Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Reflecting on our little church

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This Christmas my wife, three kids, and I travelled to Southern Manitoba. In fact, all of my family travelled to my sister’s home in Morden. My parents, siblings, and all the kids. Sixteen of us in all. While the “City” of Morden may boast many things, tropical weather over Christmas is not one of them. There were a couple of days that registered at -40c with the windchill. Over the radio on New Year’s Eve came the words, “Happy New Year! Don’t leave your house if you don’t have to; you may freeze to death.” You might think the voice was joking. I did not.

The extreme temperatures had one benefit, however. They kept us all close together in the house. I love my family and we have a good time together. It’s a bit chaotic at times with kids running everywhere and me acting like I’m 13 again, but there are lots of laughs, games, and priceless times with great conversation around great food. We value these times together, especially because they don’t happen too often as we’re spread out around the country.

My family is not perfect. We bump heads now and again (Lord knows I’ve caused my fair share of tears). But they’re my favourite people. I’m proud of them. We can get deep and we can also get the giggles over the stupidest things. We support each other as best we can, and without a doubt we know we can lean on each other.

Yesterday, now back home and back in my office, I came across a quote from the late Eugene Peterson, a pastor hero of mine. I’ve seen it many times before and you may have seen it, too. Several years ago, at the age of 81, Peterson was asked what advice he would give to young Christians looking to grow in their faith. He responded:

“Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for six months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place… the smallest church; the closest church; and commit to staying there 6 months.”

Peterson lived his advice. He was a part of a small community church, despite his worldwide fame. He would often speak of the beauty and opportunities found within such an “insignificant” and imperfect place.

Almost a decade ago my wife, kids, and I moved from the West Coast to Hamilton. We landed in a beautiful little area of the city called Locke Street which was within biking distance of McMaster Divinity College, the reason for our big move. Very intentionally we wanted to invest and participate in a church that was local, small, and different. Having grown up and worked in evangelical churches of decent size, my wife and I were looking for something a bit different. That’s when we stumbled into St John’s Anglican Church: “The Rock on Locke.” While our time living in the area and attending St John’s was only two semesters long (8 months), that experience forever shaped our understanding of church and my ministry.

At “The Rock” we found a small church of kids, adults, and seniors who immediately welcomed us. Inside that beautiful old building was a family of people who genuinely cared for each other and worshipped Jesus together. While they deeply cared about their neighbourhood and were always thinking about ways to demonstrate service and love to the community, people were not flooding through their doors asking to be baptized. The sound system made funny noises. Polished, entertainment, and performance were not words I would use to describe the gatherings. It was not a perfect church. It was not a “full-serve” kind of place. And while my family didn’t experience any drama during our short time there, I think it’s safe to assume that doesn’t mean it didn’t or hasn’t existed. But what it was, was beautiful. The priest, David, was a warm, intelligent, thoughtful, soft-spoken man who was influencing the church to become those same characteristics simply by being himself. He was a gift.

We went on Sundays. We went to the potlucks. We helped where we could. We had a great time at the winter retreat watching everyone perform in the talent show. My one year-old daughter was baby Jesus in the Epiphany pageant. It was family. And I am so grateful for how that church cared for my family, let us serve, and shaped us.

For whatever reason, seeing that Peterson quote took my mind to our experience at St John’s and my experience over Christmas. The unifying image being a small and intimate family. And that makes me smile. Here I am now, seven years into starting a new church and honoured to be its pastor. And as I think about Peterson’s quote, Christmas with fifteen other family members in the house, and my experience at St John’s all those years ago, I realize how blessed I am to be a part of a church that reminds me of all those things.

My church is not glamourous. We’re small. We’re chaotic. We’re not polished. We’re “insignificant” by a lot of metrics some might use. But I love us. I always look forward to us. In our diversity, relationships, conversations, eating together, laughing together, crying together, working through tensions together, we’re experiencing the church in all her beauty. I count everyday I get to serve this church as a gift.

So cheers to all the little churches out there. You are extremely significant.

