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Come and join us as we explore different ways of celebrating the
New Year around the world. In partnership with Spirit Path
(a ministry of United Church of Canada, Winnipeg Presbytery)
we are hosting a New Year's Party with food, games, crafts and
storytelling in the upper hall. This event is free and child friendly.
All are welcome to this intercultural and intergenerational event.
($15 suggested donation per family.)
And/or you are welcome to bring a pot luck item.
For information contact Rev. Min-Goo Kang, 204-219-3511
or email kmingoo@yahoo.com
In attendance will be members of our congregation,
the Korean Church congregation that worships here,
people from the neighbourhood,
the Ahmad family, (the Syrian family we have been helping
since their arrival in 2017), and many others.
It is going to be a great community event, and
we hope that you can join us too.
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Fort Garry United Church / Second Sunday After the Epiphany
Rev. Min-Goo Kang

January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Chase a Vision, Not a Quota
About three years ago we had a congregational retreat in the Upper Hall. It was well attended and we got fed well both physically and spiritually. On the walls there were newsprint papers with some questions on them. The participants were encouraged to complete the following sentences ‘For Me, Being A Christian Is …’, and ‘Being A Christian Is Not …’, ‘For Me, Belonging to the Church Is…’ and ‘Belonging to the Church Is Not …’ I’d like to share some of your answers. For you, being a Christian is all you’ve ever known, about spirit to being a good neighbour, living the golden rule, being caring and compassionate and respectful to those around you and with those less fortunate, empathy for others, helping and understanding, trying to follow Christ’s teaching and knowing that falling short is always going to be a part of it, loving one another, being kind and understanding of others outside of your faith circle, about loving others to experience the holy, search for truth, enlightenment and trust in God, and respecting and protecting creation.
I am in awe of your genuine responses. Those answers don’t just come from your heads. They come from your hearts, born out of your life long quests. None of you says, being a Christian is about following a set of rules or the Manual or being judgmental of others. Instead, you express the desire to practice your faith in your relationship with everyone and everything else. You demonstrate what loving God and neighbours look like with your actions. Being rooted in God’s radical hospitality, you walk through the narrow gate that leads to the life abundant not just for a few but for all. God is alive in each of you. The Spirit is alive in the life and work of this church.
It’s been almost three and a half years since I came to accompany you on your ongoing journey of faith. The journey has been good for me, and I hope it’s been a good one for you as well. I feel like I am beginning to know you as a congregation. Perhaps, you feel like beginning to know me as well. You know, you have to either live together or travel together with your partner in order to know who the person really is. Sharing all the ups and downs of their life together, the two people get to know each other better. They know not only how much they need each other, but also how much their partners need them. That is, I think, one of the secrets of the healthy long-term relationship. As in any viable relationship, the more I get to know you, the more I get to understand myself and our shared ministry.
I am beginning to notice your values. Your values are the things you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities, and they are the measures you can use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. The following values are what I have found in you, and they are at the very heart of this congregation: spirituality, social justice and inclusion or hospitality. You don’t always speak about them explicitly, but they have played a significant role in your decision making.
First, hospitality. I’m a bit reluctant to use the word, inclusion as it implies not equal statuses between those who welcome and those who are welcomed. The act of including implies a separation between insiders and outsiders. Whereas hospitality is based on mutual responsibility for all. We are all both a guest and a host as we all give and receive at the same time. We can practice radical hospitality when we are willing to be challenged and changed by welcoming the Other. Our greeters and ushers are doing a great job to make sure that whoever walks into the building feels welcomed. We happily share our space with various groups and people in the wider community. The question is are we willing to create a free space where strangers become friends. Better yet, are we willing to work together with strangers to create a more sustainable future together?
