The Musings of Jeff Doucette

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What Borders Would You Cross with Jesus? A reflection on the Festival of Preaching 2017

Posted by jeffdoucette on May 24, 2017 at 11:30 AM









The absence of hospitality and affirmation block the kingdom of God.

            Bishop Yvette Flunder at the Festival of Homiletics 2017


 

We need to build wells not walls.

                        Rev. Anna Carter-Florence at Festival of Homiletics 2017


 

If we do not preach what is happening around us then we have either checked out or do not pay attention.   Rev. Amy Butler at Festival of Homiletics 2017

 


Think of a time when you felt on the outside, unwelcome, unnoticed, ignored, looked at, judged, evaluated, laughed at, dismissed. Describe the situation in your mind and sit with it for a moment. How did that make you feel?


This past week I attended the annual Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio, Texas. I was one of 1800 registered for this delicious smorgasbord of preaching and worship and music and conversation. The theme for the week was “Preaching on the Borders”. It was a time to sit back and reflect on ministry, on being church, on preaching, on attitudes of our congregations and ourselves as ministers and preachers.


We heard various scriptures passages from The Good Samaritan to the Woman at the Well to the Prodigal Son to Jesus being turned away from his home village to the woman born bent over to various of the Epistle writers. It was wonderful to sit back and let someone else prepare worship and a sermon. But that did not mean we had it easy…for the topics preached upon were meant to challenge and nourish us and get us to ask questions about the state of our congregation’s sense of welcome as well as our preaching. We were asked point blank how far we would be willing to go in our preaching? Did we dare cross borders like Jesus with our church families? Or were we worried we might rile them up? We were challenged to look at our own preaching and how we approach Scripture and how we engage conversations with our people.


Two weeks ago I preached on the story of Jesus as gate to the sheep and challenged you my own church family to seriously and honestly ask ourselves just how truly welcoming we really were. http://jeffdoucette.webs.com/apps/blog/entries/show/44522955-how-do-we-treat-our-own-sheep-   To ask ourselves what we do when we hear stories of people being hurt by our words and actions, who chose to leave and not come back or stay away or leave various committees. And to be honest if you remember that morning I was a little scattered before the service, and you might have noticed that I wrote my sermon out which is highly unusual for me. But I had something to say and I was nervous as I wrote my sermon and I was worried about how people might react. That is what happens when you ask people you love to be accountable for words and actions.


I remember last year that I was told in my evaluation by M and P that some (never know how many and yes I can share this because it was said about me and my right to share it with you) wanted me to stop talking about the Affirming process. My reaction to them was the following: “So let me get this straight…I have been asked to stop talking about the Affirming process. Now you hired me to be the minister of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care of this congregation. So lets look at what that means. The Affirming process is about asking us to look deeply and honestly at ourselves and our church family to see how we welcome everyone…okay. Now let’s look at my job description. Minister of Word means I preach the word of God which is a series of biblical books that talk about God’s hospitality and love to us without any ifs or buts or conditions. Minister of Sacrament means celebrating with you our two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, which by the way are sacraments of welcome and inclusion. Minister of Pastoral Care is to look after not only the wellbeing and care of our church family but also for those wherever I go and whomever I meet. So you see my whole ministry is embodying the Affirming process…so no I will not stop talking about it.” My preaching can be compromised: (1) If I want peace fearing conflict (2) If I struggle with insecurity and want to be liked more than preach about difficult issues.


In my sharing with other minister colleagues, we all feel the same so often. We struggle with our self image as ministers, whether we are doing enough and whether it is good enough. As someone so wonderfully said at the Festival this week…”the longest walk I take as minister is from my chair to the pulpit”. We try week after week to welcome you, to nourish you, to walk with you in all you live. We try to bring the gospel to life, to make space for you and hope to show you God.


But the church community is but a part of my ministry. I also walk with various outside moments as church. I walk with PFLAG Durham and the LGBTQ community and have been building relationship with them. I walk with the Pickering Islamic Center and the Durham Muslim Moms in building friendships and walk in the footsteps of justice with them. I walk with Faith and Light as chaplain to families with members with developmental disabilities. I walk with the Roman Catholic Women Priest movement in their march for justice and inclusion. I walk with families who grieve but have no church affiliation through local funeral homes.


We had been asked so many times how far we were willing to go as pastors over the border to meet people where they were and to listen to them and their stories. So often I hear “We could cure our finances if we could just get more people in our pews…” And I think…”So you want people so they can give you money?” We become so preoccupied thinking the role of the gospel and my preaching is to get people to give money so we can build buildings and fix leaks. But my preaching is meant to reach out to hearts not wallets. I often wish we just met in a field or a back yard or a park…and the gospel was about our hearts. Our energies go into finances so often that we miss the point of the gospel.


I told different people in Texas that by times I had to meet for a committee meeting in our office administrator’s office and smiled. I was not complaining…even though it drives me when I hear complaints from some in our church who do. It means our church is busy welcoming people. And we are. We have a weekend respite program for families with children on the Autism spectrum. We have a tutoring group that works with young people, we give space to local Afghan women to learn English. We offer space for one who teaches children and adults to paint. We give space to the local scouting movement. We have space for one other church who worship in our space and soon we will welcome the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement who are starting a new community from our church. We have a Martial Arts Dojo that use our space, a yoga group and a daycare downstairs. The local Afghan community use our space often for their gatherings. We host the annual Rotary music festival and various concerts. This is crossing borders and welcoming people from all walks of life for various reasons. I am sure I am missing something.


But welcoming is more than just rental to pay for costs…it is building relationships in the community, it is opening our doors to people and welcoming them. But it is also looking at how we welcome those who come through our doors…those who are already here…those who have not been around for a while or even have faded away.


It is about challenging our attitudes and asking ourselves if we are living up to the gospel call to biblical hospitality. It is about asking how we respond to people on the borders, on the margins. It is about asking ourselves if we have driven people back across borders so that we have a safer distance. It is about checking our privilege and yes we have privilege as church. It is about listening to where we are being called to go as disciples and to ask if we are willing to relocate because of the gospel. By that I mean to leave our comfortable space to relocate to where we find ourselves face to face with someone in need.


Rev. Anna Florence-Carter said “We need to build more wells, not walls. We need wells where deep conversations can happen”. This can only happen when people feel safe and welcomed and have that sacred space to open up their story and feel God and a community who welcome them.


Rev. Will Wilimon said it best “The best times in ministry is when Jesus kicked, prodded and pulled me over the border. Can you say the same thing about your discipleship? Because if not, then you are missing out on something. He then proceeded to tell us about going to a Jesus Rave with young adults and also to Saturday night Drag Queen Bingo…now that is some serious border crossing.


I would love to keep this conversation going…maybe a one on one coffee or maybe a coffee group…send me a note. I would love to cross the border with you.

 


Jeff

 


Are there any borders you do not dare cross as a welcoming church?

