Feeding the Soul

Toward a Biennium Reconciliation Initiative

Our 2011 ELCIC National Convention, after exploring the meaning of treaties as sacred covenants, passed a resolution that commits our church to encouraging right relationships between Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.

At this year’s Synod Assembly we will consider approving a Biennium Reconciliation Initiative wherein our synod will commit to advancing this cause, recognizing that the sincerity of our efforts to find truth and reconciliation will be demonstrated in our actions and attitudes.

Our proposed Eastern Synod Biennium Reconciliation Initiative reads as follows:
• We call on our Synod Ministry Areas and their congregations, assemblies and members to seek out opportunities to deepen our understanding of indigenous rights, to participate in the ongoing work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process, and to renew relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in our varied contexts.
• We acknowledge the injustices of the residential school system on Aboriginal peoples and the past harms and the continuing destructive legacy. With faith and hope in Christ, we will seek to be present for and walk with Indigenous people who are on their healing journeys from the harm done to them at residential schools.
• Our Lutheran tradition teaches that reconciliation is a gracious and precious gift from God. We earnestly pray that the Creator will stir our hearts and open our eyes, ears and souls so that we may have the courage to speak truth, the patience to listen, the wisdom to confess and the humility to show respect so that true reconciliation can happen. It is the Creator who calls us to hope for a better future and for a healing journey that will bring us to true community.
• We encourage the Synod Ministry Areas, their congregations, assemblies and members to attend local commemorative events hosted by Aboriginal organizations to honour those who attended residential schools.
• That Areas, their congregations, assemblies and other groups initiate one or more activities, events or gestures in the next 24 months that would be consistent with our desire to walk with Aboriginal peoples to find healing and wholeness together as God’s people, and to share information about these initiatives with the Director of Public Policy and Service Ministries.
• That Areas and their congregations use resources (such as those posted on our Eastern Synod Website – www.easternsynod.org/content/biennium-reconciliation-initiative (Biennium Reconciliation Initiative)

Our indigenous friends welcome this partnership. Indeed, many would tell us that among faith communities, Lutherans are in a unique position because we were not directly involved in the terrible legacy of the residential school system. But this does not mean that as Canadians and Christians, we don’t bear responsibility for helping to correct past wrongs and establish right and just relations.

While Canada is regularly rated among the top five or ten countries in the world in which to live, indigenous communities, using the same scale, would rate in the high sixties or low seventies. Indigenous peoples are among the poorest members of our society. Their life expectancy is among the lowest. Suicide rates among indigenous youth are among the highest in the world. Over 100 communities don’t have access to clean water or indoor plumbing. As Canadians we must help to address these shameful realities.

And as Christians, we need to acknowledge the sad truth that our faith traditions were misused in ways that caused great harm to our indigenous neighbours. Christians have a particular obligation to make things right. I’m grateful that our church is trying to do what it can to be a part of the solution. I’m proud of those groups and individuals within our synod who have taken steps to help us engage these important matters. But I’m especially grateful that God our Creator has given us this call and opportunity to seek and experience a fuller measure of right relationship with our aboriginal siblings. God is indeed gracious and good!

Synod Assembly Opening Service from Bishop Pryse

This afternoon we gather around Word and Sacrament as one expression of God’s family – as a community of believers who are united in one regional expression of the Body of Christ. We’re glad – I hope – to be together! It’s a kind of “family re-union” and we’re happy to have these few days where we can celebrate and nurture all that this family means to us.

We do this, however, knowing that this gathering really isn’t all about us – or at least it shouldn’t be. We gather as a church that is called to be looking outward – to look beyond ourselves. We gather as a church called to be in mission for others.

The Gospel lesson chosen for today is the famous encounter between Jesus and Peter that is recorded in John 21.  Peter and Jesus are together on the beach and Jesus asks Peter the pointed question, “Peter, do you love me?”   Peter replies, “Yes Lord, I love you.”  “Then feed my lambs.”   

A second time, Jesus asks “Peter, do you love me?”   Peter answers again.  “Yes, Lord, I love you.”  “Then tend my sheep.” And then, leaving no possible doubt as to his point, Jesus asks a third and final time. “Peter, do you love me.”  ”YES LORD,” Peter replies, perhaps a little frustrated!  I LOVE YOU!”  “Then feed my sheep.” 

Can there be any doubt, any question as to the true work of a disciple?  Can there be any doubt, any question , as to the true work, the true calling of a church that claims to follow Jesus? “Feed my sheep!”

