That was a long winter I think! My wife and I returned from the south at the end of February, hoping we were clear of the majority of snow, ice, cold and all the stuff of winter but alas - even April held snow for us!
It is, nonetheless, good to be back and roaming about again as your Voluntary Associate Minister.
If you are like me, you have been soaking up the more recent sunshine and warm temperatures, lovely light to cheer us up. I believe we are hard-wired to long for and seek signs of new life that remind us of the spring around us and the spring within us. The signs of spring will begin to bloom soon - bulbs planted deep in the earth will begin to sprout and the wonder of flowers, the scent of spring, will be upon us. Even the street sweepers are out dusting away all the winter grime!
The foliage will go from bare and brown to budding green against the blue crisp sky that lasts longer and longer in the days ahead.
The new life of spring reminds us of our faith, of course. We are children of the resurrection, children of the Spirit, and we see our faith blossoming around us in the seasons and in the cycles of life. The sleep of winter, the decay and death bring life to the next season and hope for the future. In this way, the natural world reflects the world of the gospel - not only the physical world that Jesus walked (although I doubt he experienced a Canadian winter) there is nonetheless a resonance between the gospel and our natural earth. Winter is akin to Lent. Easter is the akin to spring. Resurrection is akin to flowers blooming. The scent of life always reminds me of the smell of infants who are new to the earth. Of course, I think of my son Thomas who still has the “new baby smell” as people say.
And so we are reminded that you cannot have resurrection without the cross in the same way you cannot have spring without winter. In our lives of faith and our personal journey, we likely see this same cycle play out. Despair turns to hope, darkness become light, and death to life over and over again. The promise of eternal life is always held out my friends, like flowers in spring, Jesus bursts forth into our hearts, minds and souls if we allow him in.
As I look out my window, I see blue sky, the green of the pine trees and I hear birds chirping - their spring time songs. The temperature is definitely NOT spring and yet other signs tell me spring is here. My daffodils are peeking up in the front bed through the snow. My early tulips are pushing up through the dark soil, lifting my heart and confirming life.
I grew up down near Windsor, ON. There, we often had mostly green winters. My first winter in Ottawa was the one of 1970-71. Remember? It was the year of 13 feet of snow. One of the streets we drove down frequently had snow piled so high, I could hardly see the houses. Then, one day in May, I drove down that same street. It was crab apple blossom time. That was the first time I really ‘got’ the meaning of Easter rebirth. In the deepest of winter’s freeze, I need not fear, God’s promise to us is the cycle of life with warmth and growth and renewal.
I would guess that the Syrian family we are sponsoring is also very aware of their rebirth as Canadians. Woodroffe United hosted a potluck dinner on Sunday, April 3rd, for our Syrian family, the committee members and those interpreters who have been so valuable in supporting our work with Tamer, Rehab and Baraa. We also invited Britannia United Church folks and their refugee family, along with Our Lady of Fatima’s refugee family - plus all of their committee people and support people, About 65 of us visited and dined in the Banquet Room from 4 to 7pm. The tables were decorated with pussy willows from Jamie and Shirley Hockin’s garden plus colourful tulips. The gifts of food were spectacular: middle eastern food together with Canadian offerings of lasagna and chili. Desserts were equally diverse - baklava to Tim Horton donut holes! There were a dozen or so children from 6 months to early teens, Everyone had a great time! All agreed, we want to continue to connect over food.
Easter activities were: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunrise service at 6:51am - about 20-25 braved the chill and enjoyed time together - at Deschênes Rapids and then back to the church for a potluck brunch together. Our Easter service was held with communion. The sanctuary was beautifully decorated by David and Elaine Armstrong, as usual.
Rev. Kathryn planned an interesting Maundy Thursday evening greeting. When people entered the Banquet Room, they were met by a pair of ‘disciples’: one held a basin of water for people to rinse their hands and the second ‘disciples’ provided a towel to dry their hands.
The other memorable Easter thing for me was the Good Friday service. Each of us was given a piece of black cloth when we entered the sanctuary. During the sermon, as Rev. Kathryn spoke of the temple draperies being ripped from top to bottom, she asked us to rip our clothes. I was amazed to hear that the temple curtain as made of cloth 3 inches thick. I am still trying to figure that out!
