Moderator Mardi’s Blog: A community of visible, tangible love

I trust that Thanksgiving was a blessed time for you and yours, as it certainly was for me. I’m grateful for all of your posted insights about kinship with creation—a theme that seems most poignant at the height of our liturgical Season of Creation.

This week, I’ve been thinking more about abundance within the human community.

The first of last week gave me an opportunity to reconnect with Kathy Galloway, the recently retired Leader of the Iona Community. We met at Five Oaks, where Kathy was leading a lively program about our life as People on the Journey. As always, I was inspired by Kathy and her stories from Iona, her Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community, and the renewal of worship. One of the first questions she asked us was about which biblical character we found ourselves most intrigued by. I couldn’t help but be drawn to Martha, a woman who helped build community through extraordinary hospitality as she struggled in the paradox of needing to do the work of do-ing in order that the work of be-ing with Christ could be explored in community with her sister Mary, her friend Jesus, and so many others.

Photo by Dorothy Day

Kathy spoke of the first church—not the one begun at Pentecost, but the group of those travelling with Jesus—learning by doing. They never started from theory but rather from the activity of travelling together and asking questions. Jesus, after all, asked more questions than he gave answers.

Jesus’ community was also marked by extreme diversity with people continually being added in. Jesus wasn’t so interested in whether or not they got along. He simply said, “Come with me”—leading to unlikely company. Jesus was making visible people who had been invisible. Jesus was a lesson in visible, tangible love.

Witnessing visible, tangible love is how I ended last week too, in my home city of Brantford, Ontario. On Saturday evening, my congregation, Sydenham Street United Church, held a celebratory dinner and evening in honour of my election as Moderator. It was amazing. There really are no words to describe this diverse community and the ways it invites all to come along, making visible those who may have felt invisible. Inspired by the leadership of the Rev. Barry Pridham and dedicated lay leaders—including board chair Yvonne Wright and member Harold Wall, who served as a commissioner to the 40th General Council—this church is constantly moving in the direction of embracing greater and greater diversity, thereby enjoying a corresponding vitality of community and of church.

Saturday offered yet another delicious intercultural church experience. (And yes, the food was just as delicious as the varied tastes of community.)

Representatives from The United Church of Canada included John Maich, chair of Erie Presbytery; Jeff Crittenden, president of Hamilton Conference; and Bill Steadman, from the General Council Office. If I continue with names, it will take you all day to read this. But I will name the communities who were well represented: the Brantford Mosque; the Baha’i community; the Seventh-day Adventist congregation; the Hindu community; the First Nations communities of Six Nations, New Credit, and beyond; and the Francis Sandy Theological Centre. Additional written greetings were read from the Jewish community, whose leader had a scheduling conflict. Greetings were also received from local, provincial, and federal politicians, three of whom attended and two of whom sent letters. It touched my heart that church members travelled from such distances, including from Toronto, Kincardine, and the Niagara region.

Entertainment was offered by our Filipino members doing traditional dance, a young boy who’s an amazing tap dancer, and our 10-year-old bagpiper(with a heart for both her homeland of China and for the Highlands), who piped in the head table. Sydenham’s comedy duo, Ma and Pa, had us laughing our way through the differences between a Moderator and a carburetor. And a beautiful rendition of “The Rose” was sung by one of our best soloists.

I loved the chance to address questions in a lively back-and-forth town hall format, exploring the issues before the church and inviting church and community members to participate in God’s healing of soul, community, and creation in fresh ways. The questions of young adults always seem to go to the heart of the matter.

The whole evening was enveloped in a reading of Revelation 21:1–5 and the singing of “I See a New Heaven” (Voices United 713). Visible, tangible love for the whole world community was demonstrated as tickets to the evening were sold to benefit the Mission and Service Fund. (You should have seen Bill Steadman auctioning off basketball tickets to add more to the M&S pot—thankfully purchased by a couple of Baha’i friends.)

I glimpsed a new heaven and a new earth at the start of last week and at its end—as I heard Kathy describe the first church travelling with Jesus and as I enjoyed the wildly diverse, chaotic, and loving community gathered on Saturday evening.

Where do you see a new heaven and a new earth being born?

Which biblical character most intrigues you, and what did she or he contribute to God’s community of visible, tangible love?