May 06, 2020

April 26 2020 Pilgrimage Journeys


Putting one foot in front of another can be the hardest thing we can do in times following tragedy.  And yet, often it is the simplest thing or the smallest thing we can do that carries us forward into a new understanding of the world.

I was in a workshop on Thursday for clergy learning to do pastoral care during a tragedy.  Not too many of us studied responses to pandemics in our classes, and the ones who did focused on 9/11 and the 1998 airplane crash just outside Halifax and Peggy’s Cove.  We didn’t have any training in mass social isolation or church lockdowns or internet zoom technology, it didn’t even exist back in 2014.  But one thing I was struck by is that the simple things in life can help us to keep going.  One person who was struggling with depression found that they couldn’t come up with anything they felt they could do until her counsellor asked her if she could brush her teeth.  That was something she could do and would do, and did do, and that became the start of her recovery.

One tiny little thing we can do when we feel numb with fear, paralyzed with grief, shaking with anger, or frozen in depression.  Our words of assurance from the 1 Peter reading today talked about living in reverent fear while we are in exile, and I suspect many of us are living in fear but now is the time to add some reverence.  Some folks have been getting print copies of our worship as they don’t have internet, and I hope they have found some reverence with the little things we tuck in, a rock, a shell, a candle, a doily for them to decorate a space with, a little booklet of prayers to read.  I have an angel and a silver communion chalice and a prayer card on my dresser table that I look at every morning and night before I go to bed.  One little thing we can do might be just lighting the candle we have and praying the Serenity Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, or just saying, “God I’m scared” or even having a cry.  Sometimes there are no words.  Sometimes there is silence.

N. T. Wright in a Time Magazine on March 30 wrote “In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”

The disciples walking back home from Jerusalem knew what it was like to have all their hopes dashed.  They could only take one step at a time back to a place where they knew they would be safe.  They plodded, remembering their glorious hopes and dreams, their glimpse of great new possibilities that had all been ended, dashed to smithereens when Jesus had been crucified.  They couldn’t stop rehashing their experience, and when Jesus asked them what they were talking about, I can imagine that their response, “"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"  was tinged with a little anger, a little disbelief and even a touch of sarcasm. They didn’t know what to think at the story of the empty tomb even though they too saw it. 

When we face the unimaginable, it’s easy for us to get caught up in what Jungian psychologists call the shadow side of our personalities.  We might be more irritable, more weepy, more apathetic.  We may try to control more in response to being in a situation where we have no control.  We may find our minds full of many words and thoughts that whirl around in our heads especially late at night when we are trying to sleep.  We may say things or do things that we regret, or forget to be kind and gentle.  The hardest person we struggle to be gentle with is ourselves.  But in the first sermon Peter ever preached, he called to the people to repent of those shadow sides.  To turn away from the self-destructive habits and mindsets, to save ourselves from a corrupt generation that thinks only of individual desires.  That is not easy, and not something we can do on our own.  It’s not something the walkers could do on their own either.  They needed Jesus to hear their complaints, their fears, their angers, and then they were able to offer the hospitality that was such a hallmark of what he had taught them.  And it was because of that hospitality that he was able to break bread and feed their souls.  Such a little thing, offering what they had to a stranger, and yet it opened their eyes and their hearts.

So keep on doing the little things, the grace-filled things, the knitting and crocheting, the sewing of masks, and the phone calls.  The delivering of worship services or sharing books, or shopping for a neighbor when you are doing your own errands.  Be as kind to yourself as you know you should be to your neighbor. And don’t be afraid to lament, to cry, to complain to God, because that might just be what God is waiting to hear.  Courage dear ones, and remember, in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are never alone, thanks be to God!

