Our first regional Presbyterian Women’s Gathering was a great success!
The conversations started as the first people arrived to register on March 29. Many friends were glad to catch up and new friendships were beginning to form. Many also took the time to browse and purchase from 10,000 Villages and GOGOS (Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign).
The event began with worship and we raised our voices under the capable leadership of Lydia Collin. The music comprised a great selection of new songs (My lighthouse) and old favourites (Jesus bid us shine). We also were inspired through our beautiful stage that shone with lights!
Rev. Laura Kavanagh preached an inspiring sermon as she encouraged us to shine forth the light of God in the world. She reminded us that God had dealt with the Israelites by showing them grace and choosing them as God’s people. God chooses us too. We are to respond by how we treat others. We are to show justice to others, meeting the most basic human needs of the powerless, the oppressed, and the hurting of the world. We are expected to live out the same mercy and grace that we have received from God.
Kavanagh reminded us that we have been created to shine light into the world’s darkness! “That mission has not really changed between BC and AD—between the Old and New Testaments—between then and now!” (Kavanagh)
Worship included a meaningful communion led by the Rev. Laura Kavanagh and the Rev. Jenn Geddes. We served one another around our tables.
Following worship, we were challenged by the words of Dr. Mary Jo Leddy. Leddy is a Canadian writer, speaker, theologian, activist, and founder of Toronto’s Romero House, a home that welcomes refugees. In her first talk, she focused on her work at Romero House. She spoke of Romero House as being an experiment in neighbourliness. She, along with a few staff, live together with refugees. Together, they learn, open up to gratitude, and recognize the importance of forgiveness.
She asked us if we really believed we could make ourselves shine? Do we really believe we can make the world a lighter and brighter place? She believes we have power and that letting our light shine, grows power. She also spoke of the pain we feel when we realize that we have not let our light shine. We often feel powerless and don’t believe enough in ourselves to be light. “If we don’t believe we have a light to shine, it won’t,” says Leddy. It is not too late to take our light out from under the bushel!
Leddy says we sometimes keep our lights hidden for what we think are good reasons. We remain powerless and think there is an innocence to that. We are suspicious of power, so we do not want to exercise our own power. We need to develop a new sense of power—a creative power. “We can imagine power as the energy to create, the energy to begin, to begin something new, to begin again.” When we are in relationship with God, we share God’s creative power.
Leddy finished with a powerful quote from Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
The afternoon concluded with a wonderful presentation from Hummingbird Ministries. We enjoyed the beautiful singing and dancing of the Hummingbird Singers and Star Blanket Dancers. Hummingbird Ministries is an Indigenous healing ministry located in the lower mainland of BC. It is committed to walking with Indigenous people in their healing journey and to promote healing and reconciliation between Indigenous people and the Church.
The day ended with a wonderful banquet hosted by the Rev. Dr. Nancy Cocks. She tested our knowledge of light by asking us trivia questions about the amount of sunlight received in different parts of the country and the speed of light.
On Saturday, following a buffet breakfast, we began our morning with worship.
Rev. Jenn Geddes recalled a few times she was “left in the dark.” (For those in the Toronto area, the blackout of August 2003 might come to mind.) However, sometimes being in the dark is a good thing as it allowed those of us living in the city to see the beauty of the night sky, especially since the annual Perseid meteor shower was present. Many shared their excitement at seeing the ‘lights’ of the meteors in the dark skies.
Jenn wanted us to consider how we reflect Christ’s light in this world. In Corinthians, Paul tells us that we reflect the glory of the Lord. Jenn explained that the Greek word used here for mirror, can also mean, to behold. So, we do not only reflect God’s light, but others can behold it in us.
And, we were reminded of the value of light in Jesus’ day. We might take light for granted, but when you must go out and purchase oil, candles, or wood and they are expensive and not readily available, light is precious. Jesus, referring to us as light, knew how expensive light was. So too, our lives are more valuable than we could ever imagine. It is within our very nature to reflect the light of God.
Yes, things get in the way and cover this light, but when we follow God people see us differently—they see the light. When we are vulnerable, and we work for justice and peace, and when we show compassion and grace, we reflect the light. Jenn says, “We are commissioned, called and appointed to be mirrors of light…. We serve as lights in and to the world. So that others may ooh and aww, at the beauty of God at work in our world.”
