Monday, 25 April 2016

Back to Hydro One-derland

Just like Wiarton Willie showed up on February 2 with his spring prognostication, the Ontario Energy Board announced in mid-April that effective May 1, rates for customers of Hydro One would be going up. Again.

So what else is new? Actually, the reason rates are going up is worth looking at. It shows the ongoing Alice in Wonderland world which customers of Hydro One have to live in. To put it succinctly, rates are going up because electricity use is going down. That’s right. Electricity use in Ontario is declining, so rates paid to Hydro One are going up to cover their costs.

When I bought my house a year ago, I took the opportunity to do a complete review and assessment of the house’s energy efficiency. Insulation? Check. Weather stripping? Check. Quality thermal windows? Check. Gas heat? Check. Energy efficient appliances? All but an electric hot water heater and clothes dryer. All lights either fluorescent or LED? Check.

Pretty good, I thought. The house is as energy efficient as I can make it. And the electricity bills this past winter reflected that. I wasn’t displeased. I mean we have been told for years and years to conserve, conserve, conserve. You will save money, Hydro One told us.

Not anymore. If you read the report the Ontario Energy Board makes to support Hydro One’s request for a rate increase, the justification sound like this. It was a minder than normal winter. Customer are using less electricity; so much less that Hydro One can’t cover their costs of production of that power and their support costs for the electrically system. They need more money.

The OEB supports the request. They have revised their profile of their “average consumer”. They say in their recent report supporting Hydro One’s rate increase request, “ Since late 2009, the OEB has defined the typical residential customer as a household that consumed 800 kWh of electricity per month. A recent review indicates that average residential consumption has declined significantly since the standard was last established. As a result, the OEB has determined that the standard used for illustrative purposes should now be 750 kWh per month.”

In other words, Hydro One customers have been good stewards of their resources, conserved energy, invested in energy saving technologies and reduced average consumption by almost 10%. Now have to pay more for that same electricity?

I have a suggestion for Hydro One. Instead of looking to their customers to pay for your failures, how about looking at all the employees who are on the Sunshine List? How about finding management efficiencies or changing plans to save costs, as most  businesses do? Just stop with the Alice in Wonderland logic. We are doing our best to conserve electricity in our lives. We deserve the benefits of being good energy stewards, not having to pay more for the privilege of buying our electricity from Hydro One.

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

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Little faith in do-it-yourselfers

A 16th century fresco inside a Naples, Italy church was damaged last week when someone drilling next door accidentally punched a hole through a wall, perforating the valuable artwork. Pictures show a hole in a stone wall above the shoulder of an image of St. Peter in the Basilica of San Giovanni Maggiore. Fortunately the drill missed St. Peter’s face, but the incredibly valuable artwork has been badly damaged. The perpetrator was an overzealous do-it-yourselfer who lived next door.

The risks of enthusiastic but unknowledgeable renovators knows no bounds.

In one church I served, the oak pews which were over a century old, began to split. A zealous church member, according to the story I was told, said he would fix the splits and fixed they were. With monstrous screws with massive heads. And instead of fixing the splits, the repair made the splits worse and the pews unusable.

I saw one church basement renovation where the floor beams below the sanctuary had been cut out to fit low doorways for halls and classrooms. I would not have wanted to been in that church with a full congregation present.

One of my colleagues was telling me of the acoustic problems they were having in their church. No one could hear without a lot of amplification and speakers. A lot of money had been spent and no one was happy.

“You went to a split chancel, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, we did. A few years ago we moved the furniture around and made a flat performance floor. The central pulpit was taken out and the pulpit and lectern were placed on each side of the platform.”

“I hate to say it,” I said, “But knowing the original design of your church, I think you may have ruined the acoustics. Those old churches were well designed for the human voice. You could speak for hours without using a microphone and everyone could hear you.”

Church renovations are tricky. Changing sanctuary design to conform with a modern style of worship is very risky business. Make a mistake and you could end up with a very expensive mess than makes no one happy. You could even punch a hole in a valuable piece of art. But then you could have the result of an amateur artist who recently tried to repair an early 20th century fresco of Jesus in a church in Spain. It failed. Horribly. Her unskilled attempt went viral on the internet and was mocked as a bad restoration. But since then 150,000 tourists have flocked to the town to see the image, causing a tourist boom. New restaurants opened and local museums had the largest number of visits in years. Sow’s ear meet silk purse.

