It may only be January, but it’s not too soon to be making your summer holiday plans. And when you do, regardless of your age and stage in life, be sure you consider the possibility of summer camp. That’s right. Summer camp.
The Sorrento Retreat and Conference Centre, on the shores of beautiful Shushwap Lake in British Columbia, is “Anglican in tradition, ecumenical in programming, and inclusive in welcome”—a recreational gathering place for all ages that offers restful surroundings and stimulating programs from May to October, but especially through the summer months.
From private rooms to family camping facilities, on-site accommodations help create a multi-generational community. Day programming keeps children active and engaged while adults participate in hikes, discussion groups, and arts workshops led by world-renowned speakers and facilitators.
This year’s adult programming includes story-telling, a weeklong music workshop titled, “Singing Locally, Thinking Globally,” water-colour painting, and Creative Journaling, just to name a few.
Worship is part of every day life at Sorrento, held mostly in the wooded outdoor chapel overlooking the lake, and a weekly public lecture by one the program leaders welcomes the wider community. The programs are not compulsory and many people sign on for a week of individual rest and recreation.
The Sorrento Centre is supported by Anglican dioceses and parishes across B.C. and Alberta and of course by individual patrons and donors. To learn more, visit their website: http://www.sorrento-centre.bc.ca Or ask around—St. Stephen’s has a number of “happy campers” with stories to tell!
In a bustling parish like St. Stephen’s, advance planning is a way of life. Whether it’s this week’s worship, next year’s retirement, or five years down the road, we are always thinking ahead. Our new building committee, Open Doors II, is a good illustration of this
When we completed our last round of renovations, in 2013, we knew we were not done. Phase I was complete, including radical changes to our worship and program space, our accessibility, and our infrastructure. But Phase II was already on our minds. The church offices and Canterbury Room were dying a slow ragged death and the Memorial Hall was literally falling apart!
Open Doors II is our attempt to articulate a new vision for our ageing buildings and to coordinate their revitalization through a new renovation project. At the core of this vision is the Memorial Hall and its potential as a community hub for our neighbourhood.
The lower floor of the hall, where we used to host Inn From the Cold, boasts a kitchen and banquet hall, ideal for redevelopment as a community kitchen. The upper hall, which now houses a dozen artists in affordable studios, is in fact a full–sized community hall with stage and wings. The office space provides homey administration for small organizations.
So our team is busy these days meeting with city planners and other potential partners to flesh out a vision, to be followed by parish consultations, and then some feasibility planning. There’s no moss gathering here!
Beneath the hubbub of a modern parish church, a silent flow of care binds church members together in a ministry so natural it goes largely unnoticed. That ministry is the simple art of visiting.
Sometimes this ministry takes the form of a phone call to someone we haven’t seen for awhile, sometimes as a text or an email. Sometimes it means a drive to a seniors’ home or to someone shut in by illness. Every week, the altar flowers go to someone in need, or to someone who might be encouraged merely by being noticed. Every week, the clergy meet to coordinate their visits to those in need, or to those who have asked for our care.
A few years ago, when Clara King left us, we wondered how all the pastoral visiting would get done with only one priest on staff. But then it dawned on us that it would get done the way it always gets done—by church members caring for one another. So we surveyed how many such visitors there were, and we asked them simply to report in about how the person they visited was doing, and whether a visit from the clergy might be useful.
Jesus said that God’s people would be identified at the end of time as those who visited the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked—those who cared for one another. Two thousand years later it’s still true: we are a community grounded in care, and therefore in visiting.
Most people are now aware that there is no Christmas story. You knew this, right? There are only fragments drawn from various prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures, and unconnected stories pieced together from the gospels.
Those Hebrew prophecies were not actually referring to the birth of Jesus, and those gospel fragments contain details that differ wildly from each other. Not only that, but the earliest Christian witnesses-the apostle Paul and the author of the Gospel according to Mark-those closest to the time of Jesus’ birth-say nothing about it at all. So either they knew nothing about it, or they didn’t consider what they knew worth sharing.
But stitched together, these fragments create a grand myth we call the Christmas Story. Despite the unlikelihood that any of it actually happened, this story contains a deep and abiding truth, the hope of Christians throughout the ages: that God is born into our midst, and not as a powerful warlord; rather, as a defenseless baby.
Yet this changes everything, even the world itself. For this baby toppled the Roman Empire and, to this day, strikes fear in the hearts of despots and tyrants. We know that God resides in the corners of our own lives, requiring both our tender care of this divine presence, and also our strong reliance upon it in times of need.
Parish churches are microcosms of care. And mid-sized midtown congregations, like St. Stephen’s, are particularly well suited to this calling. Like villages scattered throughout the urban landscape, it is here that we become known, that we have a sense of belonging, that we learn to welcome into our hearts our neighbours, learning to love as we ourselves are loved.
This capacity of Christian congregations to become communities of care is especially critical when church members face hard times brought on by physical or mental illness, or by bereavement, or by financial disaster. It means no one has to face such challenges alone.
St. Paul wrote that, as Christians, we are all members of one body. When one member suffers, the whole body suffers; when one rejoices, the whole body rejoices. So as we get to know one another, and welcome each other into our hearts, we find quite naturally that we reach out to one another. We pray for each other, we check in with each other, we visit each other, whether in home or in hospital. We extend our best wishes by sending flowers, or providing casseroles.
The city can sometimes seem like one big anonymous machine, and social isolation is the result. But not at church. Look around you. These are your brothers and sisters. When they hurt, you hurt; when they laugh, you laugh. It is here that we learn how to love the world, by loving one another. This is God’s gift, and our greatest calling
Men are like icebergs. Not that they are cold and unfeeling (anyone can be like that); but they have a lot going on beneath the surface, of which they are largely unaware. So, like an iceberg, hiding over 90 per cent of its bulk in the icy depths, that weight can suddenly shift, upending the entire mass, creating devastating consequences for anyone close at hand.
