Embracing the Primordial

Embracing the Primordial

It is always a pleasure to hear and read reflections from the congregation. I’d like to share this short article I received last week – written directly to the experience at Trinity-St. Paul’s:


“Primordial”, now what the heck does that mean? How about “having existed from the beginning”? Marcus Borg, well known and widely respected New Testament scholar, uses that word to describe the premodern view of the world and human experience. To put it briefly, the primordial view, shared by all premodern societies and cultures, was an understanding and experience of existence as multilayered. The world was made up of rocks, trees, water, animals and humans, with time and space, but it was more. Existence was physical, but the physical was interwoven with the spiritual. The spirit dimensions of life varied greatly from one culture to another. Christians are most familiar with the Jewish understanding of the spiritual dimension of life and existence through our reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. That massive book, with such a wide variety of content and styles, is the attempt by individuals and communities to describe and understand the primordial spiritual world in which “they lived and moved and had their being.”  Scriptures are shaped by powerful spiritual moments and events. Here are examples from one book of the Bible: the burning bush, the Exodus, the Mt. Sinai encounters with the Spirit.

The universal and varied primordial views of the world began to disappear in the 17th and 18th centuries with the coming of the Enlightenment. The world became limited to what you can see with your eyes, touch with your hands, hear with your ears, taste with your tongue and calculate through thinking and experience. That’s all there is: an effective understanding of existence which has enabled humanity to do remarkable things. Just think of the medical, the communication, the comfort and safety possibilities that have emerged in the modern world. There is lots of negative too, e.g. armaments, but let’s celebrate and embrace the positive dimensions of modernity.

Why should us Christians embrace the primordial? Affirming the spiritual/primordial dimension of existence is integral to Christian faith. Being a spiritual person in this secular urban environment ain’t easy. That is an especially challenging dimension of our faith individually and collectively.  We can celebrate the fact that there seem to be an increasing number of people who say, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Let’s find out what it means. Closer to home, what does “the spiritual” mean in your faith, in your life, and in mine?

Embracing the primordial means exploring and affirming the spiritual dimension of our faith. Here’s an example. On Advent One, Rev. Emily talked in her sermon about Hope and she challenged us to distinguish between “hope for” and “hope in.” I suggest the former is an expression of modernism (nothing wrong with that) and the latter is an expression of the primordial and with it comes challenging spiritual implications.

TSP has taken the spiritual/primordial dimension of Christian faith seriously as we move into two years of our congregational life under the leadership of Rev. Judith and the Interim Ministry Team. Remember how the interim process began? Yes, with the “Listening to the Spirit” initiative, a primordial beginning. Let’s make sure the “the spiritual” plays a significant role going forward. Perhaps TSP is seriously toying with the idea of embracing “the primordial”!

* This article is inspired by chapter 6, “Root Images and the Way We See: The Primordial Tradition and the Biblical Tradition” in Marcus Borg’s JESUS IN CONTEMPORARY SCHOLARSHIP

Rev. Douglas Varey
December 2015

Creation and the City: The Congregation Reflects

Creation and the City: The Congregation Reflects

Here are some reflections (in words and photos), that have been shared by people in the congregation at Trinity-St. Paul’s in response to Creation Time this year, as we explore the theme of Creation and our City.


Adam Mason

Photo by Adam Mason



Carolyn Barber shared “A Tribute to the Earth,” originally written for Trinity-St. Paul’s service on April 22, 2007, which includes these beautiful words:

In the past week or so, as I looked for words that could convey my love for nature for this Earth tribute, I found that is was only the images of nature, not words, that came to mind. I was surprised to discover that many things I love in nature don’t require travelling to Georgian Bay, but can be found here in the busyness of downtown Toronto.

I remembered a late afternoon last fall when I was rushing to pick up something on the Danforth. By sheer luck I happened to glance up to see the western sky absolutely ablaze with giant brushstrokes of orange and rose and mauve, and a whole myriad of other colours that the English language has no words for, all surrounded by the deepest of indigo. I had a feeling that it must be just for me, as everyone else was still rushing by…. a feeling of being enveloped and at one with the beauty of sky. I felt rich and privileged beyond measure.


