Text: Acts 2:1-21 (the Spirit comes on the Day of Pentecost)
Forty years ago when Mill Woods was a new neighbourhood and United Church people began meeting in Grace Martin School, what inspired them to create a new congregation? Did the Holy Spirit visit them the way it did the first disciples on Pentecost in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago?
What about 10 years ago, when the 2006 Annual General Meeting voted to make this congregation an Affirming one? What emotions filled the room that day? Did the moment feel anything like rushing wind or tongues of flame?
Some of you here today were part of the 250 people who gathered at Grace Martin School for the Service of Constitution of Mill Woods United on November 14, 1976 – people like Audrey and Randy Round, John and Donna Skoreiko, Wendy and David Edey, Anne and Harry Lange, Rob and Jennifer McPhee, and Linda and Bill Paddon. Many more of you were at the 2006 Annual General Meeting. In your memories, do those events remind you of Pentecost?
This past week, I chatted with Janice and Cathy Bayly about the history of this church in the light of Saturday’s Craft Fair and Thursday evening’s Shadow Theatre fundraiser.
They told about the headaches of garage sales; about dinner theatre with food supplied by Heavenly Hospitality and the plays performed by people like Joyce, Rob, and Monica; about the Lawn Maintenance program; and about toy sales under a tent in the field that is now our parking lot. I was pleased to get these glimpses into the hard work that has sustained the church over the years.
There is drama in the stories of the founding of this congregation and how it has sustained itself for 40 years now.
But compare this drama with the story of the First Pentecost from the Book of Acts. The latter uses the symbols of wind, fire, and preaching in foreign tongues to showcase the power of God’s Spirit. It suggests that only great power can inspire us to proclaim the marvels of God and build a community that baptizes people into the death and resurrection of Christ.
We will hear more about the history of Mill Woods United at an official anniversary service here on November 20th. I am pleased to announce that three previous ministers – Tom Sawyer from the 1980s, Norm Macdonald from the 1990s and Dale Irving from the 2000’s – have all agreed to participate in it.
As for 10 years ago, I now invite Tim Janewski to come forward and tell us more about 2006 when the Annual General Meeting voted that Mill Woods United become Affirming and what this has meant. Tim . . .
Thank you, Tim, for that moving reflection. Much appreciated.
The stories of 1976 and 2006 at Mill Woods United may not be as dramatic as the story of the First Pentecost. But they reveal determination, courage, and strong feelings.
Why do we come to Sunday gatherings, or volunteer at The Bread Run, or participate in meetings on Truth and Reconciliation?
Perhaps we come seeking community, and sometimes experience it. Perhaps we come to share our sorrows and blessings, and sometimes are moved by what we hear. Perhaps we come seeking beauty, and sometimes find it. Perhaps we come hoping to grow, and sometimes emerge from outreach or discussions with our hearts and minds stretched.
In any church family, not all experiences will work. We may be bored by meetings, upset by sermons, burnt out by charity work, or turned off by a hymn.
But for 40 years, people have kept coming back. We have continued to pour time and passion into worship, outreach, administration, and justice efforts. We have encountered enough moments of Spirit to remind us of why we value this community, of why we worship the God who is Love, and of how Christ can be encountered in people who share our passions.
It might feel like a stretch to paint such moments with images of tongues of fire or powerful winds. But then we find ourselves shouting with joy at a Pride Parade; or feeling inspired by a new hymn; or knowing that we are all children of God when we help a family find clothes at the Clothing Bank.
In some of these moments, we may feel the winds rise, glimpse some flickers of divine flame, and know that the God’s Spirit is moving among us.
For forty years people at Mill Woods United have changed their lives by creating community, by singing and praying, and by working to be the hands and feet of Christ to neighbours near and far.
For forty years now this has been Mill Woods United Church. And in the blessings of this community, sometimes we realize that the story of the origin of the church from almost 2000 years ago is not just a myth. It is also our present day reality and our future hope.
May it be so. Amen.