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

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Atheist minister a distraction

From time to time I am asked about “that United Church minister who doesn’t believe in God.” That United Church minister is The Rev. Gretta Vosper, who has made headlines in Canada and globally by calling herself an atheist. By that she means that she does not believe in a supernatural, interventionist god called God.

I am not going to argue for or against her theological position. I find my own understanding of God may have some small point of common ground with her, but as I read more and more of her material I find far more points with which I don’t agree.

About a year ago, a formal question regarding Vosper’s suitability for ministry was raised with Toronto Conference, the body which oversees United Church ministers in this area, including Grey County. That started the process of what is called a “review”, in which questions are asked of the subject; in this case, Vosper.

Because this was such an unusual situation, guidance was sought from the General Secretary of the United Church, who proposed a process for the review through what is called a Ruling.

Vosper, in turn, appealed the ruling. The appeal was considered by the Judicial Committee of the General Council. They issued their decision just before Easter. They turned down all five points in the appeal with the brief words, “The grounds for the appeal are not met.”

So what happens now?

Briefly, the review will proceed. Toronto Conference will ask their Conference Interview Committee, the group who interview ministers about their beliefs prior to ordination or commissioning into ministry, to nominate several members to form a review team. There will be ordained and commissioned ministers as well as experienced laypeople involved. They will meet with Vosper and write a report.

One the report is finished, it will be submitted to the conference executive for their final decision.

It would be reasonable to say that all the reviewers will be screened for conflict of interest and apprehension of bias. They will be trained in the review proceedure. They will do their work in isolation, with no interference. They do not make any decisions; only report findings. I expect the review will be conducted this spring. I would not be surprised if it was completed by the end of June.

The final report of the review will go forward to the conference executive, a group of a dozen or so elected lay persons and ordained and diaconal ministers. They will consider the report and make their decision.

I don’t know what the final result will be. But I believe the process will be as fair as possible. I look forward to the result, no matter what it is. The United Church needs to move on from what is, I believe, a distraction. We don’t do theology by popular vote and there are more significant matters the United Church needs to attend to.

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

Monday, 4 April 2016

Church of hockey wins out

Last weekend, the church of hockey won out. Canada’s other primary religion, hockey, took the game of the Easter celebration over the Christians.

You might not have noticed; churches are getting older and grayer these days. But in one small, rural church I serve, kids are present. When they aren’t there, they are missed.

In this case, the question was whether or not to hold an Easter sunrise service. Usually the kids, with help from adults, serve breakfast afterwards. It was, I am told, one of those wonderful, fun intergenerational experiences.

About a month ago, some parents realized that there were hockey playoffs on Easter Sunday morning. Some of the games might be out of town. Even games at local arenas demanded early rising, travel and time to dress.

This hadn’t happened in a while because Easter usually came later in April and hockey was finished for the year. This year, Easter was early, March 27, although not as early as possible. It hasn’t been as early as March 22, the earliest possible Easter date, since 1818 and won’t be again until 2285. On the other hand, it won’t be as late in the year as possible, April 25, until 2038.

Given that the worship schedule of the church of hockey conflicted with the worship schedule of the Christian church, the Easter morning sunrise service was in doubt.

So the decision was made. The youth would serve brunch on the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, after church.

How Canadian.

This battle isn’t new, though. In 734 AD, the Venerable Bede penned these lines to Egbert, Archbishop of York: “This kind of observance and devout sanctification to God has been so long absent from nearly all the laymen of our province, through the carelessness of teachers, as to be almost foreign to it, so that those among them who are more religious do not presume to participate in the sacred mysteries unless at the Lord’s Nativity, Epiphany and Easter, though there are numerous blameless people of chaste conduct, boys and girls, young men and maidens, old men and women, who could without a grain of doubt participate in the celestial mysteries every Sunday...”

In other words, clergy (and church members) have been griping about half-empty pews for a long, long time. The Venerable Bede blamed it on teachers. In 2016 it was the church of hockey. Next year, who knows?

I refuse to get wound up over who is in church and who isn’t. Reasons can change, lives can change and situations can change. The Christian church was around long before hockey was ever imagined and will, in all probability, be around long after Canadians have found another national pastime to turn into a near-religion. As for Easter, next year it will be on April 17. Hockey should be over by then.

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