First of all I want to say that it is an honour to have the privilege of addressing you all this day. I’ve felt quite welcomed by your former priest Canon Mark Tiller and other lay people of this congregation as I’ve made new friends here in Caledon East. Father Greg and I have also begun to share what the future might look like as our two mainline churches on Old Church Road work together. We might actually want to change the name of this roadway we share-what about-Churches of the Future Road or Passages to the new Kindom road. Something upbeat might do us all some good. I knew I should have invited the Mayor of Caledon to join us this morning. We might need his support to change the address of the municipal building. Let us pray.
The theme this year for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is Reconciliation-The love of Christ compels us. This is an interesting and compelling theme, but it is a challenging one for two new clergy here in Caledon East. I say that because it is based on Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians, particularly chapter 5. When we read this letter we get the sense of Paul’s opponents raising some big questions about the effectiveness of his ministry. We might surmise that they were saying things like, "I know that Paul started this church, but there are other apostles around now. Maybe his way isn’t the only way." "Don’t you find his sermons too long? He’s always rambling on and I don’t understand half of what he says." "I’ve heard others who are much better speakers."
Paul is condemned by his foes as weak, and poor at rhetoric. His opponents seem to rely heavily on their Jewish identity to establish credibility and in their confidence proclaim "another Jesus." If we read the entire letter we can see that it is about Paul, pushing the concrete needs of the Jerusalem church as more important and pressing than the backbiting and one-upmanship that marked the Corinthian church at that time. So, I say that this is challenging for Greg and I because we are too new in our roles to know anything about such negativity in our respective communities of faith-may that be so a year from now and three years from now and ten years from now.
What we may have in common on this ‘Churches of the Future Road’ is an uncertainty about what our future will look like-3, 5, and 10 years out. Some of us would like it to be just about the same, with more people in our pews and less debits in the coffers. Some of us expect that our future will look somewhat different that our past, but we do not have a clear picture of what that might actually be.
And that makes it interesting to consider further this year’s theme of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity-those who have been working on bringing churches together all over our country and in many different parts of the world, have considered the significance of this year’s event falling during the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther’s presentation of the 95 theses on October 31, 1517-the beginning of the Reformation. I myself am actually planning to travel to Wittenberg, Germany in May of this year to the church and community where Luther presented his theses, not so much as a demand, but as an opportunity to open, frank, honest discussion about the challenges of the present and hope for the future of the church of Luther’s time. And what is ringing in my ears this morning is a prediction that some have been making for a number of years-that this period of time in our churches (the 21st century) will, when history is written, be seen to have experienced as radical a change as the church in the 16th century experienced.
So what is it that we can do about reconciliation. You will perhaps, in time, fill Greg and I in on the fractures that are in this community. One that I’ve begun to hear about, which is happening all over our country is the growing gap between those that have so much and those that have not even enough to cover the basic needs of their loved ones. If we turn to the ‘Message’ paraphrase of Scripture it starts this way-"Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own."
We are all in the same boat! We of Caledon, we of Canada are all in the same boat. This text with its focus on reconciliation, gets me thinking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was released to Canadians last summer. There are 94 recommendations- I began to read one recommendation a day for a short while, but then it didn’t take long to get away from that habit. Both of our denominations, the Anglicans and the United Church have been instrumental in bringing aboriginal concerns to the forefront, long before governments owned up to their wrongdoing. In the section of the report entitled, "Church Apologies and Reconciliation", recommendation #61- "We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement, in collaboration with Survivors and representatives of Aboriginal organizations, to establish permanent funding to Aboriginal people for: i Community-controlled healing and reconciliation projects. ii Community-controlled culture- and language revitalizations projects, iii Community-controlled education and relationship-building projects iv Regional dialogues for Indigenous spiritual leaders and youth to discuss Indigenous spirituality, self-determination, and reconciliation. Both of our denominations in a variety of ways are working at self-determination for native people and at reconciliation.
