Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Reflection: The Spirit at Work Here

Acts 2: 1-8

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, May 27, 2012

 Holy and amazing God, may we ever be open to the renewal of our lives and the life of the church by your Spirit. May we open our hearts and minds each day to witness to the acts of the Spirit among us here. Amen.

 One Sunday early last month, I was so glad to hear that Paul and Wendy were interested in becoming members of our church.  A week later, I felt honoured when Rose told me that she would like to join the church before I left in June.  In the same week, I was delighted when Vida approached me downstairs and asked me, “What should I do to join the church?  Would you baptize me?”  All that happened in such a short time. 

Later last month, encouraged by the prospect of four new members, I approached Heather and asked if she was interested in becoming a member.  Her first question was, “What would be the difference if I became a member?”  I knew that, although she was working full time, she had been very active in the church since she began to come last year, including singing in the choir on Sundays.  My answer was, “Well, at least you would have voting privileges.”  Immediately, I realized that I was not prepared to give her a meaningful answer.  At any rate, with her usual big smile, she said, “Yes, I am interested.” I think she said yes not because my answer was so terrific, but because something inside her had already prepared her to say so.

Listening to those voices, I was certain that something was going on here.  It is difficult to explain what that is. Indeed, something mysterious, but definitely positive, is at work here.  As believers, we say it is the Spirit of God at work.  Today’s passage from Acts tells us that we are not alone. The author of Luke is thought to be the author of the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 2, in this second book of Luke’s story, describes the celebration of the festival of Pentecost after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Acts tells about how the disciples, including not only “The Twelve” but many other men and women who had followed Jesus, have continued to meet since the Resurrection. They are gathered in one place, and then an amazing thing happens. There is a sound “like the rush of a violent wind,” an echo of the wind of the Spirit blowing over the waters of creation. Divided tongues “as of fire,” symbols of God’s presence, appear and rest separately on the head of each disciple. All then are filled with the Spirit and begin to speak in many languages, telling the story of Jesus the Christ in ways that all can understand.

Preparing for today’s service, I have met with all these new members face to face and asked them the same question: “Why are you interested in joining the church?”  Their answers were almost identical: they felt welcomed and supported by so many caring and friendly people at Glen Rhodes.  Their answers helped me understand what has been going on here.  As we gather here every week, the wind and fire of the Spirit has appeared and rested on each one of us.  Filled with the Spirit, we together have made this place caring and welcoming.  So, last month, I should have said to Heather that, if she joined the church, she would belong to a wonderful church family full of people aflame with the fire of the welcoming and caring Spirit.

If Pentecost had not happened, with its experience of the Holy Spirit renewing and inspiring that band of fearful discouraged followers, the Christian Church would never have emerged in any form. Pentecost was the catalyst that propelled the disciples out to tell their story of the risen Christ and share their experience of transformation on their journey.  In the same way, the ministry of Glen Rhodes United would not be possible without the Holy Spirit at work among us here.  On this Pentecost Sunday, let us continue to celebrate God’s gift of the Spirit to our church, welcoming five new members today by baptism and by transfer of their membership. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

United As One

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26; John 17: 6-19

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday May 20th, 2012

Be with us, O Spirit.  Walk with us as we strive to become one as witnesses to the love of God in Christ.  Guide us in building a Spirit-led community that bears fruit which is pleasing to you and beneficial to our neighbours. Amen.

Toronto Conference’s Annual General Meeting weekend is coming next week.  It is going to be held in the same place as last year, St. Paul’s United in Orillia.  Fred, our Presbytery Rep, Malcolm, our Voluntary Associate Minister, and I will be there.  Some of you remember that I worked as one of the staff team responsible for the youth group last year.  I am not going in that capacity this year, just as a member.  So, I am looking forward to spending more time with colleagues, more engagement in discussions and particularly quiet time at night and a good night’s sleep. 

