Why the name, “Un-Church”?

Our Young Families Engagement group knew fairly early on that we wanted to launch something similar to what’s called Messy Church, which originated in England and has replicated all over the world. Many United Churches across Canada are doing Messy Church. We wanted to keep food central. We knew we wanted to teach what we saw were the core tenets of Christianity. We knew we wanted a time of singing and celebration.

But the term “Messy Church” didn’t sit quite right.

We also knew that Christianity carries a lot of baggage these days. Despite Canada’s holidays having a dominant Christian influence, Christianity itself is very much counter-cultural. And that’s as it should be: the movement Jesus of Nazareth began (or continued) millennia ago was a counter-cultural movement. And the forces of empire — such as excessive greed, dominance over others, or ecological destruction — are still at play. For many, the baggage of Christianity is too heavy to carry: the baby often gets thrown out with the bath water.

So we wanted to embrace the opportunity for people to unlearn what they assumed we at Castlegar United Church are about. We wanted to strip “church” back to its bare bones by asking what about a church is most important.

We foresaw it as a way to unwind because it meant at least one night without having to cook supper.

We foresaw it as a way to uncover the gems of Christianity that often get buried beneath the dirt.

We foresaw it as a way to understand how to make our own lives more peaceful for a more peace-filled world.

We wanted the word “church” in there somewhere, but we also wanted to communicate our desire to do things differently than we do on Sunday morning, and differently from how most imagine or assume we do things

And thus was born “Un-Church”.

Season of Christmas

posted in: Christmas 0

I’ve always had a hard time when exciting experiences come to an end. Even as a child, after a long weekend I’d be overcome with sadness at the prospect of going to school on Tuesday morning. And I liked school! For me, I think it was about not wanting to let go of the moments when all seems right.

Christmas Eve is often about creating a moment when all seems right, or when things are as they ought to be. Maybe it’s the peace and quiet of snow falling gently from the dark sky. Maybe it’s Silent Night sung to candlelight. Maybe it’s the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. (And, if I’m being honest, it’s also about the excitement at opening gifts that was implanted as a child and hasn’t quite left yet.)

So Boxing Day was always tough — the excitement is over, as is the moment when all seemed as it ought to be.

But the disciplined Christian recognizes that Christmas is neither a day, nor a moment. Rather, Christmas is a season lasting 12 full days, ending with Epiphany (on January 6 in our tradition). And that’s good for someone like me who has trouble when fleeting moments have, well, fleeted.

That Christmas is a season and not just a day means we can take the time to soak in the significance of divinity and humanity joining, or the significance of God making God’s self known in a vulnerable baby, or the significance of poor shepherds being the first to know the Good News.

A hangover of Christendom is the holidays in this part of the world aligning with Christian holy days. Let’s treat these holidays as the holy days they ought to be: time to reflect, imagine, and envision God’s kin-dom fulfilled. And let’s enjoy the company of friends and family, maybe over meals and boardgames.

Regardless, Merry (Season of) Christmas!

Our Vision

Over the past several months, we have been “trying on” our new vision statement. Presently it reads,

We envision our church community as vibrant and bold, embodying the reconciling Way of Jesus.

A small group of us reviewed survey responses, kept our stated values close, and put pen to paper to capture the essence of who we are now and how we imagine ourselves in the future. A vision is an ambitious — but realistic — declaration of where we want to find ourselves at some point in the not-too-distant future but can’t really say about ourselves now.

Where does the statement come from? Following are some reflections.

Vibrant: we see our church community as full of life, and preparing for new life. Our congregation is ageing — and that’s totally fine! — age doesn’t need to bear any relevance on vibrance. We do also see a greater diversity of ages in the future. Most important, we see our church community as a refreshing source of life, and where all of our activities are life-giving.

Bold: we have a history of standing up for a fairer world, and for taking on important issues. We want to continue that. If we have been timid with some issues in the past, we see ourselves taking these on boldly in the future.

Embodying: a church (derived from the Greek, “ecclesia”) is a gathered group of people. A church is a body. Specifically, the church is the body of Christ — a group of people where the Christ energy is present and flowing freely. Christians say that the church is the hands and feet of Christ, doing the tasks Jesus can no longer do after he ascended.

Reconciling: to reconcile is to come together again. It denotes repairing relationships, either on an individual level or on a collective level. The word is commonly used for indigenous-settler relations, and that is some of our intent. But reconciliation is scalable: between two people, between a person and God, between a group and God, or between two or more groups. Christianity is about reconciling our past, to live into a future where we are free to love and be loved.

Way of Jesus: the early Christians referred to themselves as “Followers of the Way.” They didn’t see Jesus as a founder of a new religion; they saw his as the founder of a new way of being. This movement was part of, and also separate from, mainstream Judaism. It includes religious practices and it seems to have included individual discipleship and contemplative practice. It is a way of nonviolence — resisting injustice with love before might.

Soon we’ll decide whether to adopt this vision as our new way of being.

Peace

posted in: Reflections 0

Peace is the theme for Advent this week.

When I was studying at the University of Waterloo, the neighbouring college — Conrad Grebel College — offered a Peace and Conflict Studies program. The courses always appealed to me, but I only took one during my time there. I recall walking down the hall past a lecture and hearing, “Peace is more than the absence of conflict.” I wish I’d staying longer to hear a more complete definition of peace. Part of me wishes I had pursued a minor or certificate in peace and conflict studies in parallel to my engineering degree because the greatest challenges our world now faces may have little to do with engineering and everything to do with peace and conflict.

Some definitions of peace include quiet and tranquility. That resonates for me. But I can also imagine peace that is loud about boisterous: I’d venture to say our cities are, by and large, peaceful places — notwithstanding violent crime and domestic violence that we should eradicate. Crime rates fall, but hustle and bustle rises. Indeed, some of the most dangerous places on earth are actually quite quiet and tranquil: they have curfews imposed at nightfall, which is around 6pm in equatorial regions. Quiet and tranquil sometimes imply discord and violence.

We have a relative peace in Castlegar, where many feel safe to walk the streets at any hour. And yet many experience this otherwise quiet and tranquil place as violent and unsafe. Gender-based violence still exists. Bullying still exists. Child abuse still happens.

As we anticipate the coming Messiah — the Anointed One — we remember that the appearance of peace does necessarily not mean deep peace. But we remember the promise awaiting fulfilment. We hold steadfast to a vision of a peaceful world — where we can life free from fear, where the will to commit violence has melted away, where conflict is transformed to create space for new life. We have much work to do and by God’s active grace we can work together to make peace reality for all.

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