“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”
First Corinthians 13:4-8a (NRSV)
Dearly Beloved, the above verses are usually read at weddings. Last year, I had the privilege to officiate nine weddings. However, I also had the honour of presiding at twenty-two different funerals. I have learned, and now, I say it confidently, our existence has two sides – Life and Death – and we can escape neither one nor the other.
Today, I do not intend to make this a dreary report, but I want to share what has taken place in the year 2022, as much as possible. It would be incredible to fit all in this report, but let me share the highlights that are all full of God’s Love and Grace.
For the first time since the beginning of our Covenant of Call together (Nov.1, 2020), we had had many firsts at Grace United Church. I have been able to offer Chapel time at Carveth and Fox Run once a month. This was a ministry of Grace United before my time, however since COVID this was not possible. I am grateful to Paul Harding and Tammy Fergusson for accompanying me and sharing their musical gifts in this important ministry – I am forever grateful. In December, we started hosting LGBTQ+ Youth Gatherings, a ministry of Grace United Church, that God sent to us, with the leadership of Ms. Sam Crosby from Gananoque Secondary School. Another first in December, Blue Christmas Service was held December 20, 2022, where half of the attendees were brand new attendees to Grace. At this service we remembered all our loved ones we have lost. Since September, once a month, we did, “Hi Tea with Rev. T.”, where 6-8 of us gathered and shared tea with Armenian cookies and Armenian Cheese – the invitation was open to everyone. This took place on appointed Thursday afternoons from 1:30-3 p.m. I am so grateful, as I have learned so much from attendees and they have heard about my life journey this far. At times, others such as Cheryl O’Leary made our table flow with homemade scones and more goodies – Thank God for All the Gifted individuals who are in this Community of Faith.
Today, I share with you the chapter of Love from Apostle Paul because this is the foundation of our lives. With many ways of keeping connected, I continue to do pastoral care, by telephone calls, Facebook Messenger, e-mails and even texting. God reminds us to love one another and care for one another, in any shape possible. If COVID taught us anything, it taught us that relationships matter.
We have lived through COVID, celebrated three Advents and Christmases already, even though they have been virtual, but God’s Love has reached us and reminded us that we matter. I have been a witness and continue to be a witness where Love lives within Grace United Church, in the work of the Church for the Mission of God and how wonderful this experience of Love is. Thank YOU from the bottom of my heart to those who volunteer their time, share their gifts and talents with all – and moreover, a special thank you to all who lead worship services, while I needed to be away for the work of the wider church, study leave, much-needed vacation with my family, or even while I got COVID in August. What a whirlwind that was. I wish no one to ever experience COVID.
Throughout 2022, we have officially welcomed members to Grace United Church Family: Chuck Galway, Veronica Shepherd, Tom Marlor and Janet King. We celebrated the Sacrament of Baptism twice: Zoey Evelyn Widdes the daughter of Crystal and Douglas Widdes (July 3); and Ann Shayne Smith, the daughter of Breanna & Christopher Smith (Dec. 11). I had the privilege to officiate nine weddings at different venues, however one wedding took place in the beautiful Grace United Church Sanctuary: Diane Elizabeth Kirkby and Thomas Richard Marlor. Sadly, I also accompanied twenty families walk through the valley of death, as they bid goodbye to their loved ones. One of the Celebrations of Life was for our beloved Rev. H. Seeley, whose funeral took place at Elgin United Church on Aug. 5, 2022, and his burial was at Halladay Burial Place in Elgin. It was a serendipitous moment that Rev. Seeley’s family asked me to preside at this service, because Rev. Seeley and I have travelled the same journey of Call in similar ways.
Beloved, being a minister is truly a balancing act. This past February (25), a third sibling of mine, Silva Atolikian, my eldest sister, in North Hollywood, passed away, but I was unable to attend the funeral. Just to give you firsthand information, my brother Jacob, who lived in Pasadena, died March 29, 2019. My sister Perouz (Ruby), who lived in Lebanon, died Nov. 17, 2021. So, when I tell people that I understand their pain of losing their loved one, I truly mean it. I lost my father when I was seventeen and my mother when I was twenty-seven – in 2022, I turned fifty-five.
Again, I do not share these personal details for sympathy, but to encourage you, that I know the sting of pain, but I also know how God’s Love carries us through. The joys and sorrows of life are always upon us, but no matter what opportunities come our way, we are in this together, we trust the Creator of the Universe, who loves you and me, and has brought us together for the purpose of Love and Care.
