Day two of the Transform 2018 Conference began with very meaningful and moving worship service that was led by the eight Canadian Presbyterian ministries that are focussed on Indigenous people and communities.

In many ways, this service set the tone for the entire day, especially as ministry after ministry talked about their experience of ongoing injustices — things like residential schools, the sixties scoop, youth suicides, drug addiction, missing and murdered Indigenous women. The sorrow expressed was deep, but the worship that accompanied it was nevertheless beautiful as it appealed to the limitless love of God.

This worship let us directly into our first session with our speaker, Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim, and it was what prompted her to spend some time talking about the Korean concept of Han (a concept that I had previously only encountered in an episode of The West Wing). Han, she explained, is the sadness and sorrow that is felt in response to systemic injustice. In Korean culture, Han is something that needs to be expressed and is often expressed very dramatic form, something that we often have trouble within Western cultures.

Reflections with a Mentor

This day included two mentor sessions — break out groups for more personal discussion led by a chosen leader. Our group was particularly blessed to have Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim as our leader (or, perhaps, did the organizers feel that we were most in need of her help?). Our discussion led me to some interesting thoughts about my own situation.

Having spent a significant time during the day talking about grief-inducing situations in various places, I was led to reflect on my experience in my own situation. If often seems to me that one of the things that prevents our congregation from embracing the change and transformation that may be needed in our present time and place is that we are carrying too much grief.

We grieve:

  • The church that used to be. We are hardly alone in this, but I note that many in our congregation carry a lot of grief over the way that things used to work in the church. They grieve the fact that we can no longer attract people in the ways we used to do. They grieve the loss congregational size and influence.
  • Two former ministers, both of whom recently passed away. One of those passings was particularly difficult as it was the most recent minister and he died under particularly tragic circumstances.
This grief seems to impact our present life in some powerful ways. After all, how can we possibly embrace all of the new ways the church needs to be and act if we are busy pining for the way things always used to be? How can we possibly appreciate the present leadership (especially if it is significantly different in terms of style and personality) if we can’t stop missing the old leadership?

I shared these concerns with Grace and she suggested that one of the things that might help us to move through some of that grief would be a practice of lament. There does seem to be a lot of wisdom in that suggestion and it certainly suggests that my thoughts expressed in yesterday’s blog post may have been on track. So I will try to follow through with her suggestion.

Here I’d like to present a first draft of a prayer of lament that I think could be particularly useful, not only to our congregation, but to many Presbyterian Congregations.

Lament for the 1970’s

God, it used to be so simple.
All we had to do was put on a reasonably good quality program in a beautiful building and people would just come.
They would come because they wanted to,
     because everyone else was doing it,
          because it wasn’t like they had anything else to do on a Sunday anyway.
And people used to volunteer, step forward to serve on committees,
to bake, to teach and they were happy to do so.
And, sure, maybe they had the time to do that because everyone in the household didn’t need to be working at a job all the time, but it sure made finding the people to do the work of the church easier.
And people respected the church, and listened when we spoke and cared if we got upset.
God, why did you make all of that go away?
     Didn’t you know that we liked it that way?
          Didn’t you care?
We keep trying to bring those times back — thinking that if only we make everything as much like things were back then as we can, everyone will just come back and it will all be good again.
We try and try but it just never seems to work.
Have you forgotten us?
     Are you angry?
          What did we do to deserve this?
Or maybe, God, just maybe, do you have a message for us in this painful thing?
Maybe you want to teach us something — something about the new life in Christ, about faith and trust in you? We wonder.
We wonder…