Monday, 27 July 2015

Respond to hate with hospitality and care

Just when you think the wold is going to hell in a handbasket, things happen that cause you to shake your head and realize that just maybe there is cause for hope.

Two recent events in the news cause me to think that way.

The first was the response by a former Ontario MPP and cabinet member, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, to the social media postings of Diane Francis, Editor-at-large of the National Post newspaper.

Francis, in a series of social media postings during the recent Greek financial crisis, called for a return to a military dictatorship in Greece, among other things. This naturally enraged the Greek community in Canada. That was a terrible time in recent Greek history. Some threatened legal action. Others wrote public pronouncements of outrage.

Bountrogianni had a different response. She invited Francis to come to Greece to meet her family. All 275 members of her family.

She said Francis would be impressed by their hospitality. And, she continued, “Many of them have survived more than one military dictatorship. Other families were not so lucky. Hundreds were killed in the last dictatorship in the late sixties and early seventies— killed for nothing more than speaking out against the government!”

No response to the invitation from Francis yet.

The second sign of hope was a story out of Vancouver, where the Vancouver police reported on an undercover operation in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

The Downtown Eastside is sometimes called “Canada’s poorest postal code”. It is  noted for a high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime, violence, as well as a history of community activism. It has a high rate of HIV, Hepatitis C and was the site of North America’s first safe injection site, reducing the spread of HIV considerably. 40% of the homeless population in the area, according to the city, suffers from mental illness.

Last spring, in response to a string of robberies in the area of people in wheelchairs, police launched a sting operation. According to news reports, for five days, Staff Sgt. Mark Horsley wheeled through the neighbourhood in a wheelchair. He told people he had a brain injury and couldn't count and wore a waist wallet with money spilling out.

Expecting to encounter street thieves, Horsley, a 30-year police veteran, instead met men and women who looked out for him, gave him money and even prayed for him.

No one tried to rob him or short change him during transactions.

"Not one person took advantage of my vulnerability," Horsley said at a news conference, "This community has soul."

When I shared the story with church colleagues who had worked in the Downtown Eastside, they simply agreed and said “That’s the way people really are there.”

In a world where many, including our politicians, try to stir up our emotions by fearmongering and tell us the whole world is a dangerous place (and make no mistake, there are dangerous places in the world), real people respond to the human condition with hospitality and kindness. Real people care about others. And real people offer, by their actions, not just words, but real hope.

No, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. And it will get better if we respond to hate with hospitality and offer care, even in the smallest way, for each other.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 20 July 2015

I'll take time to ponder before taking on new roles

Last Friday I packed up my computer, my last box of books and papers, closed the door to my office of the last fifteen years and turned my keys in to the church secretary.

I am now retired from the active ministry of the United Church of Canada.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but in the end, the alignment of events made the decision. It feel right and good.

For the purposes of the United Church of Canada I am officially retired effective August 1, 2015. But the fact is much more clear and simple. I have surrendered the keys to the church. Someone else will be doing preaching and pastoral care from now on.

I have a date with the deck of my cottage, which my wife helpfully reminds me needs to be painted.

To be sure, I will continue to do certain things. I will continue writing this column as long as the Editor wants to publish it and I feel I can contribute something. I will do another season of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County. I will continue to serve as a public member on the Board of Health. But I have made a decision to accept no more commitments, long or short, until after October 1 at the earliest.

When the news of my retirement became public, I was approached to serve on several community boards and committees.

I declined.

Not yet. Maybe never. Who knows? I have to take stock of my skills and abilities, first.

One thing the United Church makes clear when their ministry personnel retire that their roles become, in many ways, very carefully defined.

Because of the terms of the Marriage Act in Ontario, the United Church removes my credentials to officiate at and solemnize weddings. That disappointed a few people, but the law is clear. Not all churches are as strict as the United Church, because I see the names of ministers who are long dead on the provincial lists, but in my case it’s just as absolute.

I am also not permitted to offer any pastoral services to members of my former congregation without the consent of the current minister and the church board.

That makes good sense.

Many years ago, when I first started in ministry, I was officiating at the funeral of a gentleman and shared that duty with a long-time former minister who had since retired.

He took over the service. He spoke well of the deceased, offered comforting prayers and scriptures and consoled the family. I just closed my service book and at the end said, "Amen."

Shortly after, he was spoken to by other pastors and he was never invited back for any other services.

I am still able to accept what are called "supply appointments" to serve churches who are between ministers.

I can officiate at funerals of people not connected with my former congregation.

I can also sleep in a bit on Sunday morning and not be anxious over the quality of a sermon or if my words were, in fact, helpful.

I started ministry with typewriters, gestetner duplicators and stencils. I retired with photocopiers, computers and smart phones.

It’s been a wonderful journey. But it’s not over yet. The next chapter in my ministry is just beginning.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Hydro One has turned me into a meter reader

Long ago, I grew up in Mississauga. We had inside water meters.

Every month or so a city water department employee came around to the house to read the meter. If you weren’t home, the meter reader left a postage paid card in the door. You entered the numbers on your water meter and drop the card in the mail box. In due course, the water bill arrived.

I was dreamed of those easy days after I called Hydro One about my latest bill.
Hydro One is the utility we all love to hate. Sometimes with justification. The stories of the recent report of the Ombudsman on the ongoing disaster that is Hydro One is the stuff of legend. Reading about it can keep children up at night.

My last hydro bill wasn’t all that outrageous. But I looked at it carefully.

There it was, right in the middle of the page. Those words which strike fear into consumers everywhere.

We estimated your meter on June 13...

Estimated my meter? Wasn’t my meter read? What is all this multi-billion dollar Smart Meter stuff if Hydro One can only estimate my meter?

Out of curiosity, I went and took a reading off my meter.

The difference was shocking. 1400 kilowatt hours more than their “estimated” reading. Using the most expensive hydro rate band, that’s an additional $200 in hydro that I have used in the last three months but not been billed for. Not yet, anyway.

I pulled out my old bills. Hydro One hadn’t read the meter at all since late March! Every single bill since has been an estimate!

I called Hydro One.

They did not seem very concerned that they had not been able to read my meter for several months.

I asked Hydro One if they could tell me when my meter would be read.


I asked if they could take a manual reading.

Not possible.

What solution did they have to their problem?

Well, you could call us once a month with a meter reading.

Let me get this straight. I have to call Hydro One once a month with my meter reading?

That’s right, sir.

Can you tell me when I should call? Should it be the fifteenth of the month, for example?

No, sir. I will give you the exact date when you have to call us.

Can I send the meter reading by e-mail or by fax or even Canada Post?

No, sir. You have to call us personally.

And if I can’t call you on that date that you give me?

You have to call us on that exact date, sir. Otherwise we can’t give you an accurate bill.

So now I am stuck with calling Hydro One on an exact day of the month. It varies between the 11th and the 15th, depending on the month, between now and the end of the year.

All to get an accurate bill and not have to pay a sizable catch up amount.

Something is really, really wrong with Hydro One. But we all knew that, right?

Incidentally, I shared my little Hydro One tumble down the rabbit hole with Francesca (Call 211) Dobbyn, Executive Director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, my all-knowing wizard on everything Hydro One.

She wasn’t surprised at all. She told me, however, that Hydro One can only estimate a bill for a maximum of four months. Then they have to do a manual reading and give you an accurate bill.

I guess I called Hydro One a month too soon.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister living in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.