaritan religion, an ancient offshoot of the Israelite faith. Their unique Samaritan identity — not Muslim, not Christian, but not quite Jewish, either — allows them to drift, sometimes uneasily, between Israeli and Palestinian societies.

It's easy to read the bible dismissively as though it's a compendium of mythical tales, or, conversely, as a book of devotion which is not connected to real people with real lives. The ongoing existence of Samaritans --fairly good and otherwise -- reminds us there is more to our gospel story. 

Credit...Dan Balilty for The New York Times

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Charlie Watts & Sympathy for the Devil


Rolling Stones or Beatles....Beatles or Stones -- there was an ongoing, overly earnest debate in which I likely participated as a Beatles fan about the greatest rock/pop band of the era. Of course, there were lots of other worthy contenders. The Stones were raw and the Beatles were constantly innovative. The Beatles were frisky in the early days but became more workmanlike on the stage and toured less. The Stones were always in front of audiences and had Mick Jagger as their over-the-top showman. Both had drummers in Ringo Starr and Charlie Watts who didn't draw attention but were at the core of the there respective band's beat. 

Charlie Watts died a couple of days ago at the age of 80 having led a quiet later life in rural Devon with his wife of nearly 60 years, Shirley Ann Shepherd. He once commented that his marriage was successful because he wasn't really a rock star. He certainly was, even though he chose not to follow most of the stereotypes (he did have a period of drug addiction which his wife helped him through.)

I will say that while I continue to be a huge Beatles fan I don't recall ever quoting one of their songs in a sermon. I did draw on the lyrics of the Stones Sympathy for the Devil (1968) a couple of times through the years because the song is brilliant at addressing the reality of evil through the ages. It was often decried and even banned from the BBC for a while, but it is fascinating. Here are the lyrics: 

Please allow me to introduce myself

I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long years
Stole million man's soul an faith
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
Stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed Tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a general's rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah
I watched with glee
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted out
Who killed the Kennedys?
When after all
It was you and me
Let me please introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
And I laid traps for troubadours
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guessed my name, oh yeah
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game, oh yeah, get down, baby

Monday, August 23, 2021

Misogyny in God's Name


_The last days in Kabul while we, four friends, Afghan women journalists were hiding ourselves in d house. we were deleting our posts & profiles & whatever we achieved over past two decades. Taliban fighters were outside & patrolling d area. Feeling broken & traumatized. Aug 18-

We are doing our best to understand what is happening in Afghanistan as the United States withdraws its troops and the Taliban takes over. There is desperation at the airport as Afghanis beg to be evacuated along with citizens of other nations. Photos are emerging of British and American soldiers sharing water with parched children who are with parents hoping to flee the country.

The grim reality is that while more than 2 million  Afghan citizens are now refugees the vast majority have no where to go and will be subjected to another harsh and misogynistic Taliban regime. Word is that female civil servants have been told to stay home and images of women on advertisements and billboards are literally being whitewashed. There is a generation of educated girls and young women who have grown up with freedoms which will now be taken away. 

The tweet above by an Afghan journalist is another reminder that oppression has returned because a militant pseudo-religious minority is imposing its will on the nation. 

Any religion which demeans and subjugates women is an abomination.  What is transpiring in Afghanistan is certainly a blatant example and is related to a perversion of Islam. It happens in fundamentalist Judaism and Christianity as well. Sometimes this misrepresentation of God's intention for women is harsh and violent. Often it is insidious. Family members of good friends are part of a church in the United States where women are not allowed to be leaders and patriarchy is an accepted part of family life. Our friends are immensely frustrated by what this means for their daughter and granddaughter. 

Contrary to the misogynistic interpretations of scripture by some Christians there were women around Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. It was a woman, Mary, who discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning and was the first evangelist. There are many Christian faith communities, as well as in Judaism and Islam, which respect women and encourage them as equals. 

God of all, Allah, be with the girls and women of Afghanistan in this turbulent time. Show us how we can be of support for those who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. As Canadians, open our hearts and our borders to those who need sanctuary. 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Worship "en plein air."

                                                              Sign design by Jocelyn Mundy-Bourden

 During a morning cycle along the Belleville waterfront we noticed that the nearby Presbyterian congregation was setting up for a worship experience on their lawn under a couple of spreading catalpa trees. They are fortunate to have a large lawn with mature trees and enough room for a dozen community garden plots. I've mentioned that our home congregation, Trenton United, struck a compromise at the end of May as they returned to in-person worship for the third time. They decided to alternate between worship outside one week and inside the next. It has gone really well, including the Sunday in the park when the forecast of a thunderstorm didn't materialize.Attendance has been consistent between both formats. 

Necessity does seem to be mother of invention, and a pandemic has redirected convention. So many congregations which had abandoned annual outdoor services and picnics, or cemetery services, have turned to worship "en plein air" with an opportunity to include sky and trees as part of the backdrop.You might recall that last year I blogged about what one pastor called Kayak Church. 

