Category Archives: Blog

Faith, Faithfulness, and Patience [Brenda Brewer]

Where do I begin? I was asked if I would write a blog for Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray, AB.

For those who know me – one of my sayings is, “The good Lord helps those who help themselves.” Soo… on that note, if I want God’s help, I had better get started.

Another of my sayings is, “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you,” so I need to do my part here to honour this request.

This year, 2020, has been a most challenging, anxious and frightful year; however, the CoVid-19 restrictions have brought about some very memorable and pleasant events in all our lives. Our immediate family times together have multiplied, we listen to each other more, we stay in touch with each other by phone, text, videos, facetime, and “drop–in visits, just because.”

Our gardens and lawns have flourished more than ever this year. WHY? We are giving time to these blessings that the good Lord has provided for us – care and attention is what they need and it gives back as we are enjoying the fresh air, watching the veggies and flowers grown under our watchful eyes.

Our lengthy walks in the trails have made us more conscious of the wild life, birds singing, meeting others on the trails and not to mention improving our physical well–being.

Why, even my golf game has improved because I am so grateful that I am able to be outdoors and doing an activity that I enjoy [Regardless of the score!].

All of these Blessings come from the Grace of God, which we can be so Thankful for.  As I observe others around me [physically distanced] people have slowed down and, as the saying goes, “are taking time to smell the Roses.”

We have more time to listen to each other, to read, to meditate, and to look out over the backyard and “Give thanks “ where thanks is due.

Faith Church has survived many “ups and downs,” throughout its history here in Fort McMurray. The Church started out in a private home, then school classrooms, auditoriums, other church buildings, back to schools again. We have suffered through lack of space, lack of funds, lack of congregants but the good Lord has been with Faith Church all the way and helped us “see the light” and press on.

Faith Church has survived through 2 major floods [2013 and 2020] and a forest fire [2016] since our congregation has been there. Faith Church will survive this pandemic as well.

Beginning on March 22, 2020, Faith Church live-streamed its Sunday morning worship services from the lower level “Meeting Room” at the manse. As of October 18, 2020, Faith Church is doing in-house worship service and live-streaming at 1:00pm in the sanctuary at St. Thomas Anglican Church.

Faith Church may not have a permanent church building, but “The Church is the People” and God is with us wherever we gather. Thank the good Lord, we have a good Shepherd who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and shares this with his flock.  Amen to that.

The Disciples did not always travel “on easy street” and neither has Faith Church especially during this CoVid-19 era but we need to put our trust in God and allow God to be with us each day and night. Trials and tribulations will come to us but they will give us strength, improve our character, and our determination to keep ‘moving forward.” A good friend of mine would say, “When things are not what they should be, then take in to the Lord in prayer.”

We can thank God for his presence and his word that has the power to bring us wisdom, patience, peace, love and caring for each other and the world and our belief will see us through today and tomorrow.

Take care, stay safe and God Bless you.

Have a very Blessed Merry Christmas and good health and wellbeing for 2021.

Brenda Brewer
Clerk of Session
Faith Presbyterian Church
Ft. McMurray, AB

Empathy – a Different Spin in the Context of COVID-19 (Charlie McNeil)

I had an interesting and instructive object lesson in empathy in this time of COVID-19.

The congregation received a parcel card in the mail.  We were told that we could pick up the parcel the next day from the auxiliary postal outlet in town.  So I put the parcel card in my pocket, and went about my business.

The next day I went over to the postal outlet to pick up the parcel.  I arrived at the postal desk, and no one was there.  So I rang the bell once as I was instructed to by the posted instructions.

Then I waited.  It wasn’t a long wait, nor was I in a hurry.  For a change I didn’t get impatient.

Out from the stock room door came one of the employees. The employee had a trolley with a number of bulky items on it.  I noted the person’s body language which seemed to indicate that he was having a bad day! The way he dumped the trolley confirmed that.  Clearly he was having a bad day!

When he arrived behind the counter, he asked me in a rather brusque manner what I wanted?  I handed him the card and indicated that I was there to pick up a parcel.  He scanned the parcel and then asked for identification.

I showed him my driver’s licence through the clear plastic screen.  He looked at it and then at the parcel card.  I was going to put my licence away when I was again asked to see it.