For those not familiar with the United Church structure, we have four church courts: General Council, Conference, Presbytery and the Pastoral Charge.  Our congregation is one pastoral charge.  In many rural areas, multiple small congregations may form one pastoral charge.  Around sixty pastoral charges form one of the four Presbyteries which constitute the Toronto Conference.  We belong to the Toronto Southeast Presbytery of Toronto Conference.  The Toronto Conference AGM  lasts for three days, traditionally the last weekend of May.  This year, as Pentecost Sunday falls on the Conference weekend, the meeting will be shortened to only two days.  I will be back to lead the Pentecost Sunday service. There are 13 Conferences across the country and each Conference elects its Commissioners to General Council every three years.  General Council is a conciliar body of Commissioners and the highest decision-making body of the United Church of Canada.  More than six hundred Commissioners will gather for the Forty First General Council in Ottawa this August.

According to the passage from Acts, today 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem to choose an apostle to replace Judas, who had died by suicide. The “apostles” were the 12 followers whom Jesus chose to fill a special role—they were the ones to be “sent out” to share Jesus’ message with the world. The number 12 had a special significance to the Jewish followers of Jesus. There were 12 tribes of Israel; 12 was also the number of full moons in a year, symbolizing wholeness and the fullness of time. With Judas gone, another person had to be found to join the apostles and enable them to again symbolize the faithfulness and endur­ance of Jesus’ community.

During this period the Good News was shared verbally, so it was important that the new apostle be familiar with the whole of Jesus’ ministry and could bear witness to the resurrection. Therefore, the candidate to fill Judas’ position had to be one of the group that had traveled with Jesus throughout his whole ministry—from his Baptism to his Ascension. Two candidates were proposed—Matthias and Barsabbas. The new apostle was chosen by the casting of lots. Names were written on stones and placed in a vessel. Then they were shaken vigorously until one fell out. Casting lots was a common method used in ancient times to discern­ God’s will. To the believers, it was God who chose Matthias, not chance.

Next weekend at the Conference AGM, several elections will take place to choose candidates for various positions in the United Church.  One of the important elections is to replace the Rev. Barbara White, who has served as the ordered ministry representative on the General Council Executive for six years.  There have already been three candidates for that position.  Unlike the believers in Acts, we won’t cast lots: we will choose by vote, after listening to each candidate’s speech.  I know all the three candidates well and so, for me, it is not a difficult choice to make.  No matter who is elected, like believers in the first century, we also believe God will guide us to choose the one.

There is no bishop or Pope in the United Church.  Our denomination is governed by over 3000 congregations and their lay and ordered representatives across the country.  It is not a top-down structure but a democratic one.  So, all the congregation representatives gather regularly in each court, Presbytery, Conference and General Council to make important decisions in order to support our ministries.  Each court is mandated to be formed by equal numbers of both lay and ordered representatives.  We elected Fred to represent our congregation in Presbytery  and Conference. I hope he will be privileged to go to General Council someday in the future, elected as a Commissioner at Presbytery or Conference.  

In the United Church of Canada, decision-making is vested in the members of our Church Council, the members of Presbytery and Conference and the Commissioners to General Council.  One important reality we need to note: not everyone in every congregation expresses his or her faith in the same way.  United Church congregations usually acknowledge these differences, and do not seek uniformity.  One reason for this is that the whole United Church began with compromise.  Three denominations, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational, joined together to form the United Church in 1925.  They were aware of their differences, but they decided to be united as one national church to do God’s mission together across Canada. 

To this day, agreeing to disagree is a cherished United Church tradition. As a result, it is not easy to obtain consensus among us.  That is why it takes us a lot of time and resources to keep our ministry going.  However, we do cherish our tradition of being united beyond our differences and value our commitment to working together in harmony to carry out Jesus’ ministry in our context here and now. Someone has said that the Group of Seven and the United Church of Canada are the two most original and distinctively Canadian things Canada has produced. 

