Writing during this pandemic

cropped-finalist-sticker-a.pngJust over a year ago I experienced the rush of excitement that came with having my first novel, “The Book of Answers” included on the short list for the “Unhanged Arthur”. It’s a prize for unpublished crime novels, co-sponsored by Dundurn Press and Crime Writers of Canada.

Link to announcement of nominations

20190523_192551I had a great time at the awards banquet. It was held in the banquet hall of Toronto’s historic Arts and Letters Club, which felt a lot like Hogwarts.

I was not at all shocked when another book, The Scarlet Cross, by Liv McFarlane won the award. For me, it was more than enough to make the move from the “long list” of ten, to the “short list” of five authors from across Canada whose work was considered for this honour.

It did come as a surprise that all five finalist’s works were to be read by the acquisitions team at Dundurn. They are a Canadian publishing house with an impressive list of books and authors.

I have had good, and useful feedback on my first serious effort, and I continue to learn the craft. My writing mentor said most first novels don’t end up being published. I am okay with that, and have moved on to work on a second story, tentatively called “The Book of Secrets”. It involves some of the characters from the first novel.

The editors at Dundurn might not be waiting with anticipation, but I look forward to sending them the new one to consider, when the time comes. (I just checked their website, and Dundurn is not currently inviting new submissions, so I guess there’s no great hurry!)

As  one of my fellow nominees, Heather McLeod noted recently, fiction writers in this strange time have to contend creatively with the pandemic. Do they set their story before COVID-19, during, or after?

For me, it seems too soon to write about life after COVID-19.  I have seen new micro-fiction set “during”, which captures some of the mood, and the questions of this time.

My first novel was set roughly in modern day. (Which was pre-COVID-19) That was the plan with my current effort, but I have found it hard to make the mental leap back into a world (even a fictional one) in which people are not worried about physical distancing and quarantines.

It’s the same problem I watching tv shows and movies, unless they are clearly historical pieces. What are they doing on that crowded street?

I do want to get back to the work (play) of writing about my protagonist, Tom Book, and his family and friends (and enemies). Whenever I do make the dive into the part of my brain where imaginary world lives, it’s still an interesting place to be.


Worship for Sunday, May 10, 2020

Link to Worship Video for May 10, 2020

Link to ShoeBox Sunday School for May 10, 2020

We are so pleased, and amazed at the number of “views” we are getting each week for our worship videos. Please take a moment and and type in your answers to these questions, and then click the submit button to send them to us. We will keep your responses confidential. All the fields are “optional”, which means you can leave some blank if you choose!


Learning Time for May 10, 2020:  “The House of Love”

Lexie and I were out walking at about 8:30 one morning this week. It was cool, and there was a brisk wind, but the sun shone bright on Kingsville’s quiet streets. As we turned a corner, something did not look quite right.  A little girl, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, her long blonde hair wild and loose, and wearing what looked like a long pyjama top, or t-shirt, ran barefoot up the sidewalk, chasing after a taller, darker haired version of herself. We guessed they were sisters.

Looking up and down the street we saw no adult with these little ones. The smaller girl fell further behind her sister, who I’d estimate was maybe 6 years old. There were other people on the street. A woman crossed the road to ask if the kids were with us. We spotted another neighbour with a cellphone at her ear, and wondered if she was calling the police.

We couldn’t be sure, so we dialed 911, and Lexie told the dispatcher what we were seeing. The older girl had gone around a corner, and was now out of sight. The little one turned back toward us. It seemed like she’d given up on catching her sister.

As Lexie spoke to the dispatcher, a taxi van with a local name painted on the back pulled up close to the lone little girl, and the driver’s side power door opened. The girl looked towards the van. We were too far away to hear the words exchanged. The little one got in, and van the door powered shut. The taxi van turned the corner, in the direction we’d seen the older girl go.

Moments later, the van appeared a few houses behind us, having made a loop around the block, and pulled into a driveway. The van backed out, rolled down the street, and parked in another driveway.

By then, the police had arrived. Lexie was still on the phone with the dispatcher, who’d had a colleague contact the taxi company. It was confirmed the driver knew the girls, and had brought them home. We continued our walk, trusting the officer in the cruiser, now parked in front of that house, would sort things out.

We live in this strange time in which home has become, for many of us, our total geography. I talk with people who look at the same walls, the same few rooms, the exact same yard, day after day. Some folks still go to work, and some get out for groceries. Children are out of school, and can’t have play-dates. They’ve not been able to use parks or playgrounds.

I can totally understand the girls wanting to slip out the front door, and run down the street. Lexie and I go for walks, partly for exercise, but also for a change of scenery. I hope the little girls were just out for an around the block adventure.  I pray all they were running from was the feeling of being stuck inside the same walls. I worry there might be something more. It still bothers me that no parent appeared on the street, wondering where their girls had gone.

It’s Mother’s Day weekend. There is a tendency at this time of year to glorify, and mythologize the role mothers play in our world. It sometimes seems motivated by guilt. Our society takes the hard work, the sacrifice, the difficulties mothers face, for granted, and once a year, we have this day.

This year has become even more challenging, especially for mothers of school age kids. Some are doing their own paid jobs from home, while also juggling home schooling, meal planning and prep, the regular chores, and trying to keep everyone in the house healthy, entertained, and in positive humour. I don’t mean to suggest their partners are not on board. In many houses, it’s a team effort. Even so, many mothers have a lot to deal with.

Add in worries about money, and job loss, and the economic down-turn, the health and well-being of friends and relatives we can’t visit, the anxiety caused by neighbours and others who ignore social distancing rules, and it’s just a hard, hard time. We turn on the news, or read posts on social media, and a lot of what we see and hear doesn’t help.

mother's day adOur church put an ad in the Happy Mother’s Day section of the Harrow News, that says “God Bless All the Moms” Especially the Front-Line Workers and those now working even harder running home schools, on top of everything!”

Happy Mother’s Day. There was a movement a few years ago to re-brand Mother’s Day as Christian Family Sunday. Churches like to try to take secular, worldly occasions, and appropriate for our own purposes.

When the Christian missionaries moved into Europe they saw that local folks had a big rowdy Winter Solstice festival near the end of the year. It went by different local names, but was basically rooted in the anxiety that as the days got shorter and shorter, the nights longer and longer, the sun might disappear altogether, and never return.

The early church did not like all the risqué end of the world partying, or the folk magic practiced in efforts to entice the sun to return. The church tried and failed to stamp out the parties. In its wisdom, the church baptized and converted the festivals into a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and Christmas in December became a thing.

How do we celebrate Mother’s Day, when sometimes it feels like we are like those scared tribes of Europe seeing glimpses of the end of the world?

Both scriptures today make use of the image of a house. At a time of great anxiety for the disciples, just hours before Jesus was arrested, he shared a meal with his friends, that we call the last supper. Jesus knew his inner circle was worried, and wondering what was ahead for them. Jesus talked about how God would always be there for them, and how nothing that happened in this world, in this life, could separate them from God, and God’s love. Jesus talked about a dwelling place where there was room enough for them all. In the King James Version, it says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions”, which conveys the extraordinary lavishness of this promise.

first century palestinian houseIn the part of the world where Jesus and his followers lived, most people lived in simple, four-walled structures, about 24 feet square. Within those tiny homes would be space for a whole family to do their cooking and eating, sleeping, and also to stable their animals. The idea of a house big enough for all God’s children, would be almost unimaginable to Jesus’ friends- but also, an ultimate symbol of generosity, hospitality, and love. A great big house of love.