Posted by jeffdoucette on May 24, 2017 at 11:20 AM





The absence of hospitality and affirmation block the kingdom of God.

         Bishop Yvette Flunder at the Festival of Homiletics 2017

 


We need to build wells not walls.

             Rev. Anna Carter-Florence at Festival of Homiletics 2017

 


If we do not preach what is happening around us then we have either checked out or do not pay attention.    Rev. Amy Butler at Festival of Homiletics 2017

 


Think of a time when you felt on the outside, unwelcome, unnoticed, ignored, looked at, judged, evaluated, laughed at, dismissed. Describe the situation in your mind and sit with it for a moment. How did that make you feel?


This past week I attended the annual Festival of Homiletics in San Antonio, Texas. I was one of 1800 registered for this delicious smorgasbord of preaching and worship and music and conversation. The theme for the week was “Preaching on the Borders”. It was a time to sit back and reflect on ministry, on being church, on preaching, on attitudes of our congregations and ourselves as ministers and preachers.


We heard various scriptures passages from The Good Samaritan to the Woman at the Well to the Prodigal Son to Jesus being turned away from his home village to the woman born bent over to various of the Epistle writers. It was wonderful to sit back and let someone else prepare worship and a sermon. But that did not mean we had it easy…for the topics preached upon were meant to challenge and nourish us and get us to ask questions about the state of our congregation’s sense of welcome as well as our preaching. We were asked point blank how far we would be willing to go in our preaching? Did we dare cross borders like Jesus with our church families? Or were we worried we might rile them up? We were challenged to look at our own preaching and how we approach Scripture and how we engage conversations with our people.


Two weeks ago I preached on the story of Jesus as gate to the sheep and challenged you my own church family to seriously and honestly ask ourselves just how truly welcoming we really were. To ask ourselves what we do when we hear stories of people being hurt by our words and actions, who chose to leave and not come back or stay away or leave various committees. And to be honest if you remember that morning I was a little scattered before the service, and you might have noticed that I wrote my sermon out which is highly unusual for me. But I had something to say and I was nervous as I wrote my sermon and I was worried about how people might react. That is what happens when you ask people you love to be accountable for words and actions.


I remember last year that I was told in my evaluation by M and P that some (never know how many and yes I can share this because it was said about me and my right to share it with you) wanted me to stop talking about the Affirming process. My reaction to them was the following: “So let me get this straight…I have been asked to stop talking about the Affirming process. Now you hired me to be the minister of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care of this congregation. So lets look at what that means. The Affirming process is about asking us to look deeply and honestly at ourselves and our church family to see how we welcome everyone…okay. Now let’s look at my job description. Minister of Word means I preach the word of God which is a series of biblical books that talk about God’s hospitality and love to us without any ifs or buts or conditions. Minister of Sacrament means celebrating with you our two sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, which by the way are sacraments of welcome and inclusion. Minister of Pastoral Care is to look after not only the wellbeing and care of our church family but also for those wherever I go and whomever I meet. So you see my whole ministry is embodying the Affirming process…so no I will not stop talking about it.” My preaching can be compromised: (1) If I want peace fearing conflict (2) If I struggle with insecurity and want to be liked more than preach about difficult issues.


In my sharing with other minister colleagues, we all feel the same so often. We struggle with our self image as ministers, whether we are doing enough and whether it is good enough. As someone so wonderfully said at the Festival this week…”the longest walk I take as minister is from my chair to the pulpit”. We try week after week to welcome you, to nourish you, to walk with you in all you live. We try to bring the gospel to life, to make space for you and hope to show you God.


But the church community is but a part of my ministry. I also walk with various outside moments as church. I walk with PFLAG Durham and the LGBTQ community and have been building relationship with them. I walk with the Pickering Islamic Center and the Durham Muslim Moms in building friendships and walk in the footsteps of justice with them. I walk with Faith and Light as chaplain to families with members with developmental disabilities. I walk with the Roman Catholic Women Priest movement in their march for justice and inclusion. I walk with families who grieve but have no church affiliation through local funeral homes.


We had been asked so many times how far we were willing to go as pastors over the border to meet people where they were and to listen to them and their stories. So often I hear “We could cure our finances if we could just get more people in our pews…” And I think…”So you want people so they can give you money?” We become so preoccupied thinking the role of the gospel and my preaching is to get people to give money so we can build buildings and fix leaks. But my preaching is meant to reach out to hearts not wallets. I often wish we just met in a field or a back yard or a park…and the gospel was about our hearts. Our energies go into finances so often that we miss the point of the gospel.


I told different people in Texas that by times I had to meet for a committee meeting in our office administrator’s office and smiled. I was not complaining…even though it drives me when I hear complaints from some in our church who do. It means our church is busy welcoming people. And we are. We have a weekend respite program for families with children on the Autism spectrum. We have a tutoring group that works with young people, we give space to local Afghan women to learn English. We offer space for one who teaches children and adults to paint. We give space to the local scouting movement. We have space for one other church who worship in our space and soon we will welcome the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement who are starting a new community from our church. We have a Martial Arts Dojo that use our space, a yoga group and a daycare downstairs. The local Afghan community use our space often for their gatherings. We host the annual Rotary music festival and various concerts. This is crossing borders and welcoming people from all walks of life for various reasons. I am sure I am missing something.


But welcoming is more than just rental to pay for costs…it is building relationships in the community, it is opening our doors to people and welcoming them. But it is also looking at how we welcome those who come through our doors…those who are already here…those who have not been around for a while or even have faded away.


It is about challenging our attitudes and asking ourselves if we are living up to the gospel call to biblical hospitality. It is about asking how we respond to people on the borders, on the margins. It is about asking ourselves if we have driven people back across borders so that we have a safer distance. It is about checking our privilege and yes we have privilege as church. It is about listening to where we are being called to go as disciples and to ask if we are willing to relocate because of the gospel. By that I mean to leave our comfortable space to relocate to where we find ourselves face to face with someone in need.


Rev. Anna Florence-Carter said “We need to build more wells, not walls. We need wells where deep conversations can happen”. This can only happen when people feel safe and welcomed and have that sacred space to open up their story and feel God and a community who welcome them.


Rev. Will Wilimon said it best “The best times in ministry is when Jesus kicked, prodded and pulled me over the border. Can you say the same thing about your discipleship? Because if not, then you are missing out on something. He then proceeded to tell us about going to a Jesus Rave with young adults and also to Saturday night Drag Queen Bingo…now that is some serious border crossing.


I would love to keep this conversation going…maybe a one on one coffee or maybe a coffee group…send me a note. I would love to cross the border with you.

 


Jeff

 


How do we treat our own sheep?

Posted by jeffdoucette on May 8, 2017 at 1:15 PM





The following is my sermon from yesterday's Sunday service for May 7th.

 

4th Sunday of Easter…Homily

Title: How do we treat our own sheep?


 

Our Scripture passage this morning is from the gospel of John ch 10: vs 1-10


“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.


