Rev. Alex Wilson
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 “We are the young, our lives are a mystery, we are the old who yearn for your face. We have been sung throughout all of history to be light to the whole human race."

(Common Praise #465)

A yearning mystery is something I believe describes who we are as a parish which is caught so well in the hymn which ended our worship today, “Here in this Place, New Light is Streaming.” It is for me a reminder of just how abundant this place is as I continue my ministry among you in times of certainty and times of uncertainty. Can we really trust the future? How do we encounter change? Will I be forgotten by a new generation of leaders as the church grows and moves? Is there a ministry here for me? What is the purpose of my life? Do I belong? are all questions I have heard on our journey together. These questions take us to a deeper place, where our humanity butts up against the mystery of faith. They are also deeply normal.

It would be so easy, in this charge to vestry, to just focus on our numbers and talk business, which is easily known, identifiable, valid and important. Success in the world outside this place is numerical, statistical and quantifiable, yet none of you are numbers to me and never will be. It would also be easy to talk about the places where we need to push ourselves and grow deeper, which is less known, hard to quantify, and yet also valid and important. I am struck that the only way we can continue to deepen ourselves is if we are able to identify our strengths and challenges, something that we have many of, as does any community in Christendom.

Rather than prioritizing one side over the other, I want us to talk about the mixed economy of them both which is lived out as a transformative relationship with Jesus. For us as Anglicans, we understand this transformative relationship to be measured through our five marks of mission, which provide a helpful reflection to our life together in Jesus.  

Our five Marks of Mission are;   

 

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom     
  • To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers     
  • To respond to human need by loving service     
  • To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation      
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

 

all of which can seem daunting in a world such as our present space where the need is so large and the challenge great. Its easy for us to think it would be less daunting to accomplish this if it was just a generation ago, when church was a social expectation; when we were the social majority; when we had the power to tell people how to live their lives. It’s also just as easy to suggest that it is my responsibility as a priest to do these things on our behalf and that through commitment and participation in the parish we are accomplishing these five marks because the priest does them. I would like to offer both are incomplete witnesses to the gospel, and here is why.

When we take the examinations at baptism we are making a commitment to stand up for what we believe in, to give of our time, talent, and treasure, in proportionate ways to our abilities, which deepen our journey into Christ. When we see our faith or ministry as a list to check off or a set of prescriptive ideas that identify who we are and once accomplished we are free and clear to remain the same, then we no longer engage in the relationship of transformation which Jesus calls us to through baptism. Transformative relationship requires heartbreak, love, challenge, and listening, in the same way it was required of Christ at the Cross. It is a moment of internal transformation which leads us to ask new questions, try new things, dare to fail, and be persistent in it all because God remains with us in it the whole time.            

I have a hunch that there are a few people, like myself, who can feel overwhelmed with this concept of transformative relationship. Our lives are so chaotic that this place is a welcome balm of regularity. Indeed our liturgies allow for this sense of timeless connection, knowing that the prayers and practices of this parish are connected to a tradition that spans back to the earliest disciples brings comfort and stability. It is good and honest to feel uncertain and unsure, this is an indication of deep discernment- a process of asking the deeper questions- which is the heartbeat of transformative relationship in its purest sense. Look at the ministry of Jesus for all the instances of discernment he brought the disciples into during their journey together- it continually happened! The disciples always assumed that Jesus would act a certain way, heal a certain way, entertain a certain way, and Jesus continued to surprise and transform them through his teaching. He never once told them outright what to do, he always used stories or questions to help focus the mind of the disciples into a new direction or a new question. The ministry of Jesus is one which is active, engaged, challenging, fresh, scary, and transformative. This, my friends, is what we are called to lean into this year. I hope you’re ready!            

The year ahead will see new and exciting challenges, just as it has for the last sixty-four years. In 2016 we encountered Christ in sacrament, prayers, and the Eucharist, in ways that have helped us to ask new questions about what it means to be a community on the edge of the UBC campus in the west side of Vancouver. We have remaining questions about our finances, and the healthy ways in which we understand our baptismal promises to steward our resources of time, talents, and treasures. Let me be clear, our budget is not a bill to be paid. It is a lens into ministry through which we achieve our vision of the Kingdom in this place. If our budget does not reflect what we feel is our vision, speak up! If we don’t know what our vision is, say something! I want to hear your opinions.

Our understanding of the kingdom comes through discernment and prayer, a focus I am personally taking up in the year ahead. I will be asking prayerful questions about what we do and why we do it, not because I want to overhaul the church and make it a reflection of the vicar, but because I want to start us asking the deeper questions of our faith and how what we do in the world around us reflects that faith.

From our speaker series, to our music; from our preaching, to our kids program; from our building and upkeep, to our liturgy; from our finances to our coffee hours, I pray for a vision and interconnected purpose that sees all aspects of our lives in this place connected to our lives in the world around us. My dream for our ministry is one which continues to transform the world around us in such a way that we never have to use words to describe what we believe- people know it by our actions. I dream for a continuation of a speaker series that builds community, transforms lives, and brings purpose to peoples lives in an isolated world. I dream of a liturgy which continues to speak to the deep mystery of our lives, both young, old and everything in between, through rich symbols and new ideas deeply grounded in our ancient heritage. I dream for a continuation of community that seeks to build connections with a world inside and outside itself, which comes together because these are our best friends, and most of all are friends who are not afraid to see themselves in the stranger or outsider at our door. I dream for a parish that continues to give Jesus first priority over the comforts of static tradition or excessive financial comfort. I dream for a parish which continues to engage in the hard work of following a Savior who is called the Light of the Nations, who has illumed our lives so that we can illumine others. The world needs our light!            

We follow Jesus, friends, which means all of these things and more are possible. We have baptized; blessed; and buried in this place. We have argued; loved; commissioned; sent forth and welcomed. We have gathered; prayed; broke bread; shared wine; cried; hugged; struggled; and held each other. We have invited; stood for our beliefs; volunteered; been patient; encouraged; sponsored; cared for our planet through how we use this property; defended; stood for the right way rather than the easy way; listened with our heart; had our hearts and minds fed; got messy with our faith; began to tell our truths; found ways to name our wounds; began to seek out new leaders and trust them; included the marginalized; challenged our assumptions; and met Jesus in all of it.

We are living the five marks of mission. We follow the mission of Jesus Christ and will continue to live these five marks in the year to come. There will be times when we love each other, and times when we don’t. There will be times of success, and times of failure. There will be times of joy and times of sorrow, and yet in all of them Jesus is with us, Jesus is in them, Jesus is here. 

I can't wait to see what we will accomplish in the year ahead

Alex+

(as delivered at the 64th annual vestry meeting on February 26, 2017)