Monthly Archives: August 2012

Theology Around the Blogosphere — August 2012

Theology in General:

Darren on faith, politics and evangelical culture. Derek Maris looks at Moltmann’s political hermeneutics. Jeff Clarke writes about Christianity and the role of politics. Allan Bevere on Science and the Eschatological Challenge to Theology: one, two, three.

Should oneness pentecostals be rebaptized? Scot McKnight agrees with John Piper. Roger Olson talks about Clark Pinnock. Michael Patton on the five mysteries of the Christian Faith.

Travis McMaken writes about theological blogging and belligerence and how debate and disagreement is vital to the development of theology. A look at the significance of the Catholic doctrine of the assumption of Mary. Carson Clark talks about why he won’t be swimming the bosphorus any time soon (that is, converting to Eastern Orthodoxy). Rachel hosts Ask an Indigenous Theologian.

Is paradox a helpful term for theology? The importance of Christ-centered theology. Roger Olson asks “What’s Wrong with Panentheism?” How is theology done? Tim Challies did a series on holiness, mercy and the wrath of God.

What’s wrong with Calvinism by Jerry Walls. Trevin Wax writes an open letter to his Calvinist friends. Frank ponders the tendency of evangelical theology to be of an ahistorical quality.

Theology and Science Fiction:

Rod started a series on Batman and Religion. Speaking of Batman, Richard Beck writes about the theology of The Dark Knight Rises. Josh takes a look at death and resurrection and the Japanese Manga “Bleach”.

Scripture, Hermeneutics and Inerrancy:

Daniel Kirk takes a brief look at what saying “the Bible is Inspired” means. Speaking of Inspiration, Stephen Bedard points us to a quote from C.S. Lewis. Matthew Malcolm looks at Narrative Theology and Rhetoric in N.T. Wright’s latest article “Israel’s Scriptures in Paul’s Narrative Theology.”

Ecclesiology:

Turns out a group of bishops is called ‘a sherry of bishops.’ Question: What is a Christian leader? Answer: “a guardian of the apostolic gospel.” Ben Witherington on the anti-ecclesial rhetoric of the Emerging Church. Tony Jones’ response to Ben Witherington’s article about the emerging church. Andy Smith looks at race and the Emergent church.

Life of an Academic; Life of a Student:

ETS has announced a scholarship opportunity for a student member to attend this year’s ETS. Michael Bird begs all of his students to read the book “How to Write a Theology Essay” before they write a paper for his class. Brad laments the growing use (overuse) subjunctive tense in academic writing. Michael Fletcher offers 8 tips for being a productive student. John Frame’s advice to theology students.

How to be a Christian in academia. Myk Habets on early career publishing and how much should be done in those first few years, including doing at least 10 critical book reviews a year!

Brian LePort offers some advice on applying to seminary and grad schools, and he looks at the financial cost of going to seminary. He also gets realistic about his job prospects and offers reasons why he’s still planning on pursuing doctoral studies. Pete Enns gets kind of Eeyore about the job prospects for PhD grads.

Gender, Sex, and Women in Ministry:

Leslie Keeney offers her third and final post on the Trinity and Gender. Don Carson writes about why the term complementarianism was created over against the term patriarchy. And TGC has posted the reason why it’s Complementarian.

TC writes about his current approach to the issue of women’s ordination. Sue offers her thoughts on the comp/egal debate. Daniel Kirk looks at sex and hierarchy.

Scot points us to Judith, friend of Junia. Kait Dugan looks at Marriage and Creation through the lens of Galatians 3:28. Marc Cortez writes about the theology of sexuality and the image of God.

Carl Trueman, a Reformed complementarian, asks why TGC elevates complementarian to a doctrinal distinctive, when they don’t do the same for a specific mode of baptism. Denny Burk responds to Carl Trueman and compares Egalitarianism to a mole, it may or may not be cancerous, but it’s safer to have it surgically removed than to leave it alone.

Reviews and Book Announcements:

T&T Clark announces two new books due out in September from their Philosophy and Theology series:
Deleuze and Theology by Christopher Ben Simpson, and Ricoeur and Theology by Dan R. Stiver. Daniel Kirk continues his journey through Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, one, two, three. Brian LePort takes a look at Jack Levison’s Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life.