One: Hear what the Spirit is saying to us this day.

All: Thanks be to God.

 


SERMON


 

So honesty time here. I know nothing about sheep. I have never owned them and have never visited a farm with sheep. I have never met a shepherd. I have driven by places with sheep. I have stopped a few times to take pictures of them alongside the road but they always run away afraid of me. I tried calling them back…but that just seemed to make them all the more afraid of me.


Sandy and I were excited when our next door neighbor Bill announced he was putting up new fencing because they were going to get sheep next door which meant also a donkey and that excited Sandy beyond belief. But it was not meant to be as Bill’s cancer came back strong. We passed a prayer shawl around for him during one of our services. And the cancer eventually took Bill home to the God he loved so deeply. In his honor, Sandy and I donated money to Save the Children which provided three sheep to families to help them earn incomes.


So by times I am a little jealous of the disciples in the gospel stories who got to experience some of these encounters first hand with Jesus. I visited Israel in 1997 with a group of pilgrims but it is nothing like actually being there in the midst of one of these stories. But Jesus was a storyteller and knew how to connect life with faith. He knew how to speak to his disciples in simple terms that they could understand and apply to their everyday lives.


And so this Sunday morning pulls us into the world of sheep and shepherds, gates and enclosures, thieves and bandits and invites us to find a way to apply it to our own lives.


But first let’s look at the text. It comes in John’s gospel following the story we heard in Lent about the healing of the man born blind. This man who was healed by Jesus and had his sight restored. Yet in that story we had the local authorities who had him cast out as an outsider, a sinner because he had no sight and so someone in his family or he himself must have done something wrong and therefore deserved it. Jesus did his best to make sure they knew that this notion was not in line with God’s thinking and God’s love. If they continued this line of thinking…well they were no better than a thief or bandit that tried to climb over an enclosure to harm or steal the sheep from a Shepherd.


I love this image of Jesus comparing himself as a Shepherd who cares for their sheep. This job was not for the faint of heart or timid people. It required courage, an unwavering love and willingness to protect their flock and to be in their midst with a comforting familiar voice. They laid their own lives on the line protecting the sheep. They were looked down upon as a lower class. The sheep knew the voice of the Shepherd that took care of them and could distinguish an intruder’s voice up to no good. Much like animals can sense our energy and know our moods. Look at dogs for instance, before they hear a word or a gesture they can pick up on our energy. I think it must be the same for sheep. They are not as stupid as we make them out to be.


And Jesus also uses the image of gate to describe himself. A gate was important to sheep. It brought them into an enclosure of safety at the end of a journey and allowed them a sense of comfort and security. A shepherd I imagine when out in the fields might try and find an area that seemed like an enclosed space so they could keep an eye on them at night. And back at home in the morning, the gate was opened out into the pasture to find food and water. And this cycle continued.


So what do we do with this gospel passage? How might we apply it to our lives. Well let me suggest one way of looking at it…my take on it from some discussions I have had this past week.

 


Maybe we could look at our church as an enclosure for those who gather here each Sunday, but also during the week for many reasons. It is meant to be a place of safety, a safe space I call it. And so this enclosure or God’s sheep pen if you wish is meant for us to be able to breathe out from life and what we encounter. It allows us as we breathe out to breathe in God, to breathe in God’s word which can speak to what we live, to breathe in God’s music which can lift our spirits and to breathe in God’s people who gather around us like Shepherds who care for us.


But what about the other sheep of our church family? Those who left us, have drifted away or even those in our midst who have felt unwelcome. How do we act around each other? How do we treat one another? Do we even notice they are not here? By times I have someone who asks “if such and such was here for our service”. I answer “I don’t take attendance when I preach”. It is funny when I reach out I always worry people are thinking I am taking attendance and I often say “I’m not taking attendance”. I just noticed you have not been around and hope things are ok.


Also I might be here and there before the service talking to people and then to my seat so we can start on time. So I don’t necessarily see people who I might think come in but do not. It can be so easy to come into our own little space, trying to find the same seat and not move outside our own row. And so we can become unaware of people and those who are not here. That is one of the reasons I love to come early, to be around to talk with people, hear what is happening in their lives.


Are we willing, and I include myself when I say this, to look at how we interact with people? How welcoming are we really? And again let’s pause before we answer that question honestly. We may have said or done things to isolate people who no longer come. And before we know it, a week ends up a month, then months and then a year etc. And so often the work of pastoral care is left to me as minister solely. But this is the work of the entire congregation. We are all called to be Shepherds and care for one another for we hold within us the spirit of the Good Shepherd from the gospel today.


I have had stories of people who have told me they no longer feel welcome, they feel like outsiders, they feel no one cares. Are we willing to reach out and call, visit and see how they are doing and we miss them at church gatherings.


If we have hurt someone, are we willing to reach out and make amends and start fresh. And maybe we need also to be careful and how we speak to people. What we may find funny may be hurtful to another and isolate them even more. Or maybe the way we approach something within our congregation is hurtful and divisive. Sometimes we close our circles within a congregation and they can be perceived as a clique. I have been to presbytery meetings where I have gone down for coffee and there have been discussions going on and I have felt alone. And often I would just turn around and go back upstairs and sit in the church by myself. When the shoe is on the other foot and I see someone alone, I try and motion them to come and join us. I have seen visitors come and join us for different events only not to come back because they were being ignored.


It is not easy to be in community. It can be downright messy. And even though Church should be different….sadly often it is not. But the gospel calls us as Shepherds to look after the sheep, God’s people, one another, those around us. We all need to be loved. And for some reason life can get so busy that we seem by times to just look past people.


Verna Myers, who is a diversity and inclusion expert has a great line. She says “Diversity is being invited to the party…Inclusion is being asked to dance”


Jesus was an expert in inclusion…that image of Sheep and Shepherd is one of inclusion, of safety, of love. Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me!” Do we know our sister and brother sheep and truly care about one another as the Shepherd does? Think carefully….before we answer yes.

 


Jeff

Good Shepherd Sunday May 7th, 2017

Transfiguration Sunday and #BeccaToldMeTo

Posted by jeffdoucette on February 27, 2017 at 9:50 AM





“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

(Gospel of Matthew ch 17 vs 5)


 

"I wanted to leave my mark. I wanted to do my part to change the world,"

Rebecca (Becca) Schofield of #BeccaToldMeTo


 

People often ask me how I get ideas for my sermon. Here is how I got my idea for today’s sermon. It began with a conversation with my friend Mandy from Moncton. You have heard me speak of Mandy often. She is the daughter of my friend Barb who died seven years ago from breast cancer. She is remarkable and has a great sense of humour, a big heart and we are great friends. So one of our conversations this week started like this…


 

Mandy: What are you giving up for Lent?


Me: I don't give up for Lent. I do random acts of kindness…like www.40acts.org.uk


Mandy: Does Sandy do Lent?


Me: Same as me...


Mandy: How come you don't do Lent?


