Rendez-Vous 2017 concluded on Saturday with laughter, cheering and singing. Yes, there were even some tears. It’s hard to describe what Rendez-Vous was like overall; how do you put into words the feeling of forging a family out of a group of 500 complete strangers, or the feeling of your eyes opening — and your perspectives broadening — so that you see the enormity of the church and the people who call it home? To be sure, it was an exhausting, exhilarating and moving event that will be in the hearts and minds of its participants for a quite a long time.
During Thursday morning, we were in the full swing of things. After a quick meal, we all headed back to Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Auditorium. It was quite a sight to watch several hundred United Church-goers — all clad in black to protest against gendered violence — pour onto Montreal’s crowded streets. Thursday’s keynote speech was delivered by Paola Márquez, a member of the Colombian Methodist Church and one of the United Church’s global partners. After coming out as a lesbian in 2014, Márquez has dedicated herself tirelessly to improving the conditions faced by gay and trans people in her country and church. Her words reminded all of us in attendance that even in the shadow of violence and sadness, a light always shines through. “Miserable is a country that has no heroes,” Márquez said. “Miserable is a country that needs heroes.”
We also had an opportunity to listen to the United Church of Christ’s Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, who pointed out that in a world filled with racism and various forms of discrimination, the silence of the privileged is to blame as much as any racist or discriminatory act. Silence, Thompson explained, always empowers the oppressor at the expense of the victim.
When not participating in worship and listening to speakers, Rendez-vous participants spent their time attending workshops on a broad range of topics, particularly social justice work and creative approaches to theology. Others went on “exposure trips” to Montreal’s Biodome and the Botanical Gardens. At the end of the day, though, we were all treated to a musical performance by Canadian pop and jazz singer Coco Love Alcorn, who performed at Rendez-Vous 2014 in Winnipeg. It was a wild, breathtaking day, and we were all grateful for the chance to sleep before we opened our hearts again the very next day.
Friday began much like the previous days. After breakfast, we flocked to Sir George Williams Auditorium again. But this particular morning was a bit different for me, as I was about to deliver the keynote address (In fact, I had been up practicing my speech for a few hours!) When I got onto the stage, though, I looked at all of the familiar faces watching me and knew that I would be fine. That’s because it was exactly like talking to my friends and family. I tried to focus my speech on what it means for a church to be silent on political issues. Like Jesus, we live in a time in which our houses of government are more concerned with making profits — both political and economic — at the expense of the many. If we wish to call ourselves Christians, we must stand against this. If we don’t, our future is a rather bleak one.
We later heard from Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka, a Kansas-based Presbyterian preacher, educator and seminary professor who shared a theological reflection with us each day. This evening, Nishioka, again, captured this theme with an eloquence and emotion that left tears in my eyes: “You don’t have the luxury of silence. None of us do. We must speak boldly. Friends, the church is desperate for your voice. We need your beautiful voice and your courage. So I’m asking you. Use your voice. Just use your voice. Do something. Just show us what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ. In this day. And in this age. For God’s sake.” This call to action is one that I’ll continue to hear in my own life although it’ll be difficult to live this vision perfectly.
With all of the workshops, the trips, the speeches, the singing, the laughing, the dancing, the crying, the hugging — and the growing — we hadn’t noticed when it finally came to an end on Saturday. We gathered once more for a worship service and one last theological reflection from Nishioka. He reminded us that although all of the world’s problems won’t be solved overnight, making a difference in an individual’s life — just one day at a time — changes the world in a small but meaningful way. Then, after a brief communion, Rendez-Vous participants slowly and sadly made their way back to their accommodations to pick up boxed lunches and to hug their old and new friends goodbye.
After experiencing the energy of Rendez-Vous 2017, one thing is for certain: it’ll be tough to return to the “real world,” where we don’t spend our days singing, learning and growing in the Spirit. Hopefully, though, we’ll remember the theme of the event, “Be the Church.” Hopefully, we’ll bring Rendez-Vous and the Spirit of God with us in everything that we do. Of course, it means seizing each moment to be joyful, accepting and openhearted. It also means that we should apply the wisdom of Rendez-Vous speakers, courageously and compassionately raising our voices around Canada and around the world, and fighting for love, equality and peace — just as Christ did.
Yes, it’s all entirely possible. After all, the church and our new friends will be with us for the entire journey.
Read Rendez-Vous 2017 — Day One
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