Slideshow image

Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

This year, the image of Christmas Lights decorating the outside of the St. Stephen’s building throughout Advent in New Denver has become a helpful and beautiful reminder of who we are and what we are called to be. 

A few short weeks ago, the lectionary took us to the side of a mountain where we find Jesus telling his followers that they are salt and light. It’s not that they once were such a light (and aren’t anymore). It’s not that they one day could be the light if only they tried harder. Jesus speaks to his followers, as tired as they are, in their current state, and says “you are the light of the world.” This is indeed good news. It is good news that invites us to consider the gifts that God has given the Christian   communities in Valhalla Parish, and to allow them to be seen. 

This year, for me,  and perhaps for all of us, has  been about learning to embrace who we are now. It has been a year of slowing down to see God’s presence in the here and now. As we plug into Jesus, the source of life and light, we are able to let our light shine for the life of the world. This is not, of course, simply because a particular building exists, or because a particular community gathers inside. Rather, it is because God gathers this community together for a particular purpose: to be renewed in faith and action as a sign of God’s love for the world. 

To be the church is to be a gathered people transformed by Jesus, who in turn sends us into the world to embody God’s dream for all of Creation. Anything less is “church” in name alone. Anything less is counterfeit. And so we pray “thy kingdom come,” and, “let there be light.” 

As Christ’s church in this time and place, we are invited—called even!—to live in ways that offer our gifts and skills, those things that bring us joy, to the glory of God. This is why we gather: to vulnerably open ourselves to God in prayer and proclamation, in silence and stillness, in scripture and song that we might offer ourselves in service of God’s dream for Creation. We offer time and hospitality and resources to care for one another and the world, and we do so not out of duty or to “make the budget,” but because we seek to joyously care for one another and the world around us. 

Here in Valhalla Parish, I have seen this in the ways in which parishioners offer care and support. Driving one another to appointments. Inviting one another for meals. Checking in with one another and offering prayer. I have been blessed at times that I have visited with grieving families, and visited people for at-home Eucharist, or spent time at a hospital bed, or meeting with a neighbour to hold space for grief, and to pray. I have been grateful for conversations and discernment about the mission of the church, and how God is particularly calling these congregations in Valhalla Parish to embody good news for a world in desperate need of a reminder of God’s love (and ours).

This is a year in which our  diocese has acknowledged that the way in which it has structured itself no longer supports the mission of the church. These are certainly matters that need to be addressed. The questions being asked may also call us to reflect on how we might structure our common life. What are we being called to let go of, and what are we being called to take on so that, centered in Jesus, we might proclaim and embody the gospel anew? This will be part of the work of the coming year. 

At the heart of  all that we are doing, we are called to pray. To open our hearts to the God who hears our deepest yearnings. To align our lives, and that of our community, with God’s way of self-giving love. More than anything, this time in the life of our parish calls for us to deepen our reliance on God’s wisdom as we seek to join Jesus on the road to new life.

I love that image of Christmas lights calling attention to the community gathering at St. Stephen’s. But there’s another image that I  love too. In Castlegar, throughout advent, members of the congregation wrote prayers on stars, raising them to the sky. Over the weeks, people in the broader community—friends and family and strangers—reached out, asking to have their name or prayer request raised as well. By the time we reached Christmas the space above us was filled with the shimmering light of our prayers. 

This experience reminded me that our prayers don’t go unnoticed. That our prayers offer light and comfort as we listen for God’s yearnings, and as God listens for ours. In prayer, we are transformed. My prayer is that we continue to open ourselves in prayer and action that we might be transformed ever more into God’s likeness.

There is much to celebrate in this past year, and if I wrote it all out the list would be long.

Instead, during the service on the Sunday of our AGM, I will invite each person to write out their own prayers of Gratitude and Thanksgiving, of Yearning and Hope for our ministry together. As we come together this Sunday, may we reflect on where we have been, give thanks for where we are, and look in expectant hope for all that God has in store.