Yesterday morning, Jan. 12, Peter Haresnape was licensed for ministry and installed as an associate pastor of Toronto United Mennonite Church (TUMC). I, as former pastor at TUMC, now long retired, was thrilled. It was a powerful moment of recognizing Peter’s calling by God and his many gifts for ministry – especially his biblical and theological strengths, his gentle care for people and his commitment to peace and justice. Underneath the surface of this public celebration of God’s call into ministry flowed another stream – a stream of healing for both the congregation and for me as former pastor.
We were a broken congregation, and I was a broken pastor, after our deep conflict over issues of inclusion around human sexuality in 2003. These tore us apart. But maybe our acknowledgment of brokenness was the window into which God’s healing started to flow. We lamented. We confessed. We tried to open ourselves to the future. We began to see our differences as gifts and the conflicts we had as opportunities to understand more fully what it meant to live into God’s hospitable invitation. Thankfully, there were some from within and some from without the community who continued the dialogue and gently pushed us to continue on a journey of justice and healing.
After my retirement, God sent Dave Brubacher to TUMC as an intentional interim pastor to work with many lay leaders to prepare the ground for the future. Then came Marilyn Zehr as pastor, later joined by Michele Rizoli. We moved into a team ministry model which included several youth workers. The congregation grew. The spirit of the congregation was again full of energy and vitality. When Marilyn left for other ministries, we spent some time searching for a pastoral model for our present context.
And now God was inviting another person to join Michele on the pastoral team. Several months ago, our congregation met with Peter to discern whether or not to invite him to be our associate pastor. The conversation was rigorous, a spirited and healthy give and take. In the end the congregation moved, by consensus, to invite him to join our pastoral team. Peter being gay was not an issue.
I could not have imagined all of these developments when I retired from full time ministry in 2007. I felt God’s gentle healing touch personally when God gave my wife Lydia and I a wonderful opportunity to partner together in serving three very unique congregations as intentional interim co-pastors. After eight years away, and after full retirement, we came back to TUMC to make it our church home. It was a changed, and more vibrant, congregation.
Yesterday the congregation was in high spirits. Alicia Good, associate pastor of the Leamington North Mennonite Church preached a fine sermon (including reminding us that every pastor also fails at times). Marilyn Rudy Froese, Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada officiated the licencing.
I marvel at God’s healing touch. I rejoice in all callings to ministry. I celebrate the hospitable spirit of our congregation. Thanks be to God.