What a week this has been for me in this place called Winnipeg Presbytery. It’s been pretty energising and I have noticed another one of those paradoxes that – in a previous context and/or time – would have been experienced as conflict. In this time of change, which is running through secular, faith-based, NGO and government institutions, I have seen another glimpse of one of the many paths through which we might walk toward the future. One that beckons us to both shine and to help others awaken to that transforming message!
Vignette: Paradox #1
There’s this old church called Knox United Church in the heart of Winnipeg. It is smack in the middle of all the tensions and blessings that are a post-modern city: crime, oppression, mixing people from here and there, people who laugh, children held in community and a Western culture that both wants to welcome and assimilate: pretty much the multicultural reality that you expect and in which we both celebrate and stereotype.
In this context, the worshipping community seems to have found a balance. One that likely has not been easy and most certainly has been touched by moments of Grace. It has opened the building in more than simply a space paternally shared. What I saw on Friday was a community that has swung open its doors to a community and said, ‘Hey, we’re here, you’re here, let’s see what we might be if we listened to one and made use of this space for the social good.’
On Friday, Knox celebrated opening its Community Kitchen. A physical space with a modern and shiny kitchen that allows men and women from the community to use a commercial and up-to-code facility to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours. In that room, we were dressed in the gift of multiple variations of skin tones and colours: akin to a rainbow flag waving with invitation. Also present were members of the Winnipeg Police Service. Previously (I was told) they might have looked on some of the youth in the community with a lens of colour or race. On this day, there was a sense, an inkling, a promise perhaps being realised, that we make community if we but choose to see one another as other than ‘them …’
Vignette: Paradox #2
The following day – we’re now into Saturday – the General Gathering of Winnipeg Presbytery happened at a congregation called The United Church in Meadowood. I got to talk about social media (which is awesome!). None of this was new – per se – to our denomination: we discussed social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ …) as neighbourhoods. The potential to enter into these communities and share that our denominational values echo those who see ‘church’ as places of judgement. In other words, we know that what we believe – such as justice, ecological harmony, gender equity, embracing diversity regardless of ‘isms that range from race to sexual orientation – are in fact compatible with a significant majority of those born since 1970 and who do not or have never walked into a church.
We then discussed if we are to enter into these digital places – to set up tents, parks and gazebos or ice fishing huts – are we doing it to share, listen and learn from one another or simply to address numeric decline? And in such discussions, a Sister in the Faith pushed and asked me:
• So what?
• Are we relevant?
• What do we believe?
• Have we so watered down our beliefs that we have become unimportant?
I don’t think the message we claim to be called to share – the Good News where lives are transformed when someone awakens to their inherent human dignity – is ever irrelevant. Now whether or not our institution is …
The funny and wonderful thing about paradox is that I do not think we need to address the implicit tensions. I do feel – however- that when we recognise it we have a responsibility to use them as touchstones, as gauges about whether or not our next decisions are informed. If we do not take seriously the discernment that recognising these paradoxes invite us, perhaps we are simply getting in the way of the work to which we are Called? At what point does our institutional ego get in the way? Though difficult to ask, this feels like an important challenge to face. As we do so, dear reader, friend and perhaps Sister or Brother in Faith, I will hold these two vignettes and offer that in them I not only see, I FEEL, hope shining. Like a flicker in the grey tones of dusk, I will simply follow toward that which is constantly inviting me to both shine and alight anew another …