Nec Tamen Consumebatur
Sometimes being a Presbyterian is fun, sometimes intriguing, always persistent… Today I listened to another amazing sermon by my favourite Presbyterian minister, Doug Rollwage of Zion Presbyterian in Charlottetown (www.zionpres.org/churchservices Audio version). Now I am not trying to convert you or even get you to listen but it did get me thinking again about what is it that makes me continue to remain a member of this particular denomination. Of course part of it is the wonderful foundational call for peace & good order and I love the logo/motto (the Burning Bush and the words – neither was it consumed). But today I realized once again that I tend to join or at least be a part of organizations that are more thoughtful and less unnecessarily exuberant. It’s the same reason I am part of an informal group of thinkers called the Don Patrol, all of whom have IQ’s higher than mine who these day weekly join in some ZOOM fashion to look at the world in a thoughtful, non-ranting way. I am not so inclined to join service clubs or motorcycle gangs, too much work and physical action required. And I’ve just stepped away from a vibrant group attempting to revitalize the arts & culture movement in the South Okanagan & Similkameen valleys (more on this later or perhaps the next Chapter).
So why am I telling you this now? Well, before listening to Doug, after noticing that the Valley is again socked in with thick smoke, it being Sunday, I began to reflect on the state of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). Very early in my life I had visions of adequacy and held out the thought of becoming a theologian. The church corrected that vision before I even finished my initial degree (a B.A. in Medieval Studies) but then over the years, depending on where I was working on projects, if there was a need for Sunday supply in a PCC parish, I often would be called to serve the role of Interim Lay Minister – I even ended up in Texas for a few months in such a role. I have preached in numerous churches on the prairies and on PEI, and some in Ontario, New Brunswick and B.C. But as I contemplate whatever contribution I may have made to those congregations, I came to the hard realization that I didn’t sufficiently infuse them with the powerful notion that we in the PCC are about peace & good order, that the Gospel is primarily about compassion, love, thankfulness, grace and generosity. That our joy in life should be in making things better for others.
Why do I say that I didn’t do enough? Well today I realized that at least two of the churches in B.C. are now closed. At least three in Alberta likewise have disappeared. In Saskatchewan, at least five have been shuttered and a couple more have sold their building to another denomination. Manitoba the only places I preached as a student minister are gone. And so the story seems to go. One parish in Alberta which I returned to in this millennium (I had been there as a student) even had built a new church in a growing town and now that building is someone’s home leaving the other congregation a lonely part-time outpost near the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Now I am not thinking I am totally to blame for the demise of these various churches; in fact, whenever I left any following a longer term of filling the pulpit they were vibrant and in fairly good standing. Moreover a great many other PCC churches have disappeared over the same sixty years and I never even attended them as a worshipper. But why didn’t the message of peace & good order not have more impact?
As I look at the state of political leadership across North America and beyond, it would seem that perhaps the PCC and it’s related denominations including the PC(USA) have failed the challenge of Pentecost by not being more strident in preaching peace & good order. Western society has become a morass of political ineptitude including a distain of ethical behaviour and compounded by a plethora of apologizing for all kinds of past sins that occurred well before I was born but never taking responsibility for the errors and miscreant behaviour happening right now. If nothing else the PCC church should go back and read more diligently the letters of Paul and the writings of Luke and see what really it should be addressing. The sermons should be forceful but not necessarily emotive; articulate not necessarily bombastic – and should continually challenge the members to go forth into each week trying to increase the appreciation and activity for peace and good order.
If people haven’t got the time to take an hour or so each Sunday to gather or at least pause and listen, then the churches need to make the message available at any time and be willing to hold mid-week services, or at multiple-times. We need a real effort to get our leadership back on some kind of moral compass, and that will only happen if we start hounding them to show us their active commitment to peace and good order. Cast aside the desire for divisiveness and holding of anger, seek out your neighbour and treat that person with thankfulness and compassion. Maybe 2020 can yet be the year when we take a stand and ask that if someone wants to be a leader, they must first commit to peace and good order.
Presbyterians are supposed to believe that many centuries ago a bush was burned but it was not consumed. If that could happen then, why can’t today we believe that by standing firm for peace and good order our society will not fall apart? If we believe the experience at Pentecost where everyone heard the message in their own language why can’t we believe now that the idea of peace and good order is something universally desired by all but a few who might think we have drunk too much kool-aid?
Politics should be the highest calling. Faith should be the foundation that gets us to that point. We can’t see the wind, but we know it is there. Don’t tell me to be realistic and accept the foibles of mankind simply because they say they are sorry. Instead let’s be the bush that burns and is not consumed, the wind that blows even when it can’t be seen, just felt…