Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bringing the Christmas Story to Life!

On December 18th approximately 30 members of Robertson-Wesley United Church gathered in Memorial Hall to get dressed and get ready for bringing the nativity story to life. People of all ages arrived with excited uncertainty and expectation of what this afternoon might bring.
As the participants entered the church they were met by the smell of chili and hot chocolate and they were surrounded by costumes, games and treats. A stable was constructed and set up on the corner of the church property, bales of straw appeared, a few lights were set up and then like magic Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, an angel, some animals and various other characters appeared. Off to the side of the stable Christmas carols were sung with the help of the choir and other volunteers. It didn't take long for people in the community to gather round the nativity scene to see what was going on. As people passed by, candy canes were handed out and people were invited to join the scene, take pictures, and to make a donation to the Bissell Centre.

As the sun went down, and the light faded, a sense of calm, mystery and warmth began to grow. As I watched from a distance I saw cars turning the corner to see what was happening, I saw families join in the scene and take pictures. I noticed people in the nearby apartments stand on their decks and listen to the caroling. Some people looked on from afar, while others wanted to be up close.

The community was curious and in many ways I think that our voices and our story reached out to others in a way that we did not expect. I'm not sure what they received in these moments of interaction, but I know that I received the gift of hope, peace, joy and love as we met new people who stopped to take a look, to simply gaze at this beautiful sight.

In those few hours outside of our church, the true meaning of Christmas was brought to life. We shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with others in a way that reminded me of the magic that Christmas once held for me as a child.

A sense of wonder...

A sense of mystery...

A sense of possibility...

A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes gathered us together and opened our eyes, our hands and our hearts to one another in a way that we had never imagined. I hope that the new year will continue to shed light on the many ways that we, as a church, can connect with the community in which we worship, study, work and live.

During this Christmas season and as we move into the season of Epiphany may these words from "Away in a Manger" bring you comfort and joy:

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay
close by me forever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in your tender care,
and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.

Written by Karen Bridges

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Season of Advent

It’s all about the waiting….

Patience is a virtue, and that virtue is really apparent when it comes to this season of Advent. Kids are excited about Santa coming and “can’t wait” to open gifts, people are frustrated waiting in lines to pay for their purchases, and for our society who relies so much on things that are time-saving and our communications that are so immediate, waiting and patience are words that don’t seem to exist in our world today.

However, the journey from Advent 1 to Epiphany unfolds as all good stories should, step by step. This is very apparent at a service like Lessons and Carols where we tell the story in order - the longing, the waiting, the anticipation and finally the birth, the angels and shepherds and the wise men. This service tells the whole story and Advent, Christmas and Epiphany carols are all part of that.

In an article by Lester Ruth from the periodical “Reformed Worship” (Issue 69), Ruth talks about the traditional emphasis on Advent as a season of anticipation. Although the classic calendar and the lectionary say that Christmas is December 25 and the 12 days following, if you ask people when the Christmas season is - many people would reply, “As soon as Halloween is over.”

It seems that the bigger Christmas (or the “holiday season” as the consumerist advertising has called it) has become, the more Christmas has swallowed up Advent. Many churches today are trying to consciously keep the season of Advent to maintain a clear countercultural witness to all-too-common December overindulgence. An observance of Advent is growing steadily in many churches and many Christian homes. However the secular culture ignores Advent, as there isn’t much money to be made on patience or waiting. So, the Christmas music continues in the malls, the decorations start to go up before Halloween, and the themes of Advent – hope, peace, joy and love are largely ignored.

In a blog written by Cory Howell he says that even to many churchgoers, Advent and the Christmas season are one and the same. By the time Christmas has arrived many people don’t want to sing Christmas carols anymore, as they have heard them in the malls since before Halloween. Secular practice and sacred tradition have become extremely blurred.

Yet by using the image of a people in darkness who are waiting for the coming light, we could bring back some of the meaning into our Christmas celebrations. As Howell says, instead of indulging in the worst kind of consumerism, as many do every year at this time, perhaps we could focus a bit more on our spiritual poverty, our need for something more meaningful than our everyday hustle and bustle, which is usually amplified during this time of year. It’s about trying to find that inner peace, silence, and space.

In a blog by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, he claims that if we just jump straight into Christmas, we not only miss out on the activities and music associated with Advent, but miss out on the celebration of the full season of Christmas, too. The seasons of the church year can enrich worship and the worshippers lives. Taking time in Advent to focus on Christ’s coming, makes it more joyful when it does arrive at Christmas.

This is why we try not to sing Christmas carols in church before Christmas Eve, and why we focus on the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy and love. They help us prepare for Christmas, and help us to be counter-cultural. What better message can we as Christians send to the world - that we should have hope, create peace, live joyfully and share our love with others in our world.

The United Church Moderator, Mardi Tindal expressed this sentiment very well, in her annual Advent message, “I wish you the gift of time and space to reflect on this beautiful complex world we live in, thankful for all we have been given and all that we have to give one another and God’s world—a renewed spirit of humility and awe, along with courage in our efforts toward justice and healing for all.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Child Well-being Initiative

When a child asks for bread,
who of you would give the child a stone?