Let us remember that at the inauguration service of our church union in Toronto on June 10, 1925, our church founders read today’s passage from the Gospel of John: Jesus is said to have prayed that God would protect his followers and keep them unified: “Protect them in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one.”  Jesus prays that God will give the disciples the strength to continue to live out their faith and not be tempted to divert from the ministry which has been entrusted to them. He also prays that they remain unified, both with God and with each other. The disciples are to be the living symbols of Jesus’ continuing presence and ministry in the world, and thus must not become embroiled in division.

We believe Jesus’ prayer has guided us ever since we were united as one.  We, the United Church of Canada, have made many historic decisions to become a living symbol of Jesus’ continuing presence and ministry in Canada: in 1936, we ordained a woman for the first time in Canadian church history; in 1988, we decided to welcome anyone to full membership in the church including ordered ministry regardless of their sexual orientation; in 1998, we offered the first official apology to the First Nations peoples for our involvement in the residential schools.  We believe that our being unified with God and with one another has strengthened us to live out our faith here and now. 

The United Church Crest, hanging on the front of this pulpit, is the official signature of our church.  As part of our ongoing efforts to be united as one, the last General Council made a decision to form a task group to work on the revision of this crest in order to acknowledge the presence and spirituality of the First Nations people in our ministry.  Most of our early churches were founded by European settlers who would not have survived without the great support of the Aboriginal peoples and today we still live on their land.  Next weekend the task group will present to Conference its proposal for a revised crest, followed by a theme speech by Marie Wilson, a Commissioner to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The proposed crest reflects the four colours of the Indigenous medicine wheel: yellow, black, red and white and adds the Mohawk version of “All My Relations” to the current Latin words, “That All May Be One (John 17:21)” at the bottom. The upcoming General Council is expected to approve this revised crest. 

Today, Jesus prays that we continue to become one as witnesses to the love of God, even when we face dis­agreement, change, or loss.  Empowered by his prayer, may we, united as one, continue to carry on Jesus’ ministry today and in the days ahead.  Amen.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Commanded to Love 

John 15: 9-17

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, May 13th, 2012

 God of love, in you we abide. In you we find our ground for growing as a community of disciples, seeking to know and do your will.  May we be strengthened to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, loving others as you love us. Amen.

Today is Mother’s Day.  In some countries, Christian communities have expanded Mother’s Day to include a celebration of the entire family. For example, some churches in Canada including the United Church celebrate this day as Christian Family Sunday.  We are encouraged to celebrate all types of families, including families with two mothers, single mothers, no mothers or adoptive mothers, friends that form family bonds, those whose natural families are no longer living and all of God’s family. 

The reasons range from not wanting to participate in the brash commercialism of Mother’s Day to recognizing that this day can be especially painful for women who have wanted to be mothers and not had the opportunity, women who have lost children, and people who have lost their mothers. Let us remember that some of us here have already had to bury their children.

One of my colleagues admonished me not to be too sentimental about motherhood because, for some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one; for some, biological motherhood isn’t possible; for some, mothers weren’t all that nice; and for some, motherhood under the very best of circumstances is still less than a bed of roses and a primrose path. Someone has said, to become a mother is not so difficult; on the other hand, being a mother is very much so. 

It is important to recognize that the definition of family in the Bible is a wide and varied one – from polygamous marriages and blended families, to two women, Ruth and Naomi, for instance, unmarried couples and Jesus’ own definition of family as “Anyone who does the things God desires.” The so-called nuclear family is a modern invention, and is specific only to certain cultures. Accordingly, this day can serve as a wonderful opportunity to affirm homes and families – however they may define themselves – as places of love and nurture.

There is a Korean saying, “Even a porcupine loves its young.”  What that means is that, for the most part, our parents, especially our mothers, love us no matter what.  It seems to be that mother’s love is not a choice, but a gift of nature.   Fair enough, but what about our love for others?  Isn’t our love for others a choice and very much conditional?  Sometimes it appears to be unnatural because we tend to be hostile against strangers.

According to the passage from the Gospel of John we read this morning, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (v.12).”  It is very familiar.  But I wonder why we need to be commanded to love others.  Do we need someone to command us to love one another?  Unlike our mothers’ love for us, does our love for others require some kind of enforcement beyond a nudge?

