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Posts Tagged ‘caring’

Once a year the Congregation gathers to pass a new budget for the year.  We gather to share our stories because I find looking at numbers on a page does not inspire me.  I want to know the story of the people I serve and after 7+ years in the congregation, I know many of those stories.

We compile our reports into a Vestry book that each parishioner receives.  A copy also goes to Church House so the Bishops can read them.  And they do.  When I arrived at this church the reports all seemed to revolve around money and the lack thereof.  While I understand that I am the largest expense, it’s also difficult to truly “record” what it is I do.

I find myself uncomfortable when I look at the numbers for attendance.  We are growing; we are attracting new people and families every year.  We have children coming to Church…not every week, but they are coming.  Many of our new members are active in the congregation and to me, that’s an exciting thing.  On the down side of that, our congregation is aging and many of the workers from years past are dying.  They are dying faster than we are attracting new members.

It would be reasonable to lament our shrinking numbers, our decreasing donor base, but instead there is a feeling of great hope in the congregation.  We are active, we are alive!  We care for each other and we share our stories.  But that isn’t measurable, which can be very frustrating to people like me.  I see numbers on a page, but those numbers themselves, don’t tell a story.  We need to add a narrative piece in order to balance the measurable and the immeasurable.

Last year’s Vestry was a challenge.  We had two sections of roof that needed replacing.  We had fewer members than the year before with four well-known and well-loved members dying through the year.  Parish Council brought the budget to vestry and it was projecting a deficit.  A decision was made to lower our Diocesan Apportionment and raise our budgeted givings.  At the time I wasn’t sure we could do it.  I prayed that we would, but honestly, I wasn’t convinced.

When we sat down, as a council with our treasurer and looked at the amount that was given by our congregation I was astounded.  We surpassed the originally budgeted amount by $10,000.  Not only did we meet the newly forecasted amount, we surpassed it.  AND we paid more Apportionment than the modified budget.  Not 100% of the full amount, but closer to 80%.  And that was a huge feat.

As I reflect on where the congregation is now, as compared to where we were when I arrived, the change is phenomenal.  The tone of the congregation is that we can do it.  We want to be vibrant and a necessary part of the community.  We have learned to trust each other again and not fear the stranger.  In short, we have learned again to be a family.  None of that is measurable in black and white, but it is emotionally and spiritually measurable.

This year’s Vestry will have a different tone than that of year’s past.  We will be concentrating on our abundance and celebrating our accomplishments.  We will encourage the congregation to give with all they have; through prayer, attendance, financial support and ministries.

We have learned that we are better together; and together we can change the world!  What a journey this has been and will be as we go forward.

Thanks be to God!

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The last few weeks have been unbelievably busy.  Emotional roller-coasters as we grow the family of God through the rites of Baptism.  As we vigil with those who are dying.  As we journey with those who struggle in their faith.  As we celebrate with couples who are marrying; all the while engaging on a deep emotional family with the families in the congregation and the community as a whole.

Last week I spent some time each morning at a large hotel in the City, addressing the mass of 700 ladies who were gathered for their provincial convention.  The first day I gave them a blessing and made some comments (some humourous observations) on society as a whole.  On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I “warmed up” the room as those in charge were trying to get the last minute preparations in place.  When the leaders were ready to start, I said a prayer, invoking a benediction and went on my way.

Most mornings after the hotel I was back at the Church for study or at the hospital holding vigil with a family.  The struggles in not wanting a loved-one to die and yet knowing they are going to a better place, free of pain is so difficult.  My cell phone has been at my side on vibrate all week and I check it constantly, awaiting it ringing with an urgent call from the family.  That happened on Tuesday and I dropped everything to be there.

Friday afternoon there was a wedding rehearsal with a very anxious bride.  Things that could go wrong were going wrong, so I took her for a walk and helped her put things back in perspective.  By the end of the 15 minute walk, tears were dried, breathing was regular and we were ready to go.  They will have a beautiful day as T and J join together in holy matrimony.

And so today there is a flurry of activity in the Church as the group gathered prepares for Harvest Home and for a Parish Breakfast.  I’ve not yet even looked at the readings for tomorrow, and yet I trust the Holy Spirit will be with me as I stand before the Congregation and preach.  Perhaps it will be a homily about Thanksgiving, or Coming Home?  At this point I really don’t know.

But what I do know is I am wonderfully and fearfully made by a loving and gracious God.

And so are you.

