For a United Church chaplain on his first naval posting, it was a “real baptism by fire.”
So says Padre (Major) Mike Gibbons, 37, recounting the evening of February 27, 2014, aboard HMCS Protecteur. The supply ship was 600 kilometres out of Pearl Harbor when a large fire suddenly engulfed its engine room, crippling its power supply, as four-metre waves tossed the darkened, disabled ship around.
I spent the first part of this week as an ecumenical guest at the annual gathering of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops. There are some things about their meetings that are very different from ours in the United Church, (no lineups at the women’s washroom is one of them), but as with any Christian group, the things we hold in common are greater than the differences.
“When you do something, someone will come behind you.” Alberta Billy, who asked the United Church for an apology 30 years ago, said that. She and many others trusted that it would be so, and we have been blessed through their courage and trust.
Attracting young families is a challenge many churches face, but Castlegar United Church in Castlegar, British Columbia, thinks it may have a solution.
Every fourth Sunday, families from the surrounding community are invited to take part in a Worship for the Child Within event. Rev. Greg Powell, minister for Castlegar United, says that Castlegar has tried to design a style of worship that is “engaging for young and old alike.”
It’s the middle of September, and I’m still getting used to the idea of it being September!
Somehow the shift from the lazy, hazy days of summer to the pumped-up energy of the first week of school, the resumption of committee gatherings at the General Council Office, and the flurry of welcome back Sundays in congregations, is just a little abrupt.
In these transitional times of year many of us feel torn between the time past and the time coming.
To me, one of the great losses of the last 30 years in our church is that we do not often ask people about their experience of God. Perhaps we are afraid of appearing wacko or irrational but it has often shut us up. We can go for years and not know whether the person down the row from us may have had their pickup truck surrounded by a shaft of light and they felt encompassed by an overwhelming sense of love and rightness or whether they have struggled an entire lifetime wondering why God seemed absent in an abusive household.
On the surface, the British Columbia community of New Denver seems like an odd place to find a grassroots reinvention of church. Tucked away in the Kootenay region in the province’s southeast, 500 people live in the small village, where the pastoral charge has not had a minister in over 25 years. The village’s United Church was recently sold, and when meeting in the sister church down the road proved impractical, the small congregation began meeting in members’ homes.
Every Tuesday, people gather in the chapel of First United Church in Ottawa to offer healing. They are there to conduct Healing Pathway sessions. Practitioners learn to be spiritually grounded, heart-centred channels of God’s healing love. Across Canada, more than 100 other congregations are doing the same thing, as trained practitioners embody God’s unconditional healing love for those who come to receive.
The United Church of Canada doesn’t have a singular motto or slogan it is known for, though there are many strong statements already in use across the church. On our website’s home page, under our name, are these words: “Discover the power of prayer, action, and community.”