I Was Homeless and You Gave Me Shelter

homeless

This post originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Anglican Life. Posted with permission.

Early one spring morning in 1970, my mother arrived in Vancouver on a train from Toronto. She had me and my three younger brothers in tow. We had not eaten in more than a day. We had no money and no place to live. We were homeless. Thankfully, on that occasion, an uncle and his family took us in for a few weeks until my mother was able to get back on her feet. I was six years of age at the time. This is my earliest memory of being homeless, but it was not the first time and it would not be the last.

Having experienced homelessness in my childhood, it was with great interest that I read the report, Everyone Counts: St. John’s Homeless Point-in-Time Count 2016, an endeavour of End Homelessness St. John’s (EHSJ). This document reports “a count of the number of people experiencing homelessness” in the city of St. John’s on November 30, 2016. The count indicated that “there were at least 166 people experiencing homelessness in St. John’s” on that date, 38 of whom were youth between 16 and 24 years of age. That was just one day. EHSJ estimates about 800 people experience homelessness at some point each year in St. John’s. I highly recommend reading the report to get a sense of the scope and complexity of homelessness in our capital city.

The Canadian Homelessness Research Network defines homelessness as “the situation of someone who is without stable, permanent and appropriate housing.” I suspect most of us think of folks sleeping in parks, alleyways or vacant buildings when we think of the homeless. These are the “unsheltered homeless” and they are only the tip of the iceberg. The definition of homelessness includes those accommodated in emergency shelters, interim housing, motels and institutions, as well as those temporarily living with friends or family “without guarantee of continued residency or prospects of permanent housing”. These folks are the “hidden homeless” and constitute the majority of the homeless in St. John’s. According to Everyone Counts, of the 166 homeless people identified that day, only 3 were unsheltered. The rest were hidden from view in emergency shelters (81), transitional housing (5), someone else’s home (22), or in an institutional setting (55). Ignoring the plight of these our brothers and sisters falls well short of our baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being. There is no dignity in homelessness. Trust me on this one.

As the Church, we are called to respond with compassion to the plight of the homeless in our midst. The question is, how? This is a question before our diocesan Society and Justice Committee. It should be a question before parish communities as well. We may find answers in the responses of other parts of the Church, such as Centre 454 and Cornerstone Housing for Women in the Diocese of Ottawa. We may find answers by engaging with community groups that serve the homeless, seeking ways in which we can partner with them. Homelessness is a complex social justice issue and there are no easy answers. Nonetheless, as the body of Christ, we can’t turn a blind eye. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) I’m certain he didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive list of whom we are called to serve. Indeed, “I was homeless and you gave me shelter” does not seem out of place in this list.

Father Mark Nichols

 

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An Advent Mixtape for the Beginning of the World

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Our theme this year for Advent is “The Beginning is Near”. In Advent we do not simply wait for the end of the story, but the beginning. Advent is not about the end of all things, but the true beginning of all things. Advent is about the arrival of Jesus. In fact, that is literally what the word Advent means – arrival. The arrival of Jesus marks the end of the old ways of war, apathy, despair and hate, and the beginning of peace, hope, joy and love. For the early Christians this was good news or gospel. For them the season of Advent was about preparing for and participating in this arrival, this new way of being in the world.

I think one of the ways to help prepare is through music and song. We do this each year in worship. We sing familiar songs to help us get ready. Well what I present here is a non-traditional mixtape to help us get ready. Good music has a way of speaking truth much more powerfully than simply words alone. Good musicians are prophetic artists that can show a world that we can only imagine right now. So like the seven seals of the Book of Revelation, it’s my hope that these songs will open up for you your own apocalypse, your own unveiling of a world to come, a world already coming, and our place in it.

Wait! by Common Deer

Common Deer is a young, up and coming band from Toronto. They blend classical influences with synthesizers and arena rock enthusiasm to create some pretty energetic music. In this song Wait! they capture perfectly the urgency of Advent. When they sing in the chorus, “Wait! There’s no time to waste. They’ll take all there is to take” they seem a contemporary echo of the words of Jesus, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32).