On June 12, 2022, we celebrated our Covenanting Worship Celebration, where Rev. Rosemary Lambie was our guest speaker. Rev. Lambie retired on Oct. 31, 2022. She served for twenty-plus years as Executive Minister of Montreal/Ottawa Conference and since January 2019, in our Regional Council, and is a long-time friend, and colleague (since 1999), from my time in Quebec.
My term as president of E.O.O.R.C. ended on May 28, 2022 (the eleventh anniversary of my ordination), after serving nineteen months. However, I was automatically elected as a commissioner for the General Council 44, as president of the regional council, which I was already elected before my arrival to Grace United Church. GC44 took place virtually from February–August, making this the longest GC gathering in the history of the United Church of Canada. For the first time, The United Church of Canada has elected an Indigenous woman as our Moderator, the amazing Carmen Lansdowne from the Pacific Region. I hope we will be able to invite The Rev. Dr. Lansdowne to our Community of Faith and invite all nearby churches for a weekend of meet, greet and a learning opportunity from her. GC44 was to take place in person, Calgary, 2021, but COVID restrictions changed plans. The theme for GC44 was: “Who do you say I am?” The Question Jesus asked his followers, which is also a viable question for us as followers of Jesus. I am grateful to You, Grace United for becoming partners with me, and supporting this role as the president of EOORC and an elected commissioner for GC44.
September 25 – Truth and Reconciliation Walk took place in Gananoque and it was a Blessing to take part. The drumming at the Royal Theatre was a wonderful experience. At the walk-through on Stone Street, Grace United Church was the only church who had a minister and a lay leader present. We shared the United Church’s 1986 Apology, and The Prayer of Acknowledgement was read by Tammy Fergusson. Thanks to Liz Church, we had a display of children’s shoes as a remembrance of the unmarked graves of the residential children.
Through the year, a group of “pilgrims” met on Wednesday evenings via Zoom to explore our faith. This group is called V.I.B.E. (Venturing in Biblical Education) and we read together the following books: 1) “Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion” by Gregory Boyle; 2) During the Lenten Season we studied, “Lesser Evils: Daily Reflections on Seeking Wisdom” A United Church of Canada Publishing, edited by Alydia Smith; 3) “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” by Barbara Brown Taylor; 4) Another book from the same author, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” We had an average of 6-10 individuals join from the comfort of their home. This gathering has become a cornerstone of “being there for one another” more than just reading and discussing a book – we build respectful and deeper relationships by checking in together and sharing our joys and concerns, and we pray for one another. I urge you to pick any of the books mentioned above, or all of them, and read them, I know they will help you strengthen your Faith Journey as well.
Some of you have heard me say that a minister needs to grow spiritually and feed her soul as well, so that she can feed others. That comes through Lifelong Learning — an important part of a minister’s life to sustain her spirit. This helps the minister in her personal and communal life as well. I have participated in a few virtual lifelong learning opportunities: Sister Joan Chittister, who is one of my theological/spiritual “mothers” and Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis, who has become a colleague and friend through the last nine years. Moreover, I was able to go to the 30th gathering of The Festival of Homiletics (May 16-22, Denver, Colo.), as a staff/helper, and this assisted with my expenses and made this learning opportunity more affordable. I have been blessed with the Bread of Heaven, which has given me the Strength and Wisdom to carry on this ministry with you.
Many of you already know that my husband Gary and I dedicate our “weekends” to prepare “Bread for the Journey” episodes, which are broadcast on my personal Facebook and YouTube channels on Sundays at 9 a.m., and also are broadcast on Cogeco TV in Smiths Falls, Perth and the surrounding area. This connection from 2020, because of COVID, helped Gary to connect Grace United Church with the Cogeco TV in Kingston. Now, our weekly worship celebrations are broadcast as well, in Kingston, Gananoque and Napanee. Many individuals and nursing homes are glad to have this gift to them weekly. Beloved, we know COVID has been difficult and restricting, but God has brought forth new ways of ministry and I am so grateful to Paul Harding and Christina Kaya, who work tirelessly to make these broadcasts possible. We are praying for God to send others to help in this important ministry of Grace United Church.
Beloved, this report is already long, but trust me when I say, I can fill up ten more pages and share how God has done wonderful things in our midst – through God’s Amazing and Unfailing Love. But I will conclude my note to you and say, “Stay firm in Love, even if life seems uncertain and unpredictable, remember that God Loves you with an everlasting and unchanging love. God’s Love is unwavering and holds you from eternity to eternity. Therefore, don’t just keep that Love for yourself, share it with ALL who come your way. May the Source of All Love be evident to and through you. Amen.
Your Servant Leader,
Rev. Takouhi Demirdjian-Petro
Incumbent Minister since, Nov. 1, 2020