Instituion. Church. Body of Christ.

I understand that rules are necessary, really I do.

Even as an individual, we set guidelines and directions for ourselves. Lines we won’t cross. Values that are important to us.

When we put to people together, they set boundaries and rules, conventions that help them work and live together. Most of the time those are unwritten. Sometimes we put them down on paper (or on screen.)

A more formal structure becomes important when a group gets larger than can know one another well. Larger than, oh, a dozen, let’s say.

When those little groups become larger groups, and when those larger groups become groups separated by a number of variables – distance, culture, gender, language, theological understanding or economic realities might be a few – that structure is part of shared identity.

All of my life I have been part of the structure of one part of the Body of Christ – The United Church of Canada. In some ways, it’s part of not only my religious identity, it’s also part of my personal identity. I’ve been an interpreter of the rules; as a minister in congregation, as a parliamentarian, as an arbitrator and conflict resolution facilitator, as one who has chaired committees and Presbyteries and gatherings of a Conference.

I’ve seen the Spirit move in and with and around and through those rules (and the interpretation of them.) I believe that God works with the structures we have created to help us live out our covenant relationships.

There is a “but” here.

But I’ve also seen places where the values espoused by the structure of the church and the values espoused by part of its body are radically different. Institutional structures tend to favour stability. They tend to favour actions that maintian. They tend to look for ways of building conformity.

Sorry. We tend to favour stability. We tend to favour actions that maintain. We tend to look for ways of building conformity.

But, what do we do if the Spirit moves us (and with us) into a place that is not stable? Where maintainence means constant change. Where conformity means stasis, rather than safety?

What do we do with our rules when our rules were built around a different reality – when our structures are built around a certain way of living out those rules, and that way of living out doesn’t work for the reality we seem to be living?


I think we need to recognize that our structures are not immoveable objects and our ministries are not irresistable forces. The ability to change is built into both our structures and our selves.

If we don’t get entrenched in this or that being the only way. It may be the only way we can see. That’s ok. Each of us has our own blindspot. But we need to recognize that there are almost always possibilities we can’t see – possibilities that can be played with to speak to the concerns of structure and ministry.

I also think we need to recognize that neither our structures nor our ministries are perfectly understood. That whole, “through a mirror, dimly,” thing. We need to find the places where our core values mesh and the places where they don’t… and we need to find ways of trusting one another in the process of discussion and action.

We need to be ready to dive into each other’s vision – and to be overwhelmed by each other’s hope and each other’s pain.

But we also need to be ready to be changed, mightily, by that pain, hope and vision.

Our rules need to be tempered by prophetic challenge, at the same time that the prophet needs to be willing to see God’s presence moving and hear God’s voice speaking within the structure itself.

Life is change.

Abundant life is abundant change.

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When badges ruled the blogs

An entrance sign on a gray background with fencing and chain.
An entrance sign on a gray background with fencing and chain.
There was a time, not that long ago, when many blogs were covered in badges. They’d talk about our affiliations with different groups: “United Church Blogger”, “Debian Rules”, “Knight of the Cubic Table of Fnarr”.

In some ways, I’m glad they’re gone. Many of them were not particularly beautiful, and some blogs were just covered in the things. As you can probably tell from this space, I’m somewhat of a minimalist. There’s something beautiful about a blank canvas. All of the possibilities, I guess.

One thing I did like about the badges is that it told me, at a glance, what people thought was important enough to share with the world. At a quick read, I could see what they wanted to share. For the most part, I just took it as a starting place. Reading what the writer wrote was actually the test of our connection. But the self-labeling had its uses.

I’m finding that I’m asked to self-label all the time. This week, I got asked if I would consider myself to be “progressive, liberal, or evangelical.” I’m afraid that my response wasn’t helpful. I said, “Yes! I also consider myself to be process and United.”

I really don’t think those perspectives are mutually exclusive, nor do I think they’re points on a spectrum. I think they’re places to start a conversation. Places to begin to understand one another.

In many ways I am progressive.
In others I’m liberal.
In others I’m rather conservative.
In some I’m quite evangelical.
In others I’m rather quiet.

But, really, in the end, I’m me.

Beloved child of God. Trying to understand what that means through being a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, who many of us call, “Christ.” Taught by people of many faith traditions and of no faith traditions.

So. Who are you?

What badges do you wear that could be the starting place for us to get to know one another?

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How do we decide?

Black and White pedestrian crossing signOver the past few weeks, I’ve been part of discussions in the congregation with whom I serve, as well as with other congregations, about ministries which are taking place, or could be taking place. Often, we get bogged down in “stuff”. The “stuff” feels important – where will we find the money, or the staff, or whatever – but I believe it actually keeps us from recognizing the questions that are even more important.

The ones that need to be answered first.

