Being a healing community-7 ways to heal without your healer

I am currently between parishes, having returned to Toronto after 8 1/2 months serving in Nova Scotia. I was responsible for 6 churches grouped into three parishes. In my last sermons, I offered ways for each congregation to continue to be Church while they wait for their new priest coming this winter. While I don’t have the whole text, I made 7 suggestions on how to remain a healing community. They were inspired by our lectionary readings from the book of James in year B.

The New Testament contains stories of and instructions for healing carried out by all who call themselves Christians. When James speaks of “the elders” to whom members of the congregation are to go for healing, he is not speaking of a professional leader or healer (deacon, priest, pastoral visitor, parish nurse) but of those who are mature in the faith. That means most of us who are Christians.

Over the past 50 to 100 years the vocation of priesthood has become synonymous with the administrative role of running a legal entity and a community organization. With this, the vows we have taken have become, to a degree, professionalized, and this is no more evident than in the ministry of healing. Who do we call when someone gets a diagnosis, or is rushed to hospital? Who visits those in long-term care on a schedule that treats all as equally as possible? Who is called on to pray and counsel in times of distress? The priest.

The ministry of healing is a sensitive and difficult thing, not to be taken lightly. So, how do we continue to be a healing community when we do not have our priest (professional healer)?

  1. Be kind It’s so simple. We were taught as children, we teach our children and grandchildren, and, yet, we neglect this simple act every day. Kindness is a choice. It rarely comes naturally. It requires being aware of the needs of others, sometimes as simple as the words we say. We have all had a day where one kind word or action has completely transformed us. Always accept the invitation to be kind.
  2. Be reconcilers In the Canadian church as we come to terms with our history with the residential schools, we are learning the depths and power of reconciliation. First, to be reconcilers, we must acknowledge pain-the pain we have inflicted on others and the pain inflicted on us. We can not pretend the pain never existed, as it never goes away. Second, we must forgive. We often reserve talk about forgiveness to the big hurts. There are little annoyances and betrayals every day that we should also forgive. Forgive the coworker who spilled coffee on your keyboard. Forgive the woman at the coffee counter for taking a long time with her order. Forgive your kids for making a mess at dinner. Finally, we need to apologize fully. An apology is a statement that says, “I recognize my actions have hurt you and I will do my best not to hurt you in this way again.”
  3. Be bold Reach out, make a call. They may tell you they don’t want to talk about it. That’s ok. Some choose to endure distress alone or may have others on whom they lean for support. In Christian community, no one should ever feel they must suffer alone. Pray with people. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I screw up prayers all the time. God is patient. Even bring a prayer book along and read it. I have messed up any prayers but every time I have prayed with someone it has brought them comfort, even to recite the Lord’s Prayer together. I promise you it means so much.
  4. Be silent This seems like the opposite of no. 3, but it also requires the courage that you need to be bold. Wait on the Lord. Healing is God’s work, not yours. Keeping someone company does not mean talking to fill space. Sometimes a person needs permission and support to be silent. Don’t answer every question. Instead, accompany someone in the face of mystery.
  5. Be hopeful Healing happens when the afflicted person can see God’s own healing action in their own lives. It is not to us to offer an easy answer, simply to trust in hope. The first person I knew who was ever hospitalized for depression was an extremely faithful person. One day, a friend came to visit. The patient said, “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t pray. I can’t believe. I have no faith left.” The friend responded, “That’s alright. That is why we are here, to have enough faith for ourselves and you.” Our hope-not in a solution or cure, but in the sustaining comfort, strength and love of God-is far more than solutions.
  6. Be healed We are so generous when it comes to others who are sick, but how hard it is to ask for prayer and help when we are in distress. To ask for healing as well as offering it is critical. We are all vulnerable, and we can not bear witness to the healing power of God unless we have experienced it. We will not experience it fully until we ask.
  7. Embrace mortality Cure is but one form of healing. Death is also a form of healing. Recovering with or living with a disability is a form of healing. The gift of mortality offers us the chance to live each day fully, as if it were our last. In this interview, the Rev. Dan Graves, editor of  Prayers for Healing from the Anglican Tradition says, “Hope comes when we, in all our brokenness and pain say, “whether I live, I live unto the Lord, whether I die, I die unto the Lord; whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.”  I am the Lord’s if I am sick or well.  What I acquire and achieve in this life is no more my story than cancer or a terminal illness.  Jesus Christ is my story, and his love for me.  This is healing.

