This last month at Wildwood we've had three wonderful sermons, and three wonderful bible study sessions that examined the scriptures that people most commonly reference when discussing same gendered relationships in the Bible. It was a wonderful sermon series, rooted in scripture that contained a powerful message about love and grace. But now, I ask you to please put your magnifying glass away.

Being one of the people at Wildwood Mennonite who identifies as part of the queer community, I can’t help but feel like when we explore this topic – it can become extremely personal. Not that it was a negative experience, but you soon realize that living as a queer person, it feels like that people zoom in on me, and people latch on to me and my story. This is okay, but you often realize how much you are talked about. Fortunately people have been very affirming, but it feels odd when people discuss you or your sexual orientation so publicly. Very rarely do I discuss my heterosexual friend's sexual orientation so publicly - zooming in on the personal details of their life. I'm feeling like I need a bit of a break, so please put your magnifying glass away.

I’m not always aware of what it’s like to live on the other side. In his recent blog post Joe shared about his privileges of be being in the straight majority – he only has to think about his sexuality when he wants to.

“The rest of the time, I’m free to identify myself—or not—through a variety of other categories: pastor, father, neighbour, American, sports fan, etc.  Even when I’m with my wife, holding hands as we walk down the street, those other labels are what come to mind for most of the people we walk past.  I never assume that someone is thinking “there goes another straight couple… keep your sexuality to yourself!”

Not so for many in the LGBTQ* community.  That label is attached to so much of what they do and who they are: “our new neighbour, you know, the lesbian.”  “The gay parents at my kid’s school.”  “I think my yoga teacher must be gay.”  Etc. (And those are just the well-intentioned labels.)  At any point their sexuality is up for discussion and commentary, whether or not it’s relevant to the situation at hand.  Especially at church these days.

I would hope people in the church would see me for my faith which I believe defines my character. Under that umbrella I serve as the church treasurer, a person in the communications profession, a taxpayer, worship leader, a person who loves to dance, a person who loves to laugh, a person who loves the faith, a person who eats, sleeps, and reads the paper. I do all of these things from a Christian perspective – not the gay perspective. I am reminded that in my baptism I am a Christian, my sexual orientation does not have to define me or my actions. My identity in Christ defines me. So please, put your magnifying glass away.

After a month of thinking, talking, and writing about sexuality, I’m tired of the subject.  I know that many of those who’ve been thinking, talking, and listening along with me are also tired of it.  “Are we done yet?” and “Okay, let’s move on now” are commonly expressed sentiments in the church this week, even from those who (like me) have been moved and challenged and experienced the amazing gifts of the Spirit at work throughout this conversation.

Yeah, I’m ready to move on to something else, in formal and informal conversations, and especially in worship.  And never fear, we are: a service of praise and thanksgiving this Sunday (with poetry and song instead of a sermon), then some guest speakers before we head into Lent at the end of February.

And yet, if I’m tired of thinking and talking about sexuality after just a month, I can only imagine how exhausting it must be for LGBTQ* folks whose identity and interactions with society are so often defined by their sexuality.

That’s one of the privileges of being part of the straight majority: I only have to think about my sexuality when I want to.  The rest of the time, I’m free to identify myself—or not—through a variety of other categories: pastor, father, neighbour, American, sports fan, etc.  Even when I’m with my wife, holding hands as we walk down the street, those other labels are what come to mind for most of the people we walk past.  I never assume that someone is thinking “there goes another straight couple… keep your sexuality to yourself!”

Not so for many in the LGBTQ* community.  That label is attached to so much of what they do and who they are: “our new neighbour, you know, the lesbian.”  “The gay parents at my kid’s school.”  “I think my yoga teacher must be gay.”  Etc. (And those are just the well-intentioned labels.)  At any point their sexuality is up for discussion and commentary, whether or not it’s relevant to the situation at hand.  Especially at church these days.

Sometimes it’s a choice to be noticed for a sexual orientation or gender identity.  But much of the time it isn’t a choice, just a label that someone else puts onto them whether it’s relevant or not.  And of course, the LGBTQ* community aren’t the only people to be labelled and boxed in by an external qualifier beyond their control: this is also the experience of many minority groups that are defined by their race, their income, etc.

What would it mean for the church to have our agenda set not by majority opinion, but by the needs of people in the minority?  What would it look like for pastors and leaders to follow a path laid out by the experiences and voices of the marginalized?  I think I’ve experienced a small taste of that this month, and even though I’m tired, I’ve experienced God in the listening and learning.

May God give us strength to continue long past the point of interest and convenience towards genuine truth and justice.

It's budget-prep time here at WMC as our church council looks toward the 2015 fiscal year and our semi-annual congregational business meeting in February.  While the "numbers people" talk cost-of-living projections and rate-of-increase percentages (or whatever), my mind starts to wander.

This year, one of my frequent wanderings has been a big-picture wondering about the relationship between the local church and its partners in church and charity work.

When I was growing up, my Brethren In Christ church was very invested in world missions.  From what I recall, the church collected money--lots of it--from the congregation, then that money went to the BIC Mission Board who then distributed it to their various mission projects and missionaries as needed.  It was a similar story with local ministries and other charities; if an individual had a passion for a particular project then an appeal would be made to the church decision-makers to add that project to the list of charities the church supported.

The local church was always the financial link between the congregation and whatever projects church members wanted to support.

