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

Thursday, 30 May 2013

“When I was a child”    7:30 p.m., , 2013    by Robin Wardlaw

Season of Pentecost, Year C 
Readings: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalm 34; Luke 9:46-48

Childhood. It came up the other day and family members were comparing their childhoods in very general terms. I remember cap guns, secret forts, wide area games, magical summer nights out on the curb–very good experiences mixed in with the usual misfortunes. How different they can be, though. I said I remembered mourning when I was eleven or twelve that I was leaving childhood behind. I had had a good start to life. A relative said in contrast, his childhood was not good. His teen years hadn’t been that great either. Life didn’t start to be more satisfying to him until adulthood. By world standards, we both had things amazingly well. Food, peaceful society, love, education, security, healthcare–the things many children don’t even know to wish for.

The bible doesn’t have much to say about children or child rearing. Most of the actors in bible stories are adults. Proverbs has a few things about being strict with children so they don’t stray from the path. The passage from Deuteronomy gives a thumbnail sketch of religious education. Tell your children the history of the people, all that God has done, and the laws to keep. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:7)

Then in the gospels, Jesus heals children and young people. He tells adults they are behaving like willful children at one point, quoting a proverb of the day, apparently, about children who chant to each other, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not cry.” (Lk. 7:32). And then there’s this passage about greatness and humility. Become like this little child if you want to be truly great, he tells people.

Tomorrow UNICEF puts out its annual report on the state of the world’s children. It will tell us what we already know, that there is a great disparity among them. What is probably won’t tell us is about their spirits. Which ones have hope, which ones feel confident about their future and their world. Last year’s report was about urban children, and what they need. There’s the chart about education, and what a big difference between children of well to do parents and those of poorer parents. Many years more in school for those more privileged children. Big difference in some ways over two thousand years, and yet some things are still much the same.

Does the 2012 Executive Summary of the report just take more words to say what Jesus said about the child in the story? Address poverty. Increase inclusion. Tackle inequality. Partner with all children, but especially those on the margins. They have dreams, all children. They experience the sacred. They have so much to offer.

Let’s talk about ourselves as children. If you’re willing to share, tell us about your early experience of the holy.


As we get ready to be met by the Spirit at the table, let’s reflect on what we are about to do. We eat together. No problem to come up with bread and juice around here, although many people depend on food banks to get by right here in Canada, in Toronto. Some of those people have children. Elsewhere, the Red Cross, the UN and other agencies are doing the same thing on a vast scale, helping refugees stay alive until drought or war ends, and life can go back to normal.

Our taking bread together is a sign to the world–our physical well being matters. Our taking bread together is a sign to the world–our spiritual well being matters. It’s so simple to eat together, if you have food. It’s so simple to eat together, if you have peace. This is our way of saying to one another, this is the world we want for our children, our grandchildren, and all children.

Monday, 27 May 2013

“Wisdom raises her voice”   May 26, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Pentecost 2, Year C
Readings:  Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31Psalm 8; (Romans 5:1–5); John 16:12–15