Paul says, "we walk by faith" in the journey we are on with God, with one another. Paul makes clear that he possesses two poles, or reference points, in his life. He sees himself within the presence of God but at the same time always planted firmly in the realities of the world. He says, "We ourselves are well known to God, and I hope …well known to your consciences. He takes a slur the Corinthians have thrown at him---that he is beside himself and out of his mind-and turns it around: If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. So there is a dynamic way told to us—be a little crazy for God but absolutely focused on the things we have to do in this world!
I want to tell you about a person I met in Winnipeg a few years ago. I believe he was raised in an Anglican household and married a woman who was raised in the United Church of Canada. This man is a little crazy for God and a little fed up with government bureaucracy. Shaun Loney is a fellow I met when I was there as part of my sabbatical leave, looking at outreach projects in downtown Winnipeg and in Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada. Shaun has gained some notoriety recently in publishing a book entitled, "An Army of Problem Solvers."
Shaun challenges us all in this reconciliation process to examine how we have benefited because our ancestors gained from aboriginal brothers and sisters. We stand outside a large 10,000 square foot warehouse, one that may well have been there when my grandfather rode the rails to get a job, joining the grain harvest back in the early 19th century. It lies right beside the east-west CPR rail line in northend Winnipeg. After scooping the eldest ‘farmer’s daughter’ from a Glenborough, Manitoba farm my grandparents found themselves once again in Winnipeg with 5 children now, selling heating oil to whoever would pay the going rate. About 1937 my grandparents went west and north to homestead land considered to be in the ‘outback’-the white clay district of Carrot River, 150 miles above Saskatoon. Did they pay a fair price to the aboriginal people who were using that land co-operatively? Did they do fair trade in Winnipeg? I suspect they were scraping for dollars like everyone else in those days.
Today that giant warehouse is home to many social enterprises. When I comment positively on the paint job on the side of the building, Shaun says, yes, it was done by graffiti artists caught by the CPR police doing their art on box cars sitting on a rail siding. Shaun knows government ways-he worked for the Manitoba government for 25 years before taking six months out. He never returned to his former work. For the last 10 years he and others have begun a social incubator in that warehouse my grandfather may have passed by 118 years ago.
Shaun now estimates that there are 25,000 Indigenous men in Manitoba who have no access to the labour market. No matter how much they want to work, employment is out of reach due to barriers such as a criminal record, a lack of grade 12 education, driver’s license and work experience. So what have he and others done? They have created employment for these persons who are unemployed, they bring together volunteer tutours to deliver the high school education, and they give driver training programs. They have done all of these things with very limited funding from government. There is a computer lab in the building which any high school computer teacher would admire. When I asked about security and vandalism, Shaun’s response was this. The native elders come in and talk to our employees. They tell them the importance of establishing a good reputation for themselves and their people. Workers are expected to be punctual. The elders have held healing ceremonies in the building and blessed the computer room by ‘smudging’ it with sweetgrass. There has not been a vandalism problem.
Here a co-operative of small and medium size social enterprises have been established which are supplied from this common warehouse. The organization is called BUILD prosperity: Energizing Manitoba’s Local Economy. On two native reserves one of the companies, AKI energy, managed by a former native chief has installed geo-thermal heating for a total of 200 homes. This saves the residents on their monthly energy bill, it saves the provincial utility on delivery of services to remote locations, it employees native persons in the installation process and follow-up support and maintenance. Another project operating out of the warehouse is a group of people working to maintain a portion of Winnipeg’s social housing, with many of those employees actually living in that same social housing. Many of the thousands of people operating over the last decade out of that building are no longer on provincial support. They are bringing home a paycheque and determining their own future.
We are ambassadors for Christ. God is appealing to the world through us. Our work is the ministry of reconciliation; reconciling of ourselves to God, the world to God, ourselves to each other, ourselves to God’s world. God lead us onward together in this year of challenge and change for us all!