Heaven knows there are innumerable flocks of sheep starving and thirsting on planet earth today. For the first time since the Second World War era, the number of people forced from their homes worldwide has surged past 50 million. That’s six million more than last year. Syria alone accounts for 9 million refugees. And sadly, many of those displaced persons are being housed and cared for by nations who themselves exist in extremely fragile circumstances; places like Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon and Jordan. Apparently Canada has been challenged to receive 10,000 Syrian refuges by 2016. That doesn’t seem that many when compared to the 647,000 refugees who cling to a very fragile existence in the Kingdom of Jordan today.

The Lutheran World Federation was born in the years immediately following the conclusion of World War II, primarily as a means of assisting the millions of persons who were displaced by that great conflict. Many of those people came to Canada as immigrants; some were your moms and dads, grammas and grandpas. And the federation continues that work today, through the efforts of agencies like our own Canadian Lutheran World Relief.  We do great work and there is much to be thankful for. But we can and need to be doing so much more, both abroad, and right here at home! “Feed my sheep!” Jesus says.

We’re going to spend significant time this week considering how we might answer our church’s call to contribute to the building of right relationship between indigenous and non indigenous people here in Canada. More than fifty percent of First Nation’s children live in poverty. Many of those who live on reserves wake up in an overcrowded home that may have asbestos, probably has mould, is likely in need of major repair, that does not have potable water and has no proper school to go to. That such a situation exists in Canada in the 21st century is an absolute disgrace, particularly given that we have the means and wherewithal to do something about it! “Feed my lambs!” Jesus says.

It’s amazing isn’t it, to consider how much of Jesus’ ministry involved the offering and sharing of food and drink? The table, that place where people meet and share gifts of nourishment, whether physically, socially or spiritually, is truly the “primary focus” of Jesus’ entire ministry. “He eats with sinners and outcasts.” Imagine!

The liturgical scholar Aidan Kavanaugh once suggested that it ought to be a mandatory part of pastoral training that a certain amount of time be spent serving food in a restaurant. His point was that every pastor ought to know what it means to lovingly and hospitably serve good food to hungry people for that is the heart and essence of what pastoral ministry is all about. “Feed my sheep.”

Songwriter Bruce Springsteen tells us that “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” He’s right!  Theologian Frederick Buechner says it another way … (and with more words, as theologians are want to do!) He writes, “Like sheep we get hungry, and hungry for more than just food.  We get thirsty for more than just drink.  Our souls get hungry and thirsty; in fact it is often that sense of inner emptiness that makes us know we have souls in the first place.  But once and a while that inner emptiness is filled. That I think is what the Bible means by saying that God is like a shepherd.  It means that, like a shepherd, God feeds us.  God feeds that part of us which is hungriest and most in need of feeding.”

That is the centre of our work.  The feeding of hungry people ... in all that hunger can mean ... in all that feeding can mean.  And it’s such an amazing thing that God would share this work … this privilege and responsibility with us! How privileged and blessed we are to be able to make such a claim! But make no mistake. This work is far from easy. This work is anything but safe!

Our Atlantic conference delegates know an old saying which reminds us that a ‘ship in harbour is a safe ship.” We all know, however, that that isn’t what ships are made for.  Likewise for the ship that is the church. It can remain safe … comfortable in the harbour … it’s disciples … it’s pastors … can remain safe, locked away behind closed doors like the disciples on that first Easter  …  but that’s not what this ship has been made for either … that’s not what disciples are made for … that’s not what the church is made for.

A chapter earlier in John’s Gospel we saw how the disciples of old could not reveal Christ while they remained hidden away behind closed doors.  Their witness couldn’t even convince Thomas, one of their own number!  And neither will our witness convince modern day Thomas’s so long as we remain in a similar posture . . . timid, fearful and anxious.

The night before this encounter between Jesus and Peter we read how, when Jesus’ disciples were fishing with little apparent success he told them to put out a little further – to put out into the deep – duc un altum! Similarly, Jesus’ call to ministry is a call to put out further – to put out into the deep of this world – to put out into the deep of our neighbour – to put out into the depths of the mission that God is engaging for the salvation of the world.

In our first lesson today we were introduced to two incredibly brave Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. They defied the command of the Egyptian pharoah, who had ordered them to kill all male born children. They stood against the king and quite literally took matters into their own hands. As a result, the people prospered and families grew and became strong through their faithful care and ministrations.

During these few days together, we too will have the opportunity to serve as faithful midwives, to assist in birthing that which God is bringing to life. Will we have the ‘guts’, the courage to stand up and say no to Pharoah? Will we be able muster the strength to exhibit just a fraction of the courage expressed by these two brave women? Will sheep be fed? Will justice be advanced? Will hope be ignited? Will our coming together have contributed anything to the net worth of God’s kingdom building work?  I sure hope so. 

