The Valley

A lot has change for Matthew and I in the last month: We packed up everything and moved 4600km across the country to Petawawa, Ontario where we have begun ministry at a new area parish in the Ottawa Valley.

An “area parish” is something relatively new being employed in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa where there are a handful of clergy working together with a collection of churches. The idea is to share strengths and build capacity by putting together churches and clergy who may not have been working closely together in the past but who are in a similar geographic area. We will share resources and people, we will work together on areas of shared ministry, and we will all have the opportunity to play to our strengths in order to benefit the whole.

The Geography of our Valley Parish. The blue markers are all churches in the parish – some have services every Sunday, some are seasonal, some have services once or twice a month, and some are chapels and have services once or twice a year.

Some of the churches in our parish. Missing are the two I will have primary responsibility for, along with one chapel.

Matthew and I have spent the last few days driving all over our new parish to get to know the places and see the towns and villages (and corners of farm roads) where the churches are located. While we are both from relatively nearby – Matthew is from three hours east of our new parish and I am from three hours south – all of the driving has helped us to get a better feel for the parish and the people we will be ministering with. It has also been a lot of fun!

All of the churches are beautiful buildings and in the most beautiful of countrysides. All of them are also incredibly different – stone, brick, wood, siding … and most have a cemetery right beside the church.

We have driven about 450km around the area finding all of the churches. It has taken us within minutes of Algonquin Park, along three different river valleys (Bonnechere, Madawaska, and Ottawa), and out to corners of farmer’s fields on secondary Ontario highways.

There will be lots of things for us to learn amongst these people, but we know that we’re in a good place and off to a great start!

(For more on each of the churches pictured in the montage above, see my Instagram account)

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Gentle Mary?

Gentle Mary, meek and mild. We like to sing about it every Christmas. We look at pictures of meek and retiring Mary. She always looks to pure, so innocent.

I call bullshit.

Image by Ben Wildflower. It is one of my favourite depictions of the Magnificat. I have the tshirt.

Where on earth did we get the idea that a woman who sings about God scattering the proud, who calls on God to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the oppressed, who demands that God fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away with empty hands – where on earth did we get the idea that this woman is anything but a strong, feisty, courageous woman with agency?

When I read the gospel accounts of Mary the mother of Jesus, I do not see some mild-mannered girl quietly acquiescing to God’s demand of her to carry his son.

Rather I read about a woman who joins a long line of people throughout Scriptures and throughout history who question God. What if her “How can this be?” in Luke’s story of the Annunciation is less about doubt and more about wrestling with what God is asking of her? And what if in wrestling with it, she decides to agree to the vocation of being the mother of Christ? “Here am I.”

Just as Moses said “But suppose they do not believe me… O my Lord, I have never been eloquent” but went with God’s words.

Just as Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips” and then said “Here am I; send me.” And God sent him.

Just as Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak!” but then went and prophesied the message God gave him.

Just as Esther hesitated because of the strong possibility of death, but then spoke out at great risk and saved the Jewish people.

Just as “ordinary” folks like you and I wrestle with the tasks – big and small – and vocations that God sets before us; wondering if we are really being called, debating whether we actually want to do that, and eventually finding that God really is with us and we want to say yes.

Mary’s agency is at the heart of this story, and it is this strong and courageous woman who answered God’s call and brought God into the world.

Amen.

 

With thanks to my Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) sisters for some inspiration, and who, through our conversations on Mary and consent, provided more links for thought:

The Mary Who Said No

Mary’s Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency

Did Mary Say “Me Too”?

Meeting Jesus

I had an interesting encounter after church on Sunday.

We were in the middle of a visioning session with the congregation following the service when a church member came into the meeting to speak to me. There is a man, she said, ringing the office doorbell non-stop and demanding to speak to the priest. I told him that there was a meeting going on and no one was available. He said he was going to sit and wait and wanted to come inside.

This church member, understandably, felt uncomfortable having an unknown man sit outside the offices to wait while she was alone down the hall in the kitchen. So I and another member of our staff went to speak with him.

He seemed to recognize my collar right away and was happy to speak with me.

