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.

Hearing the prophetic voice

My sermon for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary which, my 13 year old critic tells me, was really good. Glad I got the voice right =)

But before you read my ruminations, since I am preaching about the prophetic voice of youth today, I want to share a post from one of my favourite tweeps and bloggers, @thunderclap, over at as you like it. We met at General Synod and I have appreciated her profound. political and witty thoughts. This is her reflection on the 9/11 Site Mosque Controversy.

And here is my offering for today:

Year C
Feast of St. Mary the Virgin
August 15, 2008
HE: Trinity Aurora
Focus text: Luke 1:44-56

One of the most profound, poetic and challenging prophecies in our Scriptures comes from the mouth of a young girl. She was pregnant. She wasn’t married, but she was engaged, and her fiancé was not the father of her child.

Her name is Mary.

As we hear the words of our gospel today, a song that is commonly known as the Magnificat, Mary is nothing like we would imagine a young teenage mother. I say imagine deliberately. If this were any other teenage girl, we would imagine she would be terrified. We imagine a teenager would rebel or scream “Rape” at the angel Gabriel. We imagine she would skulk away to have the baby then put her or him up for adoption, or not carry the baby to term at all.

Instead, she takes off, alone, confident, across the hill country to share her news with her cousin, Elizabeth, and then proclaims these words to Elizabeth and Zachariah. Her words are full of love, power, confidence, authority and strength.

And we imagine how Joseph, a teenage boy, would react at the news that his beloved was pregnant. He would be furious. We imagine his parents would keep him from seeing Mary ever again. We imagine he would be terrified, too, and would just drop Mary and find another bride, denying the baby was his.

Luke doesn’t tell us a great deal of what lies on their hearts, but their actions speak for themselves. Joseph and Mary are spiritually mature and remain faithful to God and to one another. They become parents to a child neither knows, and they raise him as their son.

We think that these are remarkable young people. Actually, they aren’t. They are young, and what they do is generous and faithful and admirable, but they aren’t remarkable. They are probably 8 out of the 10 kids that I have met in my ministry, whether they come to Church or not.

Take a moment and imagine a prophet. What are the qualities of a prophet? Passion, wisdom, articulate, poetic, transforming, life changing.

We imagine the prophets of the Bible as near the end of their lives, looking back to gain wisdom from their experience, but most of the prophets of the Bible are young, passionate and spiritually mature who have gained their wisdom through prayer and a forward looking perspective on what is happening in the present. Miriam, Solomon, David, Samuel, Elisha, Joshua, Jonah, most of the disciples, Paul, Timothy and Phillip, and others are young women and men, probably called by God before or at the age they would marry. They were teenagers and young adults.

The wisdom of ages reflects back on our history to learn lessons for the present. The prophetic wisdom, the wisdom of youth, observes our present and looks forward into our future. This makes sense, because the future belongs to them.

A prophecy is not the same as a fortune. It can be many things, but it is very much grounded in the present. It could be a warning, or a declaration of victory. A prophecy communicates the love and grace and will of God. The Magnificat is proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes that Mary is “no politician, no revolutionary; she simply wants to sing a happy song, but all of a sudden she has become an articulate radical, an astonished prophet singing about a world in which the last have become first and the first, last”.

In a world and economy like ours, these are threatening words. We are the powerful who will be thrown from our thrones. We hold the top 1-2% of the world’s wealth. According to Mary, the salvation the little one in her womb will bring means we will lose so much that we treasure, and that those who have little will hold power over us. This salvation is not for individuals, to claim in their own hearts, but for a whole world.

Because this makes us squirm a little, we are tempted to dismiss passionate, divisive words such as these as the idealistic words of a young girl who has not even held down a job and is still living with her parents. We live in a world where our value is directly tied to our ability to contribute economically to our society. If you haven’t held down a job, or are still living with your parents, or have moved back in with your children in your older age, or live on social assistance, we will listen politely, but more often than not will find a different way than yours. Children and youth face that attitude every day.

And yet, these are who God has called throughout our history to prophesy to the world, to tell us how we are reflecting God’s will for God’s people, to correct us, to bring us hope and share God’s grace. They have been called before they are 18, before they are confirmed, even before they are baptized, to minister and prophesy to us, God’s people.

The next time you are blessed to hear the prophetic voice, I hope it will be from someone far younger than me, but I want to share with you some of what I have been privileged to hear as I have walked alongside children and youth.

Concern for God’s creation is HUGE. We are handing a mess to our next generation, and they are crying to us to change our ways. They are furious that our dependence on oil resulted in the destruction of so much of the Gulf of Mexico. They are tired of us setting targets and then breaking them with our greed. And they are right, we know it.