Second, social justice. Traditionally it has been initiated by lay persons in this church, and there has always been a great support from the whole congregation. You never had to rely on any ministry staff in this regard. In fact, I have been inspired and challenged by your concern for the people beyond your own boundaries. You have demonstrate the boundless compassion of God by engaging your neighbours as near as in your own backyard and as far as in the villages in other continents. You have responded to the cries of the world. You have taken your part in mending the broken world, weeping with those who weep, rejoicing with those who rejoice. No wonder you are known as a very caring and generous community. You know how to share blessings beyond borders.
Third. Spirituality. It’s about connecting: connecting to God, the ground of being, and sustainer of all lives, connecting to each other, and connecting to the truest and deepest part of ourselves. There are lots of ways to make that connection: spending time in nature, laughing with friends, crying with family, doing yoga, prayer with your body, mind and spirit, and feeding the hungry. The key is to use the body, and by doing so we learn to keep our balance. In this church, music has been a huge part of the spiritual practice. Those of us who receive the gift of music from our choir experience a deeper level of communication beyond the realm of thought or emotion. Imagine how much happier those who sing in the choir are. Ask anyone in the choir why they sing. They will probably say that it’s good for my body and soul. There is something special happening when a small group of people get together and hold the space together. A positive and supportive energy is generated, which none of us can create alone. I wonder if that is what Jesus meant when he said “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We can continue to let the unseen guest guide us and empower us whenever we gather together.
Hospitality, social justice and spiritualty. You may have a different list, but those are what I have found in you by listening, observing and serving together. What we need in order for us to live up to our values is intentionality. It means, we are focused, mindful and consistent. It means, we walk the talk. It means that we let those values lead everything we say and do. It means, we remain faithful to God until the last moment even if we don’t accomplish what we hoped to do. It means that we begin each new day at home, and each new gathering here by asking God, “Speak, for you servant is listening.”
The story we heard today, Samuel’s calling, reminds us that discerning God’s will is a communal affair. Samuel, even though he hears God calling his name three times, needs Eli’s wisdom. Eli, even though he is an experienced priest, needs Samuel’s attentiveness. No matter how many times God speaks, it is the conversation, which involves both speaking and listening, that helps give birth to a new vision.
That brings us back to the sentence completion exercise we did three years ago. One person wrote down, “Chase a vision, not a quota” to complete the sentence “belonging to the church is…” The person didn’t write down what the vision is, because it takes everyone to discern what God is calling us to do. So, let’s continue to ask, search and knock remembering the unseen guest in every conversation and gathering we will have.
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Fort Garry United Church
Rev. Min-Goo Kang

Celebrate Epiphany / January 7, 2018
Text: Matthew 2:1-12

Remembering the Gift
What was your most memorable moment during this Christmas season? My most memorable moment came on the day after Boxing Day. I went to Riverwood Square for a service of lessons and carols. Not many people showed up. Five hearty souls got together to lift up our voices. We listened to the story in the Bible as if we heard it for the first time. We sang Christmas carols like never before, shaking the entire building from floor to rafter. After the service, I went to see my Chiropractor. The visit had been scheduled as a follow up, but it was a timely visit. My body deserved a treat after working hard for Christmas services. The cracking sound soothes me sometimes. It was a good day.
To complete my perfect day, I went to a Vietnamese restaurant on Pembina Highway across from the library. The place was crowded as usual. There were multigenerational families dining out more than usual. ‘What a lovely occasion,’ I thought to myself. It was like a Christmas wrap up party with a bunch of strangers. There was a large family with two kids beside my table. There was not much space between us, but we didn’t dare to look at each other. Everyone in the restaurant shared the same goal: to enjoy their food and leave as quickly as possible so those who were waiting in line could be seated. But when the family was just about to leave, the mother of the kids broke the spell. She said, “Oh my gosh, you are the minister at Fort Garry!” I didn’t even know she was speaking to me until I heard the word, minister. “We were there at the service” she continued. “And you invited my kids to participate in the Christmas pageant. We are from New York visiting our family.” “Yes, I remember you and your children. They were angels.” I finally opened my mouth standing up. “Somebody mentioned that there was a family from New York at the service.” “That’s us. My kids really enjoyed the pageant. Thank you.” She was sincere and very appreciative. “You’re welcome. Thank you for recognizing me.” And then her husband also said, “It’s very nice of you to do that. Thank you.” They came to thank me one after another. That just made my day. I was so moved that I almost forgot to finish my noodles.