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In Churchland there is an understanding that each priest will be involved in extra-curricular activities in the community or the wider world. For me, it is involvement with the Royal Canadian Legion. I have been a member of the Legion since I was 19. There were a couple of years where I couldn’t afford to renew my membership, but have always held the Legion high in esteem.

When I lived up north I was involved quite heavily – long before I was called to a life of ministry and service. As the average age of members rises and new members aren’t as able to donate time I’m seeing a trend in Legion that I also see in Church: fewer people doing more work.

This weekend the local Legion’s Ladies Auxiliary is hosting 700 women from across the province. Quite a remarkable feat! Just finding accommodations is a huge task. While I have been a member of the Legion for a long time, I have not been as involved with the Ladies Auxiliary. I was approached by the Zone Commander to see if I could help with a cenotaph service today. The challenge with Sunday activities is they almost always happen in the morning and I’m generally in service until noon.

The time of the parade was moved to enable me to participate. It will be a quick change from Church to cenotaph but I am confident I can do it.

For the most part I am able to juggle the demands placed on my time, and generally, there is not much that is demanded of me outside of the occasional prayer service or Legion funeral. Being asked to be present at Chaplain was a great honour, and while I will be completely shattered by the time the parade is over, it will be a very good shattered. I will sleep well tonight!

I am humbled to be asked to participate in a provincial convention. I know, firsthand, how much work goes into these events. The woman who is in charge of the entire convention has a cognitive impairment – she was diagnosed just after she accepted the task. She keeps a memory book that she carries around everywhere. She has notes and sticky notes on everything – and she is one of the most organised women I have ever met.

It is supposed to rain this afternoon – but I can’t see a bit of rain dampening the spirit of the Ladies who will gather. The Silver Cross mother from the City will be laying one of two wreaths at the Cenotaph and the parade is supposed to have a police escort. For about an hour this afternoon, the City will have 700+ women marching downtown. It will be a remarkable sight, and something I am looking forward to.

I have also been asked to provide the benediction and blessing for the start of business for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Also something I am humbled to be able to do.

Quite often in Churchland we get so caught up in our own little world that we forget out other means of service. Being asked by the Ladies Auxiliary is a great honour and I am delighted to be able to do it.

A little rain? Never stopped 700+ women before, it’s not likely to stop us this afternoon!

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It seems you cannot turn on social media these days without hearing about the ALS Ice Bucket challenge.  The idea, initially, was two-fold, to raise 1. money and 2. awareness about living with ALS.  It is a degenerative neurological disease in which the body slowly stops working.  It is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, the famous baseball player who was one of the first people to be diagnosed.

Sufferers of the disease lose control of their body, but never lose control of their mind.  It’s been likened to being buried alive or slowly suffocating in sand.  Not very welcoming images.

The controversy on social media is the perceived water waste for people who are taking part in the challenge.  I have seen lots of videos posted to Facebook and You Tube.  Some are dignified, some are humorous and some are disgusting.  Recently I was challenged to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  This hits very close to home for me.  One of my parishioners died from the disease last fall.  He was in his 70’s when he was diagnosed, which is “late” for diagnosis.  Another of my parishioners is currently battling the disease and she is only in her 50’s.  She has an 13 month old grandson.  Slowly, she is losing control of her body, is now full-time in a wheelchair.  

Her and her husband built a barrier-free house in the same community as her daughter and they are living with the disease. I decided, last Sunday, to take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, on the front lawn at the Church by the Church sign.  In collecting from the folks attending church we generated $50 which I will mail to the ALS Society of London.

Folks are getting upset because water is being wasted.  And while that may be a true statement, Canadians and Americans waste an inordinate amount of water every day.  One person participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge will not make a child in Africa die of thirst.  It’s the same concept as not eating our dinner as a child would make a child in Africa go hungry.

I chose the front lawn of the church so the water could be return to the ground, sacred ground at that.  The ice was collected and used a second time for my husband and daughter to participate.  There was very little waste, in my humble opinion.

The other controversy surrounds the funds being pledged and generated.  Every non-profit charity is held to great scrutiny at times like this.  And they should be.  Administration can often make up 40% or more of funds received.  Back in the day when I had a “real job” I worked for three health-charities.  All of them worked on shoestring budgets and were not supported by United Way.  Our Administration stayed at approximately 8% which was considered high.

There will always be people who try to pull a fast one.  They will make a video and not donate.  Or collect money and not send it in.  However, the vast majority of people will send in money, will pledge to send money and follow through.  Standing on a fence built of moral high ground is not a fence that will be strong.  It will blow as the wind does and eventually you’ll be sitting flat on your butt.  A humbling experience indeed.