April 30, 2020

Scars and Locks April 18, 2020


When I was taking my biology class in Grade 9, it seemed like there were two kinds of students.  The ones who got right into the poking and prodding of dissected frogs, and the kinds (far fewer) who stuck their noses in the textbooks.  I enjoyed the Latin and the lists but not the smells or the sights of squishy things pickled in formaldehyde.  That science class seemed to go on forever, and I was relieved to get to high school where I could safely indulge in physics and chemistry, and the closest I got to biology was the adjoining door between the two science classrooms or the friendly chit chat between the two teachers.  I thought the biology teacher was wonderful, but not her subject matter.  My classmates thought I was weird for having such a squeamish attitude, especially the ones who grew up on the farm.  Even my mom, who hated collecting slimy wet eggs from under the hens first thing every morning was less squeamish than me.  So this scripture passage in a time of social distancing is hard to fathom.  Touching Jesus’ wounds would be hard enough at the best of times, but right now when we are not able to touch anyone, it’s unthinkable.

No wonder Thomas isn’t recorded as taking Jesus up on his invitation.  He spoke rash words in haste to stop the other disciples from badgering him with what he thought were ridiculous claims, and like most rash words, they came back to haunt him.  But also to heal him.  We can relate to Thomas for we too are inundated with claims and con artists, false news and clever phone calls designed to catch us unawares.  I have lost track of the number of phone calls I have recently received on my cell phone, saying that they are from Croatia or Dominica.  They hang up immediately and I fight the temptation to call back because that’s what the scammers hope, then they can charge long distance rates and rake in the cash.  Once it was a crying woman on the line sounding like she was in a panic too.  Turns out this was happening all around mainline Vancouver.  There are even people becoming famous on the internet for taking calls from scammers and playing with them, stringing them along and wasting their time so that the scammers don’t have as much time to get other victims.  The impact is real.  Seniors are especially targeted, and with the internet, it feels like we have to be increasingly diligent.  More like Thomas than otherwise. 

And yet Jesus said that we who believe are the blessed ones.  We who learn to trust in something we have never seen, who learn to turn to God with the innocence of a loving child.  Who may not always have concrete evidence or proof pickled in formaldehyde.  We who like Mother Theresa, roll up our sleeves despite our doubts and do the things that God would have us do to make this world a better place.  We who persevere despite what the doubting Thomases of the world might say or ridicule us for doing.

Today we are all locked in rooms of isolation and anxiety.  We do not know what the future will hold both for us as individuals but also for us as a community, a nation, a world.  On one hand, we are coming together for things like the “One World Together at Home” or the Friday night thank you parade honking for health care workers and grocery store employees, on the other hand we are seeing protesting demanding that curfews be lifted and jobs be reinstated.  Or the policies of companies like senior’s care facilities or meat-packing plants.

How do we deal with the doubt and the anxiety?  Sometimes we, like the disciples, need to lock ourselves in our rooms.  But God enters our isolation, God disrupts our assumptions of what the world is really like, God shakes up our understanding of what is real and what is important.  God is present right where you are, in this very moment.  In your space! 

Take a breath, a deep breath into your belly.  Look around you for five things you can see.  A crack in the ceiling, this piece of paper, Five things.  Breathe.  Four things you can touch like the doily or table cloth.  Breathe.  Three things you can hear, ticking clock or maybe a goose flying back north.  Breathe.  Two things you can smell, the smoke from your candle perhaps.  Breathe again and notice one thing that you can taste, not just yet.  Maybe the bread and juice that we will be sharing shortly.

We have an opportunity to practise this simple form of prayer, 5 sights, 4 touches, 3 sounds, 2 smells and one taste whenever we feel locked up and anxious.  We can practise opening ourselves up to God more intentionally in our day.  And we can remember that Jesus became present and real to Thomas not through his perfection, but through his wounds.  When we see wounds, we know the experience is real.  When we share wounds, we have the ability to heal.  When we admit to God and a trusted friend or family member that we are hurting or afraid or anxious, we can learn that we are not alone in our struggles.  There in our locked rooms, God is with us.  In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone, halleluiah!

