Why do you go to church? This has been a question that I have been asked a lot in my life: in high school, in university, in the communities I have been a part of. My answers have been varied throughout the years too: because I get a free trip to Vancouver three or four times a year (when I was in high school and doing provincial church work), because I get paid (when I was in university and working for churches), because it is a place where I feel like I need to be at this point in my life. And then, the answer that flowed through all of those: it was a place where I could be myself, where I was loved into maturity, where I was held in prayer, where I was helped to be a better person – in short, because of the community that existed.
Some people talk about Church as a family, and in many ways it is. There are the aunts and uncles that you love to spend time with, and there are the cousins and the brothers and sisters that you have fun hanging out with and playing games. But there are also the uncles that tell jokes that you find offensive, and the aunts that comment on what you wear. There are the nieces and nephews that make too much noise and the cousins that you “never did understand”. But in the end, each and every one of those people plays a part in my life that has helped me become who I am today.
This was the community that held me in prayer when my mom died, and during my growing up years, and when I moved away for the first time, and the second. It was the community that offered me opinions (whether I wanted them or not) and played a role in developing the leadership skills that I possess now. It was the community that when good and bad things happened in my life, I wanted to share with.
Over the past week, the town of Slave Lake in Alberta has experienced a horrific wildfire that engulfed their town and has forced the residents to evacuate. The folks there are being helped by the communities around them; their lives, not by their own choices, are being shared in that place.
For the residents of the Barriere area, you might remember what it was like to be the residents of that town, with the flames on the hillside, the smoke in the air, during the fires of 2003. You probably helped your neighbours who didn’t have rides make sure they did, and offered whatever you could. You became a stronger community, and offered support.
For the residents of Clearwater, you might remember what it was like to be that network of support, waiting to hear how friends and family in Barriere area were when the fires were raging. You may have offered gifts of finance, or clothing, or goods, or whatever you could. You offered community and support.
I have heard stories of the fires, and couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like. I am certain that the people of Slave Lake must have felt the same way as I did, until this week when it happened to them.
I met the minister of the Ecumenical Shared Ministry in Slave Lake a few years ago, and so as I have heard the news of what is happening up there, I know that she has been in my prayers and the prayers of many others in the churches she serves. But not only for who she is, but for the community of Slave Lake, for the church community, for the community of gathered people who reach out to help in whatever ways they can. For that is all we can do. Offer support, offer community, offer friendship, and love, and care.
For it was once us, and now it is them.
May God offer the folks of Slave Lake comfort, care, community, peace and the strength to rebuild all that needs to be rebuilt. May it be so.
*By Reverend Graham Brownmiller, Pastor at the Church of Saint Paul in Barriere.