OPENING HEAVEN’S DOOR
One of the great privileges afforded clergy is accompanying those who are dying and those who attend to them. All pretence and artifice fall away as together we stare into that most mysterious portal of death.
In the days leading up to someone’s passing, things often become surreal. If the dying person has been incommunicative, perhaps even comatose, there is often a moment of utter clarity when they sit up and share images of the afterlife, or conversations with those who have gone before, only to sink back down again … and then depart. Sometimes a word or action by a loved one will evoke a reaction in a dying person who is otherwise unresponsive.
At the actual moment of death, their passing is sometimes accompanied by sudden feelings of calm and reassurance within a loved one in attendance. Sometimes a death will be “felt” halfway around the world by a friend or relative who suddenly “knows” it has happened. And in the days afterward, many people report feelings of inexplicable closeness with their departed loved ones, sometimes described as a “presence”.
Canadian journalist Patricia Pearson has done a great service by exploring these phenomena in her recent book “Opening Heaven’s Door”. She has discovered that, once the topic is introduced, almost everyone has a story to tell. In correspondence with our rector, Patricia has suggested joining us for a conversation on this topic in the fall, perhaps as part of a study group. Any interest? Please let us know.
PLEASE JOIN US!
Traditionally, we Christians have been called the “Church Militant”, meaning all the faithful living on the earth. Those who’ve gone before us, who now dwell with God in heaven, have been known as the “Church Triumphant”. These are lofty terms from a more confident time in the church’s history.
More recently we have witnessed what we might call the “Church Hesitant”, that is, fearful Christians painfully watching the old outward forms of faith fading away. But look up and get ready, because God is doing a new thing. It might be called … the “Church Emergent”.
Even while mainline Christian denominations watch their numbers fall, their beloved buildings close, and their influence in the world wane, the church is being reborn, and a restless diaspora of sensitive souls is faithfully watching and waiting for its new form to take shape.
We at St. Stephen’s have been blessed by the arrival of such Christian seekers into our midst. They have come from Roman Catholic, evangelical, and mainline backgrounds. Many have been disappointed by their former church experience, and some have been hurt by it. But they have joined us with a hope that something new is in fact emerging—and that perhaps it is emerging here!
So on Sunday evening, June 14, at 7:30, we will be offering you an opportunity to gather for informal worship to consider together how and where God is calling the church forward. It isn’t “Kingdom Come” exactly … but we are expectant. Please join us!
HELP FOR NEPAL
We have read and watched with horror the aftermath of now several waves of earth tremors that have rocked the mountainous nation of Nepal. It is estimated that over eight thousand people have died and that many more than that have been displaced. The country will be years literally digging itself out of this natural disaster.
Whenever we are witnesses to global tragedies we often feel helpless to make a difference from so far away. We include those who suffer in our prayers, yes, but that does not feel like enough. What can we actually do?!
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) is set up to facilitate a direct response to crises around the world, as well as to support development in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. It is run out of our national office in Toronto but as an independent agency.
Unlike other departments of our national office, PWRDF does not receive funding from the regular apportionments paid by dioceses across the country (which come from collection plates). Rather it relies entirely on direct freewill donations.
Until May 25 the Canadian Government will match any funds raised by PWRDF. To date, it has raised almost $168,000 in “match-able” funds. We invite you to use the fund to play your own part in the rebuilding of Nepal. You can make a donation to St. Stephen’s marked “Nepal Relief” as a memo, and we will send it along, or you can give directly through their website: www.pwrdf.org.
FAITH AND POLITICS
A responsible church that honours the intelligence, the faith, and the individual freedom of its members does not presume to tell people how to vote. So it is difficult to formulate a collective response to the sea change Albertans experienced in last week’s provincial election. But what we can do is ask ourselves where God is in all this, and to discern for ourselves what such a political shift means for people of faith.
If we believe that God is in the world, and not just in the church, then even non-religious social movements reveal something of what God is doing. This need not be a direct connection, as if God raises up one political party and casts down another. But assuming that everyone—religious and secular alike—can identify some higher principles worth living (and voting) for, what was the populace saying in this election? What did so many Albertans feel was missing from the status quo, and what are they hoping for in this new regime?
Often, when we are able to identify the moral principles that are important to us, we discover that the difference in political parties is more about how we get there than what we want. For who doesn’t want good government that serves its citizens, social services that improve our quality of life, and laws that safeguard our freedoms? Perhaps an election like this one forces us to go back—whatever our political stripes—and consider: what are those principles worth voting for?
This week we will take our first steps toward breaking the impasse between our bishop and ourselves over the issue of same-sex blessings. The initiative is called Shared Episcopal Ministry and should result in our receiving the pastoral services of a bishop who is sympathetic to our request to perform same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
Back in 2004 the House of Bishops passed a resolution that accepted Shared Episcopal Ministry as a model for resolving conflict between parishes and their bishop over this issue. Then, the concern was for congregations offended by diocesan decisions that allowed parishes to decide for themselves whether or not to offer blessings to same-sex couples. Now, of course, it is the reverse, as we find ourselves frustrated by a bishop who has categorically dismissed same-sex blessings as an option for the Diocese of Calgary.
Shared Episcopal Ministry means that on all routine matters we would continue to be led by our diocesan bishop. But on this one matter we would receive the support of a bishop appointed to us from another diocese. We would continue to have seats at Synod and to participate fully in the life of the diocese.
The Parish of St. Laurence joins us in this initiative. Christ Church—Elbow Park is voting on the issue this weekend. If a formal conversation with the bishop fails to find a resolution then we will call a General Meeting of our congregation to seek your approval to apply for Shared Episcopal Ministry. Your thoughts?