When debating the life of a congregational ministry the first question that must be answered is this, “Do we believe this ministry is God’s desire?” Not an easy question to answer. It’s one that many of us, especially those of us in the “mainstream” denominations, tend to shy away from. We don’t want to presume that we know what it is that God wants. And yet, I believe that, in a Christian faith community, uncovering and discovering what we understand God’s desire to be is central to any action we take. We need to presume.

There’s a second question: “Is it Gods desire for us?” God may want someone to be doing that work, but it may not be us. It may, simply, not be our ministry. It may be someone else’s. (“No, David, you aren’t going to build a temple for me. That’s going to be one of your kids’ jobs.”) The thing we have to be careful about with this question is making sure that we don’t turn away from difficult ministries that God is calling us to, because we think someone else can do them better. Someone else may very well be able to do them better. If this ministry is God’s desire for us, we had better connect with those that are already doing it, or could do it better – because we’re going to need them. We’re going to need their partnerships, their ideas, their resources, their goodwill, their help and their love. We’re going to need their disagreement and their challenge.

If God wants us to be doing this ministry, we’re going to need all the help we can find. Whatever that ministry might be.

I think the third question is, “Is it God’s desire for us to be living out this ministry right now?” Sometimes there are great ideas and great possibilities. And, sometimes, those great ideas and great possibilities are something that God is calling us toward. But we also need to realize the complexity of – well – everything. The people who are here, with their gifts. The wider community. The price of tea in China. Sometimes, the bits and pieces that are needed aren’t lined up to live out the ministry. Sometimes, the bits and pieces are things that we have no ability to get lined up. They’re out of our control. If we’ve answered “Yes” to questions one and two then all we can do in this case is to get lined up what we can line up, and watchfully wait as other pieces come into alignment.

If the answer to any one of these questions is “No,” then we need to seriously consider why it is we want to be doing this ministry. Perhaps it is the ministry of someone in the congregation, but not that congregation’s ministry. Perhaps it is someones’ Call, just not ours. We still have a task to do. We need to help that person, or that group, to live out their ministry. We need to support. We need to challenge. We need to love it into being.

We need to test. We need to be ready to say, “You know, we got this one wrong.” We also need to be ready to say, “Yes. Heard that one loud and clear, God.”

If, of course, we believe we should be aligning our work with God’s.

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Behind the times

I just realized that it’s been a few months since I’ve posted here. I spend far more of my time “microblogging” over at Facebook and on Twitter. The hardest part, right now, is finding time to sit and write. Really write.

General Council Executive has decided to keep the General Council offices somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, perhaps connected with one of our congregations. It will be interesting to see what happens with the way ministry is expressed (if anything), when the offices are more congregationally connected.

At St. Andrew’s, life goes on. We’re prepping for financial stewardship visits – using a “home group” style that we’ve not tried before. It will bring together small groups that will take a look at what our finances have been used for this year, what we’re planning on using them for next year, and to give people the chance to ask questions about our ministry in general. It should be interesting, especially with some people’s frustration around our movement away from passing the plate.

“Life goes on.” That’s quite the way to describe it. Pretty accurate, though.

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Moving Church House?

A black rubber sandal sits on a frozen lake.
Walking on Thin Ice (Richard Bott CC-by-nc-sa)
There’s a bit of a debate going on in UCCan circles at the moment. The lease on the space that houses our General Council (think ‘national’) Offices is coming to its end in a couple of years. The debate? Should our General Council offices (“The Ship”, “Church House”, “GCHQ”, “3250”, etc. etc. etc.) stay in the Greater Toronto Area, or should they move.

For the past 17 years they’ve been located in Etobicoke. Before that, they were at was 85 St. Clare Ave. – the heart of downtown Toronto. The question is, what’s going to happen next? Where will General Council Offices be?

The denomination’s magazine, The Observer, wrote an article about the location discussions at the General Council Executive meeting. A group from Winnipeg has designed a beautiful website, to help showcase their community as a possible place for the offices to be.

As I listen to the commentary, I hear things like, “Decentralize!” and “Why do we need General Council anyway?” From my perspective, if we are going to be a national church then we are going to need national organization of some size – large or small. Organization means people and people need space in which to do their work.

I recognize that there are many different variables that people are going to want to consider: our desire to keep/change current staff, many of whom would not choose to move away from the GTA; our rural/urban divide; stewardship of finances and other resources; stewardship of relationship; questions about ‘image’ and ’empire’; geography and distance; relationship with other denominations and communities; wondering about the effect of architecture on mindset – and more that I’ve not thought about, I’m sure.

There are great reasons for moving the General Council offices – to Winnipeg or elsewhere. There are great reasons for keeping the General Council offices in the GTA. I’m not sure that a “balance of pros and cons” is going to help us make the decision. In fact, I think I can be even stronger by saying that I don’t believe that balancing pros and cons will help us make this decision.

Whatever the decision, there are going to be people who believe that the wrong one was made.
Whatever the decision, there are going to be people hurt by it and there are going to be people helped by it.
Whatever the decision, there will be a level of chaos, both for us as individuals and us corporately.

