I encountered Reverend Ann Pollock early in my formation as a minister. Going away to Naramata for a weekend, she’d left both service and sermon to me. I drafted and redrafted. Consulting various resources, and Ann’s two decades of service notes, I compiled a product I could read in the allotted time, spending Saturday night in review.
Arriving early Sunday morning I paced myself through the moments preceding worship. Setting up the morning coffee I turned to find Ann, here after all. Naramata Centre was now a base for firefighters. They’d come from afar to battle flames consuming the Okanagan.
“I was willing to stay,” she joked, “all those good-looking firefighters.” Laughing as she excused herself into the congregation, settling into a semi-ease I now recognize. Sitting down to listen while considering the folk around, also listening. Hearing for their ears.
The service seemed to go well (even now I can never really tell), folk were kind and gentle in their praise. Ann though, Ann looked a bit, thoughtful.
After the sanctuary’s inhabitants left for coffee, she queried me on the sermon’s theme.
“Grace,” I said.
“Grace,” she agreed, “where does that come from?”
“Well,” I replied, “from God?”
“Yes,” she said. I breathed an internal relief.
“How does it come?”
“How does it come? We do what is right, and Grace comes to us, and to our world.” Really, I thought, wasn’t that the point of the sermon?
“Yes, I thought that’s what the sermon said,” she nodded, “No.”
“No, we do not earn Grace.”
“We don’t?” I was a bit taken aback. My research…
“Grace is for all. No one lacks it, no one can turn away.”
“No one? Not even –“ I named a heinous criminal. A pariah. A heartless slayer of innocents. “Surely not him.”
“Yes, even him. Maybe especially him.”
“Well,” I ventured, “what about Hitler, or Stalin, or Genghis Khan, or abusers and beaters? What about them?”
“Them too.” She nodded. “Them too.”
I was stunned.
“God loves all,” she said, “if God is close to our best idea of God, then God is in all things. As Paul said: Sees all things, knows all things, bears all things. God’s love is without end.”
I nodded. God’s abiding love was one of the reason’s I’d come back to church, had decided to enter ministry. That we might all be one. But those ones? Them?
She persevered, “Grace is the relentless presence of love in our lives, love that can no more let us go than it can let go of itself. Nothing we do can change that. Nothing.”
I’ve thought about that teaching many times. Ann’s sure and certain confidence in the inseparable nature of Creator and creation. One in God, one in Grace. She has done much to inform my path, my own steps along Christ’s Way in the world.
I am not always there. Events of the last few weeks make me question my unity in God with all other created beings. Ones who bear arms in places of worship, or rush planes to market without adequate design, or push politics over integrity. Really? Am I one with them too?
If that is true, then where am I, as an equal recipient of Grace, also complicit in the harms of the world? Where have I blamed and vilified? Where have I cut corners to push out a product? Where do I expect special consideration and favour in exchange for support?
Why does the Grace of God insist I reflect upon our common need for Grace?
Keith Simmonds is in ministry at Duncan United Church, where folk are engaged in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with the Creator. He blogs at keithsimmonds.ca.
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*This article was publishe in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, April 6th 2019