Aug 28 – Worship Service – General Council 44

Aug 21 – Worship Service – Psalms – Prayers of Hope
August 24, 2022
Sept 4 – Worship Service – Labour Day
September 7, 2022

Aug 28 – Worship Service – General Council 44

Rev Lohnes

Sunday August 28, 2022

General Council 44

Life and Work of our Church

Introit                                                                                                                 #402
We are one as we come, as we come, joyful to be here,
In the praise on our lips there’s a sense that God is near.
We are one as we sing, as we seek we are found;
And we come needful of God’s grace as we meet together in this place.

Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.  We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share this land wisely.   

Lighting the Christ Candle
We light this candle as a sign of God’s Light and God’s Spirit at work in the world.  May its light brighten our spirits, ignite our passions and shine within and through each one of us to offer light and love to others.

Words of Introduction
As you know, both Janet and I were commissioners to General Council this year.  One of the duty of commissioners is to share the work done at GC with the wider church.  I have struggled to figure out how to share my experiences this year, but I feel it is important so, today I will be focusing on GC, telling you a bit about the process as well as my own personal experience.  If you have any question, please ask either Janet or myself.  The theme for General Council this year was Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  This theme was woven throughout General Council and will also be woven throughout our service today.  So, as we begin our worship this morning, let us join in our call to worship.

Call to Worship
Jesus called ordinary men and women to become disciples.
Today Christ calls us to be disciples.

Jesus challenged those who followed by asking who they understood him to be.
Today Christ challenges us to think about who Christ is for us.

Peter answered Jesus saying, “You are the Christ”.
We gather here today echoing Peter’s words and seeking to understand what that means for us.

And so we gather here today, in Christ’s name, to worship God.

Opening Prayer
Divine Mystery, we come here today seeking answers, yet sometimes we don’t know the questions.  We come seeking guidance but we don’t always listen.  We come seeking your presence but we don’t always recognize you.  As we gather here today speak to us, guide us and reassure us that you are always with us. Amen

Gift of Music     All the Way, My Saviour Leads Me                         #635

Scripture Reading
The scripture that was the theme for General Council 44 is taken from the Gospel According to Mark.  It is a brief passage that tells the story of Jesus challenging the disciples to define who he is.  As was done at General Council, I have asked that the passage be read in both English and French.

Mark 8:27-30
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jésus s’en alla avec ses disciples dans les villages voisins de Césarée de Philippe. Il leur posa en chemin cette question: «Qui suis-je, d’après les hommes?»  Ils répondirent: «Jean-Baptiste; d’après certains, Elie; d’après d’autres, l’un des prophètes.»  «Et d’après vous, qui suis-je?» leur demanda-t-il. Pierre lui répondit: «Tu es le Messie.»  Jésus leur recommanda sévèrement de n’en parler à personne.

Reflections on General Council 44
I want to begin by explaining a little bit about General Council.  General Council is the highest court of The United Church of Canada and it the ultimate decision-making body.  It is made up of both ministry personnel and lay representatives elected from their regional councils.  The General Council meets once every 3 years, or in this case, 4 years due to COVID.  Once a commissioner is elected, they are a member of General Council until the next General Council meeting.  The Council can be recalled at any time during those 3 years to deal with items that the Executive feel must be referred to the whole Council.

This year for the first time ever, the meeting of General Council was entirely online and it was spread out over 7 months.  A normal in-person meeting is generally 8 to 10 days during the summer.  Because the structure was so different this year it was broken down into 5 major components; the Constitution of the Court and Opening Worship held on Feb 13th, 10 Information and Learning Sessions held for 2 hours on Wednesday Evenings during March, April and May, Discussion Sessions over 3 full days in June, Decision Sessions which were 4 full days in July and the closing worship and installation of the new Moderator on August 7th.

Worship elements were interspersed throughout the entire process all based on the scripture we heard this morning.  We were privileged to hear a number of people, including many past moderators, share their answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”  There was also music and the scripture was read in many different languages, including a sung version that was particularly moving.

There was a total of 52 proposals that were presented to General Council this year coming from General Council Executive, Regional Councils, individual Congregations or even individual people.  Prior to the beginning of General Council, Commissioners are expected to have read through all the material dealing with each of these proposal as well as viewing videos explaining the issues.

For our Discussion Sessions we were broken into groups of approximately 10 to 15 people along with a facilitator and recorder for each group.  Following our 3 days of discussions, all notes were compiled and the 52 proposals were broken down into 41 Way Forward Proposals that were presented to the entire group at the Decision Sessions.  These “Way Forward” proposal, were to either affirm the original proposal, to take no action on it or to refer it for further study. 

During our decision sessions we were able to deal with 30 of the 41 “Way Forward” proposals.  Those that we did not have time for are automatically referred to the General Council Executive.  The executive consists of 18 voting members including the Moderator, Immediate Past Moderator, General Secretary, one member chosen by the National Indigenous Council and 14 members of General Council elected to serve on the executive until the next General Council meeting.

As is frequently the case, many of the proposals delt with logistical items that, for the most part have little effect on individual congregations, items such as changes to the Manual that have resulted from the structural changes if 2019, implementation of the General Council’s strategic plan, questions around membership, and issues around clergy and staff support and discipline.