I thought I was being helpful by reaching around the plastic barrier and showing my licence a bit closer.  Seems I was dreadfully wrong!  In no uncertain terms and rather rudely it was indicated that I needn’t have shoved my licence into his face!

“Sorry,” was my outer reaction.  I won’t share my internal one!

He then indicated that the address on the parcel card and my address on my licence didn’t line up.  I told him that that was probably because the address on the parcel card was the church and as minister, I didn’t live there but had my own home address.

He nodded and then went looking for the parcel.  Eventually with some help from a co-worker the package was found and handed over.  I thanked the employee and went about my business.

I was a bit perturbed by the treatment and was tempted to speak to the manager about the rudeness!  Then I thought – why was the employee having a bad day?  Did some previous customer give him a hard time?  Did a supervisor chew him out for something that wasn’t his fault? Were the precautions for COVID-19 getting to him and having to deal with those not wearing masks etc?

Truth be told I have no idea and don’t need to!  It’s none of my business!  Except to say that maybe just maybe I can cut the guy some slack.  Everyone has a bad day and deals badly with their bad days sometimes.  These days it may well be all the more so!

Have you ever done so?  Have I?  Sad to say for me I have acted badly on bad days.

I also thought about three of our family members who work in retail, and some of the stories they’ve told about dealing with the public.  I have witnessed their professionalism and people smarts.  They have taught me a thing or two!

One gospel segue speaks to this.  In his public ministry Jesus taught about turning the other cheek.  This teaching was a conscious, and deliberate way of taking the sting out of a bad situation.  It also gave alternatives to the usual human reactions. Bad situations can all too easily escalate.  When they do no one is the winner.  In fact, everyone loses.

I came away from that incident the other day realizing that empathy is a gift to others but also to ourselves. Instead of carrying around a lot of angst, through empathy we let it go.  Instead of complaining we reflect on life lessons.  Instead of continuing the spiral of vexation we create spirals of love, understanding, and grace!

Good gifts to share with others as well as ourselves.  It can make all the difference!  Especially as we navigate through these days!

Blessings for the journey!
(Rev.) Charlie McNeil
Knox Presbyterian Church, Lloydminster

On Love (Harry Currie)

One time some religious leaders came to Jesus and asked what is the greatest commandment. There are 613 commandments in the Jewish scriptures and they thought that if he picked one, they would be able to trap him because others would say that he had picked the wrong one. And Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your being, and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself. And all the law and prophets and scripture hang on these two commandments.

You know when asked what was the greatest Jesus didn’t say believe this or that. He didn’t say worship this way or that way. Jesus didn’t even say go to this church or be a Christian or be a Jew or a Sikh or a Muslim. He didn’t say “Be a Presbyterian.” Jesus said “love.”

The word love is used ubiquitously. We see a beautiful person and exclaim: “oh, I am in love.” “It was love at first sight.” “I couldn’t help myself from loving.”

We love everything we like from chocolates to apple pie, to singing, to rap music, to friends, to family, to lovers, to our favorite movie star, to our favourite sports team, to our new BMW with leather seats, moon roof and adaptive cruise control.

But Jesus ordered us love. And what Jesus showed us is that the highest form of love is not a feeling. It is not romantic and sexy. It is choosing to act in another’s best interest even the days you don’t feel like it. Even if the other is a neighbour, or a stranger or even an enemy.

And Jesus would go on to not only talk about love but show us love. He was executed on the cross and asked God to forgive those who killed him, to forgive all of us who do wrong. You can kill Jesus but Jesus still loves.

You know if seems to me that in every kind of religion – Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim – that you will find that compassion and love are at the core of the religion, but not everybody believes that.

In every religion, there are those who use their faith and religion to control, to tell other how to live their lives, to point fingers, accuse, dominate and even send people to hell.

And in every religion, there are those who use their faith and religion to love, to accept, to include, to help the poor and needy…

Jesus says love. Do we really believe that loving God and loving neighbour are the basis of our faith? If so, then don’t just think it or believe it. Live it through conscious choices to do acts of love, and especially to one another.

Harry Currie,
Interim Moderator
Westmount Presbyterian Church

Presbytery Ride for Refuge A Huge Success

The Ride for Refuge is a day when Canadians declare their solidarity with millions of people in Canada and around the world who are displaced, exploited, persecuted and abused.

