23 January 2023
In January of 2021, I was considering a call to serve at Mount Olivet (MOLC). At the time I was serving in Hanna, Alberta, and I went to see my physician [who had been trained in South Africa]. I said, “I am considering a call to another church but do not feel comfortable leaving this community during this pandemic. I am wondering if I ought to wait till it ‘blows over.’ ” Her response was, “Based on what I know about new viruses, you could be waiting many years before this pandemic has run its course.” How true those words were.
For the last three years, we in the church have been saying that once the pandemic is over we will get back to normal. We have been trusting and believing in those words. Churches have been running deficits. Every month we are expecting the number of worshippers to increase. The problem is, we are getting back to some sense of normal – but we are not just bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels. Individually, and as a faith community, we are walking with a limp.
The ‘limp’ is from the effect of months of social isolation: practising public health guidelines; worrying about loved ones; worrying about ourselves; experiencing division within families and friend groups. And now, we are all feeling the effects of rising costs of everything. All of which has and continues to take a toll on us individually, and as a faith community.
Compared to other churches, attendance wise, we are doing really well. But, compared to pre-pandemic, not so well. There are a number of reasons for why Sunday attendance is down. And none of them ought to provoke any sense of guilt―it just expresses the reality of what we are living in. I have said, and continue to say, “People are free to worship in how they see fit.”
So, here we are coming up to three years since the pandemic was declared, which caused a whole lot of uncertainty, and we continue to live with a lot of uncertainty, both individually and as a faith community.
But, one reality that remains faithful is the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. Every week, I see the activity of the Holy Spirit at work in individual lives, and in the life of MOLC. In these uncertain times the writer of Proverbs reminds us:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Much Grace to us all,
Advent is the season of waiting, we are waiting to celebrate the first coming of Christ into our world, and we are waiting for Christ’s second coming in the fullness of time.
As Christians, we have a deep yearning for God to “fix” things. We yearn for suffering to end, both for ourselves and for the world. We long for Christ to return in the fullness of his glory and set all things right.
One of the most common phrases I say is, “There is a whole lot of pain in this world.” Everywhere I go and I spend time listening to others, I hear stories that are so sad.
Over the last two months, I have given three presentations to groups on the topic of rural mental health. After each talk people share stories of how suicide has touched their life, how addictions have ripped families apart, how mental unwellness is experienced intergenerationally, how grief is overwhelming, and the stories just go on…
In the face of so much pain and suffering in our lives, in our families, and in the world, we can just get overwhelmed and cry out, “Christ would you please come again and hurry…” We yearn for suffering to end, both for ourselves and for the world.
On December 11th at 4pm we are hosting a service called “The Longest Night.” This service will be a time for us to feel and name the “stuff” we carry with us. This “stuff” is our grief for the losses we have experienced, whether that be the death of a loved one or a friend, the loss of home or health, the loss of meaningful work or purpose, a divorce or broken relationship. All of this takes a tremendous toll on our mental wellbeing – and we cry out “How long?”
This “stuff” that we all carry affects our overall well being. We feel it in our heart and gut as heaviness. Our mind spins around and keeps us awake at night. It keeps us from experiencing peace and joy ― the two emotions we are “expected” to feel during the upcoming Christmas season.
So, on this evening, we will be given the space to feel, to name, to show compassion, and to know that we are not alone in our stuff. We will ask that God’s grace heal us, hold us, and sustain us. Then, we will gather in our Banquet Hall for soup and chili. We are all in this together…
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Much Grace to us all,
Pastor Colin’s Reflections
This summer, I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmer. She is a trained Environmental Biologist who first views creation from an Indigenous perspective, which simply means, all things are connected; interconnected and interdependent.
Dr. Kimmer explains one dimension of this: “Recent research has shown that the smell of humus exerts a physiological effect on humans. Breathing in the scent of Mother Earth stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin, the same chemical that promotes bonding between mother and child.” As a former farmer and gardener, I found this quote most fascinating.
All my life I have loved the smell of soil: the smell of fresh tilled soil in the spring; pulling weeds out of the ground during the growing season and smelling the roots. And the same holds true when I am pulling carrots, digging potatoes or beets, or simply working with the soil. Now, thanks to Dr. Kimmer, I understand why my body has had such a positive, visceral response when my sense of smell connects with soil. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone that, in the context of soil, is meant to help us humans feel a deep connection to humus—to the earth.
