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MARRIAGE AND THE CHURCH
This week we have the unique opportunity of blessing a marriage … at church … on a Sunday morning! This rare event used to be the norm in the early days of the church … and may be again!
The church has been debating for decades what do to about the wedding chapel syndrome, that is, couples turning to the church for the sacrament of marriage for the sake of a really great photo backdrop, a centre aisle, and stained glass windows. Some churches see a marketing opportunity and charge couples thousands of dollars to perform the ceremony. Others take the opposite approach, turning couples away if they are not church members.
At St. Stephen’s we do not regard the lack of a church background as an impediment to a couple wanting to be married here … as long as they are prepared to attend a Sunday morning service and participate in an authorized form of marriage preparation. So couples enjoy getting married here and we enjoy a 10% retention rate of couples who decide to become members.
Still, the legal ceremony and the sacrament do not coexist happily. For one thing, the marriage license protects the couples’ interests in the event of divorce, while the priest is pronouncing the church’s blessing upon a lifelong union! So many suggest that couples ought to have the legal part done, and then come to the church for a blessing … separately. This week’s service may be a sign of things to come.
Far be it from anyone to suggest that BRAG (our Building Renewal Action Group) is dragging its feet! There cannot be a harder working, more dedicated group of church volunteers anywhere! But people are asking when our long-awaited renovations will begin; and the answer is: not yet.
The problem is not with efforts on our part. We have raised the money—over $1 million in cash and pledges. We continue to seek, and continue to receive, all the necessary diocesan approvals. Plans are developing apace with our hired architects. So why is there no shovel in the ground?
The hold-up is our attempt to secure partnerships through the federal, provincial and municipal governments. In fact we have already received a $125,000 grant from the Province for the installation of barrier-free washrooms. Another $50,000 federal grant application was turned down because of some confusion (on its part) over who actually owns our buildings. We will re-apply.
But we are stalled as we negotiate a partnership with the City of Calgary, which very much wants our project to succeed. The City badly needs “arts incubation space”, that is, dedicated space for arts administration, rehearsal and performance, and our project provides exactly that. But there is little precedent for the City working with a church in this way. So we are all trying to find our way through uncharted territory.
No worries, our renovations will happen. Plans will continue to be developed. We are just on a longer timetable than we first envisaged.
BECOMING THE PEOPLE OF GOD
One of the many pleasures belonging to a church is witnessing the evolution of a caring community. We did not start out knowing one another. But working side by side, sharing the good times and the bad, discerning together the call to be God’s people—this is how friendships form, and we grow close to one another in Christian love.
Recently this love has expressed itself through the great care we have for those in our midst who are sick or going through difficult transformations in life. With Cathy’s retirement, for instance, we were uncertain if the Seniors’ Lunch would continue. This event was always well received but it was a lot of work to organize, which Cathy did so well. But recognizing the need, members of our community have come up with a plan to carry on this tradition and to offer our seniors a springtime event on May 31st.
Similarly, some of our young families were growing frustrated that we have been unable to find a caregiver for our Sunday morning nursery. So they have taken up the challenge themselves, creating a roster of volunteers to care for our youngest members during the 10:30 service.
At a recent meeting of Parish Council, we considered how to address the needs of our newcomers. This is as critical to the health of our community as all the care we give to our long-time members. So the circle continues to widen as we become more and more the People of God.