When Karen asked me to speak of this church and what it means to me, I was delighted….and honoured.
It happens that I was brought up in the United Church; I’m one of those rare breeds these days, I think known as Cradle to Grave church folks.
The church has just always been a part of my life. And, I have been involved in so very many ways over the years. As a child; in Sunday School and Explorers and CGIT….then as a camper, a camp counselor and CGIT leader.
On to participate in and to lead Women’s Groups and Study Groups and, of course, the Church Board.
I think that this is to say that I have always counted on the community of faith that was home to me to encourage and sustain, to challenge and to stretch me as I moved through life’s passages. My most important friendships have mostly always been within the church.
But in this church; James Bay United Church, I have experienced in a brand new way what I think it means for me to live in God’s New Creation.
It happened at a board meeting. We were talking about the Thrift Shop and the troubled relationship we had there and what we could do about that. Of course, as we always do, we looked to Karen for wisdom and she said “I think we need to go talk with the folks there”. I offered, in my impetuous way, to go with her and my world has not been the same since. I feel at this point kind of like Elizabeth who was called to birth a new life at “her venerable age”. My world also turned upside down and I wondered for a long time what on earth I had gotten into.
Like Elizabeth, the job required a lot of work and meant many sleepless nights; but the joy of this new life for me has been in the relationships I have discovered and the depths of community I experience at the thrift shop and each week here on a Sunday morning. There are miraculous conversations and shared heart connections that happen each and every time we gather; both within this congregation, and with thrift shop volunteers and customers. I am pretty sure this has a good deal to do with the nature of the James Bay Community itself and our church placed literally in it’s centre.
I see that God does, indeed call us unexpectedly into a fullness of life that can be experienced if one is willing to go to new places. Just ask my family: a thrift shop was definitely new territory for me!
I’d like to share a small story from Kayla McClurg that illustrates what I think I have experienced at our thrift shop and in James Bay United Church.
One of my lifelong soul friendships began when I was eight years old. In the middle of an otherwise normal school day, the teacher asked me to walk a girl home whom I didn't know very well. This most unfortunate third grader had just thrown up on the classroom floor, the ultimate social faux pas, and I was one of the few kids who didn't laugh. Remarkable gifts come disguised this way, in the homiest of encounters. Ordinary moments have awesome potential for one's future.
With her head hanging low as we walked across the schoolyard, she said, "You probably hate having to do this." I said, "No, It's ok. You couldn't help it." That's all. Nothing remarkable. We just trudged along, silently, and never mentioned it again.
Nor did we forget. Both of us still recall that encounter as the pivotal moment when we went from being two anonymous school kids in the classroom to friends who continue to walk beside each other through life's varied messes.
This is the good news. We are embarrassingly human, but we are not alone. Together we are able to face whatever happens. We get to walk each other home.
When I read the Gospel, I sense this sort of companionship. I read not only to learn about God’s movement in human history, but to see, in these stories, the stories of my own life and our life together in community. I read it to experience Jesus and all those he encountered as coming alongside and “walking us home”.
In their tales of distress, I experience our own distress. In their isolation and fear, or in their reckless boldness, I see our own. When they turn to follow the way of life, and when they turn away, I see our own tendency to wander and return. In these stories I see what an absolute mess we can be, embarrassingly human. I see how far we still live from compassion. And I find hope in the radical mercy that waits for us along the way. I sense the embrace of a love that has no end.
From Passage by Passage, A Gospel Journey Kayla McClurg