Monthly Archives: September 2011

Church 5 – Big Church

So, if this morning’s church was the biggest so far, then this evenings was without a doubt the loudest.  Big Church currently meets on Sunday evenings in the Barrie Free Methodist building on Cundles Road.  The service is energetic, lively, and long, clocking in at around 2 hours.

This evening I also took another undercover agent with me, as my daughter volunteered to scope out the children’s program while I attended the service.  Her biggest complaint in other churches has been that they don’t take her questions seriously enough, but apparently Big Church scores well in this regard; she reported that she’d participated in a lively discussion of Revelations, Elisha and faith.

After my experience this morning, I was glad to be at a service that included communion with no restrictions.  I tend to think that a church service isn’t really a church service if it doesn’t include communion.  I may not understand it completely, but there is something very important in our shared remembrance of Christ and his love for us.

Afterwards I got to chat with various members of the church, and ask my usual questions.  Who are you?  Why are you here?  What is God doing in the city?   For the first time in this journey, I actually got a cohesive answer to that last question.

“God is breaking down walls between churches, calling them to complete one another rather than compete with one another.  Just as the members of the Trinity are distinct and yet work together in perfect union, so should the churches of Barrie complement each other in living out God’s love for the city.”

That’s an answer I’m thrilled to hear.  I shall keep asking this question as I continue my journey.



Church 4 – Holy Spirit Parish

This morning I attended the largest service so far; more than 80 people attended Holy Spirit parish for their 8:30 mass.  I expect even more attend at 10:30.

I have to admit to having left mass with a feeling of ambiguity.   There were several things I appreciated about the service, and one that leaves me with a deep sadness.

First, the good things.  As I said, there was a healthy attendance first thing in the morning, with both an ethnic and generational mix of people.  This is also a congregation that understands that liturgy is something we do together, rather than observe.  Led by a competent but unobtrusive music team, the whole church participated verbally, musically and physically.

As an outsider, this can feel a little overwhelming, as I was given few cues as to what was expected.  It wasn’t always clear what books I was supposed to have, when I was supposed to stand or what I was supposed to say.

But on the other hand, I think I was witnessing a congregation that assumes that when it turns up on a sunday morning, it’s going to do worship, rather than just observe it. And so everyone from children to grandparents make sure that they know the creed, they know the Kyrie Eleison, they know the structure and the meaning of the liturgy.

On a side note, one benefit of using a hymnal as opposed to a projector for congregational singing is that it means that even if a song is unfamiliar, you are provided with the music as well as the lyrics.  I suspect this allows a church to have a broader collection of music; you can easily join in with songs that are sung rarely if you have the music line in front of you as well as the words.

So structurally this service was not that different to what I’ve experienced in Lutheran or Anglican churches.  All the elements of normal Christian worship were there: congregational singing, readings from the Old and New Testament and the Gospels, the creed, confession and intercession, and communion.

But that last element brings me to my biggest challenge.  As an outsider, as a non-Catholic, I know that I’m expected not to participate in this sacrament.

I believe that communion should be a meal wherein we celebrate not only our reconciliation to God, but also our reconciliation to one another.  And it is deeply painful to be reminded forcefully that we as Christians and as denominations are not reconciled to one another.  A meal that should be a celebration of Christian unity is rather, to me, a stark reminder of our fractured and broken relationships.

I mourn the fact that 500 years after the religious turmoil of the Reformation, and 1000 years after the Great Schism, it is still, at least officially, impossible for me to share one of the central sacraments of the faith with my brothers and sisters.

I do wonder what would happen if instead of working so hard to maintain the walls that divide us, instead of labouring to pass on our divisions and our distinctions to our children, we instead worked towards healing the wounds of the past, towards genuine reconciliation.

Personally, I expect that if this is to happen, it will be a bottom-up rather than top-down process.  Whatever the official teachings of our various denominations may be, throughout my life I have been blessed by fellow believers from nearly all streams of Christianity.

I have worked alongside Lutherans, prayed with Catholics, shared communion with Pentecostals, lived with Evangelicals, learned from Brethren.  Each encounter has left me richer.

