Navigating the Winds of Change   Feb 28, 2021


Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                   Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Our church is changing during this prolonged isolation. When we eventually return, we will notice subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Perhaps the first thing you will notice will be the building, with a new roof over the sanctuary with extra insulation, new windows on the north side that open to give us better air circulation (in warmer weather, that is!) There are new protective coverings on the south Leo Mol windows that now allow the stained-glass reflections to sparkle. You will notice new, attractive lights in the narthex that brighten up our gathering space. LED lights that have replaced the halogen lights in the sanctuary will significantly reduce our electricity bill while offering the same amount of light. People seated on the north side of the sanctuary will no longer have to dress for winter weather inside the building. Thanks to grants and donations, it will be much more comfortable and we will have significantly reduced our carbon foot print. A huge thanks to Frank Wynes, who wrote the grants and spearheaded the renovations, and to Jeff Kremer, our maintenance person who has creatively renovated our space.

And that’s just the building. Our congregants will also have changed. We will see new faces that have actually been with us virtually for some time, but we haven’t yet met in person. We will also see empty seats of those who have died or moved and of those who will need to continue connecting virtually or through mailings. We will notice changes to hair colour, hair length and, dare I say, the extra COVID15. But there will also be some more significant changes. Some will have aged considerably. Children will have become youth, having grown in height and deepened in voice. We will catch glimpses of these changes today as we see each other virtually at our AGM.

Some of the changes won’t be visible. Some will have changed their names and maybe even their pronouns. Some of us are now ordering new nametags that will include our preference of pronouns to support those who have been going through a long, difficult journey of self-discovery of their gender identity.

Names are important. They tell us where we’ve come from, what our ethnic roots are, who our ancestors and family are. From our ancestorial roots, we gain knowledge of our own identity and wisdom for our future. Some choose to change their names to reflect a new family they marry into or a new identity they take on. I added MacKenzie as a middle name when I was in my 20s to honour my mother’s MacKenzie side of the family.

Our lectionary reading from Genesis describes the importance of names and name changes. Abram, whose name meant “exalted ancestor” received a new name from God to symbolize God’s covenant with him and his progeny. His new name was to be Abraham, which meant “ancestor of a multitude”. Sarai, his wife, also received a new name of Sarah, meaning princess. Even God claimed a new name in this passage. It is the first time in Genesis that El Shaddai is used for God. El Shaddai literally means the God of Mountains—perhaps in reference to God as Creator of all, which hearkens back a few chapters in Genesis to God giving us a rainbow as a sign of a covenant of relationship with all of creation.

As we enter into our AGM, we will be reflecting upon a year like no other. We are still living in the midst of this fog of unknowing as we move into our second year of lockdown. We do not know what is in store for us this year. What we do know is that God calls us to continue to care for one another creatively and consistently, for those relationships of care are what will bring us through.

We also need to be prepared for changes that lie ahead and to accept changes that have already happened. We are not the same as we were, individually, as a congregation and as a society. I pray that we will emerge from this time significantly changed, for there is much that I do not want us to return to, especially with society’s compromised care for the vulnerable. Is there anything that needs to be changed within our congregational life, that we may better be vessels of grace? And what about our own personal lives? Rumi wrote, “Yesterday, I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise so I’m wanting to change myself.”

Change is not easy, but as I discovered with thriving congregations, an ability to welcome come what may and gracefully adapt to the changes that are all around is the test for our ability to thrive, not just to survive. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters.” This last quote reminds me of our own Leonard Cohen’s famous lyrics,

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

One of the characteristics of a thriving church is the willingness to try new things, knowing that not everything will work. But if we don’t risk failure, we will risk demise. As we risk change, we will need to embrace the inevitable cracks, so that is how the light gets in.

If God were to grant us a new name of blessing to carry us through the changes while still within the mists of the unknown, what would that name be? Grace and hope come to mind.