I am attending the first ever meeting of Region 15, a gathering of Nova Scotia and Bermuda United churches at Mount Allison University in Sackville NB. Region 14 is here with us, for critical mass (New Brunswick and PEI). We are gathered in Athletic Centre, in a space that feels like a rink without ice. Most of the delegates are older, almost all the faces are white and I would hunch most of us come from the middle class of our country. This new governance structure was necessitated by a shift away from the four court system to three courts; communities of faith (local churches), these regions (we are #15) and the national body, what we call general council. These changes require a change in process and meeting expectations.
At the outset the gathering seemed to focus on the new way churches are selecting clergy to be their minister. Clergy now are asked to have their profiles on a website that has limited access. These profiles are sanctioned by the Office of Vocation, a national body that ensures clergy are available for call, that they have their requisite police checks, that these clergy all have experienced the mandatory workshops (boundaries and racism), and that the minister is someone in good standing with the church. There was a lot of anxiety expressed about using computers and technology. Again this reflects the demographics of the room, of those still invested in the life of the mainline church.
After a lot of anxiety about these changes and new rules for being church we settled in to hear from our six new ordinands and hear from a person who will be ordained next year, a woman who has experienced a lot of life in a very short time. The combination of each new minister sharing how passionate s/he was about coming to this point, the length of time, the expense, the challenges to their theological understanding, the new skills, and yet the pull that this journey was not an option, it was a command. One woman, in her 50’s or 60’s, shared how long a journey it was and how she had come to the end of her financial rope, telling her husband she would need to quit. That morning the church she served as a trained lay supply minister gave her a cheque for $8,000. She was awestruck.
The minister who will be ordained next year shared how she was heading to medical school and then felt a call to work in an orphanage in Belize. There she met a physically challenged baby, would come to adopt her, and from there set upon a life of more children, more adventure, with one constant, God’s love and guidance. No bowl of roses, lots of hardship and tears but the struggle would carve out a resilient love and service that would radiate Spirit.
Following this inspirational evening there came some awkward, painful and frustrating procedural stand offs, less about serious issues facing the church and more about not understanding what was going on, getting angry, getting defensive, getting emotional, making accusations, making bad decisions and ultimately just getting nowhere. We spent hours in this mode and no one was happy. Fortunately an old friend of mine came to microphone, asked people to sleep on it and recommended we come back on Saturday night at 9 pm and finish our business. We did and every one was an adult, it all moved very quickly with respect and kindness in the air. Who knew?
As per usual the Spirit arrived in our midst from the Intermediates and Youth who gathering separately and periodically come into our space and sit in table groups. Their energy and enthusiasm makes all of us better, more aware of possibility and growth. They did it again, with dynamic faith-filled music, dancing, testimonies to Spirit awareness, and commitment to make change. We left on a high note.
Sadly I had to leave early on Sunday morning, missing the two hour ordination service that culminates the week. I have a funeral this afternoon. But people were in a positive frame of mind at breakfast as they prepared to give thanks.