Living the Dream 2

We were devastated….how stupid to stuff all that fat money into a small wallet – in the middle of a busy train station no less. One minute we were happy wanderers, the next we felt like idiotic fools.

On a broad scale, the violation was small. It was the slashed scrim of naive innocence through which we’d viewed Athens and its people that pained us. The world was no longer a safe and magical playground we could explore giggling and unaware.

It took us a while to regroup. We bought travel wallets that tucked under clothing, received new identification and planned our next steps. The three days of waiting in Herakleon was a disappointment. Nobody spends three days in Herakleon, a port which leads by road or sea to the true beauties of Crete. As soon as we could, we headed for Agia Galini where I hoped we’d find healing shelter for our bruised souls.

Agia Galini means peaceful harbour. Legend has it that King Minos banished Daedelus to this calm place because there were neither access roads nor winds to allow him to escape by water. The huge rock from which the doomed Icarus took flight is visible from any vantage point in the village. We found the very hotel where I’d stayed, now run by the daughter I’d met as a little girl.

Over three days we wandered the countryside, climbed the Icarus rock and ate in deserted tavernas. We also mulled over the meaning of our experience. Yes, we’d loved the sense of innocence so brutally ripped away, but had we gained anything?

There was the gift of a kind young man who led us to the police station and stayed with us as translator right through the reporting process, without asking for or accepting the payment we offered. There were the unexpected and delightful discoveries in Heraklion, a city we’d planned to breeze through. There was the more grounded sense of balance with which we’d now move through our travels and perhaps our lives.

In retrospect, we remember our experience with gratitude as well as regret. We had three days of bliss, then three days of awakening from a momentary rude experience, followed by several months of travel adventure and discovery. Where would the story be if all had gone smoothly?

Later in the journey, we even surmised we were protected from more violent encounters. On an evening stroll along Heraklion’s harbour front just a few days after the theft, it seemed we were being followed. We trusted our heightened awareness and ducked into a bright restaurant until it was safe to leave.

Now when I think of the words – walking by faith, and not by sight, I remember the guidance whispered in my ear, ‘hold that backpack close to the chest. I remember Roland’s insistence that we get off the dark street.

Life will always provide us with rude awakenings. As I walk by faith, I trust that at some point, there will always be a safe harbour in which to heal.

Building A Bridge As We Cross It

In June, the Board of First United made a decision that worship will continue “online only” throughout the summer months. A small working group is looking at the safety and feasibility of re-opening our building and eventually offering limited in-person worship (in addition to continuing to offer worship online, likely through livestreaming). No decisions have been made at this time to return to worship in the sanctuary and currently our building remains closed to the public.

We, as staff, have wrestled with the state we’re in, since the pandemic quarantine began. Laura Stephens-Reed is an American “clergy and congreational coach” and she writes of current ministry work-life in this way,

In the past three months you have remained faithful to the gospel and your call, learning how to produce or livestream worship, preach to webcams and empty sanctuaries, reach new constituencies via online platforms, offer pastoral care and spiritual formation from a distance, and manage virtual meetings. You have lost sleep over when and how to re-gather physically as church. You have responded to the disparate calls to re-open immediately and to keep the doors closed until the rate of infection trends downward. You have wondered how to be church to those who don’t have smartphones or computers. Your head has nearly exploded from all the Zoom gatherings you’ve attended…

(Stephens-Reed’s full post is here.)

We’ve been there! And in lots of ways, we are adapting to it being our new “here”. You can help us plan for the summer and the fall by sharing your wishes and concerns. We have some questions to ask and we have put together a brief survey for you to fill out and give us your feedback and your ideas.

With restrictions easing in the province and as we have moved into Phase 3, we are seeing reopening plans in congregations and youth programs in various locations around BC. Summer day camps and sport programs are opening. We had made the decision not to hold Vacation Adventure this year.

But as we have all experienced throughout this time, things have had to remain fluid and situations can change quickly as well as over time as we learn more about the virus and how it is transmitted, as our own context here in BC and in Kelowna has developed.

We’d like to gauge interest/expectation of you all in worship and building usage and also for families, the willingness to have your children participate in in-person Christian education programs, possibly in the summer and in the Fall.

There are several factors to weigh in making a decision about whether we offer programs such as Vacation Adventure and Sunday School.

One is that our programs, traditionally, have been heavily volunteer-dependent; they require older youth and adult supervision and expertise. Another is the interest level, based on the feeling of parents about the safety of such activities and their willingness to have their children involved. We recognize that this might be informed by factors such as the limits to our church building and infrastructure.

Your time to fill out this questionnaire (and provide any other feedback you wish!) will help the staff, the board, the Education Core Ministry and the Worship Core Ministry proceed with plans for worship and children’s programming at First in the coming months.
Thank you so much!

Please click here to fill out the survey!

Living the Dream

After singing last week’s anthem ‘Walking by Faith’ (featured in the June 21 worship, click link here), I wondered, when so many bad things happen, how can we continue to walk in faith despite the sadness, toil and danger? In my pondering, I was reminded of this story:

About 10 years before retirement, my husband Roland and I decided that a) we didn’t want to wait a decade before living the dream, and b) we weren’t likely to win the lottery anytime soon. So if we wanted to fulfill our longing for travel, we’d have to find another way.

This might not be the solution for everyone, but we sold our house that fall, moved into a small apartment and arranged with our employers for a 7 month leave, deciding there was lots of time to worry about reduced pensions later. Early the next spring, we landed in Athens, giddy as children. Teenagers with resources, we called ourselves. We were high on life! The very air was delicious!

