This is the United Church

Rev. Ha Na Park of Chemainus United Church shares a story about discussing God and the United Church in her Points to Ponder column.

Last July, I was sitting at a table in the Old Town Bakery in Ladysmith. I live in Ladysmith. My husband Min Goo is the minister at Ladysmith First United Church, and I have been working as the interim minister at Chemainus United Church since May. (Rev. Fran Darling is now on medical leave.)

I ordered a sandwich and then started reading a Bible commentary to get background information for my next sermon. I overheard the two young women behind the counter talking to each other. One of them said, “Oh, now I can’t say I’m too young.” I turned back to my book and lost myself in its words, until I noticed that one of the young women was addressing me with some excitement.

“I see you’re reading The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. It looks really interesting, but I don’t want to bother you.” she said.

“No, it’s no bother at all. This is a commentary book. I believe that we learn more about Jesus through stories. I’m a minister,” I replied.

Her eyes got bigger. “I have been always interested in things like this. Through stories? That’s awesome! By the way, can a woman become a priest or, how do you call, minister, like that?”

“Yes. For instance, my denomination, United Church, has really many excellent woman ordained ministers, and I am very proud of them!” I replied.

Then she asked a very interesting question. “So which colour? … I mean, is it the pink church over there or the brown church …?”

“Which colour?? … Oh!” I smiled, “It’s the one beside Hillside Medical Centre … Do you go to church?”

I really didn’t know people called the town churches by the colours of the buildings instead of the denominations’ names — Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, United … It was a surprise which made me smile and gave me a glimpse of how people in our secular society think about the place of churches in the community.

“I used to,” she said. “My father was Catholic, and my mother was Protestant. When they got divorced, she became a Buddhist because she admired that lifestyle. So, what’s the difference between the Catholic Church and the United Church? What is the United Church?”

The young woman had a lot of questions, and I really liked her. I thought to myself, “The reason she’s asking these questions is not just an accident. Look at her eyes. She has a calling, I feel that, but it’s still a hidden treasure, waiting to be revealed.”

But instead of telling her my thoughts, I spoke to her of my own experience:

“We believe that all of us have authority and strength in ourselves to understand God’s Word, so that Jesus can meet each of us through our own different life circumstances and life journeys. We don’t tell you what to believe; we journey together with the question of how to believe and how to commune with God and each other. This is the United Church, and this is the United Church’s strength.”

That conversation made me feel God’s presence and power between myself and the young woman, just as if we were in one of Jesus’ parables. I found it interesting that the commentary book The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible inspired our conversation, because each of us shared a bit of our own stories with each other and made a connection. We looked each other in the eyes and had a real talk about the meaning of faith.

I felt, in that conversation, Jesus was reaching out to both of us, adding us to the tapestry of experiences and belief that are part of Christianity both across the globe and in the town of Ladysmith.