Dan Benson is blogging on his experience as a United Church representative to the ACT Alliance General Assembly in Uppsala, Sweden. Read his other dispatches from the meeting.

Throughout my work life, I've always placed a high value on getting together with colleagues—those doing the same work as I do, but especially those who are doing it differently or in a different context.  

And the surprising thing about church work, is that it's almost limitless in its variety and contexts. That's something that struck me again today at the opening of ACT Alliance's third general assembly here in Sweden. Hundreds of people from all over the world, representing some 140 different church-based organizations, all of us carrying a particular incarnation of the "good news" and how we live it out in our corner of creation. Advocates for women's rights in Kenya, emergency relief in Indoneisa, refugee support in the Middle East, agricultural training and economic development in India, defending the environment in world forums—this is the daily work of just a few of the people I spoke to today.

The United Church's Patti Talbot (right) bundles up in cold weather for a group photo with church partners from around the world at the start of the ACT Alliance meeting in Sweden.
The United Church's Patti Talbot (right) with church partners from around the world at the start of the ACT Alliance meeting in Sweden.
Credit: 
Courtesy of Patti Talbot / The United Church of Canada

It seems a world away from my small congregation in Scarborough, where, although we talk about such issues, it can be easy to to drift into a sense all this is far, far away, and that it's not our problem. Besides, we've got enough to worry about with a cranky boiler, a sometimes-cranky minister (me), and the usual stuff of congregational life such as offerings, the Harvest Dinner, and the perpetual question of "where are the young people?"

Yet connecting with these people today, listening to their stories about their work, witnessing their passion about making the world a better place, reminds me about what church is about. And it's not that their version is better than what I left behind in Scarborough for a week. It's about both being absolutely crucial to what church is. I'm reminded how local communities of faith can be agents of change in real and meaningful ways, and too often underestimate their strength. And, that social justice groups and organizations need to be grounded in the simplicity and community of a bunch of people working in the kitchen to put on yet another church supper.

I am reminded that all of us need to pause and reflect on why we're doing any of this against such extraordinary odds—and doing it despite so much evidence that it's making so little difference. And in that pause, realize that we're doing it because we don't have a choice. We do it because even the smallest flicker of light prevails against the deepest shadows.

Dan Benson is minister at St. Paul's United Church in Scarborough, ON and a United Church representative with partner ACT Alliance.