And cheers to families that get the giggles together. And all the younger sisters that put up with older brothers.  😉

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It’s more than a sign: ecumenical reflections for today

Church Sign

We put up this sign a while ago.  It tells all those who drive by that Ancaster Village Church gathers at 5pm on Sunday evenings in St John’s Parish Hall.  But for me it represents so much more.  I see it as a reflection of something far greater which is on the move these days.  In simple terms our church rents this space from St John’s Anglican Church.  But for both of our churches this is more than just an exchange of money for the use of space.  We see this as hope and mission.

This afternoon I spent an hour in prayer with the priests of St John’s Anglican.  Praying for this great city with them is positively inspiring. The comedy of me, a sacramentally deprived rebellious Protestant, being welcomed into relationship with them is why, in the words of the Roman Catholic JMR Tillard, I believe, despite everything.

There is something in the ecumenical air these days.  I’m hearing more and more stories which confirm this.  We — as in the Church — are finding partnership, relationship, common purpose, worship, and mission around the highest common denominator.  This is different than my understanding of some past ecumenical dialogues where the commonality was found in the lowest common denominators.  Where the conversation was once founded on the understanding that we couldn’t agree on the big things, so instead we’d look for unity in the small things, we are now realizing that it’s in the biggest thing (person) where our unity is found.  We’re standing around the Table of Bread and Wine with a look in our eyes that says, “this is all we’ve got.  Him.”  In some cases we’re still not comfortable enough to break the bread with each other, but we’re looking at all of those things that exist around that Table of Bread and Wine with a different, more gracious, understanding of each other.

My hunch is that the fall of Christendom has graciously led us to this place.  For that reason, among many others, I welcome our place as the church in exile — the church on the fringe of culture.  Exile helps us remember who we are.  And as we’re remembering who we are, we’re looking around and realizing that we have so many sisters and brothers who might dress a little differently but are on the same team.

A few weeks ago I was honoured to lead communion/Eucharist for a group of ministers and church leaders who reflected at least a dozen different denominations and traditions.  It was Ephesians 4 in real life.  It was beautiful.  We came to the Table together, prayed for each other, and were sent out in mission together.

In three weeks I will once again administer the elements alongside my Anglican friends in their gathering to which they invite our church.  We find commonality at the Table.  It’s incredible.  All of our respective bells and whistles, although they matter and are (mostly) beautifully unique and distinctive, are simply reflections of the one who brings us together and unites us.

There are few things these days which excite me more.

We’ve got a ways to go.  Lord knows there are those within my own tribe who think we ought to tighten up the ecumenical guidelines lest we get too comfortable with those guys.  But whatever.  Redemption is here.  Redemption is coming.  And I’m convinced that one of the greatest ways this world will experience hope is through the church, in and with all her different flavours, coming together as one.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

The Shaping of an Identity

Our church has been in the process of shaping our written identity — our vision, mission, statement, or whatever you want to call it.  It continues to be a work in progress, but here’s the most current stab at it.  This is something into which we wish to live, become, and be.

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Here because of grace.
Because God acted.
Because God loves.
Because God is about redemption.
Because God pursues us. Always.

He loves humanity.
He loves creation.
He is good.

Here because of Jesus.
Because in him all things are being redeemed.
Because of his life.
Because of his death.
Because of his resurrection.
Because he is with us. Always.

He is our pastor.
Our teacher.
Our counselor.
Our healer.
Our lord.
Our saviour.
Our hope.

Here because we are a church.
Because together in the Spirit we are united as one.
Because together we are able to listen to the Spirit’s leading.
Because together the Spirit is making us whole.
Because together we are the body of Jesus, with all our diversity and gifts.
Because together in our brokenness we find life.
Because together in our weakness we find strength.
Because together we embrace mystery.
Because together we walk in God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness.
Because together we submit to the Holy Scriptures.
Because together at the Table we find Jesus.

We are becoming a people who are learning to love Jesus more fully.
Becoming a people who love others.
Becoming a people who live on mission.
Becoming a people who share our stories.
Becoming a people who live God’s kingdom.
Becoming a people of ridiculous generosity.
Becoming a people who serve locally and globally.
Becoming a people who value simplicity.
Becoming a people who laugh, play, cry, and live life together.

Here because we love this city.
Because we believe there’s a better way.
Because we have so much to learn.

Ancaster Village Church

http://www.ancastervillagechurch.ca