You can join this week’s worship service by clicking here.
Thank you to Paul Toner for sharing the gift of music with us this week.
With Sunday School closed for the summer, we look forward to more Time with Children videos again in September.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
National Indigenous Peoples Day
Scripture: Psalm 86: 1-8
Music: I Am Walking a Path of Peace; Wave on Wave
Musician: Paul Toner
In the summer of 2009, I attended the meeting of General Council in Kelowna, BC. For a week-long church meeting, it was actually pretty enjoyable. I had dinner with old friends at a lakeside cabin; I toured a winery with new friends; and I chatted with someone from New Brunswick named Steve Berube, who told me all about his wonderful congregation in Riverview.
There is one experience, however, which was very hard, and it was hearing the personal stories of a pair of indigenous men who had survived Residential School. For many of us, the narrative of brutality and cruelty visited upon them and others as children brought tears to our eyes.
And then, one of the men shared his thoughts about white society. “We raise our children to be respectful of their elders,” he said, “you just hide yours away in homes. We take care of Earth, while you destroy it for your own gain.” The critique continued for a few minutes. It was clear that his words were those of someone deeply wounded, but it was also hard to listen to; hard to be described so negatively. After all, we were there to do good, to help the world, to reach out in love.
I spoke to a friend of mine at the break. I told him that I had nothing to do with Residential Schools, that I honor my elders and I work to help the Earth. Why should I listen to someone say those things about me? My friend listened, and then offered another perspective. For five hundred years, indigenous peoples have had to listen to us judge them, deride them and strip them of their identity. Our work for the next five hundred years is to listen to them.”
In the United Church, we stopped talking about sin a while ago. Many churches have abandoned prayers of confession, because it makes us uncomfortable. We know we make mistakes, but, as a church-goer once put it to me, “I don’t go to church to feel bad.” And I don’t want to be responsible for your weekly dose of Vitamin Guilt, either!
But sin is not simply a grocery list of all the things we or others have done wrong. Sin is the yawning gap between how life is and how it should be; the distance between us and God, our neighbours, and our true selves. For example, the sin of racism is not only heard in the ignorant hate some white people direct at non-white people, it’s also heard in the silence of otherwise compassionate white people not speaking out against the systems that allow bigotry and hate to persist.
The purpose of confessing what’s wrong, then, is not to air our personal dirty laundry, or say we’re sorry for something we didn’t do. To confess is to speak the truth, to bring into the light things that otherwise remain hidden; and in so doing, to liberate ourselves and others from what keeps us apart: white and black, indigenous and settler, privileged and forgotten.
When we do, we are listening for the voice of God. We are listening for voices which have too often been silenced. We are listening for the truth which will liberate us all from the silence that holds us captive. The challenge in listening is that we might not always feel comfortable with what we hear.
This past month, we heard about the police-shooting death of Chantal Moore, a young indigenous woman; the police-shooting death of Rodney Levi, a Mi’kmaq man; and the not-guilty verdict returned in the hit-and-run death of Brady Francis. In short, we are hearing that our justice system doesn’t seem to treat indigenous peoples the same way it treats us.
Last Sunday, I heard the familiar plainsong and prayers of Evensong, led by an Anglican priest whom I know from my time in Halifax. The peace of that evening office was a balm for my soul at the end of a long day. During that service, I heard the indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald speak about how catastrophe often exposes inequalities that had lay hidden.
He said that, in their wake, we become enlisted into the struggle for a more equitable way of living; not simply because we feel bad, or guilty, but because we see more clearly how systemic wrongs have shaped us all, those who have suffered and those who have benefited; shaped us in ways we neither intend nor want. And then, at the close of Evensong, I heard these words from 1 John:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them… Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from (Jesus) is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
My friends, I know you don’t gather on Sundays to feel bad. And I know that life in isolation, under the cloud of COVID, is challenging. But I also know that our world has changed forever and that, in the midst of so many catastrophes, there are hidden truths which are being exposed to the light again. We are being given a chance to listen, and listen again, to those whom we normally don’t hear. We’re being invited into healing of relationship and renewal of life.
It’s not enough for us to understand and be contented with what is. We are being called forward into the work of confessing what is – what keeps us apart from God, our neighbour and our true selves – in order that all might have life, and that abundantly. Amen.
Creator, Great Spirit, whose compassion has been known in our lives more times than we can count, we open our hearts and souls to you, to the needs of our brothers, sisters and the whole of creation – especially as we mark this Indigenous Day of Prayer. Open us, to the power of interconnectedness so we may receive the painful stories as well as those that give us hope and joy.
We acknowledge the great injustices perpetrated against those who lived on and cared for this land long before our ancestors arrived. We pray that with compassion and determination we will continue to make ourselves aware of the impact of Residential Schools, the Sixties Scoop, and all the ways that systemic racism continues to be at the root of injustice and inequality for many of our brothers and sisters.
In these days of turmoil you call us to relationships rooted in equality and respect. We commit ourselves to raise our voices when we hear prejudiced comments, to guide others in the sacred direction of celebrating diversity that is your gift to humanity. On this day we call to mind those who have been lifted into the light and peace of your presence, we remember Betty Cudmore, Ralph Forbes and Joe McCullock and we pray for their families and friends. We pray too for the families of Chantal Moore, Rodney Levi and Brady Francis.
We pray for the hundreds of thousands who have been lost to the pandemic, the millions who have been infected and the hundreds of millions who have been affected. Loving one, holy one, be with all who are grieving and all who are suffering.
We pray too for all who are ill, in body and in spirit, For those who are isolated and feeling alone, For those in care and for all who are facing major changes, we pray for wisdom, courage, insight and hope. For those working to keep us safe while placing themselves at risk we pray for their safety. For those working from home. For those who face this time alone, we pray they may feel your presence.
Holy One, these are trying times. We cannot be together, yet we know we need each other, and we need to be connected to others and to you. Help us to reach out to one another even as we remain apart. Strengthen us in this time to be resilient and help us to hold onto hope. We pray for all our friends and family, our church family and the broader community, for all who are working for change – for peace with justice near and far, we pray.
God of Love, we are a community which is gathered, upheld and sent into the world by your Spirit. May your Spirit bless us with wisdom, compassion and inspiration that you will be with us through all things. We pray in the name of Jesus, who became the Christ, Our Father…