The Anglican Church of Canada House of Bishops met recently to discuss proposed changes to the marriage canon. Those changes—to be debated at the upcoming meeting of General Synod in June—would remove reference to gender, thereby permitting clergy to marry couples of the same gender, something they are presently prohibited from doing.
As a change in canon law, a two thirds vote is required in each of the three voting “houses”: lay, clergy, and bishops; and that vote must be repeated at the next meeting of General Synod three years hence for the changes to take effect.
In a disturbing statement following their meeting, our bishops reported that they do not now foresee passing the motion when it is presented to them at the upcoming General Synod meeting. This is of course disturbing to all who favour same-sex marriage.
But it should be disturbing to all Anglicans, whatever their views on this subject, to hear our leaders declare themselves before the motion has even been presented, before debate has ensued, and before the guidance of the Holy Spirit has specifically been sought. In other words, it sends a dangerous message that decisions are being made without the benefit of the prayerful and consultative consideration of the whole church!
Should any of our church members wish to register their concern, letters to The Most Reverend Greg Kerr-Wilson, our Metropolitan archbishop and diocesan bishop, would not be out of place, and similarly to our Primate, The Most Reverend Fred Hiltz.
LIFE … AFTER THE INN
Last week we learned that the Inn From the Cold’s Community Inn Program has been discontinued. There will be no more inns hosted by faith communities throughout the city for Calgary’s homeless. Most homeless families will now find shelter at IFTC itself, in its large downtown location. Most homeless singles will be accommodated by other existing social agencies.
But even with the large-scale shift of IFTC and other social agencies away from emergency shelters to affordable housing, the root causes of homelessness persist. They persist as unemployment in the oil and gas sector, inaccessible apartment rental rates, inadequate AISH and social welfare payments, and the impossibility of surviving on minimum wage in a city like Calgary. So our care for the homeless does not stop with the Community Inn Program. Instead, we are led to ask, Why are people still homeless in the first place?
As if in answer to that question, St. Stephen’s has been invited to take part in an exploration of the social challenges facing our city, to identify its greatest needs, and to pool the resources of individuals and organizations to affect the public policy that governs our communal life.
The Metro Alliance for the Common Good (MACG) is hosting a Listening Campaign: “Facing the Challenges of Our Time: Listening to Real People, About Real Issues, Acting for Real Change.” The details will be found elsewhere in our bulletin and on our website. Might this be a way of exploring our community outreach beyond the Inn?
Last week we were shocked to learn that the Inn From the Cold Society is suspending its Community Inn program involving many faith groups across the city, like our own, that provide shelter for the homeless.
Since 1997, every night homeless families and individuals have been provided with a hot meal, a safe place to sleep, breakfast in the morning, and a bagged lunch. More important, they were welcomed as “guests”, treated with respect, and afforded the dignity that was often denied them on the streets. At its height, the Community Inn program involved over seventy faith groups and literally thousands of volunteers.
The Society has given two reasons for the suspension of this program: (1) a recent incident where a volunteer was injured by a guest and (2) the accommodation of families at the Inn’s central location. A letter from the Society argues that the needs of single homeless people can adequately be met by other existing agencies.
This is hard news for us at St. Stephen’s because IFTC started here—with a timely sermon preached by then-rector Bob Purdy and an inter-church task force that responded with the first community inns. We have seen lives turned around by this program, and we ourselves have been transformed in return.
There is a meeting with inn coordinators on March 6 and thereafter a determination will be made about the future of the Community Inn program. Until then we invite your prayers and your continued financial support. It’s not over yet.
Lent is upon us, the season that anticipates new life even as it denies us access to that life just yet. The Germanic languages gave us the term (shortened from lenten), which referred to spring and to the lengthening of days. But in the West the Church gave it significance as a season during which we prepare for our Easter celebration by observing various forms of restraint and devotion.
The season of Lent is forty days in length, counting the weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve. Traditionally it has been marked as a time of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. In the first three centuries the fasting could be extreme, including only one light meal at the end of each day (much like Ramadan), that meal to exclude meat, fish or eggs. Gradually this was relaxed to permit a light meal midafternoon, and then a noonday meal, with fish and eggs creeping back onto the menu.
As a nod to those days of fasting, moderns often consider giving something up for Lent, perhaps dessert, or smoking, or some other form of abstinence. Some consider, instead, taking something on, perhaps daily prayer and study, or a special outreach project. At
St. Stephen’s we always offer a weekly Lenten study group, as we are this year with “Follow Your Wyrd.”
However you observe it, Lent is a hopeful time, but a time for restraint, as we get our spiritual house in order and prepare for our joyful celebration of the Risen Christ.
WHO DE MAN?
The Anglican Church is not a democracy. All churches, according to their highest ideals, are theocracies—faith-based political organizations following the will of God. But things get slippery when they actually go about trying to interpret God’s will. Whose interpretation is correct, and in any case who gets to decide whose interpretation is correct?
For congregationalist churches—churches that have no denominational overseers—God’s will is interpreted by the members of a congregation who presumably study scripture, pray about it, and have theological debates among themselves. In the catholic and orthodox traditions popes and patriarchs presume to settle theological issues and the people are expected to fall into line.
The Anglican Church is governed through a negotiated relationship between bishops and councils—a via media that is sometimes characterized as “episcopally led; synodically governed”—bishops lead us, but we govern ourselves.
The Anglican Church is hierarchical, but in Canada the highest position is not a territorial or national archbishop, but rather a diocesan bishop. That is because our church was founded by diocesan bishops who did not want to give up any of their local power when they were establishing a national church separate from the Church of England.