The word human comes from the Latin word “humus,” meaning earth or ground. Being human means acknowledging that we’re formed from the earth. Our creation story calls the “first” human Adam. In Hebrew the word is Adamah, a gender neutral word meaning ‘earth’. Our creation story tells us that we humans are of the earth—from the dust of the earth. Adamah in Hebrew can be translated as “earth creature.”
In Genesis 2:15, we are reminded that our calling as humans is to serve and preserve creation. “And the Lord God placed the ‘earth creature’ into the garden to serve and preserve it.”
So no wonder people like myself love to garden and often say, “Working in the soil is good for our soul.”
This year I shared a garden with our daughter Maria, who lives north of Camrose. This weekend I will be spending time feeling deeply grateful for the privilege to participate with our Creator in working as a human in the humus.
Blessings to you on this Thanksgiving weekend, as you reflect on your connection to the earth and to the land that supports our existence.
With much gratitude,
This Sunday, July 10th, is Confirmation Sunday. Avram, Yami, and Mitchell will read their statements of faith and then, along with the congregation, profess the faith statement of the Church in the words of the Apostles’ Creed.
As Christians we profess the faith of the Church, and as Christians we seek to live this faith out. Within us is both the faith of the Church and our own understanding of this faith, which is our faith statement. How you understand who God is; how you understand who God is for you; how you understand who you are in relationship with God—is your faith statement.
Faith and Trust say the same thing. What we put our faith in, is what we put our trust in. What we put our trust in, is what we put our faith in. The problem we have is, as Christians we are called to put our faith in God—a reality that we cannot see, hear, or touch. God is invisible to our physical senses. As humans it is a whole lot easier to put our trust in what we can experience through our physical senses. This is why it is easier to put our trust in other humans, the physical things we have, our financial securities, or our own intelligence. It is easier to put our trust in ourselves and what we possess, than in a presence that we cannot see or tangibility experience .
Faith is about putting our trust in God—the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, the person of Jesus—who “sees” you, accepts you, and loves you no matter what, and in the Holy Spirit—who “speaks” to you in the depths of your soul. This is our Christian faith.
We are seen, known, heard, accepted, and unconditionally loved. Our faith journey is about us coming to know that this is true for us.
Confirmation is about helping the Confirmands to understand what we as a Church believe, teach, and confess. And, helping them to understand how they make sense of this faith that lives in them. Teaching the faith is about what God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have done, are doing, and will do in their lives.
Faith is a gift that is given to us so that we can all know God’s love, acceptance, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and guidance for us and for the world. Confirmation Sunday is a celebration of this gift!
Much Grace to us all,
Pastor Colin’s Thoughts for Father’s Day
Sunday, June 19th is Father’s Day. Just like Mother’s Day, this day is full of mixed emotions.
I believe that our parents did their best with what they had; I believe that we as parents did the best with what we had. We all come into this world innocent, but we are like sponges. As babies, and then children, we absorb all the energies that are around us. We have no defences to the hurtful energies that we experience. We absorb all the love we get, that helps us to feel safe and secure in our world. And we absorb all the pain that the adults express around us, whether that pain be direct or indirect — we take it all in. Children are innocent, and the pain we absorb as children stays with us until we can heal from it. That pain, along with the good, shapes the person we will be in the world.
As a result of being energy-absorbing-beings, we take on the good our parent(s) pass on to us and we take on the pain our parent(s) pass on to us. This is one of the reasons Father’s Day has mixed emotions. If we were raised by our dads, we experienced the good they had to offer us and we experienced the pain that they carried, and then, passed on to us. On Father’s Day, we give God thanks for the goodness that we received from our dads. And we acknowledge that our dads were men who carried their own pain. Pain they often received from their dads before them. My relationship with my dad was similar to his relationship to his dad, and the same for my grandad and his dad. I can see in my own family how woundedness has been passed on through generations. My great-grandfather, my grandfather, and my father all did the best they could with what they had and how they understood being a father meant.