The lunch time in the crowded restaurant became a ritual of giving thanks. They took time to acknowledge the gift they received, and expressed their gratitude in person. It is their act of remembering that made the ordinary time and place into extraordinary time and place.
Remembering. That’s all it takes to realize that the place we are standing is holy ground. That’s all it takes to deepen our relationship with God and with one another. That’s all it takes to begin again and again, and to keep going.
Remembering is one of the most important tasks God asked the children of Israel to do. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, God prefaced with the following. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Remembering preceded the commandments. It’s only by remembering the God of liberation that they were able to live differently, and that they were able to continue their journey in the wilderness.
God also said, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Notice the two words, ‘remember’ and ‘holy’ and how they are related. Keeping the Sabbath is more than taking a pause and doing nothing. It’s about remembering. It’s about consecrating the lives of those who remember.
Remembering was what Jesus asked for from the followers. “Take, eat, and remember” said Jesus at the supper on the night before he was betrayed. Celebrating communion serves a similar function as keeping the Sabbath because both involves remembering what God has done and still does for us. We are on the receiving end.
A week before the farewell meal, he was sitting at the table in the house of Simon at Bethany. There came a woman with a very expensive perfume, with which she anointed his body beforehand for its burial. And he said, “wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Jesus acknowledged the gift he received. The only proper way to respond to that gift was to remember, so not only did he remember but also he asked us to remember her.
Today we celebrate Epiphany. The word epiphany means appearance or manifestation – the making known or showing forth of what was before unknown or hidden. We celebrate how God was revealed to the strangers, the foreigners, the outsiders who travelled from a different country. The story shows us how the grace of God was hidden to those who were holding on to their power, but was manifested to those who were seeking and leaving everything behind. Their emotional reactions show a stark contrast. Herod was frightened, the elite group in Jerusalem was with Herod, and didn’t do anything about what was happening as bystanders, but the wise ones were overwhelmed with joy. The fundamental difference between the groups was whether they were able to see the sign of what God was doing as a threat or as a gift.
The question is where we are in the story. God continues to be manifested. God is still speaking to us through nature, the people around us, books, our experiences and what’s happening in the world. But what is our response to it? Are we holding on to our power? Are we doing nothing as if we are bystanders? Or are we seeking beyond our boundaries? There is no guarantee that the road ahead of us is easy or smooth. We might have to cross deserts of unknowing, mountainous obstacles, and valleys of despair. But as long as we remember how we embarked on our journey, as long as we remember the light which has guided us, and is still guiding us, we can keep on going.
Let us remember the gift we received from God. That’s all it takes to begin again, and to keep on going, like the parents who took time to acknowledge the gift they received, like the wise ones who remembered the star throughout their journey.
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Come and join us in celebrating the New Year around the world. In partnership with Spirit Path(a ministry of United Church of Canada -
Winnipeg Presbytery) we are hosting the New Year's Party. This event is free and child friendly. All are welcome.
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Tired of hearing the same Christmas songs over and over? Come and listen to our amazing choir who sings from the heart. This Italian folk carol, O Bambino is one of the special Christmas carols that will warm your hearts at our Christmas Eve service at 7 pm.
All are welcome to our Christmas Eve services on Sun, Dec. 24:
10:30 am family service with children’s Christmas Pageant.
7 pm Candlelight service: Voices of Nativity.
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Fort Garry United Church Rev. Min-Goo Kang
Second Sunday of Advent / December 10, 2017 Text: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
When Advent Fails
Advent. It’s not an easy time of year. In fact, it’s the most difficult season for many of us. How many of us can spend this season without thinking of our loved ones whom we can’t reach anymore or thinking of somebody who has lost their loved ones? In this season even our most precious memories hurt.
