Open Doors Spiritual Matters: Churches faced with many questions as return to ‘normal’ approaches

Kingston Road United Church is located on the southeast corner of Kingston and Scarborough roads.

By REV. MARTHA MARTIN

I am privileged to be one of the United Church of Canada’s representatives to the Governing Board of the Canadian Council of Churches. The CCC represents 26 member churches, 85 per cent of the Christians in Canada, and is the broadest and most inclusive ecumenical body in Canada.

Founded in 1944, the CCC is involved in many educational initiatives and provides opportunities for ecumenical and interfaith dialogues throughout the year. It shares information and communicates results of theological and ethical reflections to Canadian Society and governments. It also produces many resources. You can check out their website at www.councilofchurches.ca

At its bi-annual meeting (on Zoom) this past May, the Council installed the Rev. Dr. Das Sydney from the Canadian Baptists from Ontario and Quebec as its President for the 2021-24 Triennium. Rev. Sydney offered a biblical reflection one morning using a story from the book of Exodus. Specifically, we heard the story of Moses’ encounter with God, when God tells him to lead the people of Israel out of slavery into the promised land.

Sydney reflected that in many ways the story of the Exodus was not “the finest hour” for the people of Israel – after they were freed from slavery, they were 40 years wandering in the desert, often complaining bitterly, fighting amongst themselves, questioning their leaders, and often doubting God. At one point they even wish to be back in slavery.

However, the story is one that defines the people of Israel. The question Rev. Sydney asked our group was, “What is the narrative that informs our place now?” and “In what ways might we, as people of faith, contribute to a defining moment yet to come?”

His questions have returned to me in the weeks since the meeting. As many faith communities are exploring what the reopening of our buildings and the ability to physically regather will look like after being closed for so long, we are faced with many questions:

What have we learned about our communities these past 16 months?

What has actually worked well?

What have we learned about technology? What do we want to keep, and why?

What has surprised us?

I have been surprised at the depth and intimacy of small group discussions that have happened in online conversations. I have been surprised at my own capacity to learn fairly complicated technical skills.

I have been surprised that for many, having meetings, studies, and conversations online often increases attendance and participation.

I have been surprised how much I didn’t know about systemic racism in our country. Many of us have learned some hard truths about our country and its history as far as systemic racism, white privilege, colonialism, and the genocide of Indigenous peoples.

The pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in our society, from the low wages of the front line workers that keep us safe, keep our economy going, and perform services, to glaring realities about how seniors and racialized communities are treated.

Might future historians look back and see that this was a defining moment in our community, in our country? A time when we all became a bit kinder, a bit more aware, a bit more generous? Is this a time when we might finally leave some of the old ways – ways that haven’t worked in a long time – behind?

Many of us have had to think outside the box these past 16 months … can we continue to do that when things return to “normal”?.

I’m quite sure I have complained, questioned leadership, wandered aimlessly and even questioned God on occasion.

But now, I feel the stirrings of something new, something different arising. Have we the courage to write a new story that some might say, years from now “that was a defining moment”? I hope and pray that will be so.

Martha Martin is the Minister at Kingston Road United Church


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