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July 10 – Faith Stories

Sunday School Activities

My Faith Story – Joan Gugeler, July 10, 2022

Most of you will know me as a recent “returnee” to Parkminster, but some of you will remember my belated husband, Ernst, and I from 22 years ago! It is good to be back. Don’t worry, I am not going to give you my life story. Rather, I would hope that after a brief background, I might share with you what has contributed most of all to my faith journey. It may surprise you to know that it wasn’t my diaconal training or our years as overseas workers with the church in Nepal. When I transferred my membership in May, Rev. Joe mentioned that I had been a diaconal minister for 62 years. I would just like to clarify that although I was designated a deaconess in 1959, I only served in two churches, in Cornwall and Ottawa, where I met Ernst. We were married in 1966 and spent the following four and a half years in Nepal, where Joy and Peter were born. Upon return, Ernst went to Western University for his MBA and his study became a nursery for Stephen.
While we were active in any church we joined in the years that followed, it didn’t seem possible to go into working in a professional way. I did serve as a Director of Outreach for one year, however, in a Presbyterian church in Simcoe. In Tillsonburg, I returned to teaching English as a Second Language for 5 years. From 1972 to 1992, when we moved to Kitchener, my faith journey had its ups and downs. What stands out was my “continuing education” in small groups and this is what I will highlight.
One workshop was at Five Oaks in Paris Ontario called “Telling my Story, Sharing a Faith.” Twenty of us were a test group before the material went to print. We were in pairs, then small groups, and then the larger group, our faith deepening as we took turns sharing a time when God felt real to us. This was what Indian theologian D. T. Niles described as witnessing: “one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”
Share the example of the hawks…
Another group used Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. It was all about creativity, which I never thought I had, based on my inability to paint, act, or dance! I had confused talent with a much deeper sense of God-given gifts that we all have.
It was wonderful, at age 60, that I could grow spiritually by pursuing daily activities like keeping a journal called “morning pages,” walking alone and listening, and going on an “artist’s date,” anything from going to a greenhouse to choosing wallpaper. These ordinary activities were transformed and got the creative juices flowing. We met weekly to share our discoveries. This and Cameron’s sequel, The Vein of Gold, gave me new direction, thanks to the writer’ s insights and the group’s affirmation. The Spirit of God moved among us. At our church in Simcoe, a study called “Practical Christianity” had some innovative assignments. We were paired off with a different person in the group each week to check in regarding their assignment. At our weekly session, we would see a film that provoked discussion and then we would be assigned a task related to the material. For example, we might be asked to sit in an emergency hospital waiting room, to empathize with what the people there were feeling and speak to at least one person. One woman felt these assignments were too much and was going to quit, but she was back the next week.
I returned to Five Oaks, as I have many times over the years, to meet with others in a Common Life Community four or five times a year, to share our faith journeys as I am doing here…
Here at Parkminster, I attended a “Listening for God” group where I got to know Elna Robertson and Liz Ford. I’ll never forget our discussion of “A Small Good Thing” a short story by Raymond Carver…
In all of these studies or groups, I felt God’s presence. With exception of the two groups on becoming artists, Ernst was also a participant. He particularly enjoyed the book studies based on Scott Peck’s books, The Road Less Travelled and More Along the Road Less Travelled, which our minister Ruth Butt led in Tillsonburg. All of these opportunities for growth in my Christian life were sadly missed when we were in Nepal. But that is another story. I mention it here to highlight the opportunities we have in Canada in the United Church to learn and grow, whether it is by Zoom or in person. What a wealth of opportunities for spiritual growth there are here at Parkminster!
I am so glad to have been a member of the Lenten Pause group lead by Rev. Joe, where we had times of meditation and journaling, as well as dialogue, after watching a short film. I will end by saying how much I have appreciated being led back to a working and worshipping community of faith. Thanks be to God!