You know that you've reached a certain stage in life when you get an email from the archivist saying, "Please tell us (briefly) about your life and ministry."
It took me most of an afternoon to write, and in the end I appreciated the opportunity.
So. Just to help those who will have the task of one day writing the actual obituary ... here's what I wrote:
• in the form you most commonly use, David Ewart
• your full name (including middle name), and degrees, David Roy Thompson Ewart, B.Sc. (Hon.), M.A., M.Div.
Date of your ordination: 1978
Name of the Conference in which you were ordained: Manitoba and Northwest Ontario
Chronological list of pastoral charges in which you served (please give inclusive dates):
1978-1980 – Kincaid-Aneroid-Ponteix, Saskatchewan
1980-1983 – Voluntary DSL (Discontinued Service List)
1983-1984 – Hartney-Lauder-Dand, MNWO
1984-1988 – General Council Office (Half-time staff for national study on Sexual Orientations, Lifestyles and Ministry, and other things.)
1988-1994 – Chalmers United, Vancouver, BC
1994-1995 – Haida Gwaii PC, Skidegate & Queen Charlotte City, BC
1995-2004 – Queens Avenue United, New Westminster, BC
2004 -- (4 month interim) Bethany-Newton, Surrey, BC
2005 -- Chalmers Institute, VST, Vancouver, BC
2005-2006 – (10 month interim) Wilson Heights United, Vancouver, BC
2006-2010 – Capilano United, North Vancouver, BC
Birthplace: Minnedosa, Manitoba
Where you spent your formative years - where you grew up: Winnipeg, Manitoba from the age of 3 to 33.
What was your involvement in the church before you were called to ordered ministry?
I was the white sheep in my family, so church involvement was sporadic as a child – I can remember going to SS for a while, but not regularly. In high school I was part of a Hi-C group – for some reason – likely because many of my friends also belonged.
I came into the church through 6 years of active involvement in the YMCA, and so have always had a non-churched, not-very-religious understanding of faith and discipleship. The Y’s Spirit-Mind-Body and YMCA Camp Stephen’s motto: “I am third,” (i.e. God / Christ is first; the other person is second; and I am third) have had a life-long influence for me. The Camp devotionals tended to stress the parables and deeds of Jesus. This is also the place where I received my foundational leadership training and experience.
In university I joined the (very small) SCM. The Secretary / Chaplain, Mac Watts, influenced my decision to study theology after graduating. This was not a call to ministry, but more of a curiosity about Jesus. Basically my thinking was: There had to be a lot more to this guy than I currently understood or his reputation would not have lasted for 2,000 years.
I was also at that time dating a woman whose family were staunch United Church participants, and I tagged along and got involved.
Can you describe how you were called to ordered ministry?
To be honest, I have never felt called to ordered ministry. (In the first place, it wasn’t called that back in my day.) But also, I really had no idea what “theology” was, but in the mid-60’s it was easy to go to university, and I was definitely not interesting in pursuing a career out of my B.Sc. in honours math and physics. So off I went to study theology at United College, Winnipeg. This was 1967.
Those were also the days, when an interest in studying theology must mean an interest in being a minister. As I remember it, I was received as a candidate after a 20 minute interview with the chair of the E&S Committee, just before being introduced to the Presbytery meeting. I can’t remember how I answered any questions about “call” or “vocation” as my role models were not ministers but YMCA and SCM leaders. I had no “call” as such – all I had was “curiosity.”
I studied theology for 2 years and then quit when I realized what “being a minister” meant after a summer being a student minister and a winter internship.
But I remained an active lay leader in my congregation and Presbytery. And at one point – while using some of my vacation days to attend Conference, thought, “If I’m this interested in the church, why don’t I switch and get paid to go to Conference so I can take my vacation and go to the beach instead?”
A short while later, I took a job for Winnipeg Presbytery – as a lay person. This eventually led to me doing my MA in leadership in Spokane, where I met Ivan Cumming, and that led to Naramata and re-applying to become a Candidate and finishing my theology studies. But again, my calling was not to “ordered ministry,” so much as it was to “active, paid, leadership.”
So much so, that after 2 years in my settlement pastoral charge, I tried to resign my ordination. Turns out the United Church has a very inarticulate understanding of ordination, but the long and short of it is, one cannot “resign” ordination; one can only “voluntarily DSL.” Which is what I did.
But 2 years later, I changed my mind about resigning, not because I changed my mind about ordination and call to ministry, but because I was still drawn – called if you will – to active, paid, leadership – and that meant doing it on the Church’s terms, not mine. So here I am.