April 18, 2020

Seeds of Stubborn Hope


Ever stop to think of how stubborn seeds can be?  They are the deadest looking things.  I have a package of seeds for growing sprouts, maybe alfalfa.  Been in my cupboard for years, back when people bought sprouts in the grocery store all the time.  I have a special box for growing them that hasn’t been used in years.  Well, those seeds have been sitting in a cupboard for I don’t know how long and I thought, why not dig them out and grow some greens for sandwiches again.  I soaked them as per the instructions and you know, they are growing already!  They are sprouting as if they were bought yesterday, and next week we will be munching them between two slices of rye.  Seeds are stubborn like that.

So when I was on the Naramata website listening to a poem prayer by Keri Wehlander who first introduced me to liturgical dance and using actions with hymns, her phrase, “seeds of stubborn hope” rang in my heart as much as my mind.  How dependant we are on seeds can be seen by when we go searching for flour at the grocery store.  Wheat is what brought so many immigrants to Alberta so many decades ago.  Not quite as high as an elephant’s eye, but it was the breadbasket of the world, and still helps feed many people.  And almost as stubborn as seeds are the farmers who plant that wheat.  Year after year, they get their tractors ready and you had better bet that they are waiting for the snow to melt and the ground to dry so that they can start planting their crops as quickly as they can regardless of how bad the weather has been these past few years.  Especially now that everyone seems to be churning out home-baked goods from their kitchens because they have so much time on their hands.  Easter is hot cross buns and braided bread, babka decorated with little birds or maybe cooked with a hard-boiled egg in the centre, and dried fruits in the dough.  Some pysanka beside it, carefully hand-drawn not machinery mass produced, and not needing to be 31 feet long to be a work of art.

The stubborn hope of seeds lies dormant, waiting to grow, resting in the dark, looking quite dead and lifeless.  Then something happens.  The sun’s warmth strikes down and shines on the seeds, they are not alone and solitary, they are scattered, sure, but not as unconnected as they thought.  The rain’s moisture softens their hard protective covering, and little by little, the seeds start to sprout and grow until they can ripen.  And seeds can look very similar – the seeds I am growing for our sandwiches look very similar to poppy seeds, but wouldn’t be very tasty if they didn’t start growing.  Sometimes it’s not until they are full grown that we know if we have planted Kentucky bluegrass or crabgrass.  And sometimes it has surprising properties.  According to Wikipedia, some countries take crabgrass seeds and grind them to make an edible flour, so for you folks out there short on flour, wait a little and harvest your crabgrass!

Yeah, but what’s that got to do with you and me and Easter and all this Jesus resurrection stuff which we’ve all heard about and many are weirded out by.  Well, sometimes we too can be dormant seeds.  Many of us are experiencing a time of dormancy, of a new normal we are slowly adjusting to, and for those who still have jobs, a new time of frantic work overlaid with anxiety.  Things are different.  Things are stressful.  Conspiracy theories abound, according to the fellow who waited his turn to get to the bank machine, and snake oil remedies are legion.  And above all, things are lonely.  We cannot hug one another, we cannot go to Paddymelon’s for a cup of our favorite beverage and a chance to catch up with our friends and neighbors.  We cannot go for Easter dinner with our extended family.  We are having to let our personal connections lie dormant.  We have to stay home except for necessary travel to grocery and drug stores.  We are waiting, stubbornly, for hope, for a time when once again we will be able to meet and greet our neighbors, to give a high five or share a jigsaw puzzle and game of cribbage with friends.  We wait for sunshine and rain and new growth.

This could be a time of resting and learning, not just of facts and figures, but a deepening of character, of our ethics, our values, our morals, and our beliefs.  It may look and feel like we are doing nothing, but we can be growing and preparing to put out new shoots.

One of my favorite inspirational stories is the movie, “Invictus”, the story of Nelson Mandela, beautifully acted by Morgan Freeman.  Nelson Mandela was a young man who grew up going to a Methodist Church in South Africa, and the Methodist Church is one of the founding denominations of the United Church of Canada.  As a young adult, he was arrested and jailed for acts of terrorism against the Apartheid State.  He spent 30 years locked down, often in solitude, and he took this enforced dormant time to practise stubborn hope.  He turned to a poem called Invictus, written I was surprised to learn, for a Scottish flour merchant.  It could be a description of Jesus, the ultimate unconquerable soul:

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Easter is when we stand in awe at the foot of the cross, the empty cross, the empty tomb and remember the testimony of women and men from long ago that have inspired people for centuries.  Our Song of Faith says that Jesus suffered abandonment and betrayal, state-sanctioned torture and execution.  He was crucified.  But death was not the last word.  God raised Jesus from death, turning sorrow into joy, despair into hope.  We sing hallelujah.

