Monday, November 30, 2015

A Warm Welcome

   Every church says they're friendly.  Our notice in the local newspaper says "a warm welcome awaits you." Everyone welcome is a standard line in church notices. Yet most of us have had experiences like the one pictured here.
  I once visited a church where the front door was locked.  There was no sign on it but "everyone knew" to use the door off the parking lot.  When we finally got inside we were frazzled.  The greeter didn't help when she announced, "Oh, we haven't used that door in years."

   I've also been in churches where I felt like I was a trophy to be won, with dozens of strangers rushing at me and insisting I join every sub-group in the congregation on my first visit.
True hospitality is open and welcoming without being pushy.  Sometimes it's hard to find the right balance.  An invitation to coffee hour after the service is a good place to start.  Friendship coffee is an excellent next step.  As the poster says, this is an opportunity to engage with other members of the congregation, to share your stories and your news, to exchange ideas and enjoy a cup of coffee in the process.  Real friendships often start over a cup of coffee, where we discover common interests, a kindred spirit and a shared belief.
   I'm happy to report that in my search of "unfriendly church" stories, I didn't find any that fit SPPC.  In fact, I was privileged to hear a testimonial by a newer member of our congregation, affirming the genuine warmth and welcome she found at SPPC. 
  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness(hospitality), goodness, faithfulness.  Thanks be to God.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Prepare the Way!

 The title of this blog is also the title of an anthem in our church music library.  I'm sorry if you think it's too early for a blog about Christmas, but I must warn you it is only a month until The Big Day, and we need to prepare.

    Many of us have already begun to prepare by making Christmas cakes and setting them in a crock to age, or baking Christmas cookies and putting them in the freezer to be brought out when company comes through our doors.  At SPPC we've put out a call for helpers to decorate the sanctuary as we prepare for our Advent and Christmas services.

  The Living Flame choir is preparing a short entertainment to present at the Celebration of Advent on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 7:00 pm. It's not too late to take part in that concert, or help with the refreshments afterward.  See Diane if you'd like to be involved.  

     White Gift Sunday on December 13 invites us to prepare our hearts by remembering those in need.  At Bible Study last week, we talked about giving -- publicly or privately.  The danger of public giving is that it may be more about the giver than the reason for the gift. It may give the donor a sense of well-being to be generous, but that is the end of his reward.  The private giver also receives that sense of well-being but is also promised reward in heaven.    Matt 6: 2-4.  White Gift Sunday is an opportunity to give secretly -- all those anonymous white-wrapped parcels -- they'll  help to brighten the season for others and help you fulfil God's command to generosity.   

    Many community groups are putting on Christmas events and asking for donations -- to the food bank, to Our Place, to overseas missions, -- the list is endless.  It's always wise to check out a charity before making a donation, be sure they are registered and find out how much of your giving goes to the cause and how much goes to administration.    It's nice to note that donations to religious charities rate highest on the efficiency scale.   So, if you are wondering where best to spend your charitable dollars, PWS&D or Presbyterians Sharing are good choices.  
    However you spend the next five weeks, I hope you prepare -- prepare for love, joy, hope, and peace.  Prepare for Jesus.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jesus Bids Us Shine

           This week our blog received a gift. A member of the congregation who wishes to remain anonymous, provided me with   a series of short homilies to be used at random on this page.  I'm extremely grateful, and thought I'd run the first one today.  November is notoriously drear and dark.  We've had our first storm of the season and the weather forecast is for more cloudy skies.  Seems like a perfect time to write about light.

Jesus bids us Shine

Matthew 5.16  …let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.

   Scripture tells us that Christians are to be shining lights - witnessing for Christ. But all lights do not have the same function. When you think of your own Christian life do you wish to be the biggest, the brightest, the most outstanding?- the “floodlight” type?
   The Lord does not call many people to fill that sort of responsibility, in fact, only a very few. Most of us will never be called to do a tremendously impressive job but all of us are called to be faithful wherever
   “Jesus bids us shine”. It may be in a very small corner, but even the smallest candle lighting the darkest corner can be the means of saving someone from injury or harm.
   In its work of lighting a corner the candle must not be covered by anything for then it will give very little light and its usefulness will be limited. This kind of light can only do a complete job when the candle is
                        the wick is functioning
                        the flame is burning evenly.
  Few will give credit to the light even when it is doing everything it is intended to do. But the important thing is not the candle or the wick but the light it produces in a dark corner.
   This is all God asks of us - “you in your small corner and I in mine”
   He may ask you to shine in your neighbourhood, to be a light for the house next door. It may be just at home, the most difficult place to shine.
    But He does ask you to be a shining light - ready to be put to use wherever He shows the place.
Are YOU shining?

