7, Year B
Scripture: Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26; John 17: 6 - 19
United Church, June 1, 2003
Reverend Judith M. Evenden.
Together: You Are Beautiful." These five words comprised
the theme which flowed throughout the gathering, last weekend,
of the 79th Annual Meeting of Toronto Conference. Our
meeting this year took place in the Crown Plaza Hotel right
here in Toronto, and was graciously hosted by Don Valley Presbytery.
Together: You Are Beautiful." Such a theme invited
us to take time to breathe, to reflect, to pray and sing together,
as we went about the tasks, the business, that always comes
before this yearly gathering of lay and order of ministry leaders
of our United Church. "Breathing Together: You are
This was no easy goal for a group of almost
five hundred people who had to pass a budget, deal with motions,
resolutions, and petitions to General Council and choose leaders
President of Toronto Conference, the Reverend John Lee wrote
a letter to those of us who would be attending the meeting.
This letter introduced the theme: "Breathing Together:
You Are Beautiful", and laid out some of his hopes for
our time together. I wish to read to you some of his opening
and closing remarks in this letter. "
God's creation narrative, we find that God already created all
things good and made us in God's image. In this story,
the breath/wind/Spirit of God was with God's creation of all
things. This same Spirit was with Jesus' proclamation
of the good news of God and with this Spirit, Jesus affirmed
his great commission, "not my will, but thy will be done."
This Spirit leads us to the ministry of "That They
May All Be One". (This phrase is found in John's
gospel, chapter 17, verse 21, and also is found on the United
are called to reveal God's work (John 9:3). It is to live
out Christ's peace through justice, reconciliation and healing
with the Spirit. As we breathe together as One Spirit
with Hope, God's good creation will be revealed. During
the last year, as I visited every corner of the Conference,
I realized that tremendous gifts were left hidden. These
are God's unique gifts in each of us and they need to be woven
into a beautiful masterpiece. Sharing stories means to recognize
these gifts as God-given and to value them, to make our church
into one body of Christ. In this faith journey, we will
discover "who we are" as the carriers of God's image....Respecting
others, recognizing their differences, and valuing them as God's
gift will enable us to journey as one body. It is our
humble journey of trusting God's good creation. In this
our journey, we will be breathing together as One Spirit, and
we will surely find God's beauty in each one of us, and will
say, "You are beautiful!" In this mutual affirmation,
we will celebrate God's presence in our ministry with saying
'Thanks be to God'." (end quote)
Lee had high hopes for us last weekend. He very much wanted,
I believe, this eclectic group of lay and clergy persons to
truly breathe together, see the beauty in each other, and
discern God's will for us as we received reports, discussed
motions, resolutions and petitions, and made decisions for the
future. To that end, he offered to us, along with his
hopes, a concrete process which, if we were open to it engage
fully with it, would provide us with moments for the kind of
breathing together that can only happen when we truly wait upon
the Spirit of God to speak to us.
did this happen? Well, first of all you need to have in
your mind's eye a picture of our setting. About 500 of
us were gathered in the main ball room of the Crown Plaza Hotel
near the Don Valley and Eglinton. We were seated at circular
tables in groups of six to eight people. W were free to
choose where and with whom we sat. As happens at
most Church gatherings, including most Sunday morning worship
services, where people ended up Friday night is where they stayed
for the rest of weekend. I was blessed with the company
of both old friends and new ones.
delegate was issued a voting card. This neon orange piece
of card stock has our names clearly printed on the front. "Voting
card for Judith Evenden". This was ticket or passport
for decision making. Having a voting card at Conference
is not new, but what was new was the information contained under
our name. Discernment Listening Guidelines: The goal of
spiritual discernment is to receive God's guidance. There
is a list of ten guidelines.
time to become settled in God's presence.
to others with your entire self (senses, feelings, intuition,
imagination, and rational faculties).
between speakers to absorb what has been said.
not formulate what you want to say while someone else is speaking.
for yourself only, expressing your own thoughts and feelings,
referring to your own experiences. Avoid being hypothetical.