“Is that for us, or is it going to church?” Women have put monumental effort into UCW activities across the church for fifty-one years. Other supporters include children who smelled the baking, watched it come out of the oven and somehow restrained themselves because this batch, this pie, this cake was going to church. The mission statement of the UCW says the organization is going to “promote love and respect by living generously and giving joyfully to all God’s people.” I am one of those children of UCW members who wanted to raise their hands and ask why generosity couldn’t begin at home. My brothers and I felt we qualified as some of God’s people, but the chief baker in the house had a wider view of things. And of course, it was only jealousy on our part. There was no shortage of baking in our home.
My mother was a lifelong member of the UCW, and her mother before her. So I feel somewhat qualified to speak at a UCW service, even with a childhood history of slight resentment toward the organization. That’s the thing with living generously and giving joyfully, isn’t it? A group makes a good plan at church, and members are enthused about what they can achieve by acting together in the spirit of Christ. It’s going to take effort, though, and that likely means making a choice about time and cookies–church or family, the wider mission of the UCW or one’s more particular responsibilities in the home this evening, this afternoon, this weekend.
The best UCW activity from the point of view of my brothers and myself was the one that involved the whole family–the candy booth at the fair. My mother was an instigator, I think. She knew how to make fudge, and she knew how to organize. She knew where she could round up a few helpers to design, build and set up the booth at the county fair, and maybe even staff it on a Saturday. Plus–we’re still getting to the best part–there were fudge making sessions in the church kitchen. Mothers and older children working together. Sugar and butter and chocolate chips being turned into fudge, pot after pot. Yes, it was all headed for the booth at the fair, but there were always pots to clean out and spoons to lick.
Wisdom was there in the beginning, according to Proverbs, as the Creator measured and poured, stirred and cooked up good things: waters, earth, heavens. A collaborative effort. And to hear Proverbs tell it, it isn’t just water, it isn’t just dirt. All creation is infused with Wisdom, with Spirit, in the Greek: Sophia. Do UCW pies or cakes taste better than other baking? Are they infused with Wisdom, with Spirit? How do we measure the Spirit, discern her presence? How do we know if our fall sale, or tea, or candy sale are somehow promoting love and respect? Bit by bit I came to see Wisdom, to appreciate the Spirit in what the UCW has been up to all these decades. I didn’t discern it right away because organizing things that benefitted other people was just what they did. They made it look easy, natural. They had disagreements and internal struggles, I’m sure–groups always do–but they stayed together, and kept focused on their mission.
The parts I didn’t see as much had to do with the first part of the mission statement: “to love God, to foster Christian faithfulness, spirituality, commitment and devotion.” That part was taking place at their studies, in Presbyterial, in devotions. That was the part where Wisdom was speaking up, to groups of women with books or bibles on their laps, or their heads down in prayer. People got inspired to take on leadership roles for the first time in their lives, take up causes in the community or the world, serve others in surprising ways.
I only heard stories about the Moms and Tots at Waterford United, for instance, because it took place on Tuesday mornings when I was in school. What is there for young mothers on their own in this small town? How will they learn mothering techniques, nutrition, their rights, or just get time to be with one another as new moms as their children played together safely in the other room? We could do that, said the UCW. And they did. Week after week of providing a snack for the mothers and the children, speakers organized, a warm, welcoming environment created. Quiet, prolonged heroism. No muss, no fuss. The satisfaction of loving God by loving others.
What about the patriarchy? Why wasn’t a women’s organization born just as women’s liberation was getting going in 1962 on the front lines? Signs, pickets, sit-ins, no sex boycotts? Some yelling, some demanding action, some headlines, maybe. It’s too soon to judge what has helped to bring about more equality of the sexes in Canadian society, and perhaps it will never be possible to figure out what brought about change. When the UCW got started, many more mothers stayed home with children, there were almost no women ministers, very few women on Official Boards, Church Councils or Boards of Trustees. No woman had ever been President of Conference or Moderator of the United Church.
Did they help change to happen somehow, with their cakes and devotions, generous living and joyful living while other women took to the streets? Here is where we need to look at the last phrase of the mission statement: “to affirm and strengthen ourselves creatively.” To affirm and strengthen ourselves. Creatively. How many women found sisters sympathetic to them when things were not going well at home? How many quiet counseling sessions took place about the husband who disappeared, or drank, or hit? How many women figured out parliamentary processes at UCW meetings, gotten confidence about agendas, and motions and building consensus, skills that made them ready to step into other roles at church as those opened up?
Wisdom raises her voice. The bible is skimpy on the divine feminine. This passage in Proverbs is one of the rare exceptions. Protestants don’t make much of the figure of Mary and we haven’t had convents offering choices for faithful women to offer leadership over the centuries. Devotion to Mary has provided some male-female balance in Catholic churches. Protestants, traditionally, have had a male God, a male saviour, and the somewhat ambiguous figure of the Holy Spirit. What’s a woman to do? The UCW has been a place for many women to find their voice, and raise it.
Wisdom is still raising her voice, but sometimes it is a cry of despair from a ghetto. Sometimes it is a cry of horror from a concentration camp where thousands of girls and women are being raped as part of a plan, a plan of men, during violent conflict. Sometime Wisdom’s cry comes from a part of the world where girls are not offered any education, and have no choice but to become wives and mothers at a young age, household slaves, in effect, with no outlet for their skills, their intelligence, no chance “to affirm and strengthen themselves creatively.” And over the years, there have been numerous UCW initiatives to reach out to other women, oppressed and marginalized women. The ethos, the spirit of the Women’s Missionary Society lingered on, inspiring acts of solidarity and witness.
What can the rest of us say to the UCW on this special day. It is tempting to say, You go girl!, but that seems cheeky somehow. There is a certain dignity to the UCW that we respect. It’s easy to count the cookies or pies going out the door on the way to church. It is a bit more difficult to somehow weigh all this organization has done for others and its own members over half a century. A bit more difficult? It’s impossible. We know that societies are better when girls are treated equally. Fewer babies die, wealth is shared more equally, people live longer. What about churches that are more equal as a sign of the Spirit at work?
We have had women Moderators now, and women in every leadership role in the church. We have worked hard on language, although we’re still swimming in a sea of religious sexism. What does the Spirit of truth, as John’s gospel calls it, have to say to us in this generation? Can we bear it now, two thousand years later? We believe we have a mission, a crucial, life-giving mission, as a congregation of the United Church, but that our passion for equality, inclusiveness, justice and peace is not known in the community.
After church, we get going on a holy conversation about our passion. It will be good. I hope it’s not too comfortable. Wisdom, the Spirit needs voices in our neighbourhood and world. She has plans for this spinning blue planet, plans that will need all of us, men and women, young and old, every colour, every sexuality to dream separately and dream together. And those plans may pull us out of our comfort zones, out into the streets, into a future we cannot predict. Wisdom is raising her voice here. So listen! Listen hard. Listen well. When younger people, younger women start coming out to church, listen. Find out about their lives. Find out their passion, and what they need in order to be fulfilled as children of the Living God, daughters of Wisdom, sisters of Christ. Chances are it won’t look or sound like what we’re used to. The mission of the UCW, the mission of this congregation are beautiful, and there are many, many ways they can come to life, if we can free ourselves to walk and run and dance with Sophia, Wisdom.

