The First Epistle to the Harrovians

I’d almost forgotten this piece I wrote over a year ago, near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It appeared in The Harrow News in May, 2020. I also made this video back then, in my make-shift basement office. (Which has undergone a lot of renovation, and become far more comfortable!)

Pastoral Message from Rev. Darrow Woods of Harrow United Church: “First Epistle to the Harrovians”

Early Christian missionaries wrote to faith communities they’d helped to establish. Some letters are preserved in the New Testament. Imagine if one of those early Jesus followers wrote to us, in our current situation.

To the people of Harrow, and surrounding communities, and all others created, loved, and blessed by God: Grace and peace to you. It seems such a long time since we have seen each other face to face!

I give thanks for the multitude of ways you are blessed, and in turn, offer numerous blessings to others, especially those in need.

We face many challenges. Much we take for granted has been disrupted. Your sadness over your losses is real, but do not allow your grief, your frustration to justify abandoning the efforts to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.

As Paul, our brother in faith once wrote, “I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

I appeal to you to live out of a spirit of hope, and generosity, even in these trying times. Resist the temptation to follow the counsel of the loudest, the most extreme, those who care ultimately only for themselves. Resist also the temptation to grasp on to quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Avoid the trap of the “blame game”.

Place your real faith, your confidence in God, the Creator of the Universe, as revealed to us in love. Let “Jesus-like” love, that places the well-being of others before our own, guide and inspire us. This love is it’s own reward, and is most pleasing to God.

I continue to pray for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and were denied, by current circumstances, the consolation of the community gathered around them for a funeral. Our hearts are with them.

Pray for your elected officials, and those appointed to preserve the common good. We may not all be called to serve in positions of power and authority, but each of us, each day, can be kind. We can be unselfish. Let us not squander these opportunities, but instead, actively seek ways to be of help, and to show support to those who place themselves at risk on our behalf.

Some of you have asked, “How do we continue in the life of faith, when we no longer gather on the Lord’s Day? Are we not instructed to worship and pray together? Are we not to be devoted to  breaking the bread and sharing the cup?”

The way of faith, revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is often difficult, but only becomes impossible when we attempt it without God.  God is always prepared to help us. God is always with us, even, and especially in these times when we cannot be with each other.

The people of the Way, followers of Jesus, grew as a movement long before we had the resources to build meeting places, which became our places of worship. In the earliest days, the homes of believers were the places in which faith was shared, taught, and lived.

You are not alone in your struggles, your questions, your anxieties for the present, and the future. We are all joined, united by God’s Spirit, who prays with and for us, often in sighs too deep for words, and with the wisdom of the One who truly knows us, for they were present as all things were created.

Do not abandon the ways of God, for God has surely not abandoned us. We share in the promise of God’s love, which is deeper, wider, higher, more encompassing than any of the things which frighten or threaten us. There is more to us than our fear, and there is more to our existence than the present situation.

You are God’s beloved. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Amen

Liturgy (Worship) is the Work of the People

I missed our in-person Sunday morning worship on November 1.

A larger church body of which Harrow United Church is a part, the Antler River Watershed Region of the United Church of Canada, was having its fall meeting (by Zoom), and I was obliged to attend the final event of the weekend meeting, an online “celebration of ministries” worship service, at which 2 diaconal ministers were commissioned, and another minister, formerly of another denomination, was welcomed.

The members of the congregation’s worship committee, including Gillian Lamoure, Nancy Colenutt, and Janet Woodbridge stepped up to lead the service and did a great job.

Larry Anderson, Sue Timpson-Mannell, and Lari Sabbe led a modified form of Harrow’s “traditional” music ministry, offered (sanitized) percussion instruments to the congregation, with the invitation “if you’re happy and you know it make some noise!”

Here is a link to the YouTube video of this week’s service:

One word for what we do together at a worship service is “liturgy”. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about that word, as used in a Christian context:

The term “liturgy” literally in Greek means “work for the people”, but a better translation is “public service” or “public work”… The early Christians adopted the word to describe their principal act of worship, the Sunday service ….(re a duty for Christians as a priestly people by their baptism into Christ and participation in His high priestly ministry. It is also God’s ministry or service to the worshippers. It is a reciprocal service. As such, many Christian churches designate one person who participates in the worship service as the liturgist. The liturgist may read announcements, scriptures, and calls to worship, while the minister preaches the sermon, offers prayers, and blesses sacraments. The liturgist may be either an ordained minister or a layman. The entire congregation participates in and offers the liturgy to God.

Gillian read a reflection about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. The article featured several different voices from across the United Church, each expressing their own ideas about how to live faithfully.

As Gillian mentioned during the service, it worked out that the week we knew I’d be “away” for the Regional meeting, was also a week in which I went to Walsingham and Simcoe, Ontario, to be present with my wife and her family while her father was dying. It was easier to do this knowing that the liturgy, the work of God’s people, carried on.

Here is a link to the Celebration of Ministries service, which was held at Grace United Church in Sarnia.

My friend, Christina Crawford, was one of two diaconal ministers commissioned at the service. She is serving as the minister of Forest United Church. We met at the Five Oaks retreat centre near Brantford, while I was part of the staff of the Ontario Jubilee Program, that trains people for the ministry of spiritual direction. It was a joy to share, even “virtually” in the formal recognition of her ministry.