A marathon seven weeks for my church and its tight knit traditional community of Carleton Heights has almost come to a close. Five of our most senior members have died requiring six separate services. There is only one burial left to come.
It has been a humbling experience for me. With so much on the go recently and with so many closed minded and difficult things being said about religion (both for and against) in the news of late, I was having a hard time keeping my “eye-on-the-ball” so to speak. The church is a powerful and necessary presence in our Canadian society, provided it does two things – respects people’s different approaches to faith and works to build bonds of commitment to, as Jesus said, love your neighbour as yourself. That conviction in me was starting to get lost in the turbulence.
The original families of Carleton share a special bond. They are the families of veterans, knowing each other on a deeper level for what they sacrificed, suffered and persevered through. They are strong families and collectively they offer a stronger faith. I am honoured to have be with them, to hear their stories and experience their relationships to each other.
And I am equally honoured to have been invited into the very personal and intimate spaces of the families among us who have recently lost loved ones. You have all reminded me why I answered a call 18 years ago to serve God as a minister. Thank you for the trust you placed in me – sincerely – thank you.
Life is certainly a gift that takes its twists and turns. There are no better people to know this than these families. Which brings me to their church – Carleton Memorial United Church.
This tiny church built on a plot of land away from the city stands as a beacon of people who have suffered violence and chose to seek peace as a response. They built a church – with little or no money – not based on a superstitious faith but a grounded one.
None of the people who died ever “made the headlines”. And I dare say that in our pumped-up social-media world that their lives might even be considered rather ordinary and perhaps even boring. Somehow the world doesn’t seem to understand their true legacy – one that lives on because others take up their cause in a purposeful way.
If you haven’t ever experienced the potency of loving community in a good church, you could be forgiven for thinking the same. And if you have been hurt by the church, please know that I understand and respect your story – share it if you would like.
But … when a church get’s it right because the people who built it struggled keep-on-keeping-on in spite of their mistakes…. knowing that while nothing is perfect, there is no substitute for a faithful community that cares…. then well, there is nothing sweeter.
If you think I am being sentimental, I invite you to come and meet some of our people, young and old, new and long standing, who know that its not about sentimentality so much as respect for the life that we have been gifted with – a gift from G_d that means something different to each of us and for that reason, unifies us.
Jesus taught that we should offer help to others quietly so that only “God in Heaven” would really know about it. And that, in a nutshell is what Carleton Memorial is all about.
Week after week we gathered to support and feed the grieving, both with love and food. Week after week we gathered to turn sadness into understanding, just as Jesus turned water into wine. We laughed and cried. Old friendships were made more solid. New ones were made. A baby even decided that this was the moment to come into the world during one of them (yes – that’s right, an expectant mother went into labour during her grandmother’s funeral).
To the families I have been so fortunate to serve in the midst of loss: Please accept my continued prayers that you learn to listen to your loved ones in a new way so that the lessons they have yet to teach you are learned. And accept also my prayers your own relationships to each other continue to grow because of those lessons.
To the many volunteers of CMUC: You who tirelessly give of your time and money to work for a more beautiful and just world out of a silent and humble faith – thank you, thank you, thank you.
Rev. Eric Lukacs