Friday, June 23, 2017

June 2017 Life Update

A lot of people have been asking me, "So, what is it that you and your wife are doing now?"

It's a good question with a complicated answer.  And, depending on when you've asked me about it, the answer may have changed.

As of today, here's where things are at:

If you've been following my blog then you'll know I officially concluding my pastoral ministry at Hanover Missionary Church in early June.  Since then I've been telling people, "I'm retired".  That statement has fetched a fair share of strange looks and only one person (an elderly woman I met while my vehicle was being serviced at Walkerton Toyota) took it in stride.

My "retirement" will be short lived since I'll be heading back to school in September.  I'll be enrolled as a PhD student at the Toronto School of Theology in St. Michaels University College, Faculty of Theology, on the campus of U of T.  It's a four year funded program with a two year residency (that means I have to be within commuting distance of the university for coursework and other 'in-person' requirements for the first two years of the program).  After that, I should be at the research and writing stage--working with a supervisory committee to compose and defend an original, 80,000 word, contribution to academia.

In a February blog post, I uploaded the Statement of Intent I submitted that offered a glimpse into my research interests.  To summarize my research focus in a sentence: I'm interested in exploring the intersection of educational philosophy and spiritual theology in pastoral formation.

So, until September, I'm spending a lot of time reflecting on my pastoral experience, walking our Golden Retriever, Maple, and looking after neglected household duties and chores.

Erika, on the other hand, spends her days practicing theology and pastoral responsibility and writing the last couple of assignments for the reading course that completes her Master of Theological Studies degree. She's also serving as the interim pastor at Blue Mountain Community Church in Thornbury, ON and as a part-time chaplain at a long-term care home in Owen Sound.  


Monday, June 19, 2017

New Friends in Transitional Ministry

I've had some great opportunities to get to know some new friends in transitional ministry.  One of those friends invited me to join a network of Southern and Southwestern Ontario Christian and Missionary Alliance Church pastors.  Since the EMCC and C&MA have a Memorandum of Understanding--allowing pastors from both denominations to move easily between the two--it has been a smooth entry into this great group of intentional ministry specialists.

I'm so grateful for these new friends in ministry.  We've met a couple of times on Zoom (a Skype-like video chat app) and we've been together for a face-to-face training.  Beyond that a few of us just completed Transitional Leadership Ministry training with Outreach Canada.

One of my favourite moments from that training was when the course instructor asked us to get into pairs.  That's not of of my favourite things to do.  Actually, it's one of my least favourite things because it's uncomfortable.  However, one of the guys from the network jumped up from the other side of the room and made a beeline to where I was seated.  Because we already knew each other a bit I seemed safe to him.  That felt good.  We shared our challenges with each other then prayed together.  It was a beautiful moment of connection.

I'm not exactly sure how I'll be using the training I received and connections I'm making in the future but I know God has a plan.  And that's all I need to know right now.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Final Sunday @ HMC

My epic journey at Hanover Missionary Church has finally come to an end.

What started out as a temporary, part-time, position as Director of Worship and Creative Arts in 2006 morphed into the full-time Chief Servant role.  Standing on the shoulders of giants I've been

Thinking back just over a week ago to my final Sunday, there were so many people I wanted to thank.  Unfortunately, time and energy didn't permit.  To each of you that offered words of support, grace and truth along the way, thank you.  To each of you that stood by me when I struggled to step forward, thank you.  To each of you that served and continue to serve in kingdom work, thank you.  You have been an inspiration to me and my family.

Thank you for such a wonderful and meaningful celebration on June 4th.  Our family felt overwhelmingly loved.  That outpouring of love led me to reflect.  I've been reflecting on the importance of celebrating endings.  It's a crucial step in moving forward and preparing the way for a healthy beginning.

So, here's to sad and joy-filled conclusion to ministry at HMC and an wonderful new beginning for my family as well as HMC.

Here's a picture of the beautiful quilt, gifted to us by HMC.

And here are some pics from our farewell celebration.

Monday, May 8, 2017

My Ten Favourite Things about Hanover Missionary Church

As I prepare to wrap up my ministry at Hanover Missionary Church I've been reflecting on moments, relationships, and things that make me smile.

Here's a small list of my favourite things about HMC:

10. My parking spot.  Not the one I use on Sunday mornings.  That's the one at the very back corner.  No, the one I use during the week.  It's across the street and a couple spaces past the hydro pole.  I'm not sure why I landed there but it's been one I've used with consistency for over 10 years.

9. The tree outside my office window.  Since my window looks out onto the street and parking lot, there's not much of nature (unlike my fellow co-workers that have office windows that look out toward the back yard with trees and grass).  That small tree provides a small glimpse of nature just outside my window.

8. The deep freezer.  I remember when a former staff member told me about muffins that were in that freezer.  Since then, every once in a while, I check to see what else might be in there.

7. The bike route from my house to my office.  Especially the ride there.  Going down the Allan Park hill is good.  On the other hand, biking up is not so good.

6. HMC's proximity to Tim Horton's.  While I rarely head over by myself, I love arranging meetings and visits over yummy coffee that's steps from the front doors of the church.

5. The super fun gym.  Blitzball, basketball, hockey, paper airplane competitions or anything else that could be used for team building and/or stress relieving purposes.  What a great space.

4. The people that serve without recognition.  There are so many on this list: from the fine team of people that make and serve lunches or meals to the folks that visit, phone, write anonymous encouragement notes, and intercede in prayer.  These are some of HMC's finest.

