Monday, 24 November 2014

Assumptions of the past not sustainable

Jim Merriam made some good points in his column last week about the direction in Christian churches (and specifically the United Church of Canada) regarding the necessity for "essence statements".

He’s right. It’s a bad use of language. It’s jargon. And jargon only alienates. 

I agree with Jim when he says the mission statement for the church is found in Christian scripture.

But which mission statement do you want to use? I can name three, off the top of my head, from scripture.

Micah 6:8 says, "...what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Then there is Luke 10:27, in which Jesus himself says in response to a question about what the greatest commandment is, replied " "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."

Finally there is Matthew 28:19, in which Jesus says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you."

All of these passages are worthy reflections of the Christian faith, but all of them also point in distinctly different directions for the mission of the church.

Perhaps it’s a case of "choose your poison"?

Jim’s reference to Pope Francis and his ten ways of living a happier life is also interesting. Not really relevant, but interesting.

Before we can start talking about what Pope Francis is saying, I think it’s better to look again at his frame of reference and the context out of which he offers his suggestions.

Francis is very much a Franciscan and well schooled in the works of liberation theology. If I may be so bold as to suggest the framework he is using, it has far more in common with Micah than the Luke or Matthew passages I quoted.

Micah’s text, which is reflected and amplified all through the Old Testament, tells us that the beginning of faith is a relationship with God. In that relationship with God faithful people are called to live their lives in a certain way, reflecting justice, kindness and humility. The way we do that can be seen reflected in Pope Francis’ words.

I agree that "essence statements" are kind of silly. In the United Churches in Grey County we are now required to do something called "mission articulation". That is a process to help a congregation determine how it will live out its life and relationship in the community and to come to terms with the resources it needs to do that.

The challenge is that the church is not, by and large, used to thinking that way. The local church is generally focussed on making sure that worship happens, the sick are visited, the young are raised in the faith and at the end of the day, there is a good and convivial feeling.

Any kind of thought about mission is not a high priority.

That has to change. The assumptions of the past are simply not sustainable.

I recall a very high-priced consultant telling the board of a non-profit organization I was a part of that everything in the organization, from governance to policy to finances, came out of and was directed by the organization’s mission statement. And everything the organization said or did should reflect the mission statement.

Jim is right. The Christian church has to clear on its mission. But what the church’s mission statement is, is by far the more important question.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County

Monday, 17 November 2014

A correction and suggestion for honour's sake

There is nothing worse for a pastor than getting a name wrong. Nothing. And I did exactly that in last week’s column. I referred to Stoker A.M. "Jimmie" Johnson, RCNR, incorrectly as Johnston. I deeply appreciate the correction offered to me by family members, who were most gracious. I offer my deepest apologies to them, especially as they remember their loved one on Remembrance Day.

Their correction, however, led me to further reflection and thought, especially as I watched the Cenotaph service.

The family told me that they always lay a wreath, not at the Cenotaph, but at the gates of the HMS Jervis Bay Park, across 8th Avenue. They pin their poppies to the wreath in memory of their lost family member. For them, it’s a place of memory and sadness; grief still present, nearly seventy five years later.

Jimmie’s body was lost to the sea. According to a family member, he did reach a lifeboat following the sinking of the Jervis Bay, but in the cold North Atlantic, his body was swept away and lost forever. The only memory left to family are the places which honour and remember the sacrifice of the HMS Jervis Bay.

Which brings me to my point.

I drove past the HMS Jervis Bay park on Wednesday after Remembrance Day. I as astonished to see that in the park were several installations of the Festival of Northern Lights. There was an aircraft, a "Support the Troops" display and several wooden soldiers out of sugar plum fairy land. The park had been fenced off with orange contractor fencing and the excavation work which had been done earlier in the fall was still not cleaned up.

Because I take Remembrance Day seriously, I could only shake my head. I found it hard to accept that a place which reminds us of deeds of valour and sacrifice are covered quickly in a tourism motif. Perhaps the worst insult was that Jimmie Johnson died in the service of the Royal Canadian Navy on a Royal Navy ship. Yet no ship is within sight of the memorial park, least of all in the festival display.

As I examined the park environment, I became aware of a couple of other things.

The stone gateposts, to which the memorial plaques is attached, are badly damaged and one is tipped. They desperately need restoration and repair.

The park is also heavily overgrown and dark. It needs the attention and care of the Parks department, not just to cut the grass, but to trim back the shrubs and trees. The J. James photo of the park, which can be seen on line, shows that in the 1920's the park was much less overgrown and more open and inviting.

Owen Sound has three memorial parks. The Cenotaph is the primary park, and is the focus of our Remembrance Day activities. There is the HMS Jervis Bay park across 8th Avenue from the Cenotaph and there is the Robert T. James Mitchell Park on 2nd St. A West. All are places for visitation, recreation and special memory.

In anticipation of the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay, perhaps the city could consult with the family and Royal Canadian Legion about how the park could be made more attractive.

As we have done before in the restoration of the Cenotaph and other memorials in the city, the gates at the HMS Jervis Bay park could be repaired and restored.

The park itself might be cleaned up, opened up and made more attractive to passers by.

Finally, in consultation with the Festival of Northern Lights, more appropriate spots could be found for the light displays than a memorial park.

One of the most solemn moments in the ritual at the Cenotaph each year comes when we recite the words of poet Laurence Binyon. "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them." Our response is "We will remember them."

And we will. Including Jimmie Johnson.