Me: I do Lent...I don't give up candy or things like that. I think it is more important to do acts of kindness. Giving up something only does something for me...where as acts of kindness helps others. Now on the other hand if we gave up gossiping or things like that...that is different. Or if you give up candy and donate the money you would save to a charity.


Mandy: Have you heard of #beccatoldmeto


Me: yes I have...it is awesome. My friend Jeannette in Moncton told me about it. So you could do some things like that to help people. #beccatoldmeto that would be a great way to do Lent. This is what I tell my people.


Mandy: How do I do it?


Me: I am actually going to talk about her in my sermon next Wednesday or maybe even this Sunday.


Mandy: I wish I could be there to hear it. Did you join Becca's facebook page?


Me: Can you get me the link please?


Mandy: Just search Becca's Battle with Butterscotch. (Pause for about a minute) I added you to Becca's group.

 


So I went to the page and heard about her story. One from my congregation posted this link to me on her story. http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/19/health/iyw-teen-cancer-request-trnd/index.html Becca has terminal cancer and the doctors have told her she has between three months to a year to live. For anyone to process this, is difficult…but a 17 year old is beyond my comprehension. And so she had but one wish…for people to be generous to one another, to make a difference in a world that is full of hatred and division.


On this facebook page which has almost 15,000 followers you will find great stories of random acts of kindness. People have been touched by her story, moved by her story, compelled by her story, challenged by her story. This has become a movement that has certainly touched Riverview and Moncton, New Brunswick. And I know this place all to well. I was a Catholic priest there for a number of years at Immaculate Heart, being replaced by my buddy Phil Mulligan.


So I reached out to her parents and told them about our prayer shawl ministry at Dunbarton-Fairport. We have people from our church or connected to our church who love to knit and crochet and then when we get a request (and it could be for anybody inside or outside of our church family…known or unknown), we pass the prayer shawl around our Sunday service from hand to hand, young and old and people take time to pray for the person, to send good wishes, positive energy, however they wish to be present. I always begin by bringing our young people up and we lay hands on it together before they head out to church school so they will be able to participate in this wonderful ministry. And then it is passed from person to person in the congregation and after the service it is taken to the person that they may know they are surrounded by the love and prayers of a church family. Well it turns out they already received one from the Church and Anne proceeded to remind me that I was the priest there when their oldest daughter Gabrielle was confirmed many years ago. I smiled that I was still connected to the family in a small way.


I began to scroll down and read some of the stories. One heard Becca had needed blood transfusions and felt compelled to start giving blood to help others. Another cut her long hair and donated it to a charity in Ontario here that makes wigs for children with cancer. Another bought a meal for a person on a country trip on the train who ran out of money. Another paid for groceries for the person in front of them. Another man who had health issues was helping my friend shovel after a snow storm because #BeccaToldMeTo and it was story after story after story of random goodness and generosity. And each time an act of generosity happened…the person would smile and repeat #BeccaToldMeTo and of course people knew the story.


And so of course this #BeccaToldMeTo phenomenon touched my own heart and goes to the heart of the gospel passage today we have just heard. This is the story of the Transfiguration from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) where Jesus takes some of the disciples up Mount Tabor. This passage is on the heals of Jesus asking his disciples the famous question “Who do people say that I am?” Well of course the answers vary. And then when Jesus begins to talk about his death, Peter wants nothing of it and Jesus takes him to task, saying “Get behind me Satan!” which is pretty harsh in my books. But Jesus must feel that maybe they are not getting the core of his message which is simply “love one another as I have loved you!” and takes them up the mountain. Then in a script from a Hollywood movie, we hear the voice of God say “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” It is like God saying “Guys this is not rocket science…listen to Jesus…Love one another…it is pretty simple”.

 


We so often think as Christians that we have to bring about world peace or cure cancer or some major. When in fact it is in the small acts of love and generosity that is what is being asked. Jesus did not do major things…he did simple acts of love one person at a time. He did not try and change a whole city or town or village…he simply tried to respond generously to the person he met. And so he healed people to give them back their dignity. He forgave people and allowed them to start over. He hugged children, ate with tax collectors and prostitutes and showed them they had incredible value in God’s eyes. And he asked his disciples to do the same.

 


This moment on the mountain together was a simple reminder to come back to the basic message of love. To leave behind the noise and chatter of their world which tried to scare them away from this message. And we also have much noise and chatter that tries to make us fearful, suspicious, look after our own needs only. But the gospel message of Jesus says otherwise. If someone needs to be forgiven, forgive them. If someone needs to be loved, then love them. If they are hungry then feed them. If they are thirsty give them something to drink. If they are alone, marginalized, then be with them and let them know they are not alone. If someone tries to persecute you or get revenge, do not respond with persecution or revenge. That does not advance love.

 


#BeccaToldMeTo brings me back to the basic message of love of neighbor whether we know them or not…like Jesus did. And the season of Lent for us as Christians is about hearing the story of Jesus who went to the cross because of his radical all inclusive love. And the local authorities could not, would not embrace that message because they would have to change their lives. Transfiguration Sunday we celebrate today reminds us we are called to change our attitudes and return to love. And in doing so we transfigure or change not only ourselves but the world…one person at a time.

 


And this morning on the way in I realized that when you look at Becca’s name it could mean:

 

Because

Every

Christian

Cares

Always


Or at least we are called to care always. Lent brings us back to love if we have strayed away. And so Wednesday we begin the journey of Lent once more. Becca is facing her own story of the cross and the tomb and resurrection…and simply asks people to love. And Jesus will face the story of the cross and the tomb and resurrection…and simply asks people to love.

 


And we will continue to love because #BeccaToldMeTo and #JesusToldMeTo. And we hold Becca, Gabrielle, Anne and Darren in our prayers on their journey.

 


Rev. Jeff Doucette

 

How about a real Christmas card this Christmas?

Posted by jeffdoucette on December 28, 2016 at 9:35 AM




“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

― Charles Dickens


This is the great line from Dicken’s classic and my favorite Christmas show “A Christmas Carol”. It is the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge whose heart has been corrupted by money and how it affected his life. Through the visitation of Jacob Marley and three other ghosts he was given the chance to turn his life around and find out that he could make a fresh start.


This quote has stuck in my head as I watched it this year and as I looked at the many Christmas cards I received. I would love us to rethink Christmas cards.  Don;t get me wrong. I love people sending them out to friends and I love those we received as it showed people were thinking of Sandy and I during this season.  But what if we sent Christmas cards that were more realistic that made us think about what the Christmas story really is about.  I don't think that any of the card pictures stood out in my mind...so I want to set th stage for what I am writing about today.


What I love about the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke Chapter 2 is that it is an invitation to change our lives around. It is a story that fulfills the promise of the prophets that a voice would cry out to answer the cries of people in pain. It is the story of God who goes to the margins to meet those most in need. And God moves from the expected places of palaces and royal proclamations to head out into the outlying areas and speaks to Shepherds then to an Inn keeper and Magi and then the word spreads.


