Minister's Message: Hello and Good-bye?!

The first night in my new house was last Thursday. Compared to Montréal, it was very, very quiet, although a very empty house. I woke up at four o’clock when my hip hit the floor, the air mattress had lost its air, and had a blurry moment of: Where am I? What happened to my bed?

The Lenten journey is calling us. The ashes of anointing on Ash Wednesday, made from last year’s palms, will also be available at Emmanuel for the first Sunday of Lent. They speak of the cost of following Jesus on a journey that makes difficult decisions and ends in sacrifice and death.

These days I am very conscious of changes, transitions and endings.

I read my letter of resignation at SouthWest last Sunday, a deeply emotional experience. It was a goodbye after almost two decades of ministry, of shared journey, challenges and joys.

To quote my written words:

I have served Crawford Park and Verdun United Churches since the summer of 1999 and grown with you through many changes including the amalgamation of SouthWest and the beginning of SouthWest Mission in 2007.
The number of baptisms, weddings and funerals (which we call Celebrations of Life) are of historical record. The number of worship services, sermons and prayers? A lot, I would say.
As two decades come to a close and yet more changes lay ahead I discern some new challenges for me.

My years with you have been rooted in a generous gospel, one that reached into the wider community with radical hospitality, deep joy and inclusion.
SouthWest has transformed my life and I am grateful.
Thank you for the blessing that has been mine to serve you.

With love...

The very first hymn I sang in the Dunham United Church during my internship in 1998-1999 was VU 633. Its prayer language and hope touched me as I left the Presbyterian Church to join the United Church. It was also sung last Sunday at SouthWest.

Bless now, O God, the journey
that all your people make,
the path through noise and silence,
the way of give and take.
The trail is found in desert
and winds the mountain round,
then leads beside still waters,
the road where faith is found.
Bless sojourners and pilgrims
who share this winding way,
whose hope burns through the terrors,
whose love sustains the day.
We yearn for holy freedom
while often we are bound.
Together we are seeking
the road where faith is found.

(Sylvia Dunstan, 1989)

As the move continues forward slowly, and beds will make their way into freshly painted rooms, I am grateful for life and love. The next months before officially leaving SouthWest at the end of May will be emotional and busy.

As we together move into our Lenten journey we are ever surrounded by brothers and sisters in faith that are with us in all the challenges ahead.

We are rooted in faith, hope and love!

With love,

Rev. David

Minister's Message: The Lenten Journey / La route du Carême 2019

Throughout the Gospels we hear Jesus’ invitation: Follow me!

That call still resonates as Christians around the world prepare to experience the 40 days of Lent starting on Ash Wednesday. The scriptures in Lent invite us to reflexion, repentance and a fearlessness of an engaged faith in the everyday of life. (Please see the Lenten Covenant prepared By Darlene Halfyard).

Let's answer the call to follow that leads to some difficult places.

A powerful Holy Week hymn sings:

Go to dark Gethsemane
you that feel the tempter’s power; 
your Redeemer’s conflict see;
watch with him one bitter hour;

turn not from his grief away:
learn from him to watch and pray.
See him at the judgement hall,

beaten, bound, reviled, arraigned;
see him meekly bearing all;
love to all his soul sustained.

Shun not suffering, shame, or loss:
learn from Christ to bear the cross.

(James Montgomery, 1820, VU 133)

There is an unusual tradition in the Christian church of burning the palms of the previous years Palm Sunday, and by adding oil make an anointing paste. Those ashes, placed on our hands or forehead are a visual affirmation of our yes to Jesus’ call. Ashes symbolize mortality and need for grace. They remind us: You are going to die one day so live life preciously, passionately, with gratitude and thoughtfulness.

For me this is the core idea in John’s gospel (12: 24). I am telling you the truth, a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it dies, then it produces many grains. As we follow Jesus we learn how to live and how to die.

Let us learn at our Master's feet and follow where he leads us, together.

Suivons Jésus dans cette route de Carême, ensemble.

Rev. David

God our Creator,

you have formed us out of the dust of the earth.

May these ashes be to us

a sign of our mortality and penitence,

so that we may remember

that only by your gracious gift

are we given everlasting life;

through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen. (VU 106)

Prayer for the anointing at

Ash Wednesday (SouthWest, March 6, and communion Sunday at Emmanuel, March 10.)

