Sabbatical 13: Turning Points (May 24-June 14)

A Historical Watershed
During the 28 days of just being "at home" in Vancouver (May/June), Kathleen and I were delightfully surprised to find that the three year-long Truth and Reconciliation Process (TRC) in Canada had finally come to completion. I well remember that Tuesday morning, May 26th. We both wept as we listened to the national broadcast of Justice Murray Sinclair’s summary report on seven generations of stolen children through Canada’s Indian residential school system. The TRC findings entailed the telling of 6750 stories of unimaginable heartache, separation, and abuse - some of which Kathleen and I had heard live when some TRC events were held in Vancouver several years ago. Many of you will remember that VEV cancelled a service at that time in order to join the Vancouver TRC march of 70,000 strong in September of 2013. In the pouring rain, we were all so moved by that powerful message by Bernice King, the daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.

St. Andrews Wesley United - the
interchurch TRC service was held May 31
Now on our sabbatical, I decided to attend a special TRC worship service the following weekend (May 31), being hosted at St. Andrews Wesley Church on Burrard Street. This was a cooperative effort between St. Andrews Wesley Church (United), Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican), Central Presbyterian, and First Baptist. I was deeply touched by the display of love and unity of the churches and their inclusion of First Nations. I invited Frances Carlick, a residential school survivor and part of VEV to also attend. She, too, was deeply moved by the service. When I walked in, I was warmly greeted and I was struck by the beauty of the architecture and the massive stained glass windows. I felt like I was back in Europe. Most importantly, I loved the liturgy which involved extensive use of Scripture seamlessly integrated with First Nations songs and prayers. I was touched by the willingness to address sin and our need for repentance in the readings. I was also touched by how tastefully they integrated First Nations people, their prayers, and their songs. The Kids Blessing involved a highly skillful five minute storytime recalling the narrative of the residential school saga in Canada. For the teaching time, a First Nations leader and lawyer from Vancouver Island spoke eloquently for 20 minutes about the road to reconciliation. I followed up my time there by writing an appreciation letter of thanks and received a very warm response back from the pastor at St. Andrews.What an experience! 

Close Call for Big Dave
But then, at the end of the next week, the first week of June, my Sabbath peace was shattered by a text from Gordie Guiboche stating that Big Dave had suffered full kidney failure and a doctor had given him a day or two to live. Big Dave has been a part of our church for years and carries a huge heart for the marginalized in our city. As I waited for news and updates, I prayed and mentally prepared for the prospect that my sabbatical, which had been so wonderful up to that point, might be ending prematurely. In preparing for the sabbatical months before, this was a "worst case scenario" that I and the planning team had hoped and prayed would not occur. However, as I prayed, I sensed “resurrection” in my spirit and, along with many of you, prayed for God’s intervention. Mercifully it happened!

A card full of love and best
wishes from VEV
in Big Dave's hospital room
That Sunday morning, a day later, June 6, I was able to take some wine and some of Kim’s incomparable banana bread and go and serve communion to Big Dave and pray for him in his hospital room at VGH – right at the same time that church was in progress at VEV. What a joy to walk into that room and see and hear Lynne singing songs of worship with Gordie G. I joined in, prayed with Dave, read Scriptures and shared communion. We had church there. Dave couldn’t talk at that point but I could sense his receptivity and living faith. It didn’t occur to me until later that our church would have also been having communion at the same time. This was totally unplanned. Yet, it felt like all the love and mercy that was flowing from our church towards Dave had formed a fertile womb for a miracle. I also felt it was a turning point, and indeed, it was. What a joy to see that through the modern marvel of dialysis combined with lots of prayer, Dave is back in our community today! Thank you, Lord! 

Another Turning Point
Exactly a week later to the day, I was back in an ICU unit again. This time, it was due to Caili Naumann, one of our VEV teens, who was suffering the effects of toxic shock syndrome. I was only able to see her briefly but was able to have a tender time of prayer with her dad and mom, Dean and Rose, and we hugged. Again, God intervened and showed us his immense mercy, reminding us once more of how dependent we are on that mercy each day, and how grateful we are for Caili, who has grown up in our church and continues to be such a beautiful gift to us. Again, love and prayers produced a turning point, and she is well today.Thank you, Lord! 

Remarkably, in spite of these crises that occurred in our church family in June, I never felt like I had to stop being on sabbatical, even though I was preparing for that possibility. This alone was a miracle. I believe that this is a testimony to God’s gracious intervention, but also a testimony to the maturity and health of our wonderful VEV community who surrounded Dave and Caili and their loved ones with such immense love, prayer, and care. As we had seen love create a miraculous turning point in our country through truth and reconciliation, it also created miraculous turning points in our own church family. This is who we are. During these crises, I did not feel pressure from our leadership team or community to fulfill any pastoral role, but was lovingly included in these circumstances as a member of the family. Something about this touched a deep cord within me. When I returned from sabbatical, I realized that I wanted this sense to continue and increase. First and foremost, I am a member of the VEV family, who just happens to be serving as pastor during this season. In many ways, this renewed sense of profound belonging irrespective of my gift or role has been a significant turning point for me, and one of the greatest gifts this sabbatical has given me.