Participating in the healing power of God is a privilege of the Christian life. Being part of a Christian community is meant to root us in a context of healing that pervades every area of our lives. It is not a gift set aside with special hands or gifts, but an act that is ongoing in which we all participate by acknowledging that, whatever happens in our mortal life, it belongs to God.

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Stephen Colbert and why I am uncomfortable with full communion with the Roman Catholic Church

150909075125-late-show-colbert-0909-super-169Let me start by saying I adore Stephen Colbert. I really do. I watch the Late Show now, which I never did. My heart grows 2 sizes when he says, “Nation…”, even though I am Canadian. I also deeply admire his public statements of faith, and how he talks about his faith wherever he is because it is so ingrained in his life that it can’t help but be visible.

There. Have I disqualified myself as a Colbert hater?

On Sunday night (September 13, 2015) Witness on Salt + Light aired an interview with Stephen Colbert and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. It was clearly pre-Late Show airing because of the Santa beard. He does a beautiful piece around minute 6 about the difference between an idiot and a fool. He also quotes CS Lewis on humour.

One portion was posted on Sojourners under the headline Stephen Colbert, LIfelong Catholic, on Hearing a Female Priest Celebrate the Eucharist. In this particular portion, he describes a time when the Eucharist “was most real to me…a time I didn’t receive it.”. He describes a high Anglican mass celebrated by a woman where, for him, hearing the words of consecration from a female voice opened up yet another perspective through which to view the action of the Eucharist, that all of our bodies are included in the Body of Christ, and we all give our bodies to the Body as Christ gave His. The fact that it was a woman made it more obvious to him because the words were clearly being said by someone who he did not perceive as a priest.

I am an ecumenist, and I firmly believe that, when we come to the table, we can not respect difference if we are all trying to be the same. I grew up Baptist in a Baptist-Roman Catholic community. The rules for going to a Catholic church, according to my mother, were “When they stand, you stand, when they kneel, you sit, and when they go up for communion, YOU STAY PUT.” As an Anglican, I kneel now, and I go up to receive a blessing rather than staying put. I respect the boundaries as much as I am able.

When Stephen Colbert said, “someone I don’t perceive as a priest”, it hurt. I know it is true for him. I know why it is true for him. I can not be dogmatically academic about it. Being a priest and being a woman is who I am. It is who God created and called me to be. He is not, as some are saying, promoting woman priests, or even questioning the Roman Catholic doctrine on ordination and the place of women in the church. So, I feel it is important to point out, when someone like Stephen Colbert, such a witness of the social gospel, makes that distinction, because we are quick to align him with equality under Christ. And that is not where he is.

I respect that. We are separate churches. My husband’s family is Roman Catholic so sometimes, in my life, the two churches intersect, but otherwise, for most of us, they are two different expressions of the same faith in Christ.

The Anglican Communion around the world is in the midst of discerning the work of the Spirit around a few things. It causes conflict and, sometimes, it puts us out of joint with our ecumenical partners. Sometimes, when we make a controversial move, we receive a letter from one of our partners, including the Roman Catholic church, warning us that, if we proceed, it will damage our relationship and force the other to create more boundaries.

Now, first of all, these kinds of pre-emptive strikes are harmful to dialogue that is truly based in discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit. As long as we are working things out, the role of our partners is to pray for us, offer us insight and then, when our decision is made, to enter into prayer about their relationship with us.

But every once in a while, when we get one of these pre-emptive strikes from the Roman Catholic Church, some of us respond with regret; “We are now further away from full communion with the Roman Catholic Church”. For many, the goal of our dialogue with Roman Catholics is to enter into a fullness of unity which includes the Eucharist. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholicism and Anglicanism, there are many doctrines we need to reconcile before that can happen. How do we do that when the Roman Catholic church denies the possibility of women presiding over the Eucharist? Do we then make women priests simply an addendum?

I can not not take that personally as an affront to the work that God is doing in and through me. Being a woman and being a priest are not separate beings. I realized this when I was first in discernment and I received an email from a dear friend who did not believe in the ordination of women. He wrote, “I do not doubt your call, but I can not find support for the ordination of women”. Until that moment, I didn’t think about how I would be a woman and a priest. I was just going to be a priest. But the logical disconnect of my friend’s words made me reconsider. I responded that he could not believe what he stated. He was either denying my womanhood or stating unequivocally that I was mistaken in my call because God simply does not call women to the ministry.

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I am not going to use historic examples of discrimination to express the disconnect of full communion with a church that denies the ordination of women. Let me try a new one. Let’s take the Church of Cheetahs (CC), and the Church of Elephants and Cheetahs. These churches want to work more closely together. The CC invites the CEC into a deeper relationship that means working together in all things (full communion is a little more complicated than this but bear with me). But the CC does not believe the elephants can participate in church leadership.  Imagine a presentation of the CC/CEC delegation to the elephants.