Minister's Message: Being Born Again

I read the story of Jesus’ baptism at SouthWest’s monthly outreach services in the community this week where some 36 residents attended in three locations. When I left on vacation following Epiphany Sunday with the visit of the Magi at both Emmanuel and SouthWest, Jesus was still young. In a few days it will be Lent and I realized that I needed to hear a gospel story about choosing life before Jesus’ impending death.

 At the Jordan (Matthew 3: 13-17, Mark 1: 9-11, Luke 3: 21-23) Jesus asks his cousin John the Baptist to baptise him. John dresses weirdly, eats unusual foods, lives in the desert and preaches with that loud shouting voice like a televangelist, calling his listeners to profound life change. John immerses in water those willing to repent. Jesus is also baptised in the spirit of new life and profound change, and leaves behind his old ways. He rises, determined to live God’s way.

This is a powerful and dramatic moment and the beginning of his ministry. He leaves under the waters his responsibilities as the eldest son, his financial obligation for his mother and siblings. He puts away the work of carpenter whose skill he learned from his adoptive father Joseph. He will no longer have an address, or his own bed or home. He will be like a Buddhist monk begging with his bowl at the door, living off the generosity of others. His only focus will be to live God’s way of radical hospitality and inclusion that will shake up, as John did before him, the social and religious status quo. What an example!

We need the release and power that comes from letting go so new possibilities may emerge.

It is sad news to hear that the SouthWest Mission that for 12 years, and with the generosity of SouthWest congregation, has served the Verdun community out of its rented space in the Verdun Elementary School will close its doors at the end of the school year. The Breakfast Club, community meals, mini market and light filled space have blessed so many.

Sometimes the letting go of ministry, space, or downsizing is following Jesus’ example. As he let go in baptism waters: needs, other more earthly expectations, personal dreams; he trusted God, that one can only move forward into a different future when one emerges from the waters into new life.

Lent is around the corner, as is following Jesus into places of temptation, sorrow and death. For now, we let ourselves be led into the water, to a place of letting go and rising to new life by God’s Grace. To live new life and even profound changes, every day.

Rev. David

“When Jesus comes to be baptised,
he leaves the hidden years behind,
the years of safety and of peace,
to bear the sin of humankind.

The Spirit of the Lord comes down,
anoints the Christ to suffering,
to preach the word, to free the bound,
and to the mourner comfort bring.”

 (VU 100, Stanbrook Abby, 1974)

image: Baptism of Christ, by David Zelenka

Ash Wednesday March 6 2019

Do you know the significance of Ash Wednesday?
Find out!

Join us on Wednesday March 6  at 6:30pm, in the SouthWest United church basement, 1445 Clemenceau, as we celebrate Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and usher in the Lenten season: a time of reflection, confession, and repentance that prepares us to receive the grace of Easter. A “by donation” pancake and sausage dinner will be served at 6:00pm prior to our worship celebration!  All are Welcome.

A Lenten Journey, 2019


The season of Lent is a journey of 40+ days that lead in to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday (March 6) and ends on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter, the night of Jesus’ Last Supper, April 18). It is linked to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness in the lead-up to his ministry, when he was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).

 Lenten practices take many different forms. People typically add something and/or give up something We are in solidarity with Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, and maybe we can learn something that will contribute to our relationship with Christ and deepening of our Faith. From my personal experience, I didn’t grow up observing Lent, my practice was more like an Easter egg hunt, but over the past few years, I have come to embrace it and especially now, I look forward to this season of reorienting my life.

As communities of Faith, lets share with each other the joys, struggles, insights and challenges of trying to live out our Lenten commitments as well as engage in biblical reflection, prayer and whatever else the Spirit might move us to do. A MESSENGER Group  or WHAT’S APP group can be set up for those who are able to communicate social media, as well as newsletters and church websites and of course individual Church and Faith communities study groups. Twenty days into the journey we can gather for tea and meet and share and at forty days celebrate with a worship and potluck! Time and place to be determined!

 A fellow journeying companion,

 Darlene Halfyard

A way to find spiritual renewal during Lent is to make a “covenant”; a promise between you and God.  What follows are some suggestions of things to do this Lent, so that when Easter comes, you have made some progress in your spiritual life.  Spend the next few days before Lent, making your preparations so that when Lent begins, you are ready to “hit the ground running.”  This covenant is between you and God, not anyone else but there is the opportunity to reflect, debate, pray, share emotions as a worshipping community. So do something that will both challenge you and enlighten you.