May God help us to not lose sight of our true reason for being here this week, and may our time together at this family gathering equip us to more faithfully, generously and courageously answer Jesus’ command to  feed God’s precious lambs. AMEN 

Things Are Not Always As They Appear

There was a time that I had to move to the other side of the country without my children because of work. They stayed with their father. This period, as I recall it, was the most miserable time of my life.

I remember my first trip down to Helsinki to see my boys. We didn’t have much time;only a couple of hours between my meetings.

We went to Pizza Hut and had dinner together.I remember how I enjoyed listening to them. They talked about their everyday matters. Nothing extraordinary. But every word was special to me at that moment. I felt I was part of their lives.

Time flew by fast. And when we were standing at the railway station again, now departing, we found it difficult to say good-bye and so we just stood silent until the older son said: “Mom, it only looks as if we are parting, but we are not. We are always together, for I pray every day.”

And even though we took different trains and travelled to different destinations, I knew that it only looked like we had parted,but we were together; deeply connected. I learned an important lesson.

Things are not always as they appear. We should not judge anyone—not even ourselves—by appearance. It may look like you are not a believer, but you know it’s not true, for you pray every day.It may look like God has abandoned you, but it is not true. You are deeply connected to God.

Your life may be in such a mess that you think that God could not be interested in it. But things are not always as we believe they are. God has come down. He does not avoid us; He comes after us - even to the lowest hell—for He loves sinners.

Jesus calls God “Father”. God is like any parent who is missing his or her children,who is counting the days and the hours till He sees them again, who is waiting at the window or at the railway station to see them come home again.

And when they eventually come, He is happy to see them, to listen to them, to have supper with them. He doesn’t expect to hear great success stories from us; He is interested in our everyday life. I don’t think that the first thing He would ask was:“What evil have you done?” But if we have heavy thoughts and a bad conscience God is willing to take our burden and forgive.

At that time when I had to live far from my children, I would have given anything to have someone who would have told my boys everyday that I loved them; who would have reminded them of my love.

Today I can see that God, in fact, had that same desire. The Gospel reads: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything,and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Things are not always as they appear. It may look like God is light years away from you, because you feel you don’t measure up or fit in the form that people regard as “normal”. God is not far away. “The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” You are always together, for you pray every day.You have a deep connection that the world doesn’t see or know. The Holy Spirit binds you together. And the Holy Spirit ensures that“ nothing or no one can separate you from God’s love.”

Rev. Riitta Hepomaki


The Madawaska River is one of the most beautiful  rivers I know. Starting in the wilds of Algonguin Park it flows through some of the most spectacular scenery that Ontario has to offer until it eventually heads into the Ottawa River. The Ottawa River? Now there’s another fine river, not to mention the St. Lawrence River, the MacKenzie River, the Mississippi River. I’ve had the good fortune of being on them all.

Come to think of it, I have never seen an ugly river that I can recall. Any river, left to itself, is beautiful, whether it is a black canyon carved through basalt rivers with waters raging or foaming, or a muddy  meander through the farmlands. Left to itself, every river is beautiful. That includes the tiny Avon River which I live near in Stratford.

Rivers only become ugly when we destroy them, with toxins dumped into the waters, with debris carried along by the current. Do you remember the river in Ohio, almost 20 years ago, that was so polluted it caught fire?

All rivers run down to the oceans. Most rivers I should say. The Jordan River ends up in the Dead Sea. Ironic that for Jews and Christians, the river that is so much a part of their faith story doesn’t follow the otherwise universal pattern.  A good reminder that every river is different. No two rivers ever occupy the same watershed, the same valley. They all draw from their own unique sources and follow their own unique routes.

Rivers are rather like us, in my way of thinking. Each of our lives is unique. No two of us ever live precisely the same journey, the same experiences. Each of us has our own sources of strength or nourishment. Like rivers, each of us is beautiful – unless we have been spoiled. By money or power. By greed or lust. By addiction or dependency. Of course, all of us are beautiful in God’s eyes. But I’m not God. I won’t claim there is no such thing as an ugly person – but there is no such thing as a person that someone, somewhere can’t love.

Yet despite our uniqueness, we all flow to the same sea. The Hebrews thought of the ocean as death, because it was too salty to drink, too salty to irrigate fields. In a sense, the ocean is the death of every river. 

Our lives too all flow to the same end. Death. Yet the water of the river does not die. It carries nutrients into the ocean, sustaining the rich life there. Perhaps, when we die, our life experiences nurture and sustain God. I rather like that idea, myself. According to a rather esoteric branch of theology, called “process theology”, that’s how God changes – absorbing our experiences into the divine whole.