Cheetah: We will be stronger together, and able to create a more co-operative system, in the unity that Christ wants for the church.

Elephant 1: Wonderful. But the CC doesn’t have elephants in its leadership. Will we be included in the leadership?

Cheetah: Oh yes.. You can remain in leadership in the CEC, and you can be part of committees. You can write letters and even submit your thoughts online. And you can pray for us.

Elephant 1: But the final decisions will be made by Cheetahs…

Cheetah: Well…yes…but we will need your input. And you can always influence the Cheetahs behind the scenes. Remember, those who are least are the greatest.

Elephant 2: Cheetahs from the CC will be able to lead us in worship. Will we be able to lead worship in the CC church?

Cheetah: The CCs believe that elephants can not be called by God to lead in worship because Jesus didn’t name elephants as his disciples, so you can continue to lead worship in the CEC but not in the CC.

Elephant 3: But…we are called by God to lead worship. The CEC has affirmed our call to lead worship. Is the CEC changing it’s decision about elephants leading worship?

Cheetah: Uh…no. Of course not.

Elephant 1: When we meet together, does that mean only cheetahs can lead worship because the CC won’t accept our leadership?

Cheetah: Well…yes…The CC accepts elephants, just not in leadership.

Elephant 3: But I am an elephant, and a leader. God created both in me. How do I accept one and deny the other?

Cheetah: …well…pray about it…

Elephant 2: And if the CEC agrees to this, you are asking us to choose between being elephants and being worship leaders. Except, for us, they are one and the same. That is unity.*chalice

God created me woman. God called me to be a priest. God’s call was affirmed by my local parish, two bishops, professors, supervisors, classmates, a panel of examiners, my national church, many churches around the world and continues to be affirmed by my parishioners and, yes, it is Biblical.

As a Christian for whom the Eucharist has a profound place in my life, I am moved by Stephen Colbert’s revelation about his part in the Eucharist. As a woman priest, I feel diminished. His revelation was not because of a woman priest, but because hearing a woman separated the words from the office of priest and he was able to internalize the consecration in a new way. So, while significant and beautiful, his revelation also diminishes my vocation, that I am the same as him. And I am not. I am not above, but I am set apart.

Why does this distinction matter? Because, in many parts of the world, women are excluded from ordained ministry. We are also excluded in the midst of a national (Anglican Church of Canada) and international church (Worldwide Anglican Communion) whose canon laws state that women are also called by God and yet tolerate those who do not believe this. In many places, I am expected to step aside from celebrating at the altar for the comfort of those who theologically disagree with my ordination. Point being, equality is not universal. It is only visible where it does not make people uncomfortable. We mustn’t assume there is equality when there is not.

We experience celebrity in a dichotomy. They are either completely awesome and always to be followed/retweeted/shared, or they are completely reprehensible and must never be uttered or shown or even considered for debate. Stephen Colbert is well loved, as is Pope Francis, and for good reason. They also believe in doctrines that, despite their affection and respect for women, keep women in a subservient relationship to men. And I don’t raise this because I want all feminists and those who love women to boycott Stephen Colbert or to reject Pope Francis. I raise it so we do not neglect the complexity and inequality that exists within our churches and in our relationship with other churches.

There is no need for us to sweep our disagreements under the rug in order to work towards unity. Our unity already exists in our faith in Christ. Colbert and Francis are no more or less my brothers than the men I lead, follow and work alongside. We are unique, and the Holy Spirit moves in and among us and expresses Herself in various ways to various peoples and places. Dialogue should enrich our faith by being exposed to more expressions of the Holy Spirit, not to limit the work of the Spirit to something that can be agreed to and published.

So I continue to serve in this complex institution. I stay not because we have it all figured out, but because none of us do, so I stay to work it out with my friends and sisters and brothers and, yes, even enemies. I’m glad Stephen Colbert is in the work with me.

*Please accept this ridiculous scenario as an oversimplification of ecumenical dialogue to make a point.

Cutting “priorities” tells the truth about our priorities

On Tuesday, I saw status updates and tweets from friends in national church organizations mourning the layoffs happening at that moment in the United Church of Canada.

