April 14, 2020

 

I look out my window today, and I see grey sky, but I know that it is warming up out there, finally. I also see people walking by, kids on roller skates and bicycles. I think the Easter Bunny – declared an essential service this year – brought a few outdoor toys, like those skates and bicycles. I assure you all were keeping safe social distance as they passed by.

Easter was different this year. The day passed quietly. Slowly even. Normally, it is filled with 2 worship services, followed by rushing in to Calgary for dinner with the extended family. This year, Corona Virus changed that. So did missing mom. As a pastor, I tell people how all those “first events” following the loss of a loved one are hard. As a daughter, now I know that to be true, even more so than ever before.

Normally, sometime in the week prior to Easter, mom would have gathered with the great grand daughters to participate in egg decorating. And participate she would, she wasn’t one to just watch on the sidelines when it came to anything creative like that.

Last year, my family gathered with her and dad and shared a beautiful meal at the seniors’ residence where they were living. Dad is still there. No beautiful dinner with family there this year. The residents are all eating in there rooms, alone.

Dad still misses mom deeply, and these extended periods of being alone have been so hard on him. Sure, there are people checking in every hour; and meals being brought to him. But for the most part, he is alone. Not something he’s good at. Amd with his dementia, understanding of why we can’t visit is limited, at best.

Our daughter also spent the holiday alone, as did my sister. However, they have technical skills, and we spent an hour with our daughter on “FaceTime” before dinner, and as much time with my sister after dinner. It was good to see their faces, safely located in their homes. Not the same. But good.

My other siblings are safely in their own spaces, too. None of them alone – each with at least one family member, like us. However each missing at least one person who normally would have been at their holiday dinner table, too.

I find in these days, when one would think you could get all kinds of things done, that my progress is slow. I am reminded by a colleague that we – our whole society – is in a collective state of grief. We all can name things that is time of social isolation has caused us to loose. Some of those things may be returned to us, some may not. Even if they are, we are at a loss to know when that may be.

I know that what helps me in times of loss is connection with other people. And so I reach out – figuratively speaking. I am staying as connected as I can with ZOOM group meetings, and FaceTime calls, and even good old, simple telephone calls. I am seeking moments of joy in those connections, and looking for the resurrection stories in all that is happening in our world.

I am finding those stories in the smiles (at a distance) of those I encounter when I must go out for groceries, etc. I found resurrection yesterday, in the sound of the geese flying overhead, coming back from points south, to nest and bring new life to our world.

I am finding those stories as I listen to music performances on line, recorded in living rooms, on cathedral steps, or shared on social media platforms. Music, they say it soothes the soul, and these days that is so true. I am finding moments of the presence of the Spirit in those ZOOM meetings, and in listening to friends and colleagues, as I learn from them how we can walk together through these days.

All those stories, the music, the smiles, the geese, remind me that we are not alone, that the Spirit is indeed with us in these days. Thanks be.

Blessings of the Easter season, dear readers.

Tammy

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March 30, 2020

March 30, 2020

Another Sunday has passed without being in worship leadership. An odd time in the lives of ministry personnel. Yesterday, I spent my worship time watching and listening to the Moderator of the United Church of Canada’s worship leadership. It was fulfilling time. I also appreciated the musicians…although it appeared that they were playing in some sort of storage room…it looked kind of ‘utility like’. Perhaps the best place for recording? We’re all doing things differently in these days. 

While listening, to help me focus, I sat at my home desk, where we have a large puzzle. I don’t work much at that desk, as I prefer the naturally lit setting of the dining room table. The work desk is in the lower level of our home, and great when you need quiet, but not as nice a setting. The thing is, though, I must of needed quiet, because after listening to Richard’s worship service, I continued to work on the puzzle for at least an hour. 

We live in a relatively small bungalow. There are 3 adults living here – my spouse, our son, and me. Our daughter, the only introvert in the family, has stayed in her Edmonton condo. She is immune-compromised, so she feels safer there…and as an introvert, more content in her own space. 

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Home, sweet home…as we socially distance ourselves.

Not that she doesn’t like being home – but she wisely recognizes that all 4 of us, in our small bungalow would mean she’d spend a lot of time in that lower level of the house to meet her own need for private quiet time. The three of us extroverts are just a little too much on an extended basis, especially during this time where none of us are going far! 

That said, we usually see our daughter at least once a month, and I have a feeling this could be a really long stretch. I miss her already, and we could have weeks to go. 

