February 11, 2022

Friends in Christ within the Northern Spirit Regional Council:

Grace and peace to all of you as we approach the beginning of another Lenten season, and (perhaps more significantly) the 2nd anniversary of when our world changed with the first lock-downs of COVID-tide.

I suggest it has been a difficult two years. Just the other day, as we were talking about starting to plan worship for Lent, someone said, referencing living through the disruptions of COVID-tide, “haven’t we had enough Lent by now? Can’t we just jump on to Easter?”. Theology and liturgical seasons aside, I think many of us can identify with that sentiment. At the very least, there are days when I have this wish we could flip a switch and just get “back to normal” but of course wishes and dreams are not always our reality. Luckily, we are beloved Children of the God who fills all of life and walks with us every step of the way. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

As disruptive as the whole last two year have been, the last couple of weeks have been more distressing to my heart. The emotional energy that has been building during the pandemic appears to be coming to a head. Whatever opinions we might individually have about mask mandates or vaccine passports or freedom convoys or border blockades, we still need to remember that we are people called to love our family, friends, neighbours and enemies. It has broken my heart to see the number of Facebook posts saying things like “if you agree with ______ then unfriend me now”. It has broken my heart to hear from some people that they have cut off entire blocks of their family for that reason. In many cases I understand the depth of passion but still it breaks my heart, still it seems to me a sign of how often we fall short of being the people of Love the Christ calls us to be.

These divisions extend into our Communities of Faith. Ever since 2020, our congregations have included people who thought the restrictions were over-done and people who grew increasingly frustrated with a government that did not appear, in their minds, to be doing enough. We have had debates about when or how to have services in-person or online or not at all. We have had arguments about whether or not to require people to be vaccinated to enter our buildings. Many of our leaders have probably had complaints from both sides of the debates, been told they were getting it wrong. Still, we are all trying to sort out what is the faithful, safe way to be the church in our particular context, with our particular realities, within the larger picture of a society trying to plot a path through the morass of public health and social health and mental health considerations.

I think it is about to get a bit more complicated, at least in the short term. As provincial governments relax or remove restrictions, there are some who are saying, “Finally! Long overdue!”. There are also people who are pretty sure things are moving too quickly, that they also want a life beyond the restrictions but think slow and steady are a better path (it is what wins the race as I recall). As we move into this next phase we once again will have to make choices. As overall mask mandates end, do we still ask or require or encourage masks to be worn in our buildings? In the absence of capacity limits are we comfortable packing our buildings to the rafters? (Admittedly that may not be a common problem for many of our buildings ‒ but wouldn’t it be a wonderful problem to have!) Is there a willingness to continue having restrictions once our governments are saying there is no more need? If so, how long do we continue them and how do we know when it is time to lift them? How is God calling us to BE the church right now? What is the faithful, safe way to answer that call?

I have no answers to those questions. I can not tell you how best to answer them in your context. In fact, I am still unsure how I might speak to those sorts of questions at our local Council meeting later this month. What I do have is the unshaken belief that as we address those difficult questions, as we wrestle with the best way to be a Community of Faith in a world that is changing so much, we are not alone. Several decades ago when the writers of the New Creed chose to begin and end with the affirmation that God is with us, it was a stroke of theological and poetic brilliance. We are not alone, we will never be alone, we are held in the arms of Love that will not let us go. That should give us hope, and maybe even a bit of confidence, as we make what are sometimes very difficult choices.

Friends, as we move into this next phase of the life we share together, may we be gentle with each other. Let us hold each other in Love, even when, or perhaps especially when, we disagree vehemently. I encourage all of us to prayerfully consider and discern what is the faithful way to create safe, welcoming, loving and hopeful communities. I am sure that whatever we do we may disappoint somebody. We may second guess ourselves, we may be second guessed by our neighbours. There may be some people who come back at a run, there may be others who are far more cautious. That is the reality of our diverse community. But whatever choices we make, whatever second guessing and criticism may follow, please remember that we are called together to love each other. May God help us to reach for the goal of living love for each other and for ourselves.                                                                                       Photo: Anna Tarazevich (Pexels)

We are called to be the church. We are called to be agents proclaiming and modelling the Kingdom of Love. That was true before COVID hit. It has remained true through all the disruption and anxiety and grief of COVID-tide. It will remain true whatever slings and arrows outrageous fortune might choose to throw at us in the weeks, months, and years to come. Through it all God has been with us, God is with us, God will be with us – consoling, supporting, prodding, encouraging us as we take part in God’s mission. Thanks be to God.

In closing, I write these words two days before the opening session of the 44th General Council (GC44). By the time you read them that session will have been and gone but GC44 will continue to hold sessions until we conclude our meeting with the installation of the new Moderator on August 7th. Please hold the Commissioners to GC44 in prayer, please pray that we would hear the Divine Whisper (or the Divine Roar) as we take on the work you have entrusted to us.

Take heart. Lent is on the horizon and beyond that is a cross on a hill. But beyond the cross is the surprise of life that still wins. Within and beyond the empty tomb is a promise of the Comforter, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit who empowers us. May God be with you all: today, tomorrow, and forevermore.

Be blessed my friends. And be a blessing.
Gord Waldie, Chairperson of Northern Spirit Regional Council Executive