Do I support the ALS ice bucket challenge?  I do!  I did, and I challenged my brother and sister-in-law.  

Do I understand the cries about wasted water?  To a certain extent, I do.  And that is why we chose to be economical in the amount of water we used and in the location where the water was poured.  I do think there were some videos that were excessive, but I expect it was more about people trying to promote a greater video than to intentionally waste water.

The bottom line for me is that the challenge raises awareness about a disease that has no cure.  If 1,000 people now know about the disease, it was worth the media hype.

So everybody, please calm down.  If you don’t want to participate, then don’t.  But please stop shouting platitudes at those who choose to participate.

Every party has a pooper.

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This is my second week back to work after a four-week medical leave. I actually was back a few days before my official return, simply because there were things that needed my attention, such as the death of a parishioner.

Last Wednesday we had her Celebration of Life at the Church and it was incredible. The parish family, her friends and family gathered to say farewell. Four years prior we had gathered to say farewell to her husband. There were many references to G’s celebration of life as we honoured S. Her three grandchildren took part; the eldest wrote a eulogy and the younger two assisted with communion.

On Saturday I joined a couple together in marriage. D and A met at a bereavement support group and over the next year or so they became friends and then even closer. At the beginning of their service five candles were lit. The outer two candles represented their late spouses and were lit by the children. They then lit the next candles for their parents. The parents took their candles and lit a unity candle. All five candles burned during the service. It was a wonderful way to remember the late spouses, who really were the reason for their meeting.

Yesterday I buried a 34-year-old woman who leaves behind a 13-year-old and a 9-year-old daughter. G and E were baptised at the Church two years ago. Their mum, grandma and aunt were baptised the week after. Both were glorious celebrations. The gathering at the funeral home chapel was very somber and sad. L’s husband R wrote and delivered a eulogy, as did G and E. By the time the eulogies were finished the entire chapel was in tears, sobbing, wailing, it was awful. Open and raw grief.

I wasn’t sure what to do.

So I told the story of how I met L, through her daughters. And people laughed. And laughed some more. The readings chosen were very poignant and during my homily there were more tears, but this time they were tears of acceptance, of love, of understanding.

We know that L is gone from our sight, but she remains in our hearts. She will live on through her family. And with a family of the size it is, her legacy will last for generations.

It was, bar none, the most challenging celebration of life I have ever presided. Seeing the faces of her parents, her husband and her daughters made my heart ache. Then hearing the stories during the reception, people seeking out people they did not know, and sharing stories of L made the grief feel bearable.

It will take a while for the dust to settle. E told me she wants to come back to Church. Her father agreed, and so did her sister. It will be wonderful to welcome them home; that we may bear some of the load for them, as their parish family.

Days like these describe humble me in ways that defy description. Knowing I have had the opportunity to journey with so many families is such an incredible honour.

The phone rang recently with the news of another young person, dying unexpectedly in Halifax. Nine months ago we buried his father, and six months ago we buried his mother. I cannot imagine how his brother is feeling. But once F comes home to be laid to rest, we will do our best to keep his memory alive.

Moments like this remind me of the frailty and fleeing nature of life. We do not know what the future holds and should live each day to the fullest. But we also need to refresh and refill ourselves. That is a lesson I am learning.

During my time off I decided I would honour myself better than I have been. I would take my day off, and would not push myself too hard. I turned the page on negative thinking, and negative self-talk. I decided I would begin after my leave by starting over, loving myself and those I encounter. It will be an ongoing journey, and I am confident I can do it. One step at a time.

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When I was a little girl I used to stroll. I would hum to myself while playing, usually something I had heard on the radio, or a tune I made up. When I became a teenager I stopped humming and started rushing. I was always in a hurry, I walked quickly or ran wherever I was going. I took up cross-country running because it was a solitary sport. There was no team to worry about, it was me mesmerized by the sound of my feet pounding in rhythm on the hard soil trail. I wasn’t the fastest runner, but likely I was the most focussed.

When I attended University I was a nervous soul, always tapping or twitching, I wasn’t able to stand still. I was continually anxious and it was then that I was first diagnosed as anxious/depressed and given medication, which really didn’t do much. I felt like I was continually playing catch up, continually late. I would joke that I was born 3 days late and had been trying to make up the time since.

In reality I was in a perpetual state of anxiety. I was nervous all the time. I felt like I didn’t add up to anyone’s expectations. I felt like a failure and a fraud and kept waiting for someone to walk in the lecture hall, point at me and say “She is a fraud, she has no right to be here”.