Even when we don’t have faith in our ability to live in this dormant time, even when we feel no hope that we will grow again, even when we feel isolated, alone and suffering, Jesus points out that at the darkest of times, God has faith in us, God has hope that we will grow again, that God knows one day we will be able to sing hallelujah, because God is with us, we are not alone.  In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, thanks be to God.

April 10, 2020

Who is Jesus?


Matthew 21: 9-11 The crowds—those who went in front of Jesus and those who followed—were all shouting, “Hosanna to the heir to the house of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Most High! Hosanna in the highest!”  As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred to its depths, demanding, “Who is this?”  And the crowd kept answering, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee!”


The heart of the scriptures today is the central question, who is Jesus?  And why was he so special that a spontaneous parade could build up so fast and so memorably?

The Sunshine Coast is a lovely place to visit in the spring, and travel there is very efficient.  The ferries were efficient, and the boarding was smooth until I noticed a cavalcade of bikers driving up the ramp in impressive formation.  I nervously pointed them out to my dad, wondering if we were about to be inundated by a Hell’s Angels convention, but he said that they were probably there for my uncle’s funeral.  I found that hard to believe until I ran into the bikers on the top deck of the ferry.  They were pulling off their helmets to reveal not toughened thugs but lovely grandpas and grandmas, white hair, perms, some of the men with bald heads and Santa Claus beards.  Anything but what I had first imagined.

My uncle had been the president of the local Harley Davidson bike club and they had decided to pay homage to him with an honor ride for his celebration of life.  Later that day they made a spectacular sight driving down the hill to the community hall where the service took place.  Parades to honor special people can be very stirring and inspirational.  The parade for Jesus would have been that way too.  With a heartbreaking twist.  “Save Us, save us!” they cried.  People like you and me living in poverty, living in uncertainty, living with a government who had little respect for human rights, who allowed only full Roman citizens access to public justice systems, who had no foodbanks or schools or daycares or health services, a high infant mortality rate and widespread poverty.  “Save us, Jesus” was a desperate cry, and a prayer from the heart.

Jesus was seen as someone who would help them, heal them and listen to them.  Over the ages, many people have felt the same need to call out for him to save them.

One young lady 800 years ago also called out for help.  She was in her thirties, and was extremely ill.  While she lay on her deathbed, she had a series of visions, powerful images of Jesus.  She recovered and out of gratitude, she had herself locked up in a room of a church in the English town of Norwich, the ultimate in self-isolation, and lived there for the rest of her life, surviving the Bubonic Plague, civil war and religious persecutions.  While there, she wrote the first English book written by a woman, and became known for her image of Jesus as the mother of us all, who weeps when we are in distress, who comforts us when we are scared, and who loves us with a deep motherly love.  She had a little window in her room, and people would come to tell them of their troubles.  They would leave feeling comforted and encouraged.  Some psychologists see her as the first person to be a professional counsellor for the people in her town, the poor and the politician alike. She gave them hope not in herself, but in Jesus who inspired her.  Our own United Church author Ralph Milton, wrote two books about her, and said, “it’s hard to believe that such an open, eloquent, optimistic, joyful book could have been written in such a dark and painful time.”  Her name was Julian of Norwich, and she wrote some words that you have probably heard from time to time, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Sometimes those words seem empty and naïve, but when we remember the context she was living in, the state of violence, the rampant sicknesses, the levels of poverty and the lack of basics like food or shelter, her words become a signpost to keep the faith.

