Fishing for People: The Value of Shattered Glass

The following talk was given as part of a worship service at Trinity United Church in Newmarket on Sunday, January 22, 2017.  Newmarket borders East Gwillimbury to the South.  The goal of this presentation was to describe The Living Presence Ministry to the congregants in one of our partner churches, provide some Biblical context for LPM’s development, and invite others to join us in our mission of welcoming our new neighbours.


Hello! My name is Bri-anne Swan and I am the new Community (Pioneer) Minister with the Living Presence Ministry in East Gwillimbury!

Hey there!  My name is Bri-anne.  I am the new Community (Pioneer) Minister with the Living Presence Ministry – a Community ministry of the United Church of Canada.

Hi!  My name is Bri-anne.  I’m new here.  I’m the Community (Pioneer) Minister with a new United Church initiative called the Living Presence Ministry.

This has kinda been my life for the past three weeks.  Introducing myself to everybody and anybody who might be interested in what the Living Presence Ministry is doing.  Along with my husband and two young boys – you’ll see them running around after the service – I currently live in downtown Toronto.  So, not only am I new to this position, but I’m also new to the community.  I spend three days a week meeting people all over East Gwillimbury. It’s about an hour commute for me straight up the 404.  I have a catalog of audiobooks and podcasts I am working my way through, but if any of you have some suggestions, please see me during the coffee hour.

This past Thursday, I was set to drive into East Gwillimbury and introduce myself to more people when I received an email from one of my neighbours — somebody had smashed one of the windows in my car.  When I went to survey the damage, the glass was everywhere – the sidewalk, the dashboard, my children’s car seats…  I didn’t make it into East Gwillimbury that day.  The only people I was introducing myself to were glass technicians and police officers.  $300 and a lost day for $10 worth of batteries I had forgotten between the two seats…


In our reading from Matthew this morning, we are starting with — and staring at — a point of crisis.  John, who is thus far the centre of a new movement calling people towards a new way of experiencing God, has been arrested.  His ministry, if not over, has been stalled.  Jesus senses change is coming and withdraws down into Galilee — into Capernaum — a fishing village populated by both Jews and Gentiles alike.  There is tension between the Romans and the Jewish subjects.  It is a cross roads of cultures.  Life is hard.  Physical labour is necessary for survival.  It is the kind of place where you don’t choose your vocation — it had been chosen for you for generations.  Simon, Andrew, James and John were fishermen.  They were always going to be fishermen.  It was all they had ever known.  Except here’s this guy standing on the shore, asking these four men to leave everything — even dear old Dad — to come with him and to do Very. Important. Work.  “I will help you fish for people.”  Matthew presents this as a now or never moment…


Fast forward a couple millennia…

In 2014, with the sense that change was imminent, Toronto United Church Council carried out a demographic study on behalf of Living Waters Presbytery in order to have a better idea of what was happening in the East Gwillimbury area.  They found that East Gwillimbury, and particularly the communities of Sharon and Queensville, are about to see an unprecedented level of population growth.  By 2031, East Gwillimbury’s population is set to rise to 87,000 people — a 300% increase from 2006 levels.  I know some of you live in East Gwillimbury and you are already seeing changes happening.  The houses are going up.  Soon your new neighbours will be arriving, and they will be here before the new infrastructure to accommodate so many people has been developed.  There are no new schools yet.  Southlake is still the only accessible hospital.  And perhaps most distressing — there is only one ice rink.  How is there possibly going to be enough ice time to accommodate all the new little Timbits?

And besides the sheer numbers of people who are coming in, the demographics of these new developments are about to become far more multicultural.  Like Capernaum, East Gwillimbury will soon be a more diverse and multi-faith community.  I’ve been hearing a lot of anxiety about the unknowns this brings about.  Will we be able to communicate?  Will they share our community’s values?  Why should we even bother trying to appeal to the newcomers when we’re not even sure they’d be interested in church anyway?


In today’s story, Jesus recognizes and understands that things are at a precipice–and in that now or never moment he takes action.  He wants the message John had for his followers to continue.  However — and this is significant — he alters his strategy.  Rather than setting up shop in the wilderness and the people coming to him, Jesus goes out into the world, into the city.  Jesus doesn’t put up posters looking for disciples, or place Help Wanted ads in the Capernaum Gazette.  He walks out to where people are and personally invites them to join his movement.  Jesus goes right to Simon and Andrew and invites them to walk beside him.  Then James and John.  And in that now or never moment, they accept.


