Souvenir of Winnipeg (1889)

Souvenir of Winnipeg (1889)
Image: Courtesy of University of Manitoba
Archives & Special Collections

In my most charming and playful way – of course – I have the great privilege to walk into congregational ministries and ask:

  • So, am I here because you’re tired?
  • Because you want more bums in the pews & more coin in the coffer?
  • And, is it possible, I am also here because you want to make sure that there’s a way you can continue to transform lives, in the midst of change?

In other words, I get to ask deeply personal questions: ones that resound with pastoral concerns and missional understanding. Ones where our Elders deserve to expect that rituals of death will be present in their dying and also where our own finite concerns are balanced by those generations, who will follow and for whom we believe the Gospel will resonate. At first glance they – present and future – may seem to be competing, but they can indeed coexist.

For instance, in spaces when the Holy is present and there is trust, I have been able to ask: “In this dying time, how might you also ensure that there’s a legacy of this faith community that still helps people heal and transform 20 years from now?”

And in other settings, where resurrection is unfolding, I might ask: “In this time of change, what might you try – and at which you might possibly fail brilliantly – that’s new in order to share the Good News?”

And sometimes,
that which was old
is new again …

In the last week, I have had the gift of an ecumenical Sister reaching out, sharing her ministry as a Chaplain at one of the local universities and issuing a challenge. And in this challenge – as with any good ‘ask’ – a financial number and time commitment was attached with an appropriate implicit question: what’s it worth to you? To us?

I would frame her challenge as grounded in her own context and also a recognition that the Good News that will be shared in the future (in such academic environments) will require new relationships between denominations that once competed, cajoled and judged one another. Her invitation, therefore, was sincere and I believe prophetic.

I’m not sure where this unfolding relationship will take me – in my current role with The United Church of Canada – but I can indeed see rich potential and possibility. The question, however, is are we (as church) willing to risk this – and other – opportunities to fall forward?

Administration Building

Administration Building
University of Manitoba
Image: University of Manitoba (Archives)

The reality is that the change that is swirling in our midst can feel overwhelming and frightening. It is also a reality that there is abundant opportunity to try new things. Both realities can coexist and, at some point, choice presents itself: “should we stay or should we go?”

The reality is that chaplaincy touches lives on a scale that celebrates a theology grounded in diversity’s sacredness. At the University of Manitoba alone, there are 30000 people who enter a world in which fundamental question of society and self, culture and family come under a microscope. In these places, change begins and transformation looms. The difficulty with any transformation is that dying from the old to the new is not simply metaphor or mystical. Such dying from the old to the new cannot occur in isolation, but requires community.

In an academic context, grounded in the Humanities – a tradition of reflection and action – people re-examine everything from race to sexual orientation. And the gift of chaplaincy is that there is the possibility to create safe space for us to dig into the roots of our being and realise the interconnected web that binds us all. The reality – however – is that without such a resource, self-hate, external violence and death are always threatening. Transformation often requires midwifery and this potential is beautifully awful. Question is: what if we aren’t there?

I’m not sure where our denomination will be in 20 years, but I do know that our theology that helps others move through change to transformation and resurrection is too important to abandon, let alone be lulled by apathy. We may be tempted by an illusion – an idolatry of deficit – but the Spirit is showing us vibrant and abundant ways to fail in ways that offer healing for ourselves by knowing the Other. It isn’t a question of whether such possibility has, does and shall occur, it’s whether we are willing to be those who take those tentative steps to be those who reply …