Perhaps there is hope.  Just this week, Pope Benedict met with representatives of the German evangelical church in Erfurt, and addressed specifically the fractures that still linger from the Reformation:

“It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

 Pope Benedict, Sept 23 2011

But I also expect that the burden of reconciliation will rest on each individual believer, as he or she chooses whether to build up walls or to tear them down.  My sincere hope is that this project I’ve started will result in us having less walls, not more, between us.

Question 4 – Is it the Purpose of Justice to Redress Past Wrongs?

The title of today’s question may be a bit of a mouthful, perhaps that reflects my lack of answers on this one.

The lead headline on BBC news today was Mahmoud Abbas presenting Palestine’s bid for statehood to the U.N.

The ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict is obviously one of the defining long term geo-political issues of this age.  In an attempt to understand today’s U.N. address, I spent some time reading up on the last few decades of the history of Palestine.  If we are to understand today Abbas’ call to recognize a state with pre-1967 borders, we need to understand the Six Day War of 1967.  To understand the events that led to war we need to understand the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and so on.

I can’t claim that I’ve even begun to understand the complexities of the religious, ethnic and political tensions in the area, but I do realize one thing.  Many people feel that they or their ancestors have been wronged, and that justice requires redress for these past wrongs.  In this particular case, the PLO wants the return of territory lost during the Six Day War.

If we accepted as a principal that territory seized by one country from another should be returned, then how universally could we apply this?  And for how long?  Should Karelia be returned to Finland from Russia?  Should Libya be returned to Turkey?  Or possibly to Italy?  Should Quebec be returned to France?  Should Ontario be returned to the Iroquois?  Or maybe to the Algonquin?

Ultimately, when faced with such questions we realise that huge swathes of the Earth have been fought over, won, lost, occupied, colonialised, and traded.  And there are probably few people groups that cannot lay claim to some past injustice.

So should we try to redress these past wrongs?  Or should we abandon all striving for justice?  Or is there another way, perhaps that acknowledges what has happened in the past and at the same time works hopefully towards a better future for all?



Church 3 – Loving Saviour Lutheran Church

This is the first church I’ve visited for this series that has it’s own dedicated building, and also I think the first Lutheran service I’ve been too.

We can learn a lot about a movement from its architecture.  This build is light, airy, and every sight line draws the eye to the central dais, on which a table holds a book and a large offering plate.

The Lutheran liturgy feels both familiar and different to me.  In terms of its basic structure it is virtually identical to an Anglican or Catholic liturgy: we have prayers of confession, Old and New Testament readings, a Gospel reading, the Creed, intercessions, the Lord’s prayer and a sermon, although in most cases the actual phraseology and cadences are quite different to what I’m used too.

As ever, I used the after-church coffee time to ask my questions.

Why are you here?

What is God doing in the city? 

Apparently, these are not easy questions to answer.  One person told me that this church exists to share the ‘word of God.’  The pastor explained that it exists to teach a ‘theology of the cross, not a theology of glory.’  Another congregant suggested that it exists partly to serve the local community through it’s very well equipped and well regarded day-care facilities.

Some answers were couched in complex theological language.  But I think the most significant answer I heard was from the lady who served me my coffee.

“I’m here because this was the first place I that I ever heard that Jesus loves me.”

A church could do much worse.

Running Tempo

If for some reason you’re looking to give your lactic acid thresholds a really nice workout, then there is nothing like a quick five km run with a metronome in your hand.

Apparently nearly all elite runners, whether they run 5ks or marathons, run at a cadence of around 180 steps per minute.   The variance in speed tends to be a function of stride length, rather than rate.  So, I grabbed my metronome from a music stand and went out on a quick 5k loop.

It was an intense experience.  There’s no hiding from the metronome, it’s like having a drill instructor yell at you continuously as you run.  The moment my stride faltered I felt myself missing the rhythm, and I had to scurry to get back on track.   Running slowly didn’t help me escape it, as I still had to work to maintain the fast turnover.

