Making a Commitment to Generosity (‘Helping My Church to Grow’ sermon #5)

In the past few weeks I’ve been preaching a series of sermons on the topic ‘Helping My Church to Grow’. We’ve been thinking about the subject of ‘growth’ in the widest possible sense: not just numerical growth – although that’s important too – but also our own individual growth as followers of Jesus, our growth in love as a community of disciples, and our growth in influence on the world around us. I’ve been identifying some things that every single one of us can do to help this growth happen in our church. So far we’ve mentioned making a commitment to our own growth as disciples of Jesus, making a commitment to welcoming newcomers to our church as if they were the guests of Jesus – which they are – and making a commitment to ministry. Today I want to go on to the fourth thing we can do to help our church grow: making a commitment to generosity.

Let me start by pointing out to you three aspects of our call as Christians.

First, I believe that God is calling us to the joy of stewardship. What is stewardship? Stewardship is the idea that we don’t own anything; everything that exists belongs to God, and he has entrusted it to us to use according to his will. Psalm 24 says,

‘The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he has founded it upon the seas, and established it on the rivers’ (Psalm 24:1-2).

That seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? If I make something on my own time, using my own materials, it belongs to me unless I sell it or give it away. God made the earth and everything in it – including me, my body, my gifts and talents, and every second of my life. He hasn’t sold it or given it away, so it all belongs to him.

This principle runs counter to the way most of us see money and possessions, or even our time and talents. I tend to think of my life and everything in it as belonging to me. It’s mine to do with as I choose. But that’s the creed of a rebel, not a worshipper of the one Creator God. My house, my books, my guitars, my life and everything in it – it all belongs to God. I’m not an owner; I’m a steward.

Stewards manage resources for the true owners. In medieval Europe, when the lord of a manor went away on a journey, he would commit the care of his estate to his steward. The steward would be charged with running everything in his master’s absence, and when the master returned, the steward would be asked to give account for his stewardship. In the same way, God has entrusted his possessions to our care, and one day we will be asked to give account for our stewardship. Christians know this. More than that: Christians rejoice in this. We have been called by God into partnership; we’ve been called to use God’s possessions to do God’s good will in the world. That’s an awesome privilege, and an awesome responsibility.

So we’re called to the joy of stewardship. Secondly, we’re called to the joy of contentment. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul says,

‘Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction’ (1 Timothy 6:6-9).

Again, Paul’s words here run counter to the way our society teaches us to live: never to be content with what we have, but always wanting ‘more’. But if we stop for a moment, most of us will have to admit that the ‘more’ we’ve gained so far hasn’t taken away the itch we feel to get even more ‘more’ in the future. There’s this empty hole inside, and all the possessions in the world don’t seem to be able to fill it.

Jesus loves us, and so he calls us to kick this addiction to ‘more’. He knows that contentment is the way of true joy. So he tells us ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6:19-21).

Do we believe him? After all, we call ourselves Christians, and we think of Jesus as our Lord. Well, our Lord tells us that the way of joy is not the way of acquiring more and bigger and better; it’s the way of having only a little, and being content with what we have. Are we willing to trust that he knows what he’s talking about?

So we’re called to the joy of stewardship, and the joy of contentment. Thirdly, we’re called to the joy of generosity. Listen to the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

‘For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’.

Jesus’ whole life was a life of generosity. He was probably the one person in the world who had the right to say “mine” about anything at all, and yet he was willing to leave his glory behind, to become a human being, to serve those in need, and to give himself to death, even death on a Cross, as a free gift for us. Jesus’ whole life was an act of generosity. And what does this tell us about the nature of God? It tells us that God loves to give. God knows that selfishness destroys life, but generosity is life-giving.

So we’re told in the Bible over and over again to give generously, because that is the way of true joy. Psalm 37:21 says, ‘The wicked borrow, and do not pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep giving’. Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Luke 6:38). I don’t think we should understand Jesus to mean literally that if we give a hundred dollars we’ll get a thousand back. He means that the true treasure in heaven – the joy of discovering the life we were designed for – will be ours, and it will be more than enough for us.

I think that when we’re talking about generosity we really need to focus on this joy. Sometimes we’re told ‘Give until it hurts’, but I don’t think that’s true Christian giving. If it is true that all we can feel when we give is pain, then our hands may be giving but our hearts aren’t really in it yet. We need to pray for an inner transformation as well – a growth to the point where the greatest joy of our lives is to be generous, to bring blessing to others. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians, ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your own mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Corinthians 9:7). And of course I know that in this congregation many of you have experienced this for yourselves; you’ve demonstrated over and over again that you are well aware of the joy of true generosity.

So here are three aspects of our call as Christian disciples: we’re called to the joy of stewardship, the joy of contentment, and the joy of generosity. This is a big part of the journey that we’re on as followers of Jesus.

Alright, you say, I accept that I’m called to conversion from a life of selfishness to a life of generosity. But what should I be generous to? What should be the direction of my giving? Does the Bible give us any guidance about this? Yes, it does. It encourages us to give in two directions: to care for the poor and needy, and to support the work of the Church.

Caring for the poor and needy is a theme which runs throughout the Bible, as we’ve already seen. Today, of course, the needs are very great, and there are many avenues for generous giving. In terms of international aid there are organizations like the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, World Vision, Doctors without Borders and so on. There are also local organizations like the Mustard Seed, Hope Mission, the Bissell Centre, and Habitat for Humanity. All of these organizations have a good reputation for using money well to meet the needs of the people they serve. Many of them need our practical help too; they couldn’t do their work without legions of committed volunteers who give selflessly of their time and talents to be a blessing to others. So it’s up to us to do our research, find an organization we can believe in, and then do all we can to get behind it.

The second avenue for our generosity is supporting the work of the church. Of course, the earliest Christians in New Testament times had no church buildings, so their expenses in that way were very low. There was also considerable variety in how their pastors and workers were supported. But Paul’s instruction on the subject is clear; in 1 Corinthians 9:14 he says ‘In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel’.


If the work of the Church is to continue it needs to be financed. Whether we are talking about paying staff, upkeep of buildings, or support for programs, the need is always there. And this is true not just at the local level; the Church is a family, and in that family the richer parts ought to help the poorer. When I was the pastor of a small church in the far north I was very grateful that I was part of the Anglican Church of Canada, in which money given by people in larger and wealthier churches down south could be used to help support our ministry. If it had not been for that support our church could not have survived financially. It’s tempting to think only of the needs of our own congregation, but we should resist that temptation.

We’ve talked about our call to the joy of stewardship, the joy of contentment, and the joy of generosity. We’ve talked about two possible avenues for our generosity: the care of the poor and needy, and the support of the work of the Church. Now, lastly, let’s think about the steps that most people go through as they learn to embrace a life of Christian generosity.

Years ago a friend of mine who had recently become a churchgoer told me that on the first Sunday he came to church, he was alarmed because his wife put a two-dollar bill in the offering plate (in those days we still had two-dollar bills!). To him, that was extravagant giving! After he had been a member for a while he gained a greater understanding of the needs of the congregation and the way it was financed, and then his giving became more realistic. Eventually, he got to the point of adopting the Old Testament standard for his giving: ten percent of his income.

When it comes to giving, sometimes dollar amounts can be misleading. In the Gospels Jesus watched a poor widow putting two silver coins into the collection boxes in the Temple. He told his followers that she had given more than all the rich people who threw in enormous amounts of money, because they had only given their leftovers, but she had given all she had to live on. You might say that the message of that story is that the amount we give isn’t as significant to God as the amount we keep for ourselves.

I think there are three steps we tend to go through as we grow in our understanding of giving. We start with casual giving, like my friend who thought that two dollars was generous. Let’s be frank; when we start out in the Christian life, giving in church is rather like tipping the waiter in a restaurant. If the service has been good, we might leave a more generous tip, but it’s never going to amount to much.

If we start to get involved in the congregation, eventually we get a better understanding of its finances, its income and its expenses. We look around us on a Sunday, get some idea of how many people attend church, do a bit of math in our heads and figure out what a reasonable offering on our part might be. I call this kind of approach responsible giving; I’m trying to do my bit as a responsible member of the church. Responsible giving is a big improvement over ‘Jesus tipping’, but it still falls short of the Christian ideal in one thing: it’s based on the need of the church to receive so that it can survive, rather than on my need to give in order that I can grow into a loving and generous person.

The third step is called proportionate giving. At this stage, the amount I give has nothing to do with the needs of the organization; it has to do with my level of income. I don’t care what percentage you choose – five, ten, fifteen – proportionate givers choose a level and build their budget around it.

How do I choose my level of giving? That’s something each of us has to decide for ourselves. But let me warn you against one thing. Some Christians say “Right now my income is low and my expenses are high, so I can’t give very much, but once things get under control I’ll be able to give more”. I tell you honestly: that’s a myth. What happens in practice is that the more my income increases, the more my lifestyle expands, and I still won’t have enough. If I wait to give until I think I can can afford it, I’m never going to start. What’s happening is that the false god of wealth is quietly wrapping his chains around my heart, and the richer I get, the more surely I’m going to be hooked.

The truth is that if I don’t give generously when I’m poor, I won’t give generously when I’m rich either. Jesus said, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). So the time to learn generosity is always now.

Let me finish by coming back to our starting point. We’re talking about things that all of us can do to help our church grow in the widest possible sense. This topic of generosity is very relevant here. If we’re thinking of our own individual growth as disciples of Jesus, then this transformation from selfishness to generosity is a central part of that. The long and the short of it is that we’re going to be happier and holier disciples of Jesus as we learn the joy of generosity.

It’s also relevant to our church’s growth in numbers, and in influence on the world around us. Churches full of generous Christians are churches that can make an incredible difference. It’s not just they can support paid staff who can do more outreach work in the community. It’s not even just that they can partner with organizations like World Vision to save lives around the world. Both of these statements are true, but beyond that, churches full of generous Christians have a joy and optimism about them. They don’t feel drab and dark and stingy; they feel like fun places to be around! There’s an excitement, a ‘can-do’ attitude, and a sense of expectancy about what God is going to do among the people of this congregation. There’s a buzz in the air, and it’s tremendously attractive to people who are looking for a church home to belong to!

Paul said, ‘For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). May you and I follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ and continue to grow in the joy of true generosity. In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Amen.

Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 16

Link back to Chapter 15

And so we were married, and very quickly it became difficult to remember what it had been like not to be married. When I thought about it, I realized that getting married seemed to have been a gradual process for us, one that had been going on ever since the previous October, when Kelly had moved into her rented house, three blocks down the street from my old place. For the past twelve months we had been in and out of each other’s houses all the time; we had shared meals, talked for hours, prayed and read the Bible together, gone cross country skiing and walking at Myers Lake and riding the horses at Hugo’s farm. She liked to listen to me play guitar and sing traditional folk songs, and I liked to listen to her read aloud from one of her favourite poets. I knew that she liked coffee but preferred tea, and she knew that I liked tea and coffee equally well. I knew that she would put off getting out of bed in the morning until the last minute, and she knew that I liked to get up early enough to go for a walk before getting into the busyness of the day. I knew that when she got home from work she liked to put something loud and lively on the record player, and she knew that when I got home from school I tended to make myself a cup of tea, sit down in my chair, and then fall asleep for half an hour.

These were things we already knew about each other before we got married. But for us, getting married also meant that we were now living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, and learning how to be lovers, and these were big changes. If we had lived together before we were married, even these things would have come gradually, not abruptly, but for us they were wonderful new experiences. For me it was a wonderful thing to fall asleep with the warmth of her body next to mine, and to wake up in the morning and find her still there in bed with me. To get up early in the morning, go for a solitary walk, and then come home and make her a cup of tea to wake up with was a delight for me; it had not yet become a routine, as it did later on in our marriage. Of course, the routines had their pleasures too – they were the links that tied us to each other in hundreds of different ways – but in those early days things like that still seemed new and fresh and unspeakably delightful.

A few days after our wedding the unseasonably warm weather turned suddenly cold: we had an unexpected Fall blizzard that dumped twelve inches of snow on the ground, with high winds and freezing temperatures. In the days that followed much of the snow melted, but by the end of October there was still some left, and the temperatures remained cool.

On the last Friday of the month I got home a few minutes before Kelly, so I put the kettle on to make a pot of tea, changed into my jeans, and started preparing vegetables for our supper. The days were getting shorter now, and as I stood at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes, I could look out over our back yard and see that the sun was already getting low in the sky.

At about five twenty I heard the back door open and close, and I heard Kelly’s cheerful greeting from the bottom of the stair well: “Anyone home at the ranch?”

“I’m here; I just put the vegetables on”.
She came up the stairs from the back door in her blue nursing scrubs and socked feet, her hair tied back in a loose pony tail. “There’s my favourite Englishman!” she said with a smile; “How was your day?”

“It was fine”, I replied as she came over and stretched up to kiss me. I put my arms around her and we held each other close for a few minutes, neither of us feeling the need to say anything. Eventually I kissed her on the top of her head, and she said, “You are exactly the right  height for me, Thomas Edwin”.

“Am I?”

“Yes. When we hold each other like this, the top of my head fits exactly under your chin”.

I chuckled; “So it does!”

“You’ve never noticed that before?”

“I probably have, but now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ll notice it every time”.

“I’m glad to hear it!”

  “Would you like me to pour you a cup of tea?”

“I’m not done hugging you yet”.

I laughed softly; “You like this marriage business, don’t you?”

“You’d better believe it”.

“I do believe it; I like it too”.

“Good to know”.

“What was your day like?”

“Mrs. Robinson came in to visit Elsie Redl this afternoon; she told me she’s looking forward to seeing us tomorrow morning”.

“Right; what time is that again?”

She stepped back a little and smiled up at me; “Around ten is what we said”.

“So you’ll be up before nine-forty-five, then?”

“I guess I’ll make an effort! But speaking of sleeping, I expected to find you asleep in the armchair with a cup of cold tea at your elbow!”

“Well, I thought I should be a good husband and get the vegetables going”.

“Very good. Just let me change out of my scrubs and I’ll finish the cooking, if you want to have a quick snooze”.

“I’m not feeling too sleepy right now; let me pour you some tea”.

“Alright. Mind if I put some music on?”

“I was expecting it. Fleetwood Mac tonight?”

“I was thinking of Billy Joel, actually”.

“Alright then!”

Later that night as we were lying in bed together, our room lit by the dim light of a single bedside lamp, I kissed her on the forehead and said, “Do you sometimes feel like we’re just pretending?”


“Pretending to be married”.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean there are times when I feel like I’m still your fiancée, or even your boyfriend. And when we go out together as husband and wife – I don’t know how to explain it, but I sometimes feel as if we’re pulling a fast one on everyone!”

She pushed herself up on her elbow, her hair tumbling down around her face, and grinned at me; “You can still be my boyfriend if you want”.

I ran my fingers softly down her naked back. “No thanks”, I said quietly; “I rather like being your husband”.

“Mmm”, she said sensuously, arching her back; “Well, when you put it like that…”.

“It seems like we waited a long time for it”.

“I guess so. I know people who had longer engagements, but a year was more than long enough for me”.

“Me too”

“Did you dream about being married when we were engaged?”

“Real dreams in my sleep, you mean?”


I smiled and kissed her on the lips; “I certainly remember a few dreams about making love with you”.

“I hope the reality isn’t disappointing you”, she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“The reality”, I replied softly, “is far beyond anything I could possibly have imagined”.

She kissed me again and laid her head back down on my shoulder. “You keep on saying the nicest things”, she whispered.

“I like waking up in the night and finding you in bed with me; sometimes I still can’t get over that”.

“Mmm”. She shifted her body slightly and kissed my neck; “That is rather wonderful”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “It does seem strange sometimes, though, doesn’t it?”

“What does?”

“Well, three years ago we didn’t even know each other. I was in my last year at Oxford, student teaching, and studying, and playing live music with Owen and Wendy, and trying to figure out how I was going to avoid having the rest of my life managed by my dad”.

“And I was in my first year nursing in Jasper, still getting used to the job, and still a bit sore from being dumped by Mike Sorenson”.

“That’s what I mean; neither of us even knew the other existed. What were the odds of me moving to a place I’d never even heard of in the middle of rural Saskatchewan, falling in love with an absolutely beautiful Mennonite nurse, and getting married to her?”

“About the same as the odds of me marrying a genuine guitar-playing English hippy, I guess!”

I laughed softly, kissed her on the forehead again, and said, “I feel so lucky”.

“I’m the lucky one”.

“I don’t think so”.

She pushed herself up on her elbow again, looked down at me with a mischievous grin, and said, “Are you seriously trying to win another argument with me?”

“What on earth was I thinking?”

“That’s better!”

“Maybe we’ve both been very lucky”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then sighed, laid her head on my shoulder again, and said, “Yeah, I can go along with that”.

Kelly had told me before our wedding that our house was only two blocks down the street from the neat little bungalow where old Joanna Robinson lived. I had seen Joanna around town a few times since our first meeting at the Co-op deli, and now and again she had reminded me of her invitation to come over and have a cup of tea with her, but somehow I had never gotten around to it. However, I discovered soon after we were married that this was not a state of affairs Kelly was going to allow to continue. “We’ll have to go over and have a visit with her”, she said to me; “I’ll set it up”.

And so it was that on that Saturday morning in late October we went over and spent an hour sitting with the old lady in her living room, drinking strong tea out of proper china tea cups. The house was crowded with old fashioned furniture, with family photographs on the wall, including some of Joanna and her husband in their early days in Canada. I noticed, however, that there were no pictures of any extended family in England or anywhere else, and when I asked her about her life before they came to Canada she was very evasive in her reply. “As I told you before, my husband was a farm labourer”, she said, “and he’d also worked as a groom on a large estate. But it was difficult for him to find permanent employment, so we decided to come to Canada”.

“You’re right”, Kelly said to me later on while we were back home making sandwiches for our lunch; “She’s quite secretive about their life before they came here. I’ll have to ask Don and Ruth if they know anything, but I sort of think they don’t”.

“I’d leave it alone if I were you”.

“How come?”

“How old is she? Eighty?”

“She must be pretty close to that”.

“And you’ve never heard any of her children or grandchildren talking about her life before she and her husband came to Canada?”


“Then I suspect she hasn’t told them about it. And if you start asking questions about it, they might start asking her, and she may not welcome that”.

Kelly grinned at me; “Nice thinking, Sherlock! Sometimes it’s helpful to have an introvert in the family!”

“It’s not just because I’m an introvert”. I was spreading egg salad onto a slice of brown bread, but I stopped for a moment, my knife poised in my hand. “I don’t especially like it if people ask me about my family back home, because sooner or later they’re going to ask why I decided to come here, and it’s hard to answer that question honestly without dredging up all kinds of family conflict that I’d rather not talk about”.

“You think it might be like that for her too?”

“I really have no idea, but I know there could be all kinds of reasons why she might prefer not to talk about it, and personally, I’m okay with that”.

She looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then reached up and kissed me on the cheek. “You’re a very wise man, Tom Masefield”, she said softly.

“Well, I don’t know about that”.

“Oh, I do, and I think you are”.

One thing Kelly and I gradually came to realize was that we lived closer to old Joanna than any of her family members.

Ruth and John Janzen lived with their children on an acreage just south of town; Ruth was a little older than Kelly, but they were very good friends. Toward the end of November she called Kelly one night and asked her if she’d mind running up the street to see if her grandma was okay. “I’ve called her three times in the last half hour”, she said, “and she’s not answering her phone”. So Kelly put her parka and tuque on and went over to Joanna’s place to check up on her. A few minutes later she came back with a grin; “She needs a new battery for her hearing aid”, she said.

“She can’t hear the phone without her hearing aid? She must be deafer than I thought”.

“That’s not it. She couldn’t hear the TV, so she had it turned up so loud she couldn’t hear anything else. I just about had to break the door down to get her attention!”

I laughed; “That’s hilarious! Was she surprised to see you?”

“Yeah, she was, but when I explained to her what it was all about, she thought it was pretty funny too. She called Ruth right back and apologized, and she apologized to me too, for making me come out on a cold night like this”.

“I expect it won’t be the last time”.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, it looks like Ruth’s figured out how close we live to her grandma”.

“I guess that’s right, isn’t it?”

Jacob William, the firstborn son of Joe and Ellie Reimer and first grandchild for Will and Sally, made his entrance into the world just before noon on Wednesday December 10th. Ellie went into labour at about eleven o’clock Tuesday night, and Sally called us at about six in the morning to let us know what was going on, and to assure us that everything was fine. So we went to work as usual; Sally was at the hospital, but Will was at the school, and I knew that he would get a call if anything happened, and he would let me know right away.

Still, I found it difficult to concentrate on my lessons that morning; my thoughts kept straying away to Joe and Ellie and their baby, and to Kelly and me as well. I knew that Kelly was longing to get pregnant; “I’m already twenty-six”, she had said to me, “and I want to have lots of kids, so do you mind if we get started as soon as possible?”