Recognizing that, how do we go about making a right decision – one that is just and loving and lives out Christ’s call? By making sure that the process is just and loving and lives out Christ’s call.

So – for me – that means speaking truthfully about what I’m seeing and hoping for, about the possibilities of being in Winnipeg, or Ottawa or Waterloo or Toronto. It means listening to my words and trying to hear them through the ears of someone who holds a different perspective, before I hit the enter key or open my mouth. It means being ready to accept whatever decision the people we have entrusted to make the decision make – even if it’s not the one I would have gone with.

And it means trusting that God works through all of us.

I wonder how we’ll do with this one?

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A dark sky with slivered water underneath.
Dark Sunset (Richard Bott CC-by/nc/sa 2.0)
I hate to say this, but in many ways I’m glad I’m not responsible for worship leadership this coming Sunday morning. I’ve been watching colleagues – both in The United Church of Canada and in a variety of other denominations – struggle with what to do on this 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre’s twin towers and on the Pentagon in the United States, and the deaths that arose from those attacks.

I’m glad I’m not leading worship, because I know that there are people who want to commemorate that day.

I struggle because, as terrible as it was, and as horrendous the deaths of all those children, women and men and the grief that their families and friends live is… it is one drop in the ocean of death caused by humankind’s ability to hate those who are Other.

In my lifetime (1968 to now):
Between 1.5 and 3 million people were killed in the Cambodian Genocide.
Between 500,000 and 1 million people were killed in the Rwandan Genocide.
Between 176,000 and 400,000 people were killed in the Darfur conflict.
Massacres of Hutus by Tutsis and Tutsis by Hutus (approximately 150,000) in Burundi.
Between 26,000 and 3 million people in East Pakistan/Bangladesh.
Between 20,000 and 80,000 people in Equatorial Guinea.
Between 18,000 and 183,000 people in East Timor.
Between 9,000 and 30,000 people in Argentina.
Between 7,500 and 8,000 people in Srebrenica.
Between 2,000 and 70,000 people of the Falun Gong in China.

And how about the actual, declared wars, during my lifetime:
Second Congo War – between 3.8 and 5.4 million people killed.
Vietnam War – between 2.6 and 6.0 million people killed.
Second Sudanese Civil War – between 1 and 2 million people killed.
Iran-Iraq War – between 500,000 and 2 million people killed.

And let’s not forget…
the Iraq War – between 98,000 and 654,000 people killed;
the War in Afghanistan – approximately 25,000 people killed.

And, yeah, I know that getting numbers from Wikipedia doesn’t always work, but if the numbers are even one-tenth of what they show, they would boggle the mind.

This, of course, doesn’t include deaths caused by famine, by economic policies, by climate change.

Or by crime.

Will I remember take a moment a lift up a prayer for the children, the men and the women who died on 9/11/2001? Of course, I will.

But I’ll do it in it’s context of all death that is caused by our human inability to live with, to love, and to lift up our neighbour.

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Roads not travelled.

A fog-enshrouded, snow dappled pathway beside a series of leafless trees - somewhat spooky.
Take this path? (Richard Bott CC-by/nc/sa 2.0)
I’m sure all of us do it. You know, think about the roads and paths we didn’t take. Look back over our lives and wonder, “What if I had…?”

In some ways, it’s a fool’s game. What is, is. We can’t go back. There aren’t any “do overs.” Just the ever-present now. And yet…

Although there have been good and bad times in my life, times I would love to revisit (more as a tourist than a player), I really don’t think I’d want to lose who I am, and who is in my life now. My partner. Our daughter. Being in BC. All of the experiences of being a minister in The United Church of Canada, here, in St. Marys, in Iroquois Falls, in Kirkland Lake. The relationships and friendships.

Even more than revisiting some of those times, what I would truly love is the chance to meet the ‘me’s who would have grown out of other decisions. The Richards who chose to walk other roads.

I wish I could have the chance to listen to what they learned and to see how this choice made that difference.

In the last little while, I’ve been reconnecting with people from different times in my life. My highschool daze, my university years, my time as a newly forming minister. In the process of feeling out the possibilities of friendship again, I’ve found myself in conversations that call for remembrance and repentance, and – perhaps – for reconciliation.

Even if these moments of reconnection do not grow into renewed friendship, the ability to repent – and the ability to release both my own Self and the Other – is well worth looking back on the path I’ve taken.

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In Life, in Death…

A red bicycle is locked to a gray pole, sitting on an asphalt sidewalk. In some ways it feels kind of strange to add my words into the millions that have already been tweeted, posted, written and spoken about Jack Layton. Many people in many places have written about him, his life, his love and passion, and his charisma.

I am deeply thankful for all of those things about him – and I am deeply thankful for his leadership.

