This past Wednesday I gathered with the Inclusive Christians on Wednesday for Around the Table at the Multifaith Centre at UVic. It was my turn to preside for worship and the congregation’s turn to provide the communal meal that follows including two slow cooker pots full of soup and also bread. The soup and bread were delicious by the way. Many thanks to our soup makers including Janice, Maureen, Gail, Don, and Bill.
The Anglicans are often generous in contributing some extras to the meal as well. They host Pet Café which takes place earlier on Wednesday at which a half dozen therapy dogs come to the Multifaith Centre, and students have an opportunity to meet one another, meet chaplains, and see what else is going on including Around the Table. Some of the homemade cookies from Pet Café often make their way to the meal we host later that evening.
There is a true bounty and sharing at Around the Table. Before we share food, worship includes sharing about the gospel reading for the upcoming week. One thing my small group talked about in today’s gospel reading was around Jesus and the prophetic. In challenging times how do we support Christian prophets who are leading the way today? They are challenging in part because people seem willing to follow nearly any bandwagon, no matter how untethered from reality it is. How as Jesus followers do we listen to and lift up prophetic voices we hear?
One limitation is that too often we wait for a big prophet to come along to lead the way. I’ll share one example of what I mean. Seven years ago I had the privilege of hearing John Lewis, Congressman and Civil Rights leader speak at the Virginia Military College, located in Lexington, VA where I lived before moving to Victoria. John Lewis was one of the first leaders of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee(SNCC) that led some of the more radical actions of the Civil Rights movement in the US, including the freedom riders. Meanwhile it was often Martin Luther King, Jr. who earned more of the spotlight nationwide because he became the face of the movement. But we know that any movement is supported by countless other leaders and organizers to make an impact, in this case working to dismantle the systemic racism of segregation, Jim Crow laws, voter suppression, employment double standards, red lining of neighbourhoods, and more. Eventually John Lewis and others leaders of SNCC received the public recognition they deserved, although more of the men rose to positions of power and became widely recognized than did the women student leaders.
One thing that stood out with John Lewis’ talk at the military college was the uphill battle he faced in the room. He was speaking to predominantly white cadets most of them young men. And this on a campus that at that time still had an enormous statue of Stonewall Jackson, one the primary Confederate generals who fought to uphold the practice of chattel slavery, owning African Americans as property. The same college was awarding John Lewis with a leadership award, meanwhile a statue of a man who fought to keep people like Lewis enslaved remained the most prominent public art on campus. The statue has since been removed. Another artwork that stood out was the crucifixion scene painted in the campus chapel. It depicts young cadets fighting and dying at the Battle of New Market at which college alumni gave their lives fighting to uphold the institution of slavery. And this warped crucifixion scene remains in a building in which Black cadets have to come for mandatory presentations.
Before we marvel at the novelty of racism on display in the US, we also remember it wasn’t that long ago that a statue of John A MacDonald, an architect of Indigenous genocide, was standing in downtown Victoria and some local residents are still mad that it got taken down. We still have at least one local school named after an anti-Asian segregationist. Even the statue of Queen Victoria, the namesake of the city remains standing on the lawn of the BC legislature, who helped usher in the colonial project that robbed Indigenous people of their land and culture. We have our own racist hero worship here as well.
One thing that Lewis and other student Civil Rights leaders reveal is that there are always more prophetic voices leading a movement than a Martin Luther King, Jr. as important as a galvanizing leader like that is. It was often the students who were more radical and daring than their only slightly older church leader colleagues in the movement. And that’s still true today that it’s often students who lead movements and urge those of us with more power and platforms to amplify their messages. I think about the Wet’suwet’en Youth who camped at the BC legislature for weeks. You know it’s not middle aged and older people leading a movement that involves literally sleeping outside on stone and concrete. Such movements are messy with a lot of moving parts that never come down to just one prophetic voice leading the way.
We’ve seen another movement in Canada take hold with a group of people finding their collective voice. Namely the convoy who are misguided and at times in denial about their inclusion of white supremacists among their organizers. I mention the convoy because they represent a significant number of Canadians who protested in Ottawa and in cities across Canada, many for the first time in their lives.
Two things come to mind here. First there is an opportunity as progressive Christians for offering alternatives to this movement of racist populism, many of whom were sporting Biblical quotations on their signs and understand their movement as Christian. People are longing to belong to a wider community, to be part of a movement that brings change and opens up real possibilities for human flourishing. As a church we are a place of belonging. We can welcome people to churches who are overtly engaging in witnessing to a collective freedom in which all neighbours flourish. A different understanding of freedom.
Second we should be bold. We have seen that a movement with incoherent demands including demanding the Governor General dissolve parliament still gets a lot of traction without having worked out many details in advance. Often we worry that our messaging is not innovative enough or convincing enough before we share things publicly. If we’ve learned anything it’s that we should be bold and stop second-guessing ourselves. When we want to invite neighbours into a gospel-based vision of love of neighbour we should do so and learn from our mistakes along the way.
One way we keep taking that step forward is through supporting campus ministry, supporting young leaders who are already innovating and leading through their faith. Too often we project our own weariness and tiredness with the world upon others. We might be tired and weary but that doesn’t mean we don’t have young leaders with energy who we are already supporting in the church. Students at Multifaith, some of whom are active in our midst at Church of the Cross, and students across the BC Synod and ELCIC are already making an important contribution. Let’s find increasing ways to support them.
Keep in mind that John Lewis was in his early twenties when he became a major student leader. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a national and eventually global freedom movement in his thirties and was considered a much older leader by comparison.
What about us?
What about us? Where do we find ourselves and our energy levels these days? At times we are heavy from the news of war and uncertainty. At times we are buoyed as spring approaches and we can gather together in-person more frequently.
At times we are concerned about what the future of the church holds. One thing that brings comfort is that it’s not all up to us. Supporting campus ministry, supporting confirmation students, supporting Sunday School, supporting young adults, we equip and give all generations the support and encouragement they need growing into leaders. It might look different than we had imagined or what church look liked in the past, but we have a lot of smart and creative people willing to share their ideas and talents. Maybe we could all learn from them.
As we prepare for our AGM we also take stock of how far we’ve come as a congregation this past year and over these past two years of pandemic. Together we’ve weathered many storms. We continue supporting so many vital ministries at Church of the Cross and I thank you all for your faithfulness. It hasn’t been easy and it still isn’t easy. Many folks continue struggling with health concerns, with deaths in the family, with the realization we can’t do as much as maybe used to do even two years ago. We are needing to adapt and pivot and thank you joining on this journey.
Thank you for your enduring commitment to supporting ministry at Church of the Cross and through the grace of God making it into the welcoming place it is. Together with Jesus, we endeavour to gather the brood under our wings, to make this church home a place of refuge for others. For everyone who comes through these doors and those who are on the periphery and in the neighbourhood to know we stand for unconditional love and acceptance.
Together we are heeding prophetic voices in our midst, while giving people refuge from the storms that rage around us in our world and in our lives. We give thanks for our partnership with Bishop Kathy Martin and the BC Synod, with the national church, and all the ways in which we support one another in these times.
We think about the people of Ukraine, refugees, Indigenous neighbours, queer friends, and all the ways Jesus calls us to follow him in faith and love. Trusting that God is with us especially in times of challenge. Know that Jesus gathers you under the wings like a mother hen caring for her brood. Amen.