Advent means arrival. God is arriving, and we are waiting for God. We are invited to make room in our hearts for God to be born once again. It is here in this season that our relationship with God is described most beautifully and most intimately: Immanuel, God with us. God in us, and we in God welcome each other, and rejoice the oneness together. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, and nothing can prevent God from reaching out to us. The story reminds us that even the empty manger is good enough for the Christ to be born. We get to hear the same story every year. It’s a beautiful story.
But doesn’t the most familiar story feel the most foreign to us sometimes? We don’t want to leave the Nativity story just a story. We have such a deep longing to be part of the story that changed everything. Our faith tells us that if it happened to ordinary people in the most unlikely place, it must happen to us right where we are. We don’t come here just to sympathize with the holy family. We come here with the same degree of hope, if not more, as Mary’s, Joseph’s and the shepherds’. So, what about us? What about our needs and prayers? Why is it that our emptiness we feel deep inside, the hollow in our lives doesn’t seem to be filled up? We cry out to God only to hear the echo from the depth of the souls of countless suffering children of God around the world.
Week by week, as our anticipation gets higher, our pain gets deeper. Advent fails our expectation, leaving us in the most uncomfortable place, the place of mourning, grieving and longing. I wish there is a fast forward button so we can skip this whole process of waiting. If God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, wouldn’t it be nice if we start from the end instead of from the beginning or in the middle?
Ministers are no exception. I remember an experienced minister telling me that the Christmas season always stressed her out. I didn’t understand her words then, but now I get that. Most ministers feel this dilemma most keenly during the Christmas season. Ministers are expected to preach hope, peace, joy and love during this special season. It doesn’t matter whether they are hopeful, peaceful, joyful and beloved in their own lives; they have no choice but to celebrate Christmas, and to help their congregations celebrate the birth of Christ with a joy that might be more exhausting than uplifting.
I never believed in seasonal affective disorder, also called winter depression. I thought I am not affected by the weather as much as the average Canadians no matter how wet it is like the west coast, or how cold it is like here in Manitoba. I thought the crisp winter air with the bright sunshine would be better than the grey and gloomy wet winter. Now I admit that they both are equally affective. This is my fourth winter in Winnipeg, and I find myself checking the weather more often than ever before, as I have to make a conscious choice whether I go outside or stay. Sometimes it is not knowing that makes us braver. What the weather taught me, especially the long and harsh winter, is that it is knowing that makes me stay where I am.
That realization leads me on to the real issue I have to face in my life. In my life I have known enough pain that leads to suffering. That doesn’t make me stronger nor does it make me a better or even more compassionate person. I used to think that my own suffering opens myself to the suffering of others. I thought suffering was a channel to deeper communication with God and with one another. Although I don’t disagree with the belief, I discover something unresolved or unfinished within myself. I still have a tendency to avoid my real issue by shifting my focus on other things however good my intention might be.
Advent fails as long as we shift our focus on something else other than our very selves, vulnerable and desperate. Advent fails as long as we let the most familiar yet still foreign story dominate our space as if we are not part of the story, as if it can happen regardless of us. Advent fails as long as we don’t address the real issues we face in our lives: depression, loneliness and anxiety.
There is no should or should not when it comes to Advent. The only thing required of us is to tell the truth: telling the truth about the trouble in the world and in ourselves. That is perhaps the hardest thing we can do. That is, however, the way for us to prepare the way of God, and to make the path straight. That’s what Isaiah said, “Cry out”, and that’s what John the baptizer said, “Repent and be forgiven.”
