A couple of weeks ago we had our Annual Financial Meeting where we discussed and passed our budget for the current year. To be frank we are facing significant financial challenges in the near future. We are in the same boat as all the other mainline protestant denominations like the Presbyterians, Anglicans and Lutherans. Demographic changes and the rise of the religious nones means that we can no longer do church the way we always have. We have to change our way of being church and that includes financially. Mainline Protestantism is undergoing a massive change and we have to face that fact.
This doesn’t mean that our ways of being are wrong just that they have to change to conform to the demographic changes that are occurring, which Phyllis Tickle calls The Great Emergence. According to Tickle every 500 years or so the church feels compelled to hold a giant garage sale, even larger than the Wesley Garage sale! Five hundred years ago there was the protestant reformation. Five hundred years before that was the Great Schism leading to the split of the eastern and western churches. Five hundred years before that was the council of Chalcedon and changes initiated by Pope Gregory the great. Before that was the emergence of Christianity from Judaism. And the Rabbis will tell us about the Babylonian exile and the rise of the Davidic kingship. Tickle’s point is that changes we are going through is historically normative, indeed a typical occurrence and that and while we need to acknowledge and respond, it should not be a source of shame.
As the great Minnesotan poet Bob Dylan tells us “the times they are a-changing.” They are a-changing for the United Church of Canada and a-changing for Wesley United Church and we need to respond on a deionizational and a congregational level. To be honest my call is to the local, congregational level. While will fulfill my ordination vows and participate fully in presbytery but call is to Wesley United Church and I will leave denominational restructuring to others. And as for Wesley united Church we are actually in a pretty good place. Yes we have budgeted a significant deficit but we do have a chunk of change in the bank. While we do need to be careful there is no need to panic.
But as Bob Dylan said, the times they are a-changin’. And we have to change with them. In order to see how need to change perhaps it behooves us to take stock of where we are. Right now the most meaningful and important thing we do is we meet on Sunday mornings. We are a meeting place. We don’t want to lose that. Being a meeting place is really important. What we do on Sunday mornings is really important. We may need to change to become more hospitable and inviting to others but retaining the aspect of meeting place is important.
Really, what I want to do today is look at other ways of being a meeting place. Meeting places have held important places in our lives since time immemorial. In fact Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the meeting place. The well was a meeting place as we saw in the story of Jacob. The well was the source of water, the source of life. We can’t survive without water. It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone needs water. Samaritans, Jews, Romans, Canadians or Presbyterians: everyone needs water. So the well became a meeting place where people refreshed themselves with water, the source of life.
And when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well he did something strange and radical. He asked her for a cup of water. Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a cup of water was a radical act. Not only was she a woman and there were strict prohibitions on men speaking to women in first century Palestine but she was a Samaritan woman. The Jewish people considered the Samaritans a mongrel race, unclean and spiritually inferior.
Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a cup of water was like the CEO of SaskPower walking down to Victoria Park and sharing a bottle of cheap red wine in a brown paper bag with some guy on a park bench. It’s like that times 10! It wouldn’t happen. But Jesus was committed to breaking down barriers and crossing boundaries. In fact, Jesus the Christ breaking down barriers which is what makes him the Christ, a locus of creative transformation in the world. By crossing boundaries Jesus became the Christ the source of Creative Transformation of the world. And by following the Christ we can be a part of the creative transformation of the world.
And to do that, we need to break down barriers; we need to be boundary crossers. I’m not saying that we need to go down to Victoria Park and drink wine with guys sitting on park benches, but we need to cross boundaries, we need to break barriers and we can do this right here at the meeting place. We can do this by nurturing our worship to be more welcoming to others but we can also grow the times that we open our doors to the meeting place. We’ve a barbecue the size of a Chevrolet, maybe we could have a free hotdog and juice day sometime. By doing that we could be a gift to the neighborhood. There are many ways that we could be that gift.
A few weeks ago I met the directors of University of Regina Pride and I invited them here to see if there was some ways we might build relationship between Wesley and their community group. As I showed them around we found that there are many ways that we might share our building. They have a youth group that could use this space to meet. They have a coming out night that could be held here. One of the most intriguing conversations we had was around the kitchen. They were really excited the possibility of making preserves and canning. I told them I’m pretty sure I know a few people around here who could teach young folks how to pickle beets or can tomatoes.
They told me that about the RPIRG Green Patch. The Regina Public Interest Research Group, hence RPIRG, is a student activist group and they have a massive Community Garden and they might be able to supply some vegetables for our canning pickling parties. That kitchen is a massive asset that can help us connect into the community. There are lots of opportunities to invite people to share the abundant assets that we have. I’m not talking about spending a ton of money or creating a lot of volunteer work. I’m talking about open up our hearts and space to the community of Hillsdale. I’m talking about opening up our Meeting Place to the community. I’m talking about becoming the Hillsdale Meeting Place.
Now, I’m not saying that making pickles with a bunch of queer kids will solve all of our financial problems, but nurturing a vibrating Meeting Place could be part of the solution. Perhaps we can create a Meeting Place that will be so deeply connected to the community that everyone in Hillsdale will have a social and emotional attachment. Perhaps they will say, “Oh right, Wesley. I’m not religious but I go to some of the events there. It’s a really important part of the neighborhood.” If we become so ingrained in the neighborhood then maybe our financial challenges will become their financial challenges. And who knows, maybe some of them will wander into the building at 10:30 am on a Sunday and drop something in the offering plate.
But even if making pickles with queer kids at the Meeting Place doesn’t solve our financial problems it can solve our spiritual problems. Making pickles with queer kids can be part of the revival of not only of our community but of the world. Bruce Epperly tells us, “that we need revival: perhaps, not the old-fashioned, altar call, revivals of olden days, and fire and brimstone preaching. We need another kind of revival, awakening us to God’s call to personal, congregational, and social transformation. We have been thirsty too long; we are parched and tempted to live by scarcity when God’s abundance is all around. We need to believe that we can be refreshed and that we have the tools to transform our lives and congregations through opening to God’s grace. Eternal life and spiritual refreshment is in the here and now, awaiting our announcement, affirmation, and appropriation.”
We can get eternal life by engaging the greater community, through Christ Jesus by crossing boundaries and breaking down barriers. Jesus tells us that, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” We gain eternal life through Jesus the Christ, through his example of engaging the other, engaging the stranger. We can gain eternal life by creating the Meeting Place. We can gain eternal life through Christ Jesus by making pickles with queer kids, here at the meeting place. Amen.
Phyllis Tickle, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY83MF2HZcU