Letter to my dear friends in Winfield United Church
Sisters and brothers in Christ, my dear friends in Winfield United Church, I am writing you to encourage you in the faith, even though you are already faithful, and to call you to new ways of being church; that is, people who are called out for a special purpose.
When I came here just a short time ago I was struck by many things. I was encouraged by your friendliness.
I observed that there were some unusual things happening that made me think you were perhaps 1% ers-the one percent of United Churches who were;
willing to take risks, to change things up, to provide more meaningful worship,
to reach out to those who were not attending worship such as the spiritual but not religious. I can only imagine how difficult those discussions were at church council meetings.
I was impressed when we began Eat, Play, Love on Saturday evenings and then on Sunday mornings, which was
an innovative reaching out to families with children.
And there were innovations in worship that I thought and continue to experience as important such as sharing God Moments and prayers of the people which are actually the spoken out loud by you. They really are the prayers of people.
You are also unusual and to be commended for having Holy Conversations, the Circle of Peace, Healing Pathways and the Golden Guys who meet for meaningful conversation.
All of these things are continuing via Zoom, plus Milk and Cookies Story time and Mugs and Mornings.
And the amount of volunteer hours that goes into the Thrift Shop and the money that is donated to the church and to numerous charities is truly astonishing.
I commend you and love you for all these things.
You may recognize the parallel with today's reading by Louise from the Book of Revelation. John of Patmos, begins his letter to his churches, by commending them for what they do well.
Ephesus: I see what you have done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.
Symyrna: I can see your pain and poverty-but I also see your wealth.
Pergamum: You continue boldly in my name, even when the pressure was worst, when they martyred Antipas,
Thyatira: The love and the faith, the service and the persistence. Yes, very impressive! You get better at it every day.
Sardis: You have a reputation for vigor and zest….
Philadelphia: You don't have much strength. You used what you had to keep my Word. You kept my word in passionate patience.
Laodicea: Sadly, John of Patmos has nothing good to say about his church in Laodicea.
Then John of Patmos changes gears, quite dramatically. He shifts to critiquing their faith and practices. How can he get away with this? Because he loves them and wants what is best for them.
To the church in Ephesus he says: Turn back! Recover your dear, early love.
To Smyrna he says: I hear the lie in the claims of those who pretend to be good,
To Pergamum he says: Why do you always indulge that Balaam crowd?
To Thyatira he says: Why do you let that woman prophet mislead you into Cross-denying, self-indulging religion?
To Sardis he says: I see right through your work. You have the reputation for vigor and zeal, but you're dead, stone-dead.
To Philadelphia he says: You don't have much strength. There are true believers who are nothing of the kind...
John of Patmos saves his most devastating critique for Laodicea. He says: I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking. You're not cold, you're not hot-far better to be either cold or hot! You're stale.
Dear friends, I want to make some suggestions for our spiritual life and the spiritual life of our congregation, without sounding like John of Patmos.
Let's ask ourselves where do I want to be five years from now in my spiritual life?
Where do we want to be as a congregation in our worship life and in all we do, five years from now?
And lest that sounds quite intimidating or overwhelming, it could be as simple as the question that our Methodist forefathers and foremothers asked each other: How is it with your soul?
I wonder, dear friends, if we are too easily satisfied with the status quo? I wonder if for many of us, coming to the church building for worship once a week is enough. And, is it really enough to nurture our souls? Isn't it a longing for connection, connection with something greater than ourselves, something that give life meaning and importance, that something that most of us here call God, that we yearn for? How do we stay connected from Monday to Saturday? And what about staying connected to God-spirit all the time? Wouldn't that be wonderful?
OK, how are we going to get there? I don't have a road map that will get us to a destination or a goal. We are a pilgrim people. We are followers of The Way.
What I believe we need are some practices. To practice means to perform an activity repeatedly in order to improve one's proficiency.
We all need a practice of prayer.
Let me suggest something we can do, on a voluntary basis, in the congregation, which is pray together. Let's get together in threes, as prayer partners. And what if we don't know how to pray? We have our minister Joan, we have two people trained in spiritual direction, two retired ministers and we have people who already pray who can be role models or teach us. And mostly it will be learning by doing. Remember the visitor to New York City who asked someone who lived there: How do I get to Carnagie Hall? And you remember the answer: practice, practice, practice. How do we learn to pray? By practice, practice, practice.
What is the purpose of these practices?
To be aware, attentive, available and in God-Presence personally and in our life together as a community of faith.
So we can sense, savour and share God's presence individually and
So we can be connected to God's presence on Sunday mornings and during the week, anytime, any place and every time, every place. I encourage you to look up The Presence Project on The United Church of Canada website for suggestions and practices on being in God-presence.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are on this road together. May we continue to love and support one another on this journey of faith.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.