Religion has helped build human communities for thousands of years. Religion gets expressed in stories and rituals. As we gather we recall the stories of our founders and saints, teachers and elders. And in our rituals we connect with our ancestors, with each other and with God.
Even though religion is old it is not frozen in time. Religions are all evolving. Religions let themselves down when they refuse to change or refuse to let go of aspects of faith that no longer work to build up our common humanity. The practice of religion is a dialogue between the wisdom of the past and the challenges of the present and the future. And from there we shape our decisions and commitments.
The work of religion is to seek answers to life's biggest questions: What are we here for? What can we believe in? How can we use our talents and gifts to help others? In most religions the questions become a prayer. We somehow realize that we are not going to rest easy with a personal opinion. So we ask the question in the context of what we know about God and God’s purposes for us.
When our faith communities gather we remind ourselves of at least two things: First, that we can't fix everything. And second, that we can do something!
My work as a retired minister has given me the chance to join with folk from different churches on two important projects. The first project is to provide support and encouragement to a Muslim family that last year came to Canada from Syria. And the second project is to support the ministry of a Chaplain at Medicine Hat College. Both of these are parts of church life where “the rubber hits the road.”
You will not be surprised that as we work on these projects we don’t spend a lot of time debating the intricacies of religious teaching or practice. But still we are learning from each other, and valuing each other, and we are being changed by our time together and by the work we share.
We are more open to each other and to many others because working together has stretched us and helped us grow. The story of faith that we pass on to our community and our children is a richer story because of the work we share. And the wisdom we bring to our individual churches is deepened by having engaged with this wider circle of neighbours we are still getting to know. Life's blessings do indeed come in many forms.
Jim Hillson is a retired minister and member of Fifth Avenue Memorial United Church.