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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Monday, May 31, 2010


It’s time. I’ve been waiting for the right moment. The right moment being one in which some person, having recently broken this rule in my presence, won’t know that I’m writing this blog post about them, pointing directly at them, holding them up to ridicule in front of our vast readership. I’ve needed to wait until it had been at least a week since one of my correspondents made the error.

It took a long, long time. This rule gets broken all the time. Smart, literate, articulate people make this very common error. And it makes me cringe. I’m really sorry to tell you this. I’d like it so much better if I didn’t care quite so much. I’d love to be able to just let it go; after all, it’s not as if it were a big, important issue that really, really matters. It’s not as if it had any bearing on world peace or climate change or the elimination of poverty. It’s really quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

Measured by almost any measure one can imagine, it’s very small. One would think that its impact on me ought not to be so very great. Judged by its size, this is indeed a tiny indiscretion, miniscule. I realize that the problem is entirely my own. My discomfort is way overblown in the face of its actual occupation of space, physical or emotional. And yet it’s there!

The rule, dear friends, is this: an apostrophe has two uses. It shows possession (with nouns: Jacob’s ladder, Victoria’s secret) or it denotes missing letters (contractions: don’t scream, I’ve had enough). Possession is never denoted by an apostrophe for any pronoun. Most English speakers/writers don’t have a problem with this except with the tiny little word it! But the rule works there too.

So, whenever I mean to shorten up “it is” I use an apostrophe and I get “it’s” which, being interpreted means “it is.” If I want to indicate possession, something belonging to or attributed to “it” I must remember that “it” is a pronoun and never, never use an apostrophe, but just write it plain, simply “its.”

You can check to see if I’ve followed my own rule by going back over this posting (if you’re still reading; I realize this is deadly dull except to other grammarians). Whenever you see an apostrophe, check the accuracy by inserting the missing letter and reading “it is.” Otherwise there should not be an apostrophe there.

There, I’ve got it out of my system. People will still get it wrong, and I’ll still cringe, but at least I’ve told you. Have a nice day. And bless you for loving me anyway.

Posted by Marion

Friday, May 28, 2010


(It was this word or the other one.) I think too often we spend much too much time trying to figure out how to get bums in pews! Not that it isn't related or important or even easy. But how very easy it is for us to get distracted by the question: How can we get more bums into our pews?

It's the Field of Dreams school of Christian thought: if you build it, they will come. And then we try very hard to figure out just exactly what kind of thing to build. Should it have hymals and organs or praise bands and power point? What will bring the young folks back? Should we encourage people to bring in their coffee?

But that's not the right question. That's not what matters most! I'd be thrilled beyond belief if I could say: Those folks aren't here today because they're out blessing their community. They're serving the needy, or working on an important justice project or visiting in a hospice or cleaning out an animal shelter or...

I've even been known to come down in favour of coaching a kids' soccer game that happened to be scheduled on a Sunday morning. If that's what it takes to be part of a community, to inject values and teach fair play with my kids and their peers, I would rather be there than with my bum in the pew.

Now please give me something of value when I do show up. Help me learn those values and give me skills for teaching our children. Support my efforts to create Christian community. Don't scold me for not coming to sing hymns with you every single week. I'll vote with my feet.

Can we please pay attention to what questions we should be answering? Is it how to get more bums in our pews? Or is it something else?

Posted by Marion

Thursday, May 27, 2010


This week we have been having a fascinating conversation about church. It began with Tuesday’s post entitled Distinctives, and continued with Marion’s Wednesday’s post, Wisdom.

That conversation continues, and this morning I am thinking about a central figure in this discussion; the pastor. After all, it was the vision, and the passionate sense of calling of the pastor of the congregation described in Distinctives that brought that church to new life.

The stimulus for this morning’s pondering is probably Ann’s comment yesterday about paid pastors. Add to that, the situation of two of our congregations that are having difficulty finding a pastor, and you have the making of a whole lot of questions. Is a full-time, paid pastor the answer? We have that now in one CEM congregation. Is that the way we need to go in others?

Any conversation about paid pastors quickly leads to talking about money. For easy figuring, let’s assume we pay our pastor a modest salary of $50,000 per year. Add in the cost of benefits and pension contributions, then throw in a little expense money, and that quickly brings us to a total cost of $75,000 or more. How would we pay for that?

