Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cultivating a Culture of Discernment

So often our experience of church is one of gathering with a large group of people some we recognize, some whose names we know, and occasionally some we have served on a committee or have participated in a program with, but by in large we really don't know the people we have gathered with on a Sunday morning. When was the last time you shared your dreams, your fears, your beliefs, and your joys with someone who sat next to you in the pews (whom you are not related to)?

In September and October we had two gatherings which were open to everyone who walked through the doors of our church. We gathered as a Spiritual Formation Pod and a Mission and Outreach Pod. As a congregation we are restructuring how we work together and these two Pods are the gathering places where people from our congregation discern together how we live out the ministry, mission, and the work of Robertson-Wesley United Church. This may sound intimidating, but it really isn't. Simply put we gathered people to talk in a deep and spiritual way.

Discernment is a process, a spiritual practice which invites us to listen deeply to one another and to God. We listen for commonality, we listen for insights, we listen for passions, and we listen to where God is calling us as a congregation. In these gatherings we sit at small tables with 2 or 3 other people. Then after a 10-15 minutes of conversation we are invited to move to a different table and have another conversation with a different group of people. In these conversations we reflect on our experience, we share stories, we brainstorm ideas, and we LISTEN! The underlining belief of the discernment process is that each person who has gathered has something important to share and we need to provide the space for that to happen. It is with this collective knowledge, experience and wisdom that we are able to discern where the spirit is leading us as a congregation.

These conversations help us to name our purpose as a congregation, it provides a space for people to engage in new ways, to share their ideas, and to identify others who are interested in similar things.

After the gatherings in the fall, one person reflected that these gatherings inspired them, gave them hope, and allowed them to get to know more people in a deep and meaningful way. Others are excited about how these gathering will allow people to find projects to engage in that are short term and flexible.

Here are some of the questions that were asked at these gatherings:
How was your spirituality formed? Who was influential in your spiritual formation?
What words or images come to mind when you hear the word "mission"?
Renewing our do we do this? How is our faith formed?
Where is God calling us to reach out?

Out of these conversations what stood out for me was how important it is to have mentors, and to build relationships with others. It was clear that the people participating believe that spiritual formation happens in a variety of ways and is not limited to formal programs and the institution. Spiritual formation starts at a very young age. The church offers us and others in our community a sense of belonging, and a safe place to belong where we are accepted for who we are. There is a desire by our congregation to meet people on their own terms, to find ways to help people by empowering them to help themselves, to give back to the community with focus.

This is just a small taste of what happened at those gathering. My hope and prayer is that you will take a risk and join the movement of culture of discernment, and that you will join us when we gather again.


Monday, September 26, 2011

We ARE Robertson-Wesley

How do we bring the story of Robertson-Wesley alive?? By gathering the people and giving them an opportunity to share their faith story. The stewardship theme for this year is "We ARE Robertson-Wesley" for we know and we truly believe that each person who enters this building adds their own flavour, their own colour, their own take to the story of our congregation.

This truly is the most diverse congregation I have ever served! Every day of the week we encounter and engage with people who have a long history with this congregation, people who were married here, people who saw our webpage or our facebook page and decided to drop by, people who have attended various musical events, people who have joined us for our community dinner or who have dropped by for a bag lunch. Someone commented the other day that there is never a time when you are alone in the church except in the wee hours of the morning. The reality is that we are so many things to so many people and it is part of our uniqueness.

The other night we hosted a gathering in Memorial Hall to celebrate all the gifts that people offer here at R-W. As we feasted together, we shared stories about how we came to believe, we shared stories of how R-W has played a role in our faith journey.

The highlight of the evening was when we challenged the table groups to come up with a 6 word story that answered the statement "Robertson-Wesley is...." This was a creative writing exercise and I must warn you that several groups took poetic license in this activity. Here are some of the stories that were shared:

Robertson-Wesley is:
Working community that projects Christian message.
Family home, accepting beliefs, taking risks!
R-W is an unfinished story.
People caring, accepting love, sharing, welcoming.
Warm-welcoming, worshiping,working and caring community.
People of compassion, service and faith.
Loving, Caring, Architecturally Historical, Music, Mosaic
R-W is church, spirited community support, ourselves, outreach worship
We're a spiritual community of support
R-W is an acepting community family growing in spirit and beliefs

People generally feel at home here at R-W, the feel welcomed no matter what their background or approach in life. People are willing to help and feel that they are making a difference in the community and the world. We are a caring community and we seek justice in our world for all. This is the place where we feast together, we worship together, we work together, we walk together, we cry together and we laugh together.

