THE PATHS WE CHOOSE
We, all of us, in the modern world, have taken religion into our own hands. Gone are the days when we simple do what we’re told by religious authorities. We go to church on a given Sunday … or we don’t. We believe in the virgin birth … or we don’t. We choose.
Some would lament this development as an inflation of the human ego, some as contributing to social chaos. But no one would deny that we have entered an age of tremendous religious freedom, where we can forge our own spiritual path, with or without the help of organized religion.
For those of us who take comfort and inspiration from the Christian religion, our spiritual life remains tied to the story of the Bible and, specifically of course, to the story of Jesus. Yet even within this story there are rich avenues to explore, deep wells to uncover. What traditional beliefs are meaningful to us? Which spiritual practices are helpful? How do we find a way forward?
This Lent we will be exploring our individual faith journeys through Thomas Moore’s “A Religion of One’s Own”. In an age of religious freedom and secular choice, Moore considers the various dimensions that make for a spiritual life: naturalness, depth, the body, the arts, intuition, and community.
You are invited to join us for a lively exploration of “A Religion of One’s Own” every Tuesday evening through Lent, February 24 to March 31, from 7:30 to 9 pm in the sanctuary.
SEEKING A WAY FORWARD
This past week, our bishop, Greg Kerr-Wilson, met with our Parish Council to discuss same-sex blessings. In a respectful exchange of views, it became clear that we are at an impasse.
The members of Parish Council spoke clearly and passionately about the reasons they were in favour of same-sex blessings. Some spoke from a concern about a younger generation for whom this is no longer an issue. Some spoke from a concern for basic justice and equality. Some referenced the core values of the Christian tradition. All told personal stories that made their concerns personal.
The bishop shared some of his own personal stories and then spoke of a complex of philosophical and theological insights that underpinned his beliefs, insights he was reluctant to unpack in detail due to the limited format of our conversation. But he offered that, while he was opposed to same-sex blessings, he was actively pursuing pastoral rites and prayers that could be used in support of same-sex relationships, prayers that would stop short of actually blessing such relationships.
The bishop also made clear his disappointment in the haphazard way the wider church has approached this issue. He hoped we would honour the episcopal nature of the Anglican Church and not proceed on our own, the strong vote at our general meeting not being reflective of Anglican views across the diocese or across the country.
Clearly, we at St. Stephen’s disagree. Along with two other congregations in the diocese we continue to seek a way forward.
STARTING THINGS UP AGAIN
Starting things up again after the Christmas break is always a little daunting: it requires more energy than we actually have. But really, we cannot afford to extend our rest any further into the new year because many things now press upon us as life moves on here at St. Stephen’s.
The recent break-ins at the church over the holidays have given us a long and expensive “To Do” list as we work to make our buildings more secure. Keyless entries, video cameras and programmable access to the elevator are on the list, even as we take precautionary short-term measures such as re-keying the existing locks … for the third time in recent weeks!
Our bishop, the Right Reverend Greg Kerr-Wilson, will be joining us at next week’s Parish Council meeting for a conversation about same-sex blessings. We are seeking clarity about what he will and will not support of this ministry that lies so close to our hearts here at St. Stephen’s.
Then there are all the preparations for the upcoming Annual meeting, which include a budget for the coming year and nominations to fill various leadership positions in the church.
And not so far off, Lent is on its way with a study group planned on “Living a Meaningful Faith”. We will be using Thomas Moore’s recent book, “A Religion of One’s Own” as a guide.
So we’re putting away the chocolates, heading back to the gym, and preparing ourselves for a full, active and faithful winter season.
GOOD NEWS FOR CLARA OUR ASSISTANT CURATE
Clara King, our Assistant Curate, will be seeing a change in her role here at St. Stephen’s in the coming year. This is both good news, and bad.
“Curate” is an English term for the ordained person responsible for the “cure of souls” in a parish church. This means worship and education, pastoral care and administrative oversight. Ordinarily this is the “rector” or “vicar” of the parish, otherwise known as the “incumbent”. An assistant curate is a priest or deacon who assists in this ministry.