Today we also heard a reading from the first letter of John, written to followers of Jesus who were living in hard times. Their Jewish neighbours saw them as heretics who’d wandered from the true faith. The Roman colonizers persecuted them for failing to follow the official state religions, and call the emperor their Lord. There was disagreement amongst the Jesus followers, disputes about theology that threatened to divide their community.

To help them in their troubles, the writer of 1st John reminded his people that although no one has ever seen God, ever, if we love each other, God dwells deeply within us, and God’s love becomes complete in us. The Greek word for love in his passage is “Agape”, the highest form of love. This is love that is prepared to sacrifice for the good of others. Love that puts personal comfort, desire, pride, ego aside, in favour of what is best for someone else.

The writer went on to say, “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.”

There is so much in those words for us. We need our homes to be safe places, from which no one feels the need to run away. We need to be good to each other, patient with each other, in these tough and confusing times. We need to be good to the moms, not just this weekend, but all the time.

There are still things happening in the world, over which we have little or no control. Like those folks in ancient European tribes, we are hoping and praying, and holding on for the end of the dark times, for the sun to return. The best antidote we have against fear- is love. Love that is selfless, and self-giving, that concerns itself most with how others are doing. We need for love to have the run of our house. Amen

Prayers for May 10, 2020

In addition to our ongoing prayers for all those affected by the pandemic, today is a day to offer special prayers:

God of Love, on this day set aside to honor and remember mothers, we give you thanks for our mothers. We are grateful you chose to give us life through them, and that they received the gift of life from you, and gave it to us. Thank you for the sacrifices they made in carrying us and giving us birth.

We thank you for the women who raised us. Whether birth mother, adopted mother, older sister, aunt, grandmother, stepmother or someone else, we thank you for those women who held us and fed us, who cared for us and kissed away our pain. We pray that our lives may reflect the love they showed us, and that they would be pleased to be called our mothers.

We pray for mothers whose children are grown.

We pray for new mothers experiencing changes they could not predict.

We pray for pregnant women who are anticipating motherhood.

We pray for mothers who face the demands of single parenthood.

We pray for mothers who enjoy financial abundance.

We pray for mothers who are raising their children in poverty.

We pray for mothers who are doing their best to love their children, and care for them, in these current strange times.

We pray for step-mothers.

We pray for mothers who are separated from their children.

We pray for mothers who gave up their children for adoption.

We pray for adoptive mothers.

We pray for children and mothers for whom family relationships have been challenging, difficult, or even unworkable.

We pray for girls and women who think about being mothers.

We pray for women who desperately want, or wanted, to be mothers.

We pray for all women who have assumed the mother’s role in a child’s life.

We pray for those who grieve the loss of their mother.

Grant them hope in the Easter story of life and death and life beyond death.

Grant them comfort that all those who have live died are held safely God’s loving embrace, in that house with many rooms.

We offer our prayers in the name of Mary’s son, Jesus, and we continue with the prayer he taught:

The Lord’s Prayer: (spoken together)

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen


Announcements for May 10, 2020

Happy Mother’s Day! Even under our current conditions, we hope and pray that every mother knows they are appreciated, remembered and loved.

The Board decided to schedule another Drive Thru Food Drive, which will happen from 10 am-12 noon, on Friday, June 5.

Thank you to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge, Larry Anderson, and the Virtual Choir, for all the work they do to make these worship resources possible.

Here are some statistics from www.revdarrow.com where we post the printed version, and a link to the Youtube-hosted video of our weekend worship resource:

March 22 230 views

March 29 142 views

(April 5) Palm Sunday 293 views

Good Friday 235 views

(April 12) Easter Sunday 254 views

April 19  112 views  (YouTube counted 90 views of the video)

April 26 170 views   (YouTube counted 127 views of the video)

May 3 124 views     (YouTube counted 101 views of the video)

It appears that about 20% of those who use our worship resource read the print version of the service, and do not click to watch the video.

We have had people looking at our worship resource from twenty countries, including Canada, U.S., India, Singapore, Japan, China, the U.K., the Philippines, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Ireland, France, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Romania, Kenya, Argentina and Russia.

In March, our top three countries were Canada, the United States, and India. In April, our top three countries were Canada, the United States and Singapore. So far in May, the top three are Canada, the United Kingdom, and a tie between the United States and Germany.



An update about our Worship Videos

At Harrow United Church, we’ve been providing an online worship resource since the first week we closed the church building and cancelled regular services. These videos take hours of work to produce, and we are grateful to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge and Larry Anderson, as well as the members of our Virtual Choir, and those who contribute their talents as scripture readers, and guest musicians.

We have not “graduated” from a pre-recorded worship resource to live-streaming. There are two basic issues. One is that we don’t have all the technology we need to do livestreaming well. Our cameras and video equipment in the sanctuary are quite old, and operate on the analog system. (All the video we are currently making available is “shot” using tablets or smart-phones.)

The other issue is how to do livestreaming, while maintaining safe physical distancing, and also produce a worship resource that is helpful and interesting. (I have seen a few livestreams that just feel sad, because what you watch is a couple folks standing around in an echo-y, empty sanctuary.)

Here are some statistics from www.revdarrow.com where I post the printed version, and a link to the Youtube-hosted video of our weekend worship resource:

March 22 230 views

March 29 142 views

(April 5) Palm Sunday 293 views

Good Friday 235 views

(April 12) Easter Sunday 254 views

April 19  112 views  (YouTube counted 90 views of the video)

April 26 170 views   (YouTube counted 127 views of the video)

May 3 124 views     (YouTube counted 101 views of the video)

It appears that about 20% of those who use our worship resource read the print version of the service, and do not click to watch the video.

When I post the worship services to my blog, they are also appear as an article on Linked In. I also post them on my personal Facebook, and the church Facebook page.

We have had people looking at our worship resource from twenty countries, including Canada, U.S., India, Singapore, Japan, China, the U.K., the Philippines, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Ireland, France, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Romania, Kenya, Argentina and Russia.

In March, our top three countries were Canada, the United States, and India. In April, our top three countries were Canada, the United States and Singapore. So far in May, the top three are Canada, the United Kingdom, and a tie between the United States and Germany.


Worship for May 3, 2020

Click the link to watch the worship video:   Worship for May 3, 2020

The video opens with a celebratory announcement about our successful food drive, followed by our Virtual Choir singing the 23rd Psalm.

Scripture for this day, was read on the video by Gloria Gorick:

Let us open our hearts, and still our busy minds, and allow space in our lives for the Word of God.

 Our first reading for today is from the 10th chapter in the Gospel of John. We hear Jesus describe compare himself to the faithful shepherd who knows, cares for, and protects the sheep of their flock. We reminded not to fall for the lure or false promises of those who may not have our best interests at heart.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Our second reading for today, from the New Revised Standard Version, is perhaps the most well known, and cherished of the psalms. The 23rd Psalm reminds of God’s promise to always watch over us, and guide us, and hold us safe. It affirms the words found in our United Church creed, that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, and we are not alone.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

God’s Word is food and drink to hungry and thirsty souls. We give thanks that God has prepared a table for us.