Jesus was not just mother to this lady, but inspiration.  Julian of Norwich, locked in her tiny room for more than forty years, over half her life, was comforted and sustained by her faith and shared that comfort to all who came to her.  The parade of people that showed up at her window made her a famous name and in turn she has inspired many.  We are isolated as she was, locked in because of a dreadful illness, and unsure of what lies ahead for us all.  Some of us are coping better than others.  Some of us have a strong faith that helps us pray, others are still new at this faith business, and unsure of how to pray, what to pray for and how it helps.  Regardless of where we are on our faith journey, let us remember that Jesus was a powerful inspiration to everyone who knew him and even those who only knew him through scriptures to turn to acts of love and compassion for one another.  Like Julian, let us listen in love to our neighbors, let us care for each other as best we can, but let us also remember to put our faith in Jesus, our teacher, our role model, our inspiration and our source of hope.  Amen.

March 31, 2020

House building in times of uncertainty


They are like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. Luke 6:48

It’s easy when we are in times of uncertainty to let our worst selves take over.  People get snappish, grumpy, judgemental, knit-picky and angry.  They release their tension in the ways that they have done before, only there’s more tension in the air.  Even folks who think that this is an overblown hoax are likely to be more easily erupting into anger and irritability.  This little set of parables has so much challenge in it for just that reason.  It is very human to judge, it is very human to ignore my own problems and focus on fixing everyone else.  Especially when we are living in historic times.  It reminds me of the old saying from China: “May you live in Interesting Times”.  That, by the way, is not a blessing, but actually seen as a curse!

The story of the two housebuilders is a teaching Jesus gave us so that when the interesting times came, we would not be overwhelmed.  It is not about what other people around us do, he wants to focus on what I can do.  Steven Covey’s famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People start with self-mastery.  Stop fretting about that sliver of sawdust in your neighbor’s or your family member’s eye and start working on the fencepost sticking out of your own eye!  It’s as true as when Covey wrote it in 1989 as when Jesus first spoke to a bunch of poor folks working to desperately feed their families from one day to the next.

My favorite role model of someone who lived this well was my father in law.  In 1953, Bob Rosborough, a young 26-year-old phys. ed teacher with three sons under 6 years old, woke up one morning and found he was paralyzed from the neck down.  He ended up being one of the few adults in the polio ward in Edmonton, a time where all the pools had been closed and many children impacted hard by this brutal disease.  And one of the last to be impacted as vaccines were just becoming available.  At one point the doctors doubted that he would ever walk again.

He, like many of the baby boomers of his generation, had drifted away from the United Church, but the principles they taught, the character traits they promoted, were deeply ingrained in him.  Principles that the bible calls the fruits of the spirit, love, hope, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Every single one of them became hugely important in his recovery process.  Without hope he wouldn’t have kept pushing through the pain of rehabilitation, without kindness, his students wouldn’t have rallied around him and his wife, babysitting the boys so she could visit her husband.

He had to dig deep and figure out how to parent rambunctious boys in different ways because he couldn’t run after them and grab them when they did something wrong.  He had to find patience as the family worked together to build his dream cabin at the lake.  And he had to find a new way to inspire students because he could no longer be a gym teacher at school.  He became a guidance counsellor instead, helping children for decades navigate that scary transition from student to adult.

It's time for us to once again dig deep into our souls.  What is the foundation upon which we have built our lives?  Have we built on strong rocks or loose sand?  Are we being shaken by the storm or do we have the ability to stay centered?  It’s never too late to build again, to dig down, to rebuild.  And it’s not about perfection – even Jesus had a moment of doubt when he was dying on the cross and cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  It’s about taking one moment at a time, and reminding ourselves that we are not alone in this situation, God is with us. 

