Category Archives: Congregational Development Archive

Won’t You be My Neighbour?

Thank you to Paul Hanaoka and unsplash.com for this image

Happy Mr. Roger’s Day!

It is not only a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, it is a beautiful day to go out and meet our neighbours.

Mr. Rogers was above all else a good neighbour; more important than being a teacher and entertainer of children (and even their parents), Fred Rogers sought to show us how to be the very best kind of neighbour we can be in the communities in which we live, work and worship. 

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Closing Is Easy – Opening is Hard: An Update

Thank you to Headway and unsplash.com for this photo

Wouldn’t you know it?

As soon as I uploaded the blog post on Saturday about the challenges churches are facing in deciding when and how they will reopen their church buildings I came across a great resource coming out of the Presbyterian Church USA. It is a document entitled Seeking to be Faithful Together: Guidelines for Presbyterians in Times of Disagreement and comes from their Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

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Closing Is Easy – Opening Is Hard

Thank you to Tavi White and unsplash.com for this photo

Two years ago today, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. I remember those first days and weeks; not sure what to touch or not to touch, getting used to wearing a mask, and most of all assuming that we would all be back in church by Easter at the latest.

How unprepared we were.

This week, the Ontario government has announced that most mask mandates will end on March 21, 2022 with the remaining pandemic rules lifted by the end of April. It seems as though we are moving from a pandemic to Covid being endemic in our world.

What a long strange trip it has been.

As I have talked with friends and colleagues over the past few days and weeks, I have heard and noticed a couple of important themes.

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Rest for the Weary

Thank you to Eduardo Flores and unsplash.com for this photograph

I just canceled the Zoom check-ins on Christian education planned for this week. Unfortunately only three people signed up and they were divided between two meetings. This low level of participation where once there was an enthusiastic number for Zoom check-ins seems to be symptomatic of what I’ve been seeing across the board with people’s participation in bible studies, Sunday school and leadership development.

I have found over these last couple of months that our church leaders and our people are more than exhausted from the ongoing stress of just keeping up during this pandemic. With the first year of the pandemic and its church building closures and protocols, leaders had a surge of energy and imagination for thinking about educational ministry in new ways and even began to focus on some things we’d been overlooking in the last number of decades. During the second year we established new ways of doing educational ministry and even began tweaking what we were doing as we got better and better at Zoom Sunday schools, porch meet ups and virtual worship. Moving into this third year I’m beginning to hear from many of our leaders that they just feel flat, without imagination, and are simply doing their very best to stay above water. 

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The Omicron Variant and Our Congregations

Thank you to Michael Marais at unsplash.com for this image

This morning, the province of Ontario returns to Step 2 of our roadmap to reopen. This decision was made in light of the staggering increase of Covid infection rates due to the Omicron variant. To give you an idea of how quickly this variant is moving, consider that the rolling average of cases in the province is now 14,598 compared to 10,327 a week ago and 926 a month ago.

The good news is that it appears that for the fully vaccinated this version of the virus is less serious than the Delta variant, but, it is still very serious.

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A Memorial Liturgy for All Saints Day

Thank you to Tina Witherspoon and unsplash.com for this image

November 1 is All Saints Day in the Christian Church. While we do not venerate saints in the same way other traditions do, we do have enough Knox and St Andrew’s churches along with other saint named churches to know that we take the concept of saints seriously.

We also have a further, more informal understanding of the communion of saints; namely those faithful Christians who have gone before and make up ‘that great cloud of witnesses’ that we read of in Hebrews 12. In the season of Covid, it is appropriate that we remember them.

As we head towards two full years of Covid-19, I have been reflecting on the communion of saints and in particular the opportunity to remember our cloud of witnesses on this coming All Saints Day. As I consider the past pandemic season, I realize that almost all of us have had the experience of being unable to faithfully respond to the death of loved ones. 

