by Councillor John Barclay
In April, I attended a meeting of Cadets at the request of Pastor Ken Gehrels of the Kemptville Christian Reformed Church. Ken asked me to come and speak to the boys club about what it meant to be a Councillor, as part of their civics program. They sent me four questions in advance of the meeting so I could prepare. Three of the questions were pretty standard and predictable, but one of the questions was intriguing and made me pause.
“How do your spiritual values affect the way you serve the community?” Good question. And I wanted to answer it, first and foremost, for myself. What are my spiritual values? How do they affect the way I serve as Councillor and, finally, how would I articulate them to a group of 10 year‑old boys?
I’m not what you’d call a practicing Christian, although I was raised to be one. I’d hesitate to call myself a secular humanist, too, because that’s not exactly my lived experience. I feel I have a fairly strong moral compass and experience a rich spiritual life, but don’t really share that inner life with other people. I felt I had a sense of what drives me to serve the community, but I struggled to nail it down.
After a bit of soul searching, I found a key to unlock the answer. Over twenty years ago, I read a book by M. Scott Peck called People of the Lie. What remains with me today from reading that book years ago is an appreciation of the concept of grace. It was a real epiphany for me at the time. I decided that grace would be the anchor I would use for these cadets when describing how my spiritual values affect how and why I serve the community.
There are four or five definitions of grace, but the one that resonates with me is that grace is freely given; it’s the undeserved favour and love of God (or however you conceive a higher organizing principle). So I said to these kids, “I believe that I live in a state of grace and, because of that, I feel an obligation to give back to others”. Service to others, therefore, allows me to continue to live “gracefully”.
You often hear the phrase: “I want to give back to the community”, as though it’s a choice. With me, I don’t think I have a choice; I feel compelled to do it. For me, there’s an intrinsic value in being involved with different community and non‑profit groups and to being on Council. I find it energizing and invigorating. It’s wonderful to see what a group of people can accomplish if they have a common purpose or a shared goal ‑ whether it’s building a gazebo, or helping to run a Farmers Market. I get involved in volunteering and local politics because I feel lucky being in this community.
I lead a very busy life, full of all kinds of stressors: financial worries, time management issues, interpersonal relationships, and so on. In my life, therefore, I try to make space for grace; to experience the feeling of grace. That means cultivating an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis. Everybody gets locked into their own circumstance with blinders on; but, on a global scale, we’re in the tiny 1% of people who are not looking where the next meal is coming from, how to stay warm and dry, or not having missiles fired at them. So cultivating an attitude of gratitude and witnessing about your good fortune is a good way to create the experience of living in grace. Being an optimist and a bit of cheerleader for North Grenville is part of that effort, too
There’s a lot of negativity out there in the community, and you can absorb it or release it. Politics is messy and it’s frequently ego‑driven. There are land mines all over the place. You have to be able to forgive people for over‑stepping sometimes. The feeling of grace in your life gives you strength, it enables you to be true to yourself; to acknowledge your uniqueness and blessings and not to worry about getting the credit. I try to remember this when working with Council colleagues and residents.
Managing a municipality is a complicated endeavour; being on Council is a marathon, not a sprint. Another way of living gracefully, for me, is trying your best and then surrendering to whatever happens. I’ve never achieved anything worthwhile that didn’t take patience and persistence. I’m looking forward to the next three and half years serving this community by being on Council and doing it gracefully.