                                                                  Kayak Church Pennsylvania 2020

 The sad reality is that some worship traditions, including the Algonquin Park Outdoor Ministry of which I was a part for a couple of years, were forced to stop this year and last because of the abundance of caution about public gatherings, We now have a sense that in both summers congregants would have been safe.

The restrictions have also meant that I didn't proceed with my desire to offer outdoor worship opportunities as a complement to services held indoors. My hope was to do so near water's edge in Belleville and Trenton. So many of us experience an up-welling of praise and gratitude and connection with the Creator when we are outdoors. 

Why not deepen that worshipful feeling with an informal and yet structured gathering? If it was good enough for Jesus and the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Sermon on the Mount...

Who knows what the Fall will bring, but perhaps this will happen yet.-- preferably before February.  

                                                     Sign Design by Jocelyn Mundy-Bourden 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Lakeside Immersion

                                                              Baptism of Christ -- Artist unknown 

 We left Tuesday morning for one of what seems like a million lakes in central and northern Ontario which are unknown to the majority of us but beloved by those who have cottages and camps on their shores. When our children were young we went to this lake because of the tiny cabin and trailer owned by Ruth's father and stepmother on a beautiful lot with a canopy of pine and cedar trees. 

Because of the blended family we drifted from closer touch with the stepchildren after the parents and Ruth's close stepsister died. In recent months she has reconnected with a stepbrother and her half-sister (10 sibs in total!) who still frequent the lake. They encouraged us to go up for a few days with our son and his family, which we did this week.

It was a lovely experience, in large part because we could swim whenever we chose to cool down from the heatwave days. Our son and grandsons were enthusiastic swimmers and our freshwater ecologist daughter-in-law examined the lake bottom with mask and snorkel as though she were at her favourite theme park. 

We swam with them and on our own, which was heavenly and became more so with each additional plunge. It was as though we were reintroducing our bodies  to the medium of our childhoods and the womb, for that matter. In Lynn Sherr's book Swim: Why we Love the Water she begins a chapter with the observation that "we swam before we walked or breathed and then we forgot. Over and over again."  This is so simple, yet true. During my teen years I worked through various levels of Red Cross swim training and then qualified to be a lifeguard. Yet during the decades since I have sometimes gone several years without swimming, or at least swimming in a lake or river. 

I wrote not long ago about the spiritual quality of swimming and offered the reminder that one of our two Protestant sacraments is baptism. Originally baptism was by immersion, plunging beneath the water to then resurface into new life in Christ. Water is transformation in our faith.

Yesterday was our final day and after the rest of the gang departed we packed up and cleaned up and got thoroughly hot and sweaty. Our last act before hitting the dusty road was a reviving swim. I looked over to see a loon, perhaps 15 metres away, the closest we've ever been to what it also called the great northern diver, Then a turtle popped up nearby. This was the perfect conclusion to our time away, thanks be to God. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

R. Murray Schafer, Acoustic Mystic


A few days ago a great Canadian died at the age of 88 although most Canadians have likely never heard of him. R. Murray Schafer was an award-winning musical composer across a number of genres. He was also recognized around the world. He coined the term "soundscape" and was best known for his groundbreaking creations that were performed outdoors and incorporated sounds from nature into his music.

Shafer has been described as an acoustic ecologist but I would add acoustic mystic.Through the years he has been mentioned by writers exploring the sacred in the sounds of the natural world and he touches on these themes in his writing. I have his book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World.

In the CBC article which notes Schafer's passing we find: 

Schafer's interest in the sounds of nature went hand in hand with his concern about the damaging effects of noise on people, particularly those living in the "sonic sewers" of urban landscapes. In 1969, he founded the World Soundscape Project at Simon Fraser University "to find solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape where the relationship between the human community and its sonic environment is in harmony." He presented his theories and research on the soundscape in The Tuning of the World, published in 1977.

"In a way, the world is a huge musical composition that's going on all the time, without a beginning and, presumably, without an ending," he explained in an NFB portrait, produced in 2009 when Schafer received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award. "We are the composers of this huge, miraculous composition that's going on around us, and we can improve it or we can destroy it. We can add more noises or we can add more beautiful sounds."

Schafer was ahead of his time, as the greats in different fields of endeavour often are. As we are inundated with "the unwanted sound of everything we want" (Garret Keizer) we are awakening to the importance of the balance of which Shafer speaks. Rest in peace.


Thursday, August 19, 2021

Our Vote in 2021

It was no surprise when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a September federal election thispast Sunday. I expected this, having bored Ruth, my wife, with my views on the timing of vaccination rollouts and percentages in relation to when the election would take place. I feel that this is self-serving and opportunistic on the part of the Liberals and totally unnecessary at this time.

