So, there I am, it’s 1997 and I’m not an atypical Gen-X’er. I distrust(ed) institutions, certainly lumped organised religion into that camp and I am (was) cynical about most public offices, politicians, celebrities, and certainly men and women who claimed to lead their flock.
Of course, in this clearly defined land of mine there was a problem … more like a longing that had already driven me to explore other avenues of spiritual expression where I might be able to explore faith! And – no matter where I went – I kept coming back to the Christian-fold. And – somewhat begrudgingly – I thought I would give this United Church of Canada (UCC) a spin. After all, even my well plated armour of cynicism was not able to deflect that this denomination had wrestled openly with the harm done to Indigenous communities in 1986 and in 1988 had embraced an evolving theology of diversity and sexual orientation.
In 1997, sitting in Queen Street United Church in Kingston, Ontario, during my first graduate programme, I experienced The Word: the talking part of a protestant worship service and it blew me away! This talking component – sometimes called the Reflection, Meditation, Homily or Sermon – was novel to me as someone pretty much unchurched.
Now I knew about oratory and speech making – after all I was studying Classical History. I had heard the rants of Christians bent on convincing you that hate could look like love, but this was not that. It was part speech, part lecture, part contextual and whole lot of challenge! I was hooked …
In 2003 (now a member of the UCC) I found myself sitting in an arena during the Annual Gathering of Saskatchewan Conference. The theme presenter led us through a series of reflections about Fear, Faith and Fortitude. At the same time, I was sitting in the midst of a whack of Diaconal Ministers (a stream of ministry relatively unknown to me at that time) and the hook went to wham! That wham led to my own call to ministry …
I have not felt called to The Word – or liturgy/ritual of worship – but I am totally dependent on the direction, insight and awakening that can occur, especially when the person offering the reflection makes space for the community to hear something new, even if it is difficult. This public gathering is no longer normal – though it might have been a generation ago. When people now gather as community it’s usually for a sporting event, concert or some form of extroverted expression wrapped in a focus that does not encourage getting to know one another. But The Word … well it possesses potential to transform people, both as individuals or as a collective. It’s certainly powerful and there’s a ‘but’ in there that makes people uncomfortable.
Discomfort arises because central – in my experience – to The Word is that you have to find a way to let go of your individual or corporate ego. When you sit through the liturgy of the people, space is made to confront your own assumptions with where it is that God might be leading. What does the wisdom of the ministry of Jesus the Christ have to say in our Now? What do we do if the soil in which we find ourselves, is no longer what it once was? The answer to any or all of these questions can be a radical and exciting realignment of where we thought we were going and where we might take a tangent into the unknown.
The Word: it’s been almost 20 years since I experienced a worship experience that challenged me to look into the mirror and face some uncomfortable assumptions. But it’s been an awakening journey ever since. I wonder with what our UCC might be wrestling and how The Word might inspire us, you and me to hear something new, even if it might lead into the unknown?
Let me know what you hear this Sunday, Sisters and Brothers. Let me know seekers and doubters, what might happen this Sunday if you try something new. Letting go and letting God … it’s scary … and it’s most certainly enlivening!