Learning Time: The Good Shepherd

Most of us are safe, thank God, and sheltered, and fed and watered. Most of us know where our loved ones are, and that they are okay. I say most of us, because I know, from talking with people in our own community, and in our circles of family and friends, that not everyone is safe, and sheltered, and fed and watered. Not everyone knows where their loved ones are, or if they are okay. There are people who do not have it as a good as most of us.

Part of what makes this current pandemic different, from the background misery and despair, and hunger, and pain, and death suffered by so many in our world, every day, is that this one, COVID-19 is touching our lives. Many of those becoming ill, and many of those who have died, have been ordinary people, like most of us.

We are used to the privileges of safety and security, the luxuries of running water and safe warm homes, and a steady food supply, and being able go where we want, when we want, and being able to buy what we want, when we want it.  We are not used to being told to stay home, or to waiting in line to pick up staple items at the grocery store , or wondering if we will be able to buy everything we need, or want.

Most of us have been pretty comfortable, and have been sheltered, insulated, protected from the un-official pandemics that kill far more people, and rarely make the front page of the newspaper. There are other, far more prevalent, and far more dangerous causes of violence and suffering, and death out there. Greed. Selfishness. Racism. Hatred. Elitism. The mistaken belief that certain people are entitled to a good life, a great life, no matter the cost, or the consequences to others.

It is terrible, and massively frightening that there is, as yet, no proven cure for COVID-19. But in a way, it is more terrifying, and humbling, that 21,000 people die every day from hunger, which is something for which we do have a cure, and most of us don’t lose sleep over that.  We have somehow accepted that this just the way it is.

Having the tools to make the world a better, safer, more humane, and just place, is only part of the challenge. There must also be the political will, the deep desire, to place the good of others before our own comfort and privilege.

Today we heard Gloria Gorick read two very well known pieces of scripture, that both use the image of a shepherd.

We often hear Psalm 23, at funerals, where the words “The Lord is my shepherd” speak to our hearts as a very personal hope, and promise. At a funeral we often think first about the person who has died, and pray they are safe with God. We may also think of ourselves, and our other, living, close family and friends, and hope and pray that God is also with us.

If I am being totally honest, in a moment like that, at the graveside of a loved one, or at their death-bed, my focus is quite narrow- I am primarily thinking about my own cares. I want the Lord to be “my” shepherd, and take care of me, and mine.

In the other reading, from John’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of what  it would be like to be the shepherd. The shepherd is the one for whom the gate is opened. The shepherd calls each member of the flock by name, and leads them out. The shepherd goes ahead of the flock, and they follow.

This passage is about the shepherd’s relationship, not just with each sheep, but with the whole flock. The Lord is not just my shepherd, but our shepherd, and it’s a big flock. This shepherd has come for all of us, not just the people like me, or the ones I like.

There is an image that has been haunting me. I spoke about it with the Bible Study group on Wednesday, and some of them had also seen it on Facebook, or in the news. It is of a protester in Tennessee, at one of those rallies at which people are pushing for the lifting of restrictions on movement, on gathering, and on working. They want to go back to work, and for the economy to start up again and recover.

wolf in sheeps clothingThe protester in the Facebook picture is wearing a mask over most of their face, that makes them look more like a bandit than someone following health protocols. They are also holding up a sign that says, “Sacrifice the Weak, Re-Open Tennessee”. Every time that picture pops up on my Facebook, I leave a comment that says, “We are all weak.”

I am grateful to live where we do, and to have a system of government that is trying to help people through this time, and make it possible for folks to stay home and limit the spread of the virus. I wonder what it would be like to live in the Southern U.S., where poverty is widespread, and millions live without health insurance, and where governments have not stepped up to replace lost income. But even so… “Sacrifice the Weak, Re-Open Tennessee”.

I know there have been similar protests as close as the Michigan state capitol in Lansing, and at Queen’s Park in Toronto. Premier Ford pointed out the protesters  standing not far from where health care workers going to the big Toronto hospitals had to walk every day, to carry on trying to save lives.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

 The shepherd we follow has come for all of us sheep, and makes no distinctions between the strong and weak, those who contribute to the economy, and those who do not.

In this Gospel passage, Jesus also describes himself as the gate. This a great metaphor. A gate keeps the sheep together, inside the pen. The gate is also a barrier, to keep out those who would come to steal and kill and destroy.

This is not just a literal story. It is a parable that offers the reminder that our souls, our spirits, need protection against the forces, the influences, that might otherwise steal in, and take advantage of our anxiety, our fear for ourselves, and for our loved ones. We need an antidote for greed, for selfishness, for a narrowing of compassion.

The best antidote, the real cure for the infections of greed, selfishness, is love. To love like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who wants us to have life, and life in abundance. We can administer this cure ourselves, by loving others in God’s name. There is nothing like focusing on the needs of someone else, to break the spell of feeling sorry for myself.

I had a great time on Friday morning, with Vivienne and Lauren and Ben Wood, and Jeff Csikasz,, helping collect food and money donations at our Drive Thru Food Drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We added in all the remaining food in the church’s food cupboard, from earlier Sunday morning donations, to the food that people brought on Friday, and piled it in the back of Jeff Csikasz’s truck. He drove to the mission with over 800 pounds of food, to help some of the most at-risk people in our area. We thanked every person who came by with donations, and most of them thanked us, and told us they were happy to help.

If I become a hoarder, of food, or toilet paper, or compassion, there will never be enough for me, to make me feel safe and happy. Even though life is harder than I am used to it being, if I live out of gratitude for the life God gives each of us, and share as I am able, and reach out to care for others- I can celebrate, and experience abundant life, and be grateful for the joy in small moments. Amen

Pastoral Prayer:

God, you are our Shepherd, and the creator of everything we truly need.

You made this world in which we live, and you fill it with good things.

We give thanks for fresh air, for bright spring days, for clean water, and good food to eat.

We give thanks for the generosity and kindness we experience.

We give thanks for opportunities to pass that kindess and generosity along.

God, You are a source of comfort and peace in the most trying times.

You are the shepherd of all those who feel lost, or sad, or sick, or lonely.

You are the shepherd all those who are dying, and all those who are grieving.

We pray for those in your flock who are feeling the sadness of loss. We remember today especially the family of Mary Defour. Be with them, and surround them with your love.

You give us places and times of calm, to be still.

Help us to use those moments to count our blessings, and to live with gratitude.

We give thanks for the life of Mary Defour, and all she has meant to us.

As we think of family and friends and neighbours close to where we live, we also take time to remember those in other places, who are facing hardship, and loss, and grief. We continue to pray for the people of Nova Scotia.

We pray for the members of the Canadian Forces, for those killed in the helicopter crash, and those who are still missing. We remember their comrades, those involved in the search. We remember their families, and friends.

Guide, us, good shepherd, in the times we feel like we are in a strange land, that we do not recognize.

We pray for all those who are on the front lines in our collective efforts to protect ourselves, our families, our neighbours, our country, from the spread of COVID-19. We pray for health care workers, and clinical researchers. We pray for leaders and officials at all levels of government. We pray for those making business decisions that effect the delivery of goods and services. We pray for farmers, and agricultural workers.