Somehow we have let the images of Christmas become glossed over in an often sickening display of poor art or artwork that does not truly depict the message of the Christ story. Perfect pictures of a proper mother-father-child family to give our hearts that warm and fuzzy feeling are not the intent of the Christmas story.


But the story is more than that. It is a forced census to get more money forcing more people to travel to their birth home to be counted. Add to the top of that God has a story in mind that is not our story version. What was God thinking to pick a teenager, an older carpenter to bring a love story to earth. The new King, the Messiah was not an established leader of an army….but a child and a refugee child at that. And the story turned the world upside down taking the halls of power with it on a wild roller coaster ride.


The story at the time by Luke aided by Matthew would begin to weave a tale of intrigue, terror, a reigning King hell bent on keeping power and a family forced to flee for their lives. Yet somehow we have sugar coated the story and diluted it. How do we recapture that story in today’s society.


So I thought what if I made Christmas cards based on today such as the following. Below each picture would be the message on the inside of the card.


(1)




May the Christmas Star lead you like the Magi to the Child.



(2)




Merry Christmas from our home to yours!!!!!



(3)




May the Holy family bless you this wondrous season!



(4)




May you be surrounded by family this Christmas!



(5)




May Hope fill your heart this Christmas story!



(6)




And the Magi knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:11)



(7)



Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

and remained therad you like the Magi to the Child.e until the death of Herod. (Matt 2:14-15a)

 


8. 




 

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you

(Matt 2:13)



 

(9)



May the Christmas star fill you with a love that is inclusive of all!


 

(10) 




May the Christmas story take root in our hearts and move us to justice!


(11)




May the Christ Child asleep in the manger warm your heart this Christmas!



 The sad part is that I am not sure these cards would sell because they are too stark and too real and prick and poke us in ways that we might not want at Christmas. But then again what do we think the Christmas story is truly ment to do? This might be a project for me for next Christmas...we will see how many are willing to buy them.


May the story of the Christ Child prick and poke us to new ways of living the gospel.


Until next time.....


Jeff



Preaching cannot be divided into religious or political...it is religious!

Posted by jeffdoucette on November 20, 2016 at 12:15 AM


I was often criticized during the struggle to end apartheid for being "political" and told by people in and out of church that our place was to be concerned with religious matters. But we were being "religious" not political. It was because we were obeying the imperatives of our faith.

                                          Bishop Desmond Tutu "God Has a Dream" p.64


Preaching is not an easy thing. As someone once said “We are there to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. Preaching week in and week out is not easy. And it is more difficult because I do not write my sermons out. There is no chance to say “I am tired and maybe I will just go back and preach on what I did on this Scripture passage three years ago. To do that is to do a disservice to both the community I serve alongside and also to myself. Neither of us are challenged to grow.


And week after week is a challenge. How do you stir both the listener out in the pew and also myself? I think this is why I love to preach on the gospels so much. Preaching on the life of Jesus never gets old, never gets tired. It comforts me, it challenges me, it makes me squirm and it makes me realize how I fail by times as a follower of Jesus.


Preaching is difficult because I look out at the people gathered and I realize that there are so many different stories going on and there is no way I can touch everyone and speak to what everyone is living. And so I do not try. The rest of the service and the people gathered are part and parcel along with me of the Sunday experience.


People may not like my sermon or be indifferent to it or may love it to pieces. I have no control over people’s reactions. I also realize that people will be touched by music, by the gathering with hospitality, by children’s time, by the scripture passage, by an intimate conversation after in the pews with someone. We all have a place and purpose when we gather.


I remember years ago as a new priest we had an intern in our congregation. He went into his room one day and when he came out at the end of the day he proudly said “I have all my sermons ready for the next 4 or 5 times I have to preach. My jaw dropped. I thought to myself “Is there no room for current events, for events happening in the congregation, etc?” He seemed to take a sermon preparation book and just write…not sure if he just typed what sample they gave or not.


We have just lived through one of the most difficult US election campaigns in modern history. It was divisive, hateful, fear induced. One might say “Oh Jeff we are in Canada!!! What happens to them happens to them”. But all around me that is what Canadians are talking about and so do we just ignore it and say “Well we stick to the gospels, mind our own Canadian business and worry about ourselves”. I can’t and call myself a preacher and a follower of Jesus.


That election touched some very deep pockets of my heart…it bought anger, disbelief, fear, a flood of tears and determination. I could have just rolled up my sleeves and said “Let us just talk about you and me and God. God loves you, God loves me, I love you, you love me…we’re a happy family.” Wait that is part of the Barney song. I can’t just put on blinders. I remember this past May at the Festival of Preaching a number of the presenters who were preachers…implored us to use our voice to combat the hatred and division. How could we as ministers stay silent and allow someone else to use the gospel as a tool to divide rather than unite.


Interesting how the federal government and the CRA discourage ministers from being political in congregations. I respond like Bishop Tutu and ask how can we as ministers separate the message of Jesus into…well that is political and that is religious…I ask you? The message of Jesus was God loves you and by times that is very political when people tell you that you don’t matter. How do you stay silent.


Last week I baptized two babies and when I preach at baptisms I carry a baby in my arms and talk to them. I spoke to this little girl and told her of even though she might not understand what had just happened in the US…that I wanted to counter those words. The words of Donald Trump were divisive and hateful and they went against the gospel. Do I stay silent and allow him to bully me as a preacher? No way.


I countered the words with sharing our mission statement from our Affirming process which promised to welcome unconditionally and to never stop. I would embrace diversity as a gift and lift up the lowly and stare into their eyes with love and tell them they mattered deeply to God. I promised her that this community would always choose the gospel and love. We would love our Muslim neighbors, we would value women and embrace the LGBTQ community. We would choose love over fear and hatred.


And this Sunday on this feast of Reign of Christ once again we are challenged in our understanding of the Jesus story. The Roman authorities chose and valued power over people, belittling them and crushing their spirit. Jesus chose love, the broken, the forgotten. Jesus embraced the prisoner on the cross and promised him a place in God’s kingdom of love. He did not back down, but stared into the face of power and chose the path of love. And how can I look into the face of division and hatred and not responds as Jesus did? I cannot and call myself a follower of Jesus, a minister of word, sacrament and pastoral care. I was moved by the number of Clergy who went to protest  the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock along with the Indigenous people and many other activists. 


And so when those moments arrive and the gospel calls me to speak truth where truth does not want to be heard I will do so. We are coming into the season of Advent starting next week. Advent is a season of disruption…of staring into the face of society who values power and control and instead speak of a God who will once more break into the midst of pain and suffering. We will hear the story of God not speaking to Royalty and royal courts to announce the birth, but to lowly Shepherds in the hills of a countryside and in a place where animals took shelter.


And that story stirs my heart and my imagination as preacher and calls me to take the message of God’s love to every corner of brokenness and fear and division and hate and infuse it with love. Oh and by the way…that is not only my job…but the responsibility of every Christian to do the same.