“Of course not”, I had replied with a grin; “I’m kind of looking forward to it myself!”

In fact, this was not entirely true. Of course, I wanted to have children, but I was haunted by a secret fear that I would not be a good father, a fear I found so threatening I had not even talked to Kelly about it. I knew that I did not want to be an absentee parent like my own father, but I had never experienced anything different and I had no idea how to go about it. And so a part of me wanted to have children as soon as possible, but another, secret part wanted to wait until I had at least some idea of what being a better father might look like.

Kelly, however, seemed to have no fears at all about the idea of parenthood, or at least none that she had shared with me. I also knew that she was looking forward to the birth of Joe and Ellie’s baby and that she wanted very much for us to be involved in his life as his aunt and uncle – a desire Joe and Ellie shared. We had grown much closer to them since their wedding nineteen months ago. The four of us had gotten into the habit of having Sunday suppers together once or twice a month, and it was not uncommon for those supper time conversations to go on late into the night, until eventually one of us would say, “Okay, folks, it’s going to be a sleepy day tomorrow!” and we would reluctantly bring the evening to a close.

It was Will who slipped into my classroom at the start of the lunch break on that December day to give me the news that Ellie had had a baby boy, and that mother and child were both well. I congratulated him and asked him whether he was going straight up to the hospital.

“No, not for a couple of hours yet”, he replied; “Sally says they’re still cleaning up, and of course Ellie’s really tired and they want her to sleep for a couple of hours if she can. I was thinking I might go up around three-thirty; what about you?”

“I expect we’ll go up after supper; you know how excited Kelly is about this baby!”

He nodded and smiled; “She’s been talking about being a mom since she was about fourteen. But hopefully, before too long…?” he added with a mischievous grin.

“Getting greedy for more grandchildren, are you, Will?” I replied, punching him lightly on the arm. “Don’t you need a few months to get used to this one first?”

It was just after seven o’clock when Kelly and I went up to the hospital to meet our new nephew. When we got there Joe and Ellie were alone with the baby; they were in a single room with the lighting dimmed; there was an easy chair at the foot of the bed, and a couple of hardback chairs that had obviously been brought in for earlier visitors. Ellie looked tired but happy as she lay in the hospital bed with her son in her arms; Kelly stooped to kiss her, and I gave Joe a bear hug and said, “Congratulations, Papa Reimer. Does this young fellow have a name yet?”

Joe glanced at Ellie, and she smiled at me and said, “Jacob William”.

“Is he gonna be a Jake?” Kelly asked with a grin.

“Oh, I’m sure he will be”, Ellie replied. “Do you want to hold him?”

I laughed; “She’s been wanting to hold him since the moment she heard he’d been born!”

Kelly bent over and gently took the tiny bundle from his mother; she cradled him, kissed him lightly on his wizened-looking forehead, and showed him to me. “Meet your Uncle Tom, little Jake”, she whispered.

“He’s pretty tiny”, I said.

“Seven pounds four ounces”, Joe replied; “Here, Kelly, take the easy chair”.

Kelly sat down in the armchair at the foot of the bed, holding the baby close and kissing him again on the forehead. I looked at her, dressed as usual in jeans and a sweater with her hair hanging loose down her back, my young wife holding a newborn baby, and suddenly I found myself blinking back the tears. Joe saw it, and immediately knew what it was about. He put his hand on my arm, not saying anything, but I saw in his eyes that he understood, and I nodded gratefully.

“My mom and dad are coming up in the morning”, Ellie said; “They would have come earlier, but Dad was on a work trip and only got home a couple of hours ago”.

Kelly nodded; “Are they going to stay with you guys?”

“Yeah, they will”, Joe replied. “Dr. Wallace says that if things stay good, Ellie should be able to come home in a couple of days. And I was talking to Krista a couple of hours ago; she’s going to come up on the weekend”.

Joe and I sat down on the hard backed chairs, Joe beside Ellie and me nearer to where Kelly was sitting. For a moment none of us spoke; we were all watching Kelly holding the baby close. He was awake, but he didn’t seem to be restless or upset about anything. He was wrapped up tight in a white hospital blanket, and he was wearing a hood on his head that made him look like a little old man in her arms.

“You’re a natural”, Joe said to Kelly.

“Thanks”, she replied with a warm smile; “I’m looking forward to lots of Auntie Kelly time!”

Joe glanced at Ellie, and then said, “Actually, there’s something we wanted to ask you two about”.

“What is it?” I said.

Ellie reached out and took Joe’s hand. “Well, you know I was raised in the United Church, where we baptized babies. But now I’m a Mennonite, and of course we’re going to have Jacob dedicated, not baptized, because that’s what Joe and I believe in”.

“Her mom and dad are a little disappointed about that, I think”, Joe added.

“Yeah, but they’ll be okay”, said Ellie; “We’ve talked about it a lot, and they understand that this is what we believe in. But there is one thing I really liked about infant baptism, and that’s godparents. My godparents are a couple who were really good friends with my mom and dad when they were first married, and they’ve been really conscientious about keeping in touch with me over the years. They’re actually Catholic, and I know they pray for me, and they really take the godparent thing seriously”.

I frowned; “Do Mennonites not have godparents?”

“It’s not common”, Joe replied. “I’ve talked to Rob about it, and he said that it’s been happening occasionally over the past few years – mainly because of the influence of the infant baptism customs. But historically, Mennonites didn’t have godparents for their babies”.

“But we want to”, said Ellie; “Joe and I have talked about it, and he’s agreed to it. My godparents have been such a special part of my life, and I want my children to have that experience too”.

“We’ve checked with Rob”, Joe added, “and he’s said he’s okay with it”.

“So”, said Ellie, “we were really hoping that you two would be Jake’s godparents”.

Kelly and I looked at each other, and I saw that it was her turn to be blinking back the tears. “I think it’s a yes”, I said to Ellie, “although my sweetheart seems to be a little overcome at the moment”.

Kelly nodded, the tears brimming over in her eyes. “Thank you”, she said to Joe and Ellie; “Thank you so much”.

“I would like you to be sure about it, though”, I added. “Since the tradition comes from your side, Ellie, wouldn’t you rather have someone from your family – your sister, maybe?”

Ellie shook her head; “Karla doesn’t go to church, and anyway, we want people who go to our own church and believe what we believe about Christian discipleship. The fact that you guys are relatives is an added extra, but it wasn’t our main criteria”.

“And we’re closer to you than anyone else”, Joe added; “That’s just a fact”.

“I agree”, said Ellie; “I feel I know you guys better than anyone else in our church”.

“And what we want you to do more than anything else is pray for our son and help us raise him as a Christian”, said Joe, “and I know you guys are going to do that anyway, so it seems natural that you should be the ones we ask. You’re going to be the godparents in reality, whether we ask you or not!”

Kelly and I both laughed, and she wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “I guess that’s true”. She glanced at me. “Tom and I haven’t really talked about what we would do when we have children of our own. I’ve never thought about the godparent thing – it was never a part of my life. What about you?” she asked me.

I shook my head. “I was christened as a baby, of course, and Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy were my godparents, but I don’t think they ever really functioned in that way, as far as I can remember. Auntie Brenda’s my mum’s sister”, I explained to Joe and Ellie. “We saw a lot more of them when we were growing up than my dad’s siblings, because they live in Oxford, but I always thought of them as just an aunt and uncle, not as godparents. Of course”, I added, “the fact that I wasn’t really raised in the Christian faith probably didn’t help”.

“Were there no churchgoers in your family at all?” Ellie asked.

“Oh yeah; Mum went to church when she was younger, before she met my dad, and Brenda and Roy are churchgoers. My grandpa Campion – my mum’s father – was actually a church organist; he taught the organ at university level in Oxford, and when he was younger he played the organ at his college chapel. He was still playing for his parish church until the year he died”.

“When was that?” Joe asked.

“The year before I moved to Canada”.

“So that’s where your mom got her musical interests, then?”

“Yes, although she’s never been an organist; the piano was always her instrument. And as for churchgoing – well, I’ve always suspected that she would have liked to have gone to church while we were growing up, but with Dad being an atheist and so strident about it, I’m guessing it just wasn’t worth all the arguments it would have caused”.

“It’s good to make our own choices about the way we want to raise our kids, though, isn’t it?” said Ellie. “I’ve got good parents, and there are lots of things I like about the way they raised me, but I sure don’t want to be a carbon copy of them”.

“Same for me”, Kelly replied. “I’ve got no complaints at all about the way Joe and Krista and I were raised…”

“Well, maybe our parents were a little too protective of us when we got to be young adults…”, said Joe.

Kelly laughed softly, giving me a mischievous glance. “Yeah, I guess that’s true!”

The baby in her arms stirred and gave a little sigh. “Is he okay?” Ellie asked.

“Yeah, he’s fallen asleep. Do you want to take him?”

“No, he’s fine with you, Auntie Kelly”.

Kelly smiled; “Thanks”.

“So”, Joe said to her, “you were talking about children of your own. If you don’t mind me asking, are you guys trying?”

Kelly glanced at me; I gave her a little nod, and she said, “Yeah, I’m twenty-six and I want a few of them, so I didn’t really want to wait too long to get started”.

“That’s how I felt, too”, Ellie replied.

“But like I said”, Kelly added, “we haven’t even thought about the idea of godparents”.

“We’ll definitely be discussing it”, I said; “Personally, the way you’ve explained it, I like it”.

“Me too”, Kelly agreed.

Joe laughed; “Looks like you just discussed it!”

“I guess we have!” Kelly replied with a grin.

And so Kelly and I stood with Joe and Ellie at the front of the church on the last Sunday in January for Jacob’s dedication – or, I should say, for Jake’s dedication, because that was the name by which he was already universally known in the Reimer family. Kelly and I had gone away for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s; her parents had bought us a skiing holiday package in Jasper. I had watched Kelly do some of her downhill runs, and taken a few beginners’ lessons myself, and we had done some cross country skiing, as well as enjoying some time to ourselves in a nice hotel room. We had not gone away for a honeymoon right after our wedding, with it being the middle of the school year, but Will and Sally had referred to the Jasper trip as ‘your late honeymoon’ when they had told us about it, and that was the way we always thought about it afterwards.