Family has become an important life line in this time. I’ve spoken to our daughter and my siblings more in the last few weeks than I have since my mom’s death. Some of that is because we have all been checking in to share another new reality – helping my dad cope with social distancing and the fact that none of us can see him. Living with in a senior’s residence, and with dementia has made that a really hard thing to understand for him. There is a couple who have worked for us offering my dad companionship in the evenings and when we have been away, since mom died. These wonderful people are continuing to care for dad by delivering treats to the residence for him. Not only does it save me the 90 minute drive in and then back, it gives my dad a sense that there are people ‘on the outside’ who care. This couple has been a God-send to our family. We are so grateful for their care.

I know that many families are struggling in these times of staying home in order to do our part to ‘flatten the curve’ and hold Corona Virus or COVID 19 in check. Many of us are not home bodies, and this isolation is hard on us. Yet, my daughter’s story continues to be a reminder that we are doing this for others as much as for ourselves. 

Others are coping with the realities of work shortages, or lay offs, and the economics of that. Some, who live with domestic violence may be living in greater risk and fear than many of us can imagine. 

And then there are those who are part of that list of “essential service” providers. I am grateful for those who serve in health care, as frontline professionals, as well as in political leadership, helping communicate, and making decisions around supporting our countries citizens through this strange new time. 

I am grateful for people we all have taken for granted – restaurant operators and staff, retail staff, grocery staff, transportation workers – truck, train, airline and buses…getting people and goods where they need to go…with some risk. 

We can all think of those who are still doing their day to day work – often at risk, while so many of us complain about staying home. 

This is a strange new world…and we must each do our part to do that work of ‘flattening the curve.’ If not for ourselves, than for those with whom we encounter who may be more at risk – elders, immune compromised, those who must work in places where they face risk of contracting the virus. 

Stay safe and well, stay home. Blessed be. 

Tammy

March 21, 2020 Greetings in these strange times…

I am sitting at my computer, listening to CKUA radio play great music, and offering words of inspiration for these days. Music heals the soul. In these days of isolation and uncertainty, music is a gift. Sing along, play along, immerse yourself in music!  

Normally, on any given Saturday I am working on a sermon. Not today. Today, I feel a little lost. My role as minister, pastor, preacher, looks a lot different than it did a week ago. 

I serve congregations whose populations are on the older side of the age range. Many of my United Church colleagues are promoting and encouraging their folks to connect via live-streamed worship and conversation times. I, this week, created and posted a worship resource for our websites…with invitation to make it interactive by sharing it with those at home, or by picking up the telephone and sharing it with a friend or family member. The other thing I did was phone many of our elders who are not connected by internet/email, to let them know that although we will not be gathering for worship, the church is still present for them. The blessing in those conversations was that I received as much care from those wonderful folks as I gave. 

I do offer that worship resource I created to you, dear blog reader – it can be found on either Olds or Sundre United Church’s websites: www.oldsunited.ca or www.sundreunited.ca

Also on those sites, there is information from our wider church, that I will share as appropriate, with thanks to our web manager, Kathleen at Windsor Graphics. I may even get inspired to create a Facebook site, as I know there are those in my communities that may not log onto a web-based worship experience that might connect with their phones…and Facebook offers a little more interaction. 

It is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing day that life will be different than ‘normal’ for a long time. I pray that as you live into the ‘different’ you will find places to nurture your spirit, and your body. Go for a walk, enjoy spring (even though my part of the world is still covered in snow, I plan to walk more). 

Listen to good music, watch interesting documentaries…make this an opportunity for learning! 

Whatever you do in these days, be conscious of those who are immune-compromised or elderly, those for whom COVID 19 poses the highest risk. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay focused on the reality that we will get through this most effectively if we strive to live as community. 

Reach out as you need to, and as you are able…keeping that safe distance. I find this is one of the hardest things, not reaching out to hug, shake a hand, hold one another in love. Our smiles, our words, our prayers are so important in this time, as we hold each other in love in safe ways.

Remember too, that we are not alone. We are surrounded by the love of the creator. 

Keep in touch…figuratively… and be well, my friends. 

Until next time,

Tammy

December 2, 2019

I’m back! At work that is. After 4 months, yesterday was my first day back with the good people of the Olds-Sundre Pastoral Charge. It was so good to be welcomed back…complete with two person escort and the singing of “Halle, Halle, Halle” as we walked forth, in Olds, and lots of hugs and words of welcome in both Olds and Sundre! 

My final week of sabbatical included a day at Chinook Winds Region’s first ever clergy retreat day. It was held in Calgary, and most of the attendees were quite local to Calgary, as the weather contributed to those further away who had planned on attending from doing so. We braved the drive, knowing that Calgary and points south had more of the snow than we did in Olds. And, I had a driver…my spouse had an appointment in the city, so we managed to combine our travel. 

