A sermon preached this past Sunday – March 1st.
Today we take a break from our series on the Apostles’ Creed – and as we begin this morning we do so with this question: What time is it? For us, as a congregation of God’s people at Knox Crescent Kensington and First Presbyterian Church: What time is it?
To explain the question I’m asking, let me turn and read familiar words from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. We read:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
What time is it for us, as a congregation of God’s people at Knox Crescent Kensington and First Presbyterian Church?
The writer of Ecclesiastes, a piece of wisdom literature, reminds us that life never stands still. There are different seasons in our lives – our circumstances change, we grow and develop, we face new challenges and opportunities, we walk through shadows and sometimes in bright sunshine. Our lives never stand still – our lives are never static – we don’t live only in three dimensions – we live also in the fourth dimension of time.
What the writer of Ecclesiastes also wants us to see is that since life is always in flux, since our lives are perpetually in motion, we face the question of what we should do at different times. Wisdom, says the writer, is about knowing the right thing to do in different circumstances.
Your friend is going through a difficult time – is it a time to embrace her or a time to give her some space? Wisdom provides the answer.
Your garden is at the height of its growth in September – is it time to pull up the carrots or do they need a couple more weeks in the soil? Wisdom provides the answer.
You’ve been holding on to every piece of your child’s artwork, and his school
projects, for years – is it time to throw some of it away and keep only a few important pieces? Wisdom knows the answer.
We pass through seasons of life, and in each season we are invited to have courage and wisdom – to know what is asked of us. To know what time it is. To know what we are invited to do in this time and this place.
And so we come back again to the question with which we began. What time is it for Knox Crescent Kensington and First Presbyterian Church?
This past week you will have received a letter from the Session of the congregation – a letter that calls for a special meeting next Sunday. At that meeting we will vote on a recommendation to sell the sanctuary in which we worship this morning – also to sell the piece of land that lies immediately to the north of the sanctuary.
In some respects, it seems, we as a congregation have already decided what time it is. Over the past 3 to 4 years we have wrestled with the fact that our congregational life is not financially sustainable – our building is far beyond what we need, and at the current pace of spending there are perhaps only 6 or 7 years left for us in this place. So in some important respect the congregation has already made a decision about what time it is – we have determined that rather than letting time and circumstances overrun us, leaving us boxed in a corner, we will act courageously and proactively. Under the sound guidance of the Sustainability Task Force, and under the leadership of the Session, we have moved toward the important and difficult decision to sell this portion of the church property.
Thus it was that in October of 2007 you as a congregation passed a motion authorizing the Sustainability Task Force “to proceed with exploring concrete options to relocate our church into the western portion of our current property (comprising the buildings to the west of the 1948 sanctuary building) and arrange an appropriate disposition of the current tennis courts and 1948 sanctuary…”
The motion that was passed in 2007, and the meeting that is to be held next week, in effect represent our answer to that question: What time is it for KCKF? As we take this important decision to sell part of the property, it seems to me that we are saying two things:
First of all we are saying: It is a time to let go.
Secondly we are saying: It is a time to reach out.
As I’ve already mentioned, it has become apparent that if the congregation of KCKF is to have a future, and is to have some say in how our future life might unfold, the window for action has become narrow. In the light of this, the congregation has explored a variety of options for moving forward – we considered the possibility of amalgamating with another congregation; we considered moving out and finding some other building; but finally we settled on the idea of remaining here in the heart of NDG. We settled on the conviction that it was important to have a Christian and Presbyterian witness here in the middle of this beautiful and dynamic community. We settled on the idea that we should reduce our physical plant to a size that we could sustain – and which will sustain our mission.
It is a time to let go – a time to let go of this beautiful sanctuary – built and dedicated just 50 years ago. It means letting go of a sanctuary that carries with it fond memories and important memories – memories of significant events in your lives – perhaps the baptism of a child, perhaps the wedding of a friend, perhaps the funeral of a beloved family member. Letting go, of course, is not easy.
This past week I spent some time looking through the archives of this congregation – leafing through old photographs and old Session minutes and old newspaper clippings. And doing so it became apparent that the life of the church has always been a life of change – in each generation the church is in some sense asked to let go of something important. Indeed, each of the churches that have come together through the years to form congregation faced moments of letting go.
This week down in the archive I read a resolution passed by Knox Crescent church back in 1947. You will recall that the building of Knox Crescent church was destroyed by fire in November of 1946. And having faced the calamity of that fire, the congregation of Knox Crescent, whose building was located on the corner of Crescent and Dorchester streets, faced the decision whether to rebuild there or to move elsewhere.