A Beginning Song by the Decemberists

The Decemberists 2015 album was appropriately titled “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”. It pretty much captures the view of the world that a lot of people hold these days. In a clever turn, the last song on the album is A Beginning Song. This ending in beginning captures well the ethos of Advent. In beginning the Advent liturgical season we look to the end, the unveiling in Mark’s little apocalypse in chapter 13. The song is accompanied by a beautiful video. The song itself also picks up on the Advent theme of waiting and hope. They ask, “I am waiting, should I be waiting?” And again, “I am hopeful, should I be hopeful?” It’s an introspective song that invites us to see the light in us and in the world around us.

A New Song by Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper has made a name for himself lately in the hip-hop and pop worlds for blending thoughtful, socially aware lyrics with classic R&B, Gospel and Soul sounds. He’s not afraid to delve into religion, politics and race in his songs. In this song, which he debuted on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he explores fatherhood, fame, sin, temptations, racial inequality, white privilege and societal apathy. Things aren’t right the way they are now, but Chance knows that social change can’t come without first dealing with our own demons. Here he is a modern day John the Baptizer calling us to make ourselves ready for a new day that’s coming, even now: “The day is on its way, couldn’t wait no more, here it comes, ready or not, here it comes.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Hey! Rosetta is a local St. John’s band with a big sound and poetic lyrics written by frontman Tim Baker. Their Christmas EP from a few years back is a favourite of mine and any of the songs on it could be on this list. I choose this one for our list because it is an Advent standard and familiar to the religious and unreligious alike. The song itself is based on the O Antiphons, or the great Os, and are Magnificat antiphons used in Advent Vespers (evening prayers). In Hey! Rosetta’s version they strip away their powerful instrumentation and leave the raw emotion of Baker’s vocals and the aching, longing of the lyrics. It’s a beautifully stark cover of a great Christian hymn.

It’s the End of the World by REM

In this post-punk 80’s anthem REM gives voice to the apathetic anxiety of living in a post-nuclear, capitalistic society. The video has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. A young boy sifts through the chaotic trash of a world that was, but is gone. The boy holds old pictures of people, perhaps ancestors long gone. It’s as if he is looking for something, anything to make sense of the environment that he finds himself in. As the song fades and the camera pans out we see that one of the walls of the house is missing. Even if the boy doesn’t realize it, the world is not contained to the room where he finds himself. As the chorus repeats, we see that in fact it is not the end of the world – the future is wide open. The end is never the end, just another beginning. This is the story of Advent, and the heart of the Christian story.

The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan

The poet laureate, Bob Dylan, was the prophetic voice of a generation. The 60’s were a time of great social and political upheaval and Bob Dylan provided the soundtrack. But revolution, political, spiritual or otherwise, is timeless and so, therefore, Bob Dylan is timeless. Our current time feels eerily like the 60’s. Political turmoil, race relations, economic inequality and gender issues that were awoken in the 60’s have stirred again. Actually, Advent reminds us that this sense of longing for change and justice is nothing new, but part of the human condition. With echoes of the Beatitudes and the Magnificat, Dylan strums his guitar and reminds each new generation of the Kingdom hope to come:

” Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing”

You by Gungor

Gungor is a husband-wife duo that came out of the contemporary Christian music scene, but as artists they have quickly outgrown that genre. Creative, genre-defying songs, great musicianship and smart lyrics make Gungor worthy of your iTunes or Spotify playlists. You is a song of spiritual journey from childish, Sunday School faith, through doubt and despair, on to openness and thoughtful faith. The song ends with a wide open faith in Jesus:

“You were there
Every broken heart and tangled care
Jesus, Teacher, Brahman Light
Son of God and Source of Life
And it’s always only you

Even in our own personal faith journeys, the end is never the end. Each chapter that ends in our life is simply a door to a new us, a new beginning. The cosmic story of Advent’s endings and beginnings is played out in me and you, every day, day after day.

So there’s my mixtape for Advent, the beginning of the world. This is not an exhaustive list and I could add many, many more. What songs would you include on your playlist? Feel free to share here so that our mixtapes becomes the soundtrack for Advent, the beginning of a new world.

 

 

Happy New Year

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With the First Sunday in Advent, December 3rd 2017, we begin another liturgical year, the Church’s Year. With the Season of Advent, the rhythms of the church year begin again and Sunday by Sunday we commemorate and re-experience events upon which our salvation is grounded. Advent is the beginning of this weekly journey.

