Though I am not a church planter nor the son of a church planter but one whom God has called from a very small herd, I offer this suggestion: 2015 is a very good year for Canadians to witness to Christ’s kingdom of peace.
I offer this suggestion not because I have discovered a secret formula to heal the most pressing social problems of poverty, racism and environmental degradation, but because it seems to me that Christians are increasingly accepted as a valuable part of the Canadian community.
In my retirement I have found that local communities are ever-more interested in ideas, programs and involvement from diverse groups of people, including those with deeply-held confessional beliefs. Allow me to give a few examples.
I am a member of two support groups: one for care-givers (especially for those dealing with dementia) and one for people who suffer from or have loved ones who suffer from mental illness. In both of these groups I find people from secular backgrounds, practising Christians and people who don’t especially know what they believe. Both groups are founded upon a very strong conviction about mutual respect, a respect that allows participants to speak occasionally about the roots of their views of life, and identifying as Christian when it seems appropriate.
The secular dominance of some of my earlier years, which kept even the mention of religion off the table in public events – that strict division of life into the sacred and the secular I find somehow blurrier today. Modernism may be on its last legs when it fights against religious education in Catholic schools in Quebec.
Back to my support groups. The early leaders of the two groups were two deeply caring individuals, one of whom is Mormon and the other Canadian Reformed. When I attended several ad hoc community meetings to try to address social problems of those with disabilities and elder abuse, I offered copies of the Disabilities Handbook produced by the Christian Reformed/Reformed churches. These booklets were gladly received and snapped up.
Open & respectful
On another very small scale, I have realized the acceptance of a Christian “slant” on Christmas events. Although I’ve read that there are places where one is still supposed to say “Happy Holidays” instead of any greeting remotely referring to Christ, I have not experienced that.
On the contrary, our local communities seem open to a respectful Christian presence, even a formative one. I have had the privilege of leading “carol-sings” for two public events. We sing lots of winter songs like “Jingle Bells” (originally a Thanksgiving song), “Rudolph” “Winter Wonderland,” and the soothing, feel-good, everybody is a Binger “White Christmas.” We have even sung “Six White Boomers,” proving that Aussies can produce lite stuff as well as anyone.
However, when I lead the singing from the piano I choose a large number of specifically Christian carols. To break up the otherwise non-stop singing, this year I read a story by Max Braithwaite about the Christmas “lie”: that Santa only brings gifts to good people. It allowed me to address the children and assure them that gifts of love come unexpectedly and undeservedly (“like grace,” I say as an aside to the adults). Because in our times many children don’t “get dropped off for Sunday school” anymore, I found that the public forum is a good place to retell the Christmas story from Luke. I chose to do this by means of You-Tube clip: kids from St. Paul’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand enact it. (If you haven’t seen this yet, get someone to play it for you.)
Volunteering to lead such a public event gave me an opportunity to talk at length to one of my friends who calls herself an atheist. She asked about churches that don’t accept all people – “justice issues” – and I said, “Don’t attend them.” She said that of course she couldn’t go to a church because she was an atheist and I replied, “So? The church of Christ at worship welcomes everyone. The church is not for just a few.” I admit that at this time I trotted out the old quip: “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in McDonald’s makes you a Big Mac.”
Finally, participating as a confessional Christian in public events has enabled me to say to my friend, “May the God in whom you don’t believe give you a Christmas blessing and a happy new year.” As for the new year – 2015: May it be a very good year for public witness, in the big things and the small.
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