There have been a number of commentators wondering about why there is such a public outpouring of grief over his death. It’s strange, but I’m not finding our collective grief surprising at all.

Jack Layton – in life and in death – embodies many values which Canadians hold dear. He was a likeable politician. He had a kind of “derring do” and a willingness to drop his visor and tilt at the monsters he saw in the world. He was a politician with chivalry and respect for his opponents. He was a team player who also valued leadership. He could be tough and nice and laugh at himself and try to change the world.

For many of us, he embodied what we like about being “Canadian.”

When I think about the communities in which I have lived, I realize that there have been people in each of them who are embodiments of our Canadian-ness. When some of these women and men have died, the community has grieved – not only the loss we have in their death, but the loss of the “embodiment.”

Jack Layton was one of those. And his community – Canada – grieves.

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Got the T-Shirt?

About a week and a half ago, I had the chance to walk in the Vancouver Pride Parade with my partner’s congregation – Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church. Most of us wore white t-shirts with Shiloh-Sixth’s logo emblazoned on the back. We wanted people to connect our joy of being present with our understanding of Shiloh-Sixth’s Avenue United Church’s mission and ministry.

It got me thinking.

It got me thinking about whether or not our lives would change if we could be seen to be part of a group or cause – or faith – that mattered to us.

What would our lives say if we visibly connected them to our faith? Say, wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with the words, “This action brought to you by one of Christ’s disciples (UCCan version!)”

I’m sure we’d still do some stupid and less-than-compassionate things. I know I go there when I’m exhausted. And we’d have to deal with apologizing. We’d have to deal with the epithet of “hypocrite.”

On the other hand, the world might actually see that there are forms of Christian faith and life that are really working at walking the walk.

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Part of what I love about photography is that there are so many different subjects in the world and so many different ways to treat them.

I’ve been playing with “High Dynamic Range” tools this week. I’m not sure what I think of the look, yet. This one has a ghostly, almost apocalyptic feel. No cars. No people. Even though it’s the middle of the afternoon.

Kind of eerie.

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From “Mending the World” – a UCCan vision for healing and reconciliation

One can download the entire document, of which this affirmation is a part, in .PDF form

An Affirmation
We believe
that the Church’s passion to be involved in the transformation of the world
is grounded in its relationship to God in Jesus Christ

We believe that God calls the Church
to do separately only what it cannot do with others
to care for itself in order to care for others
to set basic human needs above institutional enrichment
to give and not to count the cost

We believe that God calls the Church to help build a culture
of non-violence and respect
of solidarity and just economic relationships
of tolerance and truthfulness
of equal rights and partnership between men and women

We believe that God calls the Church
to profess its faith in ways that honour God’s love for all people and creation
to make decisions that demonstrate an unqualified commitment
to justice, peace and compassion
to work in partnership with all who seek the health and well-being
of the whole creation
to discern and celebrate God’s Spirit in people of other religions4 and ideologies
to stand first with the poor

We believe that God calls the Church
to do justice and love kindness
to show courage in the face of evil
to seek reformation for itself and society
to share God’s liberating and empowering work
to trust in God

We believe that God yearns for the healing of all creation, and calls the Church
to share that yearning by joining now with other persons of good will
in the search for justice, wholeness and love.

Mending the World was written in 1997, and affirmed by the 36th General Council of The United Church of Canada that year.

The actions the General Council took were interesting:

1. Express its deep gratitude to the Interchurch Interfaith Committee (ICIF) for its persistent commitment
over 10 years to help the Church discern within its life and witness a new understanding of ecumenism.

2. Affirm the Mending the World report:

  • as the fruit of faithfully pursuing the ICIF mandate to “challenge the Church to a vision of
    ecumenism which includes the whole inhabited world.” (Record of Proceedings, 1988 GC, p. 315);
  • for clearly linking the UCC’s historic and ongoing commitment to be both a united and uniting
    church with “God’s work of healing, sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and
    making common cause with all people of good will, whether they be of faith or not, for the creation
    of a world that is just, participatory and sustainable”; and
  • as a lens through which the work of the Church can be reviewed and assessed in terms of the whole world understanding of ecumenism.

3. Commit itself

  • to continue and build on “our historic commitment to seek the unity of the body of Christ”;
  • to continue to nurture and foster faithful relationships with others in the Christian family, in national and global inter-church structures, through the ecumenical coalitions, and with partner churches
    around the world;
  • at the same time to seek conversations and partnerships in mission with other sisters and brothers in
    God’s wider human family;
  • to use the Mending the World report as a lens through which all the work of the General Council is
    reviewed on an ongoing basis.

4. Offer to the whole United Church

  • the Mending the World document, and especially its “Affirmations,” as a resource and tool for use as a lens through which individuals and households, congregations and other mission units may
    prioritize their response to God’s call to commit ourselves and our resources to work with God for
    the transformation and healing of the whole human family in a universe that is respected as the
    creation of God.

