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There is a bird in the church. It’s been there for about seven or eight weeks now. I don’t know how it got there. I don’t know how it survives. I don’t know why it doesn’t leave when the windows are opened. But there it is. Or, there they are. Maybe there is more than one bird, but we only see one at a time for some reason. For now, let’s assume there is just one.
What do we do about it? Should we do anything about it? If there was a class in seminary on what to do when a bird finds its way into the nave, I missed it. When a bird found its way into a warehouse I used to work in, we’d just turn off all the lights, open one of the bay doors, and the bird would fly out as it sought the only source of light. Our sanctuary, however, is full of light; so that’s not an option.
Here’s a question: Does the bird belong in our church?
No, is one answer. Outside things belong outside. We hire a pest control company to come into the church once every few weeks to lay traps for insects and to look for evidence of mice or other critters. It’s a health issue. Others might argue that the bird poses no kind of health risk and, other than needing to wipe up some bird poop off the pews, what’s the problem? Its song might be distracting, but maybe the bird is trying to preach the sermon we really ought to hear!
The past hundred years or so has been a large human project of identifying and putting things in their place. People belong here, nature belongs there. This is a child thing; that is an adult thing. This is urban; that is rural. This is a religious thing; that is a secular thing. This is a Lutheran way of doings things; that is not. These are our allies; they are the enemy. This practise made things seemingly so neat and tidy.
But maybe you’ve noticed that the distinctions aren’t so clear anymore. Urban farming is being explored. People are working from home offices. Children are being home schooled. Nobody seems to care about the distinctions between Christian denominations, or even religions, anymore – “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Who our allies are and who our enemies are is a constantly shifting landscape.
Jesus avoided the righteous and ate with sinners. He questioned why healing should not happen on the Sabbath. He preached that, to find our lives, we must be prepared to lose them; that we must love our enemies and bless those who curse us.
Does technology belong in worship? Do non-Christian teachings and practices belong in our life together? Does theological conversation belong in a bar over a beer? Does faith belong in politics or economics?
Does a bird belong in the Church?
As you may be aware, St. Paul Lutheran Church, primarily serving a Mandarin speaking population, has been renting space from us every Sunday afternoon for a couple of years now. However, for their own internal reasons, they have chosen to move to Markham and rent space from Bethesda Lutheran Church in Unionville. This move will take place at the end of April. We wish them well as they worship, serve and proclaim the gospel in a new setting.
When I arrived in 2007, a Korean Presbyterian congregation was renting space from us on Sunday afternoons. Additionally, our Fellowship Hall is booked up every evening from Monday to Thursday as well as every Saturday evening, leaving only Friday evenings free for our use. And, of course, the Day Care has much of the church space booked every weekday. We do this because rental income accounts for about 60% of our budgeted income. That’s just the way it is.
But now, on Sunday afternoons and evenings beginning in May, the whole church will be available for us to do with as we like!
It will mean taking a small financial hit. We could easily rent out our space on Sunday afternoons and evenings to some other Christian community; we get requests for rental space all the time. However, I’ve asked Council not to rent out that space, at least for the time being, and they have agreed.
If the space ends up sitting empty, after we’re done with it by 1:00 every Sunday, then, by all means, we should allow some other group to worship here. But, is there something we can do with the space? Is Sunday afternoon and early evening a time when you and your family might consider coming to worship in a new and creative way? Are there mission projects we might consider using the space to engage and participate in? Musical or dramatic presentations? Speaker series? Learning opportunities? Outreach projects?
We have been endowed with wonderful facilities. We have inherited a form of Christian faith, doctrine, tradition, and heritage that has the potential of speaking to the lives and realities of folks who may have never ever darkened the door of a church before. And now, we have space and time to be creative, imaginative, and playful. This seems to me like a gift too good to pass up.
What do you hear God calling us to do with this gift?
See you Sunday!
On March 25 we will gather as a congregation to either affirm or reject the motions passed at the ELCIC National Convention this past summer regarding: Unity of the Church, Same-Gender Marriage, and Ordination of Gay and Lesbian Pastors.