 United Church WomenMission Statement
Our Mission is to love God, to foster Christian faithfulness, spirituality, commitment and devotion
and to promote love and respect by living generously
and giving joyfully to all God's people
and to affirm and strengthen ourselves creatively

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

“Many mirrors”   May 19, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Pentecost, Year C
Readings: Acts 2:1–21; Psalm 104:24–34, 35b; (Romans 8:14–17); John 14:8–17, 25–27

Three questions for us today: First, who are we? You may have heard, people think we’re impaired somehow, under the influence. They wonder what’s gotten into us, and people are talking. “After all they’ve been through, they’re still going?” There’s a spirit here that... it’s hard to put your finger on it, isn’t it? A spirit that brings out the best in people. After all we’ve been through, you’d think we’d be flattened, dispersed, done. But here we are, expecting new visions, new dreams. That’s a pretty loose description of who we are, but we’re only at the first question.

Second question: what is God calling us to do? Such a beautiful question. It tells us we have a role in the way the universe unfolds. We are partners in creation. We have a calling that matters. The details of the call might change from time to time, so it’s important to remember the calling, the grace that includes us in the big picture. The call is likely to involve...what? What gets the attention of the Holy? What is Love up to these days?  We know from the bible and our history. God is very interested in relationships among people, neighbourliness, real peace.

That brings us to our third question: who are our neighbours? Because we can’t have faith or a calling in isolation. It doesn’t work, and it’s not faith if it’s just for us. Many of our neighbours are up against it for one reason or another. The stories and history of faithful people is about looking after the lost and the least. The people, who get pushed aside, left behind, ignored. Some of our neighbours are doing OK, but they are bothered by the inequality, but they don’t know what to do. They’re not organized.
Who are we, what is God calling us to do, and who are our neighbours? When we delve into answers to those questions, we end up blown away by Holy Live. Love for God, love for others, love for self. A challenge to those hoarding wealth and power.

Am I talking about the original followers of Jesus, or a twenty-first century congregation of the faithful? Both, of course. Much has changed in two thousand years, but much has not. The strong still needed to be challenged about their use of money and power. The weak still need to be supported and empowered. The vision of a world of peace still needs champions and our rituals still call out the very best in each of us by making us into a community.

In the weeks ahead in worship, we hear more stories of the early church, when people were on fire with Jesus’ radical ministry in the world. They didn’t have buildings, they didn’t have rules, they didn’t have structure. Not at first. They only had their powerful experiences of Jesus eating and laughing and exuding love in their midst, the scriptures of their day and each other. The Spirit picked them up like kites and pushed them toward ministry like wind on sails, ignited a passion for an alternative vision of the world. It wasn’t clear at first what they were supposed to do or be. But it was electric, vital, exciting.

This congregation is at an interesting time in its life, and the life of the planet. Things we used to be able to take for granted we can’t anymore. We need to review and rehearse who we are, what is our call from God and who are our neighbours over again, going deeply into what inspires us, our passion for the faith, our loyalty to Jesus Christ. The process is called mission redevelopment, and we get to start on it together next week after church. It will be an intense and wonderful process. It will evoke strong feelings from time to time, and we won’t always agree about how to be agents of transformation, lovers of the world, dreamers. That’s good. Out of our individual dreams and visions will come something shared.