We pray for ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things, in this strange time, so that most of us can lead healthy and safe lives.

We pray for our faith community, Harrow United Church, and all other churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, prayer groups, meditation circles- all the gatherings, many of which have moved online, but who persist in their sincere efforts to bring people together, to share inspiration and hope, and to brighten the lives of others.

We make our prayers as followers of Jesus. Amen

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer:

Today I want to end this time of prayer with a video clip of my former classmate, Justin Weber. Justin is the pastor of a Quaker congregation in Iowa. We knew each other in the late 1980’s, and travelled together on a mission trip to Belize. A few weeks ago I asked for prayers for Justin and his family, because I learned through mutual friends that Justin was very sick with COVID-19. At that time he was on a ventilator, and in intensive care. I get daily reports about how he is doing, and read yesterday that he is out of the ICU, off the ventilator, off the COVID floor of the hospital, and now able to sit up in bed, and according to his wife, who video-chats with him, he is in good humour.

The video we will watch is of Justin singing the Lord’s Prayer as part of a worship service in his congregation about a year ago.

As we pray with him, let us remember all those directly affected by the virus. Those we know, and those we do not know.

Some announcements for this week:

Our hearts and prayers are with Camiel Defour and his family, as they come to terms with the death of Mary Defour. There will be a service to celebrate her life at a later date.

ShoeBox Sunday School is going very well! We have about 25 students registered. Naomi Woods appears in a YouTube video for the youngest students, and is online with 4-7 years old at 10 am, and with the 8 years and older group at 11 am, on Sundays. This week, Naomi’s brother, Joel Woods, appears in the YouTube video as a musical guest. Parents who want their kids to join in the fun, and learning, can contact us at harrow_united@hotmail.com

The official board will meet this coming Tuesday evening by Conference Call. The work of the church continues, even in, and perhaps especially in, these strange times.

The Harrow News is doing great work, to support and inform the community. Please consider renewing your subscription for another year, even if you are all paid up! Natalie and her staff have given space to local churches for messages from the pastors, and have also promoted our Drive Thru Food Drives for Windsor’s Downtown Mission.

Wednesday morning Bible Study with Rev. Darrow meets at 10:30 am, in your house, and in the homes of all the other participants, via ZOOM. If you would like to join in, send a request for a link to Darrow at revdww@gmail.com

jeff and groceries for the missionOur Drive Thru Food Drive for Windsor’s Downtown Mission was a great success! Vivienne, Lauren and Ben Wood volunteered to help load Jeff Csikasz’s truck. We included all the food left in the church from our Sunday morning collections, and that was over 300 pounds! Many people came by on Friday morning, with food, clothing, cash, and cheques made out to the Mission. By noon, there was over 800 pounds of food in the back of Jeff’s truck, and some in the cab behind him. Thank you to Jeff for driving that load into Windsor, and dropping it off where it can do so much good.



ShoeBox Sunday School video for little ones

ShoeBox Sunday School logoWe have posted the first ShoeBox Sunday  School  video for our youngest students.

link to ShoeBox Sunday for little ones

Sunday morning, there will be a class for 5-8 years old online at 10 am, and the class for older kids will start at 11 am. A link will be sent to families who have registered their kids to be part of the class.

If you are in the Harrow area, and would like your kids to be part of this new adventure, you can email us at Harrow United Church

We need to know:

-Names of kids, and their ages.

-Your name, email address and phone number.

-Your address, so that we can deliver the ShoeBox that will contain lessons and materials for the class

ShoeBox Sunday School is part of the ongoing ministry of Harrow United Church


Worship for April 26, 2020 from Harrow United Church

Worship Video for April 26, 2020

Above is the link to our worship offering for this week. The video opens with a praise song with a great message for the time we are living in, that ties in beautifully with the Gospel Lesson, and the Learning Time.

Beth Graham read John 20:19-31 for us, the passage that tells the story of the mysterious encounter two followers have with the Risen Christ, while walking the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The anthem for this week, “Stay With Us Through the Night” was inspired by that story.

The Learning Time (sermon) is called “At Home with Jesus”, and is followed by pastoral prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. The text of the learning time and the prayers will follow below.

Our hearts are with all those who are suffering, and enduring the COVID-19 pandemic.

We especially hold in prayer the victims of the horrendous crimes in Nova Scotia, their families and friends, their communities, and the first responders, and law enforcement officials who are dealing with the aftermath.

John Woodbridge and Larry Anderson recorded a moving, prayerful tribute to all those folks, and others touched by this horror. Nova Scotia Strong!

Please keep watching for the announcements at the end of the video.

Learning Time and Prayers:

“At home with Jesus”

Just three days after watching Jesus suffer a cruel death on the cross, two of his followers walked ten kilometres from Jerusalem to their home village of Emmaus. 10 kilometres is a long walk.

I have been out walking with my wife a few nights each week, but we rarely go for more than 4-5 kilometres. Most people we see on the streets respect the rules about physical distancing that are part of our new normal. We cross the street when it looks like we might get too close.

These days, we would not think of doing what the two friends did while walking the road to Emmaus. They met a stranger, walked with them, and entered into a lengthy, and deep conversation.

The two travelling companions were heart-broken at the death of Jesus. They’d heard about Jesus having appeared to some of his followers, but did not know what to make of those stories.

It’s good to remember that when we hear the Good Friday story each year, we do so knowing what we will hear on Easter Sunday. These two followers of Jesus, did not know then, what we know now.

They were, in their time, a bit like we are right now. We are in the middle of this big story that is new for everyone, and we are waiting, and hoping for good things, and praying for a good outcome. We are on a journey, not really knowing where we are going.

The two friends walking from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus took comfort in talking with the stranger they met, who became a new friend, and who seemed to know a lot about Jesus, and his God-given mission. He helped them see meaning and purpose in it all, and they began to feel better.

It seemed natural to invite their walking companion home for supper. (That used to be something we could do!) During the meal, the stranger took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Luke’s Gospel says that was when they recognized that Jesus was with them. An ordinary moment at the supper table became sacred.

That sounds a lot like communion, one of the sacraments of the Christian church. A sacrament is a special moment when God’s grace, God’s mystery, God’s love, touches us.

I have wonderful memories of standing at the communion table in the sanctuary of Harrow United Church, usually with kids gathered around the table, helping with the prayers, with the blessing, with the sharing of the bread and cup. When will we get to do that again?communion with the boys

I have had some preliminary conversation with our worship committee about how we can have a communion service via the internet. My strong preference is that we wait until we can do it as a livestreamed worship service, so we could all break and eat, pour and drink, at the same time, each in our own safe places.

“Communion” comes from the same latin word family as “community”. The “com” part means shared, or with, or joined. The “union” or “unity” part means one. So communion literally means joined as one. In the word “companion”, the “pan” part refers to “panis”, which means bread. A companion is one with whom we share bread.

During this time when our faith community is not able to meet in person, it seems especially important to hear today’s story. The Risen Christ was present with ordinary folks like you and me, gathered at a table in their own home, to share a meal.

I believe that God is always with us, and that there is potential in every moment of life to feel God’s presence. Any moment can be a holy moment, in which we can know that we are loved, and that we are not alone.