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk in the park after sunset. It was unusual, because I had walked in the park only in the daytime. It was getting darker but I decided to go for a walk hoping there would be enough light to be able to see my way. It was a beautiful evening, and the park was peaceful as always. I was especially fascinated at how the snow reflected the light illuminating my way. There coexisted light and darkness embracing each other. There was no separation between the two. The light within the darkness, and the darkness within the light encircled the same space. The unity of light and darkness broke through our age old binary concept of light and darkness. Like the psalmist said in Psalm 139:12, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” To me, that was the image of Advent: even in the places we want to avoid there can be enough hope, enough peace, enough joy and enough love that will carry us. Advent can be the most difficult season, but it invites us to be authentically ourselves. For the emptiness we feel deep inside and the hollow in our lives are good enough for the Christ to be born once again.
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A Moment with Min-Goo....
Prayer Flag
Last Monday evening more than twenty people came for the opening reception presented by the participants of the Life + Art Sharing Circle. It was cold and windy outside – a typical Manitoba winter day, but our hearts were warmed. We were inspired by the wonderful artwork – collages, stone people, prayer flags and body mandalas. Who knew that our hallway could turn into such a beautiful exhibit room? I noticed throughout the week that those who were walking into the church building couldn’t take their eyes off the display, especially the prayer flags. It gives me a great joy and satisfaction every time I hear people say “wow” while looking at the artwork.
Through the Life + Art Sharing circle the participants gained a deeper and newer understanding about themselves discovering the power of the creative spirit within. The whole process proved that everyone is indeed a storyteller and an artist. And you are no exception!
I invite you to look around the exhibit. Sit on one of the chairs at the corner of the hallway to be inspired by the circle. Stop by at the make-your-own-prayer-flag station. The prayer flag is meant to be carried by the wind, and be reached out to every corner of the earth. Since we hung the prayer flags inside the building, there is no wind that can carry the prayers or wishes. But we can imagine that they are carried by the breath of everyone who walks into the church. Think about what prayer or wish would you like the wind to carry. Imagine that every time you take a breath, it carries your prayer that will eventually be a blessing to everyone in the world.
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Fort Garry United Church Rev. Min-Goo Kang
First Sunday of Advent / December 3, 2017 Text: Isaiah 64:1-9
Unsettling Advent
Advent. I have been thinking about the meaning of this season. The church has taught us that it is a time of waiting for God’s arrival. During the season, we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ, the God who came as a baby lying in a manger, and the God who is still coming to us.
It’s not waiting idly, we are told, but wait expectantly: while waiting, pay attention, expect the unexpected, keep awake, and watch for the signs. They are all good messages, but I find them not enough as I try to capture the essence of Advent. Perhaps, I am tired of waiting. Worse yet, I have never been good at waiting. I am also tired of hearing those messages which imply passive and uninvolved attitudes. I need more than waiting.
Wise teachers help us see the Christ in the most unlikely places. William Kurelek, for example, in his famous book, A Northern Nativity, shows us all the places that the Christ child must be born today. He dreams that God is born to Inuits, to Indigenous people, to Black Canadians that the Nativity takes place in a fisherman’s hut, a garage, a barn, and that the holy family is given refuge in a city mission, a grain barn, and a country school.
This is by far the most inspiring Christmas book I’ve ever read. It invites us to see God right where we are. The Christ child is born again and again to the marginalized: the vulnerable, the lonely, the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. I need, however, more than seeing or dreaming. I want to participate in the Nativity that is still happening today. That is, I think, what the artist intends the readers of the book to do.
If you are one of them, the book implies, rejoice for the Christ child is born to you. If you find your place too comfortable, the book teaches, get out of your comfort zone and go and find the Christ in the most unlikely places you can think of.
Whatever the case may be, we must encounter the God who reaches out. Advent is more than a time of waiting, more than a time of seeing or dreaming. It is a time for us to reach out to one another and to others because God has reached out and is still reaching out to all of us.
Reaching out is part of our human nature. We not only need to reach out to others, but also need others to reach out to us. We weave our lives with constant stitches of reaching out to one another from young to old. A baby is a wonderful reminder that reaching out is a necessity for us to survive. They can’t say, I have a need of you. We just know they need help, so we reach out to attend to them. We are fascinated at the presence of a baby, because their vulnerability speaks louder demanding reaching out from other human beings.
