My Journey

John Lawson

I’m a Christian, a husband, a dad, a white middle class Canadian.  I’ve been a pastor in the United Church of Canada for the last 25 years.  I have done the church thing — what most people think of when they think of a minister: leading worship, performing weddings, visiting the sick, burying the dead. And it has been good. I have been Blessed.  I’ve never gotten over the sense of privilege of being invited to share in people’s spiritual journeys.

But some things cause me growing dis-ease:

  • I saw spiritual seekers coming to church but not connecting in any way with the church culture they found there.
  • I saw people coming to church because of tragedy or trauma in their life, and not finding a place to find rest, healing or transformation.
  • I saw people coming knowing that they needed a deeper purpose in their life than what our consumer culture provides — wanting dialogue, exploration and spiritual depth and often finding institutional maintenance and struggles over this or that belief system.
  • I saw people coming who craved community — to know and be known — a place for their spirit to find a home but not finding either.
  • I saw people with general dis-ease about where we are going as a society and species and wanting a new spiritual foundation to see them and their children through the challenges that lie ahead and not finding a living tradition from the past that would help light their way into the future.

Some found a place in the church I served (thank God!) I take nothing away from the way the Spirit uses many avenues to touch people’s hearts.  But many did not. And many, in my experience, have given up on the hope that you would ever find that in the church.

All this led to a kind of spiritual crisis for me. How do you do church in a new way? How do we reach out to those who are seeking and hungry and thirsty for a better life and a better world?  More and more this dis-ease within me would not let me rest — or sleep through some nights.  There was no little tossing and turning and praying as I lay there.

And then, one night in October 2008, I had a dream, a vision, a call. The vision was of a church that was a café in the south end of Guelph, Ontario – the city where I currently live. Out of the blue. Never had such an idea passed through my mind before — (although in my life I have had a number of experiences of God that I would call mystical experiences).

I shared the vision with some close friends and colleagues — and they got excited. I shared it with folks in Waterloo Presbytery (that regional body of the United Church of Canada in this area) and they were supportive.

But I’m no businessman. If God wants a physical place — a Café Church — God will have to provide the folks with business skills and cash.

But there are already cafés to meet in, pubs in which to gather, places for conversation. The symbol of a café speaks to me about — accessibility, conversation, connection, communion.

So that’s my journey now. That’s what this blog hopes to chronicle and engage. I hope you will join me on the journey — I’m looking for companions (literally those who will share bread with me — or coffee.)


5 responses to “My Journey

  1. Hi John,

    I am a member of the congregation at Dublin (you may recognize me but I never stick around so you wouldn’t know me) and we have been away in England for the past seven months so I was surprised to not see you at church when we returned. Thankfully there was a little blurb in the last newsletter about how to contact you with this address. It is timely too. I just spent a weekend with my cousin up in the Collingwood area and her minister had just been thrown out of a church by the village elders for her new ideas, etc. They (my cousin, the minister and Andy Berry of CBC radio fame) are trying to figure out a way forward and how to minister to a congregation without a church and then I found out about you… What is it you are doing exactly? Are you setting up a cafe? Are you funded by a church? I couldn’t quite figure it out but we’d all be interested to know. My cousin’s name is Nanteza (Teza) and her minister friend is Candace. She may be getting in touch with you to find out more about what it is you are doing and I am also interested.

    Sara Moore

    • Hi Sara,
      I do remember you and thanks for your comment. There is so much hurt in the church right now for so many. I guess it is very human when the church as an institution feels stressed and unsure of where to go and how to survive. I will pray for Candace that God will find a way to open up new possibilities of ministry. We need “new ideas”. It is the work of the Spirit, I believe . . . and we need each other to help us discern the the new thing the Spirit is calling us into.
      As for me at this point I hope that small groups who are interested can meet in existing cafes at this time. I have approached a number here in Guelph and they have all been enthusiastic and welcoming! Hey . . . that in itself is another blog topic! I hope to have an actual gathering very soon. Stay posted . . .

  2. Good evening, John;

    I’ve just been reading with great interest your submissions.

    I have found the most uplifting times – really when the Spirit has been truly present – are those time with friends and family, gathered around a table! The exchange of ideas, the free flowing energy that lights up the crowd is uplifting. I’m hoping this continues to blossom. Please keep me posted.


    • Thanks Suzanne. I think that this is at the heart of our faith too. Just think of why Jesus chose as his final act to share a meal with those who had shared his life and journeys with him. As Protestants who have often focused on “feasting on the Word” something a little more tangible that draws us deeper into communion with God and each other may be just the nutrition we need. Thanks again for your thoughts and encouragement,

  3. See, there’s god at work. Sara. Andy Barrie is a humanist, not church-oriented at all, and he’s just lost his wife of close to 30 years and is struggling with Parkinsons. Yet he takes the time to care about your friend’s minister.

    I’m still at Dublin if you are too. Let’s connect!


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