Steer away from broad generalizations.
not challenge what others say. (I can tell you that this
one caused considerable discussion at my table group!)
to the group as a whole - to those who have not spoken aloud
as well as to those who have.
leave space for anyone who may want to speak a first time before
speaking a second time yourself.
your desires and opinions - even your convictions - lightly.
of us read over the guidelines, and while we were all still
holding our breath, for we certainly weren't breathing together
at this point, the President explained how we would try to live
out these guidelines during our time together. As he explained
it, this was the process we were going to follow.
each report, petition, resolution or motion was presented, the
main mover, that is the person who was making the motion, would
have three minutes to explain why they thought this action was
important. Their explanation was followed by a time for
¡®questions for clarification'. In other words, we could
ask questions about the issue, but we were not allow to make
speeches about whether or not we liked the idea. Our questions
were answered by the presenter, or by others who were part of
the process of bringing the motion to us.
all our questions were asked and answered, we then had the option
of having time for discussion at our table groups. The
amount of time for discussion was dependent upon the number
of hands that went up when the President asked if we wanted
table group discussion. If there was even one person requesting
small group discussion, we would have it. One hand meant
about one minute for dialogue. If there were many hands
we might spend as much as ten minutes to chat amongst ourselves,
following, as well as we could, the ten guidelines, trying to
listen well to each other and to God's Spirit working amongst
next step was open floor discussion by all present. We
were invited to go to one of three microphones on the
conference floor and express our opinions, in favour or against
the decision that was before us. The only restriction,
we had to do in ninety seconds or less. After ninety seconds,
a the countdown clearly visible on a large screen in front of
us, the microphone was turned off. (All I can say is that
I am glad the off switch for the pulpit microphone is right
in front of me!) At the end of our discussion, a time
determined either by there being no one left at the microphone
to speak, or when the President felt we were beginning to repeat
ourselves, he called for a moment of silent reflection for us
to discern the Spirit of God and to privately pray for direction
in the matter before us. We held silence for one full minute.
silence was hard for some. But I believe it was the most
important part of our debates, for it provided a clear and concrete
time when we were actually invited to breathe together and listen,
really listen, for God to speak and direct us. After the
minute of silence our worship leaders lead us in a sung chorus.
These songs included words which were very reflective.
We sang: "Wait for the Lord, God's day is near. Wait
for the Lord, be strong, take heart!" and we sang, "O
God hear my prayer, O God hear my prayer: when I call answer
me. O God, hear my prayer. O God, hear my prayer:
come and listen to me."
soon as the singing ended, in that moment when we were all breathing
silently together, the President said: "All in favour of
the motion raise your voting cards. All opposed raise
your cards." And the decision was declared carried
attended annual meetings of three Conferences since 1985, I
can honestly say that this was the first time that I have ever
experienced a group of people, of Christians, really working
hard to listen to each other and seeking to hear God's Spirit
working with us. While I know this process was not easy
for everyone, it provided a means for discussion which was more
considered, respectful and prayerful than what has been my experience
in any other meeting, large or small. We did breath together,
and we were and we are beautiful because of it.
what does all of this have to do "Choosing Our Leaders"
both the title for this sermon and the subject matter of our
reading from Acts this morning? As I looked back over
the agenda of last weekend's meeting, I realized that much of
our time was spent choosing our leaders. Unlike the disciples
who cast lots to choose the replacement for Judas, we engaged
in a process of listening, both to those who names were put
before us, and listening for God to direct our decisions.
process began long before our meeting was ever called to order.
For some of our new leaders it began years ago when they
first heard God calling them into the Ministry of Word, Sacrament
and Pastoral Care. Friday night we heard from seventeen
women and men who wanted to be chosen as those who would be
ordained on Saturday night at a Celebration of Ministries Service
at Timothy Eaton United Church. AT the same time we were
also introduced and heard from a group 5 women and men, who,
although already Ordained ministers, we asking us to choose
to be Ministers of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral Care within
the United Church of Canada. We listened to each of them,
as they tried to condense their message into one minute, and
then we listen for God's Spirit. After the ballots were
cast, we, in effect, said to each one of them "Yes.