What is so natural becomes unnatural as we get older. Reaching out becomes a rare event. There are so many things we have to consider before we reach out to someone. We have been taught to respect privacy, not to cross the personal boundary, and not to put others on the spot. Most of the time, we just wait until they reach out to us for help. We have been accustomed to staying in a comfort zone, forgetting that reaching out is a part of our nature. We say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. We praise those who speak out, and blame those who remain silent. We value the personal right over the communal responsibility.
Are we happy with how much choice we have? In my local grocery store, I counted how many questions I get from a cashier. Do you have a phone number with us? That’s the first question they ask in order to keep my shopping record for my own benefit as I can get reward after accumulating enough points. The question indicates that they care about customers and their rights, and what we buy. And then I get endless questions, like ‘Would you like a plastic bag or a paper bag?’ ‘Would you like your milk in a bag?’ ‘Would you like your meat in a separate plastic bag? ‘Would you like your receipt in a bag or with you?’ This is just a glimpse of how our society is overly focused on rights rather than responsibilities. Whereas, how often are we asked whether we look after one another especially the most vulnerable ones in our society?
Conflict studies scholar Franklin Dukes declares that North Americans are facing a governance and public policy crisis because society is overly focused on rights rather than responsibilities, to the detriment of the public good. He points out that public policy disagreements are not just disputes over competing interests but that they involve struggles for recognition, identity, status and other resources. Another challenge is that whereas rights are socially constructed and legally granted (usually to individuals), responsibilities are more informal, carry more of a collective obligation, and can vary according to cultural teachings.
If Advent is a time of reaching out, the life-giving message we need to hear in this season is not so much about individual rights, as community responsibilities, like Ubuntu. Ubuntu means “I am, because you are, or I am what I am because of who we all are”. Although the word comes from southern Africa, the concept of Ubuntu is universal throughout Africa. It is a way of life with the fundamental belief that there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities.
Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as the essence of human being. “It speaks about wholeness and compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, oppressed or treated as if they were less than who they are.”
Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu as follows. A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn't have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?
Ubuntu is not foreign to us, followers of Christ. Didn’t Jesus embody such a way of life, being able to see the light in everyone he met? Didn’t he teach us to love others as we love ourselves?
Advent is more than a time of waiting or preparing. Advent invites us to examine our own values and the way things are in our society. Advent invites us to begin with the God who came as the most vulnerable one, a baby lying in a manger, who desperately needs reaching out from all of us. So, in this Advent, we get out of our comfort zone, reaching out to one another and to others, no matter how uncomfortable or unsettling we may feel. For the Christ will be born again and again in the most unlikely places we can think of.
1. Paulette Regan, Unsettling the Settler Within, p. 44. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.
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The Cookie Run was a great success! Hundreds of delicious home baked cookies sold in record time! Sold out in thirty minutes!! and netted approximately $2000 for the church! Thank you to everyone who baked, volunteered to help, and bought cookies! Congratulations to the raffle winners! ... See MoreSee Less

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Fort Garry United Church Rev. Min-Goo Kang
November 26, 2017 / Welcoming New Members Text: Matthew 25:31-46
The Last Person
I joined a drama club when I was in University. Every semester, we staged a play. In my four years at university, I took part in nine different productions. I played various roles both backstage and onstage, including lighting and sound, leading actor, supporting actor and director. I enjoyed almost every aspect of the theatrical life – except for one thing: being a director. When you act in a play, you have to keep in tune with the other actors. You have to repeat your lines over and over again until you and your partner master the lines together. Before the play begins, you wait offstage with all the other actors with breathless attention, sharing the same excitement as well as the same tension. If you are doing stage lighting in a control booth, you usually sit with another person who controls the sound system. So, those two people can have fellowship together. But directing is a lonely job. An ideal director is sensitive and caring to all the people involved in the play, attentive to the atmosphere and mood of the production, acting decisively and commanding respect. It’s a burdensome and responsible job as the director always has the final say and bears responsibility for a production’s success or failure. It is a lonely job; no one can really understand the job unless they have done it.