One of the blessings I am noticing during this strange time, when a lot of what I have taken for granted can’t easily happen, like getting a hair cut, or shopping just for fun, is that I am even more grateful for what I can do, what I do have. I am also a little clearer in my own mind and heart about what is actually important in life.

As I heard one wise person say, it doesn’t matter who has the nicest car, when you can’t really go anywhere. A lot of things that might have seemed important just a few weeks ago, are losing their glamour.

Most of us are so very fortunate, even now. We have food, and shelter, and safety. We have people who love us, who look out for us, who care what happens to us. We may get lonely, or bored, or feel stuck in one place, but we are mostly okay.

If you are feeling over-whelmed, or alone, or just need to hear a friendly voice, please, please don’t be afraid to reach out. If you send me a text, or email, or facebook message, I will be happy to give you a call, just to chat. I have had some amazing, beautiful conversations in the past few days, some with folks I had never talked with before.

We have people in our local community who are doing simple, beautiful, kind and generous things, to help other people, in this hard time. They have keyed in, consciously or unconsciously, to the basic human truth, that a very good way to cope better with our own challenges, is to help someone else. It may not lift our own burdens, but it gives us something else to focus on, to think about. It also restores our hope, because we are able to do something, even a small thing, to make a difference.

ShoeBox Sunday School logoI have had great fun this week, working with my daughter Naomi, to create ShoeBox Sunday School, which we are offering to families as an interactive way for kids to keep learning about God’s love. Volunteers delivered shoeboxes containing crafts and lessons to homes on Saturday, and on Sunday morning, children will meet with Naomi in an online classroom

There are folks out there who are not as fortunate as most of us. There are people who may not put it this way, but who crave tangible signs that they are not forgotten, that they are loved, needed, noticed, remembered. There are also far too many people who are physically hungry and thirsty, and who are just trying to survive, day to day.

truck full of food for missionHarrow United Church is doing another “Drive Thru Food Drive on Friday, May 1, 2020, from 10 am to 12 noon. We will have a pickup truck in the church parking lot, ready to receive your donations of food for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. We will also accept cash and cheques made out to the Mission.

The first time we did this, a week or two before Easter, we collected over 500 pounds of food. An unexpected bonus was that some folks dropped by with special donations to support the work of our church.

We can’t do everything, but we can do something. In the spirit of the two friends who invited a stranger to join them for a meal, we can share from what we have. Amen

Prayers for April 26, 2020

Loving God; We have so many causes for prayer.

We begin with a moment to hold in the prayer the victims, the first responders, the family and friends, the communities of those in Nova Scotia who have been devastated and shocked by the murderous actions of a serial shooter.

We hold in prayer all victims of violence, and all those who live in fear.

We pray for those who struggle at this time of huge uncertainty;

for political leaders faced with unforeseen challenges, uncharted ways, difficult decisions,

We pray for those in situations never before experienced.

We pray for moms and dads who struggle with having children at home all day.

It is difficult to find new activities; it is hard to stay creative.

We pray for those whose day is radically different.

We pray for those who must leave their usual workspace,

for those breadwinners who must work at home.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs

We pray for those whose financial security has gone,,

who have anxiety around paying rent or providing for family needs .

We pray for those who have been affected by the Covid 19 virus.

Those who are sick at home and those who have been hospitalized,

in their suffering, and in their fear.

This prayer we offer in the name of Jesus Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words of the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen



Worship for Sunday April 19, 2020

link to worship video

We begin our worship with Jeff Gorick offering a lively version of “This Little Light of Mine”

Then Gillian Lamoure reads our Gospel Lesson for the day:

Doubting ThomasOur reading is from the Gospel of John in the 20th chapter, as found in the translation called “The Message”. It tells the story of an encounter between the Risen Christ, and the person who has often been called “Doubting Thomas”. May God bless each of us, as we listen for meaning and hope in these words.

 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

Thanks be to God for being with us in the reading and the hearing of these words. Amen

Zoom cartoon doubting thomas

Rev. Darrow’s Learning Time: “Helpful Signs”

Thomas wasn’t with Mary Magdalene that first Easter morning. She’d gone out, well before the sun was up, to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Instead of that sad task, she had an encounter with a mysterious figure outside the tomb.  When he spoke her name, Mary recognized him as her teacher and friend, somehow risen from death. But Thomas did not see what Mary saw, or hear what she heard.

Thomas wasn’t there on the next day either, when some of the disciples were gathered together behind closed doors, and Jesus appeared to them, and wished them peace. Thomas was not in the room, when these things happened. He did not hear or see what they did.

The other disciples told him about seeing Jesus, and he’d likely also heard Mary Magdalene’s story. Thomas said to his friends,

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

More than 20 centuries after the first Easter morning, and at least 1900 years since the stories were first written down, modern followers of Jesus have often labelled this disciple as “Doubting Thomas”. There have been a lot of “don’t be like Thomas” sermons over the centuries.

To be honest, I’d be with Thomas. I’d be asking questions, and wanting a little more to go on than, “really Tom, we really saw him, honest!”

There’s nothing wrong with expressing doubt, or wanting more information before drawing your own conclusion. Thinking for yourself does not make you less faithful. I would argue that God gives us all our faculties, and we are meant to use our minds at least as much as we use our hearts in our sincere efforts to understand, and to draw conclusions.

Thomas did not see or hear all that his friends had, but he would have clear and powerful memories of watching Jesus die a painful death on a Roman cross. That was the last time he’d seen Jesus. It would be a huge mental and emotional leap to go from those profoundly disturbing memories, to placing trust in what he was being told, that Jesus had somehow been resurrected.

Can we blame Thomas for hesitating, for wanting more evidence, before trusting what he was being told, about the next chapter in the story of Jesus? Life as Thomas had known it, as a disciple of Jesus, his friend and teacher, had been suddenly, violently disrupted, interrupted, and taken away.

You and I are living in this strange time, in which so much we have taken for granted has been interrupted, or taken away. Some things may never be the same. We may hope for a new life, beyond the current crisis, but what will it look like? I certainly do not envy our national, provincial, municipal leaders, who are called upon to make decisions and plans, and offer us comfort and reassurance. We should keep praying for them!

I can relate to Thomas, who may want to believe there is something coming up, some kind of “next”, to which he can look forward.  If he can see the Risen Christ for himself, perhaps all is not lost. I find myself looking for signs of hope, signs of life that transcend, and point beyond our current reality. I want to believe we will be okay, even if things are different than I have been used to, and never go quite back to the old “normal”.

On Easter Sunday, police in Toronto were called to a grocery store that had been inadvertently left unlocked, with all the lights on. The owner had meant to comply with Premier Ford’s order that grocery stores remain closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, to give workers time to rest and be with their families. Something happened, or didn’t, and on Sunday morning, people found they could walk in and shop. The escalators were even running- it’s a big store.toronto loblaws

People calmly made the rounds with their carts, picking up necessities. It was only when they returned to the front of the store that it sunk in there were no cashiers, and none of the self-check out machines were working. People wrote out lists of what they had put in their carts, saying they’d be back when the store was actually open for business, to settle up.

I love this story. I love that the first people who found the open, un-staffed grocery store did not call all their friends to come on down and loot the place. I love that no one grabbed all the toilet paper, or steaks, or hand sanitizer. People just did their shopping, and then puzzled out how to pay for it later. Someone even called the police, to report the problem, to see that the store was protected.