I am told that a certain Aboriginal people in Australia use dozens of words for the one word, “love,” in English.  For example, they differentiate their love for their children from their love for their partners.  In English, we love our family, our friends, even our pets, Celine Dion, Maple Walnut ice cream, Kimchi … . We use the word, “love,” everywhere and anywhere.

In Western culture, we tend to have such romantic notions about love.  We believe love is something you “fall in and out of” and have little control over.  It is not easy to understand how we can be “commanded" to love someone. We wonder how arranged marriages can possibly work.

However, Jesus is not talking about our love for our friends.  He is not talking about our love for our cats or dogs either.  His commandment to love has to do with someone we are not directly related to, like strangers on the street. 

As today’s reading from John’s Gospel reminds us, the choice of who belongs to God’s household is not ours to make. “You did not choose me,” Jesus says, “I chose you.” If Christ does the choosing, then we too are included—and so are those whose presence disturbs us. We are reminded that a community of faith is not a social gathering of like-minded people, but a called community built intentionally by Christ.  One reason for belonging to the church, then, is to learn how to be inclusive of the poor, refugees, feminists, Jews, Muslims, environmentalists, social activists, the handicapped, the abused, and all those who bear put-down labels which sting every bit as much as “Gentile” did in the first-century Palestine.

We well know how Jesus continually welcomed and included those whom others rejected as unclean and sinners. It was this very inclusion that seemed to most rankle the religious authorities and which they tried to use to discredit his ministry. This kind of love can be commanded. It is not a feeling, but an attitude that must be cultivated and put into action.

Recently, I have discovered that there are many in our city hall who need to be commanded to love.  Last week, Jean brought me an envelope containing several documents about the City’s new garbage pick-up fee on charitable and non-profit organizations. That reminded me that Jane, Chair of our Property Committee, reported this issue to our Council last month.  Starting this July, over 1,000 Toronto charitable organizations will be charged for waste pick-up for the first time.  This is the result of a City Council decision last December to end the exemption that charities and non-profits have had for many years. 

While reading the documents prepared by Social Planning Toronto, one of the city’s non-profit organizations, I felt that the City’s decision was outrageous.  Apparently, there was no proper consultation when the City Council made this decision last year and even many of the non-profit organizations are still unaware of it.  Of course, our church will be affected by this and we have only recently been informed of it. 

Our church is one of the hardest-hit organizations.  You probably have noticed the many garbage bags piled up on the west side of our building every week.  Why do we have so many garbage bags? It is because we run the Food Bank and Community Dinners.  We receive food from the Daily Bread Food Bank.  Most of the food is good.  But sometimes we receive loads of poor quality donations like boxes of rotten vegetables or fruit, which wind up in the garbage.  And not all the food containers are recyclable.  Further, despite the notice about not accepting more donations of clothes, some people continue to leave bags of clothes, often unwearable clothes, on our church steps.  

Social Planning Toronto estimates that, when fully implemented in 2015, these charges will take around $3 million out of the charitable organizations in the city; it would cost our church around 1,6oo dollars annually.  It sounds even more outrageous because the city recently announced an almost 300 million dollar surplus at the end of last year: the surplus from the city’s solid waste management system alone was nearly $40 million. Our Church Council is working on this absolutely unjustifiable charge, joining other organizations in reversing or reducing the impact of the city’s ill-conceived decision. 

Today is Mothers’ Day or Christian Family Sunday.  Together we remember our mothers’ unconditional love and celebrate all types of families.  As Jesus loves us, we love one another beyond our families.  Jesus calls us friends.  We look to Jesus the Christ as our beloved and loving friend who leads us as we continue to witness to the Good News in our community and beyond.  Amen.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Pruning Our Ministry 

John 15: 1-8

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, May 06th, 2012

 God, you are the vine grower. We are the branches. May we abide in your true vine, Jesus the Christ, so that we bear much fruit. May we faithfully proclaim the good news until all are welcomed into the new life you so generously give. Amen.