A couple of weeks later Kelly was working a rare Saturday shift, and I had the day to myself. I had cleaned up the place, done some laundry and worked on some schoolwork, and was just thinking of making myself a late lunch when Joe called; he had to do an emergency run out to a farm south of town, and wondered if I’d like to go along for the ride. I immediately agreed, and he picked me up in his truck a few minutes later. It was a fine early February afternoon, with the temperature sitting at about minus twenty and the sun shining out of a clear blue sky, turning the wide snow-covered fields a brilliant white. We spent the next hour or so with a cow that was having respiratory problems; I watched as Joe did a thorough examination, talked with the farmer for a long time about how the problem had developed, and then gave him some medications and some instructions about what to do. It was about three o’clock by the time we got back to town, and I invited Joe in for a coffee.

“I’d better just check with Ellie and make sure everything’s okay”, he said.

So he came into our house and called Ellie, and then he and I sat at the kitchen table for half an hour or so, drinking coffee and talking about anything that came into our heads.

“So how’s it going, this baby-raising business?” I asked at one point.

“Oh well, you know, at the moment there’s not much to it. He basically eats, sleeps, and poops, and in between he waves his arms and legs a lot and gurgles. I get involved in the arm waving and the gurgling and the poop cleanup, and Ellie handles the eating and the sleeping!”

“So she gets up with him during the night?”

“Well she’s nursing, of course, so she’s the one who gets up if he cries and gives him what he’s asking for. If she has a hard time getting him back to sleep, I get up with him and walk him around for a while. We’ve had a few Jake and Daddy hours like that at three or four in the morning. Usually he’s pretty good at falling back to sleep, but now and then he’s not interested. I think he enjoys the fact that he has our full attention in the middle of the night, you know!”

We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “Can I ask you something?”


“When Ellie was pregnant, were you nervous about becoming a dad?”

“Of course – isn’t everyone?”

“I suppose so”.

He cradled his coffee mug in his hands and looked across the table at me. “Something on your mind?”

I hesitated, and then said, “Yes”.

“Are you nervous?”

“Very nervous”.

“How so?”

I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t want to have children – I really do, and I’m right with Kelly in wanting to get started as soon as we can. But…”

“There’s another voice inside your head?”

“Yes”. I gave a heavy sigh and said, “The thing is, Joe, you had a fantastic father”.

“Ah!” he replied with a nod of understanding.

“Yes. I haven’t got the slightest idea how to be a good father. I never had a good father myself; my dad was the absentee parent throughout my childhood, and when I got into my teens he spent a lot of time arguing with me and criticizing me and yelling at me”.

“But what about Owen’s dad? You often talk about him”.

“Yes, of course, when I started hanging around with Owen I got a different vision of what a father-son relationship could be like. But I was already eleven at that point. How does a good father raise a small child? I haven’t got a clue”.

He frowned; “Is that really true?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, what’s your secret to being a good big brother to Becca? She obviously loves you like crazy and looks up to you. How did you make that happen?”

I shook my head; “I don’t think I ever really had a plan. And I wasn’t the one ultimately responsible for her – my mum was”.

“Agreed, but didn’t your mom say that you were the one who basically taught Becca to talk?”

I smiled; “Yeah, she does say that. I suppose it might be true; I spent a lot of time with her when she was a baby and a toddler”.

“Why did you do that?”

“Because I liked her. I’d always wanted to have a sister, and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do things with her and help my mum look after her”.

“And you knew how to have fun with her, too”.

“I suppose I did”.

He sat back in his seat with a smile; “Well, I agree it’s not exactly the same situation, but I wouldn’t say you were entirely without child-raising talents”.

“I’ve never thought of that before”.

“Think about it. And meanwhile – have you talked to Kelly about it?”

“No; she’s so intent on having kids, and I was afraid it would really freak her out if I told her how scared I was”.

He shook his head slowly; “Tom Masefield, you are a slow learner”.

“How do you mean?”

“Haven’t you figured out by now that there’s one sure-fire way to upset my sister, and that’s to not be entirely up-front with her?”

I gave him a wry grin; “Yes, I know that”.

“Well, then…?”

“You’re right, of course – I need to talk to her about it”.

I thought about it for a couple more days, and then I psyched myself up to raise the subject with Kelly. It was after supper on the Tuesday evening; we had finished clearing up and doing the dishes, I had made a pot of herbal tea and we had taken our cups into the living room. We were sitting side by side on the couch with our feet up on the coffee table, and I took her hand and said, “There’s something I need to talk to you about”.

“What is it?”

“This is going to sound really weird, but I have to say it anyway: please don’t freak out or get upset with me until I’ve finished explaining, alright?”

She shifted her posture slightly so that she was angled toward me; “What is it?” she asked again.

“Well, a few weeks ago you asked me if I minded getting started on having children right away, and I said, ‘Of course not’”.

“I remember”, she said warily.

“Well, that was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth”.

“So now you’re telling me you want to wait? What’s brought this on?”

“Kelly, I’m not done yet. And no, I don’t want to wait”.

Her eyes searched mine in silence for a moment, and then she nodded and said, “Okay, I’m sorry, and I’m listening”.

“Of course I want to have children”, I said, “and I feel as you do, that we’re both twenty-six and we need to get going as soon as we can, so that we can enjoy them and keep up with them while we’re still young. That’s the loudest voice in my head, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s still the plan. But I’ve not been completely open with you about how scared I am; I haven’t talked to you about it, because I’ve been afraid to upset you”.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you’ve got this huge advantage over me: you’ve got an excellent father and mother, so you’ve got great role models. But honestly, I haven’t got the faintest idea how to be a good father to a small child, and I’m really, really scared that I won’t be a good father – that I’ll feel inadequate, and withdraw, and end up an absentee father, like my dad”.

She reached out and touched my cheek with the palm of her hand. “Tom”, she said softly, “You’re warm and compassionate, and you’re wise, and you love to have fun. You’re going to be a great father; I know it”.

I shook my head slowly; “I know that’s sometimes the truth about me, but not always. And I’m not very patient, Kelly, and I know that with small kids, you’ve got to be patient”.

“Well, I think maybe I should check with Becca on that subject; she seems to think that you were great with her when she was a little girl”.

I grinned; “You’re the second person to mention that to me”.

She frowned; “You already talked to someone else about this? Before you talked to me?”

“Yeah, and I knew you’d be upset about that, too”. I hesitated for a moment and then said, “Kelly, I wish I could make you understand just how scared I’ve been – not just scared of turning out to be a bad father, but scared of upsetting you by telling you about that fear. I know how much you want to be a mum, and I didn’t want to hurt you”.

“Well”, she replied with a note of exasperation in her voice, “the best way to hurt me is always to keep things from me. I thought we’d agreed that that wasn’t the sort of marriage we wanted?”

“I know, and I feel really bad about it. I know I shouldn’t have kept it from you, and I’m sorry. The only thing I can say is that it was all about my own fears, that’s all”.

She looked at me in silence again for a moment, and then she reached out and put her arms around me. “I love you, Tom Masefield”, she whispered, “fears and shyness and all. I’m sorry I get impatient with you sometimes”.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for; I’m the one that keeps messing up on this”.

I felt her shaking her head. “No, I mess up too; I’m constantly discounting the fact that you have to work a lot harder at being open than I do”. She drew back, took both my hands in hers and looked into my eyes again. “Is it a fear that I won’t love you if you tell me the truth?”

It was my turn to shake my head; “No – I know that you love me. It’s more a fear of disappointing you, I think”.

“Disappointing me?” She smiled; “Shall I tell you something that might surprise you?”

“What’s that?”

“I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about the curious fact that I fell in love with you – you, who’ve always been more than a little shy and reserved, and me, the one who’s always been totally up front and open. And I’ve come to the strange conclusion that your shyness was a big part of it”.

“I find that very hard to believe; it looks to me as if I frustrate you more than anything else”.

“Yes, sometimes you do. But then I think about what you just said – that you’ve been afraid to talk to me about this, because you didn’t want to hurt me. I tend to forget about that sort of thing – I just blurt out exactly what I’m thinking and feeling, at any time, without stopping to think how it’s going to affect people, or how they’re going to feel about it”.

“And I love that about you. I wish I could be more like that”.

“No, Tom”, she said softly; “I don’t want you to be more like me. I want you to teach me to be more like you sometimes. After all, it was your love for me that made you slow to speak about this – the fact that you didn’t want to hurt me”.

“Now I’m confused. Didn’t you just say a moment ago that the best way to hurt you was to keep things from you?”

“Yes, and that’s true, and I know that you’ll try harder in the future not to do that – because you’ll still be thinking about my feelings, which you already do, and you’ll just be wiser about the way you do it. Your method may have been wrong, but your motivation was right on. But my motivation isn’t always right on; I could use to stop sometimes and think about what I’m going to say, and how it’s going to touch people’s hearts, rather than just blurting it out, like I tend to do”.

I looked at her for a moment, and then I smiled and said, “Say what you like, Kelly, you are an amazing woman”.

“Not as amazing as you”.

We were both smiling now, and she said, “So, just for the record, who was it that you were discussing the inner workings of our marriage with?”


“Ah”, she said with a mischievous grin, “you guys were having a little male bonding time, were you, talking about your problems with the women back home?”

“It wasn’t like that, Kelly. To be quite honest with you, I can’t even remember how it came up, but he got the truth out of me, because he’s good at that”.

“Yeah, he is”. She thought for a minute, and then said, “Do you remember when we started writing to each other, and you used to talk about how you were totally turned off by your dad’s devotion to success and material wealth? How was it you said it? It was ‘soul-destroying and barren’, and it made you want to find a better way of living”.

“I remember; that’s still true”.

“It was like your dissatisfaction with your dad’s way of doing things gave you the boost you needed to look for a better alternative. And it worked, didn’t it? You’ve found what you were looking for”.

“I guess so. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m certainly happier and more content now than I’ve ever been”.

“Well, then, maybe it’s good that you’re afraid you’ll turn out to be the sort of father your dad was. Maybe that fear will keep you motivated to find a better way. Maybe you can make that fear your friend”.

“But didn’t we just read the other night that perfect love casts out fear?”

“Yeah, but I’m not sure either of us has reached perfection yet, have we?”

I shook my head; “No, I suppose we haven’t”.

She leaned forward, picked up her mug from the table, and took a sip of tea. “So Joe was the one who talked to you about Becca?”

“Yeah – he told me that I seemed to have done a great job in being a big brother to her, and that she loves me and looks up to me, which I know is true – especially since we got over our troubles”.

“And I’ll bet you didn’t go into that relationship with some great master plan of how to be a good brother. Haven’t you always told me that when she was first born, all you were thinking of was that you’d always wanted a sister, and now you had one, and you just wanted to love her and enjoy her?”

“Yeah, that just about sums it up”.

“Well then, your instincts turned out to be pretty good, didn’t they?”

“I suppose they did”.

