Archive for October 2009

Journal # 6

October 21, 2009

October 5: “No, is an anointed word”. I had heard this phrase about two years ago at UTC (United Theological College), but I never grasped fully what it meant and never knew how it feels to apply it in my life, until today. I always wondered why “No”, is considered an anointed word. I think I understand it now. If “No” is used in the right situation, “No” keeps us sane.

            Never thought I would use it. But I did today and it felt right.  Yes, I actually said “NO”, to something I was asked at the council meeting. My answer was “No”, because today I understood what it means to respond to emergencies in ministry. On my day off I was going to visit people who had lost a loved friend and turn my “Sabbath” into a working day. (Do not get me wrong, I am not complaining. I will substitute the time off on another day. I am attempting to help you see what shape I was in). After a very long but amazing day on Sunday (4th of October), my resting days were becoming working days. I was starting to feel the overwhelming power of stress. The time off seemed getting fuller by the minute, busier than regular working days. We needed to go to the Funeral home to visit the people who were friends of the person who passed away and also take care of the funeral service, and still prepare the weekly Bible Study, Sunday worship, etc., etc…   Hence, everything else needed to go on hold.

            As much as it was very appealing to join the task force, which the council was putting together, to go through the members’ list of the church and contact everyone and re-connect the bridges of relationships. Advising and asking people that they are still considered members of this church, but did they consider themselves members? Also this would be an opportunity to remind them that the church cares for them and they have the support of the community whenever they need it. But, my plate was full with goals, daily tasks and now emergencies, which are all part of minister’s life. I had to say, “No” for the sake of staying sane and healthy.  I would have loved to be part of this project, but I need to focus on the goals that I have set before me and stay well to complete them. One month has already flown by and what a great month it has been. My aim is to keep it GREAT not just for me, but for all around me.

            As much as it was hard to say “No”, as I live for projects such as this. To “GO” and look for the people who the church has lost touch with. I guess, the missionary lifestyle, which is imbedded in me since childhood, plays a big role in this. I have experienced missionaries visit us in Beirut, Lebanon and extend the love of God by words of kindness, and deeds of care. Or maybe it is the customer care jobs that I have had since 1987 and direct sales experiences that I have shared with people since 1992. These experiences have taught me not to be afraid to offer people care. What is the worst response that I would hear them say, “No”? Then, we let it be and continue on the journey. 

            I know that people move, or go through changes in their lives making Sunday morning worship hard to fit in their schedules. However, we can let them know about the other services that the church offers. Another reason that people stay away from church, which I can relate to is; people get annoyed by someone or something that happens at church and decide to stay away. I remember staying away from the church in my 20’s because of crazy reasons. Now, when I think back, I laugh, because the reasons seem so miniscule. Whenever I got attitude from someone, in return I would stay away from that church. However, if the church we are part of is truly following the example of Jesus, welcoming everyone and making a difference in this world, then we are the ones losing out on nourishing our souls and rejuvenating our spirits, by staying away. If we think that we are hurting those who hurt us by staying away from the church, think again. We actually are hurting our own spirit’s growth by reacting this way.

            Remember that  the center of the word “church” is “U”, “R”. This echoes in my heart and reminds me that church is not the building that we take care of and hold on to, but  church is the “body of Christ” to which YOU ARE a part of. We gather in the building because we need a place to accommodate our needs of finding enough room for ALL and building strong community. As people of God in this journey of faith we gather with our families, friends, neighbours and strangers and become a FAMILY. This place is to serve our needs and not the opposite. Do not get me wrong, we need to take care of the building and not let the buildings crumble, but how obsessed are we sometimes in holding the building closer to our hearts than Jesus’ mission?   

            I would like to leave you with this question today: Where is Church in your life? Where are You in the life of the Church? And I do not mean, which pew do you sit on.  Are you away because someone told you, “You are sitting in my spot, please move”, or “You sing too loud, I need to sit a bit far from you”? Yes, these two comments were actually  said to me in the past and if I had stayed away from the church where these were uttered, I would have missed out on this amazing journey of ministry that God has brought me to. If you are feeling upset or hurt, approach your minister and ask for a “visit”. Open up your heart to God first and then to your minister and be ready to embrace a radical life of Grace, which is so worth it. It is your decision to get out of where you are stuck, but youa re not alone. Your minister can walk with you on this journey and extend a helping hand. No other person can change your mind and no minister has a magic wand to make you feel better in a moment’s notice – Ministers do care, BUT You have to decide to let it go YOURSELF.

