AT THE EDGE
As an organization ages, you don’t look to the centre for signs of new life, where the leaders are expending more and more energy trying to protect the old ways. You look to the edges. There the organization is still alive to its environment, still alert to new possibilities.
This weekend we hosted our annual Midtown Mosaic. This is one of our “edges” at St. Stephen’s. It is an enormous effort—a labour of love in particular for its creator, Ginny Binder. But it puts us in direct contact with the wider community—in this case, the arts community. At the same time, down in our lower hall, we connected with our book-buying neighbours through our used book sale.
Our recent renovations were all about supporting opportunities at the edges. Our large flexible worship space can double as an art gallery, a concert hall, or a meditation centre. Our creation space houses our Sunday School program, but also a community chess club for teens, a rehearsal space for choirs, and a meeting room for local condo associations.
One of the supporters of our renovations was the Anglican Foundation, whose Executive Director, Judy Rois, knows a thing or two about new life in the church. The Foundation exists to support churches doing innovative things, whether through bricks and mortar or through creative programming. We support the Foundation with an annual donation; and each year the Foundation supports dozens of innovative church projects across the country.
New life happens at the edges.
GOD IN OUR MIDST
At St. Stephen’s we are exploring the language of Soul as a way of talking about how God moves in our midst. It means looking not so much for signs from heaven as for earthly signs. It takes seriously that God is with us in our everyday human experience and that we are given everything we need here and now to live the life to which God calls us.
One of the ways we discern God moving in our midst is to pay attention to what is happening within our church family. This week that means both sadness and joy as we grieve the loss of Joan McCollum and celebrate the marriage of David Roach and Linda Malakoff.
Turq and Joan McCollum became members of St. Stephen’s after Turq retired –and then retired again—from active parish ministry, both here and in the North. They were the model “clergy couple”, Turq serving as priest, Joan serving as an active church member—playing the organ and teaching Sunday school. Joan’s generosity and common sense, her ready laughter and her big heart will be missed by all.
David Roach has been an active member of St. Stephen’s for over ten years, providing leadership and support to our meditation group and men’s meetings, and providing kitchen hospitality countless times for our social events. We have all enjoyed meeting Linda as David began introducing her to us. They are a fabulous couple and we are pleased to share in the joy of their marriage.
BECOMING A “SOULFUL” CHURCH
There was a time when it was organizations with the longest view that thrived, devising five, ten, and even twenty-year plans for themselves. Working toward those plans helped to clarify the direction of the organization and the roles of all the staff relative to the goal.
How times have changed! The organizations that succeed nowadays are those with the shortest view, not the longest. They are structured for speed: fast on their feet, imaginatively entrepreneurial, responsive to the latest cultural shifts and market changes.
To ask what the next five years might look like for us here at St. Stephen’s is risky business because, really, none of us know. But we might identity a direction, such that we are working towards a vision of the future, even if that vision must constantly be tested and altered along the way.
The question we are asking ourselves about the next five years is: What would it mean for us to become a more “soulful” church? In last Sunday’s sermon Brian our Rector identified “soul” as a word that has potential for describing the kind of church we are. It means that we are more interested in the quality of life here and now than in some future glory. We celebrate a God who is with us in our everyday lives, loving us deeply. It means we enjoy this world and work to make it a better place.
What do you think it would mean for us to be a more “soulful” church?
Parish Council met this past week to continue a conversation we might call “values clarification”: what are the core values that help determine our priorities at St. Stephen’s? Before we make decisions, what is our discernment of where God is leading us and who God is calling us to be in the first place?
It is fascinating—and reassuring—how quickly we can identify qualities we value about our church experience: inclusivity, authenticity, happy chaos (at times), tradition, and a gospel that invites intelligent critique. Outreach is important to us, but we may have some work to do in
finding new ways of connecting with the wider community, especially through the arts—a value we have named but perhaps have not yet completely embraced.
If these values could be gathered under one heading, that heading might be “Soul”: we value a church that has soul. This is what the rector is exploring in this week’s sermon, the second instalment of a three-part sermon he is preaching on “What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: Reflections on Church, Soul and the Next Five Years”.
Soul has less to do with the ideals of our faith tradition—what we’re supposed to do, and who we’re supposed to be—and more to do with what we’re actually doing and who we actually are. The difference, theologically, is between a God who is distant and judgmental, and a God who is in our midst, loving us into being. There will be more to come.
We’re back! The Rector has returned from his sabbatical, summer travellers from their travels, and families from their vacations. In the coming weeks Parish Council will take up its vision quest, the choir will re-gather for another season, and all our volunteers and working groups will pick up where they left off in the spring.
This is a time to reconsider our investment in St. Stephen’s—in its worship and its programs, in its many ministries and in its ongoing financial support. The building and property have done their work while many of us have been away, as concerts and weddings have taken place here and as our community garden and lending library have taken off, earning a featured spot on CBC Television News. But now it is time for each one of us to consider what our own participation will look like in the coming year.
