First United and COVID-19

To do our part to help counter the spread of COVID-19, First United has adjusted our worship and outreach practices to promote physical distancing while maintaining social contact and community support as best we can.

The church building is closed to the public for the foreseeable future. We are awaiting the advice of the BC Government before reopening the building and resuming normal worship, outreach, and community services, which will fall under Phase 4 of BC’s Response to COVID-19.

We are maintaining social contact and community support by hosting online meetings every Tuesday and Friday, and online worship services every Sunday. Please subscribe to our First Word newsletter to receive the weekly links to these online gatherings.

Grace and peace to you all.

Online Worship April 5 , 2020

Please Join Us For Worship on Palm Sunday

Some of you may have heard that there are strange things happening on the internet these days called Zoom-bombing. Basically, this are bored and/or angry people having too little to do and just determined to “upset others.”

But it can be disturbing, or frightening, or disgusting to have someone break in to what you think is a private event and disrupt it. (Remember this can also happen if we are meeting in a building—someone comes in and acts inappropriately!). SO, to try and reduce the chance that this will happen we are making a few changes, as recommended by Zoom specialists.

To join the worship service, click this link: https://zoom.us/j/586245135 and put int he 6-digit password distributed in the First Word email newsletter on Saturday.

When you click on the link (or phone in) you will be put into a welcome/waiting room. This is the new feature for security. I will be able to see your “ID/Name” and will click a button on my computer that will let you “in” to the service – just like our greeters make you welcome to worship at church! Microphone

Microphone: Please have your microphone MUTED once you enter the “worship service” – this will keep the confusion to a minimum.

Video: Keep your video ON as you enter the “worship service” – this will allow us to wave at one another, and to see each other – a great joy.

Other Changes: We learned so much last week. Here are a few changes you will discover:

Prayer Requests: We are going to use the Chat feature to gather prayer requests. Just before the prayers of the people we will send out a typed message asking for names and concerns to be included in the prayers for today. Please type in your requests.
If you cannot type, wave your hand and we will unmute your microphone so you can speak your requests.

Coffee Hour: There were a lot of people frustrated with the chatter last Sunday cutting off what they wanted to say—it was a little like listening to all of us talk at once. We have learned that we can cut down on that, and give you a chance to have coffee/tea/juice and conversation with just a few people—like being at a table in coffee hour. To have this happen, my program will put you into a breakout group of no more that 5 or 6 people and you can each chat to one another. BUT – I do not have control over whom you get to talk with, so be prepared to meet one another, to share your name, etc. as if you were first-time friends – or be surprised to meet someone you have seen but never talked with.

I know this is a lot to take in – and we will all be a little confused – but for safety and more effective time together, let’s try it and make this work! And remember, God is also present in the electrons and even the internet – always, God is with us, we are not alone.

Grace and peace,

~Bob Wallace

Saving Jesus Redux

You don’t have to spend much time watching the news or trolling social media to encounter people who use Jesus to justify their words or actions. Sports figures, celebrities and politicians talk about Jesus like he’s a best buddy or mascot or secret power. The Jesus they know is always on “their side”. But how can this be? How can Jesus be pro- and anti- such trigger issues as abortion, gender rights, war and the like? Is Jesus a weapon of the Christian Right or a tool of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ Left?

“We’re having a culture war and Jesus happens to be one of the weapons tossed
about by both sides.” — Amy-Jill Levine

“Saving Jesus Redux” will be offered on Tuesdays from 1:00pm to 2:30pm starting January 7, and on Wednesdays from 7:00pm to 8:30pm starting January 8, and finishing on February 19. Even if you missed the first five episodes, come anyway!

The Power of Words

~Bob Wallace

Over the past few weeks we have been following the stories of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs of our faith – men and women who heard a promise spoken from beyond their everyday lives and who committed their futures to the fulfillment of that promise.

That promise has been transferred from generation to generation through what the text calls a “blessing” – words spoken, accompanied by specific actions, transferring the promise from one generation to the next. And once spoken, those words cannot be recalled. There is, then, a power in words … a power to shape and define, to create and destroy.

This year’s encounters with racism reminds us again of the power of words – words used to deny, to hurt, to enslave, to harm. The old adage: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” is a lie! Words can hurt. Words can destroy, words can deny futures. Words are powerful.

In fact, from a biblical perspective, the power of words lies in the capacity to share (or deny) future. Such power lies in the spoken words and accompanying actions of blessing.