We were pleasantly surprised to hear that  the same day our son and daughter-in-law went through the CBC Vote Compass with their eight-year-old to establish his preferences. It was a challenge to explain what certain issues are in language he could understand but he's a bright kid and completed the process. https://votecompass.cbc.ca/canada

Whatever our annoyance may be about the election, we do need to decide what our priorities for a federal government are and vote accordingly. There are lots of important social issues and I'll be listening to what parties have to say about Indigenous justice. My first priority is what I believe is the most important for our nation and all others, which is the climate emergency or calamity or whatever term we want to use.

This said, climate was not high on the agenda for the two largest political parties yesterday and reporters chose not to ask about the issue. Sure wildfires are devastating large swathes of Canada, the North is experiencing unprecedented warmth, and other regions have been dealing with extraordinary flooding. Yet the party in power is stubbornly sticking with oil pipelines while the party which figures its got a decent chance of winning couldn't get convention delegates to agree that climate change is real and a threat to everything, including the economy they vaunt. 

I've pointed out before that there were no democracies in Jesus' time, no opportunity to vote for leaders or issues. Still, I feel that it's a sacred trust to choose political leaders whose policies best reflect our gospel-informed values. 

If you're wondering, I won't say which party my grandson favoured, but I will tell you that the Conservatives were out of the running. I'm with him on that one. 

Here is a United Church election resource as well: 


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Divorce and the Generous Billionaire


When Amazon gajillionaire Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie Scott divorced she ended up with wealth beyond anything we could imagine -- and then it grew because of her stock holdings. Her settlement was roughly $30 billion US in 2019 but it has nearly doubled, making her the wealthiest woman in the world.

So, is she going to compete with the male billionaires who are giddy about their pony ride versions of the space rodeo. Nope. She's committed to giving it away and she hasn't wasted time.  Bloomberg has attempted to track her giveaways and they total 786 so far with more than $4 billion confirmed and a possible $8 billion in total. That's, like, a lotta lot. 

According to the Bloomberg piece: 

More than $1.6 billion has gone to education nonprofits and colleges and universities, with historically Black institutions, two year colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions fielding most of the contributions. Social assistance organizations, which feed, house and support those in need, like Goodwill and YMCA, got about $1 billion and another $1.2 billion went to philanthropy and grantmaking infrastructure nonprofits that focus on the business of fundraising, advocacy and philanthropy itself. At least two of those, the Bridgespan Grouand Lever For Change, have worked directly with Scott on her giving.

Hey, she won't need to shop for bargains anytime soon, but this is impressive. Many of the organizations figured that the emails they received with news of her largesse were scams or pranks. Instead Scott's generosity has expanded their scope immeasurably. 

Some of these organizations are faith based including: Faith in Action, Faith in Public Life, HIAS, Repair the World, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Muslim Advocates, Pillars Fund, Homeboy Industries and Repairers of the Breach. Scott is committed to supporting organizations bridging divides through interfaith support and collaboration,” Scott wrote.

We know that there are issues within Amazon about the way employees are paid and treated, and Amazon pays little or no tax in some jurisdictions while Bezos becomes even more obscenely wealthy. Obviously Scott is a beneficiary of these questionable practices. I still have to admire what she is doing and hope that hundreds more doers of good deeds benefit from her plan.  

In the meantime, all of us regular schleps can continue to share what God has provided to us with generosity and compassion. Remember Jesus commending the woman for offering her "widow's mite?" (Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Fear of God & the Thunderstorm

                                                                            Elijah in the Storm 

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

                                            1 Kings 19: 11-12 NRSV

Two weekends ago Ruth and I were in Killarney Provincial Park. She canoed in to Bell Lake with a longtime group of women friends while I camped on my own near the village of Killarney. On our last night, which was the Sunday, I was surprised to hear thunder and see flashes of lightning which weren't in the forecast. They didn't seem to be immediately at hand although light rain fell for a while.

When I picked Ruth up the following afternoon she and her companions asked what I thought of the storm. They had experienced a very noisy thunderstorm with long periods of intense rain. Ruth had elected to sleep in her hammock, which is enclosed by a bug net and equipped with a broad fly, or rain tarp. Even though she'd never used the fly before it proved to be waterproof. Still, she said that being suspended between two trees in a violent storm, separated from the other women who were in tents,  was an unsettling and even frightening experience. I didn't ask whether she saw her life flashing before her eyes, but she did say that the flashes of lightning were constant. I didn't inquire about her prayers either, but there may have been a few.