In the early millennium, I sat in a cube farm I had dedicated a great deal of my time, energy and creativity to, and watched as 14 of my colleagues were called into the manager’s office, one by one, and then walked back to their cubes, escorted by our manager, to collect their things and then walk out the door. It was a day of no eye contact, except for one. Dwayne. Dwayne somehow found the grace to come to each and every one of us to thank us for being great co-workers. I can’t blame any of the others. I’m sure my substantial hurt and anger was only a speck of theirs.

At the end of the day, there were four of us left, our manager, another co-worker who was hired the same time as me, and a newer hire who had exceeded everyone’s expectations. We were pale, we shook, feeling so ill we couldn’t even imagine going out to drown our sorrows.

And, not being in management, the ones who make the decisions, we then look back and question the decision. Yes, cuts need to be made, and that those cuts would affect jobs is inevitable. It must be excruciating to be the one to make that call. It is too easy to assume the decisions were made because those in management are trying to save their own salaries. Difficult choices had to be made, and I trust that the decision was made with prayer and compassion.

And I share the anger with Doris Kizinna, Martha Martin, and the Rev. Tom Sherwood in this article from the United Church Observer. They stated that, like most national mainline churches, the United Church of Canada named youth and young adults as a priority, and then the programs are drastically cut.

Now that I am a brand new youth and children’s minister, I am well aware of the prophecy, “The youth minister is the last one hired and the first one fired”. In other words, only when churches feel financially comfortable do they hire a youth minister or invest in youth programs, and as soon as finances get tight, the youth minister is the first one to go.

This is not exclusive to the United Church of Canada. The United Church is one part of a larger Christian institution led by a culture where maintaining buildings and systems is far more important than ministry and programs. According to the Observer, the departments that were cut were Youth and Young Adult programs, Communities in Mission and French ministries. All programs, programs that we know are vital to our proclaiming the Gospel and reaching out to the most vulnerable and those on the fringe of our experience. Many call young adults “the missing generation” (see Carol Howard Merritt’s blog as an example), a vital and critical target group, and now they are lumped in with youth, young teens and children. I have a mandate for youth and children for one church and it is more than a full time job. And I am rare. How is one person supposed to deal with programming for people 0-30 years of age for a whole country? No matter how good that person is (and my experience of the current staff person is she is very, very good), this is a formula for burnout at worst and a drastic diminishing of services and programs at best.

Several years ago the Anglican Church of Canada decided that youth ministry was better managed by dioceses and decentralized. There is a lot of good to be done by depending on local authorities to manage ministries. The difference with ministry to children, youth and young adults is that there are so few dedicated staff, sometimes only one or two in a diocese, often only committing 5-15 hours per week, that it is virtually impossible to connect with one another, support each other, seek and offer feedback, and participate in larger programs, like conferences that many adults would look back on and say were life changing experiences in their adolescence.

My bottom line in this post isn’t a wagging of the finger at those working in Church Houses. The United Church of Canada and my church, the Anglican Church of Canada, are synodically governed. These choices begin at the concilliar level, speaking for congregants and parishioners across our country. These councils only reflect the priorities of those who sit in pews every Sunday. My point is that we are stuck in an entire Church culture that can not look ahead beyond our current stage and experience. Anything that looks forward carries it with it so much uncertainty that, when finances get tight, the first thing we eliminate is chance and risk.

Except that it is in those risky, forward looking places that we are most in touch with the vision of the Kingdom of God, like the disciples who listened and were constantly seeking the Kingdom because they knew they had not found it yet. When we are mired down in our present, the vision of Kingdom becomes a smaller and smaller light on the horizon, to the point that it disappears amongst the landscape of current progress or recession.

As Church, we are called to be the ones who point towards the Kingdom of God. When youth and outreach ministries become disposable, as they have in the past few years of recession, we get lost in the landscape as well.

My prayers remain with those who have been laid off and those who, like I did, remain in those offices, facing empty desks. I hope these layoffs serve as a warning to our councils, our good Sunday morning folk, that unless our priorities shift, our presence as national churches will be irreparably diminished before we disappear forever.

#GS2010 Day 8: “Full” Inclusion for Gays and Lesbians

I feel the winds of God today
Today my sail I lift
Tho heavy oft with drenching spray
and torn with many a rift…

We have been singing this hymn throughout our synod. Today I feel free to lift my sail and embark into the stormy sea.

We have been part of a long, tentative process over the past 5 days. We have gathered in discussion groups with the goal of listening to one another on the issue of blessing same sex unions*. I heard different voices but nothing was “for” and “against”. We spoke from our experience and our experiences are heard.