While Anglican congregations are bound to obedience to their local diocesan bishop, they exercise their democratic right to govern themselves every time they meet for General Meetings, as we do this week for our AGM. Such meetings remind us that, while our bishop sets the course, we steer the vessel ourselves.
“WELCOMING THE STRANGER”
Every week we are blessed in our worship to have a mix of both long-time members and newcomers. In fact, most weeks our worship includes people who have never been with us before—friends and relatives of church members, spiritual seekers, church shoppers. Some of our visitors have never been to church … or not for a very long time.
All are welcome, and we take pains to make our worship accessible and easy to follow. But it takes a while for us to get to know the ones who decide to stay. And as we do, how assertively do we extend the hand of friendship? Too much and it seems like we’re being pushy. Too little and it appears we don’t care.
Like all relationships, getting to know one another requires sensitivity and deftness. But most of all it requires simply that we pay attention. So first we notice if someone sits nearby who is unfamiliar to us. A smile acknowledges their presence. We notice if they are familiar with our order of service and we offer a hand if they appear lost. We make a point of passing the peace with them and then, at the conclusion of the service, inviting them to stay for coffee where we might introduce them to a few others.
Hospitality is the gift of a few, but it is the ministry of us all. So let us work together to welcome the stranger in our midst—as if it were Christ himself!
NOT OVER YET
At the risk of returning too soon to a painful topic, there have been two recent developments in our quest to offer same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
One of course is the decision last week of the primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion to censure the Episcopal Church of the United States over its endorsement of same-sex marriage. (Every nation or region of the earth is presided over by an archbishop called a primate—pronounced prī-mĕt, to distinguish them from our Neanderthal forebears.)
This decision does not affect the Canadian church directly but without doubt our House of Bishops will have this in mind—as a deterrent—next summer when our General Synod meets to consider changing the marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-gender couples.
Meanwhile, following the failure of the Shared Episcopal Ministry protocol to move us forward on this issue (through the use of an alternative bishop), we have launched a formal appeal to our Canadian Primate, Fred Hiltz, asking for his guidance, or that of the House of Bishops. Specifically, we are asking: How can we follow the deepest dictates of our conscience under a bishop who prevents us from doing so?
There are other paths we can follow, new strategies we can still employ, but each one takes us farther down a road that leads ultimately to the ecclesiastical equivalent of civil disobedience. So our hope is that we will receive a supportive reply from the Primate, despite the recent decision of his colleagues.
Each month we make available a special offering envelope we call the Pink Envelope. This is designated for one of six outreach projects Parish Council has identified for the year. The envelopes are included with the boxed set of envelopes for those who give in this way, or separately for those who give by pre-authorized debit; they are also available to anyone who asks.
This month’s designation is what we call “Outreach—Beyond”. Currently this fund supports three outreach initiatives on the African continent. One is Hilda Shilliday’s work with an AIDS hospital in Uganda and other local projects she has brought to our attention. Hilda is the wife of former rector Errol Shilliday and a long-time friend of St. Stephen’s.
The fund also supports the Reverend Emmanuel Gatera, a Rwandan priest who is currently pursuing his doctorate through St. Stephen’s college in Edmonton to equip him as a counsellor for those traumatized by the genocide of 1994. We have enjoyed an enduring friendship with Emmanuel since his student days. He and his wife will visit us next fall when they come for his graduation.
We have also begun supporting a charitable foundation set up by church member John Ngeth Deng for his village in South Sudan to ensure children there have food and supplies to help keep them in school in the midst of great social and political turmoil.
If you would like to receive Pink Envelopes for the coming year please contact Lynn our Administrator through the office.
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
When something seems too good to be true, sometimes that’s exactly what it is—too good to be true. Such has been the case with our appeal to the senior bishop of our ecclesiastical province for Shared Episcopal Ministry. The appeal was intended to provide us with a bishop who would be willing to oversee our offering of same-sex blessings here at St. Stephen’s even while our own diocesan bishop has denied us that right.
Initially we were delighted by Bishop Phillip’s response, which not only accepted our appeal but also offered himself as the bishop with whom we could work … and all with the agreement of our bishop and archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson. But it turns out that Bishop Phillip’s letter to us constituted a major miscommunication wherein what he said and what he intended were quite different things.
What he said was that he was contacting us to “to begin the process”, while also agreeing “to serve as the SEM bishop for St. Stephen’s”, to which our bishop had already agreed. What he meant was that, while he would not support us doing anything against the will of our bishop, he would willingly “walk with us” in our quest to do same-sex blessings … someday.
So your rector and wardens regret having to correct the impression they shared with you about our being granted a way forward on this issue. However, they believe that the SEM protocol still has relevance and significance, along with other options being considered.
CHRISTMAS: IN WORD AND SONG
This afternoon we gather to hear—in word and in song—a story that has changed the world: the birth of a baby to a young couple who are caught up in dark events that rise up on every side, dwarfing them. Their world had all the upheaval of an earthquake, yet we follow them through their precarious journey—that leads not only to safety, but indeed, to the salvation of the world.
Of course, the Christmas story is a relatively modern invention of our imaginations. It does not exist in the Bible as a single narrative. Rather it picks up narrative strands scattered across four hundred years of religious writing and orders those strands into the story we know today.
But it is the story we need to hear: the humble birth of the one who will prove to be our saviour; the victory of light over darkness; the promise of God’s powerful presence even in our most vulnerable and frightening moments.
It is a story of the heart, not of the head—for the details only serve to confuse us. It is best told, not with a preacher’s fury, but with a storyteller’s grace. And it is best heard accompanied by the sacred music that the story itself has inspired through the ages.
So this year we present once again a Festival of Lessons and Carols, narrated by voice actor Maureen Jones with music presented by music director Jeff Jones. Come and hear the message of the angels.