Tomorrow… We Ride!

Team Kortright Photo

(Rear – Left-right) Denise Zimmer, Tim Watson, Brian Watson, Helena Watson, Alex Gray, (Front) Dennis Gray, Daniel Bartozzi

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but tomorrow Team Kortright and I hit the road in the 5th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Last year the team raised just shy of $18000. This year we managed to top that slightly with the total being, as of this writing, $18,854.24.

Yep, 24 cents. Not sure exactly how three of us ended up with 8 cents each (likely something to do with door receipts from the Fireworks party) but there it is. It’s wonderful that we managed to top last year’s total. I’m very proud of all the members of the team, and exceedingly grateful to everyone who supported us.


There’s a couple of other things that are a little different this year. Up till now our connection to Kortright Church in Guelph has pretty much been in name only; but this year we have been granted small group status at Kortright making the connection official. It feels good because, despite what some might contend, names are important when it comes to a sense of belonging. The vast majority of Team Kortright (6 out of 7) attend KPC and we have often felt like we were in some kind of limbo; a part of the community but only at the fringes, like the weird aunt nobody really talks about. With official status as a small group we can now boldly declare our value to the community and one member of the team, Helena Watson, does that very well in this month’s issue of the Kortright Kronicles. You can read the article HERE.

The other change this time around is a little more personal. In 2008 I participated in the first Ride to Conquer Cancer. Though I had done other fund-raising efforts this one really hit home. Twenty four years earlier my brother Alex had his right arm & shoulder amputated when it was discovered he had the same cancer that took Terry Fox. Not long after that colon cancer took my father from us. I have cycled all my life and when the Ride came along I knew it was the perfect way for me to be a part of the fight. Alex drove me down to the CNE grounds that first cold Saturday morning, but he was unable to join me for a number of reasons.

But this year he and I will be riding together and I couldn’t be happier. His health has improved and he’s riding a great custom trike that was once the property of Dr. Robert Buckman. Dr. Buckman was a very popular oncologist at The Princess Margaret Hospital who had a reputation for making his patients feel at ease with a remarkable sense of humour. His work in educating the public on health matters and cancer in particular is legendary. If you get the chance check out the work he did with John Cleese.

My Brother Alex riding the trike he acquired from Dr. Robert Buckman.

The fact that my brother is riding in memory of Robert Buckman just adds to the positive feelings I have about this year’s Ride to Conquer Cancer. It’s shaping up to be the best ever. Once again thanks to everyone who has supported us, both financially and spiritually with prayers and encouragement.

See you in Niagara Falls on Sunday!

We Will Return to our Regular Programming…

I’m spending this week tracking down all the places on Kortright’s website where Don McCallum’s name appears as a contact. I will admit it is a weird feeling. It’s also an interesting little dance trying to figure out where to draw the line.  It’s going to be a bit of a dance for a while I’m sure, but eventually it will all get worked out.

One of the interesting aspects of this is how to refer to Rev. Ralph Neil. Ralph has agreed to take on the bulk of the Sunday morning teaching duties for the duration of the interim process. With a few decades experience under his belt in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations he’s an excellent choice and we are blessed to have him and his wife Bonnie around.

He’s a great guy and a good preacher, but what do I call him? He’s not the pastor, he’s just the person who will be preaching on Sunday mornings.  And while he is an ordained minister, to call him the minister also has connotations of permanence that are likely best avoided. I’ve settled on the title ‘Interim Speaker’ based on some input from members of session and a learned friend of mine. And while it works for reference purposes, it too is a less than perfect choice.

The word ‘interim’ seems to hold different connotations for different people. This is best illustrated by something I overheard during the picnic lunch after Don’s last service.  One person in the line up for coffee said to another, “I hope the process of finding a new pastor doesn’t take too long. Once this interim period is over we’ll be able to get back to normal.”

Now, while I agree with the sentiment that the process should not drag on too long (personally I’d like to see us with a new pastor in time for our 30th anniversary in Sept 2010) I really hope we never have to “get back to normal” because I don’t want to see us leave normal in the first place. The ‘interim’ is not about abandoning normal for the next year or so and then getting ‘back to normal’ later on.  At least, I don’t think it should be.

Because the ‘normal’ operation of the church is not dependent on who the pastor may or may not be.    The normal operation of the church is to love God, love others, care for the poor and the sick, comfort the heart-broken, lift the downtrodden, and proclaiming the good news to the nations. This is not of course an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.  These activities should make up the normal daily life of the church and should be continuing to take place regardless of who’s preaching, who’s on session, or who’s making the coffee between services.

This, for me, is the challenge of the next few months, not putting church life on hold until the search process is over. The pastor is just another member of the congregation, a significant member to be sure; a member with great responsibility without question; but in the end, still a member of the congregation along with the rest of us. And it is the congregation that determines what ‘normal’ is in the life of the church.

