Some of you may be wondering where we are in our attempts to receive our archbishop’s permission to offer same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
The rector and wardens met with the Archbishop Greg in July to seek a clear statement of his intentions on this matter. The archbishop feels there has not been adequate conversation about same-sex blessings in the diocese, nor a thorough theological debate across the Anglican Church of Canada. The archbishop is proposing more discussion.
He would consider putting same-sex blessings on the agenda of a future meeting of diocesan synod, though in his view that might be two years from now. Pressed on his response should such a synod vote in favour of same-sex blessings, the archbishop conceded that he would still be hard pressed personally to give his approval.
Meanwhile a commission of our national church has completed its recommendations to change the marriage canon to permit the marriage of same-sex couples in the Anglican Church of Canada, the result of which is a draft motion to go before General Synod at its meeting in June of next year. Should that motion pass, provision will be made for local bishops and clergy, as a matter of conscience, to refuse to offer such marriages.
We are now considering a formal request for Shared Episcopal Oversight, wherein on this issue we would receive the pastoral care of another bishop. However, Archbishop Greg would be unwilling to share his jurisdictional authority with another bishop.
And there we are.
[Read the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon either in full or in summary by entering “Marriage Canon 2016” into the search engine at the Anglican Church of Canada website: www.anglican.ca. ]
The good thing about being an open-minded Christian congregation is that no one is going to tell you how to vote. Our core values remind us that God has made each of us unique (“Be real”); that the church is a community that celebrates its diversity (“Belong”); and that this is precisely how we come to know the grace of God in our midst (“Believe it”). So in all likelihood, in the coming federal election, our church members will be voting for all four of the principle political parties—and for a wide variety of reasons.
But all Christians share concerns that may not be at the forefront of the parties’ campaigns. No one gets elected because they want to eradicate poverty, for instance. And no one would campaign on a platform of increased foreign aid. We expect our politicians to lead us to a more prosperous future while not trampling anyone’s rights and freedoms in the process. So a federal election is an opportunity for Christians to raise questions about matters that may not otherwise arise—like homelessness, overseas development, aboriginal issues, and care for creation.
In anticipation of the coming election our national office has produced a resource to help Anglicans raise questions about these neglected issues and seek answers from those running for public office. It contains a letter from our Primate to the leaders of all federal parties and brief backgrounders on the issues we care about. Type “Election 2015” into the search engine at www.Anglican.ca.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Last week we learned that Clara King, our Associate Priest, will be leaving us to become the Incumbent of her own parish—St. George’s Anglican Church in Northwest Calgary—effective October 1st. While we are saddened by her departure, it was inevitable from the start that one day she would leave us to take up a ministry of her own.
Clara came to us as a recent graduate of the Vancouver School of Theology … and as a church member sitting in the pews. She was uncertain at that point whether she would be ordained. But Clara’s abundant gifts and exuberant personality could not be hidden under a bushel basket and it was not long before the Bishop of Calgary ordained her first, in 2012, a deacon and then, in 2013, a priest and appointed her as Assistant Curate at St. Stephen’s.
A curacy in modern times is like an apprenticeship, where a new ordinand applies his or her theological education to a supervised ministry in a parish church. It is understood that, as the ordinand grows in skill and in confidence, they will one day be given the responsibility of a ministry on their own, either in another parish or in a clinical pastoral setting like a hospital or nursing home.
We will have the opportunity to express our thanks to Clara on her last Sunday, September 27th. We have been well blessed by her ministry in our midst and she will go with our love and our prayers.
AS THE WORLD WAITS …
This week marks the return of our vacationing exiles, those who have been travelling near or far, breaking free from their routines, seeking nourishment under the summer sun. Understandably we are glad to regroup, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and prepare for a new season of Christian life together.
But recently our attention has been grabbed by the plight of real exiles—refugees whose desperate flights have been caught on camera and by news agencies, and spread through social media. There are now 50 million displaced persons worldwide, languishing in refugee camps, some now seeing third and fourth generations being born and raised within the stultifying confines of their virtual imprisonment.
This year, in the wake of civil war and sectarian violence in Syria, and crushing poverty in Northern Africa, more than 330,000 migrants have risked a perilous journey across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. Many have died, and those who survive discover their new reality to be, not a job and a new start, but the overcrowded conditions of a refugee camp.
So as we gather for a new year of Christian growth and witness we do so with the world pounding at our doors calling out for help. Several church members are exploring the possibilities of refugee sponsorship. Others are researching refugee relief through international aid agencies. Until we have a coordinating group to monitor and communicate our efforts, if interested, please speak to one of our clergy.