My dad died in 1993 at the age 73. When he died and people talked about him, I wondered to myself: “Who are they talking about?” The man I experienced at home, and worked alongside for 25 years, and the man that others experienced as Oliver was different. Over the last 29 years, when I listen to others who knew my dad say to me, “You are a lot like your dad.” I say “What do you mean?” And they say “You are an open, kind, full of emotion, compassionate, and a loving person… and so was your dad. You look like your dad, you sound like him, you walk like him, your personalities are so similar. You are your dad.” My dad lives on in me…
Every time I hear this I cry. Tears of joy, to know that dad lives on in me, and profound sadness that I did not experience the man others did. Others experienced the “real” Oliver, I experienced the socially conditioned Oliver. My dad was taught that being a dad was to not show heartfelt emotions through words or actions. I never heard my dad say, “Colin, I love you.” I have no memory of being hugged. Only saw my dad cry five times in my 35 years. He complimented me once, that was in 1988. But, behind my back, told others how proud he was of me. Even though we farmed together for 25 years, we never sat down and talked about our feelings. I regret that I never got to experience the man my dad really was. I do not blame my dad, it was how he was raised and taught to be.
Yet, in spite of all the hard stuff my dad had to live through, he was a good man and a good dad. My biggest regret is, I never told my dad that I was proud of him. My dad was a good man… I wish I had told him that. The greatest gift my dad gave me was to persevere. When everything collapsed in my life in 2005, it was his ‘voice’ that helped to keep me going as I worked to ‘back up on my feet.’ When I was studying in seminary in my late fifties, my dad’s work ethic got the work done. The older I get, the smarter my dad is getting. My dad was a good man, and I am a better man today because of him.
Father’s Day is a day of mixed emotions as we remember the dads we had and still have. It’s a day to give thanks for the goodness we received. It’s a day we ask for healing, both for ourselves and for our children. It’s a day that we, as dads, ask for forgiveness so we can forgive ourselves. It’s a day we acknowledge the men who have, and continue to long to be, dads or grandads. It’s a day where we acknowledge all the emotion this day brings and know that it is all okay. It is a day we acknowledge that those who have gone on before are held in Jesus’ tender mercy and care, just like our lives today are also held in the same tender mercy and care.
Much Grace to us all,
Last month was the first anniversary of becoming your Pastor. From my first week here until now, I have always felt comfortable here. The discernment that the Call Committee exercised, as well as my own sense of discernment, has been affirmed in this level of comfort. Despite arriving during a global pandemic, with no in-person worship ―or no in-person anything!― I have gotten to have many meaningful conversations with people. I have had 70+ intentional visits, something that would not have happened prior to the pandemic. I am grateful for the openness and vulnerability shown to me during these visits. Over and over, I have heard of people’s faithfulness to our faith community, and to one another.
Where I have felt the most comfortable is recording Living Room Liturgy. Anytime before Sunday, Alieda and I gather at the front of the church, I sit on a stool and look at a camera that is 20 feet away and delivering words of welcome, prayers, and a sermon into an empty church. Pre-pandemic, I would never have considered this as an option. I might have considered recording the service live, but never a stand alone worship service. I am very grateful for Alieda’s skills and talents in producing this online service. There are people who connect with this service who have no connection with MOLC; some even live outside of Alberta! And it’s a great way for our people to stay connected to us when they are away from home. All in all, this is an important ministry of our church.
It’s good for us to be back to in-person worship, to Bible study, and Confirmation classes. Slowly we are getting back to what we have been used to. We continue to find that balance between respecting people’s need for safety and a desire to get back to what feels normal. Some things will return, others will not. This pandemic has taught us how easily infection spreads through social behaviours. Staying home when sick, washing &/or sanitizing our hands, and other practices that minimize spread will just become normal practice.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. This day is a day of mixed emotions. For some, great joy… for some, deep sorrow. For many, much of the good in us is from the moms we have or had; their goodness lives on in us. For many, while their moms did the best with what they had; their unresolved trauma and pain got passed on. And of course, for many, their moms died too soon, and that grief lives on. And for many others, the deep desire to be a mom never got fulfilled; that can be a lifelong pain. So, this day brings with it a lot of emotions, a lot of memories, and we honour them all.
Much Grace to us all,