Jesus told us to repent (“turn around”) and recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst. His parables and his actions all drew people’s attention to this heavenly realm that is not a “pie in the sky when you die by and by and by”, but a present-day reality here and now. To be a follower of Jesus means to live from this reality, and from all the healing and hope it promises.
But training ourselves to recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst is a major adjustment. What we see—and all too readily—are reasons for worry and despair: political changes that alarm us; economic uncertainties that loom large; personal challenges that overwhelm us. How do we “repent”, as Jesus taught, “turning around” to see signs of hope?
Most of the religious traditions identify an openness of mind and spirit that is sometimes called “mindfulness”. It is the art—cultivated through practice—of simply paying attention. We learn this in meditation as we sit in silence or quietly walk the circular path of the labyrinth. We practice it during the day as we grow conscious of our breathing and catch those moments when we need simply to exhale, long and slow.
Lent this year at St. Stephen’s will be all about mindfulness. Our Sunday worship will feature small stretches of silence, reminding us to slow down, breathe, and be present. Our Lenten study will consider a number of books on this very theme. Come, repent, and see.
Parish Council has been looking back at its accomplishments over the past year and anticipating the challenges and opportunities of the coming year. Looking back, Parish Council celebrated the collegial and cooperative way it conducted its business, marvelled at the complexity of church decision-making, and lamented that more progress was not made on a number of key issues.
Going forward, Parish Council identified three major areas that will require its attention:
1.As the boiler in the Memorial Hall approaches its centenary, plans need to be made not only for its replacement, but for a retro-fit of the entire building. This will require a new task force to update the 2003 engineering report, study the repurposing of the space (both in the hall and in the church offices), run a feasibility study, draw up plans, and begin the fund-raising for such a renovation.
2. With the Rector’s retirement approaching within two years, a succession plan must be carried out to ensure a smooth transition. Adding a staff position this year, and guaranteeing its long- term funding, will launch the first step of that plan, i.e. to create a stable ongoing pastoral presence to carry us through.
3. It is time to re-establish the local outreach of the parish, for instance, building on the success of our community gardens to create a community kitchen. This could be reflected in the renovations to the Memorial Hall but, in the meantime, could begin in our present kitchen and lower hall.
So … to work!
The “Generous Listening” process has begun, studying the unresolved issue of same-sex marriage in the Diocese of Calgary. Pressed to explain the purpose of the process, our archbishop, Greg Kerr-Wilson, told our churchwardens: “The process of discernment is intended to be a time of listening and learning, both to the resource people who will be presenting and to one another.”
Our first resource people, who presented last weekend, were the Right Reverend Stephen Andrews, former bishop of Algoma and Principle of Wycliffe College, U of T, and Sylvia Keesmaat, adjunct professor at Trinity College, U of T. Together, in respectful debate, they tackled the most problematic scriptural references to homosexuality.
Bishop Andrews interprets scripture as describing an ordered universe, discounting same-sex relationships as inherently inconsistent with that order. Professor Keesmaat takes the view that scripture remains ambiguous about consensual adult relationships, noting that the early church admitted Gentiles, for which there was no biblical precedent, thereby opening the way for a modern-day consideration of same-sex marriage. She added that, like the early church, we would do well to hear the actual stories of the people we are “studying”.
How this conversation will move us forward toward decision-making in this diocese is unclear. But the archbishop reminded the assembly of clergy and lay people that the Anglican Church of Canada is a “diocesan church”, meaning that a decision of this sort, regardless of decisions made at the national level, falls to each diocese and, ultimately, to the bishop of each diocese.