As Keri Wehlander puts it, "We are witnesses and storytellers; we are part of the unfolding tale of faith. Precious words and sacred memories are carried by every one of us...When we risk spinning these yarns, when we listen and speak, when we carefully gather these fragments up...we discover that there is good news all over again!" (Joy is our Banquet, Etobicoke: The United Church Publishing House, 1996, p. 16)

For those of you who missed this evening, we invite you to join us on Sunday Oct 16th after church for our second gathering and celebration of "We ARE Robertson-Wesley".

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter Vigil Reflection

Easter Vigil
On the eve of Easter, people gathered as some of the disciples once did at the tomb of Jesus the night before he was resurrected. The people gathered to pray, to wait, and to remember. We began the night with a service that helped us to reflect on what the followers of Jesus would have felt the night before they knew and heard that Jesus had been resurrected. We lit candles, and we sang “Jesus Remember Me.” People from the congregation and youth groups from the United Church in Edmonton were invited to spend time in the sanctuary throughout the night to engage in the ritual of waiting and keeping the candle lit. Someone was always present in the sanctuary until the Sunrise Easter Service the next morning.

Around midnight youth from St. Paul’s United Church, Knox-Met United Church and Riverbend United Church joined the youth from Robertson-Wesley United Church for a time of fellowship, food, fun, vigil and reflection on the meaning of resurrection and where we felt that transformation was needed in our own lives and the world that we live in. This large gather of youth in the middle of the night was a sign of hope as the faithful gathered and shared the good news. We hope and pray that more people will come and be a part of this meaningful ritual in the years to come for it is through this waiting that the transformation of Easter is brought to life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Season of Lent -- Depressing or Deeping?

Unlike many people in the church Lent is my favorite season of the Christian year. How did this happen you might ask? How did a happy energetic sort of person like me come to long for the 6 weeks where we sing dark, and as some people describe them, dreary hymns that live in the minor key? A season where we refrain from saying Hallelujah, and where we often give up something like chocolate or caffeine?

I embraced the journey of lent, the discipline of walking towards Easter through special services and events that help to bring the story of Jesus ministry and his last week before death, alive.

I like to use the 5 weeks of lent and Holy Week to enter into the mystery of my faith, to reflect on what I believe and how I live out my faith in the world. It is about making space for God in my busy life. It is about letting go of patterns and relationships and activities in my life that keep me from hearing God and answering my call.

For many of us who are living in the northern hemisphere and dealing with the long cold winter, we have come to believe that the word "Lent" comes from the same root as "length," which refers to the fact that as each day passes the sun last longer lengthening the days. Others have come to believe that the word "Lent" derives from the Latin word lentare which means "to bend," which supports the idea that Lent is really about being intentional, and about deepening our relationship with God in preparation for the Easter transformation.

So here's what I propose you do:
1. Start by coming to the pancake dinner in preparation for starting the lenten season.
2. Create a daily ritual for yourself that involves a few moments of silence and prayer.
3. Come to the Ash Wednesday service (see website for times of the various services).
4. Begin reading the Gospel of Matthew over the next several weeks or rent a few Jesus movies.
5. Don't miss the Palm Sunday service where we will wave the palms symbolizing Jesus entry into Jerusalem.
6. Go to the evening Vesper services during Holy Week including the Maundy Thursday service.
7. Attend the Good Friday service and hear the story of Jesus last days through music and dramatic word.
8. Come to the Vigil on Saturday April 23rd beginning at 8pm and experience what it would have been like to wait and hold vigil after Jesus died.
9. Finish this all off by coming to the Sunrise service the next day followed by breakfast and if you are still up for it, join us for the big Easter celebration at the regular service.

Through all of these experiences ask yourself:

  • How do these events speak to me?
  • As I follow Jesus and his ministry how is my life transformed?

  • What are my fears that hold me back from living the life God is calling me to live?

My hope is that you will consider entering into this season with an open heart, ready to be engaged in surprising new ways. May we live in hope till Easter Day!

Written by Karen J. Bridges