When I graduated with my undergraduate degree and began working, I continued to run at a frantic pace. I would not leave my desk until all the tasks for the day were completed. I would leave myself a note so I would know where to begin the next day. Having to leave a file out and not re-filed would fill me with a sense of dread, of failure. No-one had ever said that everything must be finished, but I believed it to be so. And if I didn’t finish everything, and leave a spotless desk at the end of day, I felt like I had to play catch-up when I started work again the next day.

Eventually I ended up in hospital with the frantic pace that couldn’t be maintained. I realised that I would not finish everything that had to be done; that there would always be something not finished. Some projects would never be finished, and some would have to wait for other information, or for other people to complete. It bothered me, but it didn’t control me.

When I returned to school to begin my MDiv I developed a different work ethic. I would often come to class having not finished the required reading ahead of time. Sometimes my notes would not be complete. I always started projects and essays early so I could finish them in advance of the deadline, but often everything was due at the same time. So I would create artificial deadlines to get things in early.

I began to notice my environment, see the leaves in the trees, hear the birds singing. I still worked as hard, but not as frantic. When I was a Chaplain at our Diocesan Church Camp I would often stop in the middle of my day, go down to the lookout and pray. Or stand in awe at the majesty before me.

As I have entered middle age, I am still as busy as ever. But I find myself, on occasion, arriving on time or a few minutes late. Before, I would always be obscenely early and have to park a distance from where I was going and fret until it was time to go to the appointment/home visit, etc. Now I do my best to leave in time to reach my destination, but if I get held up, I don’t take it as a personal failure.

In the last month or so life has slowed down for me. I am as busy as ever, but I now leave things undone. I leave my desk untidy. And interestingly enough, I’ve started to hum again. Especially when I’m home alone and I’m finishing a task. Also in my car. I’ll hum along to the radio or turn it off and hum while I drive.

I believe I have finally reached that balance. I can leave things unfinished. I can move things on my list to another day, or to someone else. I am comfortable in imperfection. I am getting more and more comfortable with “good enough” as opposed to perfection.

Life is filled with surprises. And while, currently I am still completely exhausted, I am beginning to find the work/life balance.

I’m going to clean the fans before they installed for the summer. It’s a dirty job, but I will hum as I work. All work is God’s work.

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I know that technically, it’s still spring, but there is something about the warming temperatures, the open windows, the new life sprouting all around that makes me think of summer. Usually I have a project that I like to take on – one in the winter and one in the summer. For the last couple of years I have not been able to begin, never mind finish a project.

Lots of reasons, lots of excuses, and still the projects don’t come to fruition.

There is a room in the rectory that is large, has two sets of windows and a plethora of shelves. It also has two doors which close and stay closed, a rarity in 100+ year old houses. I am going to clean out this room, empty the shelves and make this room into a storage room. The reality of this house is that we don’t have a lot of storage. Things are stashed from place to place, but in any sense of order.

My plan is to simplify how I live. I’ve taken a great step with a new low-tech flip phone. It’s not a Smart Phone because I don’t need a Smart Phone. I need a cell phone I can carry with me. I don’t need to check email when I am away from the house or the office. What I need in a cell phone is something I can use as a phone (duh) something I can use to text, keep track of appointments and set an alarm. And my cell phone does these things and more. It gives me an indescribable joy to use. It’s easy. I like that.

I am going to go through all the things I have accumulated over many years and if I don’t really love it or have a reason for it, I’m going to get rid of it. If I like it, but don’t love it and don’t want to be parted from it, I will box it up for one year. If, at the end of that year I haven’t opened the box, it will be given away (or sold).

Same with my books. I have a couple of friends in Seminary who may benefit from the books I no longer need/have use for. What they don’t want will be given to a Christian book store/thrift store that will gladly accept them.

In short, I am downsizing. I am simplifying. I am divesting myself of excess ‘stuff’ in every aspect of my life. Clothing that doesn’t fit or doesn’t suit me. Shoes that are never again going to be worn, or were bought for a specific outfit which I no longer own.

Paper…good LORD, don’t get me started. I still have every university and seminary paper I wrote, along with lecture notes. I will likely keep my thesis and maybe a couple of special essays from my undergrad, but the rest will be shredded or simply recycled. The Seminary stuff, the same. Most of my notes and all of my papers I have stored electronically.

By the fall I will be living a simpler and (hopefully) happier lifestyle.

I will have rid myself of “stuff”. And it will be wonderful.

Who knows, by getting rid of stuff I may find myself losing some unneeded weight? That would be a most definite bonus!

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