Posts filed under Welcome Message

Pastor’s Message – Fall 2015

Newfoundland has a rugged beauty defined by mountains rising out of the sea, often with a mist swirling around them. These majestic peaks of ancient rocks date back a billion years to the very formation of the earth’s crust. They fill me with a sense of cosmic awe and wonder at the life force which created them and is still creating.

Last week I was surrounded by such beauty at the 42nd national gathering of the United Church Council held in Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Almost 400 commissioners gathered from all over Canada along with 30 representatives of partner churches around the world. 15% of those assembled were under the age of 30 making this the youngest Council in our church’s 90 year history.

Worship was inspiring and mirrored our Trinity fusion of choir and band. We celebrated God’s presence and acknowledged that our families are made up of people of many religions and many forms of atheism. A minister from the American United Church of Christ which we have partnered with said, “We give thanks that we are churches that honour the many ways to respectful, caring, justice seeking living. Even while we seek to grow closer to God, we also grow closer to those who do not believe in God but who share our profound belief in the eternal values of love and fairness for all.”

Those values were embodied in the report of Dr. Marie Wilson, a United church member and only non-aboriginal member of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Married to an aboriginal, she spoke of the heroism of the thousands of children who have been denied the safety and security of growing up in their own families for 5 generations.

She shared the good news that Native Pride is returning and thanked the United church for continuing to be a leader in encouraging a new relationship between Canadians and First Nations, even as our church has shifted from control over Native churches to a partnership of equals.
Lorna Standing Ready, a senior elder of the First Nations Circle shared a brief, but powerful testimony of her time in a residential school. There wasn’t a dry eye when she gave us all sweet grass to take back to our congregations as a sign of reconciliation and recognition that the United Church is continuing to live out its apology in thoughtful and meaningful ways.

I am so proud to be a part of a community in London that gets the fact that our mission is creating a community where kindness is enough, regardless of our labels. We support each other to be the best we can be as we work to make the world a better place. We have clarity that any religion or philosophy that gets in the way of partnering with all people of good will is a bad one. This all too rare approach is possible because we are a part of a larger United Church community that has been journeying toward this kind of inclusion and respect based freedom for 90 years.

An image sticks in my mind as I return home. A speaker from a partner church reminded us that as children we were all taught to colour inside the lines of our coloring books. But in the early stages of our development, we didn’t care about the lines or what colours we used. We felt free to be creative. Purple people and red grass looked just fine to us!

Jesus said, “Unless we become as children, we will not understand God’s plan for humanity; for the Kingdom that is evolving belongs to such as them.”

It seems the child is alive and well in the Creator. Creation colours outside the lines with mountains erupting in Newfoundland, vast plains spreading across the Prairies, ice and tundra filling the Artic. God is passionate about diversity.

This newsletter is filled with signs that we, too, are feeling the hope and joy of that passion as we release the creativity of the child within us and join with God in learning how to colour outside the lines. As the song we sing says,

“My love, colours outside the lines;
exploring paths that few could ever find.
It takes me into places that I’ve never been before
and opens doors to worlds outside the line.”
Amen

Pastor’s Message

A reporter called me today to ask what United Church ministers thought about Rev. Bob Ripley becoming an atheist. He wondered how upset or betrayed we might feel.

I told him that in my view, most United Church ministers would simply wonder why it took Bob so long to let go of his Sunday school faith…a faith that taught him that God is in control of everything and that only Christians are God’s children.

Any notion of a loving God is not possible if kind people get rejected for not being Christians or for failing to believe in him. And in a world where humans have the power to blow up the world, we can’t talk about a God who has complete control of what happens on planet earth anymore. And in a world where millions of Jews and other innocents are killed in concentration camps and elsewhere, we can’t say that God is in control of
everything without making God a monster.

Sometimes when I meet someone and they tell me they are an atheist, I say that I’m an atheist, too. “You can’t be an atheist”, they respond. Then I say, “chances are that whatever you don’t believe about God, I don’t believe either.”

For me, the universe is Divine and we share in that divinity, the greatest power of which is the power of selfless love. Love has little control. Love can take a pounding. Love can’t guarantee that things will be fair. But love is stronger than evil and makes life more satisfying than anything else. Love wins in the end. That glorious Mystery is my God.

But it’s hard to set aside what we were taught. Bob was part of a group of ministers who work very hard to maintain the traditional teachings of the church. It’s so easy to make idols out of doctrines, to think that we can define God. The teachings Bob followed blew up for him, because they were less than Life is, less than God is. Now he is free to develop an authentic spirituality without doctrinal borders and expectations. How appropriate that his book is called “Deconversion”, another word for a new beginning.

This is particularly so with Bob because he is such a kind and honorable man. His life will continue to be blessed, not because of what he does or does not believe, but because he lives in the spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Love or whatever name you want to give it.

We live out this good news at Trinity. As we focus on kindness, respect and what is fair, God blesses us. We are building a safe, supportive community where people are free to think what they like so long as they speak and act in love. As we bless others, we are blessed. Love is making us better people.

Trinity is a place where Bob Ripley could feel right at home with his Christian brothers and sisters and fellow atheists.

Why go to Church?

By Rev. Paul Browning

When I met my wife Susan, one of the first things I wanted to do was to show her off to my family. “Look who I found. Isn’t she wonderful?”

One of the first relatives I took Sue to meet was my Aunt Love, a great lady with a raspy smoker’s voice and tough demeanor that would give way to peals of laughter revealing her heart of gold. Like the rest of my family, she had grown up on the ‘old time religion’.