This allowed my spouse, after his appointment, to spend some time in the afternoon with my dad, before he needed to come pick me up in the north end of the city. Suffice it to say, that afternoon drive across the city served as a good reminder as to why we like smaller town life. A snow storm related traffic jam means maybe a 5 minute delay in Olds…while it took my spouse more than triple the 45 minutes it would have taken him in good weather, to make it to my location. I am grateful to the colleague that dropped me off at a coffee shop where I could wait for my ride in warm comfort, and enjoy a moccachino while I did a crossword. 

The morning speaker at the retreat event – Barb Higgins, was particularly impactful for me. She spoke on vicarious trauma – the kind of trauma we experience indirectly, not as players in the event, but as responders or care-givers, journalists, and others who find themselves affected vicariously, by events that have been traumatic. Barb, a former journalist, spoke of her own experience of that, and was able to connect it to what we, as clergy, may experience as we respond to the needs of those in our circles who have been through trauma. 

In terms of my profession, I have experienced that kind of trauma, and have sought out help with that when I did. In that respect, Barb’s presentation was affirming of the steps I had taken. 

On a more personal level, where I found key connections were in my and my sister’s experience of being present with my mom as she died. There were some aggressive interventions that happened in the last moments of my mom’s life, that my sister and I are aware, have had lasting impact on us both.  

Five months in, and I know that there is still work to be done. Listening to Barb’s talk, hearing some theoretical pieces of how that event has impacted my sister and I, and then hearing some practical, immediately applicable ways of addressing some of that was so valuable. It was for me one of those moments that I needed, without realizing how much I had needed it. 

The truth is, as I enter back into the role of minister, and pastoral support, after 4 months away, I need to have my emotional ducks in a row…and the timing of my sabbatical gave me much needed time to do that work. I know there’s more work to do…each of those first days…Thanksgiving was different…Christmas will be too. And this coming Sunday, December 8th, would have been mom’s 90th birthday. 

Being back at work, and in the Advent Season, that day will be full of worship and Community Carolfest. I am looking forward to having my oldest sister travelling alongside me that day, knowing my middle sister and her daughter will be with dad. 

I also know that this Sunday I’ll be using a few of Barb Higgins’ tips for staying grounded in the moment, while holding in my heart my mom’s most important words, given to us whenever we were struggling with something… “You can work it out.”

Mom’s trust in my inner strength will see me through. And you can guess where that inner strength comes from. Thanks mom. 

Advent blessings to all…

November 16, 2019

This past week or so was a time of relaxation and celebration. Our daughter travelled home to join my spouse, my son and I for a weekend of birthday joy. My spouse entered the gates of senior-hood on the 11th, and my son turns 30 today. 

The weekend began well, as the four of us gathered under one roof on Friday evening, however things went a bit south Saturday, with my daughter succumbing to a stomach bug or food poisoning or something…she has a chronic condition that requires her to be on immune suppressing medication, so when illness hits, it hits hard and long. Needless to say, for her it was truly a time of no choice but to rest  and receive TLC from the rest of us. 

Sunday, my son got called out to work – this is a good thing – as he’s been off work for several months following major surgery.  The planned birthday dinner out became ordering Chinese Food and my spouse and I enjoying it, while our daughter slept and our son laboured. I did have time to make a birthday cake. Baking is something I enjoy, but seldom do, as time often prevents it. 

I pulled out a recipe that was a family favourite when the kids were little. A simple gesture, met with gratitude from both of them. It’s one of those comfort food things – the smell of baking, and that cake is obviously still a family favourite. Our daughter couldn’t bring herself to eat it, but made sure some went home with her, to be stored in the freezer for a better day. Our son, upon entering the house after working the day, was only too eager to have dessert! 

The weekend hadn’t gone as planned, but brought moments of gratitude in spite of the changes – for time spent together; for the opportunity to care for our daughter – she lives 2 hours away, and mom can’t always be present to help in times of need; gratitude for a day of work for our son; and for birthdays. 65 and 30. Birthdays. Life. 

And then a road trip. We could not bear to put our daughter on the bus to go home to Edmonton (she is a non-driver). Kudos to Red Arrow for refunding her full fare. A little drive to Edmonton to tuck our daughter into her own home, and then on to Canmore, to enjoy the gift of the use of friends’ condominium. Walking, early Christmas shopping, good food, naps by the fire, quiet time in the mountains. I’ve always felt at peace in the mountains. There’s something about the grandeur, about the sense of security. For me, the power of the mountains is analogous to the power of God, to the constancy of God’s presence in my life. 

And now, the last two weeks of sabbatical. We went to the Anniversary Supper at the church last night…and I realized how ready I am to return to work. A very different picture from my last sabbatical, this is indeed indicative of the pastoral charge I serve, and the respect the people have for the ministry we share. That too, is a gift.  