March 24, 2020

Courage in dark times


kits for worship or learning activities

   & Scripture Readings:  Jeremiah 23: 1-8 “What kind of Shepherd?”
Psalm 23
Luke 12: 13-21

One of my favorite books of all time is Diana Butler Bass’ “A People’s History of Christianity.”  It talks about many things, including how people converted from worshipping Zeus and Jupiter because they saw our faith working.  In Rome when the Plague of Galen started in 165, Christians were the ones who took care of the thousands of people, dead and dying in the streets.  The Romans were so scared of death and the Plague that they were astonished at these crazy people who worked together and helped their neighbors.  While faithful Romans ran away from the cities, faithful Christians planted their feet firmly on the ground, breathed in, rolled up their sleeves and got to work.  And continued to do so over the centuries as they faced all kinds of adversity and danger.  Passages like Jeremiah and the 23rd Psalm are a reminder of ‘steady as she goes’ and love thy neighbor as thyself.  Jeremiah described a time of deep fear, where folks were listening to false news, spreading rumors and hording toilet paper.  Well, maybe not the toilet paper, but you get the point.  Panic buying and nervous tensions were the order of the day.  The people were scattered across the known world, which was no big thing back when immigration depended solely on the strength of their feet to carry them the long distances away from where danger threatened.  God was the Air Canada, the Westjet, the Canadian Airforces swooping in to collect snowbirds, tourists, students and business people to bring them back home.  We’ve had plenty of that right here this week, a grandfather waiting to hear that a grandson had gotten home safe from Italy, our Japanese exchange student saying goodbye to our handbell choir, and our snowbird arriving home to Edmonton and in quarantine for two weeks.  We want to be home, safe, keeping some sense of safety in these uncertain times.

And maybe that’s part of the problem.  Our craving for safety in a time of fear.  What are we craving for?  Control?  Security? Safety?  One of the challenges of being human is that we are probably the only creature that knows that we die, and knows that we usually have no control over when we will die, where, why we will die or how we will die, except for those who choose to do otherwise of course.  But our fear of death does not help in times like these.  It leads to hording, to storing up a lifetime of toilet paper in our closets and basements.  It is an understandable and human response, but in the long run it is not a Christian response.  Jesus told the parable of the rich man who built granaries and then died.  God said, “You fool This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:20).  We are tempted to horde not only our toilet paper, our bullets, our flour, our milk, but also our compassion, our patience, our trust, and our love.  That is not what our faith is about.  We are called to be people of prayer, of compassion, and of faith.  We are called to acts of prevention and also acts of connection.

What can we do in times of challenge?  Let’s keep connected!  Phone a friend, a family member, a congregation member.  Stay open to opportunities to love and serve others.  Remember to love yourself too, with washing your hands for 20 seconds.  And pray for all who are on the front lines, especially ones who aren’t obviously on the front lines, the truck drivers, the mail carriers, the bank tellers, the garbage collectors, the plumbers and the people in charge of keeping our plumbing and our power and our heat going.  If you have toilet paper, share with those who didn’t beat the rush.  If you have a favorite charity, donate via phone or e-mail with your credit card.  If you order from a restaurant, tip like you know they really need it.  And know that I am just a phone call, a skype session or even a knock on the door away.  I’m saving up a tremendous amount of hugs for you all when this is all over, and even if we never hug in Canada again, I will keep you in my heart just as our Good Shepherd lead us all to lie beside still waters, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God!  Amen.

March 13, 2020

Sunday Worship in Tough Times


Athabasca United Church has been busy this week with news of Covid-19 and community responses.  All doorknobs, railings, pews and phones were sterilized with bleach this week and will continue to be cleaned regularly.  We have placed sanitizers at the front door, and at tables in the Winding Trail Room and the Basement entrance.  Soap and water is still better at killing viruses.  We are already used to passing the peace in creative ways other than handshaking, whether it’s Namaste bows, Spock’s Vulcan greeting or the Peace sign with our fingers.  We continue to bless each other responsibly and this is a good reminder to think of our neighbors’ health before our own. We are also preparing at home worship kits for folks who are self-isolating.

In Singapore, church leaders worked to find a faithful moderation.  “The biggest lesson for me has been navigating the road between fear and wisdom,” said pastor Andre Tan of The City Church. “It is especially tough as fear often has a way to masquerade itself as wisdom. How many precautionary measures are actually sound judgment and how many are too much, such that they teeter over into irrational fear and anxiety?”

The guidance we've received from The United Church authorities is to respond in three ways:

Compassion

“Overwhelming statistics outlining the number of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 make it easy to disassociate the numbers from the people and communities involved.