I don’t know if anyone was as surprised as I was when, after a very, very, VERY long day yesterday, the recorders of our conversation announced they had a pastoral statement from our conversations. A common mind? Doubtful! I feared it was a compromise that said nothing. As the mover to adopt the statement, The Ven. Peter Hobbs, said today, “We seem to be a church that has embraced relentless incrementalism”.

And yet, we have. I was stunned at the people who have violently opposed my position who said they could live with this.

We are a body that, above all else, are committed to maintain community. When we are divided, our mission is impaired, and while this justice issue is important, it is one of many on which we speak and act. We can not jeopardize our voice and action on the environment, gender equality, refugees, natural disasters, education, children’s health, aboriginal issues etc. by being further divided. Nor could we be silent and say that where we are right now is ok, or even united.

Many said the way to maintain unity, maintain our voice, maintain our action, was to do nothing on same sex blessings at this time. That’s what the Anglican Communion has tried to bully us into doing. We rejected that.

I thought of my friends in Antigonish, and of my brother through all this debate. I know this is not enough for you. All I can ask is to look at me, what I have tried to do with you, and see that as a sign of the possibility for my church.

For those who need a crash course in how we work, we are a communion made up of regions called dioceses. There are 3o dioceses in Canada, each headed by a bishop (some with some assistant bishops). Dioceses make their own decisions on some things, with assent of their bishops, and many in Canada have moved to bless same sex unions. This has made some in our worldwide Communion angry at the Anglican Church of Canada. Basically, this statement says that, as a national body, we will respect the dioceses’ efforts to be as generous as possible, and those who can not be generous in the same way.

I am dismayed that completely void in this debate was the voice of bisexual and transgendered people. Maybe because we are speaking specifically of relationship, I don’t know. We even had a lengthy debate on whether or not to include so called ex-gays in a related motion, but nothing about the experience of bisexual and transgendered people. I know it is inadequate that all I can say is, “Maybe next time”.

* We do not speak of same sex marriage…yet. Many dioceses are moving towards offering a nuptial blessing to those who have celebrated a civil union. Same sex marriage would require changing our canons, a process which takes many many years, even if we agree at first reading. We are responding in the most expedient way.

#GS2010 Day 7: Honouring Indigenous Ministries

Today has been a long long long day. The pace is picking up as the no debate list dwindles and the new and more controversial matters start coming forward.

But before all that, we had a victorious afternoon of honouring the self-determined place of Indigenous, Inuit and Metis people in the Anglican Church of Canada. Three years ago we consecrated the Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald as the National Indigenous Bishop. He is a bishop without a territory, but with a ministry to the indigenous people. Most of our motions have been procedural, but what we have done through these dry procedures is declaring that we stand beside our Indigenous sisters and brothers in their fight for national self-determination by recognizing their structures, Sacred Circle and adding their voice to the governing bodies of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In my diocese, the nation that is here, the Mik’maq, are largely Roman Catholic, so they are, with some exceptions, rare in Anglican pews. We have made connections with local reserves in some parishes. I do not have the opportunity to hear from our Indigenous peoples on what happens in the Anglican Church. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear their wisdom, particularly being challenged to think in a different framework.

We also moved to make June 21 an official commemoration in our calendar as the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer. I look forward to opportunities to celebrate this, too.

#GS2010 Day 6: Called to risk mission

As we began our day on Tuesday, we sang one of my favourite hymns by John Bell, Will You Come and Follow Me? This line has been resonating with me since I sang it.

“Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?”

We then watched a performance by the theatre group, Roots Among the Rocks. This group of young people offer up stories that tell a story of our church, our passions, our joy, our history, our current life. So much of this play were lightening rods for me. They struck me and rippled into many areas of my life as a priest and child of God.

Of course, everyone was blown away. The house stood and applauded for longer than for anyone else. They called us to risk a faith walk that attracts and scares.

The irony is we then heard our feedback from our sexuality discernment a lot of caution and fear of causing controversy in the Communion. I hope that those who stood so quickly and were so obviously moved by the performance will return to their groups Wednesday morning carrying that courage and call to stand apart.

We also heard from Archbishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori. For a church whose mission was supposed to be in crisis because of disagreement, well, wow! They are doing a lot of amazing work!!

#GS2010 Social Media at General Synod

Another “group” I have been engaging with at General Synod are the people here and around the world following us online through the livestream, facebook and twitter. As one United Church friend wrote to me on facebook, “I’ve learned more about the ACC with your updates here and on Twitter than I have studying at (theological school)! Thank you!”

For more on how social media is adding a new discourse to our proceedings, check out Synod on Demand from Monday. The whole segment is good, but tune in about halfway through until the end if you are short on time.