The period Kortright is facing is not like summer reruns on television and when the new ‘host’ is hired we will “return to our regular programming.” The months to come are integral part of the life of the church. It is, if you’ll excuse an entirely over-worn expression, our ‘new normal.’ It’s part of the process that God is taking us through to make who He needs us to be to bring about His kingdom here on earth.

The pastor can and should be used by God to influence that process; he or she can show us from the Word what God expects normal to look like. But ultimately it is the congregation who, by their actions and testimony as they live their lives before the world, determines what is the day-to-day normal of the church. And they need to keep doing that regardless of who is occupying the pulpit, either permanently, or just for the interim.

Hanging in for the duration… Shalom.

The End of an Era.. of sorts.

Well… it’s done.

Pastor Don McCallum has preached his last service at Kortright Presbyterian Church. After 18 years he and his family have about a month to complete moving exercises and then he will be a part of Knox Presbyterian Church in Listowel.

It was a good service. There were songs (including one specifically written for the occasion – a copy to be posted later this week), and videos, and memories, and the presentation of gifts ( a book of memories and a bicycle – highly appropriate). But most importantly, there was release.

It’s the hardest part of change – letting go of the past. Allowing those who wish to move on to do so.  As a species humans do not generally welcome change, we would much prefer to surround ourselves with the familiar and the security provided by knowing exactly what to expect each day.

And yet, without change there is no growth, and I have come to realize that Kortright has come as far as Pastor Don is/was able to take it.   He came to KPC at a time when much healing was required and he guided them through that healing. He held their hands as they took their first steps into becoming an adult congregation. He has done his job well.

But the complexion of Kortright is changing. New people are arriving each month (we’re back up to the number we had before the move) and there is a different expectation now of what the future might hold. It is time for Kortright to leave home and set out on it’s own- so to speak.

Congregations are not teenagers, however.  It would be rather impractical for the entire congregation to move out of 55 Devere Drive and seek out new adventures, leaving Pastor Don and the building behind awaiting the arrival of a new flock. (Interesting concept though, might be a skit there)  So, as practicality dictates, it is the pastor who moves on.

Moves on to face new challenges of his own as the congregation he leaves behind begins the process of figuring out who we are and who we want to be. A process we have already begun. But an era has ended, the McCallum Years are complete.  Now only God knows what the future holds for either of us.

I eagerly await the arrival of the new era.

Endings and Beginnings

I’ve been putting off writing this for some time now, but I can’t put it off forever. It’s just that writing about it seems to give it so much  finality.  But then, experience has demonstrated writing about it brings acceptance as well, and since not writing about it won’t stop it from happening, I may as well get on with it.

Pastor Don McCallum is leaving KPC.

I’ve been a believer for just about 35 years now, and for the last 14 years Don McCallum has been my pastor.  Before that there was a long line of individuals in a variety of denominations starting with the Anglican minister who gave me a copy of Nietzche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil‘ as a confirmation gift when I was 13. (Interestingly enough, a young man named Davian is sitting at the desk behind me reading that very book as I’m writing this.)

If you check out my Facebook profile under religion it reads “Anglican/ Baptist/ Pentecostal/ Presbyterian with definite Jewish sympathies ” and that’s only a list of the major influences.  I was even blessed to have a Messianic rabbi as one of the early mentors (hence the ‘Jewish sympathies’), but for sheer longevity and range of interaction no one has been as large an influence on me as has Don McCallum.  It’s been one of the most productive and enjoyable relationships which I’ve ever had the privilege of taking part. That’s what makes change so hard.

But change is what growth is all about. If nothing changes there is only stagnation and that isn’t good for anyone or anything, and so the best way for me to get through this is embrace it and pray that it is only the ending of one phase of the relationship. Indeed, I pray that it is the beginning of a whole new phase of relationship;  for Don, for me, and for Kortright Presbyterian Church.

When Don first told me he was leaving (almost a month ago–worship planning works 4 months in advance, so we needed to know) it started me thinking about when Pete, Phil and Jim left. For those of you who don’t know, Pete Olsen was our youth pastor, Phil English was our worship pastor, and Jim Klaas was our discipleship pastor.  Each one, in turn, felt that the time had come for them to move on to other things. Each one had their influence on me, on Kortright and then moved on to influence others.  Now Don is leaving as well. The paranoid side of my insecurity is starting to wonder if it was something I said!?

But then I believe God began to show me a pattern.

It started when we moved to Devere Drive on our 25th anniversary. There was a general feeling of malaise at Scotsdale Drive.  Pretty much everyone felt we were in a rut and needed something new to kick us back into high gear.  Since space was an issue we started looking for a new building. It took more than 5 seemingly fruitless years, but then one day the old University Village School just seemed to drop into our lap. We tendered an offer, it was accepted, and we moved to the promised land.

