Ann Vander Berg
What a journey it has been!
I had been feeling sorrowful, reflecting and praying about children and parents, despair and tragedy, death and God.
My work as a hospital chaplain that week was difficult and then I went to church.
This Sunday was my first stop in a series of church visits, part of my discernment process to become a vocational deacon.
When time came for the Gospel to be read, the priest and the children marched up the centre aisle, and he knelt among them, humbling himself.
This setting aside of power to offer love and inclusion broke through my week and made what was invisible visible: God in our midst. I became aware that the despairing children of my heart were also among the children in the centre aisle.
This profound encounter of sacramental life within the Anglican Church was the beginning of a rich journey along my path of discernment.
From September 2018 to April 2019, with the support of the diocese and parish priests, I spent four weeks at each of five parishes: The Church of the Resurrection Hamilton, St. John the Evangelist Hamilton, St. George’s St. Catharines, St. Christopher’s Burlington and my home parish of St. James Dundas.
At each parish I attended worship services, coffee socials, met with small groups, participated in events and met with the priest. I had three learning goals. As I reflected on my experience, I wrote a summary, sharing it with the priest and those directly involved in my process.
During a parish welcoming event, I sat beside a relatively new member and listened as they shared their experience of the Anglican Church community as affirming of their humanity. The authenticity they encountered felt good and so they stayed.
In small group settings, I listened as people talked about their faith communities and how their participation enabled them to live with more ease and joy in their day to day relationships. These stories were usually connected to opportunities their parish presented for personal growth.
They were learning how to reflect spiritually upon their faith, talk about their faith and articulate their experience of Jesus in day to day life. The shared sense of parish belonging invisibly connected them in ways that revealed the Word made Flesh – Word made tangible and real in conversations, in daily life and in their spiritual life.
My experience of sacramental life continued to be blessed and to flourish as in one parish week after week the invisible was mediated and translated to me as palpable in the soul of an advent sung liturgy.
Perhaps all these experiences helped to create within me a desire to quietly participate in a “Hunger Challenge” that a parish extended to its members and broader community. It was part of their Out of the Cold fundraising and education.
The challenge involved eating for one week on $23.68 of groceries. This amount was reflective of what a single person earning minimum wage had available to spend. It opened for me a window into poverty and continues to teach me how to care in more meaningful ways.
At its heart, given that I have enough, the hunger challenge became an invitation to a deeply spiritual exercise through a very physical process. Looking through a wide sacramental lens the invisible experience of physical hunger made visible and physical the kind of hunger I needed to notice because now, I would respond in new ways.
Throughout this generous experience I was challenged and transformed as I sat among people.
My trust in faith communities deepened and my own discernment seemed authentic.
Ann Vander Berg is a member of St. James Dundas.