We are not the custodians of the Spirit around here. As scripture says, it blows where it wills. We can lift up our wet fingers, though, put up a wind sock to find out where the energy is coming from these days, and where it might be going. And that’s sometimes called mission redevelopment. What will church look like in ten years, twenty, fifty? The recent issue of Mandate explores the church of the future. It may be quite different than we are used to. That’s alright. The Jesus movement has looked very different through the ages, and it will continue to morph. One new trend appears to be intentional communities of young people living together to live out their faith. Intentional communities are not new, of course. We used to call those monasteries or convents.

What about us? What about this community of faith? How can we be midwives of change? We want the Spirit to activate our inner prophets in the weeks and months ahead. It is a delicate thing to prophesy. You have to honour the voice within you, speak your truth. Yet at the same time, we have to test the Spirits as a community. Meaning we have to listen to others creatively, discern when someone else’s vision may be more faithful. The Spirit is likely to send out many, many sparks as we talk and listen. Not all of them will turn into fires that we can tend. How to decide what is our calling? We could ask the neighbours, and that is part of the plan, too. We’re not the only ones who can wet a finger and hold it up. We’re going to go out and talk to people. What are they seeing and hearing? Who is up against it? Who is being pushed aside, left behind, ignore these days.

Because we’re not happy until everyone is happy. We don’t feel satisfied until everyone as something to eat. Let people say we’re intoxicated. It’s true. We have breathed in the powerful vision of Jesus of Nazareth, and we can’t let it go. We imagine this table as a metaphor of everything. Here we share what we have. Here people get fed. Here is a challenge to the winner take all ethic. Here is joy, here is peace, here is love. We’re good at setting tables around here. It’s what we do. The feast of love and justice has been set for us. Let’s eat. And let’s talk around the table about how to make it bigger, with room for all.

Monday, 6 May 2013

“Waters of healing”   May 5, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Easter 6, Year C
Readings: (Acts 16:9–15); Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5; John 5:1–9        

Babies at a young age instinctively hold their breaths and swim if placed in a pool. Eyes open, they paddle away. No fear, apparently. Then something happens, and that instinct seems to fade away a few months later. Many people are terrified of water. And for good reason. Unsinkable ships and giant drill rigs can become victims of the waves. A creek becomes a deadly playground when it is swollen by spring melt. A river swells up to flood fields and towns and cities along its path.

Bible stories about water are mixed. Or it can be the source of fear, merciless.. Think of that Egyptian army trying to get across the Red Sea, chasing fleeing slaves. Or Paul’s experience with storms on the Mediterranean. The whole ship he was on was wrecked, and Paul and the crew were rescued by local people after a terrifying experience. It can also be the source of healing, and we hear that in our readings today.

There are many new reasons to be concerned about water that have nothing to do waves or swollen streams. The things we are doing to our water, fresh and salt, and the creatures who live there–these should be giving us all pause. But that’s for another day.

Our bible stories today, though, remind us of the goodness of water. It’s hard for many Canadians, I think, to relate to people living in drier lands. We assume that over the rise and down the other side there will be another creek or river, and another and another. Water, water, everywhere. It’s different in dry places. Water is so much more precious.

Friends who have worked in the Australian outback tell about the difference spring rains can make. Land that was dusty and alive with only the toughest grasses and shrubs is suddenly verdant. A river bed fills up and people go fishing. Where did the fish come from? Flowers, birds, instant marshes appear–a complete change of scene. Then it gradually dries down and goes back to dust.

Cities were difficult in bible times, in the sense of having secure access to water. Leaders wanted their communities on hills, so invaders had to fight up slopes and defenders could stand on walls and shoot arrows down at them. But hilltops are not where rivers run. Jerusalem had that huge strategic advantage: a spring that emerged up on the plateau and ran constantly, enough for everyone. A priceless gift.

So it’s no surprise that in John’s vision the city of God, besides light without smoky lamps, twelve kinds of fruit to eat and leaves of the trees, for healing has rivers running down its streets. Paradise back again at the end of the bible, but in a city this time instead of a garden. What if we could show those first century sisters and brothers our city, where clean water comes out of a tap in every home, where lights overhead make it possible to go about after dark, where caregivers stand ready ’round the clock to look after us, and where twelve kinds of fruit are available at the green grocers in every season? Would they think they had gone to heaven? Perhaps.

