Looking Forward

This can probably be filed under the category of “rant”. Also, under the category of “Gillian is procrastinating from writing a paper”.

I am constantly asked what kind of church or other setting I would like to end up in once I have completed my studies here. The question came up again this week with someone at school and I think that I gave my most coherent answer to date. Reflecting on my answer later at home I realized I’d still gotten it wrong. Or, rather, the question we are asking is wrong.

So I put the question out on twitter and continued to think about the subject.


I was surprised when I was interviewed by the Diocesan Committee on Ordained Ministry last year to be asked questions about parish specifics: size and location of where I might want to work, whether I would like to be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid. While I understand that they have to work out if the diocese even needs more priests, I had hoped that they would have had a more forward-looking view of things: Will this model of ministry that we have inherited over the last five billion years (only a slight exaggeration) still be functional and/or relevant when I am finished? When I shared this observation with my bishop, I added that I did not really want to leave my job, move across the country, and go to school for three years in order to maintain a status quo that is broken. (Or, as Dr Horrible says: “Because the status is not quo!”)

It is broken because we are spending more money on maintaining our buildings than on active ministry. It is broken because it isn’t working: the average age of people attending (mainline) churches is increasing and the number of people attending is decreasing. Soon we are all going to die out. Die out, that is, unless we can figure out a different way to do things.

So don’t ask me what kind of priest I want to be when I am all done. Instead ask what your community needs and let us work together to figure out what we can do and where a priest might fit into the mix.


Rolling up the Rim

Each year, when springtime rolls around, Tim Horton’s does their “Roll Up The Rim to Win” campaign. People who wouldn’t normally shop at Tim Horton’s suddenly become fans of their coffee. People who go regularly suddenly have the need to drink twice as much coffee. I know this because I work beside a Tim Horton’s and have witnessed the behaviour of the people in the parking lot and of my coworkers (and myself… until last Wednesday when I gave up coffee for Lent).

I’m all for free stuff, I’m part Dutch with a little bit of Scottish after all, but something about this whole campaign sits a little wrongly with me. I think it started with the big signs in each store encouraging us to bring in our travel mugs to save the environment. Then it was witnessing an individual do just that but then receive the empty Roll up the Rim cup on the side so that they would still have a chance a the prize.

Nice mixed messages on environmentalism: consume many more disposable cups daily than usual while encourage people to bring their mugs in only to waste a cup on them anyway. It would be nice if Tim Horton’s could figure out a better way to encourage waste reduction during their prize season. It isn’t like their bottom line is hurting during this campaign.

Young and Old in Church

I had a letter read on CBC radio last week. It was a bit of an event for me… nearly everyone else in the family has managed to get on CBC (well, my sister has anyway), so now it was my turn. The letter was in response to a short documentary aired on the Vancouver Island morning show on Radio 1.

In this program, the interviewer was looking at spirituality amongst younger people in Victoria. Apparently only about 2-5% of the population of Victoria attends church on a regular basis (compare that to about 20% nationally and closer to 45-50% in the United States). However, we are one in one of the most spiritually rich places in North America. They then investigated some churches that are working to reach out to the “20 & 30-something” demographic (of which I am a part). One of the church leaders interviewed is the leader of a church-plant by one of the break-away Anglican groups in North America. In the course of the interview, it was revealed that this church, as well as the other featured church, aim their services exclusively at the 20-30’s in Victoria. I say exclusively because the interviewer could not attend a service because he was “too old”.

Too old?! Since when is anyone too old for church? One of the techniques (if you can call it that) is the cafe-style of church where participants sit around in groups and each, in turn, expound on the topic of the day. Call me crazy, but I am sure that there are some in the older generations to whom this would appeal and there are as many in the target generation who would benefit from the wisdom of their elders.

With that in mind, I sat down and wrote a letter.

“Maybe I am an abnormal 20-something, but I know I am not alone amongst 20-somethings in these sentiments: I go to church on a near-weekly basis and, even more shocking, go to a church with a number of people who could be my parents and grandparents. And I love it. Excluding older generations from church is not only presumptuous but a little short-sighted. One of the things I value about my “church experience” is the opportunity to interact with multiple generations. Where else can people interact with kids, teens, young adults, middle aged and elderly adults all at once? I have learnt many, many things from these older generations both about life and faith. By preventing that interaction, young adults leave themselves without mentor-ship and close themselves off to a world of experience and growth. Maybe they’ve forgotten, but those 80-year-old’s were 20-somethings like us once and a lot of them were trying to push the boundaries of church then the way we are today.”

They read it on air.

Thoughts? Do you like going to church with multiple generations? Or would you rather spend your Sunday morning/evening with people solely your own age? Have you gained anything from worshipping with older folk or does it detract from your experience?