There were also proposals dealing with the Indigenous church, with the education and recruitment of new ministers, with French ministry in the United Church, recognizing Emancipation Day and the Armenian Genocide of 1915, as well as various other proposals dealing with the logistics of the church.  A proposal was also passed to establish a United Church Insurance program.  Looking beyond our own church structures there were proposals to begin more intensive conversations with other protestant denomination in Canada looking at how we might work together as one Christian church, a proposal to support the decriminalization of illicit substances for personal use, proposals to establish a principal-based system for justice work in the United Church, to recognize and challenge antisemitism in the United Church, to pursue climate justice initiatives, and to re-establish our ongoing relationship with Bermuda.    

The biggest disappointment for myself and for many others was the handling of the 6 proposals regarding the United Church’s response to the issues in Israel and Palestine.  All 6 proposals were placed into on Way Forward proposal suggesting that we take no action.  Although this proposal was defeated, the only alternative Way Forward offered was that action be delayed until after proposals on a Principal Based Decision Making Process were enacted.  Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, this proposal passed. 

Because this was my first experience of General Council I have nothing to compare it with, but unfortunately, overall, it was not a positive experience for me and I am sorry to say that I have heard the same comments from a number of other commissioners, both first timers and those who have participated in General Council meetings in the past. 

To be perfectly honest, I came out of this General Council meeting feeling very discouraged and struggling to find my own way forward.  What ended up making a difference for me was being invited to meet with a group of fellow commissioners and others who feel very strongly that action on the situation in Palestine and Israel cannot wait another 3 years for the United Church to take action.  It was a very interesting mix of people including Omar Haramy Sebeel in Jerusalem who I met during my Sabbatical in 2019.

One person who was particularly angered by the decision made regarding the decision of General Council suggested that it was time to simply forget about the he United Church and move forward with making changes in our individual pastoral charges and areas and working outside the church.

I responded to this suggestion by saying that I am not ready to give up on my church.  I still believe that The United Church of Canada, at its core is a justice-oriented church which honestly seeks to hear God’s call to love and serve others by seeking justice and resisting evil.  I have to believe that my church really does care and that we can set aside our own self interest and our concerns about self-preservation and find a way to stand up together as one body demanding that all people be treated with respect and justice.

It was not until that moment, when I was forced to verbalize my hope rather than my frustrations that I was able to answer for myself that question that I had been hearing over and over for the past 7 months.  “Who do you say that I am?”

For me, Jesus is the one whose example calls me to stand up for what is right even when it is not easy.  Jesus is the one who challenges me not to allow fear or the judgement of others to prevent me from doing what I honestly believe is right.  Jesus is the one who demands that I do not stay silent when I know I should speak up.  And Jesus is also the one who doesn’t lecture me on what I should do but instead shows me.

It seems strange, looking back, that an experience that I have struggled so hard to come to terms with, should end up reaffirming not only my Christian faith but also my commitment to The United Church of Canada.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Perhaps this is a question we need to be more intentional about asking ourselves, not just once, but on an ongoing basis.  Who is Jesus for me, right here, right now, in this present situation?  The answer may not be the same as it was when we entered the church.  It may not be the same as it was many years ago or even a few years ago.  It may not even be the same as it was a few days ago or even a few hours ago.  But it is a question that I believe we all need to continue to ask.

Gift of Music                        Jesus Love Me                                                   #365

We Offer Our Gifts
We are the church.  And as the church, one of the things we do is to share what we have been given. 

Offertory Response                                                                                         #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirt
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.

 Offertory Prayer
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they too may become a blessing.  Amen.

We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath.  God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts.  So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.

Minute for Mission

Prayers of the People
I want to share with you today a prayer that was written by Bruce Prewer. 

When I read it, it seem to reflect my own thoughts and prayers.  Let us pray;

God our Friend and resourceful Helper, as we call to mind other people in their numerous needs, we pray that you will encompass them with your loving Spirit, and enable your churches to find practical ways of ministering to them. 

Somewhere at this moment there are thoughtful, kindly men and women who are staring at prison walls because they dared speak out for truth and justice.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere today children are whimpering after days of hunger, and their parents can only look on with the pain of a love that feels impotent.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere right now oppressed people are working like slaves for scant rewards while their exploiters are living is luxurious leisure.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere at this hour persecuted Christians are meeting for worship in secret, knowing that sooner or later someone might betray them.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere this morning people are facing major surgery, while others are being told that they have a disease for which there is no remedy.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere this day innocent people are suffering the chaos and brutality of war, homes are ravaged, bodies mutilated, hatreds enlarged.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere at this hour of prayer, some silent members of this congregation, and of other churches in our community, may be secretly facing crises which threaten to overwhelm them.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

Somewhere, near or far away, there are folk caught up in the raw grief of a recent death, so distressed that they wonder how they will ever be able to go on living.

Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair and the love to outweigh self-interest and neglect.

We thank you loving God, that your mercies are never confined to the range of our prayers, nor your servants limited to the ranks of the churches. Please bless the mighty host of those who in many races, classes and creeds who are endeavoring to serve others without thought for their own comfort, profit or safety. Through Christ Jesus our reconciler and healer.  Amen!

Gift of Music              O Master Let Me Walk with Thee                            #560

Sending Out
With a deep spirituality be brave beloved.  In steadfast discipleship be blessed beloved. In daring justice be bold beloved.  You who are brave abide in God. You who are bold live in Christ.  You who are blessed walk in the Spirit.  Be brave, be bold, be blessed.

Choral Blessing
Go now in peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.
Know God will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love.  Amen, Amen, Amen.

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