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Posts from the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

On Textbook Characters

There’s a scene in the opening pages of Marilynne Robinson’s most recent novel, Jack, where the eponymous protagonist has contributed to an unpleasant dinner experience with a certain bishop’s daughter named Della. The walk home is tense and the dialogue is strained. Jack has, evidently, really stepped in it:

She said, “I have never been so embarrassed. Never in my life.”
He said, “Well, you haven’t known me very long.”

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“You’re Not Very Nice”

There’s a woman who calls me at the church with some regularity. She calls from two or three different phone numbers and uses a handful of pseudonyms. I have a file full of the various names and numbers she’s used. I’ll call her Mary. The stories she tells vary. She’s dying or mortally ill. She has to get somewhere far away for a surgery and needs gas money. Her kids are terrible and mistreating her (and will probably be calling me soon to ask for money—don’t give it to them!). Her grandkids need food. She needs a hotel room. She needs a thousand dollars, but she’ll settle for fifty. This has been going on for the better part of a decade. I suppose most churches have a story or two like this. Read more

Sunk Costs

Last week marked an anniversary of sorts, at least in the life of many churches. It’s been one year since the pandemic closed our doors, drove us online, kicked into motion myriad restrictions for eventual physical gatherings, etc. It’s obviously been a long and difficult year for many, and for a wide variety of reasons. Read more

Wonder Shining in My Eyes

I wonder if one of the central tasks of faith at this middle stage of life is that of reimagination. To unlearn the notion that faith is a “whoever dies with the most correct ideas about God in their head wins” kind of game. To open oneself to the possibility that when it comes to the things of God, it’s less about arguing than evoking, less about proving than reminding and revealing, less about heroically thinking enough right God-things or doing enough good God-things than loving mercy. Sigh. Even as I look at the preceding three sentences, I hate the soppy mid-life cliché that they sound like. Perhaps one of the other tasks of the middle-stage of life is to somehow come to peace with the cliches that we inevitably become. Read more

Amidst the Flames

For the last four years or so, our church has taken the stretch of time roughly between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent to focus our sermons on questions of faith from members of our congregation. These questions range from the existential (Does God exist?) to the hermeneutical (What is the meaning of passage x) to the socio-cultural (What does a Christian response to this or that thing going on in the broader culture look like?). Needless to say, it’s a sermon series that forces me out of my proverbial comfort zone. I am sometimes thrust into issues and texts that I might prefer to avoid. I am also at least partially liberated from the confines of my own subjectivity and forced to read Scripture, experience, and the broader culture through the lens of other people’s questions. Which is good.  Read more

On (Not) Working Backwards

The events of one week ago at the Capitol in Washington, DC have produced a veritable torrent of outrage, analysis, reaction, despair, fear, defiance, and many other things besides. The vision of a mob of rioters descending upon this hallowed symbol of democracy was unsettling, to put it mildly. Even more distressing, from a Christian perspective, was the sight of religious imagery and language (crosses, signage, etc.) on display throughout. There is a kind of perverse irony in the fact that this event took place on the Day of Epiphany, a day when Christians celebrate the revealing of Jesus Christ as the light of the world that pierces the darkness and reveals the path of peace. There was indeed a revealing on this Epiphany, but it was not of God. Read more

The Last King of Ireland

Jason* pulls up in an old white pick-up truck. It’s cold outside and he’s wearing a big black jacket and oversized camo hunting pants. A worn-out toque is pulled down tight over a baseball cap. His face is weathered and worn. Long strands of blonde hair spill out underneath his headwear. His grin has plenty of gaps. There are the by-now familiar COVID greetings. We instinctively reach to shake hands, but then don’t. We ponder touching elbows, but don’t. We laugh at how awkward and forced it all feels. We make our way into the meeting room. The smell of stale smoke wafts across two meters of distance across the table. Read more

On Razors and Reasons for Being

I’m bald. Have been for roughly two decades. Perversely, I spent the previous two or three years before losing my hair shaving my head and bleaching the stubble that remained platinum blonde. I’m not at all filled with self-loathing for my poor choices on this score or bitter about going bald early or filled with jealousy for men my age who have full heads of hair. The fact that I pleaded with my son for most of his teenage years to grow his hair long so I could live vicariously through him has nothing to do with unresolved early-onset balding trauma. My proclivity to wear a hat anytime I’m not sleeping or preaching has nothing to do with vain contempt for my bald head. I like being bald and am fully at peace with it. Really. Read more