Monday, 10 November 2014

Small city park part of our experience of war

There is a small park in Owen Sound across from the Cenotaph. It is more commonly noticed during the Festival of Northern Lights, as it is the place that the dinosaurs seemed to congregate.

The park has a name. HMS Jervis Bay Park. But the question could still be asked, "Why is there a park named for an obscure Royal Navy ship in Owen Sound, a long way from the Atlantic Ocean?"

The story is one of our history and, by extension, our experience of war.

HMS Jervis Bay was sunk while protecting a convoy of ships travelling between Halifax and England. She was a converted ocean liner, armed with a few ancient naval guns. She was the main protection for a 37 ship convoy.

On November 5, 1940, the convoy was attacked by the German battleship Admiral Scheer.

Outgunned and out run, the captain of the Jervis Bay, Edward S.F. Fegen ordered the convoy to scatter, laid down smoke to protect their movement and then turned toward the Admiral Scheer to draw its fire.

The captain’s plan was bold and foolhardy. Outgunned and outmanouvered, the first shells from the German ship tore into the bridge of mthe Jervis Bay, seriously wounding Captain Fegen.

The attack lasted 24 minutes. By that time the order was given to abandon ship and three hours later the Jervis Bay went down with 190 men, including Captain Fegen on board.

Thirty two of the thirty seven ships made it safely to port, the Admiral Scheer sinking five.

Captain Fegen was awarded the Victoriua Cross posthumously. The citation read, "For valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the

many ships it was his duty to protect."

But why a park in Owen Sound? Fegen was, from all records, a Royal Navy officer. What is the tie to this city?

The answer lies in the casualty list of the HMS Jervis Bay.

Amony the 190 officers and men who does was Stoker A.M. "Jimmie" Johnstone, RCNR. And Stoker Johnstone was the first death of anyone from Owen Sound in World War Two.

I am sure that the family and the city were grief-stricken with the news. As a result, the city dedicated a park to Johnstone’s memory. The J. James picture of the park, which is undated but likely takes shortly after it was dedicated, shows an open, light-filled space with low shrubs and trees. That’s a far cry from the thick trees and shrubs that surround the park today. The location is significant in that is it across the street from the Cenotaph, a memorial in the day and now, to those who died in World War One.

Last week, Melanie Pledger, a student at OSCVI, researching the lives of local soldiers said this in this newspaper: "When discussing war, it's easy to get swallowed up in the numbers. By highlighting the efforts of one individual, the service and sacrifice Canadians made during times of war becomes more relatable. We only forget the individuals involved if we let ourselves!"

2015 will be the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the HMS Jervis Bay and the death of Owen Sound’s first casualty in the Second World War. I hope there will be some recognition, apart from Remembrance Day, of the death of Jimmie Johnstone and our response to it.

Thinning out the trees in the park might be a good beginning.


Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County

Monday, 3 November 2014

Push politicians to work on homelessness

How many cups of Timmies do you drink in a year?

For the sake of conversation, let’s say you drink one cup a day and spend $10 a week on Canada’s favourite coffee addiction. That means you spend about $520 a year in your beloved beverage.

Would you be willing to give up less than 10% of that or $46 to abolish homelessness in Canada? That’s what it would take, according to a recently released study by the Canadian Homelessness Research Centre Network at York University. Just an additional $46 a year from every Canadian.

The statistics are mind-numbing.

1.3 million Canadians live in a situation of housing insecurity.

200,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year.

30,000 are homeless on any given night.

14,400 stay in emergency shelters.

7,350 are lodged in violence against women shelters.

4,464 are in temporary shelters such as hospitals and jails.

2,880 are unsheltered, sleeping outside, on the streets.

Nearly half are adult males between 25 and 55.

20% are youth.

Aboriginal peoples are disproportionately represented among the homeless in Canada.

The majority are transitionally homeless, with an average time period of 50 days.

The cost to the Canadian economy is calculated to be $7 billion dollars a year.

In Ontario, housing is a legislated county responsibility. County councils in Grey and Bruce can not avoid it. The province has mandated a ten year housing strategy be put in place by each municipality. That work is done. Now it is up to the newly elected politicians to make it happen.

Local solutions to these issues are always the best. They meet local needs, informed by best practices. The challenge will be, as always, funding.

There are solutions with a proven track record of making a difference. And given that we have a whole class of newly elected politicians coming to our local and county council tables, this is their issue.

The Federal government has cut funding support for housing in Canada by 46% in the last twenty five years. Homeowners have been given generous tax breaks while the homeless and those at risk of homelessness have seen nothing. That must change.

We know and have solid evidence to back this up. Spending money on safe, secure housing can make a huge difference in health, well-being and in everyday life.

The provision of secure and safe housing has been proved over and over again, both in Canada and the United States to reduce policing costs, social service costs, health care costs and improve quality of family and community.

Making a difference is not hard. The solutions are not complex. But they take political will to start and citizen support to implement.

In the next few weeks our newly elected politicians will be receiving briefings on every aspect of their work. Their heads will be aching with the rules, regulations and processes they have to follow. I hope they will pay attention to the presentations of county staff surrounding housing. We have good, local plans. But it will be up to the newly elected politicians to make it happen.

I also encourage our newly elected politicians to put pressure on Queen’s Park and Ottawa, especially Ottawa, to improve funding for safe, secure housing. That funding has to be significant and it has to be long term. Then and only then will we see a positive change in those mind numbing numbers.

Now go back to the beginning of this column and read the statistics.

Then do something about them.


Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County