Once a month, a group of men meets at St. Stephen’s as the “Company of Men”. They share stories of what life is giving them to work on—which may come from relationships, from dreams and preoccupations, or from their work lives—in order to bring into the light the darker movements from the depths.
A man shares his story, while the others listen silently. When he is done, each one affirms the speaker, reflecting back one thing they heard him say. Then those who want to, reference similar stories from their own lives, confirming that the story they just heard is not as uncommon as the speaker might have thought.
The effect of this simple process is “sanctuary”—a safe place to access what is going on beneath the surface. The men don’t tell each other what to do (the one rule is: “No Advice!”). But they listen in such a way that “normalizes” their work, reminding each one that they are not alone, that their struggles, however unique, do not make them weird or strange. In such a way, men are warming up.
The next gathering of the Company of Men is on Saturday, December 9, from 8:30 to 10 a.m., in the Canterbury Room. All men are welcome.
Happy New Years’! That’s right, it’s out with the old, in with the new—at least according to the church’s liturgical calendar. The Christian year begins four Sundays before Christmas, on the First Sunday in Advent, and ends the Sunday before that, which is traditionally celebrated as The Feast of Christ the King, or, more recently, the Reign of Christ.
The original calendars were set according to the lunar cycles, from which we still set the date for Easter (the first Sunday following the full moon that follows the northern spring equinox). But those calendars set the start of the year variously as May 1, March 15, and even September 1—until, that is, the Julian calendar was established in the 1st Century, CE, and which was then upheld by the (more refined) Gregorian calendar we in the West have used since the 16th Century.
While still observing the Gregorian calendar for civic purposes, the church regards the year as the unfolding story of Jesus Christ. So it begins, in the West, by backing up four weeks from the traditional date of Jesus’ birthday, December 25, to hear the prophecies concerning his arrival. It then tells his earthly story up to his death and resurrection at Easter, and then beyond, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The rest of the year is a wide-flung consideration of Jesus’ parables and teachings, until we roll it all up in a celebration of his reign … and then start again.
We pray routinely for the baptized, that God gives them “an inquiring and discerning heart”. But the words race by, their significance lost. We are praying, not that we have all the answers, but that we ask the right questions, and that we discover for ourselves our own answers.
This is a hallmark of what some call “progressive” Christianity—followers of Jesus who are content to live not only with what they know, but also with what they don’t know, holding contradictory truths in tension, accepting the ambiguity that some truths remain unclear and incomprehensible.
This approach heeds the apostle Paul’s advice to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. We may accept God’s unconditional love for us, poured out for us on the cross, planted deep in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; but what does it mean, and what does this actually look like in the life of a Christian?
Asking questions is not, as some suppose, a lack of faith. It is precisely the opposite. To ask questions is to deepen our understanding of the truth, and to apply it creatively to our daily lives. It sees faith as lively exploration rather than as blind obedience.
To help fulfil our baptismal prayer, we offer, from time to time, a Tuesday evening “Inquirers’ Group”. So on December 5, 12 & 19, at 7:15, we welcome all inquirers to bring their questions about Christmas: what does the birth of Jesus, so long ago, really mean to us now?
This week we welcome Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera, from Rwanda, into our midst, having already welcomed them into our hearts. Emmanuel has been studying long-distance through St. Stephen’s College, U of A, in Edmonton, and he and his wife Athanasie have come for Emmanuel’s Convocation, where he is receiving his Doctor of Ministry degree.
When we first met Emmanuel, almost twenty years ago, he was a promising student at the University of Kampala in Uganda, referred to us by the World Mission Department of our national office. We corresponded with Emmanuel through his studies, to his eventual ordination to the priesthood, then while he was given the prestigious position of general secretary of the Anglican Archdiocese of Rwanda while at the same time building a new congregation in his home city of Kigali.
Both Emmanuel and Athanasie lost family members to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, one hundred days of unspeakable atrocities that took the lives of almost one million Tutsis and that scarred the nation forever. But Emmanuel and Athanasie chose hope over despair and today they are working to heal the wounds of the genocide through YEGO-Rwanda, a not-for-profit organization they founded to provide necessities of life, counselling, and support for Genocide survivors, their children, and Rwanda’s many orphans.
We will hear their story and learn of their work. But mainly we will celebrate with them their enormous achievement of bringing light into the darkness. You can support their work through www.yegorwanda.net or through our own Outreach-Beyond Fund.
It is our privilege, in the church, to dwell in the presence of greatness. Not fame, necessarily, nor worldly power or success. But great people nevertheless, doing great things, inspiring the rest of us.
Last week our own Jean Springer was named one of 150 women of Calgary who have made a difference. “She Who Dares” is a program of recognition of YWCA Calgary. “Extraordinary women” were chosen from 150 years of Canadian history, highlighting the accomplishments of pioneers, caregivers, artists, and teachers. Jean was chosen as a teacher of mathematics and a university dean, roles she played with customary grace and aplomb, influencing through example the many lives she touched along the away.
No sooner had we learned of Jean’s laurels, than we were devastated to learn of the passing of another great light: Gerald Smith. A member of St. Stephen’s for 70 years, since he joined the parish at age 17, Gerald was a wise leader, a true gentleman, and a treasured elder in our midst. His care and consideration, his generosity, and his quick wit and intelligence—these will not soon be forgotten. Indeed, they have become the very characteristics of the church he loved.
We are called to be God’s saints—God’s holy ones. But it is easier to rise to this calling when we have the good examples of great people in our midst. We thank God for them!