5. Invite Congregations

  • to review their mission statements and activities through the lens of the Mending the World report;
  • to pursue actively partnerships for mission with other Christian communities and other faith
    communities and all people who seek healing and wholeness in God’s world.

6. Invite Presbyteries and Conferences

  • to support congregations as they deepen and strengthen their faithful participation in God’s
  • to encourage increased support of the Mission and Service Fund’
  • to review their mission statements and activities through the lens of the Mending the World report
    and to encourage related corporations to do the same.

7. Request the Interchurch and Interfaith Committee

  • to prepare, in cooperation with the Division of Mission in Canada, a supplementary educational
    resource to Mending the World for use by groups and individuals;
  • to prepare, in consultation with relevant units, an instrument by which other mission units and court
    can use Mending the World as a lens through which mission statements and activities are assessed;
  • to ensure that in any printing of the Mending the World report, these actions of the General Council
    Executive precede the body of the report.

I’d like to see us revisit this report, it’s conclusions and recommendations – to see if it could be a framework for conversation between those in The United Church of Canada whose expression of their Christian faith is more focused on orthonomos and those whose expression is more focused on orthopraxis.

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José & Bob – A Marriage

Listening to the celebrations happening in New York, with many same-sex couples making formal their commitment to one another in marriage, brings me back to a sunny Sunday afternoon on the banks of the Thames in Stratford, Ontario with a member of my congregation, my partner and José & Bob.

José called on Friday evening, a strong – but tentative – voice on the other end of the phone. He explained that he and his beloved lived in the U.S. and had been coming up to Stratford to enjoy the theatre for many, many years. This year was special, because they knew Ontario had decided that marriage was open to both opposite- and same-sex couples – and they had decided to marry. Would I be able to officiate? He explained that they had gotten their marriage licence but the city’s officiant was unavailable at such short notice. They had gone to many of the churches, but had been turned away. (One of the wonderful things was, he said, they were treated with respect at every church, even though the congregation, priest or pastor explained that they wouldn’t officiate. José said “A number told us that we needed to check with the United Church. Sadly the United Church’s ministers were away.”) They went to the local tourist information centre to see if any suggestions could be found. The young woman they talked with said, “My cousin is a United Church minister in St. Marys. Let me find his number, and you can give him a call.” So here they were, chatting with me.

As José explained their situation, I did some quick thinking. The Board of St. Marys United Church didn’t have a marriage policy other than “the minister decides what weddings they’re going to do.” The only time I could be available was Sunday afternoon. My only issue was that I didn’t officiate at weddings with less than a week’s notice – the whole, “Las Vegas Syndrome” thing. I asked if we could meet to talk about why marriage was important to them. So we got together that night.

Now, part of this story is that I was getting pretty jaded with weddings. I had had a run of them that felt like they were being done for the party – or the show – or the gifts. I was seriously considering saying to the church, “I’m not prepared to do any more weddings for people not active parts of the congregation.”

José and Bob shared with me their lifes’ stories, and their stories of being together. They were in their late-50s, and had been together for 20 years. They had been through rough times with their churches. They had been through rough times with their families. They had been through rough times with their Communities. They had been through rough times with one another. With deep love and powerful compassion they had weathered and grown through and reconciled with three of those four. When the state they lived in had developed a form of civic union, they had jumped at the chance… but when they heard they could be married – that there was a place that wanted to celebrate their relationship the way that their straight friends could – they realized that that was what they really wanted. I was decided – I wanted, deeply, to be part of their celebration.

When we came to the time to talk about the service, Bob looked at José and nodded. “You’ve heard our story. We want to leave that up to you.” They understood that, me being a minister, God-talk would be part of the celebration. They trusted me with that. (You may have guessed that it was the church that the rough times had yet to be reconciled.)

My partner was happy to be one of the witnesses, but we needed another. I thought about the folks in the congregation, and kept coming back to one person. This was one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the congregation. A compassionate, loving woman, who had been struggling with same-sex relationships, her son just having come out. Her biggest fear was that he would be ostrasized from family and community. When I explained the situation, she said, “What have you got up your sleeve,” and then said, “Yes. I’m honoured.”

So the five of us met and sat at a picnic table on the bank of the river. I put on my stole and started in.

There are three things I remember about that service: listening to José and Bob as they shared their promises, seeing their faces as each other spoke; watching the two of them as Shannon, in Spanish, blessed their marriage using an old Cuban prayer (José being a Cuban expat); and the tears rolling down their faces when I closed the service by saying, “Remember – you are beloved of each other. You are also beloved children of God. Never let anyone tell you differently. Go in peace in joy & in love, knowing that you are Christ’s!” For me, it was almost an aside… for José it was a “welcome home.” Later, he told me that the church of his childhood, youth and adulthood had turned its back when he had come out. This had been the first time in decades that anyone had looked him in the eye to remind him he was beloved of God.

