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Experiencing Renewal

It can be a scary thing.


Karen Dimock

On the final day of General Assembly, five individuals from across the country shared their reflections on two questions: What does it look like for the church to be on the edge of new possibilities? And, what does it look like for church to take those first steps into the crossing?

Here is a transcript of Karen Dimock’s reflection:

I speak from the perspective of someone who is now in their fourth year of ministry. A lot of what I’ve heard at the General Assembly really resonated with me.

Having been in ministry for a few years, I look back at when I graduated from college. You have all these hopes and all these dreams and all these ideas about churches. Somewhere in that second or third year [of ministry,] you start to feel a little discouraged. Sometimes I think that’s part of the journey of ministry; it’s part of the journey of faith. We find ourselves having conversations where we start to talk about renewal and we end up not talking about renewal at all. When we talk about renewal we find ourselves talking about finding more people for our teams and more people for our pews and more money for our budget. And we start to become discouraged that that’s what renewal has become in our lives.

Coming here and reflecting on the time I’ve had ministry for the last few years, I’m thinking of the moments when our understanding of renewal is changed. When we remember again that renewal is about being caught up in God’s Spirit. About catching fire again with God’s purposes for us, for our lives and for our communities. Those are the moments when we begin to experience renewal.

In my congregation there have been times in the last year when we’ve met and we’ve been talking about budgets and the state of the building—we’re like many of you, we have an aging building and we need to maintain it—and we get bogged down in all this stuff. And all of a sudden something happens. And sometimes it’s something really hard. It’s something difficult that challenges our faith and who we understand ourselves to be. We find ourselves in a room with a committee and suddenly we’re talking about the grace we need now. We start talking about the reconciliation that we need among ourselves. We start to engage in really deep listening among one another. That in my experience has been when we have really begun to understand what renewal is about. We start turning again to prayer and listening. We remember again that in scripture God has given us a word of hope.

God has given us a word of hope over and over again. I’ve talked about mission and evangelism and as I spend time in ministry, I think we really need to rethink what we’re talking about when we talk about evangelism and when we talk about the Good News. We’re beginning to see in our community that reorientation of our lives for Christ, that turning again to listen for the word of hope that comes to us from Jesus. I think that in the Old Testament tradition, the work of evangelism was passing on our faith to the next generation. The work of sharing the Good News is about telling it to one another. Sometimes there are moments in my congregation when someone will say something, and it’s like: Thank you! We know we need to share the Good News with other people.

Kevin Lee’s sermon really spoke to me. He said as the Israelites are standing on the edge of the River Jordan [in Joshua 3:1-17] there are only two things that are between them and the Promised Land. There’s the river and there’s their own fear. That’s really real.

Because stepping into the river is to step into difficult places. It’s to begin to have difficult conversations. It’s to begin to surrender ourselves to be challenged, to be disturbed, to really listen to one another. And it’s to accept that we are going to be changed.

Someone once said to me that, “The fact that God loves you, Karen, does not mean that you are just fine the way you are. The fact that God loves you means that God wants you to be the best you can be.” And in [Andrew Allison’s] sermon this morning we saw that picture of what God wants for us and the trajectory we’re on.

As we stand at the river, the only thing that’s really between us and that hope is the river and it’s our fear. And the experience of renewal comes when we face it. When we’re willing to pay attention. When we’re not satisfied with easy answers. When we’re ready to listen to points of view that are different from ours—and really listen and pray and enter into reflection.

It’s courage. In the first chapter of Joshua, God says, “Be strong and courageous.” More and I more that’s my prayer for the church. Be strong and courageous.

About the author

Rev. Karen Dimock is minister at Morningside-High Park, Toronto.

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