Fifteen years ago, a young woman of our acquaintance began attending a new church in Waterloo, ON. If memory serves, that congregation was started by eight families, each of whom pledged to give $10,000 a year for five years. Allowing a little for inflation, lets round that figure up to $1,000/month. Would you be willing to give that amount to cover the cost of a pastor?

At the recent World Conference, the Presiding Bishops provided some helpful facts. Eighty percent of church members give 20% of World Mission Tithes, and Twenty percent of members give the other 80%. Further, the average giving by the first eighty percent is $200/year while the twenty percent who carry the load gives $2,200. Of course that is only “World Mission Tithes,” so the total giving by both groups is at least double, but it still doesn’t seem like a lot of money does it?

Paid pastors are not the answer for many of our congregations, but it may be for some. If you think full-time pastors are the way of the future, are you willing to increase your giving to support that?

Please join this fascinating conversation!

Posted by Carman

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yesterday’s good word from Carman was about his visit to an up and coming church where he noted “the lectionary wasn’t in evidence” and he invited us to think about what was happening there and what might be happening in our future congregations. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about his invitation. And I’d like to start with some of my thoughts about the lectionary.

Last week was Pentacost Sunday. I talked about it here. And this week is Trinity Sunday! This is one week in the Christian calendar the lectionary calls us to spend time, some intentional energy considering the nature of God. We here at Good Word spend lots of time talking about congregations and balancing three main kinds of ministries and working towards being Healthy Congregations. We don’t spend much time at all talking about the nature of God. After all, what can you say in a couple of paragraphs? And don’t we all have our own personal understandings and isn’t that one of the “distinctives” we’re proud of?

But I think our theology matters. I think it’s at the very heart of why we do what we do, why we act or serve or worship the way we do. I suspect we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about it. So along comes Trinity Sunday. And some preachers in some pulpits in some Christian churches will spend some time helping the congregants think about the nature of God.

I particularly like this year’s emphasis on Proverbs 8, because here comes a familiar sounding scripture, but wait—it’s not about the Word (of John 1), it’s about Wisdom, female, feminine, Sophia (in some translations), present from the beginning. Thinking about God’s nature this way helps me bring balance to my understanding. “Balance” was almost my daily word; I like what it says about how I understand God. That nice three-legged stool of the trinity could use a little more of the feminine, in my opinion.

I do not offer an explanation of the Trinity. I wouldn’t do that even if I were preaching the whole Sunday sermon! The Trinity is part of the mystery Christians have been grappling with for two centuries. It’s an invitation into contemplation. How we think about it makes a difference in how we answer those questions from yesterday’s blog post.

Lest we get so wrapped up in how to organize our worship or what ministries we’ll offer in our community or why we should plan for this or that activity, along comes Trinity Sunday and a reminder to spend some time on our theology, on our connection with God, with the Divine in the universe and in the ordinary.

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


On the Victoria Day weekend, I took the opportunity to visit a young, growing church in a small village not far from where I live. About four years ago, a new minister was called to this church of (then) about 40 people. Apparently the visionary new pastor told the congregation they needed to prepare to build a new building that would accommodate 500, and they did. The congregation now hosts two Sunday morning services, has impressive children’s and youth ministry programs, youth camps, a good selection of “Life Groups” plus mission connections in Africa and Nicaragua which are making a big difference in the lives of people. They also partner with other agencies to bless the local community.

As for style of worship, this new church uses what I think of as the standard “teaching model.” The heart of the 90 minute service is the sermon, which is based on what the leadership team perceives is needed in the congregation. Consequently the Pastor is currently delivering a series designed to teach worshipers how to pray and how to deepen their prayer life. Because this is the focus, the lectionary is not in evidence, and there was no mention that last Sunday was Pentecost. The music is all contemporary and congregational singing is projected onto two large screens. The band is excellent. There are no hymn books in evidence.

From this description, you might assume that this was a local Baptist or other "evangelical" church. Such a supposition would be understandable since the style of worship was virtually identical to the standard mega church format. The assumption would be incorrect, however, because this congregation is Presbyterian. It appears that the old congregation has adopted the new style, and the community is responding.

For me, this observation gives rise to lots of questions. What happened to denominational distinctives? Is it possible that they no longer matter? Were they always merely things that separated Christians from each other? Since, “The mission of Jesus Christ is what matters most for the journey ahead” (D & C 164:9f), does that suggest we must be willing to set aside our so called uniqueness in order to bring the Peace of Jesus Christ into people’s lives? If this style of doing church the 21st century method that God is currently blessing, (it is certainly the method to which people respond) should we in CEM adopt this model for our new church plants? Why or why not?