The Importance of Time Travel

How will the post-pandemic church pay the bills? Clicking on headlines like this, along with the usual parade of daily updates, warnings and statistics have become part of my grim COVID daily reading ritual. Forever scanning the horizon in search of some sign of clarity for what the future might hold when it comes to public worship or the gathered life of the church more broadly. This particular headline, unsurprisingly, wasn’t particularly encouraging. According to a Barna Group study, 65% of American churches have seen donations decline during the pandemic. Incredibly, one in five churches may be forced to close their doors in the next 18 months. I don’t know if the same numbers would map precisely on to Canadian realities, but the general trends aren’t hard to recognize. Read more

Monday Miscellany

Even in normal times, late July tends to be a time when things slow down. Church programs have mostly paused for the summer. Services are sparsely attended as many people flock to the cabin or the mountains or wherever else. For those stuck at work, it can be a hot, sluggish stretch of time where inspiration and motivation are in short supply. And this is, again, in normal times. During COVID time? Well, everything feels somehow worse. Words, and the motivation to produce them, seem to have abandoned me. That’s how it’s felt over the last few weeks at any rate. But a few things have been rattling around my head over the last little while. A quiet Monday morning seems as good a time as any to dislodge them. Read more

As Advertised

I don’t know much about Rachel Hollis. I haven’t read her books or listened to her marriage podcast or engaged with any of the other media she produces. I know very little about the Hollis brand and what I do know comes second hand. There was an article about her that made the rounds recently. And then she came up on a podcast that I listened to recently. My impression is that she’s built a quite significant following by offering a “get your act together” jolt of personal responsibility combined with an emphasis upon and commitment to vulnerability and authenticity. It certainly seems to be a winning combination in the digital age where we can’t seem to get enough of authenticity or advice. Read more

On Questions of Authority

Last Friday, our church took some baby steps toward reopening. Sort of. We’ve been recording worship services on Friday night so we can edit and get them out to people by Sunday morning. Last week, for the first time, we allowed a few people to be present during the recording. Attendees had to RSVP in advance, seats were spread out and each person’s place was designated. There were less than thirty people in the building, all told. There was no congregational singing, no handshakes, no hugging, no passing of offering plates, no communion, no touching of hymnals. There were masks and endless supplies of hand sanitizer. It was a rather sterile and unusual service, but then we’re getting pretty used to unusual by this point. I suspect that people were more appreciative of the opportunity to linger with friends in the parking lot after the service on a gorgeous summer evening than anything else. Read more

Diary of a COVID Easter

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said (and heard) it over the past week or so, but truly this has been the strangest Holy Week and Easter weekend that I have ever experienced. This morning, I sat down to chronicle the weirdness, sorrow, and hope of the past week or so. Read more

The Liturgically Awkward Hope of Resurrection

If you’re anything like me, time has taken on a bit of a funny feel during these days of pandemic. Everything seems somehow off kilter, stretched out, indeterminate. It’s easy to feel like you’ve lost your bearings. Last week, I encountered one of the endless memes floating around social media these days (COVID-19 is thus far at least proving to be a reliable generator of these!) that captured what many of us are feeling: “In case you lost track, today is March 98th!” Sounds about right. Read more

COVID Conversations Over Breakfast

A few field notes from a conversation with my wife over breakfast this morning…

“I think I might be able to get used to this social distancing thing,” my wife says. I think she might be kidding, but perhaps only slightly. One thing this virus has forced many of us to do is to fairly drastically alter the pace of our lives. We’re not running around to endless meetings and the gym and yoga class and chasing the kids’ sporting calendar and the social obligations that so easily clog up our calendars. We’re being forced to sit. At home. Often without anything pressing to do. Read more

I Don’t Think I Want to Get Better at This

Sometime earlier this week, I read the post of some pastor of a small church somewhere out there in Internet-land who said his modest goal for the week was to “record a sermon that didn’t resemble a grainy Taliban capture video.” That made me laugh. And it was a sentiment that obviously resonated for many of us who pastor small churches and for whom the idea of recording or livestreaming services would have seemed absurd even a few weeks ago, whether for philosophical or technological reasons. Or both. Read more

On Ambient Violence

Two women recently came to our church looking for help. Both were victims of domestic violence, both had children in the picture, both were indigenous, both desperately poor, both out of options. Both stories were soaked in their own unique varieties of heartache and pain. And yet, both stories were sadly, predictably, damnably ordinary. Read more

Dispatches from the Breaking Point

Last Saturday morning, I, like many others, gasped as I read Ian Brown’s Globe and Mail article describing how L’Arche founder Jean Vanier had sexually abused six women over a period of several decades and known of abuses committed by his former mentor and spiritual director, Père Thomas Philippe. I had received a heads-up from local L’Arche leaders that “something about Vanier might be coming” (our church has close ties with the L’Arche community in our city), but most seemed to think that it might have to do with what and when Vanier knew about Père Thomas’s abuses. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like what I read in the Globe last weekend. Read more