So what about water as a symbol for us, a symbol healing? Do these old stories still work? We use water, fresh, drinkable water, to wash our cars, carry away our waste. Water running down our streets just means a pipe had broken underground. There are wait times for health care in our world, but not thirty-eight years. So maybe the theme of healing is not such a big one for us, in this part of the world, anyway.

But some of us have suffered for decades and can’t seem to find healing, even with all the resources dedicated to health care in our society. I’m talking about hard-to-treat ailments, and also injuries to our souls. We can’t seem to get well, to get over something, to move on from pain or grief or insult.
People sometimes go to great lengths for healing in our world. Operations, medications, treatments, therapies, counselling–they can take up a great deal of one’s life. The man in today’s gospel story had been waiting four decades to get to the healing waters of the pool. The woman with the flow of blood had “suffered...for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse...,” according to Mark (Mk. 5:25b-26) The more things change, the more they stay the same for some people. And so far, we’re only talking about individuals, not societies divided by bitter memories or oppressive leadership.

Other things ail us, of course. Theo Fleury played professional hockey for many years with the Flames, the Avalanche, the Rangers and the Blackhawks. He is five foot six, too small to be any good, people thought. Then he scored over a thousand points in his fourteen year NHL career. He made a lot of money but was addicted to drugs and alcohol, so his money vanished as fast as he could make it. He refers to himself as a “raging alcoholic lunatic” in those days. He wrote a book in 2009, the year he retired from hockey, and disclosed years of suffering: a coach had abused him as a young man. After the book came out, people began to write him disclosing their abuse, or offering support, thousands of letters. How does a person heal from this kind of experience? Can the frozen water of a hockey rink give a person freedom in their soul? Mr. Fleury will be here next week, beginning a walk from the monument behind the church dedicated to victims of child abuse. Mr. Fleury calls his walk the Victor Walk. It’s a long and complicated path to go from victim to victor, to quell the little voice of fear within, the paralysing shame, the raging anger, the emptiness.

The people of Neskantaga First Nation, on a beautiful northern Ontario lake know all about this kind of pain. They are the latest First Nation to undergo an epidemic of suicides and attempts. There are only a few hundred people in Neskantaga, so it has gotten too much to bear. Even the people who are well are getting overwhelmed.

Canada has some healing to do as a nation, in other words. There has been too much pain, too much denial, too much shame. The waters that took those early coureurs de bois up into the north woods and brought all those furs out now need to carry bales of understanding, canoe loads of compassion upstream and downstream. The seas that brought non-native people here now need to rise up and bear away centuries of racial superiority, ignorance and discrimination.

The United Church of Canada has taken some great paddle strokes in the right direction after generations of being part of the problem. United Church people–First Nations and dominant culture people–are working hard together to bring Canada to a new place of peace. Sometimes the waters of healing are salty. They fall from the cheeks of elders revisiting terrible childhood memories. They gather in the eyes of listeners, hearing for the first time about innocence crushed, families torn apart, cultures ground down by imperialism and religious triumphalism. Sometimes the waters of healing are joyous, as survivors and authorities scatter tobacco as an offering on lakes of grace.

Healing like this is powerful. It is all around you. It is flows freely from the Holy Mystery, like an unending spring. We don’t need to be afraid of the water. We are meant for it, instinctively. The question we all have is whether we want the healing more, or the old familiar pain: the old grudge, the old resentment, the old bitterness. We can do very much even carrying these things around with us. Sometimes the anger is our fuel. But the offer is there to get off the portage, where we have to carry everything on our backs, all the weight, and get into the canoe, where the water does the work. And with a bit of luck, we will dump somewhere, in fast water probably, and all those weights we don’t need and don’t want will sink to the bottom of Love’s stream to rejoin Mother Earth, and we will be lighter, freer, restored.

Healing could happen in worship. It might take some other kind of spiritual canoe trip. It might be a solo expedition for you, or it might require a guide. A New Zealand priest working to end apartheid in South Africa was severely injured by a parcel bomb. Michael Lapsley gets by now with sight in one eye, partial hearing, and mechanical hands. Apartheid is gone, but his work continues in something he calls the Institute for the Healing of Memories. He brings together victims of genocide and other atrocities, sometimes with their attackers, to work on the deepest kind of healing. The healing of memories.

We don’t have to be a community of people who have all been healed, all shed their burdens of pain to invite others to the waters of healing here. Nor do we have to take others’ burdens on us. It doesn’t work that way. We can simply be aware of our needs, and what has helped us over the years. Let this place be like a pool, a spring, a river of hope for ourselves, and many others who need to drink and splash and paddle the waters of healing.