As usual, I have more questions than answers, but I am confident that many of you already have an opinion! If you do, why not click on “comments” below and share your thoughts with the rest of us? Lets talk!

Posted by Carman

Monday, May 24, 2010


Some members of my family are great Star Wars fans. They can talk together about it for hours, indeed the conversation has been ongoing for years! There is just so much to say about that mythic story.

It is a myth, you know. That's why there is so much to say about it. It has layers and layers of meaning all wrapped up in images and plot lines and metaphors. One of the key elements of the movie is the Force.

What is this "Force" that pervades the story, that must be learned or experienced or understood? I'll leave that question to the Star Warriors among you. But as I've listened to those conversations, even had the wish "may the Force be with you" addressed to me a time or two, I suspect there is a link to what Christians call Spirit.

This Sunday the Christian calendar recognized Pentacost--the celebration of the Spirit entering the life of the post-Easter Christian community. Whether we imagine it as a wind, or fire or breath of God, or comforter, guide or protector, the Spirit is a force we cannot do without. Christianity through the centuries has painted itself red at this season. Christians sing and dance and give in to the urge to party in celebration of the coming of the Spirit into our community with new urgency.

We in this part of the world are welcoming summer with all its energy with a long weekend of summery activity. Let us not let ourselves get lazy or lethargic. This is not just a season for relaxing; it's a time to renew our strength for great things to come. It's a time to respond to whatever the Spirit is calling us to do.

As we consider this new season of warmth and wind and energy, let us put away our lesser selves and let the Force be with us!

Posted by Marion

Friday, May 21, 2010


On Monday May 10th, 2010 the city of Barrie celebrated the announcement that it had qualified as a Fair Trade City. In doing so Barrie sends a message to the world that it is committed to supporting the Fair Trade program that has produced measureable improvements in the quality of life of millions of people around the world. Lest you think that this is mere window dressing, or that it just means that Barrie serves Fair Trade Coffee in city coffee pots, you can read more about what Barrie has committed to by clicking It is a signficant commitment to the city's role in achieving peace and justice throughout the world.

There are over 600 cities worldwide who have qualified to join the Fair Trade movement; however the movement is fairly new in Canada. According to Barrie’s Fair Trade website, this makes Barrie the largest Fair Trade City in the country, and “a true leader in the Canadian Fair Trade Movement.” Twelve other Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and Quebec City have recently committed to qualify. I am proud of Barrie for doing this. This is an important commitment and significant achievement by this community of 130,000 people; one of the fastest growing cities in Canada.

You might wonder why anyone who doesn’t live in Barrie would even pay attention. For me there are two reasons. First, I am interested in the Fair Trade movement. It produces better lives for indigenous farmers and sustainable agricultural practices throughout the developing world. In order to achieve that end, I am willing to pay a little extra for my coffee, bananas, grapes, etc. It is worth every penny.

(Pause while I take another sip of my delicious morning coffee!)

Second, I am interested in knowing more about the community of Barrie because we plan to soon plant a new Community of Christ congregation here. By next year at this time, you should be able to read all about this new plant here at What’s the Good Word!

Paul Nixon, in his book, Fling Open the Doors: Giving the Church Away to the Community, says pastors and church planters must absolutely fall in love with their communities. I will be neither pastor nor planter in Barrie, but in doing the preparatory work for this new church, I have already learned to love this town. I look forward to meeting more of the people who live there.

So, GO BARRIE! We are proud of you.

Posted by Carman

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I've been realizing of late that we've been doing this Blog for almost a year! Can you imagine? Who would have thought that there'd be this much to say for this many days and weeks and months. In my reminiscing, I've gone back to take a look at some of those early postings. Here's one you might have missed that still has something to say today. The good word? From last summer...
"Minute" in "it only takes a minute."

I can't tell you how many people have said to me "I intend to read your blog but I just haven't had the time. " Unfortunately those folks aren't here reading this rant -- because they don't have time!

But seriously, how many things do we put off that really would ONLY TAKE A MINUTE but we use the excuse to ourselves that we don't have the time? I know there are phone calls I need to make, addresses I need to locate, questions I need to ask...but for whatever genuine reason I haven't done.

Maybe I really don't want to talk to that person, or maybe I feel guilty that I've let it go this long, or maybe I think I'll hear something I don't want to hear.

But those are the things that kill relationships. They're indications of lack of trust or of a willingness to "disconnect." If we really want to be about building community and creating right relationships, then we need to challenge ourselves when we avoid doing some of the things that "would only take a minute" but that may indeed take a whole lifetime of being hooked into a true community.