Walter Brueggemann writes of these stories we are reading:

(they) offer a fresh discernment of the nature of power. … (they) understand that power, the capacity to shape the future, lies not in weapons and arms, but in the use of language, gesture, and symbol.”

[Interpretation: Genesis, p. 228]

As we continue our journey through these stories, look for the way in which the stories talk about the power and use of words and the gestures that accompany those words. It is my belief that these stories, heard as promises not only to those who have gone before, but as continuing promises spoken to us, empower us to discover our new future, a future filled with promises of life in all its fullness rather than despair.

More than anything, then, these words empower us to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that “God is with us. We are not alone.” And in that power, we are claimed once again as beloved children of our God.

And, from a world before we were concerned with gender issues in language, here’s a quote from Sigmund Freud.

Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.

Sigmund Freud

Worship for All August 2 , 2020 with Rev. Bob Wallace

Remembering August 1: Abolition of Slavery in Canada

~The United Church of Canada E-ssentials

August 1, 1834 is the day the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect, ending slavery throughout most of the British Empire – including in the colonies that would become Canada. It is estimated that on that day, 800,000 enslaved Black peoples were freed, as it became illegal for anyone to be a slave in the British Empire.

There is a grassroots movement happening in the United Church and beyond to proclaim August 1 as one way to support the fair treatment of all humans and affirm that all persons are made in the image of God. The commemoration of August 1 reminds us that the fight against systemic and anti-Black racism is far from over, and that we need to continue the work for the creation of a more just society. It is one way to continue the work of becoming an anti-racist church.

Join with people across the church in remembering August 1 and use the day to further the honest dialogue about the deconstructing of racism in our country. You are invited to join in a “silent witness” activity by wearing a T-shirt commemorating the end of slavery in Canada on August 1. There are two T-shirt designs available on the United against Racism website that can be iron-transferred onto T-shirts. There are also a number of blog posts to read on the United Against Racism website.

17th Sunday Worship with Rev. Sarah Wallace

Just Eat It

~Jocelyn Smith

The inside of Jocelyn’s fridge

I grew up in the golden age of the video game console. But in my house we had very little screen time and no video games. As a result, I am one of the only people my age who cannot pass the first level of a traditional Mario game. I always run Mario into a hole!

My parents decision to limit our screen time continued to impact my life after I moved out. In the 20 years since I lived at home, I have never owned a television. That’s not to say that I don’t watch shows and movies. But for two decades now, I’ve consumed my media via my computer. In the current era of Disney Plus, Netflixs and Youtube, that’s not too hard to imagine. But 10+ years ago, it was not easy to find good shows online from a legitimate source. Imagine my delight when I discovered Knowledge Network online. A whole repository of great viewing, all free.

I started watching shows on Knowledge.ca and became a knowledge partner. One day, an email arrived in my inbox. Knowledge inviting us to an advanced screening of an Agatha Christie Christmas mystery. I may or may not have whooped in excitement but I did immediately rsvp.

Several weeks later I sat in the Queen Elizabeth theatre and felt right at home. The audience members closest to us in age had at least three decades on us. It felt like attending Queens United. 🙂 I enjoyed the show and the whole experience.

Aside from Agatha Christie mysteries, Knowledge hosts an excellent selection of murder mysteries online. They also host a lot of great documentaries and feature many made in BC programs. Recently, I came across Just Eat It. I watched it and now I find myself looking in my fridge a bit askew.

Just Eat It follows one Vancouver couple as they eat only waste food for 6 months. The results are surprising and somewhat confronting. Have a watch. https://www.knowledge.ca/program/just-eat-it

And now please excuse me, I need to go. I’ve got some saggy parsnips and a browning apple in my fruit bowl that can’t go to waste.

Unforgettable and Inspiring

~Rev. Dr. Sharon Wilson

Most of us have had extra time for reflection these last months. I’ve shared with you some of the memorable books I’ve read and invited all of you to send in your picks. As I was out for a run with Molly today I found myself thinking about some of the people who have had a huge influence on me. Two people are always top of mind….and they could not have been more different!

Ruth McCuaig was my Sunday School teacher from ages twelve to fourteen. Her own daughters were grown by this time so she had no vested interest in the sustainability of the Sunday School at Melrose UC. Ruth, for whatever reason, chose to be with our group of about a dozen girls.

