On Friday, September 30, our rector appeared before the archbishop and the chancellor of the diocese, along with four other clergy, to receive a stern admonishment from the chancellor and a formal warning, in writing, from the archbishop. The reason? Blessing the civil marriage between a woman and her partner, who identifies as “Trans”, in what the couple refer to as a “queer marriage”.
Same-sex blessings and marriages are not permitted in the Anglican Diocese of Calgary, despite the recent vote by General Synod to amend the national marriage canon. Our bishop, Greg Kerr-Wilson, who is also the Metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Rupert’s Land, has indicated he is not likely to permit same-sex marriage in this diocese, even if General Synod ratifies its decision in 2019, nor is he prepared to sanction the blessing of same-sex marriages in the meantime. On September 17, six local clergy, including our rector, offered a blessing to a couple in a ceremony held at St. Stephen’s and then notified the archbishop in writing that they had done so.
The admonition issued by the chancellor charged the clergy with a failure to love their Christian brothers and sisters across the diocese, that is, those who oppose same-sex marriages and blessings. The archbishop’s letter, which he handed out to the clergy in person, threatened that any future actions of this sort would be answered by Canon XVIII, the regulations governing the disciplining of Anglican clergy. Those regulations stipulate penalties ranging from an admonition to the relinquishment of holy orders.
Our rector and one other member of the clergy have asked for a follow-up meeting with the archbishop and chancellor to seek a way forward, citing the negative consequences for everyone of the escalation of this conflict. They seek your prayers and your support.
We don’t have an arrival date yet BUT on Thanksgiving Sunday, Fransis of our Translation Team was able to contact the father of the Syrian family we are sponsoring and have a brief telephone conversation. This is our first direct contact with the family.
The father, Khalil, said that he and his family are ok and that they have completed their paperwork and medical requirements. They are awaiting word from the government for next steps. Fransis explained to Khalil that there is a whole team of people eager and excited for their arrival in Canada and that we are holding them in our thoughts and prayers. This first contact went well and ended with a plan to stay in touch. We will keep you posted, too!
It comes as a surprise to some that an organization like a church relies entirely on individual financial donations, and not on financial support from governments. Additionally, many of the activities and ministries are done by volunteers, not paid staff.
St. Stephen’s is no different. It is only through the ongoing commitment of its parishioners’ time and financial donations that this church can exist and function (with some help from building rental income).
But we don’t give to a church for its existence in and of itself. This is not its purpose. That is not our calling. Instead, belonging, and being committed to a church, gives us individually and collectively the opportunity to give through the church to that what God is calling us to do.
And it gives us the opportunity to receive the joys and blessings God wants for us when we realize, and use, the gifts we have for God’s mission here on earth. Jesus conveyed this message repeatedly, as do many of the New Testament authors.
Recent political hijinks in the church and in the world lead us to think about the nature of leadership, and especially leadership in the church. We are reminded that, as followers of Jesus, “the greatest among you should be the servant of all”, which is a model of leadership more often preached than practised.
The exercise of power is itself neutral. Power is simply the ability to get what you want. Everyone needs enough personal power to manage their lives. If someone has been denied that ability they are said to be in need of empowerment.
When someone is given (or assumes) power over other people we call that leadership. Jesus noted that, among the Gentiles, their rulers exercised authority over them. “It shall not be so among you,” he told the disciples. “The greatest among you must be least of all”—a radical notion in our own time, as it was then.
Jesus taught and modeled “servant leadership”, where the strong give themselves for the sake of the weak, and the powerful serve the needs of the powerless. His ultimate lesson was on the cross, where he gave up his life for the sake of those he loved.
This is a model that calls us to deep bonds of self-giving love for one another. It is a form of service that does not come easily or naturally to many of us, which is why we look to church leaders to help show us the way—by word and example.
NeST (Newcomer Support Team) continues to prepare as we await word on an arrival date for the Syrian refugee family of 6 we are sponsoring, currently waiting in Jordan.
- About 51 NeST volunteers met for an Orientation Session at St. Stephen’s on Sept 18 and heard an update on each Team’s activities and preparations to date. Volunteers received copies of the NeST Volunteer Guidelines and (if applicable) Volunteer Driver Policies. Those who have completed the security screening for working directly with the family received their NeST nametags. This wonderful ‘village’ is patiently waiting to support the family when they come.
- Between individual donations, outreach contributions, two garage sales, St. Paul’s silent auction and the sale of quilts made by St. Stephen’s quilters, we have raised just over $40,000. This is a phenomenal response and gives us a strong financial base from which to support the family through their first year in Canada. Note that the anticipated partial government funding (6 months of support at social assistance levels) will be in addition to the above.
- Our sponsorship “undertaking” is in the processing queue. Once the Matching Centre has ensured all paperwork and requirements have been met, the Visa Office in Jordan will arrange travel for the family and send us notice of their pending arrival. We have been told to expect about 10 days’ lead time for their arrival in Calgary.
- Given the challenges of an unknown arrival time and perhaps a very short time to prepare permanent housing, we are still looking for temporary accommodation options. Please contact a NeST Team member if you have suggestions to offer that could be available on short notice.
- In lieu of the whole ‘village’ greeting the family in person upon their arrival we have begun collecting signs and good wishes for a small contingent of greeters to bring to the airport to represent the wider community. This is based on advice from other groups’ experiences of very exhausted travellers and long delays getting through customs at the airport. Our hope would be to arrange a larger welcoming celebration when the newcomers are better able to enjoy meeting everyone.
A few years ago, we dreamed a dream of our future buildings and property, imagining a community hub, a cultural centre brimming with activity. We saw St. Stephen’s not just as a place for church members, but for the neighbourhood, indeed, for the whole city. Our renovations opened the doors, and the people came—for music, for theatre, for art. This week’s Midtown Mosaic art show is the triumphant realization of our dream, crowned last year by the official visit of our mayor. Here, church members mingle with our citywide neighbours in a colourful testimony to the riches of community life, creating cultural circles of connection that move out beyond our congregation.
Meanwhile, another community meeting place was evolving, one that did not require hundreds of thousands of dollars in costly renovation. It began with our web site, designed to attract seekers and church members alike, where we posted past sermons and promoted upcoming events, and projected a people- friendly image of ourselves to the world. It remains our main vehicle for meeting people who are looking for a church.
But from nowhere, a cheeky upstart called Facebook surpassed our website as the principal way we now connect with the world. A post celebrating our recent blessing of a civil same-sex marriage attracted over 2000 views, as well as wildly supportive comments from people we don’t even know. We are not one community hub, but three: a street address, a website (ststephenscalgary.org), and a Facebook page (St. Stephen’s Anglican Church Calgary).