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?
SHARED EPISCOPAL MINISTRY
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?
soulful church honours all the sacred moments in the lives of its members. Happy or sad, all life’s circumstances come with their attendant challenges and blessings. And each in their own way, they affect the community as a whole.
In recent weeks we have celebrated the lives of members or friends of St. Stephen’s as we have gathered to mourn their passing: Alan Stanwell, Larry Dornan, Roger Bowles, Rosie Binette, and last week Fred Hatt. Our faith community is diminished by the losses of these saints, even while we thank God for their presence in our midst and for the hope of resurrection.
But this week we celebrate the marriage of Clara King and Michael Thakkar. It has been one of the quiet joys of being part of the St. Stephen’s family, witnessing the growth of their love for one another, especially as it has made its way out into public view. Our hearts smile at this lovely new beginning for the two of them, and for the ways our fellowship with one another is enriched by their relationship.
It has been said that, in recent times, people do not go to church to ensure their eternal salvation—that was the concern of another age. Rather, we go to church to belong. The fruit of such belonging are the trials and triumphs we are privileged to share with one another. The life of faith is a rich soulful experience—especially when God’s children love one another, as Jesus commanded.
A GREAT GIFT
We could never say enough about the great gift our children are to us! It used to be said that children are the church of tomorrow. But the truth is, they’re the church of today. Their active presence in our midst enriches us all.
Throughout this Lenten season we have been exploring ways to celebrate a more positive message than sin, repentance and self-denial. These themes have their place in Christian spirituality, but they are adult themes and therefore a hard sell to children. We wondered if we might rediscover the blessings of Lent by approaching it through their eyes.
So each week we have explored with our children, “Where is God?” We looked inward and celebrated the many ways our bodies are “wondrously made”. We considered how seeds, when they are buried, produce magnificent results. Then the children led our worship with a reminder that each of us has been given gifts to share with the world.
Last week and this, they have helped us look outward into our world to find God in the cosmic game of Hide and Seek, where the “Good News’ often lies hidden within the bad news.
This year our children have drawn us back to the basics of our faith: that we are all wonderful creations of God, loved and filled with purpose. And they have proved that they are indeed a vital part of our church today! Our thanks to them all, and to Kathleen Howes, their guide on the Excellent Adventure.
How would you feel if you could look your assailant in the eye? What would you say? Would it be an opportunity for vengeance? Or would it be a time for compassion, perhaps even forgiveness? We’re about to find out.
Our church was broken into five times over the Christmas holidays—all, apparently, by the same intruder. Thankfully there was no vandalism. But there was damage, and there was theft. Six hundred dollars in cash was stolen, along with a computer and some cheques received as Sunday offerings. Our repair bills ran into the thousands. The staff was left feeling nervous and insecure. So we are now beefing up the security of our buildings, a project that will cost us over $15,000.
The intruder was caught and arrested. He was well known to the police, his face showing up on the after-hour surveillance videos of several local businesses, and his rap sheet including (we are told) upward of fifty previous convictions. He will have his day in court and then, presumably, he will be back in the hood.
Some of us are exploring what it would be like to make it personal, to meet our thief, to ask him why he did it, and to offer him a restorative relationship. Once we better understand the process, we are considering making a victim impact statement that would include the possibility of our being part of his rehabilitation. What do you think about that? How does it feel? What would you say?
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.
THE HEALTHY PARISH AND MONEY
We approach our Annual General Meeting this year with a worrisome projected deficit in excess of $30,000. It is not unusual for churches to carry deficits, but if it becomes a trend it jeopardizes many of our hopes and dreams for the ministries and outreach that are important to us.
What’s gone wrong? Givings are certainly up, the parish is lively, we enjoy a positive profile in the wider community, and new members continue to find their way to us. Expenses have risen since the renovations, especially for the additional care required for our new space, but we had anticipated that with increased rental income. So we don’t know exactly.
But Parish Council, even as it approved the budget for presentation to the AGM, committed itself in the coming year to addressing this issue and finding solutions. In fact, Parish Council identified two concerns to tackle in the coming year: the deficit, and also the prospect of a sudden turnover in staff in a few years.
So sustainability and succession planning have emerged front and centre on our agenda. It is forward-thinking leadership to identify a trend while it is still manageable, and to correct it before it begins to manage us!
The members of Parish Council—which includes its six elected members, the lay delegates to Synod, and the rector and churchwardens—are assured our prayers and support as they help us find a way through. Together we will work to build a healthy parish for years to come.
GROWING AND CONNECTING
As happens often around St. Stephen’s these days, last Wednesday evening was a beehive of activity. The meditation group was quietly praying up a storm in the sanctuary; the “I Love You” kickboxing class gave way to the Tillicum Al Anon group who gathered to share their personal stories down in the Memorial Hall; the young people from the community chess club was deep in cogitation in the Creation Space; and in the Canterbury Room it was standing room only as members of the neighbourhood vied for a patch of this year’s Community Garden.
The Garden, outside the doors to the Memorial Hall, was the result of conversations last year with Carmen Marques, the City’s community social worker assigned to our area. (It was also Carmen who facilitated the chess group.) Evenstart, the pre-school children’s support agency, had left us, which meant that the small area allotted for their outdoor playground was left fallow. A community garden would meet a number of local needs, providing yet another connection between us and our neighbours.
Then Ian Newman—a member of St. Stephen’s who is active in our local community—stepped forward and offered to build the planter boxes. One weekend he arrived with lumber and a few willing workers and—presto!—there was our first community garden. To which he then added a community library box. This year we are doubling the size of the garden to include the patch on the other side of the walkway. Our outreach is growing!