The Persistent Widow
Once upon a time there was a woman whose rights had been trampled on. She took her case to a judge and asked to present her story. The judge did not listen to her and demanded that she go away. Widows were low class; no one cared what they thought. He was a very busy man and had many more important matters to worry about.

But this woman returned the following day and again asked to present her case. The judge ordered her removed from his presence. But the next day and the next and the next, the woman returned to his court and asked to be heard. Evidently she felt that the case was so pressing that she could not live her life until justice was done. She refused to give up.

Eventually he couldn't stand it. The judge listened to her, just to make her go away. He was surprised to learn that she did indeed have a case, and granted her justice.

* * * * *
This is a parable that Jesus told his disciples (Luke 18:1-8). He wanted them to understand that justice requires persistence.

United Chuch women have learned from this parable. We want justice, not only charity, for children in Alberta who live in poverty.

To Members of The Legislative Assembly of Alberta:

A woman in Alberta has made this doll for you with the prayer that you use all in your power to help the more than 70,000 children in our province who are hungry for bread, a home and security.

  • ensure that Alberta's children have enough nutritious food to eat.
  • fund quality, affordable, accessable child care for all Alberta's children.
  • provide Alberta's families with affordable housing.
  • establish a living wage for parents.
Please develop a provincial strategy, as other provinces have, to tackle and eliminate child poverty.

We believe that Alberta can afford to care for all young citizens.
We know the children are counting on us.
Thank you for all you do to honour our children.

For more information: Child Well-being Initiative

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thoughts about sacred music

The United Voices of Edmonton (Robertson-Wesley Choir, Knox-Metropolitan Choir and the Willan Chorale) are preparing to undertake a choral trip to England. Because of this trip, I've been thinking about the community we're creating from 3 choirs, the grounding in an an age-old tradition of evensong, the beauty of the architecture of the buildings that we'll be singing in and of course finding inspiration in the music we'll be singing.

I've been pondering a couple of sermons on the Durham Cathedral (England) website given by The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove. One particular one about music has caught my attention.

Rev. Sadgrove describes music as entering into a "thin" place somewhere between earth (the tangible) and heaven (the intangible). Music is often associated with praise of God. But it goes much deeper for me - to all the arts and their power to inspire, create beauty, to comfort and allow mourners to grieve, to lift up someone who is down, and to create a sense of celebration.

I feel so blessed to have the job - the calling that I do - to be the one who enables those around me to find expressions for their joys and sorrows, their praises and prayers.

To quote from Rev. Sadgrove (linked above):

"Music gives our worship wings. It soars and flies, it beckons heaven come down to us. Music touches parts of us nothing else can quite reach. It enlarges our imaginations, it moves our spirits, it coaxes us to love in a new and deeper way. I could tell you how I first came to Christian faith through singing a piece of Bach's music as boy treble more than 40 years ago. We could all tell stories about how a hymn or a psalm, a song, a motet or a symphony had a profound effect on us. That's why we in cathedrals invest so much in our music. It's why parishes should never resent the cost of achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship. It's an investment in mission. It has converting power. Above all, it's for the praise of God. "

I appreciate that he says "achieving the very best in music, whatever their style of worship". I've been on the front lines of "worship wars" between "contemporary" and "traditional" - whatever those terms mean. The more important question for me is "Are we giving our best to God?" I've finally found the place where I'm free to express the scripture, the theme, the sermon topic, the day or the liturgical season in almost any musical form. My main criterion in this stage of my worship leadership is "does it fit?" - not "what style is it in?" or "who's going to be annoyed if I choose this piece of music?" For this freedom I am truly thankful, and I hope this freedom allows me to best serve God and God's people.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The lyrics from the song "I am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel float endless through my mind these days as I gaze out the window of my office. "I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries."

I have had at least 3 encounters over this past month with people who are longing for deep and meaningful relationships in their lives. I hear conversation after conversation and read post after post on facebook that lead me to believe that there are a lot of lonely people out there, and I wonder what I can do to help others find the happiness they seek.

A few weeks back I got in my car early one morning and drove to Jasper as I drove, I listened to my i pod and pondered life. As each new song came on I found myself being transported to a different moment in my life. I realized after a time that I had been laughing and smiling to myself and I felt the stress of September slowly leaving my body. As I crested Obed point (the highest point on the Yellowhead Highway) I had a vision, an epiphany, a moment of inspiration. I realized that all the memories had a common theme, each memory included other people and specifically people that I had been living in intentional community with. For many of us the only time we have experienced this if at all is with our immediate family.
When we live in intentional community there are expectations that there will be times when we all gather together to eat, to celebrate inportant life transitions, to check-in with each other, to resolve conflicts, to share in our joys and sorrows with each other, to challenge behaviours that are destructive to the community sense of well being and often these intentional living communities include spiritual practices, worship or sacred rituals. Each living situation will be different but they will include a number of these characteristics. I have experienced 5 different types of intentional living in my life: my family growing up, an anglican retreat center, camp, dorms at university, and a hostel in Belarus.

