March 31, 2020

May the peace and grace of Christ be with you all.

On January 1st, 2020, the first day of this sabbatical locum, who could possibly have imagined such an event as this would change our lives. It was unthinkable at the time, that three months later, our church building, and its programs and activities, would be shuttered and “paused” indefinitely. Today, all around the world, individuals and families are sequestered in their homes, the streets are quiet, businesses closed, and economies dismantled. Our hearts go out to those who have lost their lives or are threatened by this illness. We feel such gratitude for those who bravely staff the front lines in medical facilities, grocery stores, and all essential services that safeguard and nourish our wellbeing.

Amidst all of this, however, there ARE “glimmers of grace.” Acts of kindness, compassion, patience, and gratitude are visible and tangible everywhere. Strangers wave to one another from across the street. Warm and reassuring smiles are shared. Bright, red paper and fabric hearts can be seen taped onto windows and hanging on shrubs. Ways are being found to be with one another, even if these connections are “virtual”. Telephones are being dialed, and letters are written, in longhand. Friendships are being renewed and relationships rekindled. We are realizing how much we miss each other. All of these things can serve as a catalyst for positive change in the world. They will shift our priorities towards actions that deepen and enrich relationships.

Had life gone as planned, my thought was to continue to weave the theme of “finding stillness” through the rest of the Lenten services, Holy Week, and into the celebration of Easter. The experience of stillness is essential in the formation of our faith. Unless we make room for peaceful reflection in our lives, we miss the quiet “whisper” of God’s voice. We fail to notice that the Holy Spirit is with us in every moment. The Psalmist reminds us “to be still and know that I am God.” The writer of 1 Kings describes God as a “gentle whisper.” In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promises the gift of restful stillness to all who are anxious and troubled by life’s propensity to derail our personal aspirations, hopes, and dreams. In John’s Gospel, our Lord promises us peace, another word for stillness. Jesus knew very well that life “happens,” and that it can turn on a dime. He knew very well the experience of being tossed and turned inside out. Stillness is the place and context for experiencing God speaking, and where Christ’s gentle and guiding presence enables us to get sufficient bearings to navigate through any distress and regain balance and symmetry in life.

There’s a VERY powerful glimmer of grace in this complicated and challenging situation. The sensible approach of social distancing in order to limit the spread of the malevolent virus has created a global “stillness”, never before imagined. This can be our opportunity to “do” life differently, to discover new practices and to speak truth to both power and illusion. It’s a time to be still enough to hear each other’s voices and read the depth of feeling in each other’s eyes. It may be a precious chance to live out our interconnectedness with one another, and with our planet’s fragile biosphere with the decisions we make.

Let’s make all that happen. As Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata said, “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

With warmest wishes from Joan and myself, and much gratitude for the opportunity to have served these past months with you.

Peace, calm, love, and stillness, in Christ.

Duncan.

March 27,2020
Everything seems to be on hold right now, life seems so different. I miss being able to surf the rolling waves of the Hebridean waters of western Scotland. I miss these local Pacific waters and the simple pleasure of paddling over to Saltspring Island for a bowl of beans on a quiet “secret” beach. I miss the quiet hours of snowshoeing on the deep and pristine snow, on trails through the towering yellow cedars of our Island mountains. I miss seeing the warm and loving faces of our church family, each Sunday morning, as we gather together for worship and spiritual nourishment.
 
But it’s not all about me. It’s about us. All of us.
 
We’re all missing people, and events, freedom to travel, and the ability to connect with one another. We’re missing visits with our loved ones, both near and far. We’re missing the friendly and supportive interactions with one another in the supermarket and on the street. We’re missing peace of mind with the daily news of lost jobs, incomes, and security. We realize that we may have taken our health for granted and sense intimations of mortality as clinics and hospitals prepare for the worst. Those who struggle most in our community miss the usual support services that serve as their daily buoyancy aid. And we wonder where all this is going.
 
The Season of Lent in our Christian tradition is all about wondering where we are going. Do you remember the account of Jesus gathering with Peter, James, John, and Andrew? They met at the Mount of Olives, across from the temple. We know that it’s an extraordinarily important story because it’s recorded in all three Gospels. The disciples felt everything was falling apart, and they were very afraid. Jesus confirmed their worst fears and told them that life was going to be difficult for them. He spoke of coming revolutions, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. He told them that they would be arrested and that even their families would turn against them. But then he reframed everything. And here’s the point. He assured them that despite everything, they need not be afraid, and that they were to stand firm, believing in the power of love to transform and renew. With tenderness and affection for his struggling friends, he assured them that not a hair on their heads would be lost. (Luke 21:18) Of course, we know the end of the story. Love overcame death, and opened the doors to the possibility of justice, peace, and a renewed world order.
 
We too need to courageously reframe this worrisome situation that the world currently faces. We must identify possibilities in this current pandemic that will provide an opportunity to rise to this challenge, not only as the Body of Christ but as one human family. Rather than being tempted to see ourselves as victims of a virus, we must envision recovering a sense of community in this world. Why? Because we’re ALL in this together and because it is the right thing to do. We must resolve to build bridges and tear walls down. The depth of feeling for all that we are currently missing must be transformed into the kind of empowerment that will genuinely change the world for the better. This pandemic can help us identify that which no longer serves the common good and that which will. It all begins with the resolve to value one another…and to trust that love will always overcome.
 
While on our early morning walk yesterday, we came upon a bright red heart on a shrub along the sidewalk. It seemed to whisper: “It’s love that will keep us together.” For fifty years, those who have ventured into the depths of space, and even to the moon have reminded us that on this magnificent and fragile sphere we call home, there are no borders. Even this strange and frightening virus knows that.
 

Be assured my friends, love will keep us together. That was Jesus’ promise to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. It’s Jesus’ promise to us.
 
Peace, calm, love, and the kindness of caution be with you.
 
Duncan.
(This note is an expanded reflection from Duncan’s most recent FaceBook post.)

Dear friends,

Peace and grace be with you all in these challenging times.

Needless to say, there is a lot of anxiety, all around the world with regards to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As a faith community, with core values of justice, hospitality, and compassion, we are called to do all that we can to ensure that we continue to express care, concern, and love for one another, here in our church home, and in the wider community. To that end, Duncan United Church is joining with others to do all that is possible to keep our most vulnerable safe.

Our usual church programs, groups, and activities are now paused for an indefinite period of time so that we can help to “flatten the curve” of transmission and best care for those most at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. With regards to Sunday services, B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has now prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people. Further, the Pacific Mountain Regional Council of the United Church of Canada is recommending that churches do not meet for services. The message is clear, we need to do everything we can to protect one another.

Please know that none of this will be forever. Please also know we will continue to “be” the Church. We are just pausing its normal activities, and worship services. As members of the Body of Christ, WE are the Church and we will continue to be a loving and connected presence in one another’s lives, and in the life of the community. We will be in touch again very soon, and we will explore new ways of providing companionship, pastoral care, and spiritual nourishment while we navigate together these uncharted waters. If you have any questions, concerns, or thoughts, please be in touch.

Do all you can to be safe, and remember always that God’s grace, warmth and love surrounds each of us in every moment of time.

(Rev’d) Duncan Barwise, Interim Minister

Virginia MacCarthy, Chair, Unified Board