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FALL 2020
By the Rev. John Congram, former editor of the Presbyterian Record magazine
Since I have entered my 80s, I have learned that what the “old folk” told me when I was young is indeed true. As you get older, time passes faster. In fact, for me it passes faster than the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver. If you don’t understand that allusion, ask a grandparent or someone born before 1950.
What has haunted me all my life are questions that begin with a little three letter word: “Why?”
Why are there disasters every day, like earthquakes and tornadoes, and pandemics killing innocent peo- ple? Why do we need diseases, like cancer, that cause immense suffer- ing? Why do kind, Christian, thinking Americans, just like us, still vote for Donald Trump? If a loving and all- powerful God rules the universe, why does God allow carnage?
I suppose all of my questions can be summarized in the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
Of course, many bad things happen in the world that have nothing to do with God, like war, mass shootings, weather changes and rising oceans due to climate change. These we can plainly see are caused by human folly, ignorance, or just plain old sin.
And we know, but seldom admit to
ourselves, that none of us will get out of this world alive. Yet the death of a loved one or dear friend, even after a long and good life, can knock us off our feet.
The other day my beloved brother- in-law died and I found myself at his graveside, because of the pandemic, conducting his funeral. Of course, I said all of the good and hopeful things in our faith. Yet, I couldn’t help wishing I were somewhere else and that we could detour around such experienc- es. The fact is that many of us never completely get over the big losses in our lives.
Over the years, whenever I moved to a new congregation, I would check the congregation’s burial records. I was looking for parents who had lost a child. To me, both then and now, the loss of a child seemed the greatest tragedy we could be called to face. Knowing it was inevitable that I would be called to help some face such ex- periences, I was looking for help from
those who had already gone through it.
Over the years, I have heard all kinds of answers to my questions of why. None of which I found satisfac- tory, least of all those offered by well- intentioned Christians.
Some simply say, “It is what it is, just accept this reality.” A few years ago, a young man chose this as the slogan for his new brewery in Tiver- ton, Ont. I have a hat emblazoned with this slogan. I think I paid 50 cents for it after the brewery went broke. I won- der if he still believes in this slogan.
Some Christians claim every trag- edy is part of God’s mysterious plan. If it happens to you, it is because God wants to make you stronger. I suppose that is sometimes true, but equally true is that tragedy sometimes drives a person crazy or causes them to commit suicide or homicide.
Some answers offered by Chris- tians I have found to be simply cruel. A young child who has lost a parent is
told God needs your mother in heav- en. Really! The all-powerful and lov- ing God needs your mother more than you? Give me a break! How cruel!
So then what can we say about all of our whys? At least this. It is impor- tant to ar ticulate them—at least the Psalmist thought so when he railed against God. In the church we must give others the space to do the same.
And it is true, too, as the Beatles song goes, that we “get by with a little help from our friends.” That is why we have a church. We must stick together to make sense out of the chaos that surrounds us. Alone we are doomed.
The story is told of St. Francis hoe- ing his garden one day when some- one asked him what he would do if he were to suddenly learn that he would die before sunset that very day. St. Francis replied, “I would continue hoeing my garden.”
In the same way, despite our ques- tions, like St. Francis, we keep on— keep on loving, keep on building com- munities, keep on fighting pover ty and racism. St. Paul was right when he said, “We don’t yet see things clear- ly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist” (1 Corinthians 13:12
Last week on his weekly YouTube
broadcast on 1 Corinthian 13 (avail- able on the Shakespeare Presbyterian Church in Shakespeare, Ont., YouTube channel), my son said that in the end it all comes down to love. At first I thought that this was a stark and sim- plistic thing to say. I wondered, how can love be enough? How can it be the answer in the face of tragedy and loss? Yet that is what St. Paul also said when he wrote that there are three things to help us live in the chaos of life, in the midst of unanswerable questions: faith, hope and love. And of the three, love is the most important one.
The Greeks were right when they maintained that you needed more than one word to cover the meaning of love, as it encompasses everything from sex and friendship to sacrificial love. The one caveat here is that the cost of the kind of love and compassion of which St. Paul spoke is high, but it is also the path of personal blessing and the road to blessing others.
I am thankful for my son’s and St. Paul’s reminder that sometimes there are even more important things in this life than answers to our questions.
The Brock University Ecumenical Chaplaincy (BUEC) Board of Directors is looking for a half time Chaplain (approx. 20 hours per week) to support the faith life and spiritual exploration of Brock University students. The Ecumenical Chaplain engages the students through the development and facilitation of programs and student clubs that explore issues of faith, religion, spirituality, and questions of morality.
As well, the Chaplain supports the spiritual health and well-being of students, faculty and staff through offering pastoral care. The Ecumenical Chaplain works in a context of uncertainty for the future of religion, among students who value flexibility, openness, critical thinking, and a changing religious attitude.
The Chaplain works out of the Faith & Life Centre and is part of a broader team that includes colleagues from other Christian denominations and other faiths. The Chaplain is accountable to a Board of Directors (BUEC) with representatives from the chartered denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, United) and the University. The salary and allowances are competitive and include two months’ vacation.
A successful candidate will have, at least, a degree in theology, be recognized as a faith leader by at least one of the three charter denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, and United), have at least 5 years’ experience in ministry, and have formal training in counselling and adult learning. The successful candidate will build strong collaborative relationships with many university groups, will bring a balanced perspective to their work, and will help students to be curious about faith and to think carefully about faith and spirituality.
Preference in the selection process will be given to candidates who are ordained ministers, and those with a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or greater. We ask that all interested parties submit to their application to Larry Beverly (Chair of BUEC) no later than October 15, 2020. Please submit your resumes through email to
BUEC is committed to diversity and the principles of Employment Equity and invites applications from all qualified candidates. As well, we will accommodate the needs of the applicants in line with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) throughout all stages of the selection process. Please inform us of any accommodation requests as we proceed through the selection process.
St. Andrew’s Hall, Vancouver
New Certificate in Missional Leadership AVAILABLE ONLINE ANYWHERE IN CANADA
   St. Andrew’s Hall is excited to announce a new Certificate in Missional Leadership for congregational teams (available hybrid – in person and online) beginning September 2020.
Under the direction of CML Associate Rev. Dr. Tim Dickau, the program is designed to help congregational leadership cohorts take bold new steps in Christian witness across the country.
The first-year theme is “Missional Foundations for Covid 19 and beyond”
with a focus on neighbourhood engagement, forming thicker community life, fostering affordable housing, enacting justice, forming leaders and making disciples.
For more information or to register please see, email or call 604.822.9372
 St. Andrew’s Hall is preparing missional leaders for Christ’s Church of tomorrow, today.
Generous bursaries for education and housing are available for you.
Contact Professor Ross Lockhart for more information at

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