Every week people in need call our church or knock on our door. They need bus tickets to get to medical appointments, or a food voucher to tide them over until their government cheque comes through, or help with their rent. Sometimes they’re scamming us. Sometimes they just need someone to hear their story of bad luck and hard choices. And sometimes we can help. But a church is not well suited to be a social service outpost. We have limited resources to offer—of both time and money—and nothing but common sense to guide us. We can offer emergency support, but often the circumstances are complex, and they will not be significantly altered by whatever help we provide. So Clara King and Dariel Bateman have been preparing a strategy to make our outreach more effective. First stop—the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), which has the trained staff, the financial resources, and the information technology to respond effectively to people in need. Second stop—the four other churches in our neighbourhood who, like us, receive weekly requests for help. Clearer communication and better cooperation means we can do more effective intake at the door and get people to CUPS or other agencies who can provide assistance. This leaves us with the role we ARE well suited to play: pastoral support, and a faith community to assist with the healing of wounded people. We will still offer tangible help, but now only as part of a deeper supportive relationship.
IT’S ABOUT GOOD NEWS, NOT BAD
It’s not about sin. It’s not about being bad, or flawed, or guilty. It’s not about a God who is angry with us, or who judges us, or who wants to punish us. It’s about being human (with the same root as humus, ie. of the earth). It’s about grace, about a God who loves us and who is highly invested in our health and happiness. It’s about Good News, not bad.
How did we get here? How did Christians settle on a worldview so dark, so ominous, that modern people ran away from it as soon as they could, scattering to other religions, or to no religion at all? Did we really think that a message of sin would hold people, like deer caught in the headlights, transfixed by their approaching doom? Did we really think we could then mollify people’s fears (fears we ourselves planted in their minds) by providing the “fix”—their acceptance of Jesus as their saviour, their obedience to him as their lord, and their unquestioning loyalty to the church as his representative?
Lent is a time when, traditionally, the church has cultivated our sense of guilt and unworthiness in order to offer the Good News of our salvation at Eastertide. But what if we use this time, not to rub our noses in our humanity, but to rejoice in it, to thank God that we are “wondrously made”, that, in truth, it’s all about grace? That’s what we’ll be doing here at St. Stephen’s.
At the close of 2014, St. Stephen’s was broken into five times in a two-week period … and all by the same person! He got away with several hundred dollars in cash, an old computer, and some cheques he couldn’t cash (but then, neither could we!). He is now behind bars, but he left us with thousands of dollars in repair bills and a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of our buildings to intrusion.
Lynn, our Parish Administrator, spent the better part of January hearing presentations, receiving quotes, and preparing a full report that the rector and churchwardens reviewed last week. From a long list of possible upgrades and installations they have assembled a plan to make the church more secure without, at the same time, making it Fort Knox. The plan features strategic lighting and video surveillance, a new keyless entry system, and various other specific improvements.
All this will cost in excess of $15,000—for which there is no provision in this year’s budget. So the new security plan, of necessity, will launch a special fund-raising campaign. In the weeks to come the churchwardens will be sending out a letter asking for your help. Please give generously when you receive it, as this affects all of us who take pride in our church.
No building is completely invulnerable to malicious unwanted entry. But here at St. Stephen’s we can make our buildings stronger, and our staff safer. It is exercising good stewardship—and common sense—to do so.
THE HEALTHY PARISH AND MONEY
We approach our Annual General Meeting this year with a worrisome projected deficit in excess of $30,000. It is not unusual for churches to carry deficits, but if it becomes a trend it jeopardizes many of our hopes and dreams for the ministries and outreach that are important to us.
What’s gone wrong? Givings are certainly up, the parish is lively, we enjoy a positive profile in the wider community, and new members continue to find their way to us. Expenses have risen since the renovations, especially for the additional care required for our new space, but we had anticipated that with increased rental income. So we don’t know exactly.
But Parish Council, even as it approved the budget for presentation to the AGM, committed itself in the coming year to addressing this issue and finding solutions. In fact, Parish Council identified two concerns to tackle in the coming year: the deficit, and also the prospect of a sudden turnover in staff in a few years.
So sustainability and succession planning have emerged front and centre on our agenda. It is forward-thinking leadership to identify a trend while it is still manageable, and to correct it before it begins to manage us!
The members of Parish Council—which includes its six elected members, the lay delegates to Synod, and the rector and churchwardens—are assured our prayers and support as they help us find a way through. Together we will work to build a healthy parish for years to come.
GROWING AND CONNECTING
As happens often around St. Stephen’s these days, last Wednesday evening was a beehive of activity. The meditation group was quietly praying up a storm in the sanctuary; the “I Love You” kickboxing class gave way to the Tillicum Al Anon group who gathered to share their personal stories down in the Memorial Hall; the young people from the community chess club was deep in cogitation in the Creation Space; and in the Canterbury Room it was standing room only as members of the neighbourhood vied for a patch of this year’s Community Garden.
The Garden, outside the doors to the Memorial Hall, was the result of conversations last year with Carmen Marques, the City’s community social worker assigned to our area. (It was also Carmen who facilitated the chess group.) Evenstart, the pre-school children’s support agency, had left us, which meant that the small area allotted for their outdoor playground was left fallow. A community garden would meet a number of local needs, providing yet another connection between us and our neighbours.
Then Ian Newman—a member of St. Stephen’s who is active in our local community—stepped forward and offered to build the planter boxes. One weekend he arrived with lumber and a few willing workers and—presto!—there was our first community garden. To which he then added a community library box. This year we are doubling the size of the garden to include the patch on the other side of the walkway. Our outreach is growing!
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.