Though there are many rivers, there is only one ocean. We call various oceans by different names – the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean  and so on – but they are all connected. And they are all at sea level.

If we are like rivers, perhaps the ocean is like god. Universal. Endless. The Alpha and the Omega., the beginning and the end. And when we die, our individual rivers of life are accepted back into the universal womb of life.

Science tells us the ocean  was the womb of life, the place where resurrection began. It is still the earth’s most prolific source of living creatures. And it is still the source or resurrection for rivers.  For from the oceans, the heat of the sun evaporates moisture. Air currents carry the invisible water vapour high into the atmosphere. Until somewhere over the land, it condenses. It forms clouds. The tiny droplets of water gather together until they are big enough to fall through the air. They come down onto earth as rain. And start life as a river again.

It’s not the same water. It’s not the same river. But it is a kind of resurrection.

A blessed Easter to you all! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop
Eastern Synod, ELCIC


I had a strange dream the other night.  In my dream Jesus came to visit our church to see if he could find a few disciples to help him with some work he seems to want to do in our town.

Of course, Jesus didn’t look like all the pictures we see in our Bibles---a long white robe and soft shining hair.  He was wearing jeans and a jacket.  He arrived a few minutes early while folks were standing around in the breezeway between the sanctuary and the church hall.  The church folks were busy having fellowship with each other and didn’t notice the stranger until he was about to open the door to the sanctuary.

“You can’t go in there; the choir is practicing,” said a woman standing near the water fountain.  Then she turned and continued her chat with some of the church folks.  

Just then a hard looking character stumbled in from the cold.   The church folks looked at each other with eyes which seemed to say, “What is this, an invasion?” Fortunately the pastor arrived and was greeted warmly by everyone.   The pastor noticed Jesus and the hard-looking man standing over by the far wall and approached them.  

“Welcome!” he said and shook their hands.  The pastor then pulled the water fountain lady aside and asked, “Who are they?  Did they come in together?   That man in the jeans seemed to recognize me, but I’m sure I’ve never seen him in my life.”

During the service Jesus and the hard-looking stranger sat together halfway up the nave.   The pastor’s sermon was entitled AMAZING GRACE, and he assured the congregation once again that the Cross Event took care of their sins, washed away their past and put them on a secure footing with the living God.   In my dream I kept watching Jesus to see what he would do with this comforting message.  In fact I found myself getting a bit angry with the Lord for sitting there like a wimp.  

In my heart I was saying, “Lord, are you going to let these half-baked Christians sit there and feel smug, while they’re told everything’s okay?  Why don’t you do something?  Why don’t you stand up and remind them that they need to repent? “  But the Lord just sat there and let things take their course. 

In my dream I began asking myself, “Is this really the Lord Jesus?   Is this the same Lord who shook up the smug and offended the complacent?   How come he just goes with the flow?   How come he doesn’t remind them of judgment, as he did so often in the gospel accounts?”

After the service, as the congregation filed past the pastor, the hard-looking street man gave the pastor a big smile and told him to keep up the good work.  But when Jesus got to the pastor, he was held for a minute as the pastor looked into his face and said, “I get the impression that you know me, but I have to confess, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you before.”   

“As a matter of fact, I do know you.  And perhaps one day you’ll remember where we first met,” responded the Lord.   “I came here today hoping to find a few people to work with me on some things I plan to accomplish.  Perhaps if I return next week they’ll turn up.  Meanwhile, I think I’ll stick with my new friend that I met here today.  The two of us should be able to make a good start.”   

Just then my radio alarm woke me, and I’ve been puzzling ever since on the meaning of this dream.   Was it the bananas I ate last night, or is God trying to tell me something?

Rev. Richard Bieber
Our Saviour, Dartmouth, NS 

Stop, Look, and Go

Grace and peace be with you all!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5: 16-18)

Winter has been hard thus far, and it can be just as much a mental challenge as a physical one to try to get through the cold months.I know from experience that when we’re feeling grumpy about things, like the weather, we tend to let the grump overwhelm our whole life, and well, that’s just a gloomy way to live.

David Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk who is the leading teacher in the practices of gratitude. It’s not hard to practice gratitude. Brother David reminds us of “the three instructions we were given as children when approaching a street corner, he tells us to “Stop, look, and go.” Stop – slow down, take a break, pause long enough to take a breath. Look – notice and pay attention to just how many things are given to us freely and without expectation (for such is the heart of gratitude). Go – move back into your life and the world animated by this sense of undeserved privilege and gratitude.