None of us were the same after that day. Shannon and I went home with a renewed sense of our place as ministers of marriage. The other witness went home knowing that love could win through difficult times – and that she was excited about who her son really was. And José and Bob were officially living the commitment they had been living for years, and years, and years.

We heard from Bob and José for a number of years after. They celebrated with us when our daughter came to be part of our family. We read José’s books when they came out. We were glad – and remind glad – that God created the space that allowed us to meet, and for us to be part of their joy.

To all the couples bing married in New York this weekend – gay, lesbian, or straight – our prayers are with you. May your lives together be long, and may your love be even longer.

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Camp… and fire.

I’ve not posted much this week because I’ve been at camp. At camp, rightly I believe, one is to leave one’s electronics behind. (Ok. I took my cell phone with me. But I only looked at it once a day. Late at night. Under my covers. For five minutes. Maybe six.) This week, my music was listening to children chat, sing at campfire and vespers, and talk to the wind blowing through the trees.

It was beautiful.

Last week, when we dropped HappyChild off for her week of camp, the Director said, “Look, next week is Teen Week, and I’m need another adult male to be a Councillor. Is there any way…” So I did. I got my Police Records Check filed, rounded up my day-pack and kit bag and headed out. Now, you havee to realize that this was my first time at this specific camp. So it took me a day or two to get into their routines (which were familiar and different, all at once.)

I didn’t stay a Councillor for long. A number of the guys decided to not come to camp this week, so we merged the two guys cabins into one – as I moved into being a volunteer, doing odd jobs. Until the Out-Trip. With 10 of the campers, a group of the staff hiked to another location (in beautiful scenery, up trail and down, over creeks, under vines… it was fantastic!) We cooked hot dogs & veggie dogs & marshmallows over the fire – and then bedded down in the middle of the field. It’s been a long time since I’ve slept right under the stars. I listened as everyone fell asleep. Counted three meteors, glowing through the sky. Watched an owl fly between us and the clouds. Listened to the wind whistle through the tree-tops. And then I fell asleep… to be woken by the call of the Barred Owl just before dawn. We ate, cleaned up, hiked home.

A great time at camp.

When I arrived home, I ran through my various social media, to find out that Northwestern Ontario is on fire. People are being evacuated from many of the First Nation’s communities to safe-havens. Firefighters are being called in from across the country. A dry, dry summer.

So my prayers today are for two groups in the bush – the campers & the forest-firefighters – and all of the people who have had to flee their homes. May they all be safe.

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Watching the ELCIC…

A woman in a yellow jacket stands on a wooden bridge looking into a blue sky slightly obscured by clouds.
Waiting on the world, a photo by bott.richard on Flickr.

(that’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, for those of you who may not know the acronym.)

Tonight, I watched the livestream of the ELCIC’s national convention. Over the course of the day, they were debating a “Proposed ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality”. Listening and praying, I found myself drawn back to the summer of 1988, when, as an almost 20-year-old, I was one of the Commissioners to General Council who would be part of the debate that would come up with The United Church of Canada’s, “Membership, Ministry and Human Sexuality.” This was our statement that said that sexual orientation, in and of itself, is not a barrier to membership & ministry in the UCCan.

What I remember most? Going to General Council convinced I would do “the right thing” – whatever that was. I remember breaking down in tears when I realized that, for me, “the right thing” was to support MMHS – and that there were going to be people in the congregation I was a part of who were not going to be able to understand why. Thank God for older, wiser Commissioners who held on to me and said, “All you can do is what you believe God is calling you to do. Live faithfully and everything will be all right.”

And it has been. There were some of my friends and, later, colleagues who felt they had to leave the denomination. There were others of my friends and colleagues who felt they could now be publicly themselves. There would be new people I would meet – gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, and straight – who would come to be part of the UCCan because they felt integral in their faith and person.

I also remember the pain of people leaving. Siblings – and I mean, blood-family-ties-siblings – not speaking to each other for years because they were on either side of the debate. I remember congregations leaving… and I remember angry, hurtful words thrown by people on all sides of the debate.

It looks different 22 years down the road. We still have a huge distance to go in understanding who we are as God’s people and disciples of the Christ – be we straight, gay, bi, lesbian, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, etc. etc. etc.

But, here’s the thing – in all of this God has continued to walk with us. God has continued to love us and challenge us and forgive us, and hope with us.

So, my suggestion for our sibs in the ELCIC tonight? Trust that you are God’s beloved. Trust in God’s grace. Trust in your faithful discipleship. Listen to each other, carefully. Think about how your words will effect the person you’re talking with.

And in all that you do – show each other your love for God, and your love for one another.

You will continue to be held in prayer by many of us.

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A curved stack of books including David Allen's Making It All Work.
Sabbatical Reading, a photo by bott.richard on Flickr.