As a church, we seek a compassionate response that acknowledges the personhood attached to each statistic.
We know that the people affected include not only those infected by the COVID-19 virus but also their families, friends, co-workers, and community members. We mourn with people whose loved ones have died, who have lost community through self-isolation and limited travel, and who have lost a sense of security through fear of illness or racism.

We also offer our prayers of thanksgiving for the professionals who are providing leadership in the treatment and containment of the virus, and our prayers of concern for those who serve others, especially health professionals.”

Prevention

“We hope the most vulnerable people in our society will be able to rely on us—communities of faith—to do all that we can to prevent the spread of both the virus and of the fears surrounding it.  Our gathering places should promote good health practices, and when necessary, we can provide alternative programming for those who are most at risk or isolated.

We encourage communities of faith to

·       seek and share stories from those most affected by the virus, praying with our kin around the world

·       challenge, clarify and correct all comments about COVID-19 that are prejudiced or racist or promoting unnecessary fear

·       practise and model washing our hands often, coughing or sneezing into our sleeves, and avoiding touching our face or the faces of those who are most vulnerable

·       educate community members on how they can prevent the spread of viruses”

Prayer

“Our faithful response of compassion and prevention needs to be surrounded and guided by our continual prayer for the well-being of all people. May we continue to collaborate and learn from health care professionals as we seek ways to honor and respect all people at all times.”

“Mission & Service partners in China express their thanks for our prayers and support. Funds contributed by the United Church have helped provide much-needed medical supplies, disinfectant, protective clothing, and food items on the ground in Hubei Province.

Mission & Service partner the China Christian Council (CCC) recently wrote to the United Church:

“We would like to express our sincere thanks to all of our friends praying for and supporting China and Hubei. […] Now the epidemic is basically under control, but there are still many patients in hospital. The CCC is continuing to ship medical supplies for hospitals in Wuhan. […] We are very concerned about the situation in other countries and we call on all Christians in China to pray for the medical experts and patients of the world.”

Mission & Service partner the Amity Foundation has been actively working since January 2020 to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak, supporting hospitals and communities in fighting the virus. On March 4, they reported delivering more than 470 tons of disinfection supplies, two specially designed ambulances, 1,000 sets of respirators, 23 ventilators, 10,000 virus sampling test tubes, 8,400 packages of food and much more.

The supplies were delivered to more than 300 hospitals and medical centers in 14 cities in Hubei and Jiangsu Province.”

Back home in Athabasca United Church, unless you know you've contacted someone who is currently quarantined, OR you have a fever with cough or breathing troubles, OR you are in a high risk group, I encourage you to continue to participate in the life of the church in whichever way you see fit. Personally, I will be washing my hands more often prior to Sunday worship. We may change the way we serve communion, count the offering, have coffee time after church, and pass the peace. (with thanks to Rev. Murray Speer, Canmore United for some of this)

The scriptures tell that Jesus's care of lepers and the sick focused on the fear of illness, not the illness itself, and such fear was to be resisted.  The bible is full of commands to not be afraid, not even of death itself. In historical times of plague and outbreak, Christians and churches continued showing compassion with the most outcast and ill.

We are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  Only your personal faith can tell you whether staying home is the most loving thing for you to do, or whether continuing to boldly show hospitality in the face of human tragedy is the most loving response. We are also disciples of Jesus, and it is wise to take precautions against the spread of disease. But it is just as true that together we are the body of Christ called to serve those most in need in however we can. 

Wishing you peace, wisdom and strength,

Rev. Monica

Oh Creator God, you whose son embraced lepers, welcomed prostitutes and ate with tax collectors,
who healed with compassion,
be with us all in this time of fear.
Help us be still and know that You are our God.
Help us to discern wisdom to deal with these challenging times.
Help us to have the courage to face the news,
the compassion to care for others regardless of where they travel or live, and the faith to remember that
in life, in death, in life beyond death,
you are with us, we are not alone.
Thanks be to You oh Holy ground of all our being! Amen.