Gavin’s reading The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives. John Webster has a new book of collected essays. Mark Stevens reviews Darrell Bock’s “A Theology of Luke and Acts.”

Kyle Strobel points us to the new book on Jonathan Edwards and Justification. Dustin Resch’s new book on Karl Barth’s Interpretation of the Virgin Birth is available from Ashgate. Nijay Gupta reviews Biblical Hermeneutics – Five Views. Ken Schenck is walking through Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

Lisa Robinson is re-reading Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God. James Rogers reviews N.T. Wright’s How God Became King. Hans Madueme reviews Peter Enns’ The Evolution of Adam. Peter Enns responds to Hans Madueme. Gavin Ortlund and Kevin DeYoung dialogue about Kevin’s book “A Hole in our Holiness.” Cameron West reviews Miroslav Volf’s Allah: A Christian Response. Check out the Studies in Theology and the Humanities Journal out of Japan.

Interviews and Announcements:

Michael Bird talks with Colin Kruse about his commentary on Romans. Dr. Ralph Powell, professor of theology at North American Baptist Seminary, and Roger Olson’s mentor, passed away on August 7th, at the age of 96. Mike Licona and Dale Martin will be doing two presentations/dialogues/debates on the Resurrection at St. Mary’s University and Acadia University in Nova Scotia in October.

Training Up Pastors — What is a Pastor?

Earlier this week, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t poorly redefined the role of pastor in our church culture.

Walter Brueggemann tells the story of a rabbi who laments the current definition of pastor, because it has made being a rabbi difficult. Where the rabbi was a teacher/scholar, now because of the western church’s redefining of the pastor, the rabbi is expected to be counselor and social workers and manager.

What if we were to encourage our pastors to be scholars/teachers/preachers? I think it would mean that all those other duties that have been heaped onto the title “pastor” would become the responsibility of the church as a whole. What would happen if we freed up pastors from the counseling, budget managing, program-building, and allowed them to focus on the Word?

Would allowing our pastors to be preachers/teachers while having the congregation (elders and laypeople) assuming responsibility for the day to day functions of the church increase the intellectual and spiritual depths of our churches?

An Example of How Not to Train Up Pastors

Earlier this week, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

I went to Bible college specifically to learn how to be a pastor. I took classes in Bible, theology, homiletics, counseling, Christian education, etc. The quintessential class that was to prepare us for ministry was Pastoral Theology.

It failed.

First, the textbook. Well, we didn’t have a textbook. Instead, the professor photocopied a bunch of articles out of pastoral magazines (like Leadership). That was our material.

Second, the professor was a local pastor who was heavily invested in the Seeker Sensitive movement. So much so that he actually told us to not have people read Scripture from the pulpit that had long or foreign sounding words, because the congregation won’t understand it. [of course when we suggested having the big/foreign words explained, he said that Sunday morning was not the time for that.]

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

At the end of the first semester, the class was frustrated. We really hadn’t learned anything, and because it was a two semester course, we still had another 13 weeks to go. So, we got together and drafted a very nice letter to the professor (and cc’d to the dean) which outlined what we felt we needed to learn in order to jump into pastoral ministry.

The list included things like:
1. What are our legal obligations to report abuse or illegal activity? How far does pastor privilege go?
2. What are the tax implications or benefits for clergy? [for example how do we claim living expenses, or what do we do if we live in church-provided housing?]
3. What are the tax implications for a church? [no property taxes, but how does GST work?]
4. If a couple wants to be married through the reading of Banns rather than with a marriage license, how do we apply for the Banns paperwork from the government?
5. Are there resources in Canada for pastors to network, to get support if needed?
6. What is required when doing a funeral/wedding? [now, in homiletics we did learn how to write a sermon for a funeral, as well as a homily for a wedding ceremony]
7. How do we train and equip a healthy church board?

The list was full of practical, hands-on advice that would equip us in ministry. He took the list, thanked us, and then the following semester didn’t teach us about any of the things on the list. Instead it was another semester of reading magazine articles.

Two semesters of a class that was vitally important became an utter waste of time. [I will admit, my attitude in the second semester soured, and I refused to give 100% in the coursework, which for me is unheard of].

