Hope is the future tense of faith.
~ St. Augustine
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. ~ Romans 15:13
The highlight of 2022 for me personally was receiving the congregation's call to be your pastor. The service of Installation was indeed a joyous occasion. In addition to colleagues from the Synod, it was beautiful to see North Shore Anglican clergy come to celebrate new ministry at Gloria Dei. The gracious presence and words shared by Squamish Deacon and elder Rev. Rennie Nahanee and prayer by BC Synod's Indigenous leader, Cari Klaassen was deeply meaningful. May we return their gestures of goodwill by our commitment to continue to walk the road towards a true and deeper reconciliation. Thank-you to all of the congregation for the outstanding reception following the service.
I chuckle a little, as I think back to a rumor that was circulating in 2018 when I first arrived at Gloria Dei as your interim pastor. That rumor was spreading the false news that Gloria Dei was shuttering its doors. I chuckle because reports of the church's demise were greatly exaggerated. Five years later—which included surviving the impacts of a two-year pandemic—not only are Gloria Dei's doors still open, but there are also signs of new life.
Of course, the challenges have not gone away. Sunday attendance is at 25% below pre-pandemic levels. Our aging membership means we continue to see stalwart members journey to glory or move into seniors' residences. We face a shrinking pool of volunteers as well as lay leadership which limits our capacity to offer programming outside of Sunday morning worship. And of course, all of the these put pressure on church finances. It is easy to look at our situation and identify only deficits which need to be fixed, or worse yet, throw up our hands in despair and predict the end is nigh.
Rebecca Solnit, in her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, writes:
Despair demands less of us, it’s more predictable, and in a sad way safer. Authentic hope requires clarity—seeing the troubles in this world—and imagination, seeing what might lie beyond these situations that are perhaps not inevitable and immutable.
Beloved Ones of God, I want to choose a stance of authentic hope and invite you to join me. Rather than continue to lament the impact of the pandemic, how can we identify the "thriving virus" in our midst—even in just small things—and see those good things grow?
One of the small thriving things of 2022 was our pilot program of offering an English Language Circle to women newcomers from Ukraine. Yes, English conversation skills were learned, but more importantly a sense of community based on genuine relationships was created. Our pilot program was made possible through a grant from the the ELCIC Church Capital and Extension Fund administered through our Synod. Generous donations from the North Vancouver Rotary Club, community members and our Silent Auction fundraiser made it possible for the program to continue in 2023.
Another "thriving virus" of 2022 was our small choir which welcomed the participation and gifts of those from outside our congregation. A special thank-you to our Interim Music Director, Marcia Mayer for her dedication and creativity.
Outreach to refugees and music ministry have been historical strengths of this congregation. Is there potential for these ministries to thrive by adapting them to our new and evolving context? This summer I am planning to participate in a 5-day course in Edmonton, "Engage Difference! Deepening Understanding for Intercultural Ministry" from The Canadian Council of Churches. The course is open to lay people and there are bursaries available through the ELCIC. Benefits to the congregation are multiplied when congregation members and not just just the pastor receive training, so please let me know if you are interested!
Another opportunity for us to grow in deeper discipleship and ministry is in our welcome to members of 2SLGBTQ+ community. Opening the church doors wider means more than just words of welcome, it also means continuing to explore and learn ways to extend hospitality to our 2SLGBTQ+ siblings. We will be sharing details about ongoing education opportunities to learn about gender identity and expression later in the year. In the meantime, I will state my preferred pronouns in my email signature as an act of solidarity with transgender or non-binary people.
Other signs of life in 2022 were the reception of four new members--Genevieve, Carolyn, Viktoriya and Marcia and welcoming Mohammad into a journey of catechetical instruction. When you have been a member of a congregation for many years, having journeyed through many toils and snares, it is natural, perhaps, to only see a tired, old, dying church, in a building showing wear and tear. But that is not the way newcomers see Gloria Dei. To the newcomers, we are a community in which there is life, acceptance, friendship, and hope.
Looking at our congregation five years ago, there were people expecting the doors to close. "But hope is not about what we expect. To hope, is to acknowledge that the future is not predictable. To hope is to embrace with humility that we don't know what will happen. To hope is to expect to be astonished." (Rebecca Solnit). It is true that our future as a congregation lies in the balance. But in that space of uncertainty, hope sees room to act and influence the outcomes.
I, for one, am full of hope for this congregation. I encourage you, too, to hope with me, work with me, and seize the opportunities the Holy Spirit brings our way.