Spend time in solitude, meditation, prayer each day.

Read a book for inner growth.

  • Read through the gospel of the lectionary cycle you are in. (i.e. Matthew and John )

  • Begin to keep a journal of prayer concerns, questions, reading.

  • Focus on thanksgiving, rather than on asking, in prayer.

  • Give yourself a gift of time to do something you always say I don't have time to do..

  • Give up a grudge.

  • Forgive someone who has hurt you.

  • Dance your prayers to a favorite song.

  • Take on some loving task.

  • Plan to visit a neighbor or church in need

  • Write a word of affirmation once a week to a person who has touched your life.

  • Go to coffee or dinner with someone you want to know better.

  • Begin to recycle waste from your home and workplace

My Lenten Covenant/Promise

I commit to a daily spiritual practice every day of Lent 2019.

1)    Opening my Heart

            God of call, God of transformation,

God of the Lenten journey;

help us to discern your still, small voice.

Open us to change and growth

that we may walk with Christ.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


2)    I will read; a gospel text per day (download Lent Daily Readings, below)

3)    I will pray; for my concerns and those of my faith community, my neighbours and the wider world.


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Minister's Message: An Incredible Journey!

It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Travelling in Peru for a month with a friend who speaks fluent Spanish, bunking with my sister, living adventures and diversity of culture, histories, regions - so amazing!

When we left Ayacucho on Sunday to head further into the mountains we took a wrong turn, easily done as there are few road signs. We ended up far from our destination of Huancavelica and had to decide what to do. Hours on a mountainous dirt road or heading to the coast and the eventual return to Lima? We stopped beside a herd of llamas and alpacas and waved at the shepherd higher on the mountainside. The river flowed forcefully with fresh mountain waters as it is the rainy season. The sun was shining; we looked at the map and enjoyed the moment. We opted for the coast and within six hours found ourselves in Pisco and Paracas, in a desert on the ocean. From 9 to 30 degrees in a few hours. Through snow-capped mountains, valleys, along the bursting rivers to a desert where there is annually 5mm of rain. It was this type of contrast that made the exploration of the country so interesting, in a rented car that made it through mudslides, rock falls and mountainous roads with rivers gushing over the highway.

I have been reading the Gospel of Matthew while away. I left soon after Epiphany Sunday with the visiting Magi. The gospel moves quickly from Birth to Baptism, Temptation and Preaching. As Jesus made decisions about directions and roads the Gospel record puts the emphasis on the calling of disciples and the preaching and the healing of so many people. I could imagine in the Andes the news of a healer within reach and the desperate travels to see, hear and be touched by him.

“News about Jesus spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, the epileptics and the paralytics, and Jesus healed them.” (Matthew 4: 23-25).

Whether travels take us far or we stay close to home, it is all about people: their needs, hopes and pain. It is always about relationships.

I sang these familiar words written by Malthie Babcock (VU 296) as I journeyed trough incredible vistas in Peru:

This is God's wondrous world,
and to my listening ears
   all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is God's wondrous world;
I rest me in the thought
   of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
God's hand the wonders wrought.

This is God's wondrous world:
the birds their carols raise;
   the morning light, the lily white,
declare their Maker's praise.
This is God's wondrous world:
God shines in all that's fair;
   in the rustling grass or mountain pass,
God's voice speaks everywhere.

It is so good to be home and to return to a familiar routine. As we continue into 2019, may we know courage for the journey of love, learning, healing and service to all those who need our presence, hope and prayers.

Rev. David

Greetings from Peru!

One of the great moments of the trip may well have been the visit to Machu Pichu by train and bus this Tuesday. The site is impressive even with much rain and the clouds moving through the mountains constantly. 
Highlight: I was one of 400 who climbed the higher mountain, Huayna Pichu, that day. 
Impressive view and great exercise. 
Blessings to Emmanuel and SouthWest. 
Rev. David

Note: The Rev will be back at SouthWest on February 17th.


Minister's Message: Living the Sabbath

'If you treat the Sabbath as sacred and do not pursue your own will find the joy that comes from serving me.' (Isaiah 58: 13-14)

As a youth in a conservative religious home the Christian Sabbath was dedicated to observing a strict code of no work, no sports, no playing cards, or basically no fun on Sunday. Nothing but Sunday School, worship in the morning and evening and rest: quiet and forced. There were a lot of rules!