Philip Bell 2

Photo by Phillip Bell (Sunrise)


In late March, exploring my back yard, I stopped in amazement. Here, right beside a pile of melting snow, with winds howling, a little bush was already blooming its heart out. ….the witch hazel that I planted only last year had survived the winter, and was covered in dark red seed pods splashing out tiny pompoms of vivid lemon – blossoms as strangely exotic looking as anything from the rain forests of Costa Rica or Ecuador. But not at all an imported plant, rather a proud native Canadian, with the courage to bloom long before the forsythia had even thought of making the effort and making my day. . . .



Marion Kirkwood 4

Photo by Marion Kirkwood


How often do we experience momentary gifts from nature like these ones, yet fail to realize that it could be God’s way of trying to lead us back to ourselves through nature. God, for these moments of connectedness, we say thank you.

But let us not neglect our own creations, our built environment, the song and music that make us unique in the Universe. Here at TSP . . . [we have] A century-old building with its foundations of Ontario clay bricks. Clay that is no doubt rich in minerals like zinc and magnesium and copper and more… the same minerals that are found in the compost that nurtures the little witch hazel, the same minerals that flow though our arteries and keep our human hearts beating and open to the wonders of an October sky. Surely, when we try to pick out one piece of life around us, we find it hitched to everything in the universe.


Monarch of all monarchs

Photo by Jeanne Moffat (Monarch of all monarchs)


General Council 42 Happenings

In addition to the important fossil fuel divestment motions passing (see its own great blog post), here are a few other happenings from General Council 42 in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, August 8-14, 2015:


Our New Moderator – Jordan Cantwell

Jordan comes to us from River Bend Presbytery (Saskatchewan Conference), and has been connected to the United Church since the late ‘80s when she became involved with social justice movements. Her range of experience includes chairing her presbytery, being a delegate of the United Church at the World Council of Churches Assembly in South Korea, and being on the leadership team of the Saskatchewan All My Relations Network, among other things. Jordan’s sermon at the closing worship of General Council was on Sabbath economics. I see Jordan’s election as a sign of hope as we move forward, as well as reflecting our deep commitment as a church to our justice work.


New Ties to other denominations

General Council voted in favour of full communion with the United Church of Christ (USA), as well as mutual recognition of ministry agreements with United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PROK). It will be exciting to see how this new direction in interchurch relations enriches our denomination. What a wonderful thing to celebrate!


Justice related motions

In addition to the climate change motions that passed, some of the other motions that passed included: divesting from Goldcorp, calling for action on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and promoting the adoption of a national child well-being index. Another motion that passed was to create a living apology for members of LGBTTQ communities – some kind of creative, story-telling based expression to travel across the country.


Changes to the United Church of Canada (two congregational remits)

The main focus of General Council was looking at a set of proposals that restructure church governance and try to make it nimble enough for future changes. Aspects that passed include a financial commitments to supporting new ministry initiatives and ongoing dialogue with First peoples.  Another motion that passed was to further explore whether there is interest in the possibility of an “association of ministers” that could provide collegial support for ministers, while a motion that did not pass was to create a College of Ministers.

Two motions were reworked and will now require a category 3 remit – which is a remit that every congregation must vote on. These were, in general terms, to move from a four court structure (board, presbytery, conference, and General Council) to a three council structure (board, regional council and denominational council and to change how the funding works so that Mission & Service solely funds mission & ministry work, with a congregational assessment to fund governance & administration at the regional & denominational councils.

What does this mean for TSP? Two congregational remits will mean the need for congregational study and discussion on the topics, and successful remits will mean shifts in how we relate to the larger church. The new funding structure should create more transparency and understanding of how church money is spent beyond the congregational level, which will be a good thing. We do not yet know what the assessments would be for our congregation. Some changes could potentially begin earlier than the next General Council, since permission has been given for interested conferences to begin putting these motions into practice.


One Order of Ministry (a third congregational remit)

There was another motion passed that will require a remit going to all congregations, which rethinks how ordination is understood. It recommends that diaconal ministers and DLMs are ordained, rather than creating divisions between ordained ministers, diaconal ministers, and DLMs. There are mixed feelings about these proposals on the part of all three groups, and many consider the chance for continued study in this remit process to be important. Once again, it is another big topic for TSP congregants to discuss and vote on over the next few years. (As an aside, there could have been as many as 5 congregational remits coming out of GC42, so this is not quite as much work as I had thought it could be. I hope all these remits will be opportunities for discussions about how we live out our faith in many different ways.)