This is a very distinct shift from what John’s ministry looked like.  The content of the message is the same, but Jesus is bringing it directly to the people; in their town and in their context. Capernaum becomes the hub for Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and he brings his message of love and healing to those who need it, where they need it.


And in much the same way that Jesus chose to be in and with and among his people, and recognizing that this could also be a now or never moment, the Living Presence Ministry has been created in order to emulate this expression of faith and radical hospitality.  There is no church building.  There are no Sunday services.  The entire ministry is devoted to helping people live healthy, meaningful, spirit-filled lives in whatever ways we can.  We have a special focus of reaching out to people who might not be attracted to traditional church.  Toronto United Church Council has purchased a home within the My Queensville development and it is to be the centre of our programming.  My family and I will live in this new home, getting to know the residents of East Gwillimbury as their neighbour first.  We will be working to create a sense of community within the new developments through activities such as community dinners, parent-child drop ins, house concerts, singing circles, podcasts and gardening clubs.  While we won’t be walking around the community healing the sick with only our bare hands, we will be attempting to connect people to the social services they need and offer transitional and crisis support to those who are struggling.  If those social services don’t exist and it’s apparent the need is great, we will be a part of advocating for their creation.  We will be working to make sure the new residents of East Gwillimbury feel welcome.  And through these conversations, we hope to invite our neighbours into discussions about faith and about the Spirit.

But we also want to work with the existing residents to make sure that they don’t feel left behind, and partner with the local congregations to make them as inviting as possible for those seeking a spiritual home in a more traditional setting.  This initiative is not meant to be competition with local congregations.  It is a “both-and” approach.  For those of you here today who are watching this Great Change, I want for you to know that I hear you.  I really do.  I grew up on a farm, about 20km outside of Orillia and I understand the beauty of rural Ontario.  My invitation is for you to be a part of shaping how the change happens.  Rather than just standing by and watching the community change without your input, I invite you to be a part of shaping the narrative of what will happen when 55,000 new neighbours move in down the street.


Back to my broken car window…

Although I was pretty upset and miserable about somebody breaking into my car, after I had some time to reflect I realized that the experience of my car being vandalized had a thread of beauty running through it.

The neighbour who had let me know about the broken window is a local business owner.  He was told about the window by somebody else – Dean…a former drinking buddy of our dear neighbour Ken who passed away last fall.  In the two years we have lived on our street we had never said more than “hello” to each other, but he saw the car, realized who it belonged to and went into the print shop asking if there was any way Colin would be able to get in touch with us.  When I went to the car, there was a note waiting for me from another local business.  Our friendly neighbourhood vandal had chosen to break our window right in front of a business called SECURITY MANAGEMENT – clever, right?  They had already reported the incident to the police and had a USB stick with surveillance video of the whole thing waiting for me to pick up.  My house doesn’t have a driveway – we park on the street.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to get somebody to fix our window remotely if they couldn’t park their van.  “No problem, Mama Bear,” says the cook at my local coffee shop.  “Park your car and the workman in my spot behind the store.  I’ll move my car out of the way for you.”  Then, as I stood with the technician it the cold waiting for him to finish his work, another neighbour came out of his house to give me a hug.  That was it.  Just a hug.  “You look like you need it.”  The shop owners, the neighbours, including the drinking buddy who hardly even knows me…I really felt like all these seemingly separate people rallied around me in community on Thursday. 

This is what I want my home to feel like.

And soon, Queensville is going to be my home.  Hopefully, someday, East Gwillimbury isn’t going to be split into “new residents” and “old” residents.  It will just be us.  One big giant community of people living healthy, meaningful, spirit-filled lives.  I feel really blessed and privileged to be part of a group of people trying to create this.  It feels like a calling and it fills me with purpose.

And I hope some of you might want to join us in this mission.  If you’d like to learn more about the Living Presence Ministry, or me, or perhaps might like to be on our list of people to call on when we start welcoming our new neighbours, I’d love to meet you for a coffee sometime. 

As I said, I’ll be moving here too, and I could use some new friends.

Image: Ravi Pinisetti


1 Reply to "Fishing for People: The Value of Shattered Glass"

  • Paul Doughty
    June 13, 2018 (12:08 pm)

    Hi. I was looking through your website and feel inspired to come and see what your ministry is all about. Do you have any events happening next week that I might be able to check out? Also, I am an MDIV student at Emmanuel college in toronto and know jason. I am very interested to see what your approach to ministry looks like in real life. So Please let me know what is happening in the community so I can maybe come and check things out.

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