In mid-November, I was at After the Beginning: A Northern Regional Symposium. First United in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., hosted this three-Presbytery event. The theme was Soul, Community and Earth. The visual focus was taken from the children’s picture book, After the Beginning
. In that story, children lead adults back to their senses when Earth is in peril. Moderator Mardi Tindal was a featured speaker, as was former moderator (and my husband) Very Rev. Bill Phipps. Much to my amusement and terror, I was artist-in-residence. The weekend was full.
A panel brought together church, business and oil executives. Participants asked questions and thought out loud about being what it means to be the stewards of creation in oil country. Explaining that both “Tar Sands” and “Oil Sands” raise red flags for people, Bill coined a new term: “Toil Sands.”
Mardi, who was partway through her Spirit Express train trip across Canada, relayed the words of a Winnipeg university student who told her: “churches are in the best position to inspire hopeful action on climate and ocean change because we know how to build community. (Read her blog here
In their presentations, both Mardi and Bill emphasized that this moment in time is a rich opportunity for the church to bring people together for urgent action.
The symposium offered a mix of workshops, theme presentations and worship. Francee Keahn, a Fort Saskatchewan artist and member of First United, reinterpreted Margaret Kyle’s illustrations in After the Beginning
. On the church lawn, for example, Francee placed a cradle in which an angel statue knelt in prayer beside a globe.
People wrote answers to three questions printed on a beautiful banner, painted by Francee. By Sunday morning, the banner held thoughts, feelings, drawings and symbols. It was carried into the sanctuary where it became the communion tablecloth. In a final integrating art piece, we responded to the question: What is your prayer for the future of children?
These days, many churches worry about shrinking numbers. But what about that university student’s belief in us?
Alyson Huntly’s lovely book The Painted Trunk
is about family members who worship separately at Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches. The story relates their joy, when in 1925, the three churches joined to form the United Church. One congregation brought their communion table, another their pulpit and the third their baptismal font. The old story is really a story for today: building community, reaching beyond walls and having the courage to face the future in trust.
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