Moderator Mardi’s Blog: “The church has collapsed”

Yesterday morning I spoke with the Rev. Bill Millar as he and his congregation of Knox United in Winnipeg prepared for worship. They’d been through quite a shock. On Friday a portion of the building’s stone spire fell as a thunderstorm rolled across the city. A 6,000 lb. chunk of Tyndall rock came crashing down, narrowly missing a nearby parked car. Amazingly, no one was hurt.

But the first news Bill received was that “the church has collapsed.” That first report was greatly exaggerated, so while there is damage to the building and water coming through, he and his congregation gathered for worship there yesterday morning. The building can be repaired.

I told Bill that perhaps this would draw attention to Knox’s extraordinary intercultural and social outreach ministries, and he said that Jennifer (one of his colleagues) had joked that this might be all her fault because just the day before she had said, “We need to make some news again.”

Bill went on to speak about how one of the marks of a healthy community is how it responds when someone is wounded. Many supportive calls have come, with the first coming from the Pentecostal minister across the park who said, “We’ve got space. What can we do to help?” While taking very different approaches to gospel and ministry, clearly these two ministers have invested in mutual support. Bill gave other moving examples of how the community has been there for him, and they for one another.

So he and the people of Knox are responding to their trauma by celebrating enormous strength in community. Yesterday their thoughts and prayers had turned to extraordinary leaders of our church who were being ordained, commissioned, recognized, and accepted into ministry in The United Church of Canada yesterday in communities across the country.

We often hear variations on the message “the church has collapsed.” And such reports usually miss bigger, truer stories. The stories that don’t make the news.

I spent this past weekend with Toronto Conference, hearing more of these stories of courage and transformation. Some spires will come down, but strong communities are being renewed and shaped as living examples of the incarnation, the body of Christ in the world. The truth of these more significant stories is well known to those who tell me they have found a church community that offers safety for their soul; health and healing for their city, town, or village; and radical care for all of creation. (One story was of a church supper serving 400 people that produced only half a small plastic bag of waste because little plastic butter containers are not yet recyclable. All other waste was either composted or recycled, and chicken bones used back on the farm from which the chickens had come.)

Such stories rarely attract the widespread public and media attention that a falling steeple does. But Knox was already news to those for whom it’s been a place of welcome and empowerment—including many newcomers to Canada from all parts of the world. And as I travel I hear from young and old who have been embraced in love and empowered through the church for the sake of love in the world. These folks know the real story and are telling it. And sometimes falling chunks of rock will draw attention to what’s happening inside and through collapsing, changing buildings.

It was thrilling to preach at Toronto Conference’s new ministries service yesterday, facing eight newly ordained, accepted, and recognized United Church ministers—feeling the power of prayer reverberating across the country as we witness new and energetic leadership springing forth.

Even in the midst of trauma and loss, let’s make sure we listen for the full story. And let’s not miss the abundance that Bill Millar sees so clearly. Yes, Jennifer, Knox has made the news again—for more reasons than one.

What does abundance look like alongside trauma or loss where you are?