When I was a director, it was usually me who arrived at rehearsal first, and it was always me who turned off the light after everyone else had gone. One day, I was tidying things up, making sure we left the room clean, since we rented the space. Members of my drama club left the room one by one as usual. Now, once again, I was the last person in the theater, and when I was just about finished tidying up, suddenly all the lights went off. The little theater was actually a small chapel in the basement of the big university chapel. From the small chapel to the outside was a 40-meter-long hallway. The light switch was oddly placed – it was at the very end of the hallway, by the outside door. Someone must have turned off the light, thinking that everybody was already outside. I was at the farthest corner of the room; I had to walk through the underground chapel and that long hallway in the pitch-black darkness. The first thing I did was try to find a wall. In a place like that, where your sight is useless, you have to use other senses such as your sense of touch and smell. In a place like that, where there is not a single person you can rely on, you have to trust yourself and your instincts. In a place like that, where you can’t see any light, not even a dim glow from a far-off streetlamp, you have no other option but to be the light you need. After I stumbled through the dark tunnel all by myself, I saw the strangest thing: everyone was chatting, playing and laughing just outside the chapel as if nothing had happened. I was at a total loss for words, and I didn’t say what had just happened to me, gulping back my tears and forcing a smile.
If you have ever been the last person who turns off the lights after everybody has gone home after a church meeting or choir practice, after all the other family members have gone to sleep, or
after all the campers are tucked into their own cozy cabins or tents at camp, you know what it is like to be the last person. You can only rest after you know everyone else is safe and at peace. You have a restless night when someone under your care is not well, you don’t mind doing a little extra work to tidy things up or make special treats so the people you care about can enjoy what they do. You listen to complaints and worries from others, while keeping your own worries inside; there’s nobody for you to complain to and share your worries with.
I thought life would be more like either playing on stage with other actors or working offstage where at least I have somebody to talk to than being a director. The friendship that I thought would last forever has faded away without my knowledge or intention. The love that I thought would endure all the pain turned out to be a momentary passion. The people I thought would be always there for me have vanished one by one, leaving a scar or hole in my heart. I thought there would be always somebody directing my life, someone who is stronger and more reliable than me; someone who knows the answer, and can make a decision on my behalf. It is honorable yet terrifying to realize that I am the director I need. I must be the last person who turns off the lights, after everyone else has gone. It’s lonely to be the director. It is even risky to be the director because I never know when I am going to stumble through the dark tunnel all by myself. The truth is that I can never own my life, I can never fully experience every aspect of life, savoring each moment, unless I claim to be that director.
Today we are celebrating our sense of belonging here in this church. Church membership is different from membership of any social club, where you pay your membership fee, and you are entitled to certain benefits. On the contrary, you want to become a member of a particular church because you want to serve other people more. Church is made up of people who are willing to be the last person who turns off the lights after everyone else has gone. You can only rest after you know everyone else is safe and at peace. You cannot stop praying for someone, knowing that you are also in the heart and prayers of somebody else. You don’t mind doing a little extra work to tidy things up or make special treats so the people you care about know they matter. Chances are that you are not always acknowledged. Chances are that you might have to stumble through the dark tunnel all by yourself from time to time. It is true that you may sometimes feel lonely even in the church. Yet, it is also true that you are always surrounded by those who are willing to be the last person, even for yourself, sharing your burden as well as your joy.
At some point in our lives we were hungry and someone gave us food, we were thirsty and someone gave something to drink, and we were strangers and somebody welcomed us. And now we all have joined the church because we want to give it back; we are willing to be that last person. We have joined the church because we have found the light we are looking for; because we are the light, the honourable and beautiful light that can be a beacon for many even in the dark and especially in the dark.
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