All the things on the list we ended up having to learn on the job. It was a frustrating experience.

What did you wish you had learned in the classroom that would have prepared you for ministry?

Training Up Pastors — Issues for Female Pastors

Yesterday, I resurrected a post I had done two years ago on the benefits of going away to seminary. It was a pretty big hit, so I thought I would resurrect a couple of other posts from that series on Training Up Pastors.

 

When I took Pastoral Theology in college, the professor really didn’t understand why there were so many women in the class. Of about 15 students there were four women. We weren’t there to debate egalitarianism vs. complementarianism (and that is not what this post is about either), we were there to learn how to be pastors. As I wrote earlier:

Third, he didn’t really know what to do with women in the class. Included in our “textbook” were articles about “being a pastor’s wife.” And when a friend of mine asked if there were any articles about the experiences of women pastors, or about “being a pastor’s husband”, the professor’s response was “well, in all likelihood you will end up being a pastor’s wife rather than a pastor yourself.”

Whatever one’s views on women in ministry, the reality is that there are female pastors. Some are full-time senior pastors. Others are associate pastors. Some are filling the exact same function as a pastor, but to preserve the prescription that only men be elders, their titles are “director of such and such ministry”, “ministry coordinator” or some other clever rebranding.


Does being a female pastor require different training? Are there different expectations? Are there different tools that we need that male pastors do not?

Consider the following scenarios:

1. At Hip & Cool church, it is normal for several of the pastors on staff to stay until late in the evening working on various ministry projects. Very often the only people in the church past 8pm are two associate pastors, one male and one female. Both have spouses and families who have no problem with this arrangement, but several parishioners have seen the two them leave the building together, and the gossips in the church have begun to talk. If both pastors were the same gender this would never make the gossip mill. The pastors are oblivious to the gossip but it is beginning to affect the life of the church. Should there be boundaries for the sake of perception? (or even to prevent something inappropriate from developing?)

2. First Bapti-costal Church of Hello Town has just hired their first female pastor. In the past, it was always assumed that though the church was hiring the pastor, his wife would give the church much of her time by leading the ladies’ bible studies, playing the piano, and chairing the Sunday School committee. The church is not quite sure how Pastor Kate’s husband will feel about leading the ladies’ bible study and it turns out he’s never played an instrument in his life. What are the expectations of a pastor’s husband?

3. Secular research has suggested that women leaders are more negatively perceived even when they engage in the exact same leadership behaviour as their male counterparts (Eagly & Karau, 2002), especially when they engage in the more stereotypically-male leadership tasks such as the enforcement of discipline (Atwater, Carey, & Waldman, 2001). Perceptions of effectiveness as a leader are influenced not only by leadership style (task- versus people-oriented) but also by the gender of the leader who uses one particular style or the other, as well as the group members’ attitudes towards women in leadership (Forsyth, Heiney & Wright, 1997). What tools are there to help female pastors be aware of the perception of the congregation of how they lead, how they pastor and how they preach?

4. While the women at Community Church of Cowabunga are loving having a female pastor to talk to, the men in the congregation are feeling uncomfortable about approaching the pastor to talk about issues and struggles in their life. What can the female pastor do to serve the men in her congregation?

Feel free to post your own questions that you have struggled with.

Benefits of Going TO Seminary

Brian LePort has a post where he laments the financial cost of going to seminary. He suggests that online education may be a way to alleviate some of the cost. Brian makes this point:

If seminaries want their students involved in ministry why would you ask them to leave their pastorate in Wyoming to move to attend your seminary in Oregon so that they can train to do what they are already doing in Wyoming? That doesn’t make sense. Sure, being in a classroom is superior in many ways to watching a recording of a class, but watching a recording of a class while continuing in your present ministry is better than quitting that ministry to attend classes on campus.

In my education, I have done both in class, and online courses, and I have had positive and negative experiences in both formats. To further the conversation a little bit and interact with this critique that removing a person in active ministry to have them go to seminary to train them for the ministry that they’re currently doing doesn’t make any sense, I thought I would re-post my article on the benefits of going to seminary:

***

There has been much discussion over the move to offer M.Div degrees in such a way that the person in ministry does not have to remove themselves from their current ministry position. This has an advantage because going to seminary often means the uprooting of a family and taking a significant paycut while attending school fulltime.

