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Happy Canada Day!

“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” – Psalms 72:8

Today, many of us will gather together with friends and family – some around a BBQ, watching fireworks and other to start their camping season. It is a week of celebration, and rightly so. There is much that we have to celebrate – we live in country full of diversity and freedom. A country that was founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God.

Some of us have seen a lot of change occur in our country over the last century. Before my grandfather passed in 2008, he would often share stories with me of his childhood, his years in military service and his adult life in Moncton NB. No matter what story I heard, he always finished with “It was a different time than you’re living in, Shawn; much different than mine.” I was never sure if that was positive or negative and in one of my last conversations with him, I asked him. Papa was always direct. He looked out the window of his porch for a few moments, and then turned back to me saying “Cherish what we’ve been through. And be smart with what you have now.”

Those words have echoed in my mind many times since that conversation. Some see the shrinking of churches as something to fear, but perhaps we should see it as an opportunity. An opportunity for us to stand confident in our relationship with Christ, which is much bigger than a church, and share that relationship with those around us. We should be smart with what we have now. We have a nation that is deperately searching for truth. Today, perhaps we could recommit ourselves to seeing God Kingdom furthered in Canada.

Lord of all power and mercy, we beseech thee to assist with thy favour the Prime Minister of this Dominion, and the Premiers of the Provinces. Cause them, we pray, thee, to walk before thee in truth and righteousness, and to fulfil their office to thy glory and the public good; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Happy Canada Day! Thank you for joining with us.

Underneath the Wrapping

At Christmas time, like many families, mine gathered together and for the first time, we had a baby in our midst. My brother and his wife are the proud parents of 11-month-old Madysen. She is a very curious and extremely happy little girl – in fact it is rare to see her unhappy. While we were exchanging gifts on Christmas morning, I had the privilege to help her open some of her gifts. She seemed far more interested in the shiny paper, the ribbons and bows than she was with the actual gifts.

As Hilary and I were driving home later that day, I began to recall the images of seeing the curiosity in Madysen’s face as she ripped packages apart. I began to wonder if she understood what was going on or when she would realize that the outside is just to cover up the surprise awaiting to be revealed.

Do we get caught up with the same distractions of the wrapping paper? In our journey, do the shiny ribbons and bows sidetrack us from the real gift inside? How often has God given us a gift and we have not taken the time to dig deeper to see the precious pearl that is really there?

We live, work and operate in a shopper society – everything is designed strategically to appeal to us; sales and promotions are planned to draw us in. On occasion, the Church has fallen into the same the pattern – designing outreaches to be appealing and attractive; courses or seminars with challenging topics or investing in the cosmetics of the building. Many would argue that we do these things to stay relevant with the times. But are we getting distracted with the coverings?

I’ve wondered what it would have looked like for Jesus and the apostles to gather to design or strategize on their campaign to reach people. I think we can lose sight of a great gift that the Church has to offer. Relationships, I think, are one of the hardest and yet most rewarding gifts we can have. When we are kids, our parents schedule play-dates for us to interact and meet new people – a few toys and a sandbox. In our programming and redecorating, we need to be conscious of relationships.

Many are familiar with Matt Redman’s song, “When The Music Fades”. This song came out of a season at his church where they had been caught in the wrapping paper. They spent a few Sunday gatherings without any music and with simple intercession, to be reminded of what this is all about. Out of this, the song birthed, as a reminder that when we tear the wrappings away, our relationship with Jesus is at the center.

When we understand that relationships are vitally important to Jesus, we begin to see that our relationships with people are important to Jesus as well. The people we work with, in the building next door and those at the table across the restaurant from us.

When we grow older, we begin to realize that the paper and ribbons are just a covering for the real gift on the inside – and we rip open the paper with excitement. With that same excitement we need to begin to rip open the coverings that prevent us from building those relationships. David MacFarlane would say that we need to, “cross the street”. I would add that we need to shake hands too, have a conversation – and get to know one another.

Jesus saw the opportunity to meet people and, through that, lives were transformed. Who is waiting to meet you?

Shawn Branch
Acting National Director
Threshold Ministries

This article was originally written for an Equipping Evangelists newsletter – January 2012.

being persistent

Deep sea fishing from a boat in the Gulf of Mexico

about a month ago, i started fishing.

fishing for mackerel.

i started by accident really.  it was the sunday afternoon of the labour day long weekend, we went down to new river beach for the afternoon.  hardly a person around because it was forecasted to be bad weather and we went down to the water for a bit.  i acted as ruth’s lifeguard, which in retrospect was a bad choice, because i hate being in the water over my head.  if she got into trouble, she would have been screwed – at the time though, it seemed like a good idea for me to guard while she swam in the bay of fundy.  while ruth was warming up after her swim, i had a nap on the beach leaning against hilary.

it was a nice afternoon.

ed came back to pick us up and brought us down to blacks harbour, he really wanted us to watch him fish.  [ed grew up in fishing communities in newfoundland.]  after he caught a few, he wanted the rest of us to experience the same joy of catching a fish.  it had been quite some time since i last fished – but for the record, i have fished before.  it was fun, we had some laughs and i think ed regretted bringing us down there – we weren’t quite as serious.

i’ve been back at least once, sometimes twice, a week since.