             I have and still am learning that this life is not about “ME”, but it is about making a difference in the greater plans of God. God has loved you before you were born; still loves you in the present time, accept the gift of God. And no matter what people say or do to you God promises to love you eternally. Would you trust this Loving God who heals and mends the broken heart?

Journal #5

October 7, 2009

September 27: Today was my covenanting service at the pastoral charge – that means, two separate covenanting services – Portland (9:30 a.m.) and Elgin (11:00 a.m.). Covenanting service is a service of promise – similar to a marriage. It is a promise between two parties – one promises to serve, as God is their helper and the other promises to support as God is their helper. Covenanting services are done in many different aspects of the church. An example of this is when a minister answers the call and arrives at a new charge. A covenanting service takes place between the minister and the entire congregation. In the same token, the LST (Lay Supervision Team), the ministers involved and the intern do this covenant. But after all, it is a covenant with the entire congregation, because without their spiritual and financial support this internship cannot take place. This covenanting service is done once for the duration that is needed. However, there are also covenanting services that are done annually, between the church and council members; Sunday school teachers, students; the choir and the music directors. I have been present to covenanting services before. I have also participated in doing presentations and always thought they were good, but never thought they can be so moving. I realized why rituals are good for us. Rituals, such as covenanting service, make the imagined tangible and hold us accountable to our actions. At the early worship service, we got the covenanting done between the LST, minister and I. Afterwards the Sunday school kids came to the front with the teachers and made a big circle around me as a sign of support and did their promise in front of God. The same promises were made between the choir and the director. Afterwards the minister prayed, as everyone except the choir stood around me and embraced me with their love. After that, as a gift to the congregation, and as prayers for the people, I sang a medley, “How Great Thou Art” and “It Is Well With My Soul”. It went well – Thank God. So we rushed to the second service. The same things took place there also, but here, my supervising minister was present also (this was such a gift. I know how hard it is to find replacement at the last minute to take care of worship service, but she had managed to do it). The covenanting was done. After this covenanting service however there was a different ceremony taking place in Elgin. United Church Women’s group was disbanding and a very sombre moment had arrived. You can hear and see the tears in the voices and faces, of those who were speaking. However, having the covenanting service on the same day of this disbandment reminded me that it is not always bad news around us – new beginnings also take place. These beginnings give us courage and remind us that the journey continues even if we do not see what lies behind the curve that we are about to take. Appropriately, the chair of the council of the church, called teen agers to come to the front and present all of UCW members with carnations – what a beautiful moment, to have the young serve the “Pillars” of the church. Appreciating all the work these women have done for the mission of God. My singing came after this ceremony and I thought it would be nice to share the story behind the song of, “It is Well With my Soul” here also. Because there are no time restraints, I thought I can share the story with more details. I took my time my time in doing so because the circumstances under which the song is written are astounding and might encourage everyone present, especially after the UCW disbanding. Horatio G. Spafford wrote the lyrics to this song on a cold December night, while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. At the area where his two daughters were believed to drown along with 226 other people. His wife had survived the drowning and was taken to a hospital in England. On November 22, 1873 the Ville du Havre met its demised destiny and Horatio’s two daughters had not made alive from the sinking ship. The girls and mom were going to Europe ahead of Horatio for Christmas vacation. Alas, their vacation plans had turned into a painful memory. But yet, in the darkest moment of December night, when the captain of the ship, taking Horatio to Europe from Chicago, advised Horatio that there is a big possibility that they are crossing the area where the Ville du Havre had sunk. That night, Horatio was not able to sleep and wrote the lyrics to this song. This historical background of this song has made one of my mother’s favourite hymn become one of my favourite one. Every time I sing it, I think of this story and wonder how strong Horatio’s faith was. I remember when I lost my father 25 years ago, I retaliated against God and wanted to have nothing with Him (God was a “HE” at that time for me). I never wanted to do anything with a God who takes away loved ones – I was only 18. Ten years after my father’s passing I lost my mom. Things were different. I was able to see little miracles, signs taking place and making me realize that pain and suffering is part of this world and we really cannot escape them. However, no matter what, God is with us and we are not alone. After singing the songs, I set down. I was shaking like a leaf. For the first time in my life I was convinced that I did a good job (I say this humbly) and I was praising God. The pianist turned around and extended her hand to me as a sign of “You did it” – I was moved. My tears wanted to run down, as I was feeling relieved. I was holding them back. As I was still “out of this world” I heard a congregant ask the minister if he can say a word. And the minister of course said, “Yes”. This gentleman stood up with tears in his eyes and thanked me for the gift of music that I offered this morning. He turned to the congregation and told them that how blessed they are to hear a beautiful rendition of the songs in another language. It reminded him of an experience he had at an event; where all gathered said the Lord’s Prayer in different languages all at the same time. He shared that it was wonderful to hear some other language than English and see how it is possible to worship God in other languages. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back – I started to cry. Good thing I had thick napkins with me, little Kleenex was not going to cut it . I was thinking, why am I crying? Was I thinking of my mom, dad or other family members? The answer kept on coming – No. So, I let it be. On the drive back home, I stayed quiet in the car and did not turn on any music because I wanted to dig deep and see what will surface from this cry. I believe I got it, by the time I got home. These congregations who have known me for 20 days ONLY, have not only embraced me as a student for ministry, supporting my journey; they have also embraced my heart, my origin, and the language of my soul. No matter what obstacles a group of Armenian church leaders and “friends” brought my way to discourage me to answer this call, because of my gender. God of Love, literally brought me to fields of “gold”. (You must see the fields in the Rideau Lake Region now – they are Gold.) People shut doors in front of me and told me I was wrong and not in tune with the Bible if I answered the call to ministry. God said, “Stay close to me Takouhi and I will take you to green pastures and living waters. Where you will eat, drink and share with others for my sake. In your weakness my strength will shine. In the chaos surrounding you, my beauty will show”. God brought forth the people who embraced and supported me on this journey and are still doing so – strangers becoming my friends, my family – an extension of God’s Love. Has anyone rejected you? Do not despair because God Loves you as you are. Rest upon the everlasting arms of Love and you will soar on the wings of peace. The work of God is not about me – it is about doing the will of God and making a difference in this world now. The will of God is not about thinking of a heaven in the future and creating hell in the present time. The will of God is to embrace ALL, welcome ALL, Forgive ALL and most of all to LOVE ALL unconditionally. I will never forget, in September 2006, my sister’s best friend was invited to Armenian Women’s conference where she was asked, “What is your stand about women becoming ordained minister?” As a woman who was rejected by the same denomination, but now an ordained minister herself. her reply was simply, “In the stories of the Bible we have read the different means that God has used to send messages to people. If God can use a donkey to relay a message, I think God can use a woman”. Thanks be to the “Great I Am”.