The second coming of Jesus has happened! he said without any hesitation after I said hello.
Oh? That’s exciting! I replied.
He looked me straight in the eye and said, I am he.
Oh! I said again. I wasn’t expecting the conversation to go there…
Very seriously he told me, I was told to deliver this special message to all of the churches.
Good for you! That is a lot of work.
He looked at me kind of accusatorily: I received this message in September. But you have very good bouncers and I have not been able to tell you until now. All of the true churches need to believe in Jesus and be saved.
Thank you for making sure that we heard.
Now, I have told you. And with that he turned around got his bicycle and cycled away.

It was an interesting interaction. My first response was that I wanted to share about it in one of my Facebook clergy groups, but then I stopped to think about that.

Why did I feel the need to share something seemingly so personal to this man? Was it because I wanted to mock him? Or because I wanted to demonstrate how good I am at interacting with people with mental illness? Or should I even be assuming it was a mental illness that was compelling him to share this message with us?

I am preparing to preach on Matthew 25:31-46 this coming weekend and in this passage the question is repeatedly asked, Lord when did we see you? A man walked up to me and told me he is Jesus. Why couldn’t he be?

So I haven’t posted anything other than this. And posting it here allows me to ponder different contexts for what might be going on. It means that I have to place it in the wider story rather than just sharing the dialogue for a laugh. Because even if it was mental illness that compelled his message, he is a beautiful human being made in God’s image who should not be mocked but should be loved and cared for.

Maybe I did meet Jesus after all.

Old Made New

A couple of weeks ago, I presided at my first Book of Common Prayer Eucharist. Its a lovely service and, like many across the Anglican Church of Canada, our is attended by a small but faithful group of people at 8 o’clock in the morning.

In preparing for this service, there were a few “extra” details that were really important for me to have alongside that morning. The red prayer book I used belonged to my mother. In it are small handwritten notes, instructions she had no doubt penciled in to assist her in serving at the table in the parish where I grew up. I continue to use this BCP for myself, though it is a little small to consistently use for presiding at services!

The green stole I wore for the service was an ordination gift last year. It was given to me by the wife of a retired, and now sadly deceased, priest; a couple I got to know when attending the Cathedral in Victoria. The stole is a stunning piece of embroidery, but its meaning goes deeper than its beauty. The stole belonged to Archdeacon Bob MacRae, former rector of the parish I now serve and the first secretary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, where I currently volunteer as a board member. Bob, and his wife Sue, have both been supporters of me pursuing ordained ministry and it is an honour to wear his stole.

These two items used are a reminder of two faithful people, now passed, as well as reminder of the long tradition I have been called to participate in. For me they are symbols of the timelessness of faith alongside the call to make old things new as we seek to serve God in a generation. They ground me in my past and propel me towards the future.

The Holy Innocents

Now after the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,

 Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:13-18

 

The largest massacre of the conflict in El Salvador happened in El Mozote on December 11, 1981. Reports vary, but anywhere from 750-1000 civilians were killed by the Salvadoran army that day.

IMG_2676El Mozote is a small town near the border with Honduras. There are a few homes around a square, a small store, a big tree with the open-air market, and a church on a small rise at the base of one of the surrounding hills. The church is simple – whitewashed with blue trim. There is no steeple or tower, just two small crosses on the outside corners. Whether or not the church looked like this 35 years ago, I do not know. But there has always been a church.

The church is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall and a short iron fence. While the gate is closed today, I can see another gate, made of iron in the shape and colour of a sun with rays and rainbow, leading into the garden beside the church. Over this image is the words, “Jardin de reflexion los inocentes” – The Garden of Reflection of the Innocents.

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Immediately what springs to mind is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which we are commemorating today in the chapel at Huron. This is the feast where we remember those children massacred by King Herod when he was hoping to kill the child Jesus. But that isn’t entirely what this garden is commemorating, though it may be a reference. This garden is commemorating the massacre in El Mozote.

No one outside of the immediate department in El Salvador really believed that there had been a massacre of civilians of this scope in El Mozote. The army took great pains to hide it from everyone. Yet years later when they finally began to excavate the site, they found the bones of approximately 150 children buried in this space beside the church. One hundred and fifty innocent children massacred in one place.