The benefit to living in community is that there is always someone to be with, the downside is that it is hard to find your own space. You experience great love and acceptance and you deal with conflict and personality differences. It is in these communities that I have discovered who I am, it is in these communities that I have engaged in deep and meaningful conversations, it is in these communities that I searched for purpose and meaning in my life. Through them all I found support, acceptance and belonging and I was able to be myself.

The church is the only other place that I have come to experience this. I think that church can provide us with the same opportunities if we create space in our lives to engage in all that a church has to offer. It does take longer to establish the relationships when you aren't living together, but if you take the time to engage in more then just Sunday morning it is well worth it. TRUST ME!!

These days I think it is becoming rare that people sit down for a Sunday dinner every week with extended family. Sometimes it is because our family live too far away, sometimes it is because someone in the family works, often our families have split up or changed. As I talked with people about their plans for Thanksgiving this year I was surprised to know how many people were not doing anything. I was surprised to hear some seniors lament that even though they eat dinner in a dining room with other seniors it feels as though they are eating alone. This left me perplexed, but inspired...

I wonder what would happen if the churches used some of their land to redevelop their space, to become intentional living communities with mixed generations? What if this intentional living community had a community garden, community child care, community dinners 2 or 3 times a week. How wonderful would it be as young parents to have people to consult with about the raising of children? How wonderful would it be to have a surragate grandparent to talk with a youth about what is happening in their life? How wonderful would it be to have people to share your stories with, to sing with, to dance with, to create with, to play with and to pray with on a daily basis?

I wonder what it would be like if the church began to build bridges between the rocks that we have become, between our islands?
Psalm 40: 1-3
I waited patiently for God, who inclined to me and heard my cry.
God drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
God put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in God.
This is my song for you today, trust in God my friends and you will find fulfillment and love. -- Written by Karen Bridges

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

All Aboard

God’s Steward Ship has set sail for another year with many children and youth and various other adult volunteers on board. For the past month we have been exploring the scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many." The children are taking time to discover what their role is here at Robertson-Wesley. Some have decided that they will provide secruity in the halls, others feel called to sharing their gift of music, some like to clean, and others like to take care of people. What is exciting is how different each child, youth, young adult and adult is in this congregation. We've agreed as the Kids' Church that we have been called to paddle God's boat in the spirit of friendship, the spirit of prayer, the spirit of caring, the spirit of justice, the spirit of belonging, the spirit of wisdom, and the spirit of joy.

Some of you saw the treasure boxes that the youngest children painted for our "Night of Celebration" in September. Inside each of these boxes were questions that different people got to answer. Here is a small sampling:"Where or when do you feel closest to God?" or "What is something you are passionate about right now in your life?" The people who attended the event entered into some lively and deep conversation with each other and were delighted with the artistic gifts of the children. The following Sunday the children got their boxes back but this time there were 7 messages in the box which they were instructed to read over the next 7 days. Some of the children made more then one box and so they were invited to give the box to another person or family as a gift. The delight on the eyes of the people who received these boxes from the little children were priceless!!! Imagine how it would feel to open up the box and receive the following messages: "Your spirit lights up the world!" or "Jesus loves you for who you are!"

I'm sure many of you have heard the saying, "It takes a whole village to raise one child" in my mind this means we all have a part to play in the lives of our children and youth. I invite you to come downstairs and be a part of our exploration with the scriptures through cooking, storytelling, art, drama, music, movement, wood work, gardening etc. Or simply come downstairs and spend some time getting to know these wonderful members of our congregation! I promise that it will change your life and bring you joy and inspiration.

-- Karen Bridges --

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mission: Communication

At Robertson-Wesley, we are currently expanding our communication -- that is, our use of various communication media that are available to us today. We are pressing beyond the usual internal communications, such as newsletters, bulletin boards, pamphlets, and Sunday bulletins toward internet media such as this blog, our website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, and email; and toward public media such as newspapers, radio and television.

On the surface, this is just smart marketing. We are using the communication tools that are available today to let our community -- and our world -- know that Robertson-Wesley exists and that there are wonderful things happening here. It is not the intensive, strategic marketing of the commercial world -- shaping a product to meet market demand, packaging and branding to dazzle the eyes. Rather, we are communicating what we have to offer, because we believe it is of critical value to people who will recognize the value when they learn about it.

But at a deeper level, communication is an expression of the church's mission. At the heart of the church's mission lies "evangelism". This is a word that for many people today conjures up a picture of a glitzy, aggressive, arrogant, and self-centered promise of salvation. The real meaning of the word is simply "telling good news" -- it is essentially a process of communication. Not manipulation, not heroically "saving" souls -- just communicating a truth that is from God, a love beyond all understanding, embodied as best we can in the church.

So through all of these modern communication media, we are simply trying to tell our story and tell our truth -- the sacred truth that transforms our lives -- and how we endeavour to embody that truth in the life and work of the church. Jesus was an excellent communicator of divine truth for his time and, as his followers, we seek no more than to do the same for our time.