In Canada the role of an assistant curate is that of an apprentice, a newly ordained deacon or priest learning the tools of the trade and gaining experience in his or her new vocation. This is usually a two- to three-year placement that culminates in the assistant curate moving on to a parish of his or her own.
The good news is that, instead of moving on, Clara is being appointed here through 2015 as Associate Priest. This is a recognition that her training days have ended and that she takes her place alongside the Rector in the “cure of souls” at St. Stephen’s.
The bad news (for us … though it is good news for her) is that Clara will be devoting only half her time to St. Stephen’s in the coming year, while taking on a new diocesan ministry of resourcing and supporting rural ministry. It is a wonderful opportunity for Clara, though it means we will be seeing less of her ourselves.
Last Sunday the people of St. Stephen’s voted overwhelmingly to support the blessing of same-sex relationships. This is not currently permitted in the Diocese of Calgary, so Parish Council has invited our bishop to meet with us to help us move forward on this issue. The bishop has also sought a personal meeting with our rector.
The Anglican Church of Canada does not include same-sex relationships in its definition of marriage. As a result, Anglican clergy are not authorized to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. This may change, but it will require the consent of two consecutive meetings of General Synod, which meets every three years, meaning 2018 at the earliest.
In the meantime, some dioceses are offering a “blessing” to same-sex couples, which would not be accompanied by a civil marriage licence. Over one third of the Anglican dioceses across Canada have elected to offer what is being called a “local option,” that is, parishes may decide for themselves if they wish to offer same-sex blessings.
In our own diocese, the issue has not come up for discussion or debate. This leaves our clergy with the rule of the status quo, i.e. that neither blessings nor marriages of same-sex couples are permissible. Our support of same-sex blessings—as a step toward one day offering same-sex marriages—is our way of moving the issue onto the agenda of the diocese and also of affirming those from the wider LGBTQ community who, thus far, have been ignored by our church.
ST. STEPHEN’S VISION
Ten years ago the people of St. Stephen’s had a vision. We foresaw the day when our church would be lively on Sundays with worship and busy during the week with community activities. We saw the church not only as a gathering place for our own members but also as a cultural hub for the community. More and more, this vision is becoming a reality.
Last weekend we saw no fewer than three concerts performed in our sanctuary, and a Saturday choral workshop that took place throughout the entire building. During the week we hosted three different Lifelong Learners events, two Cantare choir practices, an after-school chess club for teens, our own Guide and Pathfinder groups, and three AA-related meetings. Meanwhile, a dozen artists continue to work away in the affordable studios we created up in the Memorial Hall.
Our own church programming this week included a congregational conversation on same-sex blessings, a Tuesday meditation group, the weekly Education For Ministry course, our open chapel and labyrinth on Thursday, followed by choir practice, plus all the usual chancel activities to ready the church for Sunday.
St. Stephen’s is not just a busy place these days; it is a vibrant place. And the word is getting out. Every week Lynn our Administrator fields requests from community groups wishing to hold meetings or cultural events here. And every Sunday we welcome visitors and newcomers who want to see what all the excitement is about. Ten years on, we are living the dream.
We have now been in our renovated worship space for a full year. It has been a year of challenges as we have adjusted to the quirks and demands of the new space—like setting up and taking down the chairs, finding the right mix for the new sound system and theatre lighting, and figuring out how best to offer our space to the surrounding community.
But it has also been a thrilling time, as we have discovered all the things our new space can do—like accommodating everything from orchestra concerts to art shows, while still providing diverse arrangements for our worship, from our weekly Sunday Eucharists to special one-off services like Maundy Thursday (where we all gathered around a single table).
The new space, with its brightness and its flexible utility, now showcases the possible. At the same time, it shows up the older parts of our building, like the Canterbury Room and the Lower Memorial Hall. These are the parts of the building people see during the week, especially those from the wider community who rent our space.