And if you know someone who could use a minute of being connected to the rest of us--see if you can persuade them to check in here every day or so for a very quick read (I promise).

Posted by Marion

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


My life is a series of lists it seems! Who else has that little Gilbert and Sullivan tune playing in their head "I've got a little list, yes I've got a little list!" ?

I ended my visit with Lynn yesterday (of Jesus Rocks fame) totally cheered up just from the visit, and with a two-page list of things to work on. Lynn's little group live around her in downtown Hamilton. They're friends of hers. She met most of them at a Peer-to-Peer group where, as the name suggests, the neighbours organize to help each other. "They are the most generous people in the world" Lynn tells me.

One of the members, arriving early for their gathering, took the initiative to telephone everyone on the phone list to remind them it was almost time for church and to check if they were still coming!

Half of the folks in the group have a hard time with reading--mostly because of poverty and poor parenting in an earlier generation. But the other half do read and could use some help learning how to teach reading. So that's on my list--I know someone who can help.

They need help with managing the money they do have, learning to shop, to eat well, to stay healthy. That goes on my list--I know someone who can help.

They'd really love it if they had someone who could help them with their music. They like to sing more, but they don't have anyone who plays an instrument. Their choices of cd's are limited, but they enjoy what they do have and only wish for a little live music, once in awhile. They meet Sunday afternoons. Can I put you on a list of someone who might help them out?

They want to establish a connection to the rest of the church. They often feel as if they're all alone here in the middle of this big Canadian city. But they already had a "human trafficking project" going--before it was on the World Conference agenda. They're aware of this problem first hand and had started sending letters and making connections when they saw it on the conference list (Resolution 1295 here). I wrote a couple of things on my list: suggest they facebook friend Art Smith for his South American video & photo connections, and send a note to Rod Downing, chair of Canada's Peace & Justice committee. Here's a Canadian congregation already involved in trying to solve the human trafficking question!

Do you see what I mean? My life is a story told in lists. People who can help, people who know someone or something that might work, friends to be connected, solutions for specific challenges.

If you think you might fit on one of my lists, if you're a person who might help, who knows something or someone or who just wants to feel more connected, let me know. I'll put you on my list!

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I stand at the kitchen sink preparing fruit to go into my fruit bowl. It is the middle of May. I think of how, when I was a child, we did not have fresh fruit this time of year. I remember the baskets of apples stored in the cold room, and how by March they would be soft, withered, and waxy. By May, even those were merely a memory.

The little labels stuck to each piece of fruit in my hands tell a story and explain how we now can have such bounty totally out of season; oranges from California, apples from Chile, Pears from Argentina, bananas from Honduras, and a lovely mango from Mexico. Each fruit grew in a different country, yet each piece was warmed by the same sun that warms me. I picture hands, browned by that sun, reaching gently to pick this mango. Who is that person who blessed me with this produce? Did she or he stop to wonder where it was going and who might eat this fruit? Did s/he say a prayer of blessing for the eventual consumer, as I do for now for him or her?

Even though we have never met, the lives of people around the world are blessed by an interaction of trade. The people on the other end of that trade are in a distant land, and yet, we know them! We can picture their faces! We can see their children, and see their smiles. We can even know something of their hopes and dreams.

My mind turns to other lands where we, yes we Canadians, trade bullets instead of produce. I picture the hands that hold the rifles, and sun burnt faces behind those guns. I see their eyes, and the worry for their children that is visible there. I say a prayer for them too.

May the day soon come when we trade only in the produce of our lands, and not trade in death any more.

Posted by Carman

Monday, May 17, 2010


About six years ago while working at the Temple, I drove across the state of Kansas to visit a lady in Garden City, which is over by the Kansas/Colorado border. That was before GPSs, or at least before I had one, so I had to look at a map to find my way. Reading the map, I noticed I was not far from Dodge City; the legendary home of Marshall Matt Dillon of the TV program Gunsmoke. (For all of you of a certain age who grew up watching TV Westerns, this area really is in the heart of the old west!) Since there is not a lot to see in Kansas, I decided it was worth a slight detour, just so I could say that I had been there.