Christianity Today had a cover story on the rise of online offerings and the shift to seminary education that allows the student to remain in their ministry context while getting a degree.

Some schools have moved to a modular format, where classes are week-long intensives. This allows the student to come for a week, participate in class and then when back home, to work on the papers, exams and other assignments. (This is the model at Briercrest, though there also are semester-long courses occasionally offered).

While it can be a sacrifice to go away to seminary, I would like to suggest some reasons why going to seminary can be advantageous.

1. A New Perspective.
Sometimes we become so embedded in our current ministry context that we cannot see anything other than how “we do it.” To go away to seminary, to join with a different community allows us to see the forest rather than just the individual tree that we have lived and worked in. This can lead to a humbling realization that how we do church is not the only way to do church. As well, it can give us a new perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation that we serve.

2. A Time of Refreshing & Healing.
With the threat of pastoral burnout an ever constant danger, going away to seminary can be a time of refreshment. It can be a time to be ministered to, to learn, to grow and to be filled up so that we can remain effective in ministry.

3. A Time of Exploration.
A pastor begins to wonder about how to read Genesis 1-3 and wants to wrestle and ponder and deconstruct his theological presuppositions. To do this while in a ministry setting can be dangerous. The congregation could begin to wonder if the pastor has “lost it” or is destined to become an apostate, or worse, a heretic. Going away to seminary can provide the pastor the time, space, privacy, and community to question and explore. This can be especially true if a seminary is chosen that is non-denominational, inter-denominational or at least open to academic and theological inquiry (as opposed to some seminaries that focus on training pastors to have the “right” answers).

4. A Time to Discover New Gifts.
A pastor has spent 10 years in congregational care and chaplaincy. In going to seminary she discovers that she loves wrestling through Hebrew and text-critical issues. A new passion emerges, and the pastor respecializes, going on to doctoral studies with the goal of becoming a professor of Old Testament.

Likewise, a preaching pastor goes to seminary and discovers a gift of listening, and chooses to pursue a degree in biblical counseling. By having the experience of being a preaching pastor, and now learning how to provide pastoral counseling, the pastor feels equipped to provide wholistic ministry to a small congregation that cannot afford to have a multi-staff configuration.

5. A Time to Network and Develop New Friendships.
It is said that 80% of ministry postings are never advertised, but are filled through the search committee having a list of “recommended” candidates. Particularly for churches that are non-denominational, the invitation to candidate at a church comes because of “who you know”.
The same can be said for invitations to speak at conferences or retreats. It is often based on friendships and relationships at seminary where fellow pastors and professors have opportunity to see a person’s giftings, ministry, and calling.

6. A Time to Focus.
One of the downsides to taking classes while still in full-time ministry is that our attention can be divided. The night before a paper is due, a congregant has a family crisis, and the pastor is forced to put aside the paper to deal with the congregant. This can result in a) the pastor choosing to hand the paper in late and thus taking a penalty, or b) not giving the paper the care and attention that it requires. Very often a congregation does not understand the amount of time and study that is required in coursework, and thus when they hear that the pastor is “only” working on a paper, they think that it is okay to interrupt them with more “practical” concerns. (Of course, this can be remedied by having a board of elders who can take on some of these distractions which then allows the pastor the time to focus on the classwork).

On a personal note, while my coming to Briercrest was precipitated by Chuck getting a job out here, I am very grateful for this chance to “go” to Seminary. I had been taking classes while in ministry in Hamilton, but it was a different experience. Being at seminary has given me a chance to refocus and rest. It wasn’t until we moved out here that I realized how burnt out I was from being in ministry. I have a new perspective. I have a new passion and I have a renewed desire to help people get excited about God’s word.

Spiritual Formation in the Age of Social Media

So much of my life is connected with social media. Between the blog and twitter, much of my spiritual formation occurs through the words and wisdom of people whom I’ve never met.

Blogs have been a great way for me to carve out specific time each day for devotionals. My google reader is usually full up by 8 in the morning, so I spend 45 minutes every day reading through all the posts. Now of course, sometimes the posts are in reaction to some latest dust-up in the Blogosphere, but more often than not, the posts are the hearts cries of Christians who are trying to figure out how to live like Jesus. Whether it’s academic-related topics or sermons, or crazy random thoughts, there is some amazing spiritual formation that is happening within the blogging community that I am proud to be a part of. It’s amazing to see how God is working in the lives of bloggers and how the ebb and flow of life influences their walk with God.