“So why don’t you try trusting yourself a little more? Don’t worry about it right now – I’m not even pregnant yet. When the time comes, trust your love for our child. And don’t be afraid to just enjoy him – or her”.

“Her, remember? Emma Dawn?”

“Right”, she replied with a sudden smile of delight; “Emma Dawn”.

“Can I ask you something?” I said, and then I stopped and shook my head; “Okay, silly question, I know!”

“What is it?”

“Are you ever scared about the thought of becoming a parent?”

“Sometimes I’m terrified”.

“Wow – that’s a strong word”.

“Honestly, Tom, when I look at Jake, and how totally dependent he is on Ellie and Joe – I mean, they wouldn’t have to do very much neglecting for that little guy to die, would they?”

“No, I suppose not”.

“That’s a terrifying thought – the idea that I’m going to have a child who will be just as dependent on me. I’m honestly not sure I’m up to that level of responsibility”.

“Come on, Kelly – you’re going to be an excellent mother. You’ve been dreaming about it for nearly half your life”.

“Yeah, I know, that’s what I keep telling myself, and most of the time, I believe that. But that other voice never completely goes away either”.

“I never realized you had that other voice, too”.

She inclined her head a little and looked at me with a bemused expression on her face. “So I guess I haven’t been completely honest with you either, have I?”

“That’s hard to believe”.

“It’s true, though”. She smiled; “Time for me to listen to my own advice here, I guess”.

“One day our kids will look up to us and think we’re adults, but inside we’re still going to feel like kids”.

She gave me a wry grin; “Isn’t that the truth?”

Jim Moray: ‘Lord Douglas’

This is Jim Moray’s take on the old folk song ‘Earl Brand’. He has combined elements from several versions of the song and added some verses of his own as well. I think it’s a brilliant piece of music and a wonderful example of how to take an old song and use it as the basis for something new.

More information about the song is at ‘Mainly Norfolk‘, ‘Wikipedia‘, and ‘Contemplator‘.

This song is taken from Jim Moray’s album ‘Skulk‘. Jim’s website is here.

Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 15

Link back to Chapter 14


Fall on the prairies comes and goes quickly, not like autumn in England where the reds and golds can last for weeks on end. In Saskatchewan, by late September the trees have mostly turned yellow except for the evergreens, and a good wind can strip the leaves from the branches in a few short days, leaving them bare for the winter.

That Fall of 1984 was unusually mild, though, and there were still some leaves on the aspens and poplars on October 1st when Kelly drove down to Saskatoon to pick up our visitors from England. My mum and Becca were arriving on the same flight as Owen and Lorraine, in the middle of the afternoon, and since Kelly had taken a few days’ holiday before our wedding, she took her father’s station wagon down to the city to pick them up. I took her truck to school, and when I left work at about four-thirty I stopped by the Co-op for a few things, so it was close to five o’clock before I pulled into the driveway of Kelly’s house. I could see that they were not back yet, so I changed into a pair of jeans, made myself a cup of tea, took out the pot of home-made soup that Kelly had prepared earlier in the day, and began to warm it slowly on the stovetop.

It was just after five-thirty when Kelly turned Will’s station wagon into the driveway behind the house, pulling up beside her truck. I was standing at the kitchen window and saw them arriving, so I went down the stairs and out the back to greet them. Becca was the first one out of the car; she gave me a broad grin when she saw me and said, “Tommy! We made it”.

I went over and gave her a hug. “Welcome to Meadowvale; how was your flight?”

“Fantastic; clear skies all the way from the Arctic; the view was incredible”.

“Pretty spectacular, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but your friend has been a pain for the entire trip!”

I grinned at Owen as he extracted his tall, angular frame from the front seat. “Doing a bit of teasing, was he?”

“Just a bit!”

Kelly gave me a smile as she went to the back of the car, lifted the tailgate and began to unload suitcases. Owen went to help her, while I greeted my mother and Lorraine with hugs; “You must be tired”, I said to them.

“I napped a bit on the plane”, my mother replied, “so I feel pretty good, actually”.

“What did you think of the drive up?”

“It’s wide open country, isn’t it?”

“It is. It grows on you after a while, though; at least, it has with me”. I turned to Becca and said, “Is there anything you need from your case?”

“I don’t think so; why?”

“Just throw it in the back of Kelly’s truck; after supper we’ll drive it over to my place”.

“Am I staying with you, then?”

“If that’s okay with everyone? My house is smaller and it only has two little bedrooms, so we thought Mum could stay here at Kelly’s, with Owen and Lorraine, while you bunk over at my place – at least, until after the wedding”.

Everyone nodded, and my mother said, “That makes sense”.

“Well, come on in, everyone, and have something to eat”.

I was actually quite surprised at how wide awake everyone was as we sat around the dining table, eating Kelly’s thick vegetable soup and my biscuits and washing them down with strong tea. Lorraine was quiet, but Owen was his usual boisterous self, making us all laugh with his stories of the practical jokes he had played on Becca on the flight over. Becca stuck her tongue out at him and said, “Well, at least I don’t snore!”

“What, are you saying that I snore? Surely not!”

She made a snorting noise through her nose, and we all burst out laughing. “I remember that sound well!” I said; “I’m afraid she’s skewered you, mate!”

He frowned; “Did I actually fall asleep on the flight?” he asked innocently.

Lorraine grinned and nudged him playfully with her elbow; “Only the middle part”.

When Becca finished her soup she turned to Kelly and said, “So, can I have a look at my dress?”

“Try it on if you like – it’s hanging inside my bedroom door”.

“Can I?”

“Sure you can; down the corridor, last door on your left”.

“Can I be excused, Tommy?”

I laughed; “Well, it’s Kelly’s table, so if it’s okay with her…”

“Thanks!” She got up and went off down the corridor, and Owen turned to me and said, “So, is there a program for the week?”

“Not really, at least, not until the rehearsal on Friday night. I’m working ’til Thursday supper time; Kelly’s going to take Becca out to Hugo and Millie’s some time so she can try out the horses. Tomorrow night we’re all invited for supper at Kelly’s mum and dad’s place; I expect Joe and Ellie will be there, and maybe a couple of others as well”.

“If Ellie’s feeling okay”, Kelly added.

“Is she unwell?” my mother asked.

I shook my head; “Just seven months pregnant, and she’s been having some back pain over the past couple of weeks”.

“She’s the fiddler, isn’t she?” Owen asked.

“Yes, and if she’s feeling up to it she’ll definitely want to play some music with us some time this week”.

“Other than that”, Kelly added, “I’ll show you all around a little. I can take you out for a walk at Myers Lake if you like, and if any of you want to join Becca and me, there are six saddle horses at Uncle Hugo’s”.

“Me on a horse?” Owen replied with a laugh; “I don’t think so!”

“I’m glad we’ll be able to meet your parents and your brother tomorrow night”, my mother said to Kelly. “What about your sister? Will we see her before the wedding?”

“Well, she’ll be at the rehearsal for sure, since she’s a bridesmaid. Did I tell you that she’s moved to Saskatoon now?”

“No, I don’t think you did”.

“She and Steve both got their masters’ degrees this year, and Steve got a job with the Canadian Wildlife Service; he’s based in Saskatoon but he’s actually travelling a lot through Saskatchewan, monitoring migratory bird habitat. Krista’s doing her doctorate now, and she’s also doing some part-time work on Steve’s project team. And she’s working as a teaching assistant for some undergrad courses at the university, so they’re both quite busy”. Kelly grinned; “My little sister’s going to be a serious genius, I think”.

“So she’s going to be a wildlife biologist too?” Owen asked.

“Eventually; she says she loves the fieldwork, but I wouldn’t be surprised one day to find her working at a government policy level”.

“It sounds very interesting”, my mother said; “I hope we have a chance to spend a bit of time with her”.

“You should stand by to be overwhelmed on Saturday, Mum”, I said; “There are rather a lot of Reimers and Weins’ coming for the wedding”.

Kelly nodded; “All my aunts and uncles on both sides of my family, and a lot of the cousins and second cousins and assorted spouses and partners and so on”.

I saw the sudden sadness in my mother’s eyes; “I’m so sorry I couldn’t persuade your dad or your brother to come”, she said to me in a quiet voice.

I shook my head and put my hand on hers. “No need to apologize, Mum; you’re here anyway, and so is Becca”.

“Sounds like we’re going to be more than a little outnumbered, though”.

I grinned at Kelly; “Well, those old Mennonite families were pretty big!”

At that moment Becca came back into the room, wearing the maroon full-length bridesmaid’s dress that Kelly and her mother had made for her. She had taken off her socks, and she came barefoot into the dining area, twirling around so we could all see the dress.

“Well, look at you”, I said with a smile; “Aren’t you gorgeous!”

“Does it fit alright?” Kelly asked.

“It’s amazing, Kelly! I’ve never had such a beautiful dress in my life!”

“Did you make that?” Lorraine asked Kelly.

“My mom and my grandma and I made all three of the bridesmaid’s dresses; we were on a tight budget, and they’re both really good seamstresses, so they helped me out”.

“That’s a wonderful piece of work”, my mother said admiringly; “I wish I could sew like that! And the colour choice is good, too – autumn colours, right?”

“Yeah, and we also had to keep in mind that it had to work for two blondes and a brunette”.

“So you’re happy with the dress, then?” I asked Becca.

“I love it!” she replied, going over to Kelly and giving her a hug; “Thank you so much!”

“It was fun”, Kelly replied; “We had a good time making them”.

“I hear you men are just wearing ordinary suits”, Lorraine said to me.

“Yes, I told them all if they just wore black or dark grey, that would be fine; no need to go to the expense of getting stuff specially made”.

“We’re trying to keep it simple”, Kelly added.

“Can I see your dress some time before the wedding?” Becca asked.

“Well, not while my fiancée’s in the house!”

“You haven’t seen it?” Becca asked me.

“Of course not; I get to see it the same time as everyone else: when Kelly walks up the aisle”.

Down the aisle”, Owen said.

“I’ve never figured that one out”, Kelly replied with a grin; “Do you walk down to the front of the church, or up to the front of the church?”

“I think it’s up the aisle at the beginning of the service, and down the aisle at the end, when we process out”, I said, winking at Owen.

“You’d better get it settled before Saturday”, he replied; “If you get the directions wrong, you might end up in the wrong place and not get married at all!”


Since our return from England, Kelly and I had been slowly working on moving my things over to her house, as well as simplifying our household, getting rid of duplicate items and stuff we just didn’t need. We had left a few bare essentials at my place, enough for Becca and I to be able to stay there until the wedding, and Kelly and I for a couple of days afterwards. I was in the middle of the Fall term at school, of course, and we had decided not to go away for a honeymoon; “We’ll do something at Christmas time”, we had explained to Kelly’s parents when we were discussing our plans for the wedding weekend.

