The following reflection was written and read by Rosalie Daisley of St. Stephen’s United Church, Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan on Sunday, September 9, 2018.
The Past: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Approximately 5 years ago, the Hudson Bay Larger Parish began a search for a new leader to work in ministry with the congregations of Robert Hall Mission and St. Stephen’s. After sending out numerous letters of invitation across western Canada, communicating with several candidates, and interviewing two prospective ministers, we were—precisely where we had started–with no minister in our pulpit.
The next step was to switch the focus and think about becoming a learning site. So we researched the needs and rethought what the future might hold. And then, BANG, my phone rings and someone asks how we feel about settlement! Settlement? Settlement?? We had already dismissed the idea because nobody wants to be settled any more—there is no active settlement process!
Well, there is almost no active settlement process anymore, because it turns out that while there are very, very few ordained or diaconal ministers using the process, there is ONE person who has put their name forward. Settlement? Settlement?? Well, of course we are interested in settlement. Settlement has brought us several ministers during the history of the Hudson Bay Larger Parish and well, of course, we are interested!
So, while Janet and Sandy had already begun the job of organizing and refurbishing the manse, with new occupants expected soon, the work of cleaning and painting, new sod and sidewalks, quickly moved forward.
And then on July 2nd, 2014 , Jacqueline and Rob Samson rolled into Hudson Bay. Checking out the community, the church and the manse, Jacqueline wrote in my guest book, after spending the first night with us at home, “It was a great introduction to our new home and church community.”
The dictionary describes a “miracle” as something that is very outstanding, unusual, or wonderful. Even better, it also describes a miracle as an extraordinary event taken as a sign of the power of God. Well, finding each other—Jacqueline looking for a place to be in ministry and Hudson Bay Larger Parish looking for someone to join us in ministry—through the process of settlement, was a miracle. When we live in two different provinces with another whole province between us, how do we find each other if not through the power of God?
And that’s why looking at the past is such an important thing. The past is sometimes dismissed as being “ancient history,” “water under the bridge,” “water over the dam,” “snows of yesteryear,” or even “relics of the past,” but an examination of the past is a surefire way to see the hand of God at work in our lives.
Ever heard of the phrase, “Hindsight is 20/20?” Most of us have. Hindsight means “thinking about things after they have happened,” and using the phrase “hindsight is 20/20 means that “it’s easy to know the right thing to do after something has happened” or even that in hindsight things are obvious that were not clear at the outset. Hindsight, or looking at the past, allows us to evaluate the past more clearly than we are able to do in the present.
The past is gone and we cannot change it. We can, however, influence how we perceive it. By actively looking back to examine where God has been at work, we can be encouraged in the present to believe that the God who was, is also the God who is and who will be. In the Old Testament Book of Malachi, Chapter 3:6 we read, “I am the Lord, and I do not change.”
God has been active in our lives, through the presence of His Holy Spirit. Whether we look back as the Hudson Bay Larger Parish, whether we are Jacqueline and Rob, whether we are the members and adherents of The United Church of Canada, whether we are the members of the communities of Hudson Bay or Prairie River, we can see where God has been at work in our lives.
Praise God for the blessing of the past!
The Present: Philippians 3:12-17
Four plus years have passed quickly as Jacqueline and Rob have endeared themselves to our community. Jacqueline’s caring ministry has both nourished and challenged us. While some of the activities we engage in are things we have kept doing, we have also implemented some new endeavours. While some of our thoughts on matters have not changed, other understandings are not the same as what they were.
It has been said that the only things we can count on to stay the same in life are death and taxes, but we can also count on “change.”
And yet, our present circumstances are better now because we have made changes to suit the situations, the needs, and commitments that we have undertaken.
Let me give you some examples of where we sit in the present.
Our “Ministry of Rummage”, whether in Prairie River or in Hudson Bay, is as vibrant and thriving as it has ever been.
Our Mission and Service gifts almost always exceed what we have pledged.
Our congregations continue to meet their financial obligations and our Larger Parish budget continues to be met. In a time when many pastoral charges are closing, we are still able to offer full time employment.
Our committees continue to have members that are willing to volunteer to meet the obligations, challenges and opportunities that are handed to them.
Our UCW and Special Project groups continue as active participants in helping fund church operations and other charitable causes.
The Men’s Breakfast group still meets the first Thursday of every month.
We have presbytery representatives, an active presence on the Ministerial Association, trustees, and an effective Ministry and Personnel Committee. And where would we be without our willing and able worship leaders, lecture readers, and ongoing program in Level IV?
Those are all examples of things that have been working well for some time, but it isn’t the complete list of what the present offers us.
We have a renewed and reorganized Children’s Ministry.
We participate in worship services at Churchill Place.
We have engaged in Messy Church.
We have supported ShelterBox, providing disaster aid for people worldwide to the tune of $4,047.13 since December 2015.
We have had our thought processes provoked through “Movies for Change” and enjoyed “Armchair Travel.”
We are bending our minds, and bodies, through Yoga ministry.
We have enjoyed coffee houses and a number of book studies.
We now have privacy officers and Sheila engaged in the Lay Worship Leaders process.