I hope, and in fact I believe that we will affirm these motions removing homosexuality as a barrier to full participation in our congregational life, and here is why. I believe that, in our hearts, very few of us want to reject gay and lesbian people. Many of us have gay or lesbian friends, family members, neighbours, or co-workers and we know that nothing about sexual preference makes us different in any significant way from anyone else. The problem is that many of us have received the message that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian faith, and we want to honour our faith by the decisions we make and the lives we live.
But homosexuality is not inconsistent with Christianity, and especially not with our Lutheran expression of it for the many reasons that I outlined in our adult education classes last fall and in “A Faithful Acceptance,” which I wrote as a summary of each of those classes (available in the narthex or upon request by email).
I am hopeful and believe this motion will pass at the March 25 meeting because I believe most of us will cheerfully and enthusiastically support a motion that brings together what we know to be good and right in our hearts with our theology and practice.
But, what if the motion fails?
I have to admit that I have wondered about the value of five years of teaching and preaching among you, should this motion fail. Is my proclamation of the gospel being heard here? Should I stay if the motion fails, or should I seek a call with a congregation that more closely resembles my values and my theology?
Here is what I have concluded: If the motion fails I will not receive that as a message that I should seek a new call. Instead, I will take the rejection of the motion as a sign that I have not been clear enough with you in my proclamation of the gospel and must take a more radical approach to communicating it. And I hope that those of you who would be dejected by the failure of this motion would also stay and support this more clear and radical approach.
And if the motion passes, I will also take that as an excuse to be clearer in my proclamation of the gospel and to take an even more radical approach to communicating it. And I pray that all of us would be uplifted, empowered and energized to even more enthusiastically proclaim this gospel through the life and ministries of our congregation.
So, either way, I look forward to many years ahead of proclaiming with you a radical gospel of grace, peace, love and abundant life for all people and celebrating with you the presence of the Kingdom of God wherever it emerges in our lives and our relationships.
See you Sunday, and especially March 25.
P.S. – I’m pleased to announce that the vote passed overwhelmingly with more than 90% in favour!
While I am the public face of worship at St. Ansgar each Sunday, it takes a lot of people to make wor-ship happen each week. At the risk of leaving someone out, let’s see: there’s Bill our music director and the choir of 10 to 15 people and perhaps a soloist; there is someone from the altar guild who sets up everything for Holy Communion and cleans up afterwards; the paraments (altar, pulpit and lecturn hangings), flowers, and seasonal decorating have to be prepared and arranged; there are readers, assist-ing ministers, ushers and greeters; there are Sunday School teachers, offering counters, coffee makers, and Coffee House hosts. That adds up to about 30 people.
Have I left anyone out? Oh yeah –
In the act of communal worship, you have as important a role as anyone in the above list of jobs to be done each week. You are not a member of the audience here to be entertained. As the students are taught in confirmation class, you “are a group of actors who take part in the great drama. The congre-gation offers praise in word and song, actively listens to the reading and the preaching, shares in the creed and the prayer of the church, portrays the church as a family of reconciliation by passing the peace, and takes part in the drama of the Gospel by offering the gifts and sharing in the meal.” [Daniel Erlander, “Baptized We Live”]
I’ve often thought – in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way – that it would be great to assign every member the congregation, young and old, a particular job on Sunday morning. Aside from the list above, we might add a photographer or two for the website, a tech person to monitor the sound system, someone to sit with a visitor and help them through the service, acolytes, song leaders, someone to video or re-cord services for the internet, someone whose job it is just to welcome little children, a lift operator, Sunday School assistants, nursery assistants, a different lector for each reading, power-point projection operator, chief cook and bottle-washer. The number of jobs would only be limited by our imagina-tions! And you wouldn’t have to do the same job every week – we could operate like modern factories and give everyone a different job each Sunday, just so long as everyone has a particular responsibility.
But the truth is, there is a job for everyone every Sunday morning. Even if you are not assigned a par-ticular role to play on the Rota Schedule, you have a responsibility – many responsibilities, in fact. Showing up and being part of the community. Being willing to actively and enthusiastically play your role in the gospel drama. Opening yourself to allowing the Holy Spirit to act in you through the liturgy of word and sacrament. And finally, taking the gospel you have experienced in this time of worship and living it in the world through words and deeds of kindness, compassion, peace and grace.
Looks like we’re going to have to add a lot more space on the Rota Schedule.
See you Sunday!