Fruits of Discernment

I am coming more and more to see all of life as a journey toward integrity, a union of the ‘inner’ spiritual life focused on listening for God’s promptings, and the ‘outer’ life of being active in the world.

I am grateful to Five Oaks board and staff colleagues – and to Rev. Don Parsons (Acting Director of Five Oaks until my return in mid-December) for enabling me, in this time of sabbatical, to spend some concentrated time attending to the swaying, interactive movements by which one’s inner life and outer life grow in harmony.

Now midway, I can comment on two early fruits of this process: first, a renewal of my imagination and enthusiasm for the vital ministry enabled by Five Oaks; and second, my decision to accept Erie Presbytery’s nomination for Moderator of The United Church of Canada. The two are not unrelated.

It’s more than five years since I was first asked to consider a nomination. I rejected it immediately, even though it came then from one of our former Moderators, a person I deeply respect and admire. I have resisted many similar suggestions since.

In one way, finally saying ‘yes’ to the nomination is a relief. My son put it clearly when he said to me yesterday, “It’s not your job to decide who will be Moderator; you’ve done your job by offering yourself to the church in this process.” He’s right, of course, and it is a great relief to now hand off the weight of discernment to General Council when it meets next August.

Still, getting to this point has not been easy for me. Our church is blessed by many extraordinary leaders; there is no shortage of names of those who could fulfill this role magnificently. Knowing about their gifts – and my limitations – is merely one of the reasons why this discernment has been so difficult.

Everyone who has helped me to spiritually navigate this possibility has helped me to look deep inside. These include those who asked me to consider it, my spiritual director, my family members and those with whom I share Courage to Lead work, inspired and led by Parker J. Palmer. “Courage” work opens us to travel to the depths of soul, where we must go in order to be faithful to the Divine Spark within. We cannot make such a journey alone; it is demanding work to find the courage to say yes to that which we more easily say no. This is why we need places and times of retreat and of grace-filled community.

And so, at the end of a long period of discernment I am prepared to embrace both the demanding, joyful work of Five Oaks and that of being a Moderatorial nominee.

Naturally, I am being asked what I would hope to bring to the role of Moderator if elected. Every time I have been asked to consider the nomination, my first impulse was to ask the other what led them to raise this possibility. Their answers – which, through prayer and discernment have now become mine – are about how I would bring who I am, how I lead and what I hear in God’s call to us as church in this time.

There will be more to say to General Council Commissioners as next summer rolls around, but in the following few comments you will no doubt recognize an interweaving of my priorities at Five Oaks with how I would approach the role of Moderator. If another nominee is called to be Moderator, I will offer myself (both “inside and out”) to support them in their call, while continuing to invest myself fully in my responsibilities at Five Oaks.

Over many years I have been learning to balance my passion for an active faith with the depth that comes from regular spiritual discipline, leading to a continuous call through prayer into action and through action into prayer. My style of leadership interweaves the contemplative with the active. This is how I have learned to function in order to seek – and by God’s grace, to find – some degree of integrity.

My current passions cluster in three areas:

  • The urgency of environmental care, which I see as tightly linked with social justice and the concerns of indigenous peoples. In the late ‘70s I served as a young member of the General Council Task Force on the Environment. In our report to the 1977 General Council, we said, “In order to love each other, we have to love the garden; in order to love the garden, we have to love each other.” I would encourage the church to delve deeply into what such words mean for us today and how they call forth our particular action and witness.
  • Enthusiasm for what I hear from young leaders. At Five Oaks, we have nurtured a network of more than 100 young adults whose commitment and fresh vision both challenge and inspire me. I continue to seek out ways to give young members a greater voice.
  • The need to continue learning what it means to live into right relations in this land. As a church we are uniquely ‘of this land.’ In coming to terms with our past, through truth, reconciliation and healing with indigenous peoples; in coming to terms with our present, through intercultural relationships; and in moving with confidence and hope toward our future, we owe Canada our continued faithful witness. I never hesitate to speak publicly about the way my faith inspires and supports my action.

Let’s help one another continue to deepen our integrity. We have been given the gift of community within the church of Jesus Christ: opportunities to worship and work as congregations and to embrace retreat and new learning in places like Five Oaks. Let’s help one another consider how our inner life, in dynamic relationship with the Holy, provides the nurture, structure and support by which we act in the world to reflect God’s love. And let’s take what we learn from our consequent action and efforts into our most intimate conversation with God, Christ and Spirit, Source of Life, Living Word and Bond of Love. We pray these things in order that we might live as one, undivided, with integrity. Amen.