October 29, 2019

So another learning…I am only somewhat better at blogging than journaling. I like to write when I get to it, it’s the getting to it that I’m not great at. I thought that blogging – writing to an audience, as opposed to private journaling, might keep me more to the task…but not as much as I had hoped it would. 

That said, technical challenges have frustrated me along the way, too. So…today’s entry is about last week’s visit…which I did start last week, but once again, had trouble loading. Needless to say, I’m behind one. Here’s last week’s entry…this week’s will come tomorrow!  

Where does the time go? The week of October 19-25th went to places of connection. Several of them. The week started with my visit to Balzac United Church, close to home – just 45 minutes down the road. The minister there, Rita Cattell, is someone I’ve known since back in my youth ministry days. She was already a diaconal minister, and one of few women in ministry in Calgary back then. We’ve both been in different presbyteries for the past number of years, so had lost touch. That in spite of the fact that for the past 7 years I’ve driven past Balzac regularly on visits to my family in Calgary. 

It was great to be greeted by Rita’s warm welcome, and so good to reconnect…which we did for some time after the formal part of my visit ended. It was also great to experience the welcome of one of the youth in the congregation who happened to be sitting beside me in the pew. She started our conversation by suggesting that since she hadn’t seen me before I must be new, and introduced herself and her family, and then later told me a great deal about Balzac United. 

Another lovely piece of my day in Balzac was the great worship service. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Rita’s worship leadership, and anyone who knows me would say our styles are quite similar. The music was also a highlight. I have to admit, my bias led me to expect that the woman at the keyboard would play oldie goldies and nothing else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The music was great, and the musician – soon to be 91 and proud of it. So awesome that she continues to share her gifts with the church. 

Balzac United Church

I mentioned connections…this visit happened just 2 days after attending a memorial celebration of life for a family member, my cousin’s spouse, who left this world way too young (the same age as yours truly). I come from a large extended family, and many of us were able to gather with my cousin’s family and friends. We don’t see each other often, yet we are family, and are there for each other when needed. 

And then more connections…Wednesday night – somewhat unpredicatably, all 4 of my siblings, and my dad, as well as my son, my spouse, and my sister-in-law, found ourselves around our dining room table sharing in an amazing lobster dinner, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for bringing the live creatures home from Halifax! It’s not often that all 5 of us siblings are in one room. The last time was the day of my mom’s memorial service. I know how precious these times are, and I am so grateful for that crazy fun time of eating lobster, laughing, and loving. Mom would have loved it. I like to think that somehow she could see us – the 5 of us, together at one table, laughing, eating, enjoying being together.

More connections…Thursday, Oct. 24, I traveled to Edmonton to my aunt’s (on the other side of my family), to join in a lunch visit with 2 of her daughters – more cousins. The fun part is that my attendance at the lunch came as a surprise to my cousins. It was a really good visit. And again – a reminder of the importance of family, and taking time. These cousins lost their step-mom just prior to mom’s death…so we all share care and concern for dad’s that are missing their beloveds.

After the afternoon there, I got to enjoy an evening with my daughter, who doesn’t like lobster so was okay with not being at the table the night before. 

Then more Edmonton connections – a brunch visit with 2 colleagues, friends that I studied theology with, from 1995 to 2000. It was good to catch up, to hear their stories and share my own with them. 

One of my personal sabbatical goals has been to reconnect with people in my life that I wish I had more time with. There are a few people on my list I still need to make those connections with…and there have been some really important visits along the way. I’m realizing – as the end of sabbatical comes closer, that I need to make it a goal for “re-entry” that I continue to hold on to those connections that mean so much…with or without the lobster! 

October 11, 2019

So…lesson learned…write the post in one’s document file first, then post…avoids the frustration that happens when you think you’ve written and posted and the darn thing’s ended up somewhere in cyberspace, never to be found again! Thanks to my daughter for the helpful advice. No thanks to the WordPress help desk who has yet to respond to my queries.

The journey of the first week of October was over 5 days duration, so took me another 5 to get to the iPad to write! Sorry for that. One of the realities of a full and busy life. And then it took a few days for me and WordPress to make it post! Just a little more frustration!