“Something that might include Marmot Basin?” Will had asked with a grin.

“That would be nice”, Kelly replied, “but we’ll have to see what the bottom line looks like after everything else is paid for”.


Will’s first intention had been to host a large family gathering at his house on Tuesday night to meet my mother and Becca, but I had persuaded him that they would find it a little overwhelming. “We’re a family of shy introverts, Will”, I said; “Let’s just keep it small. Kelly’s going to take them around and introduce them to her grandparents during the week, and Mum will probably go out to Hugo and Millie’s with Becca too. And, of course, Mum and Becca will be joining us all for supper at your place on Thanksgiving Monday”.

Sally nodded approvingly; “I like that idea”.

So it ended up being Will and Sally, Joe and Ellie, and the six of us on Tuesday evening; Krista and Steve were still in Saskatoon and would not be coming up until Friday afternoon. Will barbecued steaks on the deck, and we sat around the table for a long time with the conversation flowing easily. Later on we moved into the living room for coffee, while Will and Ellie and Owen and I played some songs for a while.

When we got back to my place at about ten o’clock I made hot chocolate for Becca and me and we went to the living room to drink it; she stretched her legs out on the couch, and I sat across from her in my easy chair with my feet up on the coffee table.

“So, what did you think of the day?” I asked.

“It was really nice. Kelly showed us around town this morning, and then this afternoon she took Mum and I out to the farm. Tonight was great, too, of course. I had a really good talk with Joe at the table; he’s a really interesting person. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever met such friendly people; it’s fantastic that they’re going to be your in-laws”.

“And Will’s my boss, too. I’m really lucky”.

“Yeah. I was actually trying hard tonight to imagine Dad barbecuing steaks behind the house, or sitting down and playing music with us and our friends. Or even just talking with us and our friends as if we were his equals. I can’t picture him doing any of that”.

“No”. I told her how Will had driven down to Saskatoon to meet me when I first arrived in Meadowvale two years ago, and how he and Sally had arranged a rental house for me, and invited me over for supper at least once a week while I was getting settled. “And when I wanted to get a car and some furniture, he drove me down to Saskatoon, and he spent the day helping me find my way around the stores and car dealers. It didn’t feel like I was starting a job; it felt like I was joining their family”.

“And now you really are joining their family!”

“So are you, Becs. You had a good time at Hugo and Millie’s, then?”

“It was great! Kelly’s a great teacher; I was a bit nervous at first, but she was really patient and she taught me how to relax on the horse”.

“You rode Gus?”

“Yeah – she said he would be the best one for me, and he was – really quiet and gentle. I loved Kelly’s horse, too; he’s so beautiful. They looked so good together”.

“She’s had him since she was eleven”. I sipped at my hot chocolate, cradled the mug in my hands, and said, “Did you manage to get Mum up on a horse?”

She laughed; “No, Kelly asked her, but she said she was happy just to watch us. Kelly’s aunt came out for a while to talk to her. They’re really nice people, too, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are. They were Corey’s parents – you know, Kelly’s cousin, who was killed in a car accident last year”.

“Kelly told us on the way out there; that’s so sad”.

“Yeah, they struggle sometimes, Hugo especially, I think. I really like Hugo; he’s one of my favourite people in Meadowvale”.

“How come?”

“He’s a hard worker, but he never seems to be in a hurry. And he’s patient; he’s one of the most patient people I know, actually”.

“Did you ever imagine yourself living in a place like this, Tommy?”

I shook my head. “When I was in high school and university I didn’t give a lot of thought to the question of where I would live when I started work. For the longest time, I assumed it would be back in the UK”.

“You like it here, though?”

“I really do. Of course, it helps that I’m about to get married to Kelly”.

“How does that feel?” she asked softly; “Are you nervous?”

“Maybe a little. Excited, too, of course. We started planning this a year ago, and sometimes I felt like the day would never come”.

“You really love her”.

I looked at her for a moment, my fourteen-year old sister, noticing again how much she had grown up since I had left England. “I really do”, I replied.


Joe and Ellie came over for coffee on Wednesday evening, and a little later on Glenn Pickering came in for a while. Kelly made a tray of oatmeal cookies and we sat around the living room for a long time, talking and laughing together. Before they left, Ellie asked Owen and I if we could play a couple more songs; she had brought her fiddle with her, and we played pieces she had already heard me do so that she could easily join in. One of them was ‘Master Kilby’, which I knew she liked; Kelly had become very fond of it too, ever since she had first heard it on one of the Nic Jones recordings I had given her, and she often asked me to play it for her.

After everyone had gone, Owen and I cleared up and washed the dishes, talking quietly about the people he had met so far. “You and Joe, now”, he said to me ; “I can see you’re good friends with him. I think you two are going to be like you and me before too long”.

I shook my head. “I’ve only known Joe for two years; I’ve known you since we were kids”.

“Yes, but times change, and this is where you live now. We’re always going to be friends, but it’s good for you to make new friendships here. And he’s obviously a great guy”.

“He is”.

“It’s actually quite interesting to see you hanging around with these animally people. I mean, you always enjoyed being outdoors, but you weren’t particularly animally, were you?”

I shook my head; “I suppose not”.

“But now Kelly’s got you into riding, and Joe’s a vet and you’ve gone out with him to appointments sometimes, and their little sister’s studying to become a wildlife biologist. Bit of a theme there, don’t you think?”

I laughed; “Now that you point it out, I suppose there is. I haven’t really put two and two together before”.

“I think it’s great. It’s good to see your interests expanding”.


Saturday, October 6th turned out to be an extraordinarily warm day for our wedding, with temperatures in the low twenties. The men in the wedding party came over to my house to get dressed; it turned out that we were all wearing black two piece suits, and three out of the four of us had red or maroon ties, with the exception of Joe who was wearing a blue one. He looked at the rest of us with a grin and said, “Should I go home and get a red one?”

“Absolutely not!” Owen replied; “We encourage diversity in this wedding party!” He looked at his watch and said, “Well, is it just about time for us to go to the church?”

“I think so”, Joe replied. He held out his hand to me, and as I took it he pulled me in close for  warm hug. “God bless you, Tom”, he said. “You be good to my sister, now”.

“Count on it”, I replied.

Owen and Glenn each gave me a hug and wished me well in their turn, and then we went out into the warm afternoon and climbed into the car for the ride to the church.


Kelly looked radiant as she came up the aisle on her father’s arm; she was wearing a simple white wedding dress, and she wore no veil or head covering of any kind. The wedding guests on both sides of the aisle were all standing, and many of them were taking photographs; as we waited at the front, Owen put his hand on my shoulder and said quietly, “Tom Masefield, you are a lucky man”.

“I know it!”

I glanced across to the other side of the aisle where the bridesmaids were standing; Becca caught my eye and gave me a warm smile and a nod, and then we both turned back to look at Kelly and Will as they reached the front of the church. Will handed his daughter over to me with a smile and a warm hug and took his place beside Sally in the front row, and as Kelly and I turned to face Rob she whispered, “Nice suit!”

“Thanks; you look so beautiful, Kelly!”

“Thank you”, she replied with a shy smile.

The service itself was a simple one. We had chosen a couple of Bible readings, and Rob preached a short sermon, commenting at one point on the fact that it was not so very long ago that Kelly and I had stood at the front of this church to be baptized. “Tom and Kelly found love for each other in the context of a shared search for Christ”, he said; “That shared search was symbolized by the fact that they gave a joint testimony to their faith before their baptism, rather than speaking individually. Many of us here were also present on that day and were moved by their testimony. Speaking for myself, I’m also very moved by their desire to keep today simple and real, and to honour Christ by offering their lives to each other as his followers”.

And so we made our vows to each other, and Rob pronounced us husband and wife and prayed for us, that God would bless and protect our marriage. After we had signed the registers we stood at the front of the church for a couple of minutes while people took photographs, and then we processed down the aisle and out into the bright sunny afternoon, where we formed a receiving line to greet our guests. But as the people were starting to come out of the church Kelly turned to me with a smile of pure happiness, and kissed me impulsively; “I love you so much”, she whispered in my ear.

“I love you too, Mrs. Masefield”, I replied, putting my arm around her.

“Wow – I could get used to the sound of that name!”

“I’m glad to hear it!”


Much later on, in the early hours of the morning, the two of us lay in bed together with the blankets wrapped around us. Her head was on my shoulder, my arm was around her, and my hand was stroking her back gently under the covers. The room was lit by the dim light of a single bedside lamp on her side of the bed.

I kissed her on the forehead; “Were you nervous?” I asked softly.

“I was”, she admitted.

“I thought so. What was that all about?”

She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at me, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear with her free hand. “Don’t be upset with me, okay?”

“Upset with you? What are you talking about?”

“Well, I found it a little hard to forget that this wasn’t your first time”. I opened my mouth to reply, but she put her finger on my lips; “No, let me finish. I wasn’t mad or resentful or anything; I just felt a little intimidated”.

“You mean you were afraid I’d be making comparisons?”


I shook my head. “It never even entered my mind, Kelly. Honestly, Wendy and I shared a few hours of sex in a cramped single bed; it was my first and only time and I’m sure I didn’t do very well. Somehow I’ve got a feeling that this is something that gets better with time, and we’ve got lots of that, you and me”.

“I’m glad, because I don’t think I did very well tonight”.

“What are you talking about? You were wonderful”.


“Yes, really!” I frowned at her; “This is a side of you I don’t see very often; you’re usually so sure of yourself”.

“I know, and I don’t know why I felt so insecure about this; I wanted so much to please you, I guess, and I felt so inadequate”.

I pulled her down, kissed her on the lips, and said, “Kelly Ruth Masefield, I’m lying naked in bed with you; this is something I’ve been dreaming about for the past year. We’re husband and wife, and we’ve got years ahead of us to get better at making love to each other. I don’t think we should get uptight about it; I think the best thing for us to do is relax, don’t you?”

“You’re probably right”. She pulled herself up on her elbow again, smiled at me and said, “My wise husband”.

“Not always so very wise”.

“Oh, I disagree!”

“Is this our first argument as a married couple?”

“Maybe”, she replied with a grin, “and I intend to win it”.

“Okay, I know better than to argue with you when you get that look in your eye!”

“Very good – your training’s coming along very nicely!”

We laughed, and she snuggled down against my shoulder again. “This is a very comfortable spot”, she said softly.