Some encouraging blog suggestions to add to your reading list:

Where the Wind. Adam Thomas posts his sermons online, and more often than not they have some sort of sci-fi geek theme in them.

Sarah Bessey. Sarah writes about falling back in love with the church, as well as about rejoicing in the little things in life.

The Parsons Patch. Mark Stevens writes about life as a pastor.

Storied Theology. Daniel Kirk is a professor at Fuller and his emphasis is on narrative theology.

Internet Monk. A group of awesome folks have picked up and continued Michael Spencer’s mantle and they write about life in the post-evangelical wilderness.

And of course, there are also several websites devoted to spiritual formation. Here are my recommendations:

Sacred Space — This site is run by Jesuits and it’s a great introduction to Ignatian spirituality.

The Daily Office Tutorial — A great introduction to the Daily Office by St. George’s Episcopal Church at their blog Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.

BCP350 — a website devoted to the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Upper Room — A ministry of the United Methodists, it has an abundance of resources.

What online resources do you find helpful and edifying for your Christian walk?

Experiencing Rest


There’s an episode in the first season of Farscape where the crew ends up on a planet where the entire population does nothing but harvest magic turnips. They arrive just in time for the work day to be over, and the citizens are partying hard because tomorrow is Rest Day. And yet, the next morning, they all get up, and go back out to harvest those magic turnips. Rest Day will happen tomorrow, they say, so we need to work really hard today.

On and on it goes, and they never actually have Rest Day. Instead the magic turnips that they harvest have a mind-control effect that makes them super compliant to their supervisors. The promise of Rest Day becomes a figment, nothing more than a method of control.

Life can often times feel like that. Tomorrow is Rest Day, and then when it comes it turns out that it gets filled up with busyness and stress and work. Rest Day becomes elusive, a faint promise of something you might maybe get to enjoy in the future.

When I was in pastoral ministry, this was a reality. While parishoners (ideally) get Sunday as a Rest Day, for the pastoral staff it is often the busiest and most stressful day. And for those of us who do pastoral ministry bivocationally, Monday doesn’t become our Rest Day in replace of Sunday because Monday usually means it’s time to do the other job, the one that pays the bills.

And now, in my year of chaos (eight seminary classes from January to December; two little cheese-wearers), it becomes even more magnified. Rest has become nothing more than replacing one busy schedule with another. When I’m not doing school work I’m a full-time momma. When I’m not at home with the little cheese-wearers then I’m doing school work. And then I collapse on the couch in the evening and watch an episode (or four) of Doctor Who. But this collapsing isn’t rest either. Not true rest. Because even though I’ve stopped doing school work, and the little cheese-wearers are in bed, I’m still thinking about all that still has to be done.

It’s wearying and it takes its toll. That twelve page paper that needs to be done? Meh, I don’t care. That ever-growing pile of laundry? Meh, time to buy new clothes. But the worst is the grumpiness that sets in.

So how does a busy person cultivate rest? The first observation would be take a vacation, but even our vacations are busy. Our “vacation” in the spring was a trip of necessity to the US consulate with a day tacked on to play tourist.

Even our honeymoon six and a half years ago was busy-busy. We went to Disneyworld and walked and walked and tried to cram in as much as possible. (We have said that when we go back for our tenth anniversary, we’ll go for ten days, and alternate between going to the parks and sitting by the pool).

Something has to give. And so, we took the little bit of money that we had saved up and went away. I finished my papers that are due this Friday, we found a babysitter and we left.

No kids.

No schoolwork.

We stayed at a hotel with a pool.

We ordered pizza that was delivered to our hotel room which meant we got to eat supper in our jammies.

We watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Big Bang Theory while sitting in the jacuzzi tub.

Even though we woke up at 7am (so much for sleeping in), we didn’t actually get out of bed until 9:30.

We read the free newspaper that was under our door, and talked about current events. Chuck tried once again to explain the American political system to me, and I tried to figure out why a CANADIAN newspaper had more American stories than Canadian stories on its cover.