Response: “Untimely Deaths”

October 1, 2009

Dear Everyone,

                It is not  a regular habit of mine to write responses to e-mails that I receive, however, I received an e-mail entitled, “Untimely Deaths” so many times that I had to make time to write this response. The following thoughts are my opinion and in no shape or form am I disrespecting what you think, should you hold the e-mail in question close to your hearts. You are not obliged to read this response if you are not interested or have no time for it. God will not hold you responsible nor punish you for not reading it or not forwarding it to anyone else.

          In my childhood I remember learning about God who loves, but also punishes individuals if they do anything wrong. If someone was sick, they had gotten sick because God gave them that sickness to teach them a lesson and pay back for their sins. If someone lost their employment, they must have done something wrong that God has seen it fit for them to become miserable and suffer. If there is an earthquake, a tsunami or tornado, God is shaking the foundations of the earth to wake the people up because they are sinners. All of these bad things are taking place because God is almighty and can do whatever pleases the God-self – God is teaching creation a LESSON. These are only a few of the beliefs that were embedded in my mind as a child and I am certain that a few of you can very easily relate to these also.

           Today, I have answered the call and am a candidate for ministry. Because I am a woman, many people attempted to convince me that I should not go forward and start theological classes to become an ordained minister as I am not fit – I am a woman. These people also attempted to tell me that my admittance into theological school will take away space from the men who want to go into ministry. The God I believe in, has room for any who seek, no matter what sex or age or colour… But, we take a box, label it God, and put God-self in it so that God can fit our own thoughts and our own theological standards instead of us attempting to live a life that is “out of the box” and rooted in the vast, unimaginable grandeur of the Love of God.