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A Few Helpful Resources re: Protocols for In-Person Worship

Kirk Dunn, Morningside High Park Presbyterian Church, Toronto

“Welcome back! We’re glad you are joining us for in-person worship. There are a few things we’d like to share with you before you come into the building; what to expect when you enter the church, what worship will look and feel like, and a few health protocols that must be followed by everyone.”

Many of our congregations are in the process of welcoming people back to worship in their buildings. This return to in-person worship will raise a number of questions by those attending regarding the public health protocols they will need to follow, as well questions about what worship will be like when they get there. It is always our church’s prayer that no one feel uncomfortable as they come to worship and by answering these questions well in advance we can put everyone at ease. Clearly laying out your church’s expectations while offering reassurance will avoid any misunderstandings and help people make an informed decision about their onsite participation.

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A Process for Considering the Reopening of In-Person Sunday School

If you missed this week’s Zoom meetings introducing a process for considering the reopening of in-person Sunday school for your church, here is an opportunity to view the presentation portion of our get-together. This 30 minute video will walk you through the many factors your church will want to consider as you move toward a safe reopening.

Just click on the slide below and you will be taken to the youtube video.

In the video I will refer to a link to a Government of Canada file outlining areas of concern regarding physical spaces that are to be used for gatherings. This document will help you assess areas of risk and offer suggestions for ways to comply with these guidelines. Click here to be taken to this document.

I hope this presentation will assist you in your conversations and decision making.

Grace and peace, Tori

I Will Give You Rest

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28 NRSV)

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (Mark 1:36, 37 NRSV)

Traditionally summer has been the minister’s ‘down time’. Meetings stop, people are away, and things are quieter all around. For many years, ministers typically took all of their holidays in one large chunk. This meant that real rest could happen.

Then things changed:

  • Cell phones meant ministers (and almost everyone else) could be accessed 24/7
  • Email meant that you were never truly away
  • People came to expect that their concerns would be addressed immediately
  • Even if we could get away from work physically, emotional distance was much harder to achieve

And then came Covid.

Over the past month or so I have had repeated conversations with church leaders who have not had time off since the pandemic began. They are literally at the end of their ropes.

Tori and I are similarly exhausted. While we have tried to be good stewards of our time and energy, we are aware of just how tired we really are. In June we took a week’s holidays and it actually took us two weeks to fit it in around emergent phone calls and meetings. 

For many, physical tiredness is just the tip of the iceberg. Many are feeling burnt out with no place to turn to deal with it. This has affected relationships, ministry effectiveness and satisfaction, as well as general health and wellbeing.

I cannot say when this will all end, nor can I resolve all of the issues this article raises. However, I would like to address just one, the need for physical rest.

As I read the above passages of scripture, three things pop out at me:

  1. Jesus needed to get away. He needed to get away to pray and he needed to get away to rest. The words of Peter, ‘everyone is looking for you’ speaks to our condition as well as his.
  2. Jesus promises rest. We are weary and heavy laden. Jesus promises rest.
  3. You can’t have spiritual rest without physical rest.

I remember talking with a friend who was connected to a retreat centre. For years this establishment had offered week long retreats for clergy. More recently they have discovered that these same clergy needed to sleep for the first five days in order to even be able to consider any spiritual work.

This is all a way of recognizing that we are tired – very tired – and that the summer should hopefully be a chance to recharge our batteries. 

I am aware that the summer is half way over but, I pray that you might recognize your own need for physical rest and might assert yourself to take it. No one knows what the fall will bring but, if there is a time to re-charge your batteries, now is it.

Tori and I will be taking the next three weeks off. During that time, we will only be available for emergencies. We will be doing our very best to also take an email sabbatical for this time.

Your ministry is a blessing. Please make sure that you are well rested and able to lead your flock. Please remember the adage; “put on your oxygen mask first.”

May God bless you in this season of rest.

John-Peter & Tori.

PS – Elders, please consider giving your minister some additional time off this year. They need it!