Aunt Love had a suspicion that members of the United Church don’t believe anything so she asked lots of questions; “You don’t take the bible literally? You don’t believe in Hell? I don’t have to go to church to be saved?”  She finished with a final question that I think requires a compelling answer; “If I don’t have to go to church so I can go to heaven, then why in the world should I ever go to church?”

This fall, many of our children will be asking the same question as we awaken them for church on Sunday mornings. “Why do I have to go to church?” What is our compelling answer?

Ironically, the social sciences seem to be providing the best answers. Churched families  live longer, have fewer addictions, less involvement in the criminal justice system and report happier relationships than families with no faith connection.  Two of the most powerful tools that help people overcome trauma are faith based; belief in a higher power and a church community.

In fact, the isolation that comes from not being a part of a caring community is leading Canadians to experience mental illness! Dr. David Wolf, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and Chair of the Children’s Mental Health Center reports that 50% of Canadian youth suffer from mental illness: 32% of youth have an anxiety disorder, 14.3% have a mood disorder, and 4% have bi-polar disorder. Suicide is now the 2nd most common reason for death among teenagers and suicide rates of youth ages 10-14 have increased by 39% in last 20 years!

Just helping to create a community here at Trinity by being an active part of it we provide a place that makes all our lives better. Think of it. We can do more for each other and others by providing an inclusive, welcoming community than we can by any other means.  Nothing is more powerful than a caring community and everyone who is active in the Trinity community makes this place more powerful
and transformational.

As I think back on the churches, youth programs and camps I have been a part of, I realize how important faith community has been to me. Jesus has been a treasure to me from the age of four when I asked him to come into my life. I can’t imagine my life without the presence of Jesus and the help and direction he provides. The question, “what would Jesus do?”, crystallized my earliest moral formation.

Longer life, happier life, and more meaningful life…There is a lot of treasure to be mined in this community project we call Trinity United Church Community Centre. There are reasons for all of us and some good answers to the question our children will be asking soon, “Why do I need to go to church?”

All Or Nothing Usually Means Nothing

The older I get the more I appreciate the importance of balance. Balance and a joyful, blessed life go hand in hand…one is not possible without the other.
Rule one of investing is the need to balance one‟s portfolio between bonds and equities and different sectors of the economy. Rule one of living requires that we balance our time and our money.
Often we feel the need for more balance…we feel a desire to exercise more or to attend church…but we don‟t because we have a certain picture of what that requires and we don‟t have the time or the energy. Well, change the picture.
All it takes is some modest, regular exercise, like walking 20 minutes a day, to make a big difference in our health outcomes. Thinking we have to jog or go to the gym for hours usually means that we don‟t do anything. When it comes to practicing an instrument, 15 minutes of practice every day will get you farther than 2 hours of practice once a week.
So too with church. When we think about going to church we often think in terms of going every week and when we can‟t seem to manage that, we don‟t go at all. Staying in touch on some regular basis is a much better plan.
Everything good in our lives, from democracy, human rights, public education and healthcare to fire protection and garbage pickup…comes to us because people of faith, hope and love got together to build a better world. Addictions and serious life struggles such as sickness and operations are most successfully overcome by people getting together to support one another. Other big challenges we face, from a dying environment to personal stress, will be solved as people discover that we have more power together than apart. Only together do we become the body of Christ in the world today.
If you have been away from Trinity for some time, allow me as your Pastor or „Spiritual Doctor‟ to offer a prescription. I prescribe attending one church service a month…a fun-raiser twice a year…and one fellowship group a year. Use your self-awareness to check and see if this plan doesn‟t bless you with more peace and balance in your life. I know your presence will make the Trinity community a healthier place, too.
It‟s all a matter of balance.

The older I get the more I appreciate the importance of balance. Balance and a joyful, blessed life go hand in hand…one is not possible without the other.

Rule one of investing is the need to balance one‟s portfolio between bonds and equities and different sectors of the economy. Rule one of living requires that we balance our time and our money.

Often we feel the need for more balance…we feel a desire to exercise more or to attend church…but we don‟t because we have a certain picture of what that requires and we don‟t have the time or the energy. Well, change the picture.

All it takes is some modest, regular exercise, like walking 20 minutes a day, to make a big difference in our health outcomes. Thinking we have to jog or go to the gym for hours usually means that we don‟t do anything. When it comes to practicing an instrument, 15 minutes of practice every day will get you farther than 2 hours of practice once a week.

So too with church. When we think about going to church we often think in terms of going every week and when we can‟t seem to manage that, we don‟t go at all. Staying in touch on some regular basis is a much better plan.

Everything good in our lives, from democracy, human rights, public education and healthcare to fire protection and garbage pickup…comes to us because people of faith, hope and love got together to build a better world. Addictions and serious life struggles such as sickness and operations are most successfully overcome by people getting together to support one another. Other big challenges we face, from a dying environment to personal stress, will be solved as people discover that we have more power together than apart. Only together do we become the body of Christ in the world today.

If you have been away from Trinity for some time, allow me as your Pastor or “Spiritual Doctor” to offer a prescription. I prescribe attending one church service a month…a fun-raiser twice a year…and one fellowship group a year. Use your self-awareness to check and see if this plan doesn‟t bless you with more peace and balance in your life. I know your presence will make the Trinity community a healthier place, too.

It’s all a matter of balance.

— Rev. Paul Browning