an oath of allegiance

(This year Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, falls on February 18. At University Hill Congregation we are actively preparing our fourteenth annual online Lenten Devotional with forty-seven daily reflections on scripture to take us through to Easter Sunday on April 5. It will be available online here. Following are some thoughts about the role of the sacraments in Lent.) 

The season of Lent has its roots in the preparation of candidates for baptism. Lent culminates at the Easter Vigil and on Easter morning when these apprentices in the Way of the Cross and Resurrection die to their former life and rise to new life in Christ. Over time Lent has become a season in which the whole congregation, baptised and not yet baptised, renews its communal baptismal identity.

In the early church the very name given to the community identified its members as those who had pledged their lives and their deaths to Jesus. According to the book of Acts followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). In Greek it means “belonging to Christ” in the same way that a slave belongs to an owner. The name Christian connotes not so much choosing to be a follower of Jesus as it does being called - drafted - into the service of the Anointed One - the King in the coming reign of God.


naramata centre - a chapter in our history comes to a close

It is a time of transition in the church. Yesterday we received the sad though not unexpected news that the board of Naramata Centre of The United Church of Canada has announced that the centre will cease operations and close immediately. Naramata Centre (originally the Christian Leadership Training School) was founded in 1947 by my uncle Bob McLaren along with my aunt Alleen Searcy and a group of lay and clergy dreamers who envisioned a place of Christian formation. That vision had a big impact on my father George, Alleen's younger brother, who experienced a call to ministry through his experiences in the early years at Naramata. It is not too difficult to trace the direct line between Naramata Centre and my call to ministry. I find myself giving thanks for that history even as this chapter comes to a close.


do not hold back

A sermon preached on Sunday, January 18, 2015 at a Memorial Service for Verna Marie Huffman Splane (November 23, 1914 - January 10, 2015). A video recording of the service is online here.

Psalm 23, Psalm 121, John 14:1-6,18-19,25-27; Isaiah 54:2

What more can be said than has already been said. We have gathered here to thank God for the one hundred years of Verna Huffman Splane’s life. We remember her fondly, in awe of her accomplishments, grateful for her kindness and grace. What more is there to say? Well, Verna has left us with more to say. She has given us verses from scripture - literally, a script for us to enact, to perform, to live: Psalm 23, Psalm 121 and John 14. These, said Verna, are to be the texts for this day, the script for this company of actors. Which makes me, the preacher, akin to the director of the theatre troop gathered backstage for a read-through noting motivation and character and plot. Before you go onstage, before you head out to play your part, take note.


university hill congregation ministry vacancy

With my impending retirement applications for the position of Congregational Minister at University Hill Congregation are now being received. We are spreading the word to those whose gifts and experience may lead them to consider a call to University Hill Congregation. Would you pass this information along to those you know who may be interested in exploring this possibility? Here is the invitation:

University Hill Congregation of the United Church of Canada in Vancouver, BC seeks a Christ-centred, compassionate Congregational Minister as together we strive to rediscover the way of Christ for the sake of the world. Interested candidates are invited to view our congregational profile.


a sign. sing!

(a sermon for Christmas Eve)

We gather tonight at the heart of the story. Here the distractions give way. Here the news is still surprising, still wondrous. It is good news in a world of much trouble, heartbreak and sorrow. Strip away all the tinsel and veneer and you will find pain, scars, wounds. The suffering is global. The suffering is local. The story of the birth of the Christ-child is the story of our discovery that the suffering and ache of this troubled world - of our troubled lives - is being healed.


the church of holy magnification

We are on the verge of Christmas. In just three days we gather to celebrate on the eve of the holy birth. If we are not careful we may get ahead of ourselves. But the text will not allow us to get to Christmas yet. It sets us in Mary’s first trimester. Luke picks up the story at the moment angel Gabriel announces that Mary will conceive and bear a child. Then Luke writes: “In those days.” In those days immediately after the conception of the Messiah. It is early - very early - in her pregnancy when Mary visits her elderly cousin Elizabeth in the Judean hill country. The first evidence that the angel’s announcement is not in error comes when Elizabeth - now in her six month - senses unborn John leaping in her womb when Mary, not showing yet, arrives. Elizabeth, overflowing with the Holy Spirit, shouts out blessings, amazed at her impossibly good fortune. Our nativity scene needs a second building. In addition to a stable we need a Judean peasant’s home, where Mary spends three months with cousin Elizabeth, pondering what is happening to her, preparing for the birth of the Messiah. That is what we do here this morning. We ponder what is happening to us as we prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. There is not much time. But there is enough time.


on not singing carols yet

The other day I was mentioning how much I treasure the season of Advent. I especially appreciate the counter-cultural move of refraining from singing Christmas carols until the season of Christmas (the twelve days that begin with Christmas itself). At University Hill Congregation we begin singing carols on Christmas Eve. Before that we do not sing for joy at the birth of the Messiah. Before that we sing in longing, we sing in expectancy, we sing in preparation. In this way Advent reminds me of so much of life these days - longing, expectancy, preparation for the world and the lives God intends and promises. When I mentioned my delight in marking time during Advent a student at the theological school asked: "What do you say to those who want to sing Christmas carols during Advent."