My favourite professor at seminary was a strange, gnome-like character (he actually resembled a garden gnome and knew it) by the name of Dr. Lloyd Gaston. He also happened to be a brilliant and gifted lecturer, highly respected internationally for his work in New Testament studies. He himself had studied in Germany under the great theologian Karl Barth. As a public speaker and purveyor of contemporary Bible scholarship he was second to none.
Dr. Gaston preferred the “shock and awe” method of teaching. For example, at the first class of his “Introduction to the New Testament” course, he used to ask with enthusiasm which students had in their possession a “red-letter” edition of the Bible. Five or six eager students thrust their hands in the air, expecting to be praised for their choice of Bibles. Instead, Dr. Gaston implored them to dispose of their colourful Bibles, with the added statement: “We don’t know how many of the sayings of Jesus were actually ‘of Jesus’; the red letters mean nothing.”
Well, as I said, Gaston was a gifted educator, but to speak with him in private, away from the “stage” of the lecture hall, was an exercise in high anxiety. Whether he suffered from severe social anxiety or was just extremely shy and private, he could barely hold a conversation for more than two minutes. It always struck me as odd that one so comfortable, so at ease in the role of a lecturer could also be so socially challenged when it came to one-on-one conversations. Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’m told most stand-up comics are introverted by nature, ministers too, according to the old Myers-Briggs personality test. Johnny Carson was a virtual recluse in his private life. Nonetheless, we admired and respected Dr. Lloyd Gaston, overlooked his personal struggle, celebrated the gift of his knowledge, his faith, and his teaching. Indeed one student created a somewhat humorous little phrase which echoed the esteem in which most held Dr. Gaston – “Have you heard, there’s a new Trinity – The Father, Son, and Holy Gaston.”
I attended the Alberta and Northwest Conference Meeting Thursday with Margaret Watson, at SAIT in Calgary. The Conference continues through the weekend, highlighted by a joyous, celebratory worship service Sunday at which new ministers will be ordained and new diaconal ministers inducted. The Conference is dealing with some major issues of funding and visioning this year, reflecting the same issues facing individual congregations, by and large, across the province and indeed the country. It was noted that while church membership overall is rapidly declining, demographically a growing percentage of United Church members in Alberta reside in rural areas. Still urban churches, again by and large, are the ones facing the greatest challenges of membership decline, funding problems, and discerning what they are called to do and be. Nonetheless, it was stated, with pride, that the U.C.C.’s diversity – of cultures, languages, theologies, ages, orientations, etc. was one of its strengths. A variety of people with varieties of gifts and talents and callings, celebrating and serving together as one Church.
I wonder how that diversity expresses itself at Rundle UC? And celebration of such. Like Dr. Gaston, some of us are comfortable and gifted at reading scripture and prayers during public worship, others not at all. What then are the gifts you possess which God may intend you to offer for the common good of the Church? Perhaps you’re gifted at greeting, a welcoming ministry on Sunday mornings to help visitors feel at home among us. But perhaps, again like Dr. Gaston, you get extremely nervous chatting with strangers. So again, what are the other gifts and talents God has given you to share with God’s church?
We’ve just received news that Benjamin Moore Paints has chosen us as recipients of a special grant to go toward the beautification of the outside of our church building. What we need now are a few people to take the lead on an emerging paint project for our church. Judy Loretan is already on board, but surely others are needed. Just one area of life at Rundle Memorial in which we can all take part. There are so many ways to give, to serve, to enhance the life and ministry of our church in the Bow Valley. We are small in number but diverse in gifts. Your gifts could be the missing piece that Rundle Memorial needs. We are a church not unlike so many others within the UCC family. What will the future hold for us as we seek to celebrate God’s grace and share God’s light in the world around us? What can you do to enhance the Sunday worship experience for others? How or what can you contribute to the vital outreach ministry that is Rundle United Thrift? What energy are you being called to give to the beautification of our church building? Could your presence at a study group benefit not only yourself but the experience of others? Are there pastoral talents lying dormant within you, which could be offered in love to those in need of a visit, a listening ear, a kind touch, a prayer?
Diversity. We are the U.C.C. We need your particular and perhaps unique contributions at Rundle. How can you help?
God who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, the apostle Paul very early on in the life of the Church urged his people to consider that just as there are varieties of personal gifts, talents and inclinations in the church, so are there varieties of needs in the body of Christ. Open up our spirits, Lord, to consider how we might give of ourselves for the building up of the family of God. None are perfect, none are talented in everything. Still we have something to offer, and only in offering, in seeking to give, to serve, do we find the heart of faith. Guide and lead us in challenging times for your whole Church across the province and across the country. May we seek your kingdom, sharing the gospel of Christ in all we do. Amen.