I’m really fortunate. In the UCCan, ministry personnel are supposed to take a sabbatical of at least three months, after they’ve served with a congregation for five years. In conversation with the Board at St. Andrew’s, I added my study time from last pastoral year, and my study time from this pastoral year, and turned it into a five-month sabbatical.

This sabbatical time started at the beginning of May and will continue until the end of September. So I’ve just about reached the mid-point. One of the things I need to do is to report back to the congregation what I did and what I learned (and maybe even who I became.)

I figure the mid-point is a good time to review and I figure that posting it here means that I’ll be able to find it again!

One of the things I’ve come to learn about myself is that if I slow down too quickly, I get sick. I usually need to take the first four to five days of holiday time slowing down, trying to do things that keep me going, so I don’t get a cold, or the flu, or the “just can’t get out of bed’. So, in May, I actually booked things to do.

  • I flew to Toronto, to take part in a gathering of United Church consultants that are going to be part of The Edge Network. (Which reminds me: I’ve got things I need to send in to them!)
  • Then it was a week of being daddy at home. I had forgotten how much I like to cook and I had forgotten how much fun it is to really spend time with HappyChild, right after she gets home from school. Normally, I pick her up in the afternoon and, while she’s playing, I keep working from my home desk. Because I didn’t have to be working, I spent more time playing.
  • The Behold! Conference at UBC. This was a powerful weekend for me. Not only did I have the chance to sit and listen to Eric Law, a priest who has done some deep exploration of intercultural ministries; I also had the chance to listen to people from a number of congregations who were extremely excited about the possibilities that God is leading them into – and hopeful about the future.
  • Off to BC Conference’s Not-Annual-Annual Meeting. A great table-group, wonderful worship (especially the services led by the youth and the children), and time to spend with my partner and our colleagues. It was also this weekend that I was nominated by Westminster Presbytery for Moderator.
  • Started working with the Rev. Dave Anderson on compiling the “homework” readings we had put together for the eight-week “Invitation to a Christian LIfe” course together. We’re still working on it.
  • During this month I worshiped with Shiloh/Sixth Avenue United Church, the Behold! Conference, BC Conference, and Cliff Avenue United Church.

Well, June moved into the slowing down. I found that much of my time in June was taken with meeting with individuals – and reading.

  • Did a consultancy with Agassiz/Rosedale United Churches to help them explore where they understood God to be leading them. This was a weekend of fun and excitement for me. (Many thanks to Mary Duncan for allowing me to lead worship as part of the exploration.)
  • Met with a colleague about where she sees her ministry going, which gave me some good insight into my own.
  • Met with another colleague about her changing ministry, and explored the concept of helping congregations as they support members of their community who are dealing with issues of mental health in their lives.
  • Met with a colleague and friend from theological college to discuss the changing ways of articulating faith in the United Church of Canada. (I rather liked the four categories that The Observer would come up with – though I’d love to see some nuance in a couple of the categories: mainliners, intuitives, traditionalists, and nonconformists.)
  • Met with folks from the WonderCafe who gathered to celebrate that an Australian lamb had come to visit to great green north!
  • Had a day of vision work with Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church.
  • Took part in a book discussion on Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.”
  • Had the joy of working with two colleagues in a continuing mentoring relationship.
  • Attended Cliff Avenue United Church & Como Lake United Church to help them finish up their Joint Needs Assessments, and to join them in worship.

The month we’re in. It’s been fun, so far:

  • Got, and my various social networking spaces up-to-date.
  • Headed to Marathon, Ontario, to spend some time with my family (a spiritual & rejuvenation time!) While I was there I continued to work on my photography.
  • Met with David G. a colleague and friend. With his help dove a bit more deeply into the whole wider-United-Church and Moderator-nomination parts of my life.
  • Continued working on “Invitation to a Christian Life” with David A.
  • Read and read and read some more!

Let’s see what the next two-and-a-half-months bring.

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Finding the Key

A ring of keys including a car key and a number of other keys with coloured tags.
Keys, a photo by bott.richard on Flickr.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading during my sabbatical. I’ve had quite a back-log of books that I’ve purchased, but haven’t had a chance to read. So I’m eating away at that pile.

I’ve been finding some great stuff. Stuff that makes me think. Stuff that makes me hit the web and listen to what others have to say.

Books like:
Phyllis Tickle’s, “The Great Emergence,”
Rob Bell’s, “Love Wins,”
Reg Bibby’s “Beyond the Gods and Back,”
Gretta Vosper’s, “With or Without God,”
Marcus Borg’s, “Speaking Christian,”
David Allen’s, “Making it All Work,”
Henri Nouwen’s, “A Spirituality of Fundraising,”
Mehrdad Baghai & James Quigley’s “As One: Individual Action Collective Power,”
Eric Law’s, “Sacred Acts, Holy Change,”
Graham Standish’s, “Discovering the Narrow Path,” and
Paula Fredriksen’s “From Jesus to Christ.”