Ed. Note:  As though to reinforce this story, I heard the other day of a man who visited in a home he hadn't been in before.  His first impression was "this is a Christian home."  There were no overt Christian symbols on the walls, no one was reading the Bible, the family wasn't assembled at prayers, but my friend was struck by the light that seemed to shine from every member of the household. He knew immediately that inner light came from God.
   Let your light shine!


Monday, November 9, 2015

I Vow to Thee My Country

   For the last couple of years we've included the hymn, "I Vow to Thee, my Country," in our Act of Remembrance on the Sunday before November 11.  This hymn was not in the hymnary I grew up with, so I thought I'd find out something about it's origins and use.
     While the hymn is associated with war and remembrance,it was written in peacetime, 1908.  The author, Cecil Spring Rice, was a British diplomat, posted to Sweden at the time.  The lyrics of the first verse express the longing and love of an ex-pat for his homeland.  Some critics consider the words too jingoistic, going beyond patriotism to a dangerous nationalism, others counter that the lines speak of "earthly things" and make a statement on the nature of love.
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

     The closing verse speaks of "another country", the Heavenly Kingdom, that the Christian loves even more than his earthly homeland.  The final line references Proverbs 3:17Her[Wisdom's] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."  
This verse urges Christians to make the Kingdom of God our goal and our pattern for living.  There can be no controversy over the sentiment of these lines. 

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

     There is another verse, very rarely included in the hymn.  It was written by Spring Rice in 1918, while he was ambassador to the United States.  One of his duties in that role was to encourage America to support the allies in WWI.  One might have expected him to exalt the claim of country at that time, yet this new verse replaces the ringing promises of the patriot with the sombre reflection of a witness to the carnage of war.  Yet Spring Rice remains unshaken in his love for his country, seeing her as a mother and he her son.
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waves and waters, she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And around her feet are lying the dying and the dead;
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns;
I haste to thee, my mother, a son among thy sons.

     There are other hymns sung on Remembrance Day, "O God Our Help in Ages Past,"  "Eternal Father Strong to Save,"  "O Valiant Hearts," to name just a few, but "I Vow to Thee my Country," continues as a favourite, despite the objections of some.  It may be the tune that makes it so popular.  Thaxted, an adaptation of  the Jupiter movement from Gustav Holst's "The Planets," cannot fail to stir the soul.  Holst made his first adaptation in 1921, then, at the request of his friend Ralph Vaughn Williams, he harmonized it in 1926 so it could be a sung as a hymn.  Thaxted is the name of the village where Holst lived.  
     The hymn has been sung at weddings, at funerals, on Remembrance Day, at sporting events, and at school graduations.  It bears no childhood memories for me, but the tune alone makes me glad I've learned it.

    Whatever you sing on Remembrance Day, however you mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, say a prayer for those who put themselves in harms way so others can live freely and in peace.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Thick Socks

Sunday marked the end of our "Warm Toes" sock drive.  As we do every October, the congregation donated new, heavy socks and small toiletries for folk living on the street.  This year we collected 112 pairs of socks, 9 bags of toiletries and 1 bag of mitts and scarves.  They will be given to The Dandelion Society and Rev. Al Tysick for distribution.  The Dandelion works with the most vulnerable among the people who live on the street.
   Most of us take dry socks and warm feet for granted.  If we occasionally get wet and cold in the garden or on the golf course, we can hurry inside, change our socks and warm up.  For those living on the street that option is not available.  Wet, cold feet is a constant in their lives.

    Studies have shown that worn out footwear and damp socks contribute to the general misery of life without a home.  Frostbite and hypothermia, arthritis, wounds and bruises, skin lesions, toenail infections, trench foot, calluses, warts, corns, ingrown nails, exacerbation of mild illnesses resulting in hospital visits.  These are some of the conditions that can be alleviated by a pair of clean, dry, socks.
   There are many reasons for homelessness, among them addiction, mental illness, poverty and abuse.  The issue is pervasive and chronic, especially in Victoria.  There are many agencies seeking to improve the situation by providing housing, medical and dental care, and mental health facilities.  These are large goals.  Goals that take time and money and organization.

   But for those on the street, suffering now, a pair of warm socks is a simple, affordable and immediate remedy.  Thanks for the socks, SPPC, and thanks to the Dandelion Society for handing them on.