Communities of Faith
This July 5 sermon excerpt is from the first of a month-long series “Being Community in Change.”
This Sunday we welcomed Bloor Street United Church for the first of our traditional joint services (July at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church and August at Bloor Street United Church) – this explains the use of the plural “congregations” in the first paragraph. The gospel reading referred to is Mark 6:1-13.
Here we are, in the midst of a turbulent time, a time of change. In the wider world, the 21st century has seen significant political, social, technological, and environmental changes. Of course, some of these are positive and some not. And sometimes the positive ones feel just as hard in the moment. In our personal lives, it is easy to identify the recent places of change. Of course, some of these are positive and some not. And sometimes the positive ones feel just as hard in the moment. In each of our congregations, it is easy to see the changes that have happened and will be happening – changes in staff, changes in how the building will be used and the vision of the congregation. Of course, some of these are positive, and some not. And sometimes the positive ones feel just as hard in the moment.
And then, there is the wider United Church, which is also swept up in a time of change, one that has potential implications not only for every level of governance but also for what the responsibilities and identifies of our congregations are. In August, less than 40 days from now, the 42nd General Council of the United Church begins. An extremely important set of motions coming to General Council are put forward in a document called “United in God’s Work” released in early March of this year, and emerging from a long process since the last General Council including extensive consultation with congregations, presbyteries, conferences, and research on the practices of other denominations. These motions rethink how we structure the United Church, working towards a model that decreases the existing bureaucracy and redundancy within the system, and striving towards a model that is both economically viable in a way that our current structure no longer is, and also contains the flexibility to change with changing times, following the Spirit’s call. One small change the report makes is in the language we use to talk about congregations. Rather than referring to congregations or pastoral charges, the report adopts the term “Communities of Faith.”
… Often when we think of a sense of call, or being commissioned, we think in individual terms. We might think of visions, or deep convictions. We might think about the call story that candidates for ordered ministry tell and retell through the discernment and interview process. Although this is a part of it, it misses the importance of community. We are not expected to do this alone. Jesus sends the disciples two by two. What we are called to is something far too large for just one person. The immensity of call is significant. What we are called to is impossibly big. Jesus sends the disciples telling them to heal, cast out demons, and change hearts and lives. That’s a scriptural way of talking about things that are life-changing, paradigm-shifting, and about far more than an individual resolution. But doesn’t it make sense? Doesn’t it make sense that a God of this immensity would call us to something large? Why wouldn’t a God too large to even be described call us to something that is too large for us? It is undeniably too big for us, but none the less we are called.
Being community in the midst of change: we are called to this.
Question for reflection: What does God call our community of faith to be?