Welcome back—the world awaits!
SUMMERTIME IS HERE!
With this Sunday, we prepare to lay back a bit to enjoy the summer weather, vacations, and the opportunities for rest and renewal. Hopefully St. Stephen’s will continue to be part of that, but in a more relaxed way.
This means that our worship will be changing. We will have one reading instead of four, and the sermon will be more like sharing some thoughts than preaching a formal script (not that we have ever been that “formal” to begin with!). We will gather in the round rather than in rows, emphasizing our communal connections with one another. And children will be welcome to join us in that circle.
Our clergy will be taking their vacations in the coming months—Brian from July 15 to August 15; Clara from August 21 to September 3—but there will always be someone available to meet any pastoral needs that may arise. Similarly, Lynn our Parish Administrator and Bev our Administrative Assistant will both be taking some time off, but one of them will always be there to monitor phone calls and emails and to answer questions.
Come the fall, we hope we will all return refreshed as we launch another busy program year. Start-up Sunday will be September 13th. The fall season will feature a midweek Bible study every Thursday morning, plus a study series on “What (Really) Happens When We Die”. And there are other plans in the works to engage and inspire us. But in the meantime, let us rest.
PATHS TO AN EMERGING CHURCH
It’s not easy watching something new emerge. It takes patience—and faith—not to prejudge it, not to jump to conclusions, not to short-circuit the creative process. It requires openness and curiosity to allow God’s future to unfold.
Last Sunday evening a group of Christian seekers met at St. Stephen’s to witness the first tentative shoots of a new church emerging from our traditional roots. Some came from Catholic and Orthodox traditions with their emphasis on ordered worship; some came from evangelical churches with their focus on a personal relationship with Jesus. But all found their way to St. Stephen’s seeking an expression of the Christian faith that transcends the restrictions of any one tradition. All are looking for a more inclusive, more open church.
The gathering reflected all the paths that brought us here: the circle was spacious and the tone was contemplative; the praise music was led by guitars; the reading was meditative and the conversation in small groups was soulful; the sharing of bread and wine was communal and unscripted; and the departing was open-ended.
We asked everyone to leave us some thoughts on paper and we’re in the process of reading and assimilating those. They will help us give words to the changes we are seeking in the church … and perhaps a picture of what the emerging church looks like.
We all remember adults who mattered when we were growing up—our parents, of course, but also grandparents, teachers, neighbours, coaches—adults who played a loving and supportive role in our lives, reminding us that we were lovable and talented and competent and smart.
This time of year we pause to offer our thanks to the adults who are part of the lives of our children here at St. Stephen’s. Our children may carry impressions with them throughout their lives of our worship and of our building and of the things we tried to teach them. But more than anything else they will remember the people—the adults who loved them.
Care of our children begins in our nursery where Beverley Senko and Anna Bhattarai greet our youngest members each Sunday and engage them in play and creative activities … or sometimes just hold them. If you have not had a chance to see Bev and Anna at work, look in some Sunday morning and prepare to have your heart warmed.
We think of Kathleen Howes and her extraordinary work as the coordinator of the “Excellent Adventure”. Working without a curriculum, Kathleen comes up with endlessly evocative themes and topics, and then enlists volunteers to help her carry out the Sunday morning program. Each week our children rush to meet their friends and then emerge afterward with smiles on their faces, and sometimes a craft in hand.
Thanks to you all, staff and volunteers, and everyone who loves our children!
In recent weeks security upgrades and enhancements have been added to our buildings and property. This is in response to a series of break-ins at the church over the Christmas holidays and a subsequent fund-raising campaign that brought in over $20,000 in donations from church members and friends.
The elevator has now been fitted with a lock-off key that prevents access to the second floor church offices during off hours. Elevator access to the lower level, where the washrooms are, is being maintained.
Exterior lighting has been enhanced outside the Canterbury Room, the Memorial Hall door and the Sacristy exit door, with enhancements still to come for the main church doors, the eastern face of the church, and the courtyard. Windows by the chapel and rear entry doors have been reinforced with mesh embedded glass.
Perhaps most significantly, over the summer months we will go “keyless” for all our exterior doors, requiring a card or fob issued by the office to gain entry. (Lynn our Parish Administrator will be in touch with those currently possessing keys, to provide instructions regarding the new system.) And security cameras will appear over the main entry points, which can be monitored in the office, but also from remote locations.
All this is regrettable for a church like St. Stephen’s that prides itself on openness, accessibility and inclusivity. But it is a modern-day necessity for an urban church, that we protect our resources in order that they are available for our service to the world.
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!