Dodge City looks very much like any other small mid-west town. It has a grain elevator, railroad track, probably stock yards, stores, restaurants and car dealerships. It has one distinction, however, and that is a park in the middle of town that includes a museum replica of the old Dodge City Main Street, probably copied from the Gunsmoke movie set. Here behind a wooden sidewalk stands the general store, a saloon or two, an apothecary, and a few other buildings, each showing goods that one might have expected to find in such a store in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The stores were all small, and didn’t have much in the way of good to offer. From a practical point of view, that was okay because unless you were looking for a souvenir, there was nothing from that era you would want to buy anyway. I soon went on my way.

The lady I was going to visit in Garden City was a young/middle-aged Doctor and a church member. We had no congregation in Garden City, but there was one about an hour’s drive away. During our visit, she mentioned that she had been to church there once, but the congregation was small and old, and she really had no interest in going back. From her description, it is fairly safe to say they were not following the Healthy Congregation Model. Apparently there were no Witnessing/Inviting Ministries to the Community, and no Sending/Serving Ministries either, except by the faithful pastor who diligently served the members. Gathering ministries consisted of the usual hour of adult Sunday School, and an hour of Church.

Nothing about the congregation’s programming appealed to the Doctor. A few people gathered for worship, but the style was old fashioned and there were not enough people to produce a feeling of something worthwhile really happening. It seemed like ‘going through the motions’ to the her. On the other hand, despite being small, the formality and routine of the worship meant that there was no sense of intimacy or sharing of people’s lives either.

Since she was not open to returning to church, I encouraged her to consider starting a small group such as a Bible study in her home. She seemed open to that idea, and actually had already thought of it. She also talked of finding a larger church near her home. I don't know if she ever did.

As I look back on that trip, it occurs to me that there is a lot of similarity between the stores of the museum Dodge City and the congregation the Doctor described. In both cases, the goods and service offered were few, old fashioned, and based on a nineteenth century experience. It reminds me how important it is that our congregations be healthy and in touch with our time. If the congregation had offered ministries to the community, whether of the witnessing/inviting variety or sending/serving, the Doctor would have been interested and the one hour drive would not have been an obstacle. Without those efforts, however, it wouldn’t have mattered if the church had been right next door; there was simply nothing being offered there that she wanted.

Witnessing/Inviting, Gathering, and Sending/Serving; a healthy congregation needs to offer all three. What about your congregation? What ministries and services are you offering to your community?

Posted by Carman

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

In yesterday’s blog post, Gaze, Marion reviewed the three kinds of activities the healthy congregation undertakes; witnessing/inviting, gathering, and sending/serving. The three are not mutually exclusive, and each contains elements of the others. In other words, even when the congregation is in the gathering one-third of its program, the gathering must always exemplify witnessing/inviting and sending/serving. This principle is based directly on the model we find in Jesus' life.

Nineteenth century German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies identified two types of small communities. Those he refers to as Gemeinschaft are built on relationships and are like families. These groups appear warm and friendly, but in fact are quite exclusive. It is actually quite difficult for others to become a part of such groups. In subtle ways, community members quickly deny access to strangers or visitors. Over the years, I have heard countless stories of people, members as well as non-members, who have gone to church and felt excluded. Usually the subtle if unintended message was, “We are busy here! We have important things to deal with. We/I don’t have time to include or listen to you!” (Note: The extreme opposite approach of centring a person out can drive people away just as effectively.)

The contrast to this, according to Tonnies is the gesellschaft community. These groups are more open and inviting, and tend to include people easily. The attitude is one of acceptance without suspicion or question. This community understands that the stranger does not know their way around, and seeks to make people feel accepted and at ease, minimizing any embarrassment. In church, for instance, such communities would try to avoid subtle barriers such as use of internal idioms, busyness, body language, formality, styles of dress, testing attitudes, questions, etc; the signals that tell people, “we are in but you probably don't belong here!” Instead, the message is simply, “Hi, I’m Susan. I’m glad you came. I’m going to sit over here; would you like to sit with me?” In other words, the gathering activities of the community are open, welcoming and serving to others.

Of course the key to this is that our lives should operate on the same open basis; an approach that says, “I do not know you yet, but I hope we will be great friends.” In my better moments, I understand that. I wish I lived my life that way.

Posted by Carman

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I just listened again to David Schall's final challenge at World Conference.You can find it here if you'd like to listen to it. He speaks about the direction our congregation's gaze is turned. "If you love me" he quotes Jesus, your gaze needs to be turned outward and not inward.

If you've followed this blog much, you've read about the Healthy Congregation. You've had attention drawn to balancing the various kinds of ministries our congregations offer. We've talked of the three main kinds of ministries: witnessing/inviting, gathering, and sending/serving. Typical congregations focus most effort and energy on their gathering ministry.