Advent is from the Latin and means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Advent emphasizes the coming of the Christ to the individual human spirit that is, firstly, the coming of Christ in judgement, the Second Coming, and, secondly, the coming of the Christ Child in great humility at the Incarnation. Advent is marked by expectation and anticipation. We look forward to the second coming of Jesus while at the same time we prepare to celebrate his first coming as a child in the manger. Since the sixth century, the Season of Advent has been set aside as a time of hope and preparation, but it is more complex than just waiting for the next December 25th as we shall see below.

As we look around the church and experience the Holy Eucharist, there are a number of indications that we are in the Season of Advent 2017.

The first is the Advent Wreath which is a visual indicator of the Advent Season. It stands near the lectern and is used at the beginning of each liturgy during the Advent and Christmas seasons. On each of the four Sundays in Advent, we light a new candle. The four outer candles, which are blue, represent a period of waiting and anticipation, and the fifth candle, the Christ Candle, is white and is in the centre of the wreath. It represents Jesus, the light of the world who has come into our world of darkness to bring light and life. This last candle we light on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The second is the use of the blue chancel hangings and the blue priests’ vestments. The earliest record of the use of blue in a colour sequence dates back to the twelfth century in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The significance of blue for the Canadian context is our preparation in hope and joy, and calls to mind the Advent Preface: “Now we watch for the day when he will come again in power and great triumph to judge this world that we, without shame or fear, may rejoice to behold his appearing.” (Book of Alternative Services, 219)

The third is that this year a St. Mark’s the Service of the Holy Eucharist on Saturdays and Sundays includes Advent materials from other National Churches such as the Church of England as well as some recent Canadian Advent liturgical materials. Hearing another version of the psalms. or the Lord’s Prayer, or reciting a more recent edition of our affirmation of faith (The Creed) nudges us in a gentle way “to stay awake”! The Great Thanksgiving comes to us from the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sister church with whom we have a special relationship across Canada. As Anglicans, we are constantly seeking fresh language and idioms to help us express our faith as a living and vibrant force in our lives.

The fourth is the various themes we find in the Sunday readings from the Old Testament of the First Sunday in Advent through to the Gospel on the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The scripture readings focus on the final judgment, the Second Coming of Christ, and on the coming of the Christ child at Christmas, our redemption. From the First Sunday in Advent, we read: “The Son of Man will come in glory and gather the elect, though no one knows the day or the hour, so stay awake so that you will not be asleep when the Master returns.” (Mark 13: 24 – 37) By the time we reach the Fourth Sunday in Advent, the readings turn from judgment to the joyful news of the birth of Christ, the Incarnation. This is where the promise of God’s faithfulness to God’s people becomes a reality: “and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1: 26 – 38) Advent is more than the church’s way of counting down the shopping days to Christmas Day. Advent confronts us with death and judgment, and waiting redemption. It bids us to be ready and on the lookout.

While Advent is a season about waiting and anticipation, is it just about sitting around and twiddling our thumbs? Is there more to Advent than putting in time? Many of us know only too well what it is to wait for someone to arrive, or to put in time until the clock strikes at 5 p.m. How we use our time of waiting is paramount. We may use this time without any purpose or focus, or we may use time creatively. Here it is that we find the third focus of the Sunday readings. From Isaiah on the Third Sunday in Advent we see how to use our time creatively: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me: he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to the bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” (Isaiah 61). Waiting creatively, we take up the challenge of living the Kingdom of God as a present reality within our lives and within our communities. We may choose to think of the Kingdom of God as a place or even a state of being we   inherit after our death, but the Kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed is here and now. When the hungry are fed, when the oppressed are treated justly, and the downtrodden are given hope, there is where we find the Kingdom of God, the presence of God. This is the call of Advent. This is our call.

Happy New Year!

Further references:

lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, 2017 2018, Advent)

faithandworship.com (Prayers for Advent)

www.anglican.ca (Resources, Worship, Liturgical Texts Online, Texts for trial use and feedback, Visit Resource)

The Beginning is Near: Advent 2017

The-Beginning-Is-Near“The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here”                                                   The Gospel According to Saint Mark (from The Message)

If you’re anything like me, you probably wince every time you turn on the news, pick up a newspaper or scroll down through your social media newsfeed. What now? What has he who-must-not-be-named said or done now? What crisis is looming? Which of the four horses of the apocalypse now darkens the horizon?