We experienced rest. Real rest. The tension and the stress and the craziness melted away. Why didn’t we do this sooner? Why did we keep saying we were too busy for this?

We all have busy seasons, and this year is a busy season for me. There is a benefit to the busy because it means I’ll be done my degree sooner. But even in the midst of the busyness there needs to be space for rest.

I’m finished my classes at Christmas. I’ve decided to take the entire month of January off. No school work. No prepping for my thesis. Of course, I can’t really take a month of from my momma “job” but it should be a step in the right direction. It should give me time to do some creative writing or some fun reading, or not.

No deadlines.

No oughts, shoulds or musts.

This realization about the importance of rest comes at a good time. I’m gearing up to take Spiritual Formation in three weeks. This crazy life is inspiring me to think about what a theology of rest looks like, and I might even be able to do my paper for that class on it.

So I pose this question to my blog readers: what books would you recommend I add to my reading list on the theology of rest?

Canadian Christianity: The United Church of Canada — Part Three

The previous articles in this series on the United Church of Canada can be found here and here.

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rev. Nick Phillips to the blog. Nick is a pastor in the United Church of Canada and lives and ministers in the Maritimes. He also blogs at maritimers.ca

Welcome Nick. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? How long have you been pastoring? How long have you been a part of the UCC, and maybe a bit of how you found yourself becoming a pastor in the UCC?

Thanks for having me. It’s great to get to know our brothers and sisters in the Canadian blogosphere better!
I’ve been a pastor for 3 years after joining the United Church of Canada in 2002. I did not grow up in the church, but getting involved while working in Ottawa I discovered the awesome love of God shown to us in His Son and joined the church. From there my involvement grew into the realization God had a place for me in formal leadership in the church. Through prayer and discernment (and trying to talk myself out of it), God spoke to me in a service on January 12, 2003 that I was going to be a pastor. That was it. End of discussion. After going through “the process” I was ordained in 2009.

How is God working in your congregation? On the flip side, what are some the challenges that your congregation faces in ministering in the Maritimes?

The challenges to the mainline churches are no secret to anyone. We are battling age. Our old, expensive buildings. Our aging membership. Declining membership. Declining finances. My church is not all that different than what seems to be the norm these days. The struggles we face are not unique to the Maritimes or the United Church of Canada, but we seem to be the face of it these days according to media reports.

However, I can say that God is very much at work in our church. My congregation has experienced spiritual growth over the last few years, and while it may not be reflected necessarily with more bums in the pews, we are working at discovering what God has in mind for us as a church in the community we serve. I am very excited to see what God is preparing us for in the next few years.

The UCC has been in the Canadian news quite a bit because of its General Conference meeting that met earlier this month. The biggest headlines were two resolutions that were passed: a statement regarding the Northern Gateway Pipeline, and a partial boycott of products made in Israeli settlements. What impact will these actions have on the UCC community? Several commentators have said that the UCC is functioning more as an activist/lobbyist group than a church. What do you see as the relationship between religion and social justice?

The UCC is made up of wonderful people from all walks and stages of life. Some of us are comfortable working at the grassroots level, providing ministry and care to our local communities. Others are passionate about global issues and work at the national level to bring about the changes they think are best.

While there are people across the church who are in opposition over these particular decisions made by the church, the effect on the local community is varied. There will be some in local church members who feel strongly one way or another about these decisions, others don’t see how it will affect us at the grassroots level and won’t pay too much attention to it. So the impact is dependent on the passions and concerns of the people in the local church.
Now, are we a church or a lobbyist group? That’s a good question. Jesus certainly addressed justice concerns at times in his ministry, so there is a definite connection between religion and social justice. As I mentioned above, there are people who are passionate about global justice issues and will bring their concerns to a national level. This may, or may not, reflect the values of the whole church, but we will debate and decide actions to take with the people we elect to meet at the General Council. What is often lost in these debates is what may have initiated the action, which I hope is a response to an urging of the Holy Spirit.

The people in our local churches are seeking a relationship with God and meaning for our churches. We are hungry for experiences with our living God. But we also exist in a religious structure which can often behave more politically than spiritually. I hope that as people in the UCC, we do our best to find an appropriate balance of healthy spirituality which prompts our political actions.

