“Covenants – Then and Now” – February 18, 2018

“Covenants – Then and Now”

February 18, 2018 – Year B – 1st Sunday in Lent

The 1930’s – 90th Anniversary Celebration

It was the fall of 1929 the Stock Market in London, England and in New York, USA plummeted to an unprecedented low.  The world fell into what came to be known as “The Great Depression.”  Drought in the prairies and countless men and women out of work set the scene for a decade that is often called “the dirty thirties.”

The fledgling United Church of Canada faced many challenges throughout this decade.  The place and role of women in the church was debated at General Council throughout the decade.  Two female students attended the Presbyterian Theological College in Saskatoon, now called St. Andrew’s College with Lydia Gruchy graduating first in her class with honours marks.  Following her graduation from seminary, she served churches among the Doukhabor people near Verigin Saskatchewan (near Kamsack), and then moved on to Wakaw United Church and Kelvington United Church,  both in Saskatchewan, performing all the tasks of ministry except the sacraments.  Finally, in 1936, Lydia Gruchy was Ordained a Minister of The United Church of Canada, becoming our first female Ordained minister.  Penticton United Church did not call a female minister until 1996 (60 years later) when Helen Stover Scott became our duly called minister.

The Church Board fully accepted women on the Board throughout the 1930’s.  Mrs. AA Swift, Mrs. Leslie, Mrs. Meldrum and Mrs. Standen were members of the board during this decade. 

During the 1920’s a team of musicians from across the country developed a hymnbook that was published in 1930.  The beloved blue Hymnary came into general use and was not replaced until 1971. In January 1931 a noon banquet was held costing 50 cents per person, with the proceeds going toward the purchase of the new blue Hymnary.  Dr. Oliver, Moderator of the United Church of Canada attended, along with representatives from area churches. 

Year-end statistics for 1931 show 9 baptisms, 9 marriages and 8 burials.  9 people were received by profession of faith, 23 by certificate (or today we would call it transfer from another denomination).  The Mission & Maintenance Fund (like our Mission &Service fund) reached its allocation of $1,400.00 with $18.00 surplus.  The 48-member Women’s Association raised $1,386.33 and the Sunday School and teachers numbered 327. 

Since last week was our annual meeting, you might be interested to know that in the 1930’s it was customary to open the AGM by the singing of the Doxology (which we will sing today as our offertory).  The meeting was chaired by the minister and usually held in the evening following a dinner provided by the Women’s Association.  The AGM closed with singing God Save the King in 1936 and 1937 and or O Canada in 1939 as well as a benediction.  Attendance at the 1936 AGM was 240 – 1938 was 300 – 1939 was over 400 and last week was 51.

Sunday School was an important and significant ministry of the church.  In reports of 1934 we learn that 380 children were on the role and an average attendance was 245 young ones.  Just imagine trying to manage that number of excited children in a limited space.  This is the time before our Christian Education wing was built.  I can’t help but think of the noise that this number of children would generate as they were squeezed into the narthex, the vestry, the choir room, and the big room (hall) that is downstairs.

In the July 1931 minutes, it contains the first, but far from the last, mention of acoustic problems in the church.  Does this sound familiar?

On the August 9, 1932 Quarterly Official Board meeting, the financial report to the end of June showed receipts of $1,295.83, expenditures of $1,266.48, balance of $9.35, but also liabilities of $305.00 still unpaid.  It was decided to have a drive of members and adherents to raise sufficient funds to cover the present liabilities and save any further appeals for the remainder of the year.

On October 24, 1933, the Treasurer reported a Balance of $10.76 with all salaries paid, but there was still something owing on the bank loan.  The envelope Steward reported that he had sent out quite a number of statements to those in arrears, but, did not have many responses.

Throughout these bleak years our forebears upheld the covenant made in 1928.  They were doggedly determined to handle finances judiciously.  They upheld the tenants of the original founding churches – The Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.   They faithfully turned to scripture and sought guidance and wisdom. 

Surely one of the scriptures that was a guide was Genesis 9:8-17 that was read earlier.   This frequently told story of Noah and the rainbow tells the amazing tale of God’s covenant with all creation.  We encounter God as “One who Remembers.”  On this anniversary Sunday, we too remember.  We recall that God is to be honoured and praised.  We remember that the rainbow covenant is a lasting reminder that God is invested in us as individuals and collectively as a congregation.  It is a covenant of blessing to a fledgling church, back in the 1930’s and is a covenant of possibility to us in 2018.  The covenant is represented by many symbols – the rainbow, the cross, the Bible, and a candle.  May we remember God’s covenant is colour-blind.