We drank in the wonders of the ancient city, then packed for our ‘Elenore-led’ tour of the islands. I’d backpacked through Europe as a teen and wanted to show Roland all the beauties I’d discovered. We climbed aboard the crowded train to Piraeus, pockets stuffed with unwieldy Greek currency. Bodies pressed and jostled against and around us as the train lurched along, so we were glad to arrive at the final stop. Except…

Before we had totally exited the train, Roland said, “I think I’ve been pick-pocketed.”

Sure enough, his every pocket hung inside-out, empty. I’d felt uncomfortable by some of the shoving, and so, mid-ride, had pulled my small pack tightly to my chest. The good news – I’d been carrying the passports and half the money.

The bad news – all Roland’s identification, credit cards and portion of our cash was gone. It appeared they could get that close to his privates without his noticing!

~to be continued~

…tune in to Friday’s First Word for the conclusion of Elenore and Roland’s adventure…

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.

Busting Myths and Advocating for Refugees

Amnesty International Okanagan is pleased to welcome Justin Mohammed as the guest speaker. Justin is the Human Rights Law and Policy Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada (English branch). Prior to his current role with Amnesty International Canada, he clerked at the Federal Court of Canada, served as a Human Rights Officer with the United Nations Peacekeeping mission in Mali, and worked at the Library of Parliament as an analyst for the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

Justin will speak to the general situation facing refugees around the world, refute some of the myths about refugees, explain refugee law and policy issues here in Canada and share what AI Canada is working on. There will time for a question and answer as well.

Preregistration on Eventbrite is required.

Once you register, we will send you the Zoom link information.

Worship July 5 , 2020

Central Okanagan United Churches Joint Working Group – Update

Within the representative working group, made up of ministry staff and laity from Westbank United, First United, St. Paul’s United, Rutland United and Winfield United, we have four focus groups: Governance; Administration & Facilities; Community Outreach; and Music and Worship.

Each of these task groups has met to brainstorm and share ideas and possibilities within their specific area. In our meeting on June 29th we returned to the large group to share our thoughts and ideas. The emerging overlaps and shared vision have a remarkable synchronicity that has added excitement and intrigue to our work.

Over the summer we will continue to explore and fine-tune some of these ideas before bringing them to the constituents later in the year, for a deep dive discussion.

Please note that this is a working group only, not a decision-making body. So please know that the input of all the participating congregations will be crucial to the work of the group and to the decision-making process.

Updates from El Salvador

~Pat & Greig McPhee

As Salvadorans emerge from the COVID lockdown, they are facing even more economic uncertainty due to the devastation unleased by Tropical Storms Amanda and Cristobal at the end of May. These caused deadly flooding and landslides and the UN estimates that 336,000 people living in both rural and urban areas are facing severe food insecurity. Thousands of acres of corn fields were flooded and some of their recently planted basic grains may be lost. FUNDAHMER, the NGO that facilitates First United’s sister community relationship, initiated the CONVIDA campaign, for financial assistance to deliver food baskets for affected families, including in El Triunfo.

The need was urgent, so some folks from First, who have visited our sister community over the years, managed to quickly put together a donation of $900 USD for the CONVIDA campaign (approximately 30 baskets of food & supplies).

We received an e-mail from Adonay Miranda (our scholarship student at the University of Central America) telling us about the impact of the storms (“tormentas” in Spanish). The main road through the community was washed out by mudslides and some families were evacuated into shelters. He reflected: “it is very sad that often these extreme events happen in the poorest countries (most affected by climate change) and, the truth is, that people living in these dangerous places are not given much priority”.

Adonay asked our congregation to please pray for their country; he sends his love and wanted us to know that he often thinks of all of us in the church. This year we are having challenges in meeting our financial commitment to the scholarship program. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, our usual fundraisers for El Triunfo – the two Big Book Sales and the Mens’ Club BBQ – have been cancelled. Any support that you can offer will be gratefully appreciated. [Please earmark any donations ‘For El Salvador’ & reference OR acct# 01-4024.]

It was good news to hear that the Supreme Court in the U.S. has blocked President Trump’s administration from its plan to shut down DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program) which has allowed nearly 800,000 young people, known as the ‘Dreamers’ to avoid deportation and remain in the U.S. DACA had been created by former President Obama in 2012 to temporarily shield certain immigrants from deportation and made them eligible for work permits. Many of these ‘Dreamers’ came to the U.S. from Latin America, including El Salvador, as very young children, some as unaccompanied minors.

“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.”

St. Ambrose

Worship June 28

Feeding Your Interests

~Lorraine Hladik

Are you feeling at loose ends? Maybe taking an online course will erase that feeling as you learn more about a new subject or look deeper into one you know.

FutureLearn is a website that offers courses on many topics, all from world-class universities. The courses are often repeated several times over the year and run from 2 – 8 weeks in length. I have taken courses from universities in England, Scotland, Australia, United States and Canada from my home, impossible for me to have done if I had to go there.

FutureLearn courses are all free and available for 14 days after completion of the course. If you want credit for any reason, you can pay a small sum and always have access to the course and its material as well as receiving a certificate. They allow flexibility as they are online, allowing you to do the weeks unit in one day or over the week. The material is presented in videos and articles with links to other sites for more information. You have a chance to comment after each section of a week’s class and you can learn a lot from the other students who come from all over the world and have many different experiences and knowledge.

FutureLearn has a wide variety of subjects, many current to today’s issues. I have taken 24 different courses on history, religion, health, archaeology, science, and others. In July I will be taking the 3-week course Making Sense of Data in the Media and hopefully it will help me to quickly debunk fake news.

It is free, interactive if you wish, and flexible in time spent on the course. If you want to try a course here is the link