As well, the UCC made history by electing its first gay moderator. Could you explain the role of the moderator in the UCC? I find it interesting that the moderator does not have to be an ordained pastor to hold the post (e.g., outgoing moderator Mardi Tindal)

The role of the moderator is a “spiritual guide” for the church. This person is elected at General Council, and it can be any member of the United Church, ordained, commissioned or lay.
The moderator holds a three year term in which they use their gifts to move and inspire the church. Some focus on spiritual matters, others on environmental issues, or care for a certain segment of the church (such as clergy health and support). The moderator does not have any ability to direct any changes in the church, but will spend the three years travelling across the nation (and Bermuda which has churches in the UCC) meeting with and speaking to members about issues we are seeing in the church. He or she will also be our national representative to other churches and international organizations.

What strengths and gifts does Rev. Paterson bring to the role of moderator? What does the election of Rev. Paterson mean for conservative congregations within the denomination? How is the election of an openly gay pastor to the leadership of the UCC going to impact relations with other Christian denominations?

I won’t deny the fact there will be people in our church who are upset at the election of a gay moderator. What my hope is though, is that people will be more focused on Jesus and the theology and spiritual nature of our moderator and base their opinions of him on those qualities, not his personal lifestyle. I do not know a lot about Rev. Paterson aside from what I’ve seen in the lead up to his election. Looking at his responses (http://cruxifusion.ca/rev-gary-paterson/) to the questions put forward by Cruxifusion (a network of Christ centred clergy in the UCC) he would seem to represent a fair match to the national church. That is, he lists a reasonably wide theological spread of authors and would overall appear to not be too out of line with the general ethos of the UCC. In watching the videos of when he spoke to the General Council, it is also quite apparent he is a charismatic speaker who helps draw people in through story telling. Following his election I did find some of his sermons online that I read and must confess that, as a conservative in the UCC, some of his theology troubles me. It will be very interesting to see what impact he has on the church over the next three years. What I think I can say is that he has a passion for faith, and I hope it relates strongly to a faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and it spreads throughout our denomination.

As for the impact on relations with other denominations? Again, I would hope personal lifestyle would be trumped by working together in the name of Jesus Christ.

Many of the conservative, and small “o” orthodox pastors, members and even entire congregations left the UCC in the 80’s. Faith Today, a Canadian magazine recently had an article about renewal movements in mainline churches including the UCC. But alongside the renewal movement there are also congregations in the UCC that are practically non-Christian. Gretta Vosper, an ordained pastor has declared that she is a non-theist and pastors a church whose vision and purpose of ministry statement says nothing about Jesus in it. Is this tension between two very different understandings of what “church” is able to hold within one denomination? Is it healthy?

One of the great things about the UCC is that we are accepting of many different views and with that comes wonderful discussions. However, it is also one of our greatest challenges as we often lose sight of what our core values are. The good news, from my point of view, is that with the emergence of Cruxifusion, we are seeing a good number of people express a deep desire for a closer walk with Jesus Christ in the church. I believe we are seeing a much greater desire for this, especially in our younger leaders, than interest in post or non-theism.
What are some of the challenges facing the UCC denomination over the next decade?

The challenges we face are around what the church will look like in the next 10 years. With the financial struggles and declining membership, how will we effectively provide ministry and what will it look like? Can we continue to support our national structure? If not (and we already know we can’t), what will it look like? Also, where will we be theologically? As you indicate, there is tension in our understanding about what “church” is, and it will be interesting to see this play out over the next decade. No doubt we will see lobbying and attempts to move the church in different ways, and how will it evolve or turn out? This we can only place in the hands of God and trust in His guiding Spirit.

Are there any things that Canadian Christians can pray for in the UCC? How can we lift you and your congregation up in prayer?

Like all mainline denominations in Canada, we need to pray for God’s wisdom and courage to be bold in expressing what we believe, namely Jesus is our friend, our guide, our protector and most importantly our Saviour. We need to pray together as we discern the future of the Christian church in a rapidly progressing secular society for ways in which to provide ministry through offering the hope, peace, joy and love of God to the local communities in which we serve.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to thank you for inviting me into this conversation and may God bless you and all your readers.