“It feels pretty comfortable for me, too”.

We were quiet for a few minutes; I could feel her breath against my skin, and I almost thought she had fallen asleep until she sighed and said, “This has been a perfect day”.

“Which parts did you like the best?”

“I liked the look on your face as Dad walked me up the aisle”.

“You looked radiant; I’d never seen anything so beautiful in all my life. That dress was so simple and so perfect, but it was just a frame, and you were the picture – the most beautiful picture I’d ever seen”.

“Aw, you say such nice things!”

“It’s true, though. So what else did you like?”

“I liked it when Owen and Ellie started playing ‘Master Kilby’ for the first dance”.

“Yeah, so did I”.

“You’re sure you didn’t put them up to that?”

“No – as far as I knew, the DJ was going to be doing all the music – although I must admit that when I saw a couple of microphones set up on the stage, I did wonder whether Owen was going to pull something off. He’s more than a bit unpredictable that way”.

“I wonder when he and Ellie found the time to practice that song?”

“I suspect they didn’t; she’s played it with me before, and she heard him play it the other night when they were over. They probably just decided to wing it; that would be the sort of thing Owen would do”.


“It was good though, wasn’t it?”

“It really was. I don’t know why neither of us had thought of that song for our first dance”.

“You don’t tend to think of old folk songs in that light, do you?”

“I guess not”. She pushed herself up on her elbow again and looked down at me, her hair tumbling down toward my face. “What about you – what parts of the day did you like best?”

“Well, I really liked the last hour or so!”

She laughed and said, “Me too”.

“I liked Rob’s sermon, especially the bit about our baptisms”.

“Yeah, that was really special”.

“And I liked Becca’s little speech; that was a surprise. I didn’t know Mum was going to ask her to say something”.

“She was so sweet – that thing she said about looking forward to having me as a sister. I’m glad you guys managed to get past your difficulties”.

“Me too – that’s mainly due to you, of course”.

She shook her head; “You just needed to talk things out, that’s all. What else did you like?”

“I liked the people – just being with everyone. I guess some of your extroversion must be rubbing off on me; I loved having them all together, and having a chance to chat with some of them. And I liked introducing Mum and Becca to people like Don and Lynda, and John and Ruth”.

She grinned; “It was kinda neat, wasn’t it? You know, there were some Wiens cousins there I haven’t seen in years. But speaking of guests, you and Owen – that was really good. Knowing how close you guys are, it made me feel so good to see you standing together at the front when I was walking up the aisle. I’m so glad he and Lorraine came”. She stifled a yawn. “What time is it?”

I lifted my head to look over her shoulder at the clock; “Two-thirty”.

“Are you getting tired?”

“I am a bit weary, but it’s so wonderful finally being in bed with you, I almost don’t want to go to sleep!”

She laughed and kissed me. “We’re going to have lots of nights together”.

“I know”. I grinned at her; “Shall we get up for church in a few hours?”

She shook her head; “Not this time. I know we’re not going away on a honeymoon, but I’d love to keep you to myself for a few more hours”. She gave a sudden frown and said, “But on the other hand, you haven’t got many days left until your people go home; if you want to get up and spend a little more time with them, that’s fine with me”.

“No, they’ll keep. I’m sure they won’t be expecting to see us tomorrow; Monday will be soon enough”.

“You’re still planning to drive Owen and Lorraine down to the airport Monday?”

“Yeah, if that’s still okay with you?”

“Sure; I told Mom I’d come over and help her with Thanksgiving dinner while you do the taxi run”.

“I expect my mum and Becca will want to help too”.

“I’m sure that’ll be fine”. She yawned again; “Okay, you’re starting to swim in front of my eyes. I’m sorry, but I really need to sleep”.

“The light’s on your side of the bed”.

“So it is”. She rolled over, turned out the light, then turned back again and laid her head on my shoulder. “I brought my pyjamas, but I’m so tired, I haven’t got the energy to put them on”.

“Fine with me”, I replied, tightening my arms around her. “I love you”.

“I love you too”, she whispered.

And within a couple of minutes, her steady breathing told me that she was sound asleep.


Owen and Lorraine were flying home a day earlier than my mother and Becca, so I drove them down to Saskatoon early Monday afternoon. I had expected to wait with them until they went through security, but Owen wouldn’t hear of it. “You get back to your beautiful bride:”, he said to me, “and your mum and Becca. We’ll be fine here. We’re still newlyweds ourselves, you know, and we’re not tired of each other’s company yet!”

We all laughed, and then they both gave me hugs. Lorraine kissed me on the cheek and said, “Kelly really is a beautiful bride, Tom; you’re a very lucky man”.

“I know; believe me, I really do”.

“And as a bonus”, Owen added, “She comes with a beautiful family, too”.

“Yes, she does”. I hugged him again. “Thanks for coming; I know it was an expensive year for you”.

“Don’t even think about it; we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And now we’ve seen the place and met the people, and we can imagine you and Kelly and your daily routines and all that”.

“Next time you come we’ll take you to the mountains – that’s a promise”.

Owen laughed; “It’s your turn to come to us first, mate!”

“Yeah, I expect we probably will, despite my dad!”

“Never mind your dad; you never see much of him while you’re there anyway”.

“True enough”.

“Now go – your lovely wife is waiting”.

“Alright – this is me, going!”


I got to Will and Sally’s place about four o’clock. As I had expected, my mum and Becca were in the kitchen with Sally and Kelly; I could smell the turkey in the oven, and the four of them were making short work of the vegetable preparation. “Krista and I baked the pies yesterday”, Sally said to me, “so we’re really in pretty good shape”.

“Krista and Steve aren’t here today?”

“No, they’re having Thanksgiving at Henry and Bertha’s tonight. Bonnie’s home from Vancouver and Kris wanted to spend some time with her, and they knew we’d have a couple of extra bodies round our table tonight. They were over here for supper last night”.

“You’re having fresh turkey two nights in a row?”

“No; Will barbecued steaks last night”.

I laughed; “Of course he did!”

“Do you want a beer, Tom?” Will asked; “I put some of that dark stuff you like in the fridge”.

“I wouldn’t mind”.


There were thirteen of us around the table; Will’s mother was there of course, along with Sally’s parents and her brother and sister-in-law, and Joe and Ellie. Old Erika grinned mischievously at me; “This is my second Thanksgiving dinner in two days!” she said.

“Where were you last night?”

“At Karl and Suzanne’s; I thought of trying to squeeze Hugo and Millie in too, but I couldn’t think of a way of making it work!”

We sang grace as usual, and Will passed the plates of turkey around. “So, back to school on Wednesday?” he asked Becca.

“I’m afraid so; I’ll probably have some catching up to do”.

“It’s been quite the summer for you”, Joe said to her.

“Both my brothers married!” she replied with a grin.

Sally glanced at my mother; “It’s quite an adjustment, isn’t it?”

“It is”, my mother agreed, smiling at Kelly and me. “I must say, though, that both my boys found wonderful girls to marry, and I get on well with them both, so I’m happy”.

“Do you think your brother will ever come out here for a visit?” Erika asked me.

“Anything’s possible, but I won’t be holding my breath. He’s a lawyer and he’s pretty busy”.

Will grinned at me; “And everyone knows we schoolteachers sit around with nothing to do all day long!”

“Of course; that’s why I became a teacher in the first place!”


At the airport the next day Becca and Kelly held each other for a long time. “Thank you”, Becca said; “It was such an honour to be one of your bridesmaids. Before you asked me I never expected anything like that to happen”.

“Hey, I wouldn’t have had it any other way; you know that”.

“I know. And thanks for the riding lessons too – I can’t believe you took time to do that the week before your wedding!”

“It was fun and I enjoyed it. Next time you come, we’ll do it again”.

They kissed each other, and then Becca turned to me. “Tommy”, she said softly.

I put my arms around her; “I’m glad you came, Little Becs”.

“Me too”, she whispered; “It feels good to have my brother back”.

I felt the lump in my throat; “I’m pretty glad to have my sister back too”. I kissed her on the forehead. “You write, now”, I said, grinning down at her.

“I will; I promise”.

I turned to my mother, and we hugged each other. “Don’t stay away too long”, she said softly.

“I won’t. It probably won’t be next year, but maybe the year after, if things work out”.

“I know it’ll never be completely comfortable for you, Tom; I’m sorry about that”.

“No need; none of that is your fault”.

“I love you”.

“Love you too”.

We held each other at arms’ length for a moment, and then she kissed me on the cheek, smiled at me, and turned to Kelly. They hugged each other while Becca and I watched; I put my arm around my sister’s shoulder and grinned at her. “Next time I see you, you’ll be as tall as me!”

“Not such a Small One any more, am I?”

“No, you’re not”.

Kelly and I watched them go through security, and then we turned and made our way slowly out of the airport building. She took my arm, laid her head on my shoulder and said, “Well, husband?”

I laughed softly; “Yes, wife?”

“I guess we’d better be moseying on before they fire us both!”

“Back to work tomorrow, I guess”.

“Yeah”. She stopped then, and looked up at me. “Everything will be different, though”, she said softly.

I nodded slowly; “Yes, it will”, I replied.

Link to Chapter 16

Making a Commitment to Ministry

I want to begin today by saying something that might sound crazy, or provocative, or both: in the total ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ, the role of ordained clergy like me is secondary. You people are the primary ministers.

I believe this is a fundamental truth: front-line Christian ministry takes place seven days a week in the lives of ordinary followers of Jesus. It happens in a Christian home as members of the family learn to set their natural selfishness aside and serve one another in the name of Jesus. It happens in an office as a Christian businessperson struggles with the issue of what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an atmosphere dedicated to the creation of worldly wealth. It happens in a convenience store as a Christian behind the counter tries hard to treat her customers as human beings loved by God. It happens day by day as followers of Jesus learn to love their enemies and pray for those who hate them, to care for the poor and suffering, and to share the good news of Jesus with others.

Why am I talking about this today? Because we’re doing a series called ‘Helping My Church to Grow’, and we’re trying to identify things that each one of us can do to help our church grow with integrity. We’ve talked about making a commitment to our own spiritual growth as disciples of Jesus, and making a commitment to welcoming newcomers and visitors to our church as if they were the guests of Jesus – which they are. Today I want to go on to the next thing we can do: making a commitment to ministry. And I want to say very clearly that ‘ministry’ isn’t just something done by people wearing clerical collars. The word ‘minister’ just means ‘servant’. Are you a servant of Jesus Christ? If you are a Christian, the answer is ‘Of course you are!’ We’re all called to serve God as followers of Jesus, and God has given each of us gifts to enable us to do that.