I have some writing to do in these next couple of weeks, and some planning for Advent…and then back I will go. Looking forward to that! Except one question…how did I become a woman who has two children in their 30’s? Where did all those years go? I wouldn’t have missed a minute – even the hard stuff of parenting has made me who I am today, as a mom, a spouse, and a minister.

November 7, 2019

Another road trip accomplished. Another trip of just staying ahead of the bad weather! I journeyed, with my partner as driver, to Maple Creek, Sakatchewan this past weekend, at the invitation of the minister there, Michele Rowe. 

The weekend began with our attendance (along with my sister, niece, and great nieces) at the Southwood United Church Tea and Bazaar. This is an event my mom and a friend from Southwood started over 50 years ago. As I look back, sometimes I chuckle, as the two women with the most number of children of anyone else in the UCW under took this endeavor together. Between them, there were 11 children (although when it first started, there may only have been 10…not sure when the youngest in the other family came into the picture)!

Mom and her UCW friends have continued the Bazaar tradition for all these decades. Mom, for the past 15 years or more, has convened, and then in more recent years, co-convened, the “Country Store” room of the bazaar. This is where one can purchase all manner of home made goodies, like jams, jellies, pickles, popcorn balls (to my great nieces’ delight), pies, cookies, bread…you get the picture. 

This year, the Country Store has been re-named in honour of mom. It is now “Vera’s Country Store.” 

That role of Bazaar convenor mom filled in the church was just the tip of the ice berg that was mom’s life in Southwood United. That church community was at the centre of who mom was, outside of wife and mother. That’s where her friends were, where she went in times of joy and sorrow. Those are the people that walked with her when she was so ill with cancer years back, and when she lost her own mom when she (my mom) was in her late 70’s. Those are the people who have supported her through these last years in her role as the primary care-giver for our dad, as he has struggled with dementia and congestive heart failure. And in turn, that is where mom gave all that kind of care, and more, to others at Southwood. Because that is indeed who she was. A giver. A kind, loving, quiet giver. 

I am so very grateful for the many hugs and words of care we all received as we enjoyed tea and visits at Southwood on Saturday. 

The tribute to mom that went with the naming of Vera’s Country Store.

From Southwood my spouse and I made our way to Maple Creek, with a stop for dinner at a fun little place in Medicine Hat called “Heartwood Café.” Delicious French onion soup, and grilled chicken and avocado sandwich! And the peanut butter cookie for dessert was pure comfort! 

Maple Creek is a very small town – rural indeed. A farming centre, that happens to be the place of my paternal grandfather’s birth. He grew up there, raised by a family by the name of Blenner-Hassett, following the death of his mother when he was an infant. His father, my great grandfather, left my papa in the care of these neighbours so that he could go north, to the gold rush…never to be seen again. Dad and his siblings would often wonder what became of this grandfather they never knew. 

Sunday morning worship in Maple Creek begins at 11:00, and given that we were in Saskatchewan, we had the gift of an extra day of being on the same time as our provincial neighbours, as they don’t participate in the silliness that is daylight savings time! 

As a worshipper, 11:00 am start is quite lovely. Especially for us non-morning people! 

Worship included a baptism, for a family moving soon to Edmonton. Clearly marking this day among known community was an important step before the big transition to the city. The second half of the worship time was focused on remembering the saints that have gone before us. I so appreciated being a part of the congregation, and having that time to reflect on the losses my family has experienced as a worshipper, not a worship leader. It was really valuable, for myself and my spouse, to participate in the ritual of writing the names of our saints down, and having those names spoken by Michelle, along with the saints of the Maple Creek  United community of faith. 

Following worship, we enjoyed coffee, then a group joined at the church manse for our conversation. For those that don’t know that lingo, the manse is the church owned home that the ministry resides in. That can be a good thing, or a source of conflict. In this case, it’s a lovely newer home, that has been shown lots of TLC. It’s clear that the minister, her family and her dogs and cat all feel welcome and at home in this space. 

The conversation was great – the retired minister in the congregation knew a beloved colleague and “study buddy” from my time at the Centre for Christian Studies, so it was neat to remember Nellie with someone who knew worked with her after our commissioning to Diaconal Ministry. 

Once again, I heard stories of a community of faith that reaches beyond its doors. I heard of the strength and resiliency that carried them through 3 years without a called or appointed minister. I heard how grateful they are to have Michelle and her spouse in their midst. I heard how important being the United church in a rural community is.  I also heard how broad and wide community is in this region – in that this pastoral charge spans many, many kilometers, because being welcoming of all also means no matter how far away you live. The reality of rural ministry, is that the next closest United Church could be a long ways away, especially as smaller churches close their doors. 

Again, too, I came away with the sense that we are indeed one big church, with many small places of welcome, of care, of compassion. Thanks be!  

Maple Creek United Church