First Impressions

Prayer Table Cloth

THE NORTHLAND PRESBYTERY MEETINGS
Theme: “Transformation”
This newsy letter (on the Internet it might also be called a blog) is an attempt to share something of my impressions of the workings of the United Church of Canada with members and friends in the St. Andrew’s United Church. Most of you are very aware that I have only been here for eight months now and so, everything that I have experienced in Canada, since the end of October 2013, has been new and, may I add, very exciting. The Church Structures, with which I was most familiar before coming to Canada, are quite different and I am, therefore, very grateful for the new insights I have received through these two key gatherings in our United Church – both of them held in our Swan River Valley!

For the Presbytery Meetings we met in the Bowsman Legion Hall, most appropriately decorated, making everyone feel right at home. The meeting area was separated from the dining area by screens, which were covered with colourful banners – some from St. Andrew’s, which made me feel really pleased because we were well-represented. I could go through the agenda for the meetings but I don’t think anyone is really interested in hearing that. I would rather share with you some of my thoughts, opinions and perspectives – these coming from someone who is experiencing Northland Presbytery Meetings for the first time.

There was a good mix between business and worship – reminding us throughout our time together that we were about God’s business. Kevin and I were privileged to lead the devotions on the Saturday morning and blending story with biblical reflection gave everyone an opportunity to prepare for the day’s business. One of the significant topics on the agenda was a Report on the National Comprehensive Review Task Group’s work, which has been conducted across the whole of Canada. Mark Hammond prepared this report very well and engaged the delegates in constructive conversations regarding the future of the United Church of Canada. Change is coming but we do not yet know exactly what this change will look like. The Church (and not only the UCC) has changed and so some of the questions now revolve around how we can be and do church differently. We committed ourselves to continue to journey along together – pursuing our quest for guidance and direction. One of the ways we do this is through on-line discussions, listening and engaging panelists and participating in webinars – here are some links for those who have access to the Internet:
http://new.livestream.com/accounts/455832/events/3085218
http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/general/140702
http://www.united-church.ca/general-council/gc41/comp-review/reports-papers

The Conference President, Rev Cheryl Kinney Matheson, preached at the United Valley-Wide service on the Sunday, which many of you attended. After sharing in lunch and fellowship we headed off home with renewed vigour and full of enthusiasm for God’s work among God’s people.

THE MANITOBA & NORTHWESTERN ONTARIO UNITED CHURCH CONFERENCE
Theme: “Forward in Faith … now for something completely (somewhat) different.”
Many months of diligent and careful planning and preparation finally culminated in the Conference being held in May 2014, right here on our doorstep – in the transformed Hockey Arena. The planning team did a most splendid job and the delegates were well-cared for – ranging from food, billets, enjoying the surroundings in the hall (comfortable reading and resting areas and pleasing decorations in the arena), transport, first aid, endless cups of coffee/tea, cookies and book tables. (I am sure there was much more but rest assured, the team looked after each delegate.)

The Conference was professionally run with great sound and visual equipment. Large screens ensured that everyone could see what was happening at any given moment. The keynote speaker, Bruce Reyes-Chow, presented three inspiring and challenging messages. We hope to makes these addresses availabe to interested persons in the very near future. He talked about modern technology and how we can best use it to benefit the ministry of the Church. Bruce also put our technical gadgets and programmes into perspective. He addressed racism and encouraged us not to put our heads in the sand. In his final talk he asked: ‘Where are we going?’ He reminded us that if we disconnect from the next generation, there shall not be a church when we are gone. We were encouraged to articulate our beautifully complex faith in Christ and to uphold our ideals and convictions.

The worship times during the Conference were special. The delegates who joined the Moderator, Rev Gary Paterson, at Green Belt in England last year in August (see http://www.united-church.ca/node/5815) shared something of their worship experiences during the Conference. The photo at the beginning of this post, of the various types of ribbons, woven into the table cloth, is one example of a time of intercessory prayer, during which everyone could choose to pray for someone whilst weaving a ribbon into the prayer table cloth. There were many examples of doing things differently AND being inspired through them.

The part the youth played was exhiliarating. Young people paid attention! A quiz was held at the end of Conference and the young people had remembered details, which Bruce had mentioned in his addresses and which most adults did not even recall hearing. The young people were placed at tables with adult delegates and they were a breath of fresh air – eventually. Making conversation with them initially, was not an easy task.

Meals were served in the Veteran’s Hall and the brisk walks between the venues were a gift to us, who sat for long peiods of time during these three days. Everyone commented on the quality of the food and most people found something that they enjoyed eating at every meal. All of us who hosted delegates in our homes were richer at the end of the Conference because they had brought additional insights and experiences into our lives.

One of the most moving ceremonies during the Conference was the Liturgy of Apology to Deaconesses, which was prepared by the staff of the Centre for Christian Studies. In years gone by, women were denied ministry when they chose to be married. That meant many women had to resign and give up their call.

The Conference took a very bold step by electing a young man, Joey Dearborn (a lay person from Agassiz Presbytery), who is in his early twenties, to be the President-elect of the Conference. Retiring ministers were honoured at a supper and a programme of entertainment on Saturday evening. More information is available on the Conference website: http://www.mnwo.united-church.ca/

The Mission and Service fund-raiser was a resounding success, giving several delegates an opportunity to take part – they had to compete on a topic, without repeating themselves, deviating from the subject or hesitating. Northland delegates did well but were finally outdone! The target sum was exceeded!

What made this Conference more unusual than most, was that there were few proposals and none of them drew much debate. This allowed for more times of worship and table discussions. I got to know some people from around our Conference and look forward to future connections with them.

Please know that any of the elected representatives to both Presbytery and Conference Meetings are willing to share information with members of the congregation. May God bless us as we continue to search for meaningful ways to serve others in Christ’s name.

Blessings,
REV DR JENNY SPRONG