How do we get more young people in church?

I am kind of, it feels like, the token “under-30” at church at times. Not that I am the only under-30, I am just one of the more involved under-30s who appears at church on a fairly regular basis. By and large, however, my generation is dramatically under-represented in church, at least many of the ones I frequent. Many of our churches, especially in the mainline denominations, are struggling with numbers; churches are slowly (or not-so slowly) getting smaller and smaller as parishioners die with no one to replace them.

It is a sad state of affairs and it leads to the above question often being asked. As the apparent spokes-person for the “young people” at church, I often get asked variations of that question. My favourite version so far went something like this:

The Christmas bazaar is coming up in a few weekends, Gillian, I’d love to have you and some of your young friends help out at it. It would be a great way to get them to come to church.

I’m sorry, in what universe would I invite my friends to church to volunteer at a Christmas bazaar that amounts to little more than a giant rummage sale that serves lunch? I’m sure that is the best way to get more young people in church. If you can’t hear the sarcasm dripping off of my words, please reread that paragraph and insert sarcasm.

What, then, do we do? I have lots of unformulated and inarticulate ideas, but most of them revolve around one simple premise: stop trying. Stop trying to get young people into church. Instead, start going outside of church and hanging out with young people and start enjoying life with them. If they decide to come and check out your church, cool. If they haven’t, you’ve still made a new friend and you can both be blessed by your friendship.

If, however, you are like some people and like lists, I highly recommend this post by an American university chaplain. It was recommended to me by the blog of an English priest. It is worth the few minutes to click over and read, and I think that many churches need to implement it least some of her suggestions.


Oh, ten months ago or so, I wrote about the plastics filling our oceans. Huge areas of plastic just floating around. I didn’t sail through it in the Pacific, but we certainly saw the evidence of it on Midway, as I wrote above.Friends are currently sailing to the South Pacific, and they spent four days getting through the garbage. Its crazy.

I wrote then, and I still agree, we need to rethink how much we use plastics and what we do with them when we’re done. I get really frustrated at the layers and layers of plastic packaging things come in when I buy them. Everything from new cutlery to fruits and vegetables come wrapped in plastic. In Japan, all of the produce was individually wrapped in plastic. It drove me crazy. I never rarely take a plastic bag for my produce at the grocery store. When I do, I recycle it. I think that our garage contains the largest home-based recycling centre known to humankind. As a result, the garbage goes out, at most, once a month. Partially because we forget it is garbage day, partially because it takes that long to fill the bin up.

Jen sent this link today. I think it is fantastic and if they were selling them and if I needed a vacuum cleaner, I would totally buy one.

Getting Credit

Is it wrong to want credit for your work? I’m not a professional photographer, by any means, but I am proud of the photos that I take (or the ones that are good enough to share) and I enjoy sharing them with (willing) people.

After a recent adventure, I gave some photos I had taken to a friend of her and her family. Somehow, they ended up in a group bank of photos and now five of them have found their way into a documentary of that adventure. Four photographers are credited at the conclusion of the documentary. I am not one of them.

It is a little thing, but is it wrong to be upset about that? [Additional background information: I mentioned it one of the producers after the original screening, and he said he’d look after it.] Now that the documentary has been distributed, there isn’t much I can do about getting my name in there. I could ask to have my photos removed from the database, but that seems petty. Or is it? I just don’t like the idea of people using my photos without my permission or without getting the credit for it.

New Classmates, Dentists, and Sunshine

What do the above have in common?

Nothing, actually, that I know of. I just encountered all today, in reverse order of the title.

The day began with a trip to the dentist. It was time for my annual check-up and I made sure the hygienist was aware of the molestation my gums have received in past visits. Result: I left without sore or bleeding gums, plus a new toothbrush and floss. She was new, which may account for her being a little easier on me, but apparently whatever I am doing is working because I got high praise all around and even managed to get in a plug for my favourite, natural toothpaste (no more chemicals for me, thanks, especially after reading stuff here.)

Then, it was coffee down near Cadboro Bay with a friend. The sun was shining, it was warm hot, and we sat outside. I only just managed to wait the requisite 30-45 minutes after fluoride for eating/drinking.

After a couple hours in the sunshine, it was a short bike ride to meet a new classmate. A girl in Victoria (who is friends with some friends of mine – small world!) just started my program, so we had tea and chatted about our backgrounds, what we want to do with our degrees, challenges of the program, and random other psych-geek stuff. It was pretty great.

Now, I’m at home. I’ve been at home for a few hours. I have not accomplished any homework. But, the sun is shining, the Habs are still in the playoffs, I’m going to Vancouver tomorrow for a birthday party, and I just drank a fruit smoothie: all is right with the world.