Until the next time,

 


Jeff

 


The ordination of Pat as a woman priest: A sacred moment to remember.

Posted by jeffdoucette on November 13, 2016 at 12:25 AM

 






 

There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church…well actually seven for men and six for women as ordination is not open to women. Let that sink in for a moment!

                                (I have quoted this often)



Oh it was an incredible moment for me…being part of the ordination of a women priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Her name is Pat and she is a retired school teacher who felt called to be a priest. So first let me say that there are some who do not like that I write about Women’s ordination feeling where I am no longer a priest I really do not have the right. Some feel I am being disrespectful or berating the church. But just the opposite. I am asking for dialogue. My argument for dialogue is that the Catholic Church has said it’s deepest desire is for union of all Christian churches to become one. But on her terms. So with that I ask “What do we do with women ministers from other denominations?” among other questions. And so it is with love that I have this dialogue with the church I grew up in and that formed me and shaped me and ordained me.



I will get to Pat’s ordination in a moment but let me set the stage for why this was so important to be present. You see as a former member of the Catholic male clergy for 14 years as a deacon and priest I always advocated for the inclusion and ordination of women priests. There is nothing in the bible that forbids women in the church. Lots have tried to explain that Jesus never chose women as his disciples as proof. But again this does not speak against women’s ordination but rather the patriarchal aspect of the time of Jesus. And we truly do not have the full story of Jesus yet the early Christian communities spoke of how women acted in these capacities as house churches. There would have been no language of ordination such as today. But the church has held on to Canon law #1024 which states that “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly”. Yet many denominations who at one time held the same position changed to embrace women as ordained ministers and have never looked back thanking God for their gifts to church congregations.



And so it was in this spirit that I eagerly asked if I could attend Pat’s ordination into the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement in Toronto last Sunday. I have attended two masses presided by Cathy and Roberta who are also women priests. I have also with a wide smile been able to be present when Bishop Marie Bouclin who is the first Canadian woman bishop has presided (including this ordination).



I want to say that all of these four women are wonderful, humble, loving justice seeking priests. They have no disrespect for the church, but rather a strong calling to be priests and have followed God’s calling. I might add they go through the same theological training as men for priesthood. Their desire is to be inclusive and to minister to all of God’s people. They believe they are part of the church’s apostolic succession as a result of what is called the “Event on the Danube”. Rome does not consider their ordinations to be valid but the women disagree in respectful dissent.



And so on this beautiful sunny November day I made my way along with our church music director who had agreed to play music for them. My heart was full and my spirit excited to be here. I had been asked by the women priests if I would participate and I gladly said yes. I stood at the back of the Roncesville United church where they hold their Eucharist on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month. I greeted people as they came in chatting with them. And then from the side in came Pat with a grin so wide it was hard to imagine how she could get in the door. She came over and gave me a big hug. I had sent her a note introducing myself to her as I would be the one placing the chausable over her head after the laying on of hands. As her family came in they said “You must be Jeff…Pat forwarded us your wonderful letter to her.”



It finally came time to begin and as I processed in with Roberta and Cathy and Linda…we were followed by Deacon Pat and Bishop Marie. And how wonderful to hear the choice of music was “Here I am Lord”. It was my choice as an opening song for my own priestly ordination in 1994. I thought why would Pat not hear God’s voice calling in the night as we sang the familiar refrain. Why would the church think God would only call men in the night?



And as we began to hear the Scripture read I began to smile once more. Pat had chosen the gospel reading of the Samaritan woman at the well. It was also my choice of gospel when I was ordained a priest in 1994. I love the invite to living water, to drink deeply with Jesus who would sit by the well with those on the margins and call them to be witnesses to this living water. And he was sitting with a woman!!!!! Bishop Marie was bang on with her homily as she lamented the words of Pope Francis saying that the question of women priests was closed. He quoted Pope John Paul II as closing the door on the subject. I smiled thinking…well when the doors of the Sistine chapel tried to close, the Holy Spirit stuck her foot in the door and managed to dance in and Argentinian cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen as pope. He has chosen the name Francis and has been doing his best to bring new life and a new spirit to the church. I find hope that recently he has agreed to proceed with a discussion about the possibility of women deacons. Maybe if that goes through…the church will see “What were we so worried about?” and realize that the women priest movement was like the early Christian communities moving forward in faith and embracing the Spirit as the disciples at Pentecost.



As we prepared to invoke God’s Spirit for the laying on of hands we sang the ancient song called the Litany of the Saints. I always love this piece because it invokes the story of the Christian Church. In invokes the stories of people of faith who were stepped up in faith in the midst of fear and persecution and followed God and their heart. The names of ancient men and women being sung and we in response singing pray for us. For me the Litany of the Saints is an invitation to dance in faith, the joining of faith stories ancient and present to invoke God’s Spirit once more this day. I smiled as I heard the ancient names but also modern names like John 23rd who called for the throwing open of the windows to allow the Spirit to blow in and renew the church. I heard the name of Oscar Romero who stood eye to eye with the church and government and stood in solidarity with the poor. And when I heard them name the story of Henri Nouwen in the Litany of the Saints I broke down in tears. Henri was not only a Dutch priest and theologian but he was a member of L’Arche Daybreak who spent his final days writing and providing daily care to people with developmental disabilities. Henri was a man of great love and great Spirit and his spiritual writings have touched my story and the stories of many others. And I was doing so well until this point…lol!



And then Bishop Marie invited us into the time of laying on of hands. This was not only extended to the clergy as happens when a male is ordained priest. No…Marie invited all of us to come forward to lay hands and ask God’s Spirit t come upon Pat. It took me back to my own ordination as priest. I had invited the local clergy from the United church and Anglican Church. The United church minister was Marion Davies, a women minister. And as I knelt before the bishop and priests came forward to lay hands…a set of hands came upon my head and Marion’s gentle voice said “God’s Spirit be with you Jeff”. I smiled and thought “Oh I am going to hear about this!” And I did! The Bishop mentioned it to me and I responded with a smile “Andre, I had my eyes closed in prayer!” Some of the priests teased asking if I was now a priest or an ordained United church minister. How the irony of my story these years later as a United Church minister. It was wonderful to lay hands on Pat and I whispered “God’s Spirit be with you Pat!”.



And then I was asked to vest the newly ordained priest with her chausable and stole. And it took me back to the feeling of this time when I was ordained and my close friends Jeannette and John got to do the same thing to me. And the vestments fit Pat so well and not from the sense of tailored…but fit her calling as a priest. God had clothed her in this new part of her journey of faith.


And when it came time for Communion to see her there with her sister priests and Bishop Marie…well it was like the early church in front of my eyes. A small gathering of people on the threshold of something new and holy and sacred and right. The Eucharistic prayer was inclusive and spirit filled and involved that meal so long ago between Jesus and his disciples. And this was not a defiant act…but women who were following their heart, their call and truly believing in this gathering. And so did we who gathered there and broke bread and shared the cup. We sang One Bread, One Body…Gentile or Jew…woman or man and we were the early disciples once more.