We are connected through our internet communication of “What’s Happening,” and see new technology at work in our worship services.
This is not an exhaustive list of all that is going on in our congregations, but it may be exhausting to listen to, because we are BUSY, VIBRANT and ALIVE.
Much of this we can credit to the leadership that Jacqueline has given us. But much of this we can credit to our own willingness to lead, and follow, as well.
What we do here as the United Church of Canada in our communities, under the auspices of Jacqueline as our leader, is life-giving and life-affirming. We keep striving for the prize of a life lived by, and through, God’s call to love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, and to love your neighbour as we love ourselves.
Praise God for the present!
The Future: Matthew 6:25-34a
And now we stand on the brink of “the future.” Jacqueline and Rob are poised on the cusp of a new adventure—some things will be the same in going back to Sechelt, but many things will not.
Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel in 1940 entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. The main theme of the book explores the changing American society of the 1920’s and 30’s, including the stock market crash, the illusion of prosperity, and maybe most relevant to us, the unfair passing of time. These themes prevent the main character, George Webber, from ever being able to return “home again.”
That’s probably true for all of us. Even a span as short as four years, can change what we are returning to. The good news is that we can adjust for that perspective before we go. While real estate prices have soared in Sechelt, while old jobs may no longer exist, while some familiar faces will no longer be found, while relationships may have changed, there are some things that are constant: the beautiful views over the water, the rugged mountains and steep hills, the love of a son and a daughter. And there are new blessings to embrace– figuratively and literally—a lovely granddaughter, an opportunity to spend more time with family again, new employment opportunities, new connections.
The thing is, though, Jacqueline and Rob, that through your time spent in Hudson Bay, in Saskatchewan, perspectives have changed. I like to think you have been inoculated.
The meaning of the word “inoculate” is “to introduce something into a suitable situation for growth.” I believe you have been inoculated by Saskatchewan culture, values and experiences. And what we experience through moving, through travel, through reading, by being open to the Spirit of God–changes who we were, to who we are now. It doesn’t matter who we are, “going home” won’t be going to the same place, as the same people, who left there. Hopefully it means that we are better people—richer, deeper, more profound individuals who can take the best of both worlds, melding and moulding ourselves in Christ’s image to serve God wherever we are.
But what about the rest of us who are left here in the greater community of Hudson Bay and area? We, too, have experienced the passage of time and we have changed. Under Jacqueline’s leadership, we are a stronger, better organized, more diverse group than we were before she came.
One of the best things a minister can do when they are called to a community, is to prepare that community for when they leave. While a minister who runs a single handed show may be great for those of us who would like more leisure time, it isn’t very good for the longevity of the church. In some ways, all the things we have continued to do, and all the new things we have begun to do, have prepared us for today—the day when Jacqueline leaves and we are left. One of the best gifts that Jacqueline leaves us is that we are now more robust and better prepared to face the future.
There are a few other things that we can do for ourselves, as well, as we face our future. We do not know how long it will be before we have a new minister in our pulpits. And as Matthew 6:34 tells us, “do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.” While we wait, we can stay organized, positive, encouraged and encouraging. We can be accepting, generous, involved and constant.
All the things I just listed will contribute to the wellbeing of the Hudson Bay Larger Parish and how we go about living a Christ centered life. But there are two things, in specific, that I feel we need to pay particular attention to.
The first is that we take care of each other. I was struck two Sundays ago when we heard the story of Alice Biggs’ great niece. If it hadn’t been for Jacqueline’s presence in our worship service, I might not have found out about the pain that Alice and Dave were experiencing. It struck me then that when Jacqueline is not here, we need to take extra special care of each other. We need to be intentionally open about things we hear that have impacted the lives of those we know. We need to be open about the events that are causing us pain. We need to share with each other not out of a sense of nosiness or gossip, but because we love and care for ourselves and each other, and, if we don’t, who will?
The second thing that struck me two weeks ago in church was that we need to be patient with one another. We had a lot of busyness in the service as we worshipped together from ages 1 to 91. That’s a great gift—but it can also be a distraction. Still, we need all of us together, pulling in one direction. And if we don’t have those little ones with us now, they won’t be here when they are older.
There’s part of a verse in the hymn “Come In, Come In and Sit Down” that we don’t always sing but that feels very applicable to our future. The words go like this,
“Children and elders, middlers and teens,
singles and doubles and in-betweens,
Strong eighty fivers and street-wise sixteens,
for we are a part of the family.
The future lies before us—beckoning us forward to new ways of doing things. No matter if you are Jacqueline and Rob leaving, or the rest of us who are staying, we are called to be patient. Patient when things have changed, patient in times of uncertainty, patient with each other when life is not going the way we would like it to.
No matter if you are Jacqueline and Rob leaving, or the rest of us who are staying, we are called to be caring. Caring when things have changed, caring in time of uncertainty, caring for each other when life is not going the way we would like it to.
No matter if you are Jacqueline and Rob leaving, or the rest of us who are staying, we are called to be trusting. Trusting when things have changed, trusting in times of uncertainty, trusting when life is not going the way we would like it to.
Because, no matter what, we are not alone, God is with us!
Praise God for the future!