“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