Please list any post-secondary education and work experience (including degrees or diplomas):
1967 – B.Sc. (Hon.), U. of Manitoba, Mathematics and Physics
1967-1969, M.Div. incomplete, United College, Winnipeg.
1976 – M.A., Whitworth College, Spokane, WA, leadership.
1978 – M.Div., Vancouver School of Theology
1994 – Conflict Resolution Certificate, Justice Institute of BC
1996 – MBTI Certificate
2002 – Natural Church Development Coach’s Certificate
2004 – Family Systems Theory in Ministry, North Shore Counseling Centre
2005 – Powers of Leadership, Whidbey Institute, WA
Work Experiences (Other than UCCan listed above)
1969-1973 – Computer systems analyst & project leader, Manitoba Government.
1980-1982 – Computer Science instructor, Columbia College, Vancouver, BC
Where did you receive your theological education?
United College and VST (see above)
What was a high point in your ministry?
I approach life through ideas – I think about my feelings. So for me, healing, release, new life and energy come through learnings and understandings that correct mis-understandings and open up possibilities never before considered.
So high points for me are those moments of personal connection where new light – new understandings – break dysfunctional bonds of habitual thinking / acting / feeling and bring healing, reconciliation, release, and new possibilities. These have been too numerous – and too personal – to name.
Publically, I’ve been privileged to be involved in some pivotal moments of the United Church over the past 40 years:
- Various discussions and reports about “the meaning of ministry” and paid, accountable, lay ministry in particular.
- Reconciliation with native peoples, and the Land Claims Fund here in BC
- Changing roles of women and men, i.e., sexism, and developing use “inclusive language.” (1980-1984)
- Changing understanding of homosexuality and support for openly accepting lesbian and gay members and clergy. (1984-1988)
What was a low point, or the most difficult part of your ministry?
Apart from being close to clinical depression on my settlement charge, the personal low point for me was realizing how difficult and troubling the move to Haida Gwaii was on our young children- and the subsequent conflict and stress it was causing within our family. It wasn’t given as advice, but meeting with a retired UC missionary on the island and his reflections on the effect his time in Africa had had on his children, helped me to make the tough decision to leave after one year.
In ministry, the most difficult situation was the amalgamation of the three New Westminster United Churches that exploded over a recommendation to sell all sites. The congregation I was at, Queens Avenue, rejected the motion (which was supported by the other two). This led to a split in Queens Avenue and a most difficult and stressful situation for me. I had already given notice months before the meeting, but Presbytery placed me on “stress leave” for the remaining time.
What has been your main passion, or the common thread in your ministry?
Initially I thought my “job” was to be a good minister / manager to healthy, well-functioning congregations and otherwise help them engage in the mission and issues of the day.
Alas, while I have mostly enjoyed meeting all the people I have met in my ministry, I’ve not had the good fortune to meet them in “healthy, well-functioning” congregations. They have all been struggling congregations.
So then I thought my “job” was to help them “fix” what was ailing them.
But alas, despite my best efforts, that too has not worked out as hoped. There are lots of “fixes” being bandied about, but I now believe the “problem” is systemic and we are way beyond the opportunity to fix it. Our ship of faith hit an iceberg of social change 50 years ago, and we still haven’t really noticed that the back half has fully disappeared below the water.
But through it all, my main passion, my common thread has been curiosity and Jesus.
I continue to learn and become more amazed at Jesus’ courage, wisdom, and bonding with/trusting in God.
I continue to hope that my own living will somehow be a small reflection of his.
And I continue to be curious about what new form the experience of God will take in this digital era.
Can you offer a word of wisdom to future generations of ministers? And lay members?
No one really knows what ways of being the church will work in the future. And what is working one place may not work in your place. So. Don’t be envious (or proud).
Experiment like crazy where you are.
Life dies when circumstance change and it doesn’t adapt its form to draw nourishment in new ways from the new environment – so LET GO OF YOUR FORM, and find a new way for the life that is in you to be fed and to give.
Unfortunately, death is part of life. And by and large, the form of the United Church as we have known it will not continue. I’m thinking we will not make it to our 100th anniversary in 2025.
Don’t confuse your calling with your expectations and circumstances. God IS calling you, has desires for you: your purpose and well-being, but never make the mistake of thinking that means happy circumstances.
Stay connected with colleagues – perhaps especially the ones who are like Samaritans to you (i.e., the despised but nonetheless related). They may very well be the ones who come to your rescue because they don’t cherish what you do and will cross boundaries you will not.
Remember. Our church was founded by those who were willing to let go of the beloved familiar for the desired unknown. Where that heart still beats, there is still life.