One of the strange things about being outdoors is that we are subject to the elements and at times it is the uncertainty and sense that we are no match for them which makes the experience more worthwhile and memorable. We've been in tents, far from any opportunity for safer shelter on a number of occasions. When our children were tweens and early teens we paddled deep into Killarney where we had to hunker down while an intense thunderstorm passed over us fairly quickly. Another time we were on the Sand River in Lake Superior Park and waited out a crazy storm while on a sandbar. We waited it out through the night in the hope that we wouldn't be washed away. On yet another occasion I was camped on an island in the North Channel of Georgian Bay with son Isaac as we watched a sweeping thunderstorm move toward us. Child abuse?...nah!

We know the often glibly used expression "it put the fear of God in me" and while those were occasions when we might not have feared the Creator we were in awe of the natural world and, yes, we did experience a degree of fear. In those moments one feels small, even insignificant, and that may be a good thing. 

As our planet experiences more unpredictable and intense weather we may be waking up to our hubris, our arrogant pride which has led us to what may be the brink of catastrophe. Can we regain a sense of humility and awe which compels us to do everything possible to bring Creation back into balance? Prayers for mercy and wisdom are certainly in order. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Haiti Earthquake and Our Response

 Back in 2010 the Caribbean nation of Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake which affected its people far more seriously than the adjoining Dominican Republic, in part because of poverty. Infrastructure and building structure  is generally better in the Dominican Republic making it less likely that residents will be crushed. In 2010 at least 300,000 people died and more than a million were displaced.

In the past few days we've learned of yet another earthquake in Haiti, a disaster which follows on the impact of tropical storms, rising gang violence and COVID-19. This quake may have been stronger than 2010 but occurred in a less populated area. Still, more than 1300 are confirmed dead, thousands are injured,  and the toll is rising. 

After the 2010 quake the United Church launched an appeal for relief funds to be deployed with partners in the country. It meant that those funds reached those who needed them most. One agency was Frontiers Foundation which repaired a school which they had originally built. While there was widespread corruption at the time, the UCC was confident that relief was delivered.

I am struck by the faith of Christians in Haiti where people have so little. A CBC report from yesterday said:

Some in the town praised God that they survived the earthquake, and many went to the city's cathedral, which appeared outwardly undamaged even if the priests' residence was destroyed. "We only have Jesus now," said Johanne Dorcely, 58, whose house was destroyed. "If it wasn't for Jesus, I wouldn't be able to be here today.

I'm hoping they have Jesus and the followers of Jesus in places such as Canada who can respond with practical compassion. The Red Cross has already called for our support and I'm sure the United Church will soon. Here are the links, I encourage you to keep looking at the United Church page for your opportunity.



Sunday, August 15, 2021

We are Not Alone, Thanks Be to God

                                             From A New Creed Booklet -- Gary Crawford illustrator 

We are called to be the Church:

    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

                     From the UCC New Creed (1968; rev. 1980, 1995).

 It wasn't exactly the day the world stood still, but it was essentially the day seventeen months ago that changed the patterns of our daily living in ways that inconvenienced some of us, were devastating for many, and eventually deadly for millions. The threat of a COVID-19 pandemic became a reality on Sunday, March 15th, 2020 here in Canada. Vacationers were urged to hurry home and many public institutions announced that they were temporarily shutting down. Businesses told employees to stay home temporarily, a choice which became permanent for some. 

We went to church that morning unsure if that was a wise thing to do. At the end of the service we were told that we wouldn't gather for worship for a couple of weeks until Palm Sunday. That shutdown became six months although for many congregations the shift to online worship has been well over a year. In-person funerals were suddenly not allowed,  neither were church meetings and study groups.

Much to our surprise vaccines against COVID were developed far faster than anticipated. Thankfully Canadians have been more willing to be vaccinated than our neighbours to the south and we now lead the world in the percentage who have been double-jabbed. Lots of us are reconnecting with loved ones and friends even though we may be a bit uncertain how to do this is ways which are sensible and safe. 

Along the way many congregations have adjusted and found ways to live in Christian community, including worship, without the arrogance of a few high-profile outliers. Trenton United Church has managed to offer in-person worship for about eight months of the seventeen and without incident because we all observed the protocols. We studied together, in person and and online, and the meal ministry continued throughout. Ruth has participated in the daily Bridge St.UC meal ministry throughout the pandemic and again this has happened without any infections. 

Now churches and other faith communities are tentatively opening up. Earlier this week I presided at a memorial service in a former congregation with 50 people in attendance, the first such service for them with this many people in a year and a half. They and many other congregations plan to reassemble for worship in September. 

It's impossible to know what will unfold for all of us, although vaccination is a key to societal health and well-being. Sadly, some congregations have not survived this unanticipated hiatus, and most of us are well aware of the spectre of a 4th Wave of COVID variants. 

All this will require wisdom and courage and prayer, but if we have learned anything it is the importance of gathering together in Christ's name, As the Creed says, we are called to be the Church, and I do feel that physically coming together matters. We can't predict the future but we can answer that call and trust that Christ will light the way.