Yes, we live in a time of perpetual crisis, which is perhaps driven by the 24/7 news cycle that floods our senses with constant “breaking news”. There is little doubt that the world is a scary place right now. To not sense this you would have to be living under a rock. There is climate change, economic uncertainty, rising racial tension, renewed nuclear proliferation, the return of fascism and growing threats to our democratic institutions. It’s enough to make you retreat to the comfort of your PJs, Netflix and the relative calm of the fantasy world of Game of Thrones.

But some historical perspective will tell us that the world has always been like this. Humanity has seen its share of violence, disease and despair. But some biblical perspective, as we bear witness to in Advent, tells us that the world will not always be like this.

Now at first glance, Advent may seem like just more doom and gloom. The Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent begins, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24-25). This, though, is not the end of the story, but the beginning. Advent is not about the end of all things, but the true beginning of all things. Advent is about the arrival of Jesus. In fact, that is literally what the word Advent means – arrival.

The arrival of Jesus marks the end of the old ways of war, apathy, despair and hate, and the beginning of peace, hope, joy and love. For the early Christians this was good news or gospel. For them the season of Advent was about preparing for and participating in this arrival, this new way of being in the world. Liturgically we mark off this time differently. Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, another new beginning. We light the Advent candles as we symbolically, week after week, light the lights of hope, peace, joy and love. This year at St. Mark’s we will mark the season of Advent with a brand new, locally sourced liturgy that draws on the wider church for inspiration (more about that later this week).

We also step up our waiting game in Advent. We are not just in the great waiting room of the universe, waiting for God to call our number in that last cosmic judgement. No, Advent waiting is a roll up your sleeves and get to work kind of waiting. At St. Mark’s we emphasize this active waiting in lots of ways: We collect gift cards for the Association for New Canadians, which they then distribute to immigrants and refugees experiencing their first year in a foreign country. We collect food to fill hampers for the hungry in our community. We gather with our neighbours from Logy Bay Manor, the Single Parent Association and Virginia Park Community Centre to share a Christmas meal together. Our Sunday School children will teach us about the important work of Team Broken Earth in Haiti and help us raise funds for this work. Our choir and band will visit the homes of parishioners who can’t get out to worship, bringing them the gift of joyful song and presence.

Saint Mark begins his Gospel by saying, “The good news of Jesus Christ…begins here.” Yes, it begins with Jesus but it also begins with us, right here and right now.  As Christians we are called not to linger too long at the manger, gazing at the infant Jesus, because he refuses to remain in this docile greeting card creation. Instead we are called to follow Christ into the busy streets and broken hearts of the world. We are called to proclaim, heal, forgive, serve and, most of all, love as Christ loved. We are called to follow Christ as he makes all things new.

Are you ready? This is only the beginning!

 

Why Do We Need Church? Yet Another Response

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This time around our response comes from Ashley Ruby. Ashley is a talented organist/pianist who has served at St. Mark’s, St. James’ United Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist here is St. John’s. Her and her husband Jamie have been married a couple of years now and the live in Goulds.

When Reverend Rob asked me to write a response to his “Why We Need Church” blog, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get it done. Thinking and chatting and writing about religion and church and theology are things I truly love to do, but there seems to be little time to do it these days. There’s little time to do many of the things you love to do when there are so many things that need to be done. Although spending time with God is, to me, something that needs to be to done, we know that God is everywhere and in everything, and when my schedule forces me to choose between taking a day to breathe and enjoy my family over waking up and dragging myself to church, I will undoubtedly choose to honor the God I see in the faces of my loved ones, the God I experience when I’m relaxing with a book and the rain is falling outside, and the God of hot coffee, peacefulness, and contentedness.

For me, this is a kind of worship, not unlike the choreographed liturgical dance that takes place within the church walls.

There is a need for both types of worship. But there is also a need for balance, and there is certainly a need to remind church-goers that there is no obligation to attend. There is nothing to feel guilt or shame over when you really need to just stay home in bed. You’re aren’t going to burst into flames because you only go on Christmas and Easter either, something I hear over and over again from the twice-a-year-is-all-I-can-stomach crowd. Guilt and shame are things I, personally, have felt on a regular basis when I have to miss church, for work or an event or even just my own mental health. When I was on the path to ordination and attending Queen’s College full-time, I went to church seven days a week, most days more than once. I would be expected to attend daily offices every single day while simultaneously juggling my studies, my family, working two part-time jobs, my church commitments outside of Queen’s, and all the while maintaining a pleasant demeanour.