At our “Start-up” service on September 7, which we celebrate as St. Stephen’s Day, information booths representing many of our parish activities will help us re-engage in church life. The Rector will begin a three-week preaching series titled, “What I learned on My Summer Vacation,” sharing with us his reflections on Church, Soul and the Next Five Years. This will provide further inspiration for our future direction.
But then it’s up to you. Where is God calling you this year? Is this a time to re-charge your spiritual batteries, or a time to flex your spiritual muscles? Come along and we’ll find out!
THIS MINISTRY OF HOSPITALITY
One of the guiding ideas of our building renovation project was to open the doors of our buildings to the wider community. We discerned that we are called to a ministry of hospitality in our community: to be a place where people come for a whole variety of reasons, and are welcomed here. Now that we’ve completed this phase of the renovations, our building is indeed exercising a ministry of hospitality. Last weekend we hosted a Beltline Communities Association Artisans Fair, and we’re now hosting a community garden. Our friends with the Beltline Communities Association have also applied for and won a “little library” – a beautifully-decorated box to house a free book exchange – that will be installed on our property later this summer with a presentation by the CBC. We’re hosting regular meetings of the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners, and a growing number of music performances as word about our acoustically-stunning space gets out.
There will be times when our space is busy in ways that are inconvenient to us, when we can’t use a room or an area, when it won’t be calm and quiet around us while we’re having our meetings, because of the things that are happening in the building. If we are living into our call, those inconveniences will increase, not decrease. But this is what hospitality means, and what we’re called to: to make space for others, and be glad that they’re journeying with us.
“WE’LL FIGURE IT OUT”
When we moved back into our Sanctuary, our motto was, “we’ll figure it out!” Well, seven months later, there’s several groups of people who continue to work quietly behind the scenes, helping us figure it out as we go along.
The folks on the Chair Team (aka: “Cardio for Christ”!) give us an incredible gift every Sunday, reliably showing up sometime after 9:00 and arranging our worship space. Their quiet attention to symmetry, straightness and the curve of the rows really beautifies our Sanctuary, and we are hugely thankful for this ministry of welcome.
The folks on the Tech Team are at work all the way through the service, in a way most of us never notice: subtly changing the light to match the movement of worship, monitoring sound quality and volume, adjusting the microphones for different voices, and the height of different speakers. There’s a lot to learn about our tech systems (and a lot more still to learn), and we are so grateful to them for their ongoing learning and service.
We also want to say thank you to the Coffee Time volunteers and the Sides People for their flexibility in adjusting their roles to match our new space. And a huge thanks to the staff in the office, Lynn and Beverley, for their hard work and endless problem-solving capabilities. We continue figuring it out, and thank you to everyone for journeying with us as we do!
LOOKING AHEAD TO SUMMER
With the lovely weather these days, we start looking forward to the glorious months of summer ahead, and again this summer, we’ll be winding down activities at St. Stephen’s. Normally, we follow the civic calendar for when we begin winding down, but Easter was very late this year and so the liturgical calendar is giving us reasons to do things a bit differently.
Because Easter was so late, Pentecost is late too, falling on June 8, and the Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday (June 15). That means that there’s only two Sundays in the gap between Trinity and the Stampede Service. If we did things for the 10:30 service as we usually do, that would mean 5 different worship templates over 7 weeks, and that’s just too much! The thing about Anglicans is we like to establish a little routine, a little repetition, so we can take some things for granted in the worship services (which is relaxing) and yet we still get some new material every week (which keeps things interesting).
As a result, this year, we’re going to start our Summer Lite services on June 22, and the service will be very similar to previous years. But there will be one particular change to the 10:30 service to see if we can make it more family-friendly: we’re going to try it without a period of silence. We’ll give this a try for this summer and see how it goes. Start Up Sunday will be September 7.
“A word from our Synod delegates about Synod May 9-10”
Four members of St. Stephen’s attended Diocesan Synod this past weekend: the Rev. Clara King, Heather Campbell, Blake Kanewischer, and Jean Springer. Why did they give up their weekend?
Diocesan Synod is a decision-making body that advises the bishop and his senior administration of the wishes and will of the clergy and people of the diocese. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? This year’s synod was largely administrative in nature, and there was relatively little discussion about substantive issues in the life of our diocese.
Some of the administrative tasks we accomplished included electing clergy and lay delegates to our senior synods—the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, which meets in Toronto in 2016, and our Provincial Synod, which meets in Saskatoon in June 2015. Heather Campbell was an unsuccessful candidate for General Synod delegate, though she will serve on the Legislative Committee of the diocese.
We also made some housekeeping changes to our canons (our church rules and laws). One of the most significant was the removal of a maximum age for clergy to hold a license from the bishop (it was age 70).
The other joyous (and challenging) part of the weekend was the presence of the Very Rev. Canon Kevin Martin, who shared some insights into how churches continue to grow. He spoke of the tension between love and growth, and of the shifting demographics we face as a church. He’ll also be speaking at the Clergy Conference, so look for more about his ideas next week!