”For example: today I am overwhelmed by all the items on my to-do list, including annual reports, getting the Call out, writing a sermon and putting together the worship, planning for the confirmation class, wondering if I’ve missed anyone that needs to be contacted, etc. You all understand the stress of a long to-do list. However, today I will stop and take a breath. I will look, out my window and notice that the sun is shining brilliantly; the squirrel is jumping from tree to tree; notice that I’m warm here in my office. I will go back to my work with a renewed sense of wonder and inspiration, and finally give thanks to God for all the things that I take for granted.

It certainly does take some intentional thinking to remember to stop, look and go, but it is unquestionably worthwhile.

God's Peace!

Pastor Nadine Nicholds
Augsburg Lutheran Church,Brampton, Ontario

Invitation to Love

Making my way through the streets of Toronto before Christmas, where store windows glistened with expensive watches and handbags, it was all too easy to close my eyes from some dehumanized shapes.  Wrapped in blankets, they peered out with blank eyes from between scarves and toques as they displayed their cardboard manifestos: Home burned down. Wounded Vet. Hungry. Jobless. Help. The message was sobering: We are helpless, abandoned and dependent on your seasonal generosity.

One of my readings during Advent was Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In it, Ignatius invites the reader to contemplate the great mysteries of the Incarnation. He  helps you to see and consider the various persons on the earth, “so diverse in dress and behavior...some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy and others sick, some being born and others dying.” He then describes God’s compassionate response to blindness, suffering and death in the world. Ignatius says the Lord was born “in the greatest poverty” and experienced “many hardships of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, injuries, and insults.” Though regarded as royalty by the angels in heaven and the visiting Magi, Jesus was born in a manger, and the family was displaced by the threat of violence.

Those living on the street and in shelters share in the experience of transience and insecurity of Jesus’ family. But how often are they welcomed with reverence and joy? Years ago our culture referred to these persons as “down and out”, distinguished from the “deserving poor” who had “pulled themselves together” and were thus worthy of concern. The Christmas message, however, reminds us that those who are without homes are human beings and deserve care. Do we see them that way?

According to a survey conducted in July 2013 the number of homeless in Toronto is up by 24% since 2007. The causes of homelessness vary: domestic violence, untreated mental illness, joblessness, drug and alcohol addiction, H.I.V./AIDS, eviction. Because of local, private, volunteer and public initiatives we now know what must be done to solve the problem of homelessness. Many public, not-for-profit and religious agencies have worked to develop policies that can effectively serve the weak and poor. Meanwhile, as new condos rise in Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, there are reports that many children have no home, arrive to school hungry, and the number of homeless is going up. 

We just celebrated the birth of Christ, but the main point of Christmas is often overlooked. It is this: when God entered the world in the person of Jesus, the whole of humanity was transformed. Every person, including that huddled person in the gutter, is Jesus inviting—daring—us to love.

Rev. Tuula Van Gaasbeek
St. Philip's Lutheran Chruch 

Christmas Eve

The late Canadian artist William Kurelek, a man of deep faith, created a series of paintings published under the title of  Northern Nativity.  Each painting depicts a Christmas Eve image of the Holy Family in a contemporary, Canadian, equivalent of the Bethlehem stable.  We see Mary, Joseph and Jesus huddled in the corner of a service station, a prairie grain elevator or an abandoned fishing cabin.  But while the settings change, the human context remains the same.  In each the world is unaware of the family’s presence. Around them, life continues, totally oblivious to the great miracle which has come to pass. Doesn’t the same thing often happen for us today? 

How will you deepen your faith tonight when you arrive at church and find your regular pew inhabited by Christians who might only worship at Christmas or Easter? How will our children be helped to make time for Jesus in the rush to open gifts and compare them with what their friends got and with their own secret desires? What new reality is Christ working for you – what special gifts is he offering you – building and bringing to completion for you in this huge, mad , marvellous monstrosity that we call Christmas?

Yes, I love Christmas and everything that comes with it; trees, lights, carols, full churches, gifts, parties, friends, candles and family. But sometimes I wonder whether something, or someone, isn’t missing. The miracle of the incarnation is also for us today! For if the babe does not again take flesh, then the Bethlehem star is but an optical illusion leading to nothing. If we are not empowered to offer a gift to the one in need, then there are no wise men searching.  If there is no praise or joy within our hearts, then there are no angels singing; no shepherds watching. 

May the coming Christmas  season be a time of renewal wherein we are blessed to experience the One whose birth we prepare to celebrate. May Jesus be born anew within us all! AMEN 

Bishop Michael J. Pryse

Two Scenes

This is the traditional Christmas scene.


But is this what it looks like today? Have we put Jesus behind? Are we focusing on something else?



Nativity scenes by Martta Hepomaki