It wasn’t as if this was Sanford’s, our neighborhood grocer. That store in Toronto is owned by one of the big faceless corporations. It might have been easy to rationalize emptying the shelves, in Robin Hood style, stealing from the ultra-rich to meet the needs of simple folks just trying to get by.

The good news is that people who went to that grocery store on Easter morning did not abandon their decency, their morality, their sense of fair play. Even in these strange times, they held on to the best part of themselves, what might be called the better angels of our nature.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas was offered what he needed, to believe what his friends had told him. I like to think the experience also gave him confidence, the ability to trust  that the love he had known through Jesus, and the community that surrounded him, this love that came from God, was going to go on. Thomas and his friends might only see and hear the Risen Christ a few more times, but the love would always be with them.

I believe that for most of us, most of the time, the clearest evidence we can have that God’s love is real, and active in the world, is how we are with each other. The old saying “we are the hands and feet of Christ” reminds us that by our words and actions, we can allow God’s love to flow through us.

This is a time when the world, and all the people we love in the world, and all the people we don’t even know, need, perhaps more than ever, all the signs of God’s love they can get. The world needs us, the people around us, need people like us, to let God’s love flow through.

We need to see the best in people, and they need to see the best in us. I have no doubt about that. Amen

hands and feet poster

Prayer for April 19, 2020

In our Gospel reading for today, there is a beautiful line that says that when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room, he took a deep breath and breathed into them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There is a form of prayer that I find especially helpful these days, adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice called Tonglen.

It is something we can do, to be with others, to be helpful to the world, in this challenging time. It is as simple as breathing, offering good intentions.

We breathe in, and accept the pain and sadness of those we know, those we are worried for.

Breathing out, we pray for peace.

Breathing in, we accept the pain and suffering of those we don’t know, who need help.

Breathing out, we pray for healing.

Breathing in, we accept the confusion and frustration of those who are doing their best and finding it hard.

Breathing out, we pray for calm, for courage, for confidence.

Breathing in, we accept the doubts, the worries, the fear of those around us, especially those who are working on the front lines, to keep us safe, and to make sure we have what we need.

Breathing out, we pray for strength, for reassurance, for hope.

We make these prayers in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

There are some announcements on the video, following the close of worship.


More like a marathon than a sprint

Over the Easter weekend, I had virtual chats with some clergy colleagues, and a common theme was that most of us are busier than ever, and are having to learn new ways to function, in this strange time.

couch-potatoIn my early forties I started running long distance, after having been a happy and plump couch potato, for quite a while. The process of training to build the capacity to run 42.2 kilometres taught me a lot.

I remember from my marathon preparation that I need both consistency and variety in my training regime. Consistency requires setting up a schedule, so that I know what I am meant to do each day. Variety means not doing the same thing with each block of training time.

So I am working on my own schedule, so that there is a structure to my days, but not boring, grueling, sameness. I am building in blocks of time dedicated to leading classes, creating worship, reaching out with pastoral phone calls, working with congregational leaders and colleagues, as well as doing things for the good of mind, body, and spirit.

I have some ideas to share with the Harrow United Church faith community, that I hope may help us make this time of enforced (and necessary) isolation more like a retreat, and less like jail.

I will offer a weekly online “bible study” based on one of the scripture passages I will talk about in my “learning time” in the weekly worship resource. This would be a video chat, so we can hear and see each other. 

digital bible study All you need is your computer, tablet, or smart phone, an internet connection, a bible, and paper and pen.

If you want to be part of this ZOOM based online discussion, email me and I will send you a link.   revdww@gmail.com

The first online Bible study will be next Wednesday,  April 22 from 10:30 to 11:30 am. Bring your own coffee (or beverage of choice).  The passage we will talk about is Luke 24:13-35, which is the story of an encounter with the Risen Christ, on the Emmaus Road. Here is a link to the scripture, as found on Bible Gateway.

Emmaus Road story

I am also looking into the possibility of offering an online Sunday School class. Please let me know if there are kids in your house who would want to take part. (It may require a big person to be with them, to help with activities.) The idea would be to drop off a shoebox at your house containing what you would need for the at home crafts and activities, then we’d all meet online at the same time (In a ZOOM room) for the class. We are calling this ShoeBox Sunday School, but that does not mean it has to happen on Sunday- although it could!

Shoebox-1000(In related news, if ShoeBox Sunday School happens, we will need some shoeboxes. I know we have a few in my house, but may require more.)



I like the look of this free online course, for those who like to read, and may even enjoy writing their own poetry:

A Fierce and Enduring Gratitude (A free on-demand eCourse: How Poetry Supports Us In Good Times and Bad with Dale Biron)

 We’ve all experienced difficulties and losses in our lives. From health challenges to losing friends and loved ones. From career and business setbacks to divorces. Perhaps our most heroic act in the face of such loss is simply allowing our hearts to break and then transforming that pain into compassion, healing and finally service. In this eCourse, we will explore poems as wise and timeless tools that can support us on our path back to gratitude, happiness and yes, even joy.

poetry e-course link

If you are more into creating something visual or working with your hands, you may want to check out these “art therapy” suggestions. I would love it if you tried a project, and sent me a photo of the results.

Art Therapy link

Many people, young and old, enjoy colouring as a spiritual practice, as a stress-reliever, or just as a fun way to pass the time. It’s a little less daunting than creating our own art from “scratch”. I would love to see photos of your masterpieces!

colouring pages


pub quizMy family is taking part in a weekly trivia game with some friends spread across the country, that is something like a pub trivia night. We are doing this as a video chat, and it works quite well. (My adult children are very adept at using the technology!)

I was thinking that if Harrow United Church folks are interested, we could set one up for the congregation. (You’d need to provide your own beverages and snacks!) Again, email me if that is something you’d like to do, or help with. revdww@gmail.com

Harrow United Church Easter 2020 Worship Service

easter stained glass HUCThere is a link below to the video of this service. The video opens with a wonderful “virtual choir” singing Morning Has Broken. Our scripture lesson is read by the members of our confirmation class. I recorded a sermon in the sanctuary, which is followed by “Thine is the Glory”, with piano and vocals by Naomi Woods, and trumpet and vocals by Joel Woods. The sermon and pastoral prayers for today will be included in this post. After the pastoral prayer, I have included an Easter Treat. Nicole Wells, who was a member of the choir and congregation at Applewood United Church in Mississauga, made a video of her singing a song by John Legend which carries a good message for the time in which we are living. I liked it so much I asked her if we could have it as part of our worship for this Easter morning.

Link to Video of Easter Worship

Scripture Lesson:   John 20:1-18


At the end of the verses the confirmation class just read, Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to him, because he had not yet ascended to the Father.

In this season of social distancing, and self-isolation, we can relate to the awkward sadness of wanting to reach out and offer someone a hug, and it not being possible.

Things have changed, and we are living in a new normal, that we do not understand, and to which it will take some time to adjust. We are hearing that phrase a lot these days.

After the first Good Friday, Jesus’ disciples faced a new normal, without their beloved teacher.

They’d enjoyed an amazing three years of travelling with him from village to village, town to town. They met thousands of people. They shared intimate moments with their teacher and friend, and grew to love and trust him, and each other. They built a tight-knit community, a family of the heart, and they were learning, slowly, hesitantly to offer love to people beyond their cozy circle.