But ministry isn’t just about what we do in church. Ministry is about what God is doing in the world, and how we can take part in that work. The Bible tells us that God is committed to the transformation of the world from a place of evil and hate into a place of love and compassion. And that means success isn’t just more people coming to church on Sunday. Success means that on Monday morning, when you folks get into your cars to go to work, you see yourselves first of all as disciples of Jesus and partners in God’s work to change the world. That means that you don’t just go to work to make a living; you go to make a difference in the world for the Kingdom of God. And of course, this also applies to those who go to school, or those who dedicate their lives to making the home a place of love and nurture for those who live there. Wherever they go, Christians are ministers of Jesus Christ.

So Christian ministry is about the entire Christian community working for God in the world. It’s a team thing! Every member of the team is important, and every member of the team has gifts from God that are necessary to the whole team.

God’s team is a team with a vision. In the seventeenth century a great fire burned down a huge portion of the city of London, including many churches. Sir Christopher Wren was a great architect who designed many of the new churches and other buildings, including the present St. Paul’s Cathedral with its distinctive dome. The story is told that one day a team of visitors was walking around the construction site of St. Paul’s. They knew very little about building, and so they kept stopping and asking the various workers what they were doing. When they asked one man, he replied “I’m digging a hole, can’t you see?” Another one said “I’m hauling stones, obviously”. But the third looked at them with a smile and said proudly “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral!”

That man had a sense of vision, and because he saw the big picture he understood how important his little job was. In the same way, we Christians are members of the construction team of the Architect of the Universe, and we are helping to rebuild a ruined world. In this work, what we need more than anything else is a sense of where our work fits into the whole plan.

What is the whole plan? In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. This is parallelism, a form of Hebrew poetry in which the second line repeats the first, only in a slightly different way. So if we ask “What does it mean for God’s kingdom to come?” the reply is “It means that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven”. At the moment, of course, this is not the case; the reason there is so much suffering and misery in the world is that God’s will is not being done on earth as in heaven. But as God’s kingdom advances in the world, as God’s loving will is done, then our broken world will be healed. And this is what we are doing as Christians: we’re living to heal the world.

This is what ‘ministry’ is: using your God-given gifts and talents to help God’s plan for the world become a reality.  Every legitimate human occupation can be a means of doing this. A teacher who devotes herself to the shaping of young minds, or a policeman who gives himself to the protection of vulnerable people – these folks are fulfilling God’s plan every bit as much as the pastor who preaches on Sunday morning. And this means that as Christians we can’t build firewalls and keep God out of our work. Jesus wants to be your Lord at work as well as at church! Sometimes this means wrestling with hard issues. What does it mean for a Christian in business to be part of a corporation which uses cheap labour in Third World countries? Questions like this are tough, but wrestling with them is part of our responsibility as Christians committed to following Jesus as Lord at work as well as at church.

So this is the vision: God wants to heal the world, and the job of the Church is to help that happen. That means we go out into the world to share the love of God in both words and actions. In words, we share the Good News of Jesus and invite people to become his followers. In actions, we do all we can to alleviate human suffering and make the world the kind of place God wants it to be. Keep this vision in mind as we continue to talk about Christian ministry.

We’ve said that God’s team is a team with a vision. God’s team is also a team with no passengers.

Imagine that the Saskatchewan Roughriders are coming to Edmonton to play the Eskimos. The game starts; the Roughriders move out onto the gridiron and take their places. Then, to everyone’s amazement, out to face them on the other side comes the Edmonton Eskimos’ coach. You know what the result would be in this situation! And if the Eskimos continue to ask their coach to be the sole player in every game, two things are going to happen. First, the coach is going to get crucified. Second, the players are going to lose their skills because they won’t have opportunities to use them. So this situation is not only bad for the coach; it’s bad for the team as well.

This is the situation in many churches; the people think that the coach should be the one to do all the ministry. They think that they haven’t really been prayed for unless the pastor prays for them. They haven’t really been visited unless the pastor visits them. They haven’t really been taught unless the pastor teaches them. What’s the result of this? The pastor gets crucified and the church members don’t grow in their ability to use the gifts God has given them.

The reason we have this problem is that we’re working with the wrong model of church life. I’ve been using the model of a team and its coach, but many church members are working with an entirely different model. Their model is a bus and its driver. In this model, the pastor is the bus driver and the congregation are the passengers. This is why they get annoyed when the pastor suggests that they ought to do some of the ministry in the congregation. It’s as if they’d paid for their bus ticket, only to discover an hour into the trip that they were expected to do some of the driving. “Why are you asking me to drive? That’s what I pay you to do?”

But this model of a bus and its driver is completely unbiblical. Every image of the church used in the New Testament stresses the team concept. The Apostle Paul says that the church is like a body with many parts, and he points out that every part has a vital role to play if the body is going to be healthy.

So the proper model for church life is a team with a coach. The purpose of the church is to help Christians grow so that they can do God’s work in the world. The role of pastors is to train Christians in order for them to be able to do that work. Paul says, ‘The gifts (Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

The Church is not a bus. Healthy churches don’t carry passengers. They may sometimes carry injured players who need time to rest and heal up from their wounds. But this is not intended to be a permanent situation. As soon as they are well again, the injured players will be redeployed on God’s team so that God’s work in the world will go forward.

So God’s team is a team with a vision, and a team with no passengers. Thirdly, it’s a team with God’s gifts.

Pastors and preachers sometimes use the phrase ‘spiritual gifts’. What that means is simply this: if God calls you to do a job for him, the Holy Spirit will give you the gifts and talents you need to do the job and do it well. When my friend Joe Walker began to work as a university chaplain, I heard someone say that he had the spiritual gift of ‘hanging out’ with students! That simply meant that God had given Joe a talent for going where students where, doing things with them, and striking up significant conversations.

In the lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, there’s often this wonderful combination of natural and supernatural abilities. The supernatural gifts tend to get our attention, but the natural abilities are just as important. For instance, one of the characters in the book of Acts is named Joseph, but the apostles gave him a new name: ‘Barnabas’, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’. Why do you think they gave him that name? I can just imagine the coffee row discussion after church one day in Antioch: “That Joseph! No matter how bad you’re feeling, all you need to do is talk to him and he lifts you up!” Or the two young preachers in training comparing notes, and one of them saying “I thought I’d made a real mess of that sermon, but old Joseph came over and pointed out two or three things that he really liked about it, and I felt so much better”. Joseph had the gift of encouraging people, and that’s why they nicknamed him ‘Barnabas’.

Listen to what Paul says in Romans (I’m quoting from the New Living Translation):

‘In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly’ (Romans 12:5-8).

This list has that same combination of the unusual and the ordinary. Some people have the gift of prophecy; they’re able to hear God speaking to them with a message to pass on to others. You might think that’s a pretty high-calibre gift and not one an ordinary Christian like you or me could aspire to. But at the end of the list we see the gift of kindness: some people are really good at feeling other people’s pain and reaching out to them with just the help they need.

Think about all the gifts a church needs in order to fulfil its mission for God. We need parents with the skills to bring up children in an atmosphere of love and nurture so that they grow into mature disciples of Jesus. We need businesspeople who can think through the ethical issues of being in business today and run their companies in such a way that God’s will is done. We need teachers who understand that all truth is God’s truth and who understand that the forming of young minds is a sacred trust from God. We need politicians, judges and lawyers who will put doing the will of God ahead of narrower concerns in their daily work.

And in the daily life of a congregation we need musicians who can lead us in worship; people with financial skill to handle our books; administrators to make sure everything is run efficiently. We need compassionate people who will give their time to listening and being there for others who are in pain, and gifted evangelists who can share the good news with non-Christians. We need people with skill in maintenance to look after our buildings, and good teachers for our Sunday School. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the ministry of pastors yet!

There is hardly a human skill in the world which God does not need for the extension of his kingdom. Or looking at it the other way around: if God asks us to do a job, you can be sure that he will give us the gifts we need in order to complete it.

So we’ve seen that ministry is a team thing: God’s team doing God’s work in the world. It’s a team with a vision: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. It’s a team with no passengers; everyone works together to achieve God’s purposes. And it’s a team with God’s gifts: God will give us the talents and gifts we need to accomplish the work he’s given us to do.

What’s your place in that work? What ministry has God called you to do for him? Let me close by asking you four questions.

First, what do you enjoy doing? What excites you, what gives you a sense of pleasure when you think about doing it? What gives you the sense of ‘This is what I was made to do?’

Second, what do other people tell you you’re good at doing? Sometimes there are things we think we’re good at doing, but other people know better! And conversely, sometimes there are gifts we don’t know we have, but other people notice them right away! So we need to ask other people ‘What do you think my spiritual gifts are?’

Third, what bothers you when it’s not done well? Sometimes this is a good indicator to us of an area God has gifted us in! When I’m in a different church and the sermon really isn’t very good, it bugs me! And I know that’s because one of my spiritual gifts is preaching. For you it might be shoddy bookkeeping, or grounds that don’t look well cared for. Again, that’s often a good indicator that God has called you to minister in a certain way.

Fourth, what need has God put on your heart? If you are in the habit of praying and listening to God, you know what I mean. Sometimes you’ll just get the sense that God is putting a burden on your heart for a particular piece of work. It might be a surprise to you; you might never have felt any interest in this sort of thing before. But the Holy Spirit is guiding you, and so you do your best to listen, and then you check it out with someone else and say, ‘What do you think? Do you think God might be calling me to do something about this?’

Churches that grow, grow because each member is discovering their spiritual gifts and using them to minister – to serve God as a member of the Body of Christ. You are part of God’s ministry team. So am I. So let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will help us discover our own spiritual gifts, so we can all work together to be part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’.

Random Discipleship Thought for October 15th 2016

The context for discipleship is Jesus’ announcement that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom of God isn’t about dying and going to heaven. Jesus taught us to pray ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. So God’s kingdom is about God’s will being done on earth. It is about God healing the world from evil and sin and transforming it into a place of compassion, justice, and peace.

How does this happen? In Jesus’ teaching it is not by political or military means. Coercion (legal or military) will not change the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Jesus’ strategy is to call disciples, teach them the way of life of the Kingdom, and then send them out to share his message with others. All who believe and are baptized are called to be his followers, his disciples, and their daily agenda is to learn to put his teaching and example into practice in their lives. In this way the disciple community becomes a signpost for the world of what the Kingdom of God is all about.

Fellow-disciples of Jesus, we’ve got a high calling! Heavenly Father, help us today to follow the way of Jesus and, by doing so, to further the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.