I remember little of the content of the curriculum but I have vivid memories of lengthy, thoughtful conversations. Any topic we came up with she deemed worthy of our time. She was a published writer, an art collector and world traveller and from this vantage point she encouraged us to dream without limits. No matter how wild our ideas, she listened respectfully and validated our emergence as capable young women of the congregation and the world.

On visits home while away at university she was one of the people I made a point of seeing. As life took me farther afield we turned to letter-writing and finally emails to keep in touch until her passing. Ruth was wise and gracious but she was no pushover. Over the years we tangled on a few topics but that only served to help me grow. She guided me to look deeper and more broadly at issues as diverse as faith, career, values, community service and politics. Our last emails were a blessed chance to offer gratitude for this friendship born in a Sunday School class that lasted until I was nearly fifty.

The other person of influence is a man whose name I no longer recall. I knew him only briefly when I was a summer student at DOFASCO, a steel company in Hamilton. During my undergraduate years I drove the mail truck through the plant. I was the first female student to work outside of the office in a traditional male position.

My summers were successful enough that the company began to hire females for many more of the factory positions. One of my stops on my twice-daily route was the labour office in the Foundry Division. This was where unskilled labourers would gather at the beginning of each shift to be assigned their work for the day. As such, it was a pretty quiet place for most of each shift.

The first time I dropped off the mail, the fellow who looked after labour office asked me if I played chess. He was a short, round man nearing retirement. I found out later he had escaped Hungary during the revolution in 1956. As a university student who’d played a fair amount of chess over the years, this looked like a bit of fun. How wrong I was.

The first game ended in almost instant humiliation for me. I was crushed but determined to do better. Over those many summers our games lasted longer and longer. With only two chances each day to make moves we had lots of time to pour over strategy. Sadly, I never beat him. It’s little wonder as he finally confessed that he was a chess master before his escape from Hungary.

It was, however, another episode that sealed him as a person who gifted me with a huge life lesson. At Christmas during my final year of university I attended the huge company Christmas party with my parents. As a manager my Dad was there to greet the thousands of employees and their families. Mom was dressed in her finest looking very much like she was at a garden party at Buckingham Palace!

My friend from the labour office came over to us, gave me a big hug and asked about my studies. We talked about my thesis research while my parents watched perplexed. Finally, he asked for my address so he could send me some things he thought might help. My mother was horrified as I gave my address to this stranger! She was picturing all sorts of misadventure that would come from this grave error of judgement.

What I got a few weeks later was a stuffed manila envelope of citations from obscure military history books and journals. Many were extraordinarily helpful to my paper and I was able to include them. This man taught me the wonder to be discovered when we are open to people. If I had stopped wanting to know him when I encountered him with his broom in hand, I’d have missed not only his genius at chess and encyclopedic knowledge of European history, I’d have missed his humanity.

While I must acknowledge the many flaws in my personality much of what is good about me has come from people like these. Their influence and wisdom may have been at least a little unexpected but, over a lifetime, I’ve come to accept that these are the very folks who shape the best part of who we are.

I’d like to invite you to think about the special people in your life and share your story in First Word. Who are your influences? How have they shaped you? How are you paying it forward?

Outreach Update

~Cheryl Perry

As I step away on a couple weeks of holidays I wanted to give you an update. Throughout July and August we are continuing to offer Outreach on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00-11:00AM in the sunshine and fresh air. For the summer months we have moved to providing $10 grocery gift cards instead of bags of groceries. This will give our Food Shelf volunteers who shop and put the bags together a couple months’ break. We are still serving a take-away lunch as well. This is very appreciated.

We are seeing an average of 23 people on Tuesdays and 15 on Thursdays and serving about 50-80 sandwiches per week. If you would like to provide sandwiches (or homemade cookies or baked goods) you may drop these off any Tuesday or Thursday morning between 9:00-9:45.

As the summer weather arrived we have offered items such as water, hats, and sunscreen to people. Gerry Hewitt’s sister also sent some wonderful fabric masks she had made. They came in many colours, and men’s and women’s patterns and sizes. These were very popular!

We continue to put out a table of items to help through this time of social isolation: books, jigsaw puzzles, yarn, Sudoku/crossword/word find puzzle books, and board games. If you have anything to donate you can drop these off at the church or phone me to arrange a pick up (250-575-1780).