Great things were happening. Everywhere they went, crowds gathered to get a glimpse, hear a word, have the experience of being with Jesus. There was an aura of peace, of love around their teacher, in which they felt safe, and blessed. They may have come to believe that anything was possible, as long as they were with him, and he was with them.

But not everyone was so enthused about Jesus, and his message of God’s unlimited, unconditional love, that burst through barriers of class and privilege, race and religion. Jesus was shaking things up.

Powerful people, with much to lose, conspired to silence the persuasive, subversive voice, that threatened to topple the carefully balanced system of officially sanctioned religion, puppet kings, and Roman imperial control.

Jesus was arrested on phony charges, subjected to a mock trial, and sentenced to public execution on the cross. He was beaten, humiliated, stripped of his clothing, and crucified. His closest family and friends watched his body breathe its last, and the saw to the burial of his dead body.

Then Jesus’ followers went away, most of them, and hid. At least one of them even denied ever knowing Jesus. That part of their lives was over, behind them, and they were going to have to sort out what to do next, once they were no longer stuck behind closed doors. We can relate these days to being stuck behind closed doors.

Jesus’ companions were paralyzed by grief, by fear, by the shock that comes when you lose a loved one, when your hopes about how life was supposed to be are dashed.

Have you ever got so deep into the plot of a good book or movie, or tv show, that you kind of lose track of time? Ever feel like you just want to stay with story, and maybe hope it never ends? I remember when the Harry Potter books were first coming out, and at our house we all read them, and we could not get them fast enough.  I can remember wanting to go from one to the next, with as little break in between as possible- so the spell, the charm of that imaginary reality would be sustained.

I have friends who are ardent sports fans. They are sad these days, because so much of what they almost live for, is suspended. No games to watch, listen to, read about, talk about right now. In the old normal, I can remember how some of them would follow a favorite team all the way through regular season play, and then into play offs. If their team was eliminated, they’d choose another to cheer on, if only so they could remain a little longer in that charged up fan-space.

A friend told me once, at the end of a play-off series in which his team actually did come out the victor, that it was bitter-sweet for him. He was thrilled his team came out on top, but also sad, because the time of heightened excitement was over. There would be next year, or he could change his focus to another sport- but it wasn’t the same.

These things we love, all seem to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our earthly lives are like that as well- we are being reminded of that on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis lately. The fact that there will be, at some point, an end to our earthly life can make it all seem more precious. Every moment counts!

When I was little, and still sometimes as an old guy, there were, and are, the days when I resist going to sleep. My body may be tired, but I don’t want to let go. Eventually, my weary eyes and bones win the argument, and I do sink into slumber. I repeat the cycle of day, and night, and full day.

That’s the way of things. Day, night, new day. Spring and summer, autumn and winter, then spring again. Live, rest, wake up. Grow, blossom, wilt and fade. Life, death and new life. Sunrise, the glory of a new day, sunset, and then the new day.

There is no going backwards, and no staying still. The wheel keeps turning, the cycle continues. We see it at this time of year. Seeds planted in dark soil, in which they decay enough to break open with new growth, burst upward to find the light of day. Caterpillars that will cocoon themselves, and be transformed, and emerge as something new, that flies off into the warm wind.

Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb where his body had been laid out for burial. When she realized who he was, she was overjoyed, and wanted to reach out, and hold him tight. He warned her against clinging to him. Things were different. A new normal.

We don’t always feel ready for the new life, the new normal. We aren’t done grieving, aren’t ready to let go of the old. We don’t want to lay our head on the pillow and let go of the day we are in.

Left on our own, we might not. We might try to stay awake, and not let go of the day. We might try to hold on to the way things were, and deny that change, and death, are the way of things. We might be that way, left on our own, and if we were in charge.

But the Easter story reminds us that we are not left on our own, and that we are not in charge. God is in charge, of life, and death and new life. The new normal.

Jesus appeared again, in a new way, on that first Easter morning. He showed to Mary Magdalene, and then to a few more of his close friends, that there was more to come.

Resurrection is a weird word. It’s not the same as resuscitation, or restoration. It has nothing at all to do with a return to the way things were, before the pain, the death, the grief. There is no promise to freeze time, and keep everything the way it used to be.

When it sank in with Jesus’ friends that there was a new normal, it startled them out of their sad stuck place, and energized them. They moved beyond the closed, tight, hidden circle, and out from behind their closed doors, and shared the message of new life, and God’s love, with thousands and thousands more people. A whole new movement, bigger than anything that had happened during Jesus earthly life, began to grow, and spread. It was like nothing any of Jesus’ first friends and followers could have possibly imagined.

I’m thinking about the food drive we had here at the church last week for Windsor’s Downtown Mission. So many people responded to the call, and drove up, and dropped off food. They dropped off cash and cheque donations. So many people offering kindness, to help people they have never met, and may never meet.

Perhaps in this time when we are all being reminded of our shared vulnerability, there is an opportunity to embrace being more kind, more generous, more thoughtful. How wonderful it would be if these qualities became more evident in our new normal.

That’s the deal, with new life. It’s not the old life. It’s new. It’s what comes next, not what happened before.  The Easter story reminds us God is still with us, offering us the energy, and inspiration, and possibility of the new day, the new normal. God is in it with us.

That’s the hope and promise of our faith, as expressed in the New Creed of the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.

We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.

Thanks be to God.

Naomi and Joel sing “Thine is the Glory”

Pastoral Prayers

God of Love, and Hope, and New Life;

We pray for people we know who are especially challenged these days. Those who live alone. Those who are in isolation. Those who cannot visit loved ones. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. Those who are grieving. We remember the families of Delight Cracknell and Roberta McLean.

We pray for those who feel alone. Those who feel unsafe in their homes. Those who worry about their loved ones, whose work places them at risk.

We pray for our leaders, and all in positions of responsibility, authority, and duty. We pray for our communities, our county, province, nation, and all the nations. We pray for a spirit of cooperation and common cause to be at work in the conversations between levels of government, and between nations, that will nudge out the tendency towards rivalry and self-interest.

We pray for our church, and all other communities of faith who are discovering new ways to share hope and bring joy, and offer pastoral care and practical help to people in need. Bless the leaders of our church, and all other faith communities.

God who Creates, and is always at work in creation, in this season of new life, we remember that Jesus talked about ordinary things like mustard seeds and grains of wheat to encourage us to look closer at life, and the world around us, to see you at work.

If we open our hearts, and look around with loving eyes, there is much to see.

Like the persistent plants that somehow find their way to grow up through cracks in broken concrete, your love finds a way, to break through all that is weighing us down.

There is kindness in this world. People are buying groceries for their neighbours, to save them a trip to store.

There is generosity in this world. People are making donations of money, food, protective gear, to help where it is needed.

There is compassion in this world. Ordinary people with hearts of love are doing their jobs, many going beyond the call of duty, to make sure that the necessities of life are available. Brave souls with loved ones of their own, leave their homes each day to care for the sick.

There is humour, and lightness of heart in this world. Where we are still able to laugh, to make each other smile, we can live through almost anything.

There is ingenuity and curiousity at work in this world. People are setting aside the pursuit of profit and personal gain, to dedicate their efforts to make things that relieve suffering, protect the vulnerable, and make people who work on the front lines safer.

