To:  All People in the Northern Spirit Region

From: Britt Aerhart, Convenor for the 2020 Regional Council Gathering

A silhouette of a person, arms upraised, against a sunset. Dear Northern Spirit Regional Council Friends and Communities of Faith:

The month of June has barely begun. A keen wind has been sweeping over the various Treaty lands we live on these days, tossing the clouds across the sky and stirring up lawn umbrellas and coat-tails everywhere. I can’t help but be aware in these opening blustery days of June that the Spirit often comes to us on the windward side of life just as we think things might be settling down. The Spirit of God is after-all a Sweeper, brooding over the tracks of our comings and goings within creation, brushing away our debris so that our paths can be made smooth and we can be reformed and healed.

As I write this letter to our Northern Spirit United Church community, I am aware that had this been a non-COVID year, we would have been coming together in Camrose next week for our second Regional Gathering as the Northern Spirit Regional Council. This is, however, a COVID year and we are not gathering as we expected. Right now, most of us are simply grappling with whether to regather in person or not as local communities of faith, within the health and safety protocols established for us. Right now, upholding the common good is the first and foremost claim on our presence with each other, walking humbly with God and seeking justice and loving kindness where we are. For that reason we are enjoined to pay attention to the recommendations of the Northern Spirit Regional Council Executive to move slowly and wait on regathering in person until at least September.

There is also something else which we are enjoined to attend to in these opening days of June. We have all been witnessing an outpouring of anger, daily protests, and calls-to-action in response to the murder of George Floyd by four police officers in the United States. Many others have spoken eloquently and clearly to the anti-black racism fuelling this terrible murder far better than I ever could. I refer you particularly to the Joint Ecumenical Letter written by the Anglican Primate of Canada, the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada, and the Moderator of The United Church of Canada.

However, if we are paying attention in this moment, which is what I hope we are doing, we will at last hear the voices of our Creator’s beloved Black, Indigenous, Brown and Asian children which have been telling us all along that racism is a pernicious reality in Canada and not just in the United States. Their angry and anguished voices enjoin us to not only to listen but to believe what they are saying about their lived experiences. These experiences include the disproportionate level of police attention and violence they receive from various enforcement officials, but also the many small everyday racist verbal, social and physical assaults to their dignity and worth as human beings. We may even begin, because we are listening, to understand that racism exists, not because of the lone acts of a few “bad actors”, but because we all participate, whether we mean to or not, in a kind of unspoken social consent which allows racism to exist because it goes unchallenged and unaddressed.

I know we are all tired from our COVID isolation and in some ways that puts us more on edge than we normally are. I know we are all so longing for a return to normal, for something good to appear to us: the strength of the earth, the reunion within families, the gathering of the communities which anchor us in our faith.

But I also know that for many of us the return to normal is not so attractive or idyllic, and in fact we long instead for a going forward toward something new that converts us as a society and as individuals from our old prejudices and hostilities. Having just come through Pentecost Sunday, we have all been reminded that the roots of the church lie in the presence of the Holy Spirit blowing through locked doors and dark rooms, sweeping away the old creation by offering up the spiritual gift of hearing and understanding each other across deep divides and barriers. It is my prayer that this same Spirit will blow through us anew as people and as a church, inspiring us to soul deep reflection on who and what we are called to be in this time we are living in.

As I end this pastoral letter, I want to commend to you with thanks the work of Earl Reaburn, Pastoral Relations Minister, Northern Spirit Regional Council over these past months. He will be on a much-deserved extended study leave from June 22 to August 21, inclusive. Earl has asked me to remind all ministry personnel to also take a vacation this summer, particularly a restful one, with the additional reminder that it is important for Pastoral Charges to support and encourage ministry personnel to do this.

While Earl is away, Kathy Jackson will remain in the Northern Spirit office over the summer and you can address any Pastoral Relations inquiries to Shannon McCarthy, Executive Minister, Northern Spirit Regional Council. I also want to commend to you with thanks the work of Ruth Lumax who is finishing her term as Chairperson of the Executive. Gord Waldie, St. Paul’s United Church, Grande Prairie, will be taking her place June 10, 2020. We are grateful to Ruth’s commitment to the Northern Spirit Regional Council these past three years.

My term as Convenor, 2020 Annual Meeting, Northern Spirit Regional Council will end with the rise of our short online Regional Meeting, slated to take place in October 2020. I invite you to discern your own potential call to seek a nomination to the Convenor position so that you can become a key part of the planning for our next in-person full gathering in 2021.

Finally I want to thank Anna Constantine for stepping forward with the good folks at Grace United Church, Edmonton to plan a region-wide service for use by all communities of faith on Sunday, June 14 or afterwards. That June 14 service will, I understand, be pre-taped and available via links on the Northern Spirit Regional Council Website and Facebook page by Friday, June 12.

In closing, may I offer up the words to this century old hymn as a blessing:
God be in your head and in your understanding;
God be in your eyes and in your looking;
God be in your mouth and in your speaking;
God be in your heart and in your thinking;
God be at your end and at your departing.

Britt L. Aerhart, Convenor,
2020 Annual Meeting,
Northern Spirit Regional Council