IMG_2686With tears in his eyes, the brother of the lone survivor, Tomas, told us of how his sister Rufina was carrying her eight-month old baby and had her other children by her side that morning when the army rounded everyone into the square. First the men were brought into the church, interrogated, and killed. Then the young girls were taken into the hills, raped, and buried. Rufina’s baby was knocked from her hands by the soldiers who then picked it up, tossed it into the air, and “caught” it on the end of their bayonets.

Slaughter of the innocents.

Entire families were wiped out in this massacre. Lives changed – and taken – in an instant. Soldiers set fire to all of the buildings in the village, with the bodies piled inside, hoping to remove all evidence of what they had done.

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I asked if justice had ever been served. They said no: those who ordered the massacres are still serving in the Legislative Assembly and until they are no longer around to block the process, they cannot seek justice.

[For an extensive report of El Mozote: here.]

It is hard to have hope, witnessing something like that. These massacres seem to have been going on for far too long. Who knows what will someday be uncovered about our history? Perhaps the only hope we can offer is that in the second reading for today:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4

God is here and is making all things new. We are participating in that renewal of the earth. Awful things are still going to happen, unfortunately, until the new heaven and new earth becomes reality. Until then, we continue to hope and pray and work to make it our reality.

Twelve

IMG_2103I am currently in Toronto for the board meeting of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. This morning our Executive Director led us in a theological reflection that included, in part, a reflection on the life that can come out of death.

Twelve years ago this morning we lost mum. One month ago this weekend, I was given her wedding band and a promise. Out of death has come new life. Amen.

Passing Peace

Each time we, as a Christian community, gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we have a tradition of passing the peace. How we pass that peace can be summed up in a thread started by a friend of mine of Facebook: “Informal poll for Episcopalians (or anyone who worships in a “liturgical church”): When passing the peace, are you a hand shaker or a hugger?”

With over fifty comments on the post, it is safe to say that we are all a little divided on it and many have strong opinions. I know people who will only attend services using the Book of Common Prayer, the older prayer book, so that they do not have to even think about touching anyone. I know people who have it as their mission to hug every single person in the building before they will conclude that they have sufficiently passed peace. My own response? Well, if I know you well, I’ll give you a hug. If I’ve only just met you or I don’t know you very well, it is a hand shake.

But what about if that has to change and you can’t shake hands for some reason and you do not want to hug? Then what?

I spent July and August in El Salvador with a group of youth leaders from Saskatchewan. We were visiting a PWRDF partner there, and spent the majority of our time in a small, isolated, rural community in the highlands close to the border with Honduras. While I am always really careful about ensuring I have all of my travel vaccinations before I go anywhere, there are some things you cannot plan for and cannot do anything to prevent.

Shortly before leaving to return home, I had a bit of a fever and felt achy all over. The local doctor looked me over and decided that I didn’t need to worry about anything with regards to flying, and to visit a doctor at home if anything changed after I arrived home. For some time, nothing changed. However a few weeks after returning home I started to get really achy joints: toes, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and fingers. Not all at once, but definitely a lot of them for a lot of the time.

After a series of blood tests (and a whole lot of blood removed from my body), we have determined that I got the chikungunya virus when I was in El Salvador. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, which is interesting since I rarely get bitten by mosquitoes. It won’t cause any permanent damage and the joint pain will subside over time – and indeed it already has a lot: walking is no longer extremely painful and I have been able to type these words – but I will be dealing with joint pain off and on for a while longer still.

What does this have to do with passing the peace, you might ask? Simply this: my hands and feet remain the most affected parts of my body. I have difficulty holding our heavy hymn books some mornings in chapel. It also means that when well-meaning people give me a nice, firm handshake of peace, my hand aches for hours afterwards.

How does one pass peace when a handshake isn’t a viable option? I have tried a number of different things, most recently putting my hands together in prayer position and slightly bowing to people when I pass the peace of God. More often than not, however, this becomes awkward for both myself and the other person. So what is one to do? While for me, the pain will soon go away, I am mindful that is not the reality for many.