Turning to our Gospel lection (Mark 1:9-15), we hear the dramatic account of Jesus’ baptism, his 40 days in the wilderness, John’s arrest and Jesus’ early preaching – all in six (6) verses!  A voice from heaven cries out, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  What greater proclamation is there?  “You are my Son.”  “You are my Daughter.”  What a lovely affirmation.  And then to be told, “With you I am well pleased.”  God says that over and over to each of us.  God is well pleased with you and with me and with all people everywhere.  Now, the challenge is to live up to that wonderful blessing.  I have a feeling that our foremothers and forefathers of the 1930’s church were encouraged and uplifted to hear this scripture passage proclaimed.

May we learn from the past, live with integrity in the present, and dream big for the future.  Amen.

Rev. Laura J. Turnbull


“Mountain and Valley Experiences” – February 11, 2018

“Mountain and Valley Experiences”

February 11, 2018 – Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – Annual Meeting


Imagine that a mountain is before you.  Jesus, Peter, James and John are climbing it.  You are itching to join them.  But, it is a venture that is for the 4 men only.  Much happens on this pilgrimage.  It is transformative.  In fact – it is transfiguring for Jesus.

With this story as our backdrop, I want to tell you about my experiences of worshipping in 3 unique congregations over the 3 months, November to January, that I was on medical leave.  The 3 churches presented 3 very different styles of worship.  All 3 services had a time in the worship service where you stood up and shook hands with one another.  All of them had greeters at the door who offered a warm welcome to everyone who entered.  However, in one of the churches that I worshipped in for 5 weeks, only 1 person came to me and introduced themselves.  It was a warm and friendly church on the surface, but when it came to inclusion. It fell very short.  The other 2 churches did a better job of welcome, but, failed to print in their order of service, or offer verbally, the directions in order to follow along in the service.  So, for a newcomer, one was lost.  2 of the churches offered services that ran an hour and 20 minutes to an 1 ½ hour and there seemed to be no concern about the length of the worship time.   It was only in 1 church that the sermon consistently tied in to our personal lives and gave us food for thought for being a little more faithful.  2 of the 3 churches had a music leader at a microphone in addition to the choir, assisting in the singing of the hymns. At one of the services, the choir got into a disagreement with the Choir Director and the tension was obvious throughout the service.  All 3 churches had a coffee time following the worship service.  I found it uncomfortable to attend unless someone personally invited me and asked me to sit with them.

I offer these reflections as feedback on our own worship experience.  What does a newcomer encounter when attending one of our worship services?  Is it a mountain-top pilgrimage with Jesus, or is it a dark valley time that is never to be repeated?  Do we honour Christ, God’s beloved, in the very best way possible?  Are we open to change, so that we might welcome the stranger, and listen with attentiveness?

I love transfiguration Sunday, for it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mountain and valley experiences.  For us as a congregation, the fact that we are celebrating 90 years of faith-filled ministry is astounding.  I remember 2 years ago stating emphatically that we definitely would make it to 90 years actually shocking the persons with whom I was talking.  They were sure we would be closed by this time.  I believe we have experienced a mountain top high as we celebrated 4 adult baptisms in just over a year.  However, our valley has been deep as we have mourned the deaths of 17 friends and loved ones.  I had the privilege of standing with 4 jubilant couples as they married in 2017.  Our church has handed out nearly 400 bags of food to the hungry in our community, this past year.  We closed the year in a much better financial position than we anticipated, giving us hope and courage to continue doing the good works that we are called to do.  Several of you have welcomed great grand children into your hearts and lives.  Many of you are experiencing health challenges that are disturbing and frightening.  This leaves you vulnerable in ways you never anticipated.  It can feel like walking in a valley.  In all these realities, Christ walks with us.  Up the mountain and down in the deep valley we are not alone.  But – rest assured, that God’s voice heralding “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” is for us all to hear.  When we slow down long enough that we actually can pay attention to God’s murmurings, it is a glorious message.  When we open our hearts and spirits, there is a nudging that invites us to lean in and experience the wonder of God with us.

I have sat at the bedside of persons as they make the transition from life to death.  I am always astounded how I see the face of Christ as this transition takes place.  It is as if I am on a mountaintop and I have seen the power of God working in that experience. Each time, I am changed.  It is such a privilege.  So – even though we fear that our church – Big Blue – may be facing some big changes, we must not loose faith.  Perhaps we must die in our present form, so that we can resurrect in a new form.  Possibly we may have to look seriously at shared ministry, or some kind of amalgamation.  Might we look at taking on a new focus in our ministry?  In a couple of minutes, we will begin our Annual Meeting.  Let us go into it with hearts, minds, and spirits open to the possibilities that are before us.  Let us be gentle with one another.  Let us venture up the mountain and descend into the valley, knowing that Christ walks with us.  Amen.