And that’s where it ramped up a notch. The promised land metaphor was bandied around quite a bit. In fact, it was bandied about a lot. There was even talk of making a ‘crossing of the Hanlon Expressway video’.  But I don’t think any of us truly appreciated how much of a wilderness experience moving here was really going to be.

As expected there was an immediate drop off in attendance. Then shortly thereafter Pete and his wife Cindi were parachuted into the Northwest territories. (Well, not literally, though I’m sure Pete would have thought it a cool idea.) Other things began to change as well. Phil led us through a paradigm shift in worship which included the establishing of a worship planning team, Jim tried a variety of discipleship ideas but found the small groups dynamic was shifting. New people started to take leadership roles and we found things like bannering, and liturgical dance working their way into our midst. One thing after another came, or went, or was replaced as we struggled to discover our new identity in this new environment.

We changed our vision statement, our mission statement and our motto. A new goals directive was adopted, by a group of elders that was much changed from the one that left Scotsdale Drive; with the addition of more new elders next month, that dynamic will change again.  As I have already mentioned, along the way Pete, Phil and Jim moved on to bigger and better things. Now Don McCallum is doing the same. We’ve gone from 4 pastors to no pastors in three and a half years.

That’s when it hit me. We had forgotten one little detail about crossing the Jordan. One aspect of moving to the promised land had completely escaped our notice.

Nobody that left Egypt ever got to the promised land!!

Well, except Joshua and Caleb; because the promised land was such a new thing that it required a new way of thinking by those who were going to inhabit it.  The old ways would have worked against the new thing that God was trying to do. (And did, as it turned out.)

Now I’m not saying that an entire generation needs to die off before KPC will get its act together, however much it may seem to be taking that long.   But I do think we failed to notice the fact that sometimes to be effective change needs to be complete, total, even massive in scope.  It may require massive change because there are massive changes happening in the world we have been called to reach.  Every generation is different than the one before it, but most sociologists agree that the scope of change from one generation to the next is increasing exponentially.

I’m beginning to believe that God wanted to do far more with Kortright than we had ever imagined.  We were plateaued and going nowhere, just rolling along maintaining the status quo. For us to move forward we needed to go someplace we’d never been before and as much as we might have great affection for some of the things we wanted to bring along, they were slowing us down, miring us in the muck at the bottom of the Red Sea. What hurts most is to think some of the things holding us back might be people we truly love and care about.  But it may well be that the status quo is holding them back as well. It may well be that if they are going to grow, they need to be somewhere else.

And so it would seem that more changes are required than we thought. For the descendants of Israel, moving into the promised land took a lot of hard work and more than a few battles had to be fought. There were many casualties along the way. But it was worth it, because in the end a new nation was born.

And I think it will be worth it for Kortright as well. God is reinventing us into something completely new.  It has occurred to me that by the time we reach our 30th anniversary in Sept of 2010 we will have spent the last 5 years bringing about a new location, a new paradigm of worship, a new mission statement, a new vision statement, and new goals directive, a new youth pastor, a new children’s ministry director, a new music director, a new technical director, a new session (board of elders), and a new senior pastor.  By our 30th anniversary God will have all but totally re-invented Kortright Presbyterian Church. It will still be the same community of people, but a new version of that community with a new vision for the future.

Which is why I have decided that, for myself anyway, I’m going to call it Kortright 3.o

I know it’s incredibly geeky, but that’s the way I find myself thinking about it. As we cross the 30 year mark it will be as if we are entering into a whole new version of Kortright – version 3.0 – still very much the same place but with a few updated features, and a few new ones, some unproductive features removed from the menu, a little debugging done along the way, resulting in an improved spiritual experience that makes Kortright a greater and more effective community than it is right now.  And that’s exciting!

And I’ll be writing about all of it here, from one gray man’s perspective. Nothing about the future is going to be very black and white I imagine, just myriad shades of gray.  But I’ll comment on it here under the tag ‘Kortright 3.0’.  And I invite you to comment on the process as well. There will need to be many conversations about what is happening at KPC; I’d like to start one of them right here.

If you’re from Kortright then please pass around the link to this article. Let’s use the comment feature to start a dialog about what is happening at KPC. If there is enough traffic I’ll transfer all of this to a blog of its own. For now I’ll archive everything to a new menu page called – you guessed it – Kortright 3.0

This is an ending, there’s no doubt about that, but it is also a beginning; I’m excited to be here as the future unfolds.  In the past I was usually the one moving on; but God has given me a home at Kortright and so this time I’m staying while others do the moving. 

A new experience – this is going to be a great adventure.