On Leading with Care
January 15, 2006
Psalm 46; James 1:19-27; Matthew 5:1-12
Copyright 2006 – Reverend John Dowds
Like many people, I am a bit of a creature of habit. I like to get up at pretty well the same time every morning, go downstairs, grind my fairly traded, grown in an environmentally friendly way, coffee beans – the noise of which usually wakes up my daughters – get dressed, by which time my coffee is ready to drink, have my breakfast and watch the morning news. I like that routine, for the most part. If I get out of that routine I can be a bit of a grump – especially if I don’t have a cup of coffee before communicating with anyone in a meaningful way – not that I need caffeine – I mean I could give it up tomorrow if I had to…………………..
Like many people, I say that I am open to change, that I am flexible, reasonably adaptable, and ready for new and different things that may come my way. But you know, when the rubber hits the road, I am not always as open to change as I think I might be, I am not always as flexible as I need to be. I remember the first time Gord and I talked about the use of a drum to accompany an African hymn that we would be singing the following Sunday. He could tell by the look on my face, that that idea was going to be a bit of a struggle for me, even though it made good theoretical sense (not too many African hymns work with an organ or piano)….. I was ready for different instruments, the guitar, a violin, even John Carr’s ukulele, but a drum – I wasn’t so sure. Sometimes people suggest we need more movement in Worship – I notice that some of you move a bit with the rhythm of the music – what is that all about – stand still, this is a Presbyterian Church, the only things that moves to the beat around here is the Spirit and that is the way it is supposed to be – when I was growing up we sang those old hymns with gusto – but the only things that were moving were our mouths and lungs – and during sermon time the only things that moved were your eyelids – dad sat there, perfectly still, and if we didn’t do the same, we would get the icy stare……
Man have things changed. And now that I am on a bit of a roll, I would like to complain about the fact that Dayspring is a much larger congregation than it was ten years ago, and not only does that make work as your minister more demanding by times, but it means I don’t know as many of you as well as I would like to, I may not even notice that you are missing on a given Sunday – especially when some of you sit in a different pew – that just throws me off completely…………
Change, yes I am ready for it, I am adaptable, I am open…………….sometimes.
Not only has the face of Dayspring changed over the years so has the face of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and so has the Christian church generally – we have seen a change in the influence the Christian Church has on society, we have seen declining numbers, we have seen a wide variety of responses and some division around such issues as homosexuality, the church in the political arena, interpretation of Scripture, diverse theological perspectives, and the list goes on.
One of the other big changes we have seen and experienced over the last number of years is a shattering of the myth that the Church is always a safe place, a place of sanctuary where all are cared for in the way Christ has called us to care. Not so.
We know from media coverage and other sources that we very much, whether we like it or not is irrelevant, live in an age of lost innocence – and we ignore that reality at our peril – the world can be an ugly place sometimes – abuse, neglect, violence, oppression, theft, destruction, undue hardship, are all around us. We see it, we hear about it, we are deeply saddened by it, we struggle with what to do about it, we wonder why it happens, we may have had it happen to us………..and the big stinger is that not only have these things happened outside the walls of the Church, some of those things have also happened with the walls of the church too. Unfortunately no denomination is without stories of physical and sexual abuse and harassment – The Presbyterian Church in Canada is no exception to that. Faced with that reality, we like many denominations established, about fifteen years ago, a policy to deal with allegations of abuse and harassment – it was and is a policy to protect, to provide guidance and to deal justly with victims and perpetrators. Its basic principle is that our denomination has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and harassment – and rightly so. I think it would be fair to say that no-one had a burning desire to put such a policy in place – the realities that were before us, and our calling as Christian people to care pastorally and justly for others – demanded that we act.
Last year, right here in Edmonton, at a national gathering of our Church called the General Assembly – actually the highest court of our Church, a decision was made to adopt ‘Leading with Care:’ A Policy for Ensuring a Climate of Safety for Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults within our Church. The adoption of that policy as a denomination means that every Presbyterian Church across Canada is required to implement it. We are in the process of doing just that. This Thursday, at a Town Hall meeting, you will have an opportunity to hear more about that policy, what it means, how we are implementing it, in what ways it may impact you, and why it is an important step in the life of the Church.
Is it a good thing to be doing? Part of me, I must admit, wasn’t too enamoured about all of this. Safety isn’t an issue here; we have lots of good safeguards in place to keep people safe; yet more red tape; yet more steps to have to go through; more bureaucracy; do we really need to do this; wont it make it harder for us to get people to do things if, for instance, they are required to get a security check to lead youth, be a pastoral visitor or count money………..those were some of the thoughts that went through my mind………………but then I stepped back and reflected on a couple of things: we call this place a sanctuary, this space right here – but really sanctuary isn’t simply about this physical space – it is about the community – Dayspring is to be a place of sanctuary for all of its people and for any who come through our doors – a place of sanctuary – and what is sanctuary – well it is a place of safety, shelter, it is a sacred space, a holy place, a place that reflects the way and the will of God – if we believe that, and I assume we all do – then we need to do whatever we need to do to make sure that it is all of those things – ‘Leading with Care’ helps us with that. Then I got thinking about the fact that we call ourselves a community of faith and care. What dictates the way in which our community lives – faith and care do. And how do we express that, how do we make that happen – by living out our faith in real and tangible ways. James, who wrote that little letter from which Mark read earlier, writes on more than one occasion that faith without action is dead – we are called to live out our faith in real and tangible ways – to act justly, to do mercy, to walk humbly – Jesus did not tolerate anyone being treated unjustly, when it was necessary to call a spade a spade, he did just that – when tables needed turned over, he turned them over, when folk needed telling off for not caring for others the way they should, he told them off – and when people searched for what it meant, what it means to live authentically, to live in God’s way, he would say things like blessed are those care for others, blessed are those who may be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, blessed are those who care for the vulnerable, the naked, the sick……………Our own ‘Living Faith,’ the little green book right there in front of you in the pew, coins it this way…………we are called “to help people in need and to permeate all of life with the compassion of God.”
Leading with Care is steeped in those fundamental realities of our faith – it helps us express those realities, it calls us/ requires us to do our best to fulfill those realities and, as such, to do all we can to ‘provide a climate of safety for children, youth and vulnerable adults.’ In truth to provide a climate of safety, sanctuary for all.
Yet one more change, in the ever changing face of the Church – but it is good change, healthy change, it is about being the kingdom of God, it is about a community of care – it is about our faith in action – that to which God calls each and everyone of us.