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The shape of church to come?

Do empty churches indicate a lack of faith, or do they need to adapt to different ways of nurturing faith in people both inside and outside their walls? (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Churches across Canada--including this one in downtown Montreal--are closing for lack of congregants, to be replaced by gyms, spas, restaurants and upscale condos. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Darian and Jacob Wiebe-Neufeld, centre, enjoy a game of Sorry! with a couple of regulars at the St. James Drop-in Centre in Montréal. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Two staff and a St. James Drop-in Centre member jam in the art room. The artistic and musical talents that were in evidence among the members were amazing. After meeting the people, the idea that anyone from any walk of life can become homeless really sank in. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Maison de l’Amitié doesn’t look like much from the outside, but its tiny garden and park benches provide a good place for community members to talk. A Swiss couple who stayed in the student residence for a few nights told director Dora Marie Goulet, “It’s a one star facility, but gets five stars in its connections!” (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

A cross has stood on the top of Mount Royal in Montréal since 1643 as a lasting reminder of God’s grace when a flood was averted. The cross standing there today is brilliantly lit every night and can be seen for miles. (Photo by Donita Wiebe-Neufeld)

Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

The skyline is liberally punctuated with steeples, but they loom like tombstones over the churches of Montréal. The beautiful buildings are mostly dead on Sundays, and I wonder where the church has gone.

For discussion: I was in prison

1. What experiences have you had with prison visitation or helping someone with a painful past become settled in Canadian society? What level of acceptance would someone like Jack McKay, the pseudonymous former inmate in this story, find in your community? What social services would there be to help him? What would happen in your congregation if a former sexual offender began attending?

The 100 percent clean comedian

Born and raised in Niverville, Man., Matt Falk began performing stand-up at the age of 17 after seeing comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Robin Williams on TV. ‘I just wanted to be like them so badly,’ he recalls. ‘I think that’s what motivated me.’ (Photo courtesy of Matt Falk)

Written over the course of five years, the material on Apple Pie & Scars includes bits about food, weight loss, pop music and Falk’s religious upbringing. (Photo courtesy of Matt Falk)

Comedian Matt Falk draws from his Russian Mennonite heritage for some of the material in his act. ‘For those who don’t know what a Mennonite is, a Mennonite is basically just like a Catholic, with half the dancing and twice the guilt,’ he quips on his debut album, Apple Pie & Scars. (Photo by Cody Goetz)

Matt Falk recalls one of his worst gigs from the beginning of his career as a comedian. He was hired to perform at a corporate event, and during his 30-minute set the audience barely chuckled.

Only God can determine the time and place of death

Sikander Hashmi

“Do not kill yourselves: for verily God is to you most merciful” (Qur’an 4:29).

It is commonly understood that when we were born, we had no choice but to become a citizen of this world. We didn’t get a chance to choose our parents or birthplace either. But if entering this world was not of our choosing, do we have the choice to decide when we leave it?

For discussion: Other faiths speak out on end-of-life issues

1. John Longhurst refers to a recent poll indicating that 70 percent of Canadians support physician-assisted suicide and 68 percent believe that those who help a seriously ill person commit suicide should not face legal charges. How would you respond to these questions? Why do you think these numbers are so high? What concerns do you have about assisted suicide?

Listen to the unjust judge

Anita Fast

When I first read this passage in Luke’s gospel, in preparation for preaching on it, I thought, “Oh, this is just too easy.” Unlike some stories which leave you scratching your head, this one seems all too straightforward. If even an unjust judge listens to a persistent widow, how much more will God—a just judge—listen to our cries?

For discussion: Listen to the unjust judge

1. In what situations have you prayed for justice or deliverance? Have you ever begun to doubt that you were praying hard enough, or even to doubt the existence of God? How do you keep your faith when there is so much injustice and suffering in the world? Do you find the story of the persistent widow encouraging? Do you find Anita Fast’s interpretation of Luke 18:1-8 convincing?

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