the last few times, the fish haven’t really been biting.  we’ve stood on the wharf for 3-4 hours each visit, just throwing the line, chatting, listening and being still.  my last visit, the borrowed fishing line that i was using broke.  i pretended like i knew how to fix it and put it back together.  still broke.  ed felt bad and wanted to leave because i couldn’t fish.  i wanted to stay.

it is so peaceful and relaxing, standing on some floating wood along the coast of the ocean. fishing and watching others fish.  because the mackerel season is basically over, we weren’t catching much.  we tried a few different places.  it gave me lots of time to think and wonder.  we started catching some harbour pollock, which aren’t very good (i’m told).  it was fun catching them, we were catching 3-5 at a time but releasing them.

it got me to thinking that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be persistent – castling the line, being patient and waiting.  when Jesus called simon, james and john, he met them after a long night of fishing and told them to go back out.  they were reluctant but went back out and fished again.  caught a boat load.  ed and i began talking about how hilarious our situation was and soon realized that its similar in ministry, you can throw the line – offer a program, meal, event, etc… and catch some results.  but it requires patience to catch what you’re hoping for – growth, a willing heart.

i want to go back fishing – i’m not sure by the water or on the streets.

acc vision 2019

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JacrWZxAhgE]

i like the vision, will the church embrace it and carry it out?

her holiness – barbie

Revd BarbieBarbie gets ordained, and has the smells-and-bells wardrobe to match

By Leanne Larmondin

(RNS) With her careers as veterinarian, astronaut and U.S. president behind her, Barbie has at last found her true calling: as a second-career Episcopal priest.

The 11.5-inch-tall fictional graduate of Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, Calif., has donned a cassock and surplice and is rector at St. Barbara’s-by-the-Sea in (where else?) Malibu, Calif.

She arrived at the church fully accessorized, as is Barbie’s custom. Her impeccably tailored ecclesiastical vestments include various colored chasubles (the sleeveless vestments worn at Mass) for every liturgical season, black clergy shirt with white collar, neat skirt and heels, a laptop with prepared sermon and a miniature, genuine Bible.

Apparently a devotee of the “smells and bells” of High Church tradition, the Rev. Barbie even has a tiny thurible, a metal vessel used for sending clouds of incense wafting toward heaven.

The Rev. Barbie, who in less than a week had drawn nearly 3,000 friends on her Facebook page, spends most of her time in the office of the Rev. Dena Cleaver-Bartholomew, rector of Christ (Episcopal) Church, in Manlius, N.Y., near Syracuse.

The doll, her wardrobe and portable sacristy were a gift from Cleaver-Bartholomew’s friend, the Rev. Julie Blake Fisher, a priest in Kent, Ohio.

“I got a phone call from my husband who said a large package had arrived;Julie had told me that she was making something for me. She used to be a dressmaker and she makes gorgeous stoles, so I thought she was making me a stole,” said Cleaver-Bartholomew. “When I came home and there was this enormous box, I knew it wasn’t just a stole!”

Fisher had made Episcopal Priest Barbie and a few vestments two years ago for the children in her parish to dress.

“I thought the children would like to practice playing with the vestments and learning what they are,” said Fisher. The Rev. Barbie was a hit with both the children and a local group of women clergy, including Cleaver-Bartholomew.

When Cleaver-Bartholomew later got called to her parish in New York, Fisher knew the perfect gift for her friend.

“I thought, `I don’t have time to make her one of her own; I’ll just send her Episcopal Priest Barbie for her farewell gift,”’ said Fisher. “But then, when I sat down to start to package everything up, I thought `What if I added this? What if I added that? What if I made this? It would just take one more day.“‘

One more day turned into 100 hours of painstaking labor, and “before I knew it, it was Episcopal Church Barbie—High Church Edition,” Fisher said.

Barbie’s clergy garb is the real deal, made from dress patterns that were crafted or adapted by Fisher. Barbie’s collared blouse was cut down from the fabric of a genuine clergy shirt; the chasubles and alb are made from real silk and linens. Her capa nigra (black funeral cloak) sports pewter buttons. Her nearly-complete Bible was originally sold as a keychain. The thurible was crafted from a teeny tea ball.

Episcopal Church Barbie’s popularity exploded after she got a shout-out on the popular blog, BeautyTipsforMinisters.com. A “Friends of Episcopal Priest Barbie” Facebook group has grown exponentially since its March 31 inception.

Many of the Rev. Barbie’s online admirers asked about her career aspirations.

“How long till she is Bishop Barbie?” asked one.

Fisher has found a calling of her own: She responded that her next project will be Episcopal Priest Barbie: Cathedral Edition. She promises an African-American Bishop Barbie, a Hispanic Ken doll who will be cathedral dean (rector) and his African-American friend, Stephen, will be a deacon. Barbie’s little sister, Kelly, will be an acolyte.

For her part, Cleaver-Bartholomew thinks Barbie could be a tool for evangelism for the Episcopal Church—particularly for conveying that “we have a sense of humor, we can be fun.

“Barbie’s very versatile that way,” said Cleaver-Bartholomew. “She’s open to new possibilities, so evangelism is definitely in her future.”

thankful

this morning was the first sunday in almost a year that i have enjoyed being at church. it was the first time we went to this community and we were warmly greeted by some of the members.
for this, i am thankful.