I have a Korean dwarf lilac in my garden.  I love it because it brings back memories of Korea.  At this time of the year, usually early in May, the lilacs are in full bloom in my home country.  The flowers are beautiful.  More than anything else, their strong fragrance is heavenly.  Some villages and small towns are saturated with the fragrance for weeks. 

My lilac has already burst its leaves and flower buds in abundance.  I am looking forward to full bloom this year.  I was disappointed last year because it did not bloom well.  Examining the branches without bloom, I found that most of them were the ones I had pruned the year before.  It was obvious that I had not pruned it correctly.  I am still learning about gardening, often through my mistakes.  So, I pruned it very carefully last year, as taught by an experienced friend.  This correct pruning must have made the difference in the abundance of this year’s flower buds.

The passage from John we read a short while ago teaches us about gardening, especially about how and why the grape vine is to be pruned properly.  John’s gospel contains many passages that begin with the words, “I am.”  These verses are expressive metaphors to help us understand the person and work of Jesus the Christ. Several of them come in the section of John called the “farewell discourse” (John 14: 1 - 16: 3). In these speeches, Jesus teaches the disciples about his identity and ministry. Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” The vine is a familiar image in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the biblical lands, vineyards were important to Israel’s agricultural life. Extensive work was needed to prepare the ground for the planting of the vines. Strong walls and a watchtower were built to protect the vines from marauding people and animals. Most of the grapes were used to make wine.

A productive vineyard was seen as a sign of God’s favour – a vine-grower could expect a bountiful harvest when obeying God’s commands. The prophets made use of this image, describing the people of Israel as the vine and God as the one who tends it (see Isaiah 5: 1-7). The fruit of this vine is justice but ruin comes upon the vineyard where injustice flourishes.

Jesus calls himself “the true vine,” identifying his followers, then and now, as the branches. The Christian community is one body with many members, one vine with many branches that nourish its growth. The branches are only strong when they are connected with the stem. Jesus calls those who follow to abide, that is, to remain in him. Without Jesus the Christ, we “can do nothing (v.5).”

The vine lives out in the open air, exposed to the elements. Vines must be pruned – the dead branches cut away – in order to produce the best fruit. In verse 2, the Greek word translated as “prune” also means “cleanse.” Pruning does not hurt a healthy plant; it stimulates new growth.

Last Tuesday night, our Transition Committee had a wonderful conversation with a guest speaker, Jim McKibbin, the East End Mission Developer.  Jim was hired last year by the Toronto Southeast Presbytery as a staff person whose mandate is to work with the eleven East End congregations in order to explore the possibilities of common mission in this area.  I have been privileged to work with him as a member of his support team since his appointment.  I have been impressed with his energy and enthusiasm for his work.  When I asked him to come and share with us his vision of church mission, he graciously said yes.

I wonder if that night Jim presented to us how ministries in this area should be pruned or cleansed.  This morning, I would like to share with you a few of the points he made in his presentation.  First of all, he pointed out that most congregations in this area saw themselves as islands.  They have no desire to work with their neighbouring United Church congregations.  Their Sunday attendance is low, between 30 to 50, but many of them have survived financially by renting out their buildings or selling property.  They do not see any value of collaborative effort with other United Church congregations in this area.

As a result, initiatives for collaborative work among the East End congregations are hard to organize and are seen as disruptive to their routines.  For example, Jim mentioned an initiative, what he called ‘an Information Night on Glen Rhodes Food Bank.’  Ours is the only Food Bank programme in this area, so the East End congregations could gather around it and work together for a common mission of Jesus Christ.  Last month, Jane and he worked intensely on this initiative, making detailed suggestions like inviting at least two lay people from each congregation downstairs one night, providing them with a sample Community Dinner, introducing them to our programmes and encouraging them to become involved.  Jim took this proposed initiative to the first East End ministers’ gathering early last month, which I also attended.  To our disappointment, this proposal was not well received by the majority of ministers.  They said their congregations were already too busy. When exploring a common mission in this area, he argued that lay leaders should become more proactive.  His argument was supported by some of our leaders who have been involved in similar initiatives in the past.

