Let’s Go Down Into the Valley

Written by Pastor Barb

Raise your hand if you want to hear about Hamilton Conference Annual Meeting. No? What if I told you we looked at a mountain in the distance? I have been in leadership at half a dozen conferences at Kananaskis in the Rockies, where we literally looked at mountains majestically framed by floor to ceiling windows. But, this CAM was at Redeemer College in Ancaster. It was only a poster. (sigh)

The mountain backdrop reminded us of then-Conference-chair Ted Smith’s theme for this past year in office, “Let’s Go Down Into the Valley.” It was inspired, perhaps, by the old Arlo Guthrie song and based on the epiphany story of Jesus taking his inner-circle disciples back down into the valley into real life, after their mountain-top transfiguration experience with Moses and Elijah.

Conference can be a mountain-top experience for those who attend, when there are inspiring speakers and educational workshops with opportunities to grow and learn, strengthening us to go down into the valley, back into our daily ministries. This was not one of those years, because there was so much business in preparation for the national General Council meeting in Cornerbrook, NFL, in August.

Ted takes us down into the Valley

Ted takes us down into the Valley

With Ted at the helm of a tight meeting agenda run in his generous and hospitable style, we had table time to discuss the Final Report of the Comprehensive Review Taskforce, with suggestions for the restructuring and funding of The United Church of Canada. You can read that report here: http://www.gc42.ca/comprehensive-review-report.

We also dealt with a number of proposals, mostly dealing with that report, sent from local churches, presbyteries, and individuals in Hamilton Conference with the hopeful intent of sending them on to the General Council in August. For the most part, we in the court suggested there would be wiser use of GC commissioners’ time, but we did approve and forward several.

One proposal that will be sent on from Hamilton Conference to the General Council for consideration in August was co-authored by Rev. Robert Curie and Rev. Stephen Mabee, both known to St. Paul’s. (Stephen is married to your minister, in case you are still calling him Mr. Fullerton. And Paul’s dad was a physician in Paris many years ago, so he knew St. Paul’s as a boy. He is now minister at Old Wyndham in Simcoe and has met with our Council a time or two. But I digress.) Their proposal suggests rewriting The Basis of Union’s reference to the vows a minister makes at ordination or commissioning, taking into account the newer statements of faith that have been approved since Church Union. The ordination vows I made were that I am in “essential agreement” with The Basis of Union statements of faith. New ministers ordained at Conference this year were asked a different question. It is time for more clarity and consistency on that.

This year’s New Ministries Service was one of the high points of this CAM, with two friends among the ordinands. One is the new Rev. Christine Hossack, whom some of you may recall served as the interim chaplain at Park Lane a few years ago. She was a colleague both in the Paris Ministerial and on Erie Presbytery’s Executive, where she continues to serve as the human resources chair. One of the people she invited to lay hands on her was Dawn McClelland, from St. James Anglican, who serves as a part-time chaplain at Brantford General and also attends Paris Ministerial.

A high point of that service was hearing Lois Wilson speak. No, not the founder of Al-Anon. OUR four-foot-something dynamo, the Hon. Very Rev. Dr. Lois Wilson: first female United Church Moderator, former chair of the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, a Companion of the Order of Canada, 1985 recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace. She is also a director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and served in the Canadian Senate from 1998 to 2002. THAT Lois Wilson. Evidently she was even a close friend of the noted Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence and presided at Laurence’s 1986 funeral. Somewhere along the way, she raised four children and wrote nine or ten books.

Another dynamo, beloved to us all, our own congregational chair Karyn Pickles sang in the mass choir and Rev. Nora Fueton, a former minister at SPUC, played Redeemer’s amazing pipe organ for that service.

For ministers, a highlight of the CAM is getting to see colleagues and friends we may not have seen in the past year, or just to spend more time with colleagues we don’t seem to make time to hang out with back home.

People highlights for me this year included having two St. Paul’s young people at CAYTS (Children and Young Teens at Conference) and seeing young Ben Pickles on the big screen, reading a Psalm in Sunday morning worship. And there is nothing like a Molly-hug when she saw me the first time at Conference. Both want to go back next year, so Ian and Karyn are engaging in negotiations about which of them will return as a SPUC delegate. Ian has already forecast who is going to win that draw.

Ben reads as part of the CAYTS led service on Sunday morning

Ben reads as part of the CAYTS led service on Sunday morning

Ben on the big screen

Ben on the big screen

True confession, though, is that my CAM highlight this year was texting with Ian and Karyn during the meeting. Ian and I, at adjacent tables, also engaged in old fashioned eye contact, facial expressions and hand signals. Part of going back “Down Into the Valley” on Monday was my Pickles-text-withdrawal. Sadly true.

The same weekend as Hamilton CAM, many of my friends and colleagues in national justice work were gathering in Ottawa for the celebration events related to the presentation of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Part of me passionately wanted to join a reunion there of my group of friends that travelled to Guatemala in 2013. I may have been the only one missing. My colleagues from the national coordinating group for United for Mining Justice and even some of my friends in the new Erie Grand KAIROS community were there. It would have been a mountain-top experience to be part of those activities. But for personal reasons of being with Stephen for his cataract surgery and following days, it was important to make the decision not to go to Ottawa, and to attend the Hamilton Conference Annual Meeting.

There was one of these for every person at the conference, an most wore it proudly all weekend!

There was one of these for every person at the conference, an most wore it proudly all weekend!

Part of coming “Down Into the Valley” this past week after the CAM was an intense week of reports from those TRC events in Ottawa.

We at SPUC participated in preparing for last week’s TRC events by decorating and sending hearts for the heart garden. Worship at SPUC has focussed on the TRC for several weeks, both that led by Louise Dearling while the Pickles, Stephen and I were at CAM, and again last Sunday. I have already contacted the United Church minister at Nations Uniting about learning how we at SPUC can be part of the reconciliation. You will hear more, because, my friends, we are all Treaty People.

Another true confession before I end: my life until recently has been defined by “mountain-top” experiences. I had parents who wrote holiday brag letters about the wonderful achievements and experiences of their amazing family during the previous year. I broke that habit decades ago, then along came FaceBook, where many maintain the same kind of façade. I am trying to be real there, as well as in how I relate with you, sharing what life in the valley is for me these days. At this point in my life, leaving the mountain and living every-day life in the valley – for the most part – brings me great joy. Thanks for being my valley.

Down In the Valley

Down In the Valley

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