  • We ride or walk together to call attention to those whose lives have been stripped bare by pain – from life, hatred, greed, or disaster.
  •  We speak up for those treated as raw materials for others’ financial gain.
  •  We defend those crushed by forces that care nothing for their suffering.
  •  We raise funds for RIDE-approved organizations whose commitment and work transforms peoples’ lives.
  •  Every push of the pedal and every stride we take powers the future for those who otherwise have no safe place and no one to defend them.

Approved Programs

  •  Relief & Aid: Direct aid for people experiencing catastrophe, war, and oppression
  •  Development & Reconstruction: Direct or third-party NGO support for development and reconstruction initiatives, including micro-finance and sustainable funding
  •  Food & Water: Programs supporting nutrition, food banks, missions and accessible water
  •  Shelter & Housing: Any shelter, whether temporary, permanent, or expansion
  •  Medical & Dental: Treatment and follow-up care, including HIV clinics, pediatrics, pain management, and all necessary supplies
  •  Education & Tuition: Job skills, trades, ESL, career, tuition support, and Biblical curriculum and training
  •  Settlement & Acclimatization: New arrival support, training and financial aid
  •  Counsel & Legal: Spiritual counselling, development, discipleship, care for post-traumatic stress syndrome, and immigration and refugee claim legal counsel

Ride For Refuge Edmonton

According to the Ride for Refuge Edmonton site, the Presbytery of Edmonton Lakeland team raised $ $6,089.00.  According to Charlie McNeil’s email of Oct. 4th, the Knox, Lloydminster team raised $980.00. Altogether, the Presbytery raised $7,069.00.

What a wonderful job, and as Charlie said, “great to be together and out in God’s creation.”

Let’s do this again next year.

William Ball
Presbytery Missions Convener

Realistic Hope (John Carr)

I have been reflecting on the September 23 throne speech and the Prime Minister’s press conference on the same day – also on the conversation during the first segment of CBC’s The Current on September 4 with three public health experts.

Essentially, they said the same thing. We need to find ways of being in this for the long haul. And the Prime Minister asserted, and the public health experts confirmed, the second wave of the COVID-19 virus has begun.

We need to find ways of living with a “new normal” – not an old normal which is not going to return. To encourage longing for the old normal is, it seems to me, to hold out false hope – and might even be a form of idolatry.

It is important to find realistic hope in times such as these – times in which our world is suffering greatly from a pandemic, major flooding, tropical storms, and fire storms.

Jurgen Moltmann has come to be known as the “theologian of hope.” Interned as a German POW in Britain during most of World War Two and for a couple of years thereafter, he became a pastor and subsequently a theological professor.

Moltmann puts it this way:  “Eschatology means the doctrine of the Christian hope, which embraces both the object hoped for and also the hope inspired by it. From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day.” See the following URL for more detail.

Hope is realistic when it is grounded in a sense of purpose – of knowing who we are in our relationship with God, with each other in the human family, and with the universe.

It seems to me, then, that finding new ways of being is not just a temporary task precipitated by crises – but an ongoing one. It is not an act of desperation but, rather, is a realistic and hope-filled endeavour.

John C. Carr, ThM, PhD, DD (HC)
Retired Pastoral Psychotherapist& Educator

When We Can’t Handle our Troubles (Janet Taylor)

We hear it said in many situations: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Is this true?

Who (or what) is God? In various places in scripture we find God described as infinite, incomparable, merciful, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, eternal…the list could go on. In fact, the entire Bible reveals the nature, character, and work of God. Even if God changes, the change is from good to good, never “bad” to good. Jesus himself said, “why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

As full as it is of descriptions of God’s goodness, the Bible is also full of examples of people suffering, falling, sinning, and breaking. From Adam and Eve falling into temptation through to the letters to the seven churches in John’s Revelation, all through  the Bible we will find people suffering as we suffer, falling as we fall, sinning as we sin, and breaking, as we find ourselves broken. People who don’t “handle” what life throws at them. From kings to prophets, apostles to converts, there is only one person in the Bible who is sinless, pure, and perfect – and that’s God incarnate.

