Musical Prelude and Service.


Anniversary Sunday
1 John 5:1-6 & John 15:9-17
My youngest child and I had a conversation this past week in which she noted a lot of younger people her age was taking a deeper look at their religious or spiritual roots. She speculated that this is happening in part because of the many upheavals in their world.
She speculated that people are increasingly losing their sense of confidence in the secular institutions that were expected to offer protection and a sense of peace and justice in society. Those civil structures, those organizations or institutions that are often sought after to provide grounding and connection are not providing what people find they need. I should note here that when we talk about connection, it is not just a connection to one another, but also a connection to your heritage, your history and traditions.
I have no data for these assertions. At some point this is merely speculation upon looking at the chaos and sense of anger and concern in our world. But I do wonder if we are witnessing a growth of people who feel less rooted and are yearning for a sense of belonging and a sense of hope we as a planet will emerge from the current chaos and anger into a more just and compassionate world.
I should also be careful to say, this does not mean that Elizabeth’s friends and contemporaries are all-of-a-sudden flocking back to church or to mosques and synagogues. Some may be, but they are also exploring those faith traditions and scriptures in other ways and investigating what may be offered. But she was also clear that she was impressed by the ways her Muslim friends were being welcomed with open arms into that community.
It should also be noted that they may not take up all of the traditions or beliefs of those who went before them. Perhaps they end up fashioning something new, based upon tradition. But also recognizing more current views of the world and how they relate to the world and community around them.
On this Sunday, we take time to celebrate the fact that Grace United Church has been a part of the community of Dunnville for more than 170 years. It started as Grace Methodist Church, and then took the name Grace United in 1925 when the United Church of Canada came into being. But for 173 years, there has been a community of faith of believers gathering, worshipping and living out God’s love for the world here in Dunnville.
In its earliest years, Grace functioned as a community of faith led by circuit riders. In 1850, the Nanticoke-Dunnville circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was formed. A team of Methodist preachers travelled throughout the region offering worship in the small communities they entered.
They carried their bible and various tools needed for the job. Prayers, hymns, scripture and sermon and on to the next town. In his book Growing in Grace, Lorne Sorge notes there were earlier itinerant preachers; part of what he refers to as the saddle bag brigade of the Niagara Circuit.
These were preachers who traveled to various stops in the region; preaching, offering communion, and organizing communities of faith.
In any case, it was out of the work of Rev. John Hunt and Rev. John Baxter that a congregation in Dunnville began to grow. It moved from preaching in the camps, to using space in a public school, to renting room above Frank Ramsey’s Menswear Store. By 1853 they built their first chapel on the corner of Alder and Cedar.
Leaders of the Methodist congregation started to build on our current location in 1904 with the laying of the cornerstone on Dominion Day that year. The new Grace Methodist Church was dedicated in 1905, and it was part of the church union in 1925 when the United Church of Canada came into being.
In today’s scripture from the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks about his followers finding joy in his presence. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
So that your joy may be complete.
He speaks these words on the eve of his betrayal. He speaks these words as he prepares to be arrested, tried, and executed. It is a time of incredible anxiety and a coming time of fear, loneliness and intense grief.
But Jesus continues to speak about joy.
This is one of the mysteries and dilemmas of faith. Finding Joy in the presence of Jesus, of God, even in the midst of sorrow, of fear, of loss, of anger and of anxiety. How do we find joy when the world seems so broken, so violent and so filled with hate? In a world of violence, hatred, mistrust, sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, greed and self interest, how do we receive the promise of hope and joy that Jesus offers us?
How is it possible to experience joy when we have no idea who to trust and where to turn? And when we do experience joy in these moments, how do we deal with feelings of guilt, when we witness the suffering of so many others?
To quote theology professor Karoline Lewis, “Jesus knows the presence of joy needs to be heard; needs to be felt when you face things that assume and anticipate a profound absence of joy.
To be blunt, often it is only through a sense of hope in what is to come and the joy that we are not alone in a mixed-up world that gives us the energy and the motivation to keep moving forward. It is through a sense of purpose and connection and hope that we are compelled to persevere in the face of sorrow and tragedy.
When we are amid so much chaos and uncertainty, it can feel like what we are experiencing is unprecedented, but a quick glimpse of history proves that is not the case. This building, as I said, was constructed early in the 20th century. Within the next few decades, the congregation, the community of faith that built it and walked through its doors, lived through two world wars that took the lives of many of its members, and I am sure left many others coping with visible and invisible scars. It left many other families of members coping wit the grief of loss.
This community endured the struggles of the great depression. This community lived through the Korean war and then the social upheavals of the 1950s and 60s.
And through it all, this community of faith proclaimed the joy of God’s love – and who we are called to be agents of that love – and to proclaim a word of hope for the world.
Those early congregations, those people of faith who were part of building Grace, were ready for change and prepared to confront the anxiety of an uncertain future. I am sure there were times of trepidation, but they worked through all of those concerns and fear of what was to happen next.
At the heart of who we are, is a community committed to living out Christ’s love in the world. We are people dedicated to caring for the wider community and the world in which we live.
We can look at a host of different projects this congregation has taken on over the years:
Grace sponsored a refugee family from Southeast Asia in the early 1980s.
It has been active and committed to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank for decades.
Grace was also instrumental in starting Meals on Wheels and has been active with Senior Support Services and community dinners.
The community dinners were an important part of our ministry to the community for many years prior to the pandemic shutting down so many important services.
We have been dedicated to raising money for several different community efforts such as the Food Bank.
We have provided support to Bridges and Pride in recent years.
And now we are committed to the sponsorship of two families of newcomers and helping with the sponsorship of a third.
We have entered a partnership with the Adult Learning Centre; providing space for their important service to the community.
Despite the anxieties for what the future might bring, we continue to speak words of hope, and to live in that hope for the wider community to see and hear. We choose to live our hope and our joy of abiding in Christ for the world to see.
In John’s gospel, we hear Jesus tell his disciples that he chose them. Jesus looks upon the world and chooses us to take on this important work of telling the world what God’s world can be. What God’s world truly is if we are prepared to see it in new eyes.
We have a heritage here of perseverance. We see hope for a new world of love, of mercy and of justice, signified in the resurrection of Christ and the call for us to follow and share the Good News of God’s steadfast love. God’s grace for all of creation.
This community has lived that grace and lived out that hope. We have shared our joy with the world, even through times of grief and uncertainty. May we continue to welcome people through our doors and be a beacon to our larger community of what it means to live with the hope, the love, the peace and the joy of Jesus the Christ.
And may we speak confidence the words, Thanks be to God, Amen.
Rev. Warner Bloomfield




Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789