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Today is April 1st—yeah, I know, “April Fool’s Day”—and I begin my 15th year as the minister at Hallville, Heckston, Inkerman and South Mountain United Churches. I can’t say that I didn't intend to be here for this long (generally, most ministers in the United Church stay in a pastoral charge for three to five years). I know that I feel called by God to be here and “be” is in the present. I know that I wanted my daughters to grow up in one place and get to be a part of a community, church, school, civic, etc. I know that Karen (my wife) is a teacher, and teachers need to stay in their school board in order to retain their seniority.
My reasons for staying are all that and more, of course because my ministry—and the ministry of my four congregations—have evolved in these past 14 years. For example, it is only in the last year or so that I am no longer doing the almost non-stop funerals (although granted, most of my frail elderly folk have passed away). But the issues and things that were important 14 years ago—10, 7, 5 years ago—even those from last year are not necessarily the burning items on the agenda for us today.
And we’re still here, which I think is an accomplishment as United Churches. We haven’t closed any of our congregations (though one came close to doing so). We are sandwiched between booming North Grenville and Ottawa, Winchester and the farming communities to our south. This “proves” my “slacker theology”: We don’t need to do anything to grow, we just need to be the church (which is pretty daunting in itself).
I’ve watched my hair turn grey, and my daughters grow up, and my vehicles come and go. I have gone from being a “young man” in my early thirties to a middle-aged man. And while it is difficult to watch my fearless congregational leaders get older and drop away from leadership roles, what has really hit home are the weddings I’m doing and the attendant baptisms. All for children who used to come up to the front of the church at “Time for All God’s Children” and help me blow up whoopie cushions “for Jesus” or who stood on top of pews and told the whole congregation that they love that guy, you know whose name begins with “J” and ends in “Esus.”
I’ve lived through the hurtful days of “Same-Sex Marriage” in the United Church and now know three young transgendered men who are associated with one of my congregations. I have witnessed “passing the peace”—which means a ritualized greeting in the middle of the worship service—go from being a frosty look to a full 10 minute whole church hug-in. The hugging can on so long that I have to remind people that I will not be held responsible for the late hour when church ends.
I know that I’m going to have to bury friends too. I know this, and it hurts already. But this is the point of Christian community. We live through the good and the bad, knowing that we do so in and with God. So, despite the hopeful wishes of some, or the bitter disappointment of others, I have no plans for the future: Meaning, I’m not leaving anytime soon. I’m going to listen to God, to my friends, and my family. And just be.