I was not pleasant.

I very quickly lost sight of all the things I found beautiful about church worship. I didn’t even enjoy singing anymore. I hated rolling the same prayers around in my mouth day after day; each time I said them they became more and more meaningless to me. Obligation to worship as I was told killed the joy the freedom to worship as I choose had brought me once before. I barely saw my husband because I was spending so much time at church doing church things that church people were expecting, telling, insisting, even, that I do. Meanwhile, the man I stood in God’s house with and promised my life to got barely any of my time and attention, and I don’t know if the God people told me to be quiet and pray to was very happy with me for that. Luckily, when I parted ways with Queen’s, after taking a couple weeks off from church altogether, I began to miss it again, and returned to my Sunday routine albeit with many commitments pared away. However, I’ve since been known to just as often stay home and make some absolutely fabulous waffles on a scattered Sunday morning, just because I can. Freedom to choose is important to me, and my husband and I are both happier people this way.

For the average church-goer, the Sunday morning breakfast-church-dinner-nap routine is tried and true. There’s not a thing wrong with it, and it is that very routine that brought me to the church as an infant and kept me there as an adult. It offers routine to families with young children who need to be taught to set time apart for God. It allows like-minded Christians come together and spend valuable time as a community. There is an energy present in a sanctuary full of people reciting such ancient words, words that mean so much to each and every heart there. But perhaps the main reason this sort of worship is necessary to Christians is that it sets apart time where thoughts are focused on the divine in a variety of media which references our beliefs directly. While appreciating the beauty of creation on a long walk through the woods, or spending an afternoon in the garden with your grandmother truly are beautiful ways to worship God and honor all He’s made, we often miss Him there. We don’t hear Him walking in the garden. The reality of His unfaltering presence doesn’t faze us. We don’t notice Him there in all we do. Worship in a church setting is valuable to the Christian as it draws attention directly to nebulous of our faith with music, symbols, words, ritual, and the human connection with other believers. This is one way in which church, as a place of worship, will always be needed.

On another level, there should be a real desire in the heart of every true Christian for church to become obsolete as quickly as possible. Before you write an angry editorial to Anglican Life about the crazy chick at St. Mark’s, hear me out. What I mean is that church-goers should be consistently working to eradicate all the social issues in the world that churches do so much to relieve. One of the key goals of the church is to help the helpless, and we should be striving, as every good charity should, to create a world in which our help is just no longer needed because there is no one left in want of help. Church, as a charitable organization, is needed right now, but we hope it isn’t needed for long (so does Jesus FYI).

But don’t worry. So long as there are Christians there will be church. If all the hungry mouths in the world are fed, all the marginalized of our society are no longer marginalized, and all our buildings fall down around our ears, there will still be church. When you welcome a friend into your house and treat her like a queen, your house is now church. You are serving your friend as Christ served, you are honoring the love you have for her as Christ loved us too. Loving your neighbour is spreading the Good News, it’s telling a message, and that message is to love. When you hold a loved one’s hand as they lie in palliative care, that hospital room suddenly becomes church too, and you are thanking God for the life they had and the time you had with them and trying to make their passage from life to death calm and easy. When you’re at a dance with your wife, and you’re swaying to the music in a crowd of dancing couples, you’re in church. You’re moving the fearfully, wonderfully made body God gave to you to house your soul, you’re feeling joy and love and happiness, and that is worship and that room is alive like a sanctuary on Easter morning and how beautiful is that?!

A little ditty comes to mind. It was one of the first songs I ever sang as a little girl in junior choir and I honestly never really understood the message until now. Here’s how it goes:

I am the church!

You are the church! We are the church together!

All who follow Jesus,

All around the world,

Yes, we’re the church together!

 The church is not a building,

The church is not a steeple,

The church is not a resting place,

The church is the people.

The church is the people! The church is a love of Christ, a belief in the gospel, a motivation to enact good in the world so as to spread the Word of God, of His power and of His unfailing love, through our own human actions.

