Every week people in need call our church or knock on our door. They need bus tickets to get to medical appointments, or a food voucher to tide them over until their government cheque comes through, or help with their rent. Sometimes they’re scamming us. Sometimes they just need someone to hear their story of bad luck and hard choices. And sometimes we can help. But a church is not well suited to be a social service outpost. We have limited resources to offer—of both time and money—and nothing but common sense to guide us. We can offer emergency support, but often the circumstances are complex, and they will not be significantly altered by whatever help we provide. So Clara King and Dariel Bateman have been preparing a strategy to make our outreach more effective. First stop—the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), which has the trained staff, the financial resources, and the information technology to respond effectively to people in need. Second stop—the four other churches in our neighbourhood who, like us, receive weekly requests for help. Clearer communication and better cooperation means we can do more effective intake at the door and get people to CUPS or other agencies who can provide assistance. This leaves us with the role we ARE well suited to play: pastoral support, and a faith community to assist with the healing of wounded people. We will still offer tangible help, but now only as part of a deeper supportive relationship.
IT’S ABOUT GOOD NEWS, NOT BAD
It’s not about sin. It’s not about being bad, or flawed, or guilty. It’s not about a God who is angry with us, or who judges us, or who wants to punish us. It’s about being human (with the same root as humus, ie. of the earth). It’s about grace, about a God who loves us and who is highly invested in our health and happiness. It’s about Good News, not bad.
How did we get here? How did Christians settle on a worldview so dark, so ominous, that modern people ran away from it as soon as they could, scattering to other religions, or to no religion at all? Did we really think that a message of sin would hold people, like deer caught in the headlights, transfixed by their approaching doom? Did we really think we could then mollify people’s fears (fears we ourselves planted in their minds) by providing the “fix”—their acceptance of Jesus as their saviour, their obedience to him as their lord, and their unquestioning loyalty to the church as his representative?
Lent is a time when, traditionally, the church has cultivated our sense of guilt and unworthiness in order to offer the Good News of our salvation at Eastertide. But what if we use this time, not to rub our noses in our humanity, but to rejoice in it, to thank God that we are “wondrously made”, that, in truth, it’s all about grace? That’s what we’ll be doing here at St. Stephen’s.
At the close of 2014, St. Stephen’s was broken into five times in a two-week period … and all by the same person! He got away with several hundred dollars in cash, an old computer, and some cheques he couldn’t cash (but then, neither could we!). He is now behind bars, but he left us with thousands of dollars in repair bills and a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of our buildings to intrusion.
Lynn, our Parish Administrator, spent the better part of January hearing presentations, receiving quotes, and preparing a full report that the rector and churchwardens reviewed last week. From a long list of possible upgrades and installations they have assembled a plan to make the church more secure without, at the same time, making it Fort Knox. The plan features strategic lighting and video surveillance, a new keyless entry system, and various other specific improvements.
All this will cost in excess of $15,000—for which there is no provision in this year’s budget. So the new security plan, of necessity, will launch a special fund-raising campaign. In the weeks to come the churchwardens will be sending out a letter asking for your help. Please give generously when you receive it, as this affects all of us who take pride in our church.
No building is completely invulnerable to malicious unwanted entry. But here at St. Stephen’s we can make our buildings stronger, and our staff safer. It is exercising good stewardship—and common sense—to do so.