Healthy congregations do have gathering ministry. We do need to worship together, to experience fellowship with other parts of our church family, to learn how to be more effective disciples. We do those things when we gather together, when our gaze is rightfully turned inward.

But the other two-thirds of what we do should shift to an outward gaze. This is what it means to be a missional congregation. President Schall suggests three ways to do that.
(1) In all you do, ask the question "How will this (event/activity/
purchase/decision) bless the community?" (2) Consider who you need to invite to church and (3) Pay your tithing.

This is a very brief summary of a very important message. You may expect to hear it again and again. For now, let's think about where we choose to fix our gaze.

Posted by Marion

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I recently spent an extended time on "Hold" waiting to be connected to the order desk. So naturally I used the time to think about a potential "good word."

"Please wait!" There's an instruction that generally creates some annoyance or displeasure of sorts. And yet, it's also something that is a very big part of our lives. We need to learn very young how to wait. Of course, the wait time until our third or fourth birthday or the wait time until our fifth or sixth Christmas feels quite different from the wait time we experience as adults.

Our extended family is just now awaiting the birth of a new baby. It's an exciting time, not without a tinge of anxiety, for health and safety. But we also wait in faith that all will be well for this new family about to enter a whole new phase of their life.

Much waiting time is spent in places created for the purpose. And persons are given particular wait staff designations. Of course I'd much rather be waiting for my order of pad thai than sitting in most waiting rooms I'm familiar with. Maybe it's just waiting in line to make a deposit, pick up a new license, pay for my groceries.

I've been reading a book for awhile. It's not one of those front-to-back hurry-up books; it's one to pick up and taste a couple of pages over an extended time. The title is When the Heart Waits. Author Sue Monk Kidd has had an interesting faith journey, and like many of us, has experienced some kinks in her path. One thing she's learned is the need, sometimes, to just wait for what comes next.

She speaks of waiting time as critical to spiritual transformation, a necessary pause to allow a relationship with God to deepen and grow. She acknowledges the impatience and the anxiety that very often accompany the wait, but urges her reader not to skip ahead-- to jump the queue as they may want to do.

Scriptures are full of admonitions about waiting on the Lord. So many in fact that I'm not going to give you a reference. I suggest you Google the phrase and see what finds you. If you're like me, one will resonate with where you are today. If you'd like to share, we'd be happy to hear where you are just now in your waiting.

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


This morning I am thinking about the word sanctuary, and the various ways we use that word. “Our homes have become our sanctuaries” is a sentiment each of us can understand. Our homes have become places of retreat, of safety, and of peace from the busy world of work and pressure we may experience daily.

There is a popular Christian song, sung both in formal Sunday morning worship and around the campfire. It is a favorite of former CEM President, Ken Barrows. The lyrics are as follows.

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving I’ll be a living
Sanctuary, Lord for you.

The song is beautiful, and I believe conveys the best of intentions; let my life be so in harmony with God that I can offer peace and safety to someone else.

Of the various explanations of sanctuary found in the dictionary, the ones I find the most enlightening read as follows.
- a church or other sacred place where fugitives were formerly entitled to immunity from arrest.
¨ immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.
¨ any place of refuge; asylum.

These definitions indicate sacred goals of offering peace and shelter to people whose lives are in crisis and need. As I reflect on this in my own experience, however, I have to ask who it is that is in my sanctuary? To whom am I offering a place of refuge? Sadly, I realize that most of the time, the only person seeking protection in the sanctuary of my life is me! It is me who retreats to a place of peace and security. It is me that goes into the house of my life, closes the door and locks it to keep intruders out. It is me who seeks safety and protection inside, and does not invite in others whose lives may be under siege.

Following the Rwandan genocide, Immaculée Ilibagiza wrote a remarkable volume entitled Left to Tell. She shares her own story, and that of a Christian pastor who, at enormous risk to himself and his family, offered sanctuary to a group of eight women by hiding them in a tiny bathroom for 91 days. It is a story of faith and courage in the face of enormous risk few if any of us will ever know.
May we come out of our personal sanctuaries today, and go to the places where people meet. May we open our hands and hearts to others, and offer the sanctuary of Christ’s Peace to those who really need it. We cannot do that if we remain cloistered inside our own personal space and not interact with those who need us. May we experience the generosity of extending grace, and may we begin today.

