I'm sitting in the back seat of a car riding back from a meeting with the United Church of Christ in Cleveland. The landscape we are passing looks familiar: it's very similar here to southern Ontario, and the arrival of spring is at about the same stage.
Similarly, when we meet with United Church of Christ colleagues, there is much that is familiar in our conversations. We face common challenges of being an inclusive church sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in an increasingly secular society. There is lots to learn from each other, and perhaps to work on together. Many things feel the same, and some things are quite different, and there are things to learn from both.
Sometimes, there are reminders that although we have a lot in common, we are in quite different countries. At lunch time, I looked at some buttons with slogans about various justice campaigns the United Church of Christ is involved in. One that caught my eye said, "Don't Kill for Me." I looked at it trying to understand what it was about. My first thought was that it was an anti-war message of some kind, but then I read the subtext: "I oppose the death penalty." Oh yeah, how could I forget that. I recall that in my days working in the justice system, when we met with counterparts from the United States, I used to reflect that I wouldn't have wanted to – in conscience wouldn't have been able to – serve in a senior Justice Department position in the United States. It's strange to have a neighbouring country, so similar in so many ways, yet with startling reminders of difference.
On a different note, it was interesting that when President Obama was inaugurated, the day began with a church service that was attended by the President and his family, and many of the dignitaries who were involved in the official proceedings. Their arrival at the church was covered on national television, although the actual church service wasn't. Even though our Prime Minister is a person of faith, this official kind of church connection with a state event would be most unlikely in Canada. A few days after the inauguration in the United States, Ontario's new premier-designate gave her first media statement after the leadership convention at 11 o'clock on a Sunday morning. She is a United Church person, a regular church attender, so this wasn't about her lack of faith connection. It spoke to a different set of public assumptions on this side of the border.
As we drive through Ohio, past beautiful woodlands similar to many parts of southern Canada, and yet part of a different country, I am grateful both to be Canadian, and to have opportunities to get to know our near neighbours. I celebrate the things we have in common, and the things that keep us different.
May all blessings be with you.
The General Secretary's letter is distributed to staff at the General Council Office and colleagues across the United Church. If you are receiving this you may also want to see Moderator Gary Paterson's blog. Visit www.garypaterson.ca and select "Follow" in the lower right to get an e-mail notice whenever he has a new post.
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