I know Rome for whatever their reasons struggle with opening the door to women as priests. I cannot understand it for I once walked those steps as a priest. I do not know if it is a fear of losing power, or when a private men’s club begins to let in women and there is a sense of a loss. I cannot understand it, my heart does not understand it and my brain does not understand it.





What I know from when I was a priest is that many churches had no priest. And priests often had many parishes. I myself ministered to four when I left and the constant running, fatigue of body and Spirit could be crushing. I only had love and an offer of living water like Jesus to the Samaritan Woman. But one could only do so much. I had often gathered with women ministers and saw how they brought life to their churches. I look back at our own United Church and how at one point we struggled with ordaining women. Now? We can’t imagine church in any other way. To deny women to be ordained is like trying to breathe with one lung. To deny women to be ordained is to deny God to be defined in any other way than male. To deny Pat to be ordained is like invoking God’s Spirit into our midst and then trying to tell it what to do. And good luck with that!!!!!!

And all I can say is that this day…the day Pat was ordained a priest…was good and sacred and holy and of God. And I thank Bishop Marie and Pat and Cathy and Roberta and Linda for allowing this man to crash the celebration and dance the dance of God’s love.

May Spirit guide us and walk with us and whisper…”Do not be afraid…I am with you!” and may we embrace this Spirit which gives courage to speak our hearts. And may Pat be blessed and a blessing as she begins her ministry.

Oh…and stay tuned because our United Church of Dunbarton-Fairport in Pickering has agreed to provide space for the creation of a new woman priest led community. And let the church say AMEN!


With love,

 

 



Jeff

 


An Epiphany reflection on our Open House Fundraiser

Posted by jeffdoucette on January 5, 2016 at 5:15 PM

                       Epiphany by Stushie Art



In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 6‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” 7Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

                Matthew 2



The day had grown short and it was dark and with only the light shining in the east they set out from the comfort they knew. But it was time to leave. They set out because of the event foretold. They travelled with little direction hoping they might arrive at the place spoken of. But they went astray and did not land where and they had expected. The directions were solid it seemed according to their charts and maps…but they arrived later than expected but they finally arrived. Some doubted and ended up calling before they arrived…others ended up going north, then west, then finally east. Some ended up in Peterborough…wait a minute…Peterborough in the Middle East?


Wait this is not the story of the Magi, travelling East in Luke’s gospel arriving late after the birth of Jesus. This is about a group of travellers who left for the open house fundraiser for refugee support at our home. Some were lost, some arrived early, some came later, some never made it, some surprised us by arriving when we did not know they would come. But we all came together to a feast of food, light and community to benefit strangers preparing to leave their country to come to us to start new.


And the group gathered were not all church people from DFUC…there was extended family, and card party friends of my in-laws, and neighbors and child hood friends and some of our friends and even people new to us. But this night we gathered under one roof and we shared food and drink and marvelled at the lights and décor and shared stories and hopes and dreams. It was like a little community unto itself this night.


And we all came with our own individual life stories and faith paths for one purpose…to help people we had never met come from a country we had never visited…because our hearts told us it was the right thing to do.


And this night we heard stories of people who had gathered with joy…and some with hearts weighed down by worry and pain. And yet every time a knock came to the door…my father-in law jumped to action to greet and take coats and another directed them to a set and offered food and drink as they joined in the conversation. And my heart leapt as a young child arrived to bury herself in hugging me and then opened her hands and gave me $1.10 to help support Teame and Amine our refugee brothers. And the gospel story of the women giving all she had came to life.


People moved around and mingled and spoke to one another and reconnected or made new connections and went up and down stairs entering new conversations. And all of a sudden I realized the Magi story had come to life…Magi came meeting shepherds and local villagers and the Spirit of Mary, Joseph and the child…yet you could not tell who was who because we were them all this night.


This night Luke’s story had come to life…a common story had gathered us from everywhere and hospitality was exchanged by many people. The weary traveller was greeted and brought into shelter. Stories were shared…both spoken and unspoken. And the star or the light that bought them here would lead them back out the door.


And people ask me…was that gospel story real? These gospel stories will always be real when we place our story in the midst of the story being told and unfolded and lived. These gospel stories take on real meaning when we open ourselves to the journey. There will always be travellers and the choice to welcome them or not, to offer food and shelter and a chance to share their story. And epiphanies can happen…in the awakenings on the way to and back to our homes, awakenings in the stories spoken and shared and listened to…and our faith path can be found and rekindled. This is how the stories of the gospel stay real. So follow that star you Magi and Shepherds and Innkeepers and feisty prophets and be like those who dare look heavenward and dream. And who dear even more to be foolish and set out and follow a star shining so brightly in the sky.

 


Jeff

 


A love letter to Teame and Amine our refugee brothers from Eritera

Posted by jeffdoucette on December 21, 2015 at 5:45 AM






On this Fourth Sunday of Love I decided to write a love letter to Teame and Amine our refugee family of two brothers as yet to arrive....

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour

 

             (Luke Ch 1)






Dear Teame and Amine,


We have not yet had the chance to meet…nor have we even had the chance to talk and hear one another’s voice. Yet already I can feel a connection to you…I feel as if I already know you in some small way.


You do not know me, nor our group that will sponsor you as family. You only know that someone in some far away land has agreed to help you at this point in your life journey.


I know little of your story. I know you are brothers and that your life has not been easy and you have made the choice to leave your home, your family, your way of life and your country. I know that because of political and religious persecution you do not feel safe and you made the life changing decision to leave the familiar, the known. I hear that you were small business owners and probably had familiar people who came to you…people who might have been your family, your neighborhood friends or people visiting where you lived. I wonder what you might have sold. My wife and I love to shop at small local shops. And then your life changed


I know that your country was Eritera, nestled in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Sudan. I know your country went through political upheaval and that there was much corruption with the new government and that you no longer felt safe there. I cannot even begin to understand what it must be like not to feel a sense of safety in one’s life.


I think a lot about what you must be wondering. Like who has sponsored you…and why? I wonder about the emotion you must have felt when you got the news from the Visa Office. Were you happy? Excited? Relieved? Sad? Afraid?


Let me tell you a bit about our group. We are made up of two Christian churches in Canada that are part of the United Church of Canada. Our names are Dunbarton-Fairport church and Pickering Village church. Pickering Village United is a neighboring Church and we have begun a wonderful friendship with them. And guess what…we teamed up with the local Mosque called the Pickering Islamic Center. Our church and their church have been great friends for more than 10 years at least and we work on common projects. They are a wonderful, peaceful loving Muslim community that reach out to people in need. I am actually going to have lunch with their community after church today.


