Minister's Blog

On Thanksgiving Monday, a relative emailed a photograph of a postcard my great-grandfather Robert (“Bobby”) Fyfe Easton Paterson received from the young woman Catherine (“Kit”) Hill Cobb who would eventually become his wife. Seeing it confirmed my sense of Scottish heritage. Later in the day, my eldest daughter, Emma, told me she was impressed by the statement in the worship bulletin from Church on Sunday that showed appreciation to the Indigenous People who walked this land before us. I, half-jokingly, reminded her that maybe the Indigenous People who walked this particular land might not be very happy that we, as unofficial members of the Nulhegan band of the Cosook Abenaki were living on their land.

“I don’t choose to identify myself as Indigenous … I’m only an ally,” she said. I was taken aback.

There used to be a time when, if you did not like something, if you disagreed with a position taken, if you weren’t a fan of the music being played, you didn’t eat it, you respectfully disagreed and you turned the radio off.

No longer.

The countdown is on. I will beginning my second sabbatical in less than 24 hours.

Now I have to expand on this term “sabbatical.” First, United Church ministers who remain in their pastoral charges more than five years are entitled to a three-month sabbatical (i.e., time away from normal ministry) for every five years they serve in a charge. So, I’ve been in the South Mountain-Hallville Pastoral Charge (SMHPC) for 14 years and about to take my second sabbatical.

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.

Memories. I remember seeing a picture, a photograph maybe, displayed in Mrs. Pennell’s Grade 5-6 classroom at Bel-Aire Elementary School in Calgary. That school is long gone—there were maybe 60 kids from kindergarten to Grade 6. To get there, I walked out my back gate, across the “alleyway” with the HUGE alliance church beside it, and through the soccer field.

A debate occurred on a Facebook group to which I belong. It was typical of the group—we’re a bunch of ministers (mostly United Church). One of our members posted that she did not think the sermon was an important part of worship anymore and was thinking about replacing it with a mixture of plenary chats, video clips, art installations and the like.

Where does the time go? Twenty years ago—December 1996—I was a student at Queen’s Theological College (QTC) and a student minister at the Bathurst Pastoral Charge. Bathurst Pastoral Charge, which consisted of Althorpe and Bollingbroke United Churches and Calvin United Church (Dewitt’s Corners), had been a “student charge” for over 100 years.

Physicists tell us that there is such a thing called “dark matter.” Go to the internet to find out what it supposedly is. I write that with a bit of irony—because as Wikipedia tells us … “dark matter has not been directly observed.”

There is a short documentary video I remember seeing a long, long time ago of elephants, gathered together and moving their trunks amongst the bones of deceased member of their herd—rolling the bones in the dust, passing them from one to another.

Communitas. A Latin word meaning the “spirit of community.” Not “community” per se, but the feelings, thoughts, ideas, and everything that goes into making and sustaining community.

A friend of mine is working on a research study in Toronto called the HALO project. This project originated in Philadelphia and looks at the impact of places of worship in the community; specifically, what would it cost the community to replace the services/programs offered by the faith community.

Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
   ~ Isaiah 43: 18-19 (ESV)

I’ve run across a concept in the past few weeks known as the “Great Vowel Shift.” Having googled this concept, I’ve discovered it’s a highly technical linguistic happening that occurred in the English Language from about the 1300s to the 1700s. The experts contend that the way English people pronounced their words (particularly the “long” vowels) changed. And you can experience this shift then when you read poetry from the time, or songs, or even the Bible!

I have some American family members who are, well, typically American and Christian—which means that despite the constitutional separation of “Church and State” they are very much in favour (notice the “u”!)of a God fearing pres’dent.

I was once bilingual. Sure, I was born on the West Island of Montreal (what up Dorvalians or Point Clairers!).

I was once bilingual. Sure, I was born on the West Island of Montreal (what up Dorvalians or Point Clairers!).

A couple of days ago I read an article in the English newspaper The Telegraph: Practicing Christians who talk to friends and neighbours about their beliefs are three times as likely to put other folks off of God as to attract them.

I don’t know about you, but I have certain “traditions” that I keep every year when Christmas comes round.

The first thing is putting up the Christmas lights. Or rather, untangling the myriad strings of broken lights, frayed wires and other flotsam and jetsam.

"So Rev, you only work one day a week, eh?”

And that was my father-in-law. It’s a funny calling, being a minister. The majority of those who “see” me during the week end up seeing me on Sunday mornings—at worship. But just as only 10% of an iceberg is visible, and the remaining 90% is hidden beneath the waves – the same generally applies to being a minister.

September 11 was the 14th Anniversary of 9/11 and the trees were just beginning to show their first blushes of autumnal glory. 9/11. I remember that day so clearly. I had finished chairing a meeting of the gathering of ministers and priests in Prescott, Ontario. And for some weird reason, decided to take the five-minute journey over the international bridge to go to the Walmart in Ogdensburg NY.

They have different things in the U.S. Walmarts!

I try not to get too caught up in political correctness or anything political, really. Oh, I have my opinions about things, but I see my task as a minister in helping the people in my congregation come to their own understanding about what God would have them do about things like Divestment in Israel/Palestine, Keystone XL, Homosexuality and Biblical interpretation.

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say

“Time” by Pink Floyd

Time is on my side, yes it is

“Time is on my side” as recorded by the Rolling Stones

There are two types of time, according to the Ancient Greeks – the forebearers of our modern thought: Chronos and Kairos. And they both have their place. Chronos is the time we measure by clocks: minutes, seconds, millennia, googles (look it up!). And it seems to be the sort of time that the rock bands Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones sing of. But the other type is different.

What does it mean to “be” a Christian? For a lot of us we self-identify by “going” to church; if I go to Church, I’m a Christian. Makes sense. But then we might get bogged down in the whole “do I have to go to Church to be a Christian” argument. And, frankly, we don’t need any more arguments.

I am “recuperating” after a busy week at the 2015 Cruxifusion Conference that was held at Wellington Square United Church, Burlington Ontario April 26 to 30. It was a gathering of 90 United Church ministers of all stripes and splotches—from radically progressive theological liberals to grumpy “regressive” theological conservatives—but who hold one thing in common: the most important thing in all the universe, Jesus Christ.