Anyway…the journey began on October 2nd, as my spouse and I travelled to my sister and brother-in-law’s beautiful summer home on the north end of the Shuswap. It’s equally beautiful in the fall, and much more peaceful than in the busy summer season! We enjoyed 2 quiet days there, which included a trip to a couple of local wineries. Related purchases to be shared with our Thanksgiving dinner.

Oct 4-6 saw us in Kamloops, where my spouse had time to explore the city while I attended “Holy Shift! Size-Mic Upgrade’ at Kamloops United Church. This event was sponsored and facilitated by folks from Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church, who through their Leadershift Program, put on a few events each year that help build leadership capacity in the church for both clergy and laity.
The keynote guest for this event was Alice Mann, a church consultant from the US, with roots in the Episcopal Church. The title of her talks was “We Just Can’t Do This Any More: Smaller Congregations Facing Choice Points.”
This intrigued me right from the word ‘go’ as it put a much more positive spin on the realities of churches facing change as our contexts change.

Mann reminded us that small is the norm when it comes to church size, especially mainline church size. Her stats are based on American figures, however when it comes to church size, we’re in a very similar boat here in Canada. In fact, as she told us, in the US, 2/3 of all congregations have less than 100 weekly worshippers on average. Mann did not herself assume that we follow that here in Canada, however most of us at the event certainly see that as a fair comparison. She spoke of how the church in general, needs to get better at resourcing small congregations.
I wouldn’t be the first one to say that it sometimes seems that church resources tend to be created for larger urban centres and often need to be adapted to suit our smaller church realities.

Mann gave us another piece of learning – that smaller churches operate in a very relational manner. She illustrated this with a cartoon of two women seated at a table having coffee, and a caption that read “The kitchen table is more influential than the board table.”

We all know that can be a blessing…and sometimes not. The key is in managing the kitchen table conversations, and living in relationship based on trust and honesty.
In addition to Mann’s 3 sessions, there were several workshops, resourced by folks in Pacific Mountain Region. The first I chose was led by the minister, Ken Jones, and board chairs of Osoyoos and Oliver United Churches. It was on sharing a minister with another congregation. These two are in the early stages of that, Oliver “renting” 1/2 of Ken’s time from Osoyoos, as we did in Olds and Sundre at the beginning. There was lots of wisdom shared, by both the facilitators, and the gathered group…however for me this was somewhat of a been there already experience. The positive from that was that I was able to encourage those who are exploring this idea to do so, and know that with careful management this can be the first step in the process towards healthy partnerships.

The second workshop I attended was facilitated by Jennie Carter – minister at First United in Salmon Arm. She shared the story of how First has, over the last four years, been on a journey of transformation from a small struggling congregation to a place of community outreach and engagement, community gathering and sharing of spaces, and discovering ways to live into adaptive change. Lots of exciting ideas that could be adapted and tried in our context here in south-central Alberta.

The Saturday evening ended with some good music, by rEvolve and Dawn Pemberton, who also led the music for worship on Sunday morning.
As I’ve written before – being in the pews as a worshipper, instead of worship leader, is a wonderful gift of sabbatical, as is the opportunity to worship in a variety of settings. Worshipping in this setting, at Kamloops United, with over 150 people was enriching and spirit-filled. That number is not the norm for this congregation, our event added many to their count. It was a day of warm welcome, AND warm weather!

The journey home was lovely, fall in the mountains, with good weather! Much to be grateful for.

On the personal side of the week – my family has suffered more loss – my dad’s youngest brother, and my cousin’s spouse, within the last few weeks. These losses remind us of how much we miss mom, yet also how much family connections mean in these days. It was good to be able to take time with my sister to take dad to High River to spend the afternoon with his one remaining sibling – another younger brother. And this weekend – Thanksgiving, we will create some new traditions, and hold dear to some old ones, as we experience this first holiday without mom.
Hold dear to those you love, and may these days of thanks be filled with blessing and peace.

Kamloops United Church, Kamloops, British Columbia

September 29, 2019

The end of a weekend…and mid-way on the latest journey. Friday began with a lunch visit with a colleague, at the restaurant owned by a woman who used to do youth ministry at one of my former pastoral charges while I was there. Her and her husband own “Kavacinno’s” in Lacombe, Alberta. A nice little spot, and delicious butternut squash soup. Perfect for a chilly fall day.