Following worship, we again were challenged by the words of Mary Jo Leddy. This morning her focus was on life in Canada. She spoke of the Canadian sense of powerlessness that she believes comes from our long history of colonialism. She would argue, we continue to be a colony, despite our elections and our flag. She would even argue this is why we are so polite, even hesitant people. It has to do with both our history and our current status.
We share a continent with the greatest world power, the American empire. A colony has its focus determined by what goes on elsewhere. The centre of power, even our influences, comes from somewhere else. Even, what we spend time criticizing is often found someplace else. So much of our influence comes from America. So much of what we criticize is in America. We feel relatively powerless and therefore, feel an innocence. Leddy says, “We are good people that are incapable of doing bad things.” Those with the power, the Americans, do the bad things. We have no power, and are therefore, innocent.
Leddy gave the example of the Vietnam war. Many Canadians protested the US government’s actions yet failed to notice that Agent Orange was being produced by Uniroyal Ltd. in Elmira Ontario.
Often, as a colony, we define ourselves by what we are against. We are anti-American. We don’t know what we hold in common as Canadians. All we know is what we love to hate. We have trouble seeing who we are amidst the culture of America. Leddy says to see who we are, we need to see our light…and our darkness. We also need to see Canada through the eyes of those that suffer. We need to think about why we are here ‘now’ so we can see where we are to shine our light.
Historically, the settlers were here to survive. They created their garrisons to keep them safe from both the elements and the Indigenous Peoples. This mentality still haunts our relationship with our Indigenous Peoples. It meant the loss of a genuine and respectful relationship. Leddy believes, “All of us who now inhabit this land must let the light of the Indigenous Peoples shine so that this whole land may be enlightened.”
With the garrisons as part of our history, Justice Thomas Berger would say that in times of social and economic stress, we resort to them again. When we face threats, such as globalization, we gather together and build walls. These walls of papers and policies, and subtle prejudice, divide us. We want to protect what we have instead of believing we have a light to share with the world.
We have this vast and complex country to find our place in. Leddy says, “It is because of this faith in the Creator that we have the possibility of living in this vastness with a sense of awe and trust.” We, as Canadians and Christians, need to find our place in vastness. We can inhabit it with a sense of responsibility. We need to find our right place. We need to find out where we belong and where we can make a difference. We need to let go of thinking we are possessing a place, but to think about the place we are committed to care for. “Celebrate the place where your light can rightly shine,” finished Leddy.
Following this time, many purchased Leddy’s new book.
After a wonderful buffet lunch, participants attended a variety of forums:
- For the Beauty of the Trinity, Lydia Collin – Lydia intermingled teaching, music, and conversation as the group explored the Trinity.
- Gifts for the Journey, Sumarme Goble – Sumarme used the wisdom of the Psalms to help participants consider how they want to age. She spoke of the lenses that can be helpful in looking at our past, present, and future.
- Lampstands and Bushel Baskets, Exploring the Light of the World, Nancy Cocks – Nancy helped participants consider how we can be more effective in sharing our light in the world.
- sereKNITy dot calm…Spirituality of Knitting, Lisbeth Duncan – Participants enjoyed some calm in their day as they entered the quiet of the room. They were given slippers to relax. Quiet music and beautiful visuals relaxed them as they considered how to pray with their hands.
- When Love Hurts: Understanding Women’s Experience of Abuse in Intimate Relationship, Karen McAndless-Davis – Karen began this workshop by sharing some of the myths of abuse, such as this only happens to ‘certain’ women, that the woman is partly to blame, and that physical abuse is the most serious type of abuse. She also showed the cycle of abuse, speaking of a period of kindness, and a period of tension, and a period of explosion. Abuse affects women in so many ways including depression, fear, anxiety, eating disorders, poverty, forgetfulness, loss of faith, loss of church, and loneliness. She encouraged the church to talk about abuse and learn more about how to support women.
We closed the conference with another lovely meal as we thanked those who attended and provided leadership. We also chatted with our table groups about the event.
A special thank you goes out to the planning team, and all our leadership.