Personal Spirituality or Tending the World: A Christian Perspective

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Personal Spirituality or Tending the World:  A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Pentecost: the Birth of the Christian Church
There is a convention in Christian art which many painters and stained glass artists have used through the centuries: over each image of the disciples after Pentecost, a small flame is portrayed. Obviously, artists have been struck by the individual empowerment of each of Jesus’ followers.

The Pentecost Spirit empowered each individual disciple at Pentecost.
How do we know that this event affected each one of them individually?

Not one of them ever denied Jesus again — not Peter or Thomas or any of the others — and what happened to them for witnessing to Jesus Christ?
Death by sword, upside down crucifixion; they were hanged, speared, tortured and burned alive, beheaded, beaten, and stoned. Only John died a natural death. What happened at Pentecost infused each disciple with a power great enough to set them on their journeys. Many of them spoke about their faith right up to the point of death.

Pentecost was a dramatically empowering moment in each life. Yet immediately, they were thrust into relationships with others. People gathered from all over the known world, listening to the disciples and understanding them each in their own language. In the moment, some were skeptical, others listened, awestruck. Peter reached back to the prophet Joel to find the resources to explain to the people how important this was.

Afterwards, they continued to do what Jesus had taught them; he sent them out and they went to all the places people had come from on that Pentecost day.

That’s a close up look, but if you zoom out, and look from our perspective, you see a pattern of divergent views that persists in the Christian church to this day.

In Pentecost the individual person of faith and the faith of the community are held together.

“pietas” — piety — personal duty to God and to others that includes right relationships.

The relationship between the personal experience of faith and the community is immediate at Pentecost.

But that relationship doesn’t persist comfortably through the history of the church.

There is a tension between those who emphasize personal acts of devotion, and those for whom faith means economic and political engagement. One group has described the other as ‘inner worldly’ and the other accused the other of being too political, showing a lack of religious interest.

The 89th Anniversary of the United Church of Canada (UCC)
The United Church of Canada has been accused of the latter but in reality, it has struggled to hold those two tensions together, argues Phyllis Airhart in her recent history of the United Church of Canada, A Church with the Soul of a Nation. One might assume that this tension is quite recent. But no, it happened in the earliest formation of the United Church, before and after union in 1925.

Union itself was a bold move: to bring together people of differing views — evangelicals and those schooled in 19th century liberal theology. Those opposed to union challenged the possibility that you could hold personal salvation and transformation of the community together.

There was also an underlying suspicion that Cockney Methodists and Scottish Presbyterians of a higher class could not possibly have enough in common to actually stay united.

Liberal evangelicals! Cockneys and Scots! Methodists and Presbyterians and Congregationalists! Personal Salvation and communal transformation. It seemed an improbable union.

Despite criticism the UCC argued that they didn’t endorse a partisan political or economic agenda, but rather promoted an orientation to life that connected faith and community.

A 1932 report emphasized personal spiritual experience and attending to social ills as trumping rituals and even creeds:
“the causes of evil, of human maladjustment may lie in the economic structure as well as in personal character, and Christianity can only be made complete by the rectifying of both.”

The depression, the second World War and postwar reconstruction — the United Church was there and continues to be present where evils need addressing.

Hear this description of the United Church of Canada:
“Gospel-centered, loyal to the truth, open-minded, tolerant, comprehensive, interested in other religious groups and the whole community, offering a vital experience of religion and a clear cut message of salvation.”
This could be a description of the best of the United Church today. But it was a statement made by the first Moderator George Pidgeon at the second General Council in 1927 in describing his understanding of a “New Testament Church.”

The Spirit of Pentecost infuses us with a personal faith that can also reach out to tend the world. As we look back on 89 years, we can see that the UCC has sought to balance the care of souls with the care of society. Surely this is a gift of God’s grace accessible to us by the Spirit.

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