I left Lacombe and headed east – destination, the Preeceville-Sturgis Pastoral Charge in Saskatchewan. Friday’s drive was somewhat uneventful – with the exception of learning how much less our neighbours east of Alberta experience highway maintenance. It became blatantly obvious as soon as I crossed the border!

I had a quiet night in what I would call a very rustic motel…but the price was right. I decided to stop at dusk, to avoid close encounters with critters. Am I ever glad I made that decision. The next day was critter abundant – and with daylight I could enjoy that. Within the first half hour Saturday morning, I encountered 3 moose. One alone, the others in a team…all running across fields of grain. Then throughout the day there were ducks and geese and hawks and magpies – all too numerous to ever try to count. A spectacular eagle flew alongside for a bit. A a deer sauntered across the highway – far enough ahead of me to let me enjoy its grace. Sorry – no photos. These wonders were all on the move!

I arrived safe and sound to a wonderfully warm welcome by my hosts for the evening – Anna and Miles Russell. Miles has been in ministry with the pastoral charge for close to 3 decades. We enjoyed a meal out in a restaurant in the village of Stenen. The building was once was a school – closed due to population decline, and purchased and repurposed into a eatery, social hall, and community gathering place.

Today I worshipped with the people of The pastoral charge – first at Trinity United and then at Grace United. Timing is a great thing – as I got to enjoy the tradition of last Sunday of the month potluck, followed by a quick trip back to Trinity to have our conversations about thriving congregations, and what the folks of this pastoral charge believe helps them to flourish.

I came away with another reminder of how vital an attitude of gratitude is, and how important it is to be missionally focused. There was also a great sense of community support. It is evident that the two congregations are really working together, supporting one another, and serving their communities, reaching out and caring beyond their walls, as well as sharing their spaces with the wider community.

And tonight…a stopover in Saskatoon. Only tomorrow will tell if the snow will let up enough to let me get home. And if I need to stay another day – maybe I’ll find a movie theatre for some Downton Abbey time!

Trinity United – Preeceville, Saskatchewan
Grace United, Sturgis, Saskatchewan

September 26

I realize it’s been awhile. We arrived home from Manitoba a couple of weeks ago – in time to regroup, and spend a day with my dad on his birthday weekend. He turned 91 almost 2 weeks ago. It was the first of the firsts…events without mom. Dad, along with our whole family, is on this journey of grief…and one of the hard things about it is that dad doesn’t talk about mom much. He talks about how much he hates being alone…but rarely speaks about mom. When he does, it’s remembering times when they were younger. It has been interesting to hear those stories of their earlier life together – life before 5 children. I believe some of Dad’s quietness on the topic of mom is related to his dementia; however, I know there’s also some family history around that. The men in my dad’s family rarely speak of those they have loved and lost. Is that a cultural thing? A family thing? I don’t know. Dad is fine with us speaking about mom, and remembering. In fact my sister and I did a fair bit of that, with dad present with us, as together we made her special, well loved “peachy pear jam”. No kidding, this stuff is heaven in a jar! And we all love it. Mom made it every year – enough for all of us to get some on production day, and some for Christmas, and a few batches for her church bazaar.

My two sisters made some earlier this summer, and then yesterday I and my Calgary sister made the bazaar batches. We just couldn’t let there be none of Vera’s jam at that bazaar. You see, mom and a friend were the ones that initiated that bazaar, over 50 years ago. And this year, the Country Store area of the bazaar is being given a new name – Vera’s Country Store. I had never before made peachy pear…other jams, yes, and I’ve helped mom over the years with all the preserves she makes, however somehow, peachy pear was not part of my repertoire. So thanks to my sister for inviting me into her kitchen, where we used mom’s jam making equipment, and created that heavenly treat. Thanks to my sister, I now have the inside scoop on making that delicious jam.

Doing things like that, and sharing the memories helps. Having dad present, watching over the process, was good too.

Today, a little work to prepare for another journey across the prairie, to visit the congregations of Preeceville and Sturgis – a journey that will take me first to Lacombe for lunch with a colleague; then about 9 hours across the prairie, to this pastoral charge that is doing interesting things, and flourishing. I look forward to the journey – although the forecast for snow has put a little hestitancy in my heart. However I will take my time, and enjoy the ride…

The finished product…golden deliciousness, with mom’s canner in the background.