So, not a relaxing evening jog, but I think a productive exercise that I will repeat from time to time.

Note: an alternative to carrying a metronome in your hand is to download a fixed-tempo mix from podrunner, a site that carries a whole bunch of hour-long mixes set at anything from 140 to 180 BPM.

Sixty Thousand Steps

A few weeks ago I tried to run a half marathon.  That didn’t go so well. So, now would be a good time to regroup and think carefully about setting appropriate goals for myself, taking into account my fitness levels, my time, my propensity towards knee pains and so on.

I’ve done that, and I’ve come up with a new goal for next year.

I’m going to run an ultramarathon.

Specifically, I want to target a 50k race next year.  Now, this might sound a little crazy given that I’ve never gone beyond 21k, but there actually is method to my madness.  I figure that I’m at a point in my training where I can go one of two ways.  I can carry on running, take time off every time legs complain, and maybe do the odd 5k or 10k race.

Or I set myself what they call in the business world a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

The thing is, at the moment I can’t possibly run that kind of distance, for some very specific reasons.  My gait isn’t right, and I have very tight hip and thigh muscles, specifically my ITB and TFL.   These aren’t big problems when I’m only running 5k, but are serious limiters when I go out long.  If I stick to shorter runs, then I’ll never have to address these underlying limiters, and I could probably even train out to half marathon reasonably well.

But if I want to go really long, then I can’t fake it.  I have to rebuild my gait properly, and I have to put in the hard work with stretching and foam rollers to work out my problem muscles.  Indeed, I expect I’ll probably spend more time doing this kind of rehab over the winter than actually running.

So, if you live in the neighborhood and see a crazy guy running barefoot on gravel trails, it’s me re-teaching my ankles and calves to run lightly and fluidly.  And my long-suffering family will have to put up with me grunting through hours of foam roller work.

But I’m going to make this work.  I’m fed up with having my legs give up when I still have fuel in the tank.

And if anyone is looking for a training partner willing to put in some serious mileage, give me a shout.


Wither Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is possibly the most interesting and game-changing technology to have been created in the last 10 years.  I think that there is a real possibility that it will succeed where other alternative currencies have failed.

What’s interesting me at the moment is what the path of adoption will be.  Until recently I assumed that the early adopters would all be geeks: people wanting to buy and sell virtual goods, World of Warcraft weaponry, or technical services such as programming and graphical design.

Now that I’m more familiar with the various bitcoin exchanges I wonder whether the currency is more likely to find early use as a Forex tool.  It’s very easy to transfer money from a source currency to bitcoin to a target currency, and transferring bitcoins around the world doesn’t require middlemen, fees, or regulation.

We’re obviously a long way from being able to buy a coffee at Tim Hortons with a cryptocurrency, but I think that eventually a healthy market may well emerge, with a large number of goods and services being traded for bitcoin.  I shall be following developments with interest.

Church 2 – Painswick United

A challenge every church has to face is building a service that engages the entire age range of the congregation.  How can we create a worship environment that has space for 6 year olds and 60 year olds?

Painswick United church is doing a better job answering that question than almost any church I’ve visited.

The church has a small but diverse congregation, and is currently meeting at the plaza on Hurst Drive.  The focus of today’s service was prayer, based on Matthew chapter 7.

Although we frequently refer to the church as a ‘family’, it seems that in most churches our corporate acts of worship are segregated; kids in one place, adults in another.  Kids and adults have different leaders, different activities, and different lessons.

I know from experience how hard it is to craft an environment where children and adults can learn and participate together, so I was very impressed that I witnessed that this morning.  A space was created at the front of the church for the children to gather, and they were led through a short and engaging lesson about understanding prayer as an opportunity to connect and commune with God.  Then the kids got to sit at the craft table at the back of the building while the adults were led through pretty much the same lesson.

Prayer is a transformative process.  We encounter God’s presence when we pray.  God is concerned with more than our immediate happiness: he wants a relationship with us and wants us to grow and mature into people that love and bless the world around us.  Prayer is not the thoughtless repetition of phrases, but an active engagement with God that can change us as much as the world around us.