3. Former small group groupies.  In the days before I became the lead pastor there was a small group of youngish families that met in our home weekly.  I'm grateful for the love, care and support they offered and continue to offer to me and my family.  

2. Unexpected visitors.  While it doesn't always work with my schedule, I love people that drop by to say hi and have a brief chat.  Some have only done this once or twice while others are regulars.  Thanks for brightening my days.

1.  The staff team.  Throughout my years at HMC staff members have come and gone.  I will carry warm memories of times with each of them but especially those that stood alongside me as we weathered the storms together.  They are by far my favourite 'thing' about this great church.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Higher Education and the Holy Spirit

As I prepare to enter the world of Christian higher education I'm faced with various responses from people.  Some are affirming.  Some are confused.  And some, prefer not to ask or talk about it.

13 years ago I informed the church that I was pastoring that I was heading back to seminary.  There were many reactions but I remember one in particular.  It was a conversation with a volunteer leader.  She couldn't understand why I was going back to school and in a nutshell here's what she said:

You don't need more schooling, you just need the Holy Spirit.

I think most people believe Christian higher education is a good thing.  But not all people.  Some think too much learning 'quenches' the Holy Spirit.  As though learning theology is helpful as long as it stops at some point.  That point is usually when it starts to interfere with "what the Bible says".

Here's an important note: those that devalue Christian higher education are usually the same ones that suggest their way of interpreting the Bible is not actually interpreting at all, they're just saying and doing "what the Bible says".  Devaluing education leads to a simple, rigid, theology.  Higher education is designed to help interpret what the Bible says.  It gives context and meaning to ancient texts and cultures so the Holy Spirit can open up and apply even the most obscure texts to lives today.  But that learning doesn't always fit nicely into the land of rigid theology.  In that place, people fear theological change.  Because 'new' theological positions are something to be feared and condemned rather than poked and questioned.

Here's what I think: The Holy Spirit works in and through Christian higher education.  Just like the Spirit works through people, nature, etc.  He uses education to form and shape learners into the image of Christ.  Education changes the way people think.  And when thinking changes so does living.  That's a good thing.  Romans 12:2 calls follows of Jesus to have their minds renewed.  To be trained to think differently.  To learn and practice the ways of Jesus.

I've been blessed to serve at HMC.  For an evangelical church it's quite a theologically diverse community and I'm privileged to have been shaped by so many from such different backgrounds and perspectives.  I'm looking forward to my continued journey from church leadership to the classroom and being shaped by the Holy Spirit at every step of the way.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Finding Freedom and Closure in Ritual

I'm taking responsibility for my actions.  And I'm finding freedom.  As I wind up my time as pastor of Hanover Missionary Church I'm learning to let go of things I wish I could change, but can't.  Easier said than done.

It's happening through ritual.  It may sound strange but I've started planning moments that link an action with reflection.  Here's an example: on Monday I set fire to some papers in our fire pit.  This may sound like a normal burning procedure but it wasn't.  Monday's fire was special.  It was a ritual.  The paper represented something.  And before I lit the match I listened to a reading about 'letting go'.  Then, I sat. And I reflected.  Quietly.  And as I lit the match and held the burning matchstick next to the paper until it caught.  I felt sad.  But I also felt loosened.  Looser.  Not a loser.  Freer.  And since that moment, the heart-attachment that those papers represented was severed.  I was set free from the burden of expectation that those papers held over me.

Ritual is why funerals are important.  Funerals are rituals that allow people to have one last moment with friends and family to celebrate the life and grieve the loss of their significant someone.  It's a way of taking control of our response to death--something we have no control over.  To participate in a ritual, such as a funeral or memorial, is to deliberately enter into a moment to reflect, grieve, and, ultimately, let go.  It's one of the first steps in the 'new county' of life without the one who has died.  And after the funeral is over, grief doesn't necessarily subside, but closure begins.

So, as I bring closure to my time at HMC I'm embracing ritual and finding freedom to move forward into the great unknown.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tips for a church in transition - #3 Prepare for Change

In my last post I talked about conflict.  Conflict's best friend is change.  And change should be posted on the sign outside every church in transition.  Unfortunately, most churches bury conflict, avoid change and try to move through transition hastily, assuming the current trajectory is the 'best' one or the 'right' one.

The reason can be summed up in one word: identity.  We get attached to our identity and we don't want it to change.  The problem is that the church is a living organism and all living things change.  While the 'stuff' of what we're made of remains the same, our identity shifts with time.  

Let my show you what I mean.  When I was young I was part of a family where my identity was that of a younger brother and a son.  As I grew older and my siblings left home then my identity changed.  I was still a son that lived with my parents but my younger brotherliness faded into the background without sibling presence.

Later, I left home and met my wife.  We married and had kids; I became a husband and father.  I remained a son and a younger brother but those parts of my identity became less relevant as my ID as a hubby and dad increased.  

Imagine what might happen if I failed to live into my identity as a husband and dad and still wanted to live only or primarily as son and younger brother.  How would that affect my ability to be a good husband to my wife?  What might my children think?  

Churches have identities too.  And those identities change.  I've seen some churches celebrate their past without clinging to it.  Like the son that grows up and becomes a husband.  Those churches are able to embrace their history and let it go at the same time--in order to become something brand new.  However, I've also seen churches hold onto their past and get stuck.  Like a little brother who waits for his siblings to return and misses the opportunity to grow up and become something else.  Those churches become rigid, oppressive, and eventually close their doors.

An essential part of embracing a new identity is being able to find ways to celebrate the past without holding to it.  When that happens, the church is getting ready for change.  And, as stated earlier, when that change comes get ready for conflict!

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