Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

United As One

Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26; John 17: 6-19

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC on Sunday May 20th, 2012

Be with us, O Spirit.  Walk with us as we strive to become one as witnesses to the love of God in Christ.  Guide us in building a Spirit-led community that bears fruit which is pleasing to you and beneficial to our neighbours. Amen.

Toronto Conference’s Annual General Meeting weekend is coming next week.  It is going to be held in the same place as last year, St. Paul’s United in Orillia.  Fred, our Presbytery Rep, Malcolm, our Voluntary Associate Minister, and I will be there.  Some of you remember that I worked as one of the staff team responsible for the youth group last year.  I am not going in that capacity this year, just as a member.  So, I am looking forward to spending more time with colleagues, more engagement in discussions and particularly quiet time at night and a good night’s sleep. 

For those not familiar with the United Church structure, we have four church courts: General Council, Conference, Presbytery and the Pastoral Charge.  Our congregation is one pastoral charge.  In many rural areas, multiple small congregations may form one pastoral charge.  Around sixty pastoral charges form one of the four Presbyteries which constitute the Toronto Conference.  We belong to the Toronto Southeast Presbytery of Toronto Conference.  The Toronto Conference AGM  lasts for three days, traditionally the last weekend of May.  This year, as Pentecost Sunday falls on the Conference weekend, the meeting will be shortened to only two days.  I will be back to lead the Pentecost Sunday service. There are 13 Conferences across the country and each Conference elects its Commissioners to General Council every three years.  General Council is a conciliar body of Commissioners and the highest decision-making body of the United Church of Canada.  More than six hundred Commissioners will gather for the Forty First General Council in Ottawa this August.

According to the passage from Acts, today 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem to choose an apostle to replace Judas, who had died by suicide. The “apostles” were the 12 followers whom Jesus chose to fill a special role—they were the ones to be “sent out” to share Jesus’ message with the world. The number 12 had a special significance to the Jewish followers of Jesus. There were 12 tribes of Israel; 12 was also the number of full moons in a year, symbolizing wholeness and the fullness of time. With Judas gone, another person had to be found to join the apostles and enable them to again symbolize the faithfulness and endur­ance of Jesus’ community.

During this period the Good News was shared verbally, so it was important that the new apostle be familiar with the whole of Jesus’ ministry and could bear witness to the resurrection. Therefore, the candidate to fill Judas’ position had to be one of the group that had traveled with Jesus throughout his whole ministry—from his Baptism to his Ascension. Two candidates were proposed—Matthias and Barsabbas. The new apostle was chosen by the casting of lots. Names were written on stones and placed in a vessel. Then they were shaken vigorously until one fell out. Casting lots was a common method used in ancient times to discern­ God’s will. To the believers, it was God who chose Matthias, not chance.

Next weekend at the Conference AGM, several elections will take place to choose candidates for various positions in the United Church.  One of the important elections is to replace the Rev. Barbara White, who has served as the ordered ministry representative on the General Council Executive for six years.  There have already been three candidates for that position.  Unlike the believers in Acts, we won’t cast lots: we will choose by vote, after listening to each candidate’s speech.  I know all the three candidates well and so, for me, it is not a difficult choice to make.  No matter who is elected, like believers in the first century, we also believe God will guide us to choose the one.

There is no bishop or Pope in the United Church.  Our denomination is governed by over 3000 congregations and their lay and ordered representatives across the country.  It is not a top-down structure but a democratic one.  So, all the congregation representatives gather regularly in each court, Presbytery, Conference and General Council to make important decisions in order to support our ministries.  Each court is mandated to be formed by equal numbers of both lay and ordered representatives.  We elected Fred to represent our congregation in Presbytery  and Conference. I hope he will be privileged to go to General Council someday in the future, elected as a Commissioner at Presbytery or Conference.  

In the United Church of Canada, decision-making is vested in the members of our Church Council, the members of Presbytery and Conference and the Commissioners to General Council.  One important reality we need to note: not everyone in every congregation expresses his or her faith in the same way.  United Church congregations usually acknowledge these differences, and do not seek uniformity.  One reason for this is that the whole United Church began with compromise.  Three denominations, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational, joined together to form the United Church in 1925.  They were aware of their differences, but they decided to be united as one national church to do God’s mission together across Canada. 

To this day, agreeing to disagree is a cherished United Church tradition. As a result, it is not easy to obtain consensus among us.  That is why it takes us a lot of time and resources to keep our ministry going.  However, we do cherish our tradition of being united beyond our differences and value our commitment to working together in harmony to carry out Jesus’ ministry in our context here and now. Someone has said that the Group of Seven and the United Church of Canada are the two most original and distinctively Canadian things Canada has produced. 

Let us remember that at the inauguration service of our church union in Toronto on June 10, 1925, our church founders read today’s passage from the Gospel of John: Jesus is said to have prayed that God would protect his followers and keep them unified: “Protect them in your name, so that they may be one, as we are one.”  Jesus prays that God will give the disciples the strength to continue to live out their faith and not be tempted to divert from the ministry which has been entrusted to them. He also prays that they remain unified, both with God and with each other. The disciples are to be the living symbols of Jesus’ continuing presence and ministry in the world, and thus must not become embroiled in division.

We believe Jesus’ prayer has guided us ever since we were united as one.  We, the United Church of Canada, have made many historic decisions to become a living symbol of Jesus’ continuing presence and ministry in Canada: in 1936, we ordained a woman for the first time in Canadian church history; in 1988, we decided to welcome anyone to full membership in the church including ordered ministry regardless of their sexual orientation; in 1998, we offered the first official apology to the First Nations peoples for our involvement in the residential schools.  We believe that our being unified with God and with one another has strengthened us to live out our faith here and now. 

The United Church Crest, hanging on the front of this pulpit, is the official signature of our church.  As part of our ongoing efforts to be united as one, the last General Council made a decision to form a task group to work on the revision of this crest in order to acknowledge the presence and spirituality of the First Nations people in our ministry.  Most of our early churches were founded by European settlers who would not have survived without the great support of the Aboriginal peoples and today we still live on their land.  Next weekend the task group will present to Conference its proposal for a revised crest, followed by a theme speech by Marie Wilson, a Commissioner to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The proposed crest reflects the four colours of the Indigenous medicine wheel: yellow, black, red and white and adds the Mohawk version of “All My Relations” to the current Latin words, “That All May Be One (John 17:21)” at the bottom. The upcoming General Council is expected to approve this revised crest. 

Today, Jesus prays that we continue to become one as witnesses to the love of God, even when we face dis­agreement, change, or loss.  Empowered by his prayer, may we, united as one, continue to carry on Jesus’ ministry today and in the days ahead.  Amen.

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