We are your people, and in this strange time in which we live, we give thanks for the glimpses of resurrection that are all around us. Let us use this time in which many of us are compelled by circumstances to lay low, sit still, and be safe, to be more watchful for those signs, more grateful when we notice them, and more bold in sharing the good news of what we see.

We make these prayer in the name of the Risen Christ, and we continue in prayer with the words Jesus gave us:

Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come,

thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;

and forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory,

Forever and ever. Amen

Lyrics to the John Legend song: If You’re Out There

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late

We’ve been looking for a song to sing
Searched for a melody
Searched for someone to lead
We’ve been looking for the world to change
If you feel the same
Then go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

No more broken promises
No more call to war
Unless it’s love and peace that we’re really fighting for
We can destroy hunger
We can conquer hate
Put down the arms and raise your voice
We’re joining hands today

Oh I was looking for a song to sing
I searched for a leader
But the leader was me
We were looking for the world to change
We can be heroes
Just go on and say

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now
Now, now

Oh now, now

If you’re ready we can shake the world
Believe again
It starts within
We don’t have to wait for destiny
We should be the change that we want to see

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
And you’re ready now
Say it loud
Scream it out

If you’re out there
Sing along with me
If you’re out there
I’m dying to believe that you’re out there
Stand up and say it loud
If you’re out there
Tomorrow’s starting now

If you’re out there
If you’re out there
If you’re out there

If you hear this message, wherever you stand
I’m calling every woman, calling every man
We’re the generation
We can’t afford to wait
The future started yesterday and we’re already late


Good Friday Worship

HUC logo color FINAL@2x

I enlisted the help of Larry Anderson, the musician at Harrow United Church, and Naomi Woods, to create a simple worship service for this Good Friday, April 10, 2020.


Here is a link to the audio file: audio file of Good Friday Worship

Naomi read the scripture for us:

John 19:17-30 (NIV)

Larry Anderson played a beautiful, meditative instrumental version of “Were You There” for us, which we are using as an interlude between the scripture reading and the Learning Time.

While everyone we love is living, and while some are dying under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does it mean to place ourselves in the shadow of the cross?

Crucifixion was both a very public, and a very lonely way to die. The Romans deliberately made this form of execution a spectacle. They mounted crosses on a hill, for all to see, from any direction. People who loved Jesus, and the others executed that day, could look on from a distance, but do nothing to ease their agony, or change the outcome.

These days, many of us have people in our lives we can’t visit. If someone you love is in a nursing home, or hospital, you can’t be with them, face to face. If they have a smart phone, and the faculties to use it, you might be able to facetime.

Many of us are missing coming to the church building, for worship services like the one we wanted to have today. Afterwards, we were planning to have hot cross buns, and coffee and tea. We did that last Good Friday, and it was a lovely of warmth and fellowship, after dwelling on the chilling story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Stories of pain and death shake us, and send chills through us. We find comfort in huddling together, in the company of fellow mortals- except now, we can’t. We are still sorting out how to be a faith community when we can’t gather in the same physical space.

There is a moment in John’s story of the crucifixion, when Jesus cried out that he was thirsty. The story doesn’t say who proffered a sponge on a stick towards Jesus’ mouth- the sponge was soaked in cheap wine.  My guess is it was a guard.  Jesus’ friends would not be allowed that close. I marvel at this moment of human kindness, in the context of a story of terrible, violent cruelty. It says to me that is in our human nature- we are made, most of us, to be kind and as helpful as we can.

These days most of us are observers, while a brave few leave their homes every day, to try to help the very sick. Our hearts are with them, and our prayers.

How does it feel for those folks who are on the wrong side of the hospital doors, when someone they love, and can’t be with, is on the other side? They can’t even do what the guard did, and offer the sponge on a stick.

What was it like for Jesus’ loved ones, to watch his slow, agonizing death?

How was it for God, to watch Jesus die? Did God feel helpless?

For centuries, people have tried to save God’s reputation by saying that everything happens for a reason, according to a divine plan. They say that about the crucifixion, but I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t think Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s idea. God’s ideas are all about love, not about causing pain.

Jesus was crucified because powerful people with evil intentions made it happen. Best as I can tell, God doesn’t stop people, weak or strong, from making their own choices. God always offers us better options, but does not prevent us from doing the wrong thing.

God’s response to what we do, or don’t do, for good or for bad, is always love. I suspect God gets frustrated with us, even so, because we do so many regrettable things.

Could God have stopped the crucifixion? I don’t think that’s the right question. I think the question is actually, when will humans stop hurting each other? We have the power of choice, and we make really terrible choices, to act, or do nothing, and there are consequences.

So what was God doing, while Jesus’ friends watched him die, and prayed for him, wishing for things to be different, and crying their eyes out?

I think God was crying too. I think that God hates seeing us hurt each other, and sorrows when we act so poorly, and wishes we would do better.

We might ask, “What is God doing right now, while our world is in such a mess?” Well, what we are going through is terrible, but honestly, for a lot of people who don’t live with our level of privilege and comfort, the world must always seem likes it’s a mess.

God has always been with all the people who have been hungry and homeless and sick, those living in war zones and disaster areas and in abject poverty long before this new crisis came along, to touch our lives. There is a lot from which most of us have been insulated. There is a lot more we should have, could have been doing, all along, to alleviate suffering, to improve living conditions, and allow more people access to proper nutrition, shelter, sanitation, education, equal rights, fair pay, and many other things we have taken for granted.

I looked it up yesterday. The numbers are changing, but worldwide, around 108,000 people have died of the Coronavirus. That is horrible. But another number is much worse. Each day, 21,000 people die of starvation. We don’t have a cure for COVID-19, but we have always had a cure for hunger. The harsh reality is that every day, under circumstances we have accepted as normal, far more people die because of things we can do something about, like poverty, war, domestic violence, hate crimes, and neglect. God cries for all of them

God has always been there, quietly pointing us in the right direction, giving us the tools and abilities we can use to make things better, kinder and more fair and just for everyone.

I think God is as frustrated as you and I are about how these things go, and how it takes humans so long to get our collective act together. So many of the efforts to clean up the messes in the world are slowed down by politics, and greed, and pride, and ego. We can be grateful in our county, province, nation, to have leaders who are doing the best they can, with this current crisis. It is remarkable to see partisan politics taking a back seat.

I think these days God is cheering on the folks who are working so bravely, and diligently to help others right now, and applying their God-given intellect and ingenuity to find the ways to bring us out from underneath the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is also incredibly inspiring to see how ordinary people like you and I are reaching out to help others as we can. When I have trouble settling down to sleep at night I think about the over 500 pounds of food we gathered a week ago, in our Food Drive for the Downtown Mission, and I remember that God really is at work in the world, in big ways and small ways. Maybe like the Roman guard daring to hold the sponge up so that Jesus could wet his parched throat. We should so what we can- even if our part is to stay in isolation.

God is love, and God has always loved us, and always will. God will never abandon us. God has big hopes for us, that we will use the gifts we have been given, to do better.

Today we reflect on Jesus being crucified, knowing that it is not anywhere near the end of the story. There is sorrow now, and death, and grief and tears, but Easter is coming, and new life is on the way.

Thanks be to God. Amen

This worship resource concludes with the full recording of “Were You There”.