There is also fear as they are graduating into a fragile economy (that we created) with the great pressures and expectations we place on them to get a degree, get a good job, experience the world and buy a house. They see our short-sighted solutions of tax-cuts as self-serving and leaving less in our social safety net for their future health needs and their current education.

They are passionate about fair trade and local engagement. We may not see this because traditional institutions like Rotary, Lions and the church are seeing a decline. And yet, volunteerism is actually up, because young adults are forming less bureaucratic, less institutional ways of serving their community and their world.

We are all feeling the burden of the pressure of living economy driven lives. We sit here tired, enjoying the relaxation of summer and already starting to ramp up again for the rat race of September. Young people are seeking enough money to live lives of meaning. Two weeks ago we read about a man who was only able to enjoy his life when he had amassed a great deal of wealth. Young people are teaching us to seek joy and meaning in every stage of life.

And, believe it or not, they care about the Church. They want to belong. They want to know Jesus and believe in the Good News of the gospel. The best hope for us is young people who want to help, be part of our leadership and share their creative energy with us.

Roots Among the Rocks, the play that is coming to Trinity on the 26th, is a phenomenal opportunity to experience this prophetic voice. You are in this performance because it is your story. The actors have brought their own experiences alongside the stories of grandparents, fellow parishioners, mentors and friends, to reflect to us, our story. This play is a prophecy, the actors are prophets, and I hope you will come to experience God’s power and grace in your story.

Mary, this young, brave, passionate, confident woman, who models so many of our young people, is calling us to value the creative gifts of children and youth, especially their prophetic voice, and to look and listen for God’s voice and handiwork, not in spite of youth, but because of it. We are blessed when we walk together across ages and across generations and we honour all voices.

Open your heart and your mind to hear the challenging, powerful, caring and generous voice of the Holy Spirit as you encounter the children and youth of Trinity. They have so much to teach us. God is using them to bear Christ in our midst. Listen, for the voice of the Holy Spirit and for the direction of God, in the proclamations of our children and youth.

More sermons from the preachers at Trinity Aurora

Prophetic voice of youth

This Sunday is my first sermon in my new appointment and I am psyched. It’s the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, and as fascinating as the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception can be (yeeeeeeah. right…) I am focussing on the prophetic voice of youth through the words of the Magnificat.

So, I was asked this question today, more or less: What are the messages that youth and children are proclaiming that we aren’t hearing?

I am not speaking on behalf of young people! Well, yes, I guess I am, but I don’t make a habit of it. I am offering a teeny introduction.

So, what do you say? What do you hear? What are our children and youth telling the church?

Skimming and reading and transforming

As I’m settling into this new way of life, I feel myself transforming every day. I have to say the biggest change is having a team here, in the same building, who call me for lunch and are just a staircase away from me saying, “I was just thinking…” It also means being a lot more co-ordinated. I am absorbing Outlook, trying not to turn into my task list, but working hard to recognize that my schedule and plans are dependent on others in a much more urgent way than before. And as far as technology goes, it is fun to be in a place that a) has a co-ordinated calendar and b) does not get intimidated when you pull out your iPhone to check your schedule.

Sunday was my first Sunday and I finally felt like I was here. My first week I met all of two people under 20. The kids are great and seem to love church school, which is good place to start!

The big thing I am trying to do, though, is get a grasp on some reading. Lots of amazing stuff has come out on youth ministry in the past 10 years, much of which I have skimmed and kept an eye on, none of which I have actually sat down and read. With the aid of a $400+ book token from my beloved former parish and some suggestions from some colleagues, I am building my library with Andrew Root, Kendra Creasy Dean, Mark DeVries, Mark Yaconelli and Dorothy Bass along with others.

I am loving loving LOVING the renewed emphasis on relationship for relationship’s sake, not just to get kids students(they are all called students now. When did that happen?) into a sense of responsibility for the church. I just read a beautiful piece in The Godbearing Life about seeing youth ministry as a mission field–some great stuff for a celebration of new ministry.

One of my the exciting discoveries on which I am embarking is to encounter myself in youth ministry as an introvert. The last time I was in focussed youth ministry, I was much more extroverted, different energy, different ideas, and I was in a very different theological space. And, I learned and grew so very much. I feel a new and different passion for ministry than what I have been experiencing the past 8 years. I feel like God is unveiling me to this place, bit by bit and, in the process, unveiling me to myself.