At their congregational meeting of February 26th, 1947, the congregation of Knox Crescent realized that in view of the cost of reconstructing anything like their old church, and in view of their declining membership and revenue, the couldn’t stay there. Thus, they passed a motion that included the following: “Be it resolved that the congregation shall not rebuild on the site of the old church at the corner of Crescent and Dorchester Streets and that the Trustees be authorized and empowered to sell the remains of the old church and site.” That resolution passed unanimously. No doubt there was some second-guessing, no doubt there were some fears and hesitations, but that congregation persisted in a decision they knew they had to take.
We can well imagine that it was not easy – for Knox Crescent church it was a moment of letting go. Letting go of something beautiful and secure and memorable. It meant facing a future that was uncertain.
In the history of this congregation there have been other moments of letting go. The congregation of First Presbyterian Church, which joined with KCK in the late 1980’s also had a moment of letting go – a moment in which they realized that declining membership and revenues meant that they would have to leave their beautiful building adjacent to McGill University.
There was for First Church a time to build up a congregation – and a time to move on to new pastures to new possibilities. Eventually, of course, they determined to join this congregation – to form Knox Crescent Kensington and First Presbyterian Church.
This week, down in the vault which holds most of the congregation’s papers, I came across a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Clifton MacKay at the closing of the First church building in 1984. Of course Dr. MacKay was minister of this church from 1950 to 1975. In that sermon, preached 25 years ago, Dr. Mackay said this to the congregation of First Church (and I quote): “Because we live in a dynamic world, change is inevitable. As we get older we do not like change and we look wistfully for things to stay as they are – and so we try to live in the past. This is fatal because it can’t be done – life isn’t going that way. It is Christian to be thankful for the blessings and lessons of the past, to learn from them and cherish them, but the past is not a hitching post but rather a guide post. It is somewhat like the rear view mirror in our cars – the past gives us a glimpse of the road behind in order that we might more safely travel the road ahead.”
Dr. Mackay helps us, here, make the transition between letting go and reaching out, from looking back to looking ahead. If we as a congregation at Knox Crescent Kensington and First Presbyterian church have determined that it is a time to let go…. we have also determined that it is a time to reach out….
To get a sense of how we might reach out, I can again to no better than to share words preached by Dr. MacKay 25 years ago. In preaching to First Presbyterian Church he spoke of a ministry of dreams. And he invited that congregation to a ministry of dreams, which he considered a particular ministry of congregations working through change.
Dr. MacKay preached these words: “Changing churches have a different form of ministry. Moving from one place of worship to another, should not cause us to give up our dream. God hasn’t changed. Christ is not just a legend out of the past, but a living presence.” Dr. MacKay continued: “I believe God is saying to us this morning – Have a dream, make a wish, continue in my power and will to witness to the gospel of my son, to help change beaten, hopeless, tired, and lost people into new creatures, that they may hope again, live again, love again, as children of the Father. The impossible dream,” he says, “is that this can happen again – we can all be changed from weakness into power, from fear into faith, from situations over which we have no control, into men and women with hope in their hearts, a dream in their minds, and a divine presence in their souls. This has happened and still happens when Christ gets a grip on a person’s life.”
Reading his words makes me think I would like to have heard him preach.
What Dr. MacKay referred to as the ministry of dreams is what we have embraced in acknowledging that it is a time both to let go and a time to reach out. It seems that our new home for worship will (though we don’t yet know for certain) probably be a renovated Kensington Church – what we now call Kensington Hall. This morning, on your way to Knox Hall for the annual general meeting, have a look at the rich woodwork and at the beautiful simplicity of that space. Dream past the peeling paint and past the poor lighting and past the piles of stuff, and see a new place of worship emerge. We are a people who dream – and sometimes we must dream about such mundane things as bricks and mortar – doing so a new vision of worship might emerge.
But of course we dream not only of a new place of worship – we continue to dream about the call and invitation of Jesus Christ to reach out to the community around us – to reach out with the love, joy, faith, and hope that are found in his name. As we dream in this way we are reminded that we can only reach out if our life is financially sustainable and if we address the challenge of our time.
In the book of Hebrews we receive a powerful account of the life to which we have been called – a life in which we reach out to the future that God is bringing in Christ. The writer of Hebrews says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great company of women and men of faith (those who have gone before, and those who stand beside us now), let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of God.”
Let us lay aside everything that would hold us back, and let us follow with confidence and courage the path that is laid out before us, looking to Jesus Christ – the living one who leads us on, who holds the future in his hands.
The writer of the book of Hebrews invites us to continue in our identity as God’s children, to continue steadfastly in our identity as servants of Jesus Christ. He invites us to live as a community that reaches out in love and service,
a community that gathers together in prayer,
a community lifts its voices in song,
a community that delights in and cares for creation, and
a community of confident and hopeful dreamers.