Posted by Carman

Monday, May 10, 2010


I have been blessed, in my life, with beautiful sunrises. Witnessing these incredible creations depends on being in the right place at the right time, perhaps passing an East-facing window in the pre-dawn light, and looking out. Watching a glorious sunrise is always a mystical experience for me, so the reader should probably be warned that this writing is likely to lean that way too.

This morning, the horizon glows with colours that can only be explained as designed to grab your attention. It is as if God is out there in Spirit form on the edge of our sight, painting the sky with incredible artwork. It will only last a few moments, and God wants to get someone to notice. The dark curve of the earth is awash in hues of oranges and pinks, and the low-lying clouds are edged with indescribable golden light. It is glorious.

But the colours are only the beginning. I stand transfixed by the window half way down the stairs, watching as the divine Artist uses wisps of cloud and light to create amazing detail in the sky. A new creation opens. An island appears across a frozen lake covered in snow; its trees etched with incredible clarity beyond the transient shore. Mist rises like smoke from houses that must be there, tucked in snuggly against the trees, their residents rising to greet the day and stoking the fires of warmth. The scene lingers a long time as the sun rises, not to banish the scene but to bless it with warmth and glowing light. It is a gift to start the day.

There are images stored on my computer of incredible scenes of colour and grandeur caught at a moment of almost indescribable beauty. There are more that are etched only in worshipful memory. I have often reflected, in times of early revere, that God seems to do some of God’s best work in the morning. Perhaps it is God’s gift to the early riser to be able to witness the blending of fundamental and oh so transient elements into amazing scenes of glory.

Often when I sit in church, I struggle with my all too human attempts at worship. Frequently they just seem wooden and dull, almost lifeless. But in the early morning light, with the sacred Artist working magic across the sky I have no such trouble. These are moments of communion!

May you be blessed with colour and love from the Sacred Artist today.

Posted by Carman

Friday, May 7, 2010


Living my kids' growing-up years in Gatineau/Hull we could always expect the dandelion explosion to happen right about the first week in May. And on Sunday morning, second Sunday in May, Mother's Day, there they would be covering the lawns and roadsides and boulevards. Bouquets of dandelions offered from small stained and sticky hands into mothers' welcoming grasps were the signal that Mother's Day was indeed offical.

I recall saying that dandelions were the guarantee that every mother could have a bouquet for her day. Of course, she also had those sticky stains to remove somehow, from her own and her child's hands. But that was such a small thing.

There would also be the flying fluffy seeds to follow and the complaints about the persistent weeds in the lawns to be managed with deadly herbicides. On this Sunday morning, the dandelions' cheery yellow faces smiled at everyone.

This is the first Mother's Day I don't have my mother. In the congregation of my childhood I would be out looking for a white bloom to pin over my heart to indicate my mother is gone. That was our tradition; a coloured flower for a living mum, a white one if she were no longer with us. There were other traditions over the years that mark Mother's Day in church and out. You may remember some of them.

Mother's Day in America was actually established as a pacifist reaction to the terrible loss of life in the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe led a campaign of mothers to stop the killing of their sons in war. That hasn't worked out very well, has it? And Mother's Day has been co-opted by the card, flower and candy companies.

I'll think of my mother this weekend, especially as I see all these beautiful blossoms. My mother loved plants and flowers! She wasn't too keen on dandelions, however, but to my mind you just can't beat a dandelion bouquet delivered from a little sticky hand on Mother's Day morning.

Happy Mother's Day to us all.

Posted by Marion

Thursday, May 6, 2010


One of the words we talked about for a bit in the Fired Up! mission statement conversation was surprise. In the final version, this word didn't make the cut. But this is not to say that the concept isn't still very much alive and well, there and elsewhere!

The word the Fired Up! folk went with was "open." They want to remain open to whatever way God wants to speak to them, or to experiences and opportunities and to people who come their way. I applaud them. But I hope they are ready to be surprised. Because that's what I see happening all around. And I'm beginning to be convinced that the Spirit they're open to works by surprise.

People and congregations who try to stay in control, or on top of things, wary of moving too far out of the box, leery of spontenaity or unpredictability are most likely to speak of being weary or over-busy or stressed-out. But folks who are open to being surprised tend to feel more hope, to expect things to work out, to roll with the punches more easily.

Here's a link to a sermon about just this idea. Remember that sheet God surprised Peter with in Acts 11? That was just a small part of the surprises he and the new church had to deal with! History is filled with just such surprises; so why would we not expect the same?