So in the months to come we will begin a needs assessment of what we are calling the Centre Block—the former education wing that now houses our administrative offices. What are its present uses, and how might it offer the same range of activities as our worship space? How might our offices be more welcoming? How might the Canterbury Room become an attractive mid-week gathering place? Your thoughts?
IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND
This week we at St. Stephen’s are engaging in a process of discernment to decide if we wish to offer a Service of Blessing to same-sex couples who seek it.
Across the country and in some parts of the church, this would seem to be a foregone conclusion—that the church would offer to bless adult Christians in their relationships.Some might even ask, “Do we not already do that?” But the answer, in this diocese, is, “No, we don’t.” Furthermore, it is nowhere on the agenda, nor even on the horizon. It is an issue whose time has come (… and gone, some would argue) and that demands a response from a parish church known for its intentional inclusivity.
For us, there are two issues before us. The first: do we wish to extend to same-sex couples who call St. Stephen’s home the same privilege we do to heterosexual couples, namely, a blessing upon their relationship in the name of God? The second: are we willing to prod the diocese into taking a public stand on this issue by pushing out the boundaries of what is currently permissible?
This issue has been divisive throughout the church worldwide. It forces us to confront the fear and homophobia inherent in our Christian tradition, indeed, going right back to our very scriptures. It also makes us take seriously what God is already doing in our world to break down walls of prejudice and hate. Inescapably, it calls us to take a stand.
ST. STEPHEN’S IS BUZZING WITH ACTIVITY
One of the reasons we entered into major renovations a year ago was to create a meeting place between St. Stephen’s and the wider community. Waiting for our neighbours to come to church on a Sunday morning would be a passive—not to say presumptuous—approach to that relationship. So our worship space was re-conceived as a flexible performance space suitable for worship, concerts, rehearsals, and art shows as well as for religious rituals and spiritual practices.
We are pleased to see that this is precisely what is happening! The renovated space opens doors to new configurations for baptisms, weddings, and funerals, not to say also for our regular Sunday morning worship. Our weekly “Learning to Breathe” meditation group is well accommodated on Tuesdays and the labyrinth attracts spiritual seekers every Thursday.
Even more exciting are the many arts and cultural groups who have found us and who are now using our space for their activities. The Cantare Children’s Choirs are well established here now. But coming up are performances by the Westwood Cultural Group, the Renaissance Singers and Players, and the “One Voice” Chorus, to name just a few. The Madison House will hold its Christmas fund-raising concert here and even our own rector will be holding the launch for his new book here.
As imagined almost ten years ago, when our visioning for renewed space began, St. Stephen’s is buzzing with activity—not just our own, but the activity of a grateful neighbourhood.
THANK YOU AND WELCOME
Inn From the Cold is one of the defining ministries of St. Stephen’s. The well-known, multi-faith, city-wide outreach program started here, with a homeless person sleeping beneath our front steps on Christmas Eve and a timely sermon by then rector, Bob Purdy. By May the following year we hosted our first Inn … and the rest is history.
We have been blessed through the years by caring and competent leaders who have given sacrificially of their time and talents to ensure that our guests receive a warm and thoughtful welcome. So it is with sadness that we say goodbye to Sue McPhee, our IFTC Coordinator these last three years. Sue has been part of the Inn from the very beginning and has brought both her expert knowledge and her big heart to the job. She has worked tirelessly behind the scenes, overseeing supplies, coordinating volunteers, and attending most Inns herself. She has been an inspiring example of Christian service!
But we are pleased to announce that Shelley Brisby is taking over from Sue. Shelley and her husband Brian were guests of the Inn in the early days. In gratitude for the hospitality they experienced during that difficult time, they have served the Inn as volunteers ever since, often taking the hard-to-fill overnight supervisory position. Needless to say, Shelly knows the workings of the Inn from the inside out, bringing a valuable perspective on the needs we are attempting to meet. We welcome Shelley and pledge to her our enthusiastic support.