Speaking of lay leaders’ proactive engagement, we have a little piece of good news.  As Jane mentioned last Sunday, flanked by both Fred and Donna, she went to Cosburn United a couple of weeks ago and spoke to the congregation about our Food Bank and Community Dinner programmes.  The response was very encouraging.  The small congregation is made up mainly of older people.  So, we cannot expect many of them will be able to come and volunteer, but they have already provided us with food items they collected during the Lenten season and with monetary and book donations.  It is a good example of how we can be proactive about working together with other congregations. 

In addition, Jim talked about the importance of advocacy work related to food security.  In recent years, the living conditions of the poor in our neighbourhood have deteriorated, due to the ongoing major service cuts or frozen budgets by the federal, provincial and municipal governments.  You have probably noticed that poverty issues have not been a priority during all  recent elections.  It is time for faith communities to work together to raise our voices around food security, especially for those who do not have their voices.

According to John, Jesus is “the true vine.”  We are the branches.  The Christian community is one body with many members, one vine with many branches.  The eleven United Church congregations are branches closely growing together in the East End area.  However, many of them do not see it this way.  The connectedness to each other through the one vine is often ignored.  Many of us here remember that our ministry did better when we worked together as a member of the Delta Group many years back.  I wonder if it isn’t time to begin a conversation about how to work together to contribute to the life of the community.  Our Food Bank and Community Dinner Programmes could be catalysts to that conversation. 

The vines need pruning.  What aspects of our ministries need to be cut away or redirected to spur a productive harvest?  As branches connected to the true vine, Jesus the Christ, we are called to find ways to work together with other branches - our neighbouring faith communities - to produce much fruit to share with all our neighbours.

Abiding in God, may we all work together to share the fruit of justice and love in the world today and in the days ahead. Amen.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Facing The Wolf Courageously 

Acts 4: 5-12; John 10: 11-18

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday, April 29th, 2012

 God of our risen Christ, in your presence we are strengthened to live lives of love and truth; in Jesus you lived alongside us and in the Spirit you live in us. For this, we give thanks. Amen.

 Early last week, Alberta voters proved themselves to be literally conservative: in the recent provincial election, they stuck with what they have had for the last four decades; they refused to change to become more conservative.  They gave the Progressive Conservatives a strong mandate to continue to govern the province.  Defying all predictions, the governing party won a convincing majority victory over the Wildrose Party, a more right-wing version of the Tories.

From the beginning, most polls suggested that the upstart Wildrose Party was going to end the governing party's long reign over Alberta politics.  Because of those polls, this election drew national attention throughout the campaign.  The war for power between the two parties, one which had governed the province for over 40 years and another which did not even exist four years ago, has occupied the headlines of the media for weeks.

According to today’s passage from Acts, there was another war for power between two parties in the first century Palestine: one which had ruled for many generations and another which did not even exist a couple of generations ago.  Continuing last week’s story about the healing of the lame man, the author, Luke, paints a picture of two opposing forces. On one side stands the Sanhedrin, made up of the Saducees, Pharisees and Scribes of Jerusalem—high-ranking religious leaders. On the other side are Peter and John, “uneducated common men.” The members of the Sanhedrin ask the disciples to describe by what power or in whose name they healed the lame man. Peter answers that their authority comes from Jesus—the stone that the builders of the nation have rejected as unworthy. It is this same Jesus whom God raised from the dead and who continues to heal through the courageous and loving acts of his followers.

Throughout their testimony, Peter and John challenge the very authority of the religious leaders, tacitly accusing them of allowing God’s Chosen One to suffer. Despite their anger at this chal­lenge, the religious authorities know that if they discipline the disciples, there will be opposition and protest from the people. Instead, as Luke shows us later in the same chapter, the Sanhedrin tries to silence them. As history has proven, attempts to silence people often result in their message being more widely spread. Such is the case in this story. Luke records that Peter and John continued to preach, and more people became disciples.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Peter’s impassioned speech to the Sanhedrin is that the disciples are people of low status in their society.  Not long before, they had been meeting behind locked doors, fearful of the power of the religious authorities. Yet they now have the inner strength to openly declare their love for the risen Christ. The love and faithful­ness of God they experienced through the risen Christ has given them the power to testify to their faith even at great risk to themselves.