Thanks to a donation from Daphne and Paul Might we offered a “Pop up Picnic” in June and another in July. We served our donated Kentucky Fried Chicken and added take-away potato salad or chips, cans of cold drinks, and ice cream treats. And on July 2, we celebrated Canada Day by using up some hot dogs in the freezer, purchasing fresh buns, sauerkraut, potato salad, and watermelon which we served with delicious squares that were like S’mores—baked and donated by Jean Mackenzie!

Some have donated, and have encouraged others to consider donating, the extra money that they received from the government due to COVID19. Jayne Brooks wrote an excellent article that appeared in the First Word to encourage people if they didn’t need the extra money that was provided to seniors—some who have been very badly affected by the pandemic—to consider donating this to a social agency or charitable organization.

Many thanks to my regular Tuesday/Thursday volunteers—Leslie Atwell, Jayne Brooks, Tanya Pritchard and to all who have donated food or made financial contributions in June.

Thank you all for your continued support of our Outreach program – with your donations, your time and most especially your prayers!

Steffan at our “drive through” Food Shelf.

Accountability in the Midst of COVID-19

~Rev. Dr. Sharon Wilson

Photo by Lorraine Hladik

A few nights ago I was walking my dog in the neighbourhood. We came upon a vehicle parked on the street. The licence plate looked different so I paid special attention as we passed the back bumper. “MONTANA!!!!!!!!” I shouted in my head. Suddenly I was filled with a mixture of rage and indignation. How dare someone wantonly defy border restrictions and put all of us good, law-abiding, Bonnie Henry-loving citizens at risk????? The truck disappeared then following afternoon, but I have been wrestling with my reaction to this episode ever since.

As we enter Phase 3 of the pandemic response we are enjoying more freedom with the consequent increased vulnerability. I confess that last week I experienced the euphoria of my first haircut since early February. Freedom fills us with energy and hope. It promises a return to face-to-face encounters and, in time, the hugs we have been hungering to give and receive for so many months. Yet, all of us have seen the video clips of family gatherings and public parks brimming with people close together and often without masks. Infection rates in the United States are increasing at alarming levels even as states continue to announce the return to business as normal.

The pandemic poses a host of critical ethical issues: what are my rights?, to whom am I accountable?, who controls my life? A good place to start exploring these questions is the website of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. David E. DeCosse offers “Five Ethical Basics in the face of the Coronavirus Pandemic”:

  • It’s not only about you.
  • In a pandemic, ethics takes a long view
  • Don’t fear everything but fear the right things
  • In a pandemic, ethics stays the same—and ethics also changes
  • Beware the bias in blaming

This short article does an excellent job setting out the landscape that we now occupy. We are living on the cusp of disaster and that has made us more fearful, insular and reactive. This is the natural response to threat but that does not mean that those gut reactions should have free-range in our lives.

I want to focus on the notion of the common good. We are not islands. We exist in this world in relationships of family, friendship, work, community and so many more. Our interdependence has revealed itself clearly for those of us who had to self-isolate and depended on others to pick up and deliver our groceries, mail, and prescriptions. We can now chuckle about the shortages of toilet paper that had us yearning for the good old days when at least you had an Eaton’s catalogue for emergencies!

The common good is a notion that originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. More recently, the ethicist John Rawls defined the common good as “certain general conditions that are…equally to everyone’s advantage”.

The enemy of the common good is individualism. This is fueled by the notion of ‘me first’. We have seen both the common good and individualism on display throughout this pandemic. They seem to be constantly in tension with one another and we are all being drawn into the conflict.

Deeply rooted in our faith is the notion of the ‘neighbour’. In the Hebrew it is rea and in Greek it is plesion. The neighbour is one who is near or sometimes defined as a friend. However, the meaning of neighbour was expanded and deepened in Leviticus 19:18 which set out how the Israelites were to treat each other and the stranger. The ‘Golden Rule’ made clear in the ministry of Jesus further points us to an ethic of the common good.

So consider what you are saying and doing that promotes the common good. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Keep social distance. Avoid crowds. Don’t travel unnecessarily. Be mindful of your neighbours. Keep in touch by phone, text or email. Support the charities that are working harder than ever in this trying time. Don’t point fingers.

We are being called to consider and embody ethical living in this unprecedented time. Let us embrace the challenge to uphold the common good. Let us be good neighbours. The only person whose behaviour we can control is our own.

Worship July 12 , 2020 Sunday 10 am