#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 Day 3: Peace and Justice

Bishop of Jerusalem

I was very excited to know that Bishop Suheil Dawani and his wife, Shafeeqa, would be joining us to tell us about his ministry in the Diocese of Jerusalem. He told us of the rising extremism in his region that is growing out of frustration of the stagnation of the peace process. Christians, especially young Christians are leaving the Middle East in droves.

He described Jerusalem as the place where Jesus wept and resurrection was proclaimed. The people live in constant sorrow and hope. The King of Jordan described the Christians as “the glue of the Middle East”. He and Shafeeqa continue in their work of reconciliation, working particularly through children and young people.

As I am preparing to enter into a new position of youth ministry, I found this incredibly hopeful. Youth are (among their many other gifts) prophets. Kids for Peace, a program of the Office of Peace and Reconciliation, is teaching the children, but also their parents, and changing attitudes.

I have had the great pleasure of spending time with some youth delegates here. They are indeed our prophets. I hope we are listening.

Shafeeqa spoke about her work with women and with boys in the diocesan schools. She shared her “humble goals” for the women of her diocese.

  • To gather and pray together
  • To celebrate their gifts and “beat their shyness”
  • Holding interfaith gatherings

The women of Jerusalem, according to Shafeeqa Dawani, “If I can help one robin back in the nest, or heal one broken heart, it has not been in vain”

PWRDF

We heard a great and exciting presentation from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. All I can recommend, and I strongly recommend it, is that you check out www.pwrdf.org and also the YouTube channel where General Synod delegates are sharing why they support PWRDF.

Youth

This presentation, by Judy Steers, was one of the best presentation yet. While PWRDF and other departments of our National Church have given great support to our youth, it showed a great disservice to youth to have Judy standing up there all by herself, our only committed staff for youth and she is 1/4 time. With that, she shared the awesome gatherings and ministries that have come out of our national youth ministries. I will commend to you a few websites to see some of the work Judy is doing.

Generation our youth website

Ask and Imagine our annual pilgrimage for high school students and young adults

CLAY 2010 our Anglican Lutheran Youth Gathering this summer

Youth Initiatives

I’m glad to say that this morning (Day 5, June 7) we passed a motion to create a National Youth Secretariat which includes another 1/4 time position. Let the great work carry on!

And the announcement is…

…I have accepted a new appointment! Beginning July 12, I will be the Associate Priest/Youth and Children’s Ministry Co-ordinator at Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora, ON.

(Please, check out the homepage. I’m on there)

There are so many big changes in this appointment; rector to associate, parish ministry to youth ministry, rural/small town to suburbia/big city. They are big changes, but not so scary. A lot of this move is very familiar. We are moving to an area where we have family and friends, and I get to return to full time to youth ministry.

I know many people are imagining different reasons why I am moving on. The real story is that I did not go looking for a new appointment. I have been very happy in Three Harbours. As our annual meetings came to an end I had a strong sense that a new beginning was around the corner, that the parish was ready to begin working towards a new vision. We had begun a visioning process at our annual meeting. I was ready to start imagining the next 5 years with everyone.

Then the Spirit started to move. Trinity’s posting came across my desk from a few places, including two who sent it to me specifically. I kept saying, “No. The time isn’t right.” “I am not ready to move on.” “I don’t want to move so far away from Mom.”

One night, after I had returned from a conference in London, ON, Marc turned to me and asked, “Did you apply for that job in Toronto?”

“Nah,” I replied, “I figured we were good here.”

“I think you should apply,” he declared. “You would be good at it.”

As I do when opportunities arise, I prayed through it one thing at a time. I felt the only faithful response to the Spirit was to apply, knowing there is much to learn and gain from an application process, even if it doesn’t end in a new relationship. In other words, I applied as a way to seek, not to gain.

And then it went…really fast. I was interviewing via Skype, then a trip for Marc and I to Aurora the weekend of Palm Sunday. We were blessed with wonderful hospitality and we fell in love with the place. I heard I was successful on Holy Tuesday, rejoiced, and then fell in love with Nova Scotia all over again. I cried at all my Holy Week and Easter services.

So, my sense that a time was coming for a new beginning was right, but it was my new beginning.

Details

I notified the parish on Sunday, April 18. My last Sunday worship will be on Sunday, June 27.

We will be moving our things out of the rectory to Aurora in mid to late June. Then we have two weeks to spend time in Moncton and PEI, say farewell to family, and move ourselves to Toronto.

In the meantime, we will be busy packing and we desperately want to see our friends. It would be easier for folks to come and see us, but we will also be making a few trips to Halifax to see friends there.

Your prayers are appreciated.