Since God Incarnate had to face the troubles of this world, then why wouldn’t we? Since God Incarnate was tempted in the wilderness, why would we think ourselves exempt from temptation and yes – even evil! – as we go through our lives? It’s pure ego and self-centeredness to believe that because we are people of faith, we somehow get a free pass from the challenges of living: poverty, physical troubles, family sorrows, mental health struggles and conflict. You could name a dozen more, I’m sure. Examples straight from your own life. And yet we egotistically proclaim that we can handle whatever life throws at us. That we control the outcome. It’s that incredibly self-empowered attitude that has led to the saying “God will never give us more than we can handle.”

What do we say instead? How about this: No matter what we are facing, God will give us the strength to persevere and overcome, which is a totally different thing than “handling!” Like our Biblical predecessors, we often don’t notice that it’s God who’s getting us through life’s ups and downs, but it is… Move past trying to ‘control’ things yourself, get out of the way, and invite God to take the lead. Proclaim the sovereignty, compassion, and grace of God! No matter what we are facing, God can and will give us the strength to persevere and overcome. That is “Blessed Assurance.” That is cause for joy.

(The Rev) Janet Taylor
Interim Moderator, Sherwood Park Presbyterian Church

HOW WILL YOU SPEAK MY NAME? (Stephen Haughland)

Imagine that today you had the time, energy, and the interest to learn to speak a different language. Would you take the opportunity if you could, and what language would you choose?

My spouse was the child of post-war Dutch immigrants. As a teen, she had wanted to learn “Nederlands-Talle” – the official language of Holland. But, at home, she was simply told  “We’re Canadians now. We speak English.”  She insisted, however, and years later she was still working on the “Hollands-spreken” she had learned from listening to her Dutch relatives. It was her interest and passion during her entire lifetime.

My own love for languages began in university. I had enrolled in German studies, and soon made the amazing discovery that learning a foreign language made it easier to appreciate the English I was speaking daily, but taking for granted. That experience taught me that language is not only about how we arrange words: Learning a language is also about how we relate to the people who speak those words. Language is not only about what we say when we speak to the other: Language is also about how we speak the other person’s name.

Today, events are challenging us to speak languages that are the same, yet different from the languages we usually speak. The challenge comes because the languages we speak today allow us, too easily, to utter the name of “the other” with doubts, and fears, and suspicion.

Perhaps it’s time, dear ones, to cease speaking the language of doubts and fears, and learn to speak a new language. That language could start with how you and I and everybody else might speak each other’s names in ways that sound more like kindness, and respect, and hope. Perhaps, with God’s help, we might yet be able to “speak” our world towards a better place.

Today more than ever, may all our speaking be in the language of kindness!

The Rev. Stephen Haughland
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chauvin AB

Looking back, looking forward (Elias Mendes-Gomez

We are journeying people. From the time we enter into the world until the moment we take our final breath we make our way as life unfolds before us.
So it is with faith. It too is a lifelong journey. Along the way we encounter others, and at these crossing points we encounter the living God.
Crossings: God’s Journey with Us

Since this is my first post, I think it is appropriate to supply some background. I am the “new kid on the block.” Faith Church (Fort McMurray) is my first charge and I began serving this congregation six months ago. The journey to arrive here was long and bumpy.

The formal training I received in my four years at Knox College challenged my assumptions and deconstructed my faith, threatening, at times, to destroy it (or so it felt). The faith survived… but not unscathed; in the process it metamorphosed into a different shape, enriched by the different opinions and the cross-pollination of the numerous perspectives studied. Though heart-wrenching at times, those were the most formative years of my life… but those years of training were not enough to prepare me (or anyone else, for that matter) for our present reality.

As expected, this short time in congregational ministry brought its fair share of first occasions and first challenges. First time leading Communion, moderating meetings… then, there came the CoVid-19 pandemic with isolation and live-streaming worship, the Athabasca River flood and, more recently, the preparations for the re-launching of our in-person worship.

These challenges, however, pale before the prospects of a diverse ministry, which have fueled my imagination and prompted me to start the quest to identify the ways the Spirit has gifted the local congregation to accomplish God’s will for this time and location. My prayer is that God will give us a renewed sense of vision and direction for the future.

Therefore, I am ever grateful for the past few months journeying with the local congregation and being able to develop, grow and minister. I look forward to the coming months as we encounter our living God in new and unexpected places.

Elias Mendes-Gomes
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray (AB)