In recent years, however, there's been a shift to a different model of charitable support.  If your mailbox (email and otherwise) looks anything like mine, it's often filled with requests from charities of all shapes and sizes: child sponsorships, Upstream projects, missionaries responsible for raising their own support... even Mennonite Church Canada is sending out mass appeals directly to individual donors these days.  The appeal is always personal and direct: if you care about X person or project, send your donation to this organization immediately and directly (or pray first, for religious organizations, then send the money).

The connection is now directly between the individual and the charitable organization; the local church isn't part of the equation any longer.

Now there's nothing wrong with charities directly looking to individuals for support; perhaps its appeal to personal/consumer satisfaction and control even in charitable giving isn't the best, but it's the way business is done--particularly as church attendance wanes across Canada.

What I wonder is about the impact of this new formula on the budgets of local churches?  Assuming that the amount of money donated hasn't significantly increased under this model (cynical, but probably true), the pie is just being divided differently.  More money goes directly to charities, while less goes into the offering plate at church.  Church budgets aren't as big as they could be, but a significant contributing factor is that much of the money that used to be routed through the local church is now going directly to the charities congregants wish to support.  Not a problem, and not a sign of a decrease in generosity, either.

If this is the case, though, perhaps our church budget should reflect this reality without feeling guilty that our church isn't giving (more) money to our partner organizations.

Of course it's fair to question the nature of internal spending; if the money--and time and focus--the church invests in its own projects and programming only benefit those within the church, that is a problem that should be addressed.  

But if, as is the case at WMC in my opinion, our resources are wisely and fairly invested in the work of the church, that's not being selfish.  We share our building with the community as much as possible, we encourage our staff to invest time with projects of Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada and SK, we use our communication platform to promote the good work of local and international charities, and we genuinely "provoke one another to love and good deeds."  Our internal spending makes all of this work outside of ourselves possible.  If this is the case, it's not selfish to use our resources internally to empower this work.

What do you think?

Do people still give money to the local church assuming that it will be distributed to other charities?  Or should the church budget be more (if not entirely?) about what the local church is directly involved in, trusting and encouraging church folks to give widely and generously of their time and money to other charitable organizations as individuals?

Is a potential decline in the amount our church budgets in support of partner organizations a reflection of a (selfish) drift in the priorities of the church, or is it more of a matter of how money is donated and how those donations are counted?

Or is there value in paying forward a portion of donations, even as a symbolic demonstration of our collective priorities and purposes beyond the local church?  Do we have a collective financial responsibility to our partner organizations that goes beyond encouraging individual donations?

Some of the things I think about while the details of the 2015 budget numbers whiz in one ear and out the other...

The first two posts in this series cover two things:

  1. In order to move myself to a place of transcendence, I need to unload myself from the busy nature of life and carve out time to create a space for prayer and meditation.
  2. In order to move myself to a place of transcendence, I need to fidget my body. I need to have an opportunity to stimulate my nervous system in order to stay focused — otherwise the train of thought will leave the station.

This all leads to my final blog (for now) on what I call my ADHD Spirituality. 

There is a role that the community can play to strengthen the spirituality of someone with a hyperactive mind.

There are two moments in the last few weeks that have kicked me up into a “spiritual high.” The first happened in a private time of prayer, and the second in a communal time of prayer.

First, there were some difficult conversations taking place with all the churches in the province which I was a part of. There were some comments made that were troubling as we wrestled with matters of inclusion for LGBT persons in the church, and I unfortunately fell victim to some hateful comments. I arrived home and my mind was racing - I said to myself…I need scripture.

I grabbed my Bible, I sat down on the couch — placed a cross on the ottoman and I opened up to Psalm 43. I read it through a few times out loud, slowly — internalizing the words. I began to focus on a few lines that seemed to dance off the page. I closed my eyes and focused on those word and I prayed with them. I used them to enter into communion with God. Ah yes — it’s been a while since I’ve been in this place.

The following week there was a time of sharing where I shared a bit about my experience at these meetings with our congregation. I was open, vulnerable and in need of prayer. 

Joe had asked the congregation to rise and come forward and to surround me in prayer — a laying of hands. I felt an overwhelming amount of hands start to touch me as people gathered around me. The warmth and love of the congregation was radiant. I felt lifted up, supported and as I listened to the words of the prayer - I felt in communion with God, mediated through the hands of the congregation. I am still left with the sensation of the hands on my back, the side hugs, and the hand holding.

There are two takeaways from this experience: 

First, In this specific activity of the laying of the hands, the weight of the hands, the warmth of the person next to me with their arms wrapped around me kept me stimulated and present in the moment, aware of God's love and the love of the congregation. The community plays an important role in forming and strengthening the spirituality of the individual by large gestures such as a laying of hands. In my own story, Wildwood built on my private time of prayer with a laying of hands. On the flip side, if the individual desires this practice and type of formation, the individual is called to engage in a practiced private time of prayer so that they to can contribute and strengthen the common spirituality shared by the congregation. I believe that spiritual formation is a mutual activitity.

Second, we have to resist the temptation to stick with the status quo by boxing up our prayer practices. We can do this by intentionally finding ways to engage all types of people and their pathways into prayer - by doing so the community can bring everyone who wishes to participate to a place of transcendence — being in communion with God.

When

Adult Sunday School: 9:45 a.m. 
Worship: 10:45 a.m. 

Family Singing Time: 10:15 a.m. 
Junior Sunday School During Worship

 

Contact

Phone 306-373-2126
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Pastor Joe Heikman
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