Important words for children and adults alike.

I think after only visiting two churches I’m already beginning to see some common strands.  Believers who want to be connected to one another, and see the churches of Barrie bless the city.  I hope I continue to see this as I continue my journey.



Question 3 – What is Meant by ‘Job Creation’

So, another day, another election.  Today the Ontario Provincial election campaign begins, and despite my pleading for assessing each person standing on their individual merits I can’t name any of my local candidates.  But I’m sure that over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing a lot about the leaders of the parties, and especially about their election promises.

One thing they’ve already started talking about is ‘job creation’.  This phrase is frequently used in political discussion, but it’s rarely clearly defined.  A little story may illustrate the problem.

Once upon a time there was a politician called James.  James had a son, let’s call him Jim, around 12 or 13 years old.  Jim was a particularly active boy, and one day while playing in the back yard managed to throw a rock through the kitchen window.  His dad sighed, and picked up the phone to the local window company to come and fix it. 

Later that evening, thinking about the large bill he had just paid, and the hours of work that it had taken the two man crew to clean up his kitchen, James came to a realization.  He should be proud of his son, not mad, because he’d just stimulated the local economy!  The glaziers had had work for the afternoon, and their company revenue had increased.

So James immediately rushed into the back yard and picked up as many rocks as he could carry.  Then he headed out on his mission, and didn’t stop until he had thrown a brick through the window of every house on his street.  Then he went back home, pleased with his job creation efforts and looking forward to the praise that he would undoubtedly receive.

This story is known as ‘the Parable of the Broken Window’, and shows that it’s not simply more work that we want created.

But as it happens, we can create jobs without offending our neighbors.  I will do so now.

I will pay the first reader of this blog who responds one dollar a year to clean my house, mow my lawn, shovel my driveway, and perform any other maintenance  tasks I can think of.

Somehow, I think I’m not going to get any takers, despite the fact that technically I just created another job opening.  Clearly that’s not what we mean by ‘Job Creation.’

So what is it that we want?  A slave is not content because she has a ‘job’, even though she has the privilege of working 12 hours a day.  And, indeed, I suspect a huge percentage of Ontarians are deeply dissatisfied with their current jobs.

So when candidates start talking about ‘job creation’, perhaps we should ask them exactly what they mean.  And maybe we shouldn’t elect them until we’re satisfied with their answers.

Church 1 – Redwood Park

Redwood Park Church meets on Sunday mornings  at Emma King School.  Check it out if you live in Letitia heights – the people are friendly, coffee is served before, during and after the service, and the snacks they serve with it are to die for!

This is a small, informal group, there were more kids than adults when I attended, and I got a friendly welcome from nearly everyone in the building.   Before the service had even started I’d had a long chat with one member about the church’s mission, and with the pastor about youth ministry, the role of liturgy in worship, and the links between the emergent movement and Anglicanism.  I love a good theological discussion, so this was a good start.

The service itself I’ll call ‘classic school gymnasium church-plant’.  This style has its ups and downs regardless of the specific church.  School gyms are not built with acoustics in mind, and no matter how talented the musical leadership is, any sound system in an echoing gym will easily drown out unamplified voices.  From where I was sitting at the back, I couldn’t hear a single voice that wasn’t part of the music team.  I worry that we tend to see worship as something that we observe, rather than something that we do.  There is a big challenge for our churches to figure out how to create spaces that progressively draw people into active encounters with the divine.

The questions I’m asking as I undertake this journey are “why are you here” and “what is God doing?”

Redwood Park exists, I was told, for a couple of reasons:  To provide a space for those that would otherwise not be able to find a church home, both ‘outsiders’ and those ‘heading out’.  It also wants to serve the less privileged areas around Anne St/Letitia Heights.

As to what God is doing in the city in general: answers I heard include churches in Barrie becoming less insular, and more outwardly focused, with a greater emphasis on serving the local community.

So, one down, seventy-two or so to go.