Open your eyes; expect to be surprised! Then send us a note about what you're seeing that is surprising you today. Let's share our stories. I'm betting there are a ton of them. Can't wait to read yours!

Posted by Marion

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Today marks the 65th Anniversary of the liberation of Holland by Canadian troops. That campaign has forged a bond of friendship between Canadians and the Dutch that endures to this day. As celebrations of remembrance happen across the Netherlands today, Canadian flags will be flown and aging Canadian veterans of the 1945 campaign will be honoured, and thanked. For most of them, it will be for the last time.

It may seem peculiar that this friendship runs so deep. After all, Canadian troops have served in peacekeeping roles in dozens of countries since WWII, yet no other such bond exists. It may be worth asking why.

Perhaps the answer lies in what is probably a footnote to the history of the war. Canadian troops fought their way into the Netherlands with the intent of driving out the Nazi troops. What quickly became apparent, however was that the people of the Netherlands were starving. They had no food. The focus of the campaign quickly changed from pushing out the Germans to feeding the Dutch, and food drops were organized for the benefit of the civilians.

After the war, the Dutch Royal Family thanked Canada by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. To this day every year the Dutch still send 20,000 bulbs, and our nation’s capital is resplendent in colour. This year the annual tulip festival in Ottawa is renamed as The 2010 Special 65th anniversary Liberation edition of the Canadian Tulip Festival.

Today, you will probably see Tulips blooming somewhere; it is that time of year. May we each pause to remember the legacy of this welcome flower of spring. Its colourful and beautiful bloom, however brief, represents a gift of gratitude from one country to another.

May grace and peace prevail in you today.

Posted by Carman

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


One of the perks of my job comes after evening meetings when I find myself driving home sometime after nine o'clock listening to CBC's Ideas radio program. I've been listening to Ideas for years and years and have come to appreciate the eclectic range of topics discussed there. If it does nothing else, Ideas offers many interesting or unusual facts to be injected into some future conversation.

But today, I'm considering the idea of ideas. Where do ideas come from? What is the spark of a truly new idea? How do visionary or imaginative people tap into that creative force that engenders a brand new thought?

You've likely heard the quotation: if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you've always got.

I'm amazed at the number of folks I'm meeting or hearing from across our Mission who are actively seeking out new ideas, looking for new solutions to problems or challenges they've become aware of in their lives, or in their congregations. Maybe it's the ratcheting up of camp and reunion planning that has brought this notion to the fore, but I see it in other areas as well.

You've heard about Fired Up! leadership team who are trying very hard to make themselves into a congregation like no other. Not in negative or critical ways, but in creative and inspiring ways. They're looking for the ideas that will draw people into a new community where they can encounter a God-experience in new friendships, in opportunities for service and Spirit-led explorations. They expect to be surprised. They want to remain open to what comes. And they do expect new ideas to happen for them.

What are the challenges facing you? How do you get your best ideas? Do you have a story to share that we're waiting to hear?

Monday, May 3, 2010


Driving home from Saturday’s Camp Staff Training workshop, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that 40 people showed up, and no one complained about spending a spring day in a workshop instead of outside doing whatever. Furthermore, everyone who was there seemed to be excited about the coming camping season, and about being on staff for their various camps. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there. In fact, some people came planning to be on staff for one camp and left having volunteered for more!

The age range of participants at the workshop ran from approximately 18 to 75, with the majority being in their 20s and perhaps early 30s. Why were they here, and why so eager to be part of this event? I did not ask anyone those questions, but I have talked with enough of them to have a pretty good guess at the answer.

At least for the young adults who were present, the answer has something to do with having found a place where they fit in. In this camping community, people are accepted and welcomed. There is no formality, no expectations about style of dress, and no questions asked. Returning staff are genuinely glad to see each other, and new staff members are warmly received. Nobody questions anyone else’s sincerity or value to the community. Each member is simply accepted.

The camping community is less about location than it is about place. Saturday, we were in Stratford, but all of our camps will happen elsewhere. Yet each person there seemed to feel at home. They had found their place; a place where they are accepted, feel at home, and belong.

What a wonderful community this is. Six reunions, four camps and numerous retreats are well along in the planning process. The staff are excited and ready to share the peace of Jesus Christ with others. In fact, they can hardly wait!

During a breakout session toward the end of the day, someone expressed that camp is a place where lives are touched and transformed by a “brush with the Spirit.” May the Good Spirit brush many in the camping community this summer, and may they also discover that they have found their place.

Posted by Carman