You are beautiful, come and be one of us as a leader in
our faith community."
leader we had to choose was the President Elect for Toronto
Conference, the one who will be installed as President at the
end of the meeting next spring. Again, this journey of
choosing began long before our meeting ever started. It
began with people discerning God's direction for their lives
and whether or not being in this position of leadership, one
that is really a three year commitment, was a gift they had
to offer. Two were nominated, two spoke to us, and one
was chosen. The Reverend Michael Kooiman of Scarborough
Presbytery is our President Elect.
summer, in Wolfville Nova Scotia, the 38th General Council of
the United Church of Canada will be holding its meeting. Last
weekend we listened and choose 19 lay persons and 19 members
of the Order of Ministry to represent Toronto Conference at
General Council. We also elected a new Lay Representative
for the General Council Executive, a six year commitment for
Paul Stott of Trinity St. Paul's United Church.
you see, much of our work last weekend was about choosing our
leaders. We did this work prayerfully, with laughter and a few
tears, and by listening, discerning God's direction for us and
for those who stood before us.
me, the most powerful moment of the weekend was not while we
were choosing our leaders, but rather, when our retiring leaders
were offering their words of final farewell. However,
I believe the power of this moment was made possible because
of the time we had already spent listening, discerning, praying
and singing together. "One
more step along the world I go, one more step along the world
I go, from the old things to the new, keep me travelling along
with you: And it's from the old I travel to the new; keep me
travelling along with you." It was with this hymn
that we began the worship service titled: "In Celebration
of Those Retiring." After singing, we prayed together:
God, you have blessed our lives with your care and goodness.
You have given us life and breath; you have given us people
to love, and to journey with on the way. Through Jesus
Christ, you have shared you mission, and have given gifts of
faith, courage, and strength. In your love, you have given
us the seasons of our lives: a time for work as well as a time
for rest, a time for activity as well as a time for reflection.
Today we thank you for all the ministers and the ministries
of our United Church of Canada, especially for those we honour
today for their faithfulness and service in your name. Bless
them and us in this time of celebration and thanks. We
pray in Christ, Amen."
this prayer we were introduced to the Retirees and they were
invited, one by one, to offer words of reflection, in 60 seconds
or less, completing the following sentence: "My Gift to
the next generation of ministers..." After many years
in ministry, these talented women and men offered profound gifts,
not just to the new ministers, but to all of us present. As
this congregation begins it's journey of choosing a new spiritual
leader, I wish to gift you with their words. May these
words of wisdom guide you as you choose your leader. "My
gift to the next generation of ministers..."
Paul Dempsey, retiring from Bracebridge United, Muskoka Presbytery:
"Just enough trouble to deepen your relationship with God."
From Shirley Dyck, retiring from Glebe Road United, Toronto
"Love your congregation as you love yourself".
Ralph Garbe, retiring from Central United, York Presbytery -
"The gift of Jesus Christ in your life".
Hanssmann, retiring from Deutsche Evangeliums Kirche or German
United Church, Toronto South Presbytery: "The words of
2 Timothy 2: 15 "Do your best to present yourself
to God as one approved by God, a worker who has no need to be
ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth."
McElinney, retiring from Davenport-Perth United Church and the
Davenport-Perth Community Ministry of Toronto West Presbytery:
"To hear the Gospel again through the ears of those you
From Janet MacPherson, retiring from Chaplaincy
in a Nursing Home in Toronto South Presbytery: "Don't plan
your career. Go where God needs you."
Keeler, whose retiring information I could not find: "Faith
until it becomes providence".
From Ann Morwood, retiring
from Leaside United, Don Valley Presbytery: "The gift of
laughter when the world seems mad.", and these words from
Micah 6:8 - "What does the Lord require of you but to do
justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your
From Lawrence Pushee, retiring from Glen Rhodes United
in Toronto South Presbytery: "Flotation devices, in whatever
way you imagine them, be they water wings or the wings of God's
eagles. And be open to the unexpected, upon which Lawrence
sat down at the grand piano and played the beginning of the
"Teddy Bear's Picnic". "If you go down
to the woods today You're sure of a big surprise."
Philip Rogers, retiring from Forest Grove United, Don Valley
Presbytery: "The gift of Patience and the words of Sondheim's
song, "Send in the Clowns." "Isn't it rich,
aren't we a pair, Me here at last on the ground - and you in
mid-air, Send in the clowns."
And finally, from Wenh-Ig
Ng, a retiring Professor from Emmanuel College: "With deep
gratitude and in quiet hope I share with you, fellow pilgrims
in ministry, the gift of a spirituality of "emptiness"....and
the wisdom that comes from these words of the Dao De Jing: Shape
clay into a vessel: it is the shape within that
makes it useful. Cut doors and windows for a room: it is the
holes that make them useful. Therefore, profit comes from what
is there; Usefulness, from what is not there. Thanks be
to the One who is present in what is not there as well as in
what it there. Amen.
these gifts and many more, be given to all of us as we continue
our journey in faith, breathing together, for together
we are beautiful. Amen and Amen.