And the world needs it. The world needs love. The world needs church. As long as there are Christians, there will be church. As long as there is love, there will be church. There just will.

Let’s stop trying so hard, okay?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Do We Need Church? Another Response

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In this response to Rev. Robert’s post “Why Do We Need Church?”, Allison Billard tells us why church is important to her. Allison, her husband Robert and two young sons attend our 10:30 am Sunday worship. Allison is a St. Mark’s vestry member, part of our prayer writers group and writes regularly for Anglican Life.

Do we need church? I can see the argument to the contrary. For the first time in over a decade I haven’t been to church all summer. I can see how families find it difficult and inconvenient and undesirable to get up on Sunday morning and come to church. For people who only ever went a scattered time as a child, or not at all, I honestly can’t see what the appeal might be to give it a try for the first time.

I went to church nearly every sunday with my mom all while I was growing up. I do agree with Rick, whose reflection came ahead of mine, that guilt does still play a part in my getting to church some days (or lots of days, depending on how life is going). But more than that, much more than that, I feel a greater sense of purpose, belonging and just “being” when I’m involved in the church. When I stray away, I quickly feel lost and disconnected.

I feel a longing for church. I love being a part of the faithful community. I love hymns both old and new. I love the traditional bits and a lot of the fun new stuff I’ve encountered too. And I’m so happy to be even a small part of the work of the church, especially at St. Mark’s as we do some rather groundbreaking things in our little corner of the world.

I truly believe that if we are to call ourselves Christian we most certainly need church. We need to gather as a community and worship, celebrate, mourn, and mark the feasts. We need to come together and find ways to make a positive change in our community and the world. We need to reach out and help others. We need to be God in the world and we can only do it together.

If our hope for the church is that it grows and thrives, quite a lot of change will need to occur. At St. Mark’s I am confident we are ready and able to be a part of that change if given the opportunity. I’m no great evangelist but we will all have a part to play in bringing the church to others, sharing our stories, helping people to see what is so wonderful about what we do at church. Afterall:

 “A church is not a building, a church is not a steeple, a church is not a resting place, a church is the people…”

Do you know the rest?

“I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together” and so on it goes. It truly is one of the best hymns. It sums it up for all to see. We are the church.  So yes, we need church, it needs us, and we have a responsibility to bring it to others who haven’t experienced it like we have.

 

Why Do We Need Church: A Response

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In this post parishioner Rick Hibbs responds to Rev. Robert’s post Why Do We Need Church? Rick attends our Saturday worship with his partner Steve. Rick is a part of our prayer writers group that writes our weekly prayers of the people. Both him and Steve have served on our parish vestry.

Full disclosure: I am a parishioner at Rob’s church and closet theologian. So what are my reasons for attending church? In no particular order:

Guilt: Yep, good old Catholic guilt. I wish it were not true but I must admit that the conditioning received as a child does not go away easily. Suffering through a boring, lifeless service quickly expunges any leftover pangs of guilt… at least for a month anyway.

Plot Twists: I am pretty confident the church calendar will honour the same feast days, but I do get pleasure when someone offers a new interpretation of a previously closed bible passage. I relish attacks on the rigidity of that childhood conditioning.

Community: I consider the service I normally attend as a family. Isn’t it human nature to want to connect with your family on a regular basis?

Self-Help/Improvement: I want to be a better person. I think we all should want to be better people and that is the pathway to making a better world. I was born and raised Christian, not Buddhist, not Muslim, not Jewish, not Native, not… Jesus laid down the pathway I know to being a better person. It’s not an easy path to follow (or find sometimes) and God knows I am rarely on it, but I aspire to be on that path. Regularly checking in with other Christians reminds me of what that path looks like.

Routine: Many consider routines oppressive; I have begun to appreciate them as I age. Day follows night; fall follows summer; the weekend follows the workweek, these are natural to us. So too is attending a service on weekends, as it’s part of resetting the week for me.

Fear: Fear is not the same as guilt. I do not fear damnation if I do not attend church, nor if I go to the Keg on Good Friday. I fear self-righteousness: straying from God’s path and instead inventing my own, all the while reassuring myself how good I am. Being part of a Christian community and regularly checking in with them helps keep me aligned.