looking back, looking ahead

Thirty-five years after my ordination as a Minister of Word, Sacrament and Pastoral care in the United Church of Canada I have come to the end of active ministry ... in other words, I have retired. It is hard to imagine Saturday nights without anxiety about the sermon and Sunday mornings without the responsibility and privilege and joy of presiding. When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis four years ago I feared that illness might prevent me from departing from ministry on my own terms. Now, twenty years after arriving at University Hill Congregation, it is the right time to stop and to begin a new life on the other side of congregational ministry.


to the other side

June 21 was my final Sunday at University Hill Congregation after twenty years as its Congregational Minister. Thirty-five years after my ordination I am retiring from full-time congregational ministry. Here are the notes for the sermon I preached on this occasion (video of the the service and sermon will be available online shortly) ...

Mark 4:35-41

Today we find ourselves at the end of twenty years together. For me it is the final Sunday in the pulpit and at the table thirty-five years after ordination. How appropriate that the lectionary brings us to this miraculous story on the sea … a story that has functioned as a root gospel narrative for the church. When memory fades, when communal amnesia takes hold and we forget the gospel we can return here, to the story of the stilling of the storm.

pomalidomide (cycle six)

I am concluding of my sixth month on pomalidomide along with dexamethasone and more recently also with cyclophosphamide. My latest blood results reveal that the treatment is holding my free light chain count steady (currently at 225). The flu-like symptoms (soreness & fatigue) I had been experiencing have recently faded and are less bothersome. I am hoping it stays this way! All things considered, the news is good as I head into retirement.


pomalidomide (cycle five)

This week I am completing the fifth twenty-eight day cycle on pomalidomide and dexamethasone. In the middle of the month I had my regular blood work which showed that the free light chains had dropped for the first time in a few cycles. They are now at 214. While this is good news the number is still higher than my hematologist  would like in order to lower the risk of organ damage due to amyloidosis. He advises that we add cyclophosphamide to the treatment. This is in pill form, taken once weekly. I will receive a low dose and should not experience any additional side effects. I received cyclophosphamide for six months while being treated with bortezomib (Velcade) in the fall of 2013. The hope is that this will increase the effectiveness of the pomalidomide (Pomalyst) and dexamethasone. By the way, pomalidomide is now being funded by the BC government's cancer agency. Good news! In my case, I will continue to receive it through the compassionate access program of its manufacturer, Celgene.


following with humility

Recently I was asked to participate in a series of online videos being produced by the British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada. They are short (75 second) conversation starters about leadership in the church, part of a larger initiative in the Conference called "Leadershift." To date five videos have been produced, including this one in which I speak about the place of following in the life of a leader - Following with Humility.


philip & the ethiopian eunuch

Here is a sermon I preached fifteen years ago (May 21, 2000) at University Hill Congregation on the texts in the Ecumenical Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday, May 3 - Acts 8:26-40 & John 15:1-8.

The Bible is a familiar book in this place. We’ve been reading it together for a lifetime and
longer. Yet, as the folks in our ‘Disciple Bible Study’ have been discovering this past year, the
Bible is full of forgotten surprise. Take this morning, for example. We find ourselves deep into
this season’s Eastertide readings from the Acts of the Apostles where we come upon a peculiar
little story ... the story of ‘Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch’. This is a little known and often
ignored passage. Not one that was talked of often in the Sunday School classes of my youth. I
suppose that the teachers must have feared the inevitable question: “What’s a eunuch?”.
Nonetheless, I have come to believe this week that there may be no more important story for
our congregation to consider at this time in our life. So this morning there are no hidden
agendas ... all of the preacher’s cards are on the table right from the beginning. Simply put, my
intention is to convince you that Acts chapter four, verses twenty-six through forty is not some
odd, inconsequential ancient story but is, in truth, God’s living, breathing Word here and now.


pomalidomide (cycle four)

Yesterday I had my regular appointment with my hematologist. I am now nearing the end of my fourth twenty-eight day cycle on pomalidomide (two cycles at a low dose of 2mgs/day, now on to my second cycle on the regular dose of 4mgs/day). I have not had any of the signs of a bad reaction to the drug (which is related to lenalidomide, the drug that I could not tolerate in the spring of 2012). So far the blood tests have shown that the free light chains are staying fairly stable. While they have not dropped significantly (i.e.: below our goal of less than 100) they have also not gone up significantly (they are between 140 and 240 at this point). My doctor says that while he would ideally like them to be lower this is still a good result (given they were at 1600 when I was diagnosed and have been back up as high as 700 during the past few years). We will continue to monitor the free light chains and continue with pomalidomide so long as it can hold the free light chains relatively stable. The main concern is keeping the amyloids as low as possible to prevent amyloid disease from affecting my organs. Amyloidosis is a hidden disease that does not show itself until there is obvious organ damage. I am fortunate that we discovered this before any damage has been done as it has has given us the opportunity to undertake preventative treatment. It turns out that because amyoidosis affects so few people it is an orphaned disease in the research community where there is little incentive for researchers to invest time and resources into understanding and treating it.

I am to see my doctor again in three months. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the free light chains with monthly blood tests. I will stay on pomalidomide (daily for 21 out of 28 days) and dexamethasone (steroids every Monday). The main side effects continue to be the weekly roller coaster ride on dexamethasone, along with weight gain. While I am not thrilled to be living with steroids I am grateful that, along with pomalidomide, the steroids are controlling the production of amyloids in my blood and that this is lowering the risk of suffering organ damage that would bring with it much worse symptoms.