In the midst of everything I’ve learned and explored, there are two things that are key:
1) I need to build more reading time into my non-sabbatical life; and,
2) I seem to be looking for something that I can’t quite put my finger on!

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“Getting Things Done”

A watch, a Motorola Xoom, and a copy of David Allen's Making It All work are stacked on a table.

I’ve been using David Allen’s GTD practices for a few years now – the “clearing the inbox” and “trusted recording system” parts, at least. If we’re in a meeting and you don’t see me pull out my padd when I agree to take responsibility for a task, worry. To be honest, I’ve been getting quite good at writing down the next action, and checking my lists on a regular basis.

Where I tend to fall down is the mid- and long-range planning. Looking ahead at the next month, year, decade; thinking about my own sense of purpose, hopes, wonders and dreams. Getting an understanding of whether or not I’m living in a way that will continue to help me to grow in ways that maintain and build-upon my sense of identity and integrity.

What’s funny is that I regularly work with congregations on exactly these things – helping them to name markers and times that they want to check where they’re headed.

So, back to GTD. Not the day-to-day stuff, but the low- mid- and high-altitude checks that help me to see the point on the horizon I seem to be moving towards – and the reality check about whether that’s he point I’m supposed to be aiming for.

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Online Spaces

An angled concrete wall, with three windows and two doors, slightly obscured by shadow. So.

I’m on Facebook.
And Twitter.
And Flickr.
I’m on Google+.
And Buzz.
I’m a WonderCafer.
And I blog.
I have a wiki and two – two? – resource sharing sites.

My task is to figure out how each of these differs.
What should overlap?
What shouldn’t?

Exactly how much time do I want to spend here?

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Thinking about Social Media

Social Media Flower
I’ve been doing some thinking about social media for the past few days. Partially because of some conversations with my parents. Their Presbytery would like to have some conversations about Social Media and its uses in that context. I’ve been thinking about it, too, because of the advent of Google+ – and because I’ve been reworking by blogsites.

I’ve been wandering the web for as long as I can remember. At first it was BulletinBoardSystems (BBS), then usenet and university email. I can’t remember when I created my first html page – it may very well have been in 1.0! Personal pages, pages and sites for congregations… it’s been fun.

I’ve been blogging (with a couple of hiatus) since 2002, I think. I used my blog as a place to write about life, the universe and everything – kind of a public diary about Richard & ministry. I remember some of the conversations that happened when commenting functions first started to show up. Some felt that it would ruin blogging, because writers would start writing for the comments. Technorati, Google-ranking, etc. etc. etc. And blogging has changed but, I would argue, hasn’t been ruined.

I was slow to take part in the “Web 2.0”, though. I wasn’t on Friendster or MySpace. I didn’t really have much of a Facebook presence until a few years ago. I’ve been tweeting for just over a year. Although I jumped on Buzz and Waves when they first came out, and I’m really excited about Google+ (because I think it’s really working on implementing a number of helpful things for community in social media), I haven’t really been an early adopter. And, looking at the flower above, while I’ve played with a number, I’ve only added content to the web on a dozen of them.

You see, one of the things that’s important to me is the question, “Why?”

Before I dive into facebook or twitter or yelp or youtube, I want to know what my purpose is in being there. I want to know if it is a use of my time that I think is worthwhile. If it is, great! If it isn’t, I’ll decide not to be there.

Some of it has been useful in my ministry – my “work life”. I’ve had the chance to meet people I wouldn’t have met without these media. I’ve had the chance to collaborate on projects, to listen to people’s thoughts, to add my own ‘wisdom’ in. I’ve had the chance to hear about how life and ministry is similar and different in communities around the world.

Some of it has been useful in my personal life. While I have always sought out good face-to-face friends in my life, there have also been deep friendships that have grown out of conversation in this space.

There are people for whom this ‘virtual space’ has little purpose in their life. I’m glad they know that! I’m glad that they recognize that it is not a helpful place for them – and that their being there would be a waste of their time. But I hope that they will see that my sitting at this keyboard, posting these thoughts, having mentoring conversations with colleagues hundreds of miles away, collaborating on policy and polity… and sitting with my daughter watching “crazycats” on YouTube has value for me. It gives me another space to explore myself, others, and the world around me.

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This is me.

A black and white photograph of a smiling, bearded man, sitting in a chair in front of a wood wall.
Richard Bott, a photo by bott.richard on Flickr.

Well, this was me, on Monday. My aunt and uncle wanted some pics of me & HappyChild – and my Dad had fun continuing the clicks.

I learned quite a bit of my photographic skills from my Dad. When my brother and I were young – 6 and 5, I think, he gave us each a Kodak Instamatic, with rolls of black & white film – which he developed in his basement darkroom. (I’ll have to see if I can find some of those old photos.)

I’ve always appreciated Dad’s eye and sense of composition. I hope I’ll keep on shooting to develop my own. (Many of my pics are on my flickr photostream.

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