So why are we helping to sponsor you? The simple answer is that this is what we do. We respond to people in need and with great love and great generosity. As Christians and followers of Jesus, we try and imitate him and his life story and live by his teachings. His teachings were brought down to one simple command: “Love God and Love neighbor” and we believe we cannot love God truly if we first cannot love our neighbor…even if we have never met that neighbor.


For us neighbor has been in those who come to the local food bank we donate to. They might be living on an isolated First Nation reserves hundreds of miles away. They might come into homeless shelters for men or women or children or into VAW shelters. They might come pregnant or having children been born seeking help. They might be gay, lesbian or transgender and have been rejected by their family or church. They might be people who are living with addictions or are family trying to cope. They might be young children living on the Autism spectrum who come to our respite program or who are part of our church family. They may be people living with differing abilities, people who are grieving, who are survivors of abuse. They may be people who live in poverty or are displaced and come in needing our help. They may be living with mental illness. We do our best to respond with great love because we believe they are neighbor even if we do not know them.


This morning we are reading a story from our bible between Mary and Elizabeth, two cousins who were both pregnant with significant babies. One would be called John the Baptist and the other would be known as Jesus. When Mary found out she was pregnant with Jesus she went to be with her cousin and found her to be with child also. There must have been much laughter as they shared their stories with one another and yet both knew their children would be part of a greater story affecting many people. I love to think that Mary was not a meek and mild person thinking she had no other choice. I love to think that Mary smiled a mischievous smile when she said yes to the angel to give birth to Jesus. The song Mary sang became a defiant song of hope against political and religious oppression that would bring hope to a world in despair.


And the incredible part of this story was that Jesus was born a refugee. His parents Mary and Joseph gave birth in a place that was not his home and they found out the local political power wanted him dead and tried to find him. They had to travel through foreign countries for their lives until they found safety and peace.


And this is why we want to help you. We want you, like Mary to sing a song of defiant hope in the midst of your own political and religious persecution. We are helping you as a refugee family because Jesus was part of a refugee family. We are not the biggest church, nor the most well known church, nor the most popular church…but we are a church that loves. And as part of that gospel commitment to love we have been working very hard to make our church a space safe for all people. Out of our desire to love as Jesus asked us to do we have pledged to welcome everyone regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, differing attributes and abilities both physical and mental, cultural identity or economic circumstance. I do not mean only our church space…but wherever we go as church we make a safe space.


We do want you to know that we are not sure if you are Muslim or Christian or practice any faith, nor did we ask. That is not our business but your own journey. We have no expectations of you to become part of our church family. We only wanted you to know why we said yes to help you begin a new life.


We imagine that this is not your first choice to come to Canada. We are sure your first choice is to be able to live in peace and safety in your home country of Eritera…but this is not possible. So we hope you will find a home in Canada and this wonderful community called Pickering.


I hear you may speak fluent English…but you will hear strange words such as “Double Double”…”Blue Jays”…”Maple Leafs”…the “X” and “some cold eh?” but before long you will find your place. And my dream for you is that you will know you are loved, and you are welcome and you are safe. And most importantly you are no longer a refugee…you are a Canadian. May you breathe out and breathe in the love we have for you.


Mary and Elizabeth would both find out their children would be a gift stirring love inside them. I thank you for stirring LOVE in us…for reminding us of the refugee story we will tell this week on Christmas Eve. Like Mary and Elizabeth who are pregnant in the Scriptures this morning…you are pregnant with possibilities. We are midwives, here to help you give birth to your hopes and dreams. And we do so with great love and respect.


And so I await with great hope and excitement and joy the words “They have a flight and will be here soon”. We wish you a safe journey to us and know many people are excited to help you make home...oh yes and one more thing…because I can never say this enough. You are so loved!

 


With love,

 

 


Rev. Jeff, pastor of this wonderful church family I call

Dunbarton-Fairport United Church in Pickering, ON.



 


No to fear and yes to love!

Posted by jeffdoucette on November 20, 2015 at 8:30 AM




44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’    Matthew 25:44-45


 

A reality check on fear of Refugee Sponsorship which has taken on a ridiculous amount of verbal wrangling came on my cousin Trent’s facebook page this week. Trent is a proud member of the Maliseet First Nation from Tobique, NB. It went as follows:


Nancy Arsenault

   Seeing all the hate written and shared on facebook, it makes me want to say a huge shout out to all my aboriginal friends. Thank you for not having the same opinion as a lot of people have when we, the Acadians, came as refugees to this country. We were also running from people who wanted to harm us and I'm certain it must have been terrifying for all of you knowing by protecting us, you may have been putting yourselves in harms way. Instead of letting us freeze to death in this cold climate, you taught us how to live off the land. You gave us shelter and also shared whatever food you had. When the enemy found out where we were hiding, again, you could have told us to leave to protect yourselves. You didn't, you took us deeper in the forest and showed us what true humanity looks like. So today, I say thank you to all Aboriginals who showed tolerance, acceptance and love to the French Acadians who came here as refugees .

 


As a Christian minister my heart is deeply saddened at how fear and prejudice has taken over from the past few weeks. I am the first to acknowledge the pain and fear that might be within us after numerous attacks throughout the world over the past week especially. But fear has never been a core tenet of our faith for two thousand years. It has been there, but we have turned to scriptures and the generous response of fellow disciples to over come it.

 


So now all of a sudden for some reason we have allowed Refugees to become the target and response to our fear. Both here and in the US…two places that were built on the backs of stories of immigrants have pockets of people turning their backs on reason and turning to fear as an answer.  And we need to remember that we are all immigrants here in Canada having been welcomed by Indigenous people as we were reminded above by Nancy. And what is painful is to see how that fear has turned to burning mosques, smashing hindu temple doors, pushing innocent Muslim mothers to the ground or insulting them on transit.

 


But I refuse to let that get to me or make me bitter or even to lash out at critics. Instead I will put my heart and soul and dig in all the more to respond to the gospel passage above where our faith response is put to the true litmus test. I will continue to forge deep friendships among our Muslim sisters and brothers at our local mosque. I will continue to forge friendships among our multi faith community through our COFAA group. And I will especially continue to move forward encouraging our new Beginnings: Interfaith Refugee Sponsorship group as we work to welcome to brothers 39 and 27 from Eritera in the Horn of Africa who seek peace and a new home in Canada.

 


I will let the government do their security vetting and Canadian Immigration do the proper work needed to ensure we are safe as they have been doing for decades. And we as a Christian community will do our part, raise money and raise awareness and gather and meet with great excitement building friendships with our partners as we prepare for the arrival of the two brothers.

 


I encourage us to take a deep breath, not to ignore the news, but to definitely know that some people choose to live in fear and ignorance of those that are difference. We will not be able to change them and personally I do not have the desire to waste my energy there. Instead I will work to do what I was called to do, encourage our people to respond to the stranger with generosity and love. I will live the words to the song Ubi Caritas et amor, Ubi caritas Deus ibi est…Where Charity and love is found, God is there.

 


Until the next time….Let us love one another.

 


Jeff

 


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