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Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

Last week, a neighbour stopped me in the street and said "I owe you a story." 

At first I was confused, not knowing why I was owed a story, or where any of this was leading. My neighbour and I have had a number good conversations—mostly about his coffee roasting hobby—but this was different. He wanted to share with me something about his life. He wanted to make a connection. Along the way, he shared stories about his life, and we reflected together on leadership.

Over the course of thirty minutes standing on the snowy street, he shared a variety of stories from his experiences in the military, as a coach, and in other aspects of his life. We swapped stories back and forth, and I shared with him about the work I get to do here, as a part of the Valhalla Parish Community. 

"I'm not a person of faith," he said to me, "but I respect that you are."

The encounter was rich, challenging, and at moments surreal. In certain moments I wasn't quite sure how this connected to me and my life. In others, I found myself convinced that this seemingly random encounter was a God-ordained event. If nothing else, it's given me much to reflect on.

What sticks with me from our encounter was a thread woven throughout the rich tapestry of our conversation. Through a variety of stories traded back and forth emerged a theme of taking brave steps into an unknown future. Of course, my neighbour knew something about such bravery through his service in the military. But, he shared, it didn't stop there. 

"Sometimes you don't know what's next," he said, "and that's okay. You still need to step out. You still need to move forward or you'll just stay stuck."

"Our society," my neighbour suggested, "is addicted to comfort. We're addicted to comfort, but the good things come when we step into the unknown." This may be as mundane as mucking out the garage or finishing a project around the house that we don't want to do. But sometimes, there's clarity that comes from just taking that next step. Not just for the garage, but for other aspects of life.

I've been thinking about that conversation a lot over the last week. And I've been wondering what it might illuminate for us as a community. What are the aspects of our relationships in this parish, or our posture towards the church's mission and ministry that require us to take a next brave step forward? What are the areas of our life together in which we are too comfortable? Are there areas in which we are being invited to muck out the metaphorical garage?

In the midst of a pandemic that has left many of us feeling stuck or disoriented, my neighbour's observations have provided me with a necessary challenge. At various times throughout the last two years, I have found myself wondering how best to move forward in the midst of pandemic-driven instability. Perhaps you have too.

In conversations with many of you, I have heard similar wonderings:

How might we best care for one another? How might we extend our ministry outward to serve our neighbours and the world God loves? How might we bear witness to God's dream in a world such as this?

Of course, we don't have to do everything, right away. We don't need to go through an exhaustive three year visioning exercise to get there. In a time such as this, it makes sense to identify one or two next steps that we can take to reach out, to embody God's love, and to extend that ministry of self-giving love in simple, yet practical ways. 

As we look ahead to our AGM and the year to follow, we are being invited into discernment. We are being invited to discern God's presence, and the directions in which God is leading our parish community. The question we are being invited to wrestle with is simply this:

What are our next faithful steps in bravely following God into an unknown future? 

In the days ahead, please join me in praying about this question. Please join me in praying for discernment as we seek to walk together with Jesus into the days ahead. Please join me in praying that we will be brave, and willing to respond to the God who goes with us, and who goes before us, preparing the way for a world of justice and joy, compassion and peace. 

Every Blessing, 

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Valhalla Parish Missioner