The writer of the Gospel of John picks up the image of the loving shepherd to describe their experience of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus is identified as the Good Shepherd who knows the sheep and is willing to die for them. Other sheep will listen to his voice and together they will become one flock. The true test of being in harmony with God comes with the ap­pearance of the wolf – hard times. Those who are not truly committed to the Good News will scatter when faced with opposi­tion and hardship. John wrote his gospel for those who were facing dangerous and testing times. For them, the wolf was Rome, the centre of military and political power.  Here comes again a war for power between two parties: one armed with military power and the other strengthened with Christ’s love.  

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting of ministers from the eleven East End United Church congregations.  This meeting was initiated by Jim McKibbin, the East End Mission Developer; he has been working on building a sense of community, developing a common mission and exploring a common vision among the United Church congregations in this area.  As it was the first meeting of this kind, we spent a great deal of time becoming informed about what has been going on in each congregation.  The majority of the congregations are struggling with almost identical challenges: dwindling membership and shrinking resources. 

During the conversation, I noticed that there seemed to have been two ways of trying to meet those challenges.  One way was to struggle to survive by focusing on their own needs; the other was to continue to reach out, focusing on the needs of the community around them.  In fact, many United Church congregations in this area have spent tens of thousands of dollars to maintain their buildings, replacing old heating systems or renovating for rental income or for their own needs. Only a few congregations have worked hard to meet the needs of their neighbours instead.  It is obvious that there has been a war for power between two forces: the fear of death and the call to ministry. 

Unlike the war for power between the two conservative parties in Alberta, ours is a war between polar opposite forces, life and death.  We know this is a difficult time for all the congregations in this area; it is a testing time for all of us.  As John says, a wolf appears just around the corner.  The wolf is prowling around us and we are afraid of being killed.  The force of this fear is enormous.  Like a hired hand, we may choose to run away from our call and focus on our own survival.  If so, our priority would be to meet our own needs like renovating our church building for our own use.

As a church, we have been committed through our outreach programmes like the Food Bank and Community Dinner to meeting the needs of our neighbours for almost three decades. These programmes are not cheap.  They require a great deal of our financial resources and donations in kind like labour, time and food. Not only that, but these efforts occupy much of our building space.  It means we have very limited space to use for other purposes, including rental income.  Ours is not an idle commitment, especially in these hard times.  We know what has happened to two neighbouring United Church congregations, Woodgreen and Riverdale.  Indeed, the wolf is prowling around us. 

Nonetheless, we believe the Easter experience transforms us and empowers us to love and transform the world. In our reading from Acts today, we see an example of that transformation. Peter—the one who had once denied Jesus in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house—now speaks out courageously when confronted by the Sanhedrin. God’s love, expressed in Christ’s resurrection and forgiveness, has changed him. Today that same love continues to transform and heal, giving us courage and enabling us to be open to the needs of others. In the giving of ourselves we often discover that it is we who are given the greatest gift—the assur­ance that God’s love is and always will be with us, providing us with the power to love and transform the world.

At the Annual General Meeting last month, we elected our Church Council members.  According to the Manual, the primary responsibility of the Church Council is to exercise leadership in the care and oversight of the spiritual life and interests of the Pastoral Charge (United Church Manual, 223).  Our Council members are elected to exercise leadership in our spiritual growth through our life and work together in this church.  Their responsibilities are huge especially in this time of trial.  The wolf is prowling around us.  Facing the wolf will take a great deal of courage and strength.  The Council needs our support, prayer and encouragement.  That is why we are covenanting with them today.  Now, I would like to invite all the Council members to come forward to the front for the covenanting service.