By Marijke Strong
“Do you have anything to declare?” Every time I cross between Canada and the United States, a border guard glares at me and barks the requisite inquiry. I know the guard is asking if I have firearms, alcohol, drugs, merchandise over $200, or produce from questionable sources. Usually the answer is “no,” but this time I hesitate.
Do I have anything to declare?! I just left my post as a pastor at a wonderful church in Holland, Michigan, and I am about to begin a job as the executive secretary for the Regional Synod of Canada. Over the last two weeks I have wrapped up ministry at church, said goodbye to friends and parishioners, packed everything I own into a truck, and locked up my cozy home. I can still see the faces of my congregation as they said farewell.
Now I am in a car at the boundary line, on my way home to Hamilton, Ontario. I am coming full circle—leaving the people I have grown to love in Michigan and coming back home to the family and friends and pastors and churches I have held in my heart all my life. Do I have anything to declare? I don’t even know where to begin.
For several months before moving, every time I sat down to pray, Psalm 16 came to mind: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” I began to wonder if it was a divine nudge. The psalmist certainly offers a healthy theology of change. He deals with loss and uncertainty: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” He also acknowledges God’s sovereignty in chaos: “You hold my lot,” even as he celebrates the new thing God is doing: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.”
One of the most striking elements of this passage is the writer’s joy in the worshiping community. Change produces anxiety, and in moments of anxiety the human inclination is often to turn inward for self-protection. The psalmist, however, invites us to choose a different way: to look outward, beyond ourselves, to the presence of God in community. He encourages us to see the holy in our sisters and brothers in Christ.
The implication is humbling. Rather than turn inward in anxiety, the Spirit is inviting me to turn outward by taking delight in the Lord and the Lord’s people. Perhaps the starting point is prayer. As we enter this season together, I wonder if you would join me in praying for the Canadian churches. Pray for the 40 faithful congregations spread out between British Columbia and Quebec. Pray for strength and joy to share the good news in our varied contexts. Pray for our collaboration with ecumenical partners. Pray for our social justice initiatives, including refugee resettlement, human trafficking programs, and aboriginal relationships. Pray that we would be one in the Spirit even when we differ in opinion. Above all, pray that we would continue to grow in our knowledge of the love of God—the kind of love that causes us to delight in God and one another and overflows beautifully into the world.
Pray, too, for my friend John Kapteyn, who retired as executive secretary in February, after nine years of faithful service. Join me in giving thanks to God for John’s passion, curiosity, boundless energy, authenticity, and determination to serve the church for the glory of God. Just before he left John told me God had also given him a psalm to help him through his transition. You’ll never guess what it was: Psalm 16.
It seems God is teaching more than one of us about change. Change is, after all, about trust and hope. We hear it in the psalmist’s final words: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…Therefore my heart is glad…For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy.”
Looking back over the past few months of this new work, I would agree. The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. Not easy, necessarily, but pleasant. And there is fullness of joy in the unshakable truth that God not only loves us but is also teaching us to love one another as we navigate change together.
“Do you have anything to declare?”
Yes. Yes, I do.
Marijke Strong is executive secretary of the Regional Synod of Canada.