On Monday, April 4th, Woodroffe is hosting an ecumenical group of people to attend a presentation. The United Church Observer is working with another magazine called Walrus which has organized a 7 person panel discussion about spirituality, Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic faiths, and atheists and agnostics appear to be represented in those 7 panel members. The presentation was lightly attended. All who did ccome out enjoyedtgheir evening. We had lots of coffee and sweets to go around.
The youth group is getting ready to learn to knit! Rev. Kathryn has offered to provide some teaching and others have donated large knitting needles and bulky wool. The idea is to start early to have cozy items on the mitten trees come Christmas. First lessons will be all about scarves!
As spring arrives, my thoughts turn to gardening - both at home and at the church. Looks like there may need to be some significant flower bed creation at the East door. The gardening team will need to get together to do some planning. There are always new projects.
May spring bring to you warmth and colour and some lovely time in the sun.
It is still January and so I want to wish you a very “Happy New Year” from your friends at Woodroffe United. Today was very blustery in the morning – and the billows of snow blown up by the strong wind made the streets look like we were in the middle of a wild winter storm. Yet this afternoon, I look out at a calm blue sky, and sparkling curves of snow. Old man winter is very changeable!
Major news at Woodroffe…Jan Lougheed has decided to retire from ministry. Jan announced her decision first at Council last Tuesday, and then to the whole congregation yesterday. Jan has travelled with us for 17 years – and we all wish her well in her retirement. It is sad to think of her going; and we wish her well in this new, next chapter of her life. Her last days with us will be in June…date to be determined. A party will definitely be planned to send her off in style!
Last evening, the Membership Relations Committee hosted a Woodroffe United Café in the Banquet Room from 7 to 8PM. Dave Chaplin, on a CIDA secondment, and Milan Kollár, the Slovak ambassador to Canada, described the part played by Canada in 2002-2004 to counsel the new country of Slovakia (1993) as they created a governmental agency to provide money and expertise to the international community. Slovaks wanted to ‘pay forward’ the help and support they had received from countries, like Canada, to emerging countries who could benefit from Slovakian experience. The coffee, tea and poppy seed desserts and the conversation made it worth the trek!
We are planning a congregational workshop for Tuesday, February 3rd, from 7:30 – 9:30PM. It will be a facilitated conversation to define ‘the personality of our church’. If you would like to attend, please call me; all are welcomed to the workshop. We intend to use what we learn about ourselves, in 2014 language, in our promotional materials.
And, lastly, we are in conversations with Riverstone Retirement Community – the new building just behind us, to introduce ourselves, and to get to know what relationship we might create together.
Tis’ the season for thanks-giving and gratitude! It is a long and heartfelt tradition in this part of the world. The earliest settlers of Canada made sure to give thanks for all they received from their new land. In 1578, Martin Frobisher, searching for a northwest passage to the East, held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This was our first Canadian Thanksgiving.
We have had several weeks of very nice, warm weather so we could best enjoy the lovely fall colours. On a recent walk along Meech Lake with a friend, all my senses were triggered – the rustle of the leaves and sass of chipmunks, the smells and colours of autumn, on a lovely, balmy fall day. I will hold that picture in my mind during all the dreary wet and cold times that I know are coming.
The Thanksgiving Sunday service was full of beauty, song and thanksgiving. Dave and Elaine Armstrong again beautifully decorated the Chancel. Three musicians joined with the choir and congregation to give the music a bit of substance and strong beat. We dedicated the lovely pale orange Chancel paraments, choir collars and a scenic wall hanging, all designed by Diana Baird, and sewn by her and a few helpers, for the new Creation time in our church year. And, after service, the Worship Committee members served miniature Thanksgiving cupcakes at coffee hour. It was a day for gratitude to be sure.
On Sunday, Matt challenged us to think of all our blessings – to think specifically about those things for which we feel gratitude. My list includes my family, my church and my beautiful country. I challenge myself every day at bedtime to think of 10 specific things for which I am thankful. Consider this a way to fall to sleep – with a smile!
May the joy of changing seasons and counting your blessings, brighten the coming days. I wish you health and contentment.