I’ve long been sceptical of the big drug corporations and their hold on our understanding of mental illnesses. While I don’t deny the usefulness of medications in treatment, I don’t think that they are necessarily the best choice or the only choice. Additionally, there is come compelling evidence that major pharmaceutical companies are going into other countries and exporting the Western/North American conception of mental illness, essentially redrawing the line between normal and abnormal in these cultures so that they can enlarge their market.

I recently heard a discussion on CBC “Q” where journalist Ethan Watters was talking about his new book, “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.” I haven’t read the book yet, though I have it on hold at the public library. From the interview, he talks about this very thing. [For the interview with Jian on Q, you can find it here (first 20 minutes of the program “Q the Podcast 2010-04-05 Regina Spektor”). For a video of an interview at Berkley, go here (the first half is interview, the second half is Q&A).]

Last month in my course, we were asked the question “Why is medication considered the mainstay in the treatment of psychotic disorders?” I had difficulty with this question, not because I have little to say on that topic (the opposite would appear to be the case) but because of the assumption it seems to make in that medications should be the mainstay treatment.

My immediate and cynical response to that question was “Because they are a relatively easy treatment that rapidly deals with psychosis and ‘fixes’ the thing that makes an individual stand out from the masses. We don’t like strangeness and difference.” Our society seems to have a preoccupation with medication and using it to control everything, including psychosis. The big pharmaceuticals are okay with that because that is how they make money. Because we are unable to cure something like schizophrenia, we concentrate on keeping it under control so that the individual can have a “normal” life. But what is a “normal” life? I’ve read some research by social psychologists working cross-culturally stating that recovery rates for schizophrenia prior to the advent of antipsychotics were closer to 60%, and that they are still around that rate in developing countries without access to antipsychotics. In North America, recovery rates for schizophrenia are basically 0%. A WHO report studying schizophrenia internationally, suggests that individuals with schizophrenia have a much better outcome in developing countries where access to antipsychotic medications are less readily available. Additionally, there is some research suggesting that medications actually do some damage to the brain, making recovery impossibly.

So after doing a lot of research, I am still wrestling with the problem of “why medication?” and how it became such a mainstay of treatment. Is it merely a money grab by the big corporations? I dunno.

After visiting a number of developing countries and spending time with regular people, I’ve seen the differences in the way people interact with each other (or don’t) and help each other. I am led to wonder, then, if medications are perhaps a “band aid” solution (because I do not deny that medications work for treating symptoms) for a deeper, societal problem.

All of this to say that I am growing disillusioned with the accepted ways of dealing with mental illness in North America and horrified that we would export our ineffective methods to other countries merely because we are the experts and we want their money. The pride and arrogance of that is astounding. My challenge now, as someone pursuing counselling and interested in cross-cultural experiences is finding a way to lose that hubris associated with my profession and approach people in a meaningful way without transferring my preconceived notions to them.

More Talk, Less Action. Or…

If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is talk without action. If you say you are going to do something, kindly follow through. If you are involved in something with me, please do not back out and leave me to finish everything, because I will make sure it is done and done well. It would be much nicer (not to mention less stressful) to not have to do it all on my own.

Additionally, if we are contemplating social change, stop talking about the nebulous “we” or “they.” Who is that? What that does do is remove the responsibility from each individual person. Lets stop talking about all of the things that need to happen and all of the things that should be done. Instead, don’t wait for “we” or “they” to act and do something yourself. You. Just one person. You might not have an immediate impact on a global scale, but do you really need to? There is plenty to be done on a local scale. Who knows, you might even inspire people to join you and soon you’d have a movement.

The Season of Lent: Add More Things

Why do we, in the church community, see the need to add more to our lives during special seasons? Each Advent and Lent, I get overwhelmed by the multitude of activities available to me to help my spiritual/personal growth. Yet at the same time, we are told that these seasons are supposed to be times of renewal and reflection. Maybe I am alone in this, but I find it hard to reflect and meditate when I am constantly “doing.” Adding more to my life will not give me the increased time I need to have a meaningful contemplative lifestyle. I think that these studies are wonderful, but my real spiritual growth comes out of reflection on God, not endless discussion of some theological truth.

At the same time, these interesting studies seem to only come around during seasons like Advent and Lent, when there are already extra services at church, so it would be a shame not to take advantage of them. (Though this year I am leading a Lenten study at the Cathedral, so I can’t really get around that one.) Wouldn’t it be nice if we had our studies during Ordinary Time so we would be free to reflect and restore ourselves during Lent? Or, wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of an intense study, we had meditation time set aside during Lent. Just a thought.