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Reflections on Epiphany Explorations 2017

Volume 31, Issue 1,2 & 3, March 21, 2017

Dale Perkins, Victoria

Site C dam protest art by Deirdre Kelly (see related story - "Pope Says Native People Have Rights Over Their Lands"

     I was favoured with a full-ticket to this year’s Epiphany Explorations gathering, again held at First Metropolitan United Church from January 26 – 29.  I was the benefactor of Bishop Logan McMenamie’s ticket. 
     Logan is the Bishop of the BC Diocese of the Anglican Church, which includes all of Vancouver Island and some of BC’s West Coast communities. Logan was constrained from attending because of diocesan business up-island, so he checked with me and subsequently transferred his pre-paid admission into my care. 
     As it happened I had become totally engrossed in planning and arranging for Gretta Vosper and Marie Bouclin’s visit here on the 25th and 26th of January and I wasn’t able to  pay much attention to Epiphany Explorations this year, and consequently had only considered occasional drop-ins at particular events featuring certain presenters. Bishop Logan’s ticket changed all of that.
     I decided to focus on Saturday’s offerings and attended several presentations happening that day. Included were three lectures: the first was Bill Brown’s presentation on the New Cosmology and the Book of Job. Following that there was Megan Rohrer’s presentation on the ‘Kin-dom of God: Good News for Diverse Families’, and subsequently Janet Storch’s expose on the tough issue of medical assistance in dying.
     The format was typical of most conferences, i.e., a line-up of distinguished speakers addressing current issues or themes close to their hearts.  I believe that the option of allowing people to tune in to the presentations via ‘Live-streaming’ was available, and an undisclosed number signed on and connected that way. 
     This is not an inexpensive conference. The full-time registration plus the pre-event workshop cost $355. (although an early-bird option was possible and could reduce the costs to $295.) That made me even more self-conscious of Logan McMenamie’s gift to me – and perhaps influenced me not a little to at least make a concerted effort to attend a number of the presentations. 
     However, for out-of-towners, attending the full event was not a minor consideration and expense, factoring in costs of accommodation, meals and travel to and from Victoria. From the UCC perspective I imagine that many registrants would have had to drain most of their Con Ed allowance for the year to attend and enjoy Victoria’s January climate and venues, along with the conference itself. Since I restricted attendance to Saturday morning and afternoon, I can comment only on what took place then.  
     The first presentation I heard was given by Bill Brown, which was really his third presentation to the Conference. He devoted the major part of his presentation to elucidating how many radical changes have gone on vis a vis cosmological scientific knowledge.  To ignore most of the vast array of advanced scientific explorations would be to relegate us back to a previous century and world-view.
     On every front what we thought we knew as far as cosmological knowledge and awareness has expanded exponentially, and we are left aghast at how restricted our perspectives are as to the scope and magnitude of the cosmos we are only an infinitesimally small part of. When everything we once knew about the cosmos has been expanded a trillion times, we begin to understand how totally ignorant we are about the universe we inhabit.  
     However, what alarmed me was Dr. Brown’s attempt to relate this expansive perspective to the biblical Book of Job and its world-view and meaning. Obviously he either thought he had to make the connection to justify his presence at Epiphany Explorations, or he actually considers the juxtaposition of Job with the New Cosmology to be relevant and possible. In a word – he just wasn’t convincing. He laboured long and hard to make the particular nuances within the Book of Job relevant inside the new cosmology, and for most of us we left unimpressed.  
     I certainly left with a strong distaste wishing he’d not attempted the melding of these two realities. (In a way Brown simply demonstrated the absurd ways preachers often attempt to force Biblical myths and stories into authoritative commentaries of present-day realities – simply to maintain the illusions that those myths and stories had to be honoured as having universal and timeless relevancies because they were TAWOGFAT (= the authoritative word of god for all time).
     With Megan Rohrer another experience was offered. Megan is a well-articulated lesbian who has secured a prominent place in the US American lexicon of church leadership. She doesn’t hide her sexual orientation, but treats it as a proud symbol of her contemporary credentials among her ecclesiastical peers . Always entertaining Megan enthralled us with stories and songs, and quickly established herself as one of the better preachers on the circuit these days. If I had a discomfort it was on her refusal or inability to jettison her theistic language and images – her theology was certainly gender neutral but she still had to resort to theistic images and vocabulary. (Sad, she wasn’t able to make the transition.)
     Dr. Janet Storch, we were told, is a nurse who has been deeply involved in nursing ethics, health ethics and research ethics throughout her career. Located in Alberta, Dr. Storch has immersed herself in the turbulent controversies surrounding medically-assisted dying and has experienced fully the moral dilemmas encountered by any who enter that social and ethical mine-field.
     Other aspects of Epiphany Explorations I noticed were again the generous contributions extended by a plethora of volunteers. From the welcoming reception to the abundant refreshments provided, a lot of thoughtful energy, time and effort went into making registrants and visitors welcome.  
      I left wondering about Epiphany Exploration’s future: this year there was a steep decline in attendance, and no mention was made of 2018’s rendition with another line-up of prominent speakers to entice future registrants to return. So I left not knowing whether the next Epiphany Explorations gathering would happen. I guess we must await further word.
     Dale Perkins is a retired United Church minister.