As I left for Peru January 14 with my sister Pauline it was with an anticipation that the wonderful month of exploration, of warmer weather, of visiting the Amazon and the mountain ranges would be a time to listen to my body, my emotions, and God's Creation.

A rest and change of pace.
A time for deeper listening.
A rebooting for my body, mind and spirit.
An experience of the balance between loving God, loving myself and loving my neighbour.

Sabbath is the possibility of disconnecting from work, stress, the everyday demands on time and energy and of refocusing on what is essential. And finding that quiet centre deep inside oneself, the realigned motor of inner peace that lets one face any and all challenges. There is a joy that comes when our personal interests are in sync with those that come from service to God, and the at times elusive balance between them.

Sabbath is an invitation every day, every worship and prayer experience, every time we gather as a people of faith to listen for God’s still small voice, only heard when we are silent.

When I return to a move to a new home, a relocation after so many years in Montreal and the same house in Notre Dame de Grâce, I hope to feel rejuvenated and ready for new experiences. I hope to be focused on what is essential and leads forward into this new year.

When I return from this away time I will pack as much sunshine into my luggage for the return trip and share it with all of you.

This is my sabbath hymn I carry with me, written by Shirley Murray (VU 374):

Come and find the quiet centre in the crowded life we lead,
find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed.
Clearing chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see
all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.
Silence is a friend who claims us, cools the heat and slows the pace,
God it is who speaks and names us, knows our being, face to face,
making space within our thinking, lifting shades to show the sun,
raising courage when we’re shrinking, finding scope for faith begun.

See you soon, 

Rev. David

Minister's Message: New Year's 2019

Dear Emmanuel and SouthWest,

As this year draws to a close we remember 2018 in which there have been joys, sorrows, growth, learnings and many challenges. There are memories we would rather forget and others we will treasure. We have lived a myriad of emotions, both tender and pain-filled, and journeyed through changes as brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In my youth there was a church tradition of a New Year’s Watchnight service organized so that at midnight we were gathered around the communion table. Prayer, hymns, testimonies and quiet time were always part of this service; I found it a precious experience.

It is my hope that you will find a quiet reflective moment at the beginning of 2019. One of your resolutions may be about the reading of the Bible. Personally I have grown in faith through the regular reading and meditation of the scriptures. Apart from our public worship there is a more personal worship experience that includes two essential daily disciplines:  prayer and Bible reading.

Some helpful scriptures for a New Year’s reflection are:

Psalm 23, 90, 126, Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, Matthew 5: 3-12 (and the verses following that are the Sermon on the Mount.)

The Bible Society offers us a gift: readings from the Bible for everyday, based on the Sunday Lectionary Readings. They are available online in English and French
( or in paper version at the (Mission) Church.

I am on vacation from January 14 to February 14 and travelling in Peru. I will hold you everyday in my heart and prayers as you hold me in yours.

A blessed New Year,

Rev. David


Go into this New Year: dance, laugh, sing, and create,
risk, explore, discover, and love.
believe, hope, struggle, and remember:
We go with the assurance of your love, O God.
Thanks be to God!


New Year Prayers:

 Holy God, as we enter this new year,
we thank you for your presence with us
in all the years of our lives.
We have known joy, and also sorrow,
success and failure,
and through it all, you have been with us—
the companion of all our journeys.
Much of life is fleeting
and so we thank you for things that endure:
the love of faithful friends,
wisdom gained from experience,
the reliability of nature,
and your steadfast love.
We thank you for this new year which awaits us;
take us by the hand, and lead us on.



 O God,
presider over the affairs of persons and nations,
move us to thanksgiving,
not because of what we have, but because of whose we are;
not because of present blessing,
but because of your continuing providence;
not because of the moment,
but because of the eternity of salvation.
Let our thanksgiving be expressed
not only in feasting, but in sharing;
not only in passive enjoyment, but in active service;
not only in annual observance, but in daily attitude.
And because your concern for wholesome living
embraces every person upon the earth,
we pray for ourselves and for others  (our personal and world requests). . .

In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.


-          Taken from Celebrate God’s Presence, United Church of Canada