           I do not know who wrote the e-mail, “Untimely Deaths”, but I believe that it is an e-mail that does more damage to an already wounded Christian Faith than good. This rationalization of the untimely deaths of famous singers, leaders and actors, that insists on having God as a long bearded judge sitting up above, making a list and checking it twice, for every single individuals’ acts. The thoughts and words in this e-mail boggle my mind. In this view God is keeping the score so that God can send down brimstones, lightning and hail to pay back all bad people according to their deeds. But God is not all of these – God is God of Grace.

                It is truly unfortunate that someone has actually taken the time to gather all these different events throughout history and composed this e-mail. I would like to ask that person, “Where is the Gracious God of Christianity?” By all means, I do not mean that I, Takouhi Demirdjian-Petro have grasped and understood all facets of God, but that is the magnificence of this mystery – The beauty of our Faith. We are invited to ask ourselves at every situation the important questions and gather pertinent information throughout our experiences and others and bring them under the prism of God’s Grace. We need to discern situations by patience and prayer. Allow the  spirit of God to lead us. If we are very happy with our decisions, I say we need to reconsider them, because for us to be graceful means  to get out of our comfort zones and have no personal gain.

            I will not go through the entire e-mail to which I am responding to and dissect every individual who is mentioned in it but I would like to touch on a few of them. First, If John Lennon said Jesus’ topics were too simple, so what! Yes, Jesus’ parables were simple, but they had extraordinary teachings. Think about it. All the parables in the Gospels are simple –  They are everyday living  with extraordinary lessons. It is sad, that no one had explained this to Lennon so that he could have understood that it is in its simplistic teachings that Jesus did extraordinary work – He changed the world. And if Lennon thought he was more famous than Jesus, he was right. Just think for a moment. Jesus was born in a small part of the world called Judea where there was no television, no radio, or any sort of technological tools compared to the Beatles time. The Beatles were making recordings, selling albums and their songs were being played on radio and appeared on television. Don’t all these qualify The Beatles as being more popular than Jesus? But, SO WHAT? Jesus’ simple words but extraordinary Love towards everyone – EQUALLY, spread out to the world, without the need of technology and this “Body of Christ” still lives in the world until today. Why are we so offended?

                Why do we take things personally and get upset?  God is greater than our capabilities and does not need our “protection”. God just asks for our obedient heart to follow the ways of Jesus – Loving EVERYONE without prejudice, caring for EVERYONE with all that we can and bringing peace on earth. God did not keep track of Lennon’s actions and words and ordered a hit on him. Lennon’s untimely death was a human decision. A man, a human being like you and I named Mark Chapman, decided to go and kill John Lennon. God has given us freedom to choose. We need to grow up and take responsibility for our actions.

            And what if the Brazilian composer, singer, poet, Cazuza did smoke a cigarette on stage and puffed out a smoke and said, “God, that is for you”.  Was his death really a punishment from God, or was it because smoking does cause cancer, and cuts human life short. In recent events, at the end of Michael Jackson’s memorial service, his brother said, “I do not know why the Lord took my brother away so quickly”.  I say to him, “The Lord did not take away your brother but secret human actions took Michael away from this world so suddenly.”  Of course no one knows what those actions were.  

             We can go on about different events throughout history and attempt to rationalize everything and have concrete answers. We can attempt to understand and capture God in our own individual little boxes that serve our own desires. If God kills all who mock God’s-self, then why do so many infants die at birth or later on? Why are other innocent children and women and men tortured and killed daily?  God is not all that.

            God is All Love, All Grace and All Peace. God asks us to be the liberating Love that this world needs, the common Grace that we need to share, the unending Peace that all need to be fed. As human beings we need to take responsibility for our actions and be accountable. We need to take care of each other, take care of the universe and stop pointing the finger to God as the one who is keeping the score and punishing individuals. Spread your arms wide. Embrace the world around you with the love that God trusted us with. You and I are created in God’s image, how can we disrespect and kill one another? Begin accepting yourself as a child of God and allow the same love to flow out to others. Accept others through the light of God’s Love and accept all of the universe as it is created by the breathe of God. There is more to life than what we can see and understand. Become  the refreshing waves of living water that God has called us to be and help the parched world see the Gracious, Loving and Peace giving God working through us – Flourishing the soul. Amen.