FAITH AND POLITICS
A responsible church that honours the intelligence, the faith, and the individual freedom of its members does not presume to tell people how to vote. So it is difficult to formulate a collective response to the sea change Albertans experienced in last week’s provincial election. But what we can do is ask ourselves where God is in all this, and to discern for ourselves what such a political shift means for people of faith.
If we believe that God is in the world, and not just in the church, then even non-religious social movements reveal something of what God is doing. This need not be a direct connection, as if God raises up one political party and casts down another. But assuming that everyone—religious and secular alike—can identify some higher principles worth living (and voting) for, what was the populace saying in this election? What did so many Albertans feel was missing from the status quo, and what are they hoping for in this new regime?
Often, when we are able to identify the moral principles that are important to us, we discover that the difference in political parties is more about how we get there than what we want. For who doesn’t want good government that serves its citizens, social services that improve our quality of life, and laws that safeguard our freedoms? Perhaps an election like this one forces us to go back—whatever our political stripes—and consider: what are those principles worth voting for?
SHARED EPISCOPAL MINISTRY
This week we will take our first steps toward breaking the impasse between our bishop and ourselves over the issue of same-sex blessings. The initiative is called Shared Episcopal Ministry and should result in our receiving the pastoral services of a bishop who is sympathetic to our request to perform same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
Back in 2004 the House of Bishops passed a resolution that accepted Shared Episcopal Ministry as a model for resolving conflict between parishes and their bishop over this issue. Then, the concern was for congregations offended by diocesan decisions that allowed parishes to decide for themselves whether or not to offer blessings to same-sex couples. Now, of course, it is the reverse, as we find ourselves frustrated by a bishop who has categorically dismissed same-sex blessings as an option for the Diocese of Calgary.
Shared Episcopal Ministry means that on all routine matters we would continue to be led by our diocesan bishop. But on this one matter we would receive the support of a bishop appointed to us from another diocese. We would continue to have seats at Synod and to participate fully in the life of the diocese.
The Parish of St. Laurence joins us in this initiative. Christ Church—Elbow Park is voting on the issue this weekend. If a formal conversation with the bishop fails to find a resolution then we will call a General Meeting of our congregation to seek your approval to apply for Shared Episcopal Ministry. Your thoughts?
soulful church honours all the sacred moments in the lives of its members. Happy or sad, all life’s circumstances come with their attendant challenges and blessings. And each in their own way, they affect the community as a whole.
In recent weeks we have celebrated the lives of members or friends of St. Stephen’s as we have gathered to mourn their passing: Alan Stanwell, Larry Dornan, Roger Bowles, Rosie Binette, and last week Fred Hatt. Our faith community is diminished by the losses of these saints, even while we thank God for their presence in our midst and for the hope of resurrection.
But this week we celebrate the marriage of Clara King and Michael Thakkar. It has been one of the quiet joys of being part of the St. Stephen’s family, witnessing the growth of their love for one another, especially as it has made its way out into public view. Our hearts smile at this lovely new beginning for the two of them, and for the ways our fellowship with one another is enriched by their relationship.
It has been said that, in recent times, people do not go to church to ensure their eternal salvation—that was the concern of another age. Rather, we go to church to belong. The fruit of such belonging are the trials and triumphs we are privileged to share with one another. The life of faith is a rich soulful experience—especially when God’s children love one another, as Jesus commanded.
This week we enter the myth of Holy Week, the
great story about death and resurrection that
unites us to all mythic traditions, yet also
separates us out.
It may sound strange, calling the central
Christian events a “myth”. Are we not talking
about historical events? There is no good reason
to doubt that we are. That Jesus was an actual
person, that he died on a cross at the hands of
the Roman authorities, that his followers
experienced him as living in their midst after his
death—these facts are all rooted in human
memory and experience.
But what we have done with these historic facts is to create a mythic narrative that rivals any
throughout human history. Joseph Campbell, in his ground-breaking book, The Hero With a
Thousand Faces, identified the hero myth as among the most common of the world’s myths: the
hero leaves the tribe in order to carry out some salvific mission on the tribe’s behalf, and thereby
leaves the mortal realm for the divine.
Jesus the man, through his crucifixion and resurrection, became the mythic figure the Church began
calling the Christ, associated so closely with God to be called Son of God. Stories soon began
circulating about his miraculous birth. His earthly presence was described as “incarnation”. His place
in glory called his followers on to their own eternal destiny.
Yes, this may be the stuff of history. But it is also myth in the making: a myth that has changed our
A GREAT GIFT
We could never say enough about the great gift our children are to us! It used to be said that children are the church of tomorrow. But the truth is, they’re the church of today. Their active presence in our midst enriches us all.
Throughout this Lenten season we have been exploring ways to celebrate a more positive message than sin, repentance and self-denial. These themes have their place in Christian spirituality, but they are adult themes and therefore a hard sell to children. We wondered if we might rediscover the blessings of Lent by approaching it through their eyes.
So each week we have explored with our children, “Where is God?” We looked inward and celebrated the many ways our bodies are “wondrously made”. We considered how seeds, when they are buried, produce magnificent results. Then the children led our worship with a reminder that each of us has been given gifts to share with the world.
Last week and this, they have helped us look outward into our world to find God in the cosmic game of Hide and Seek, where the “Good News’ often lies hidden within the bad news.
This year our children have drawn us back to the basics of our faith: that we are all wonderful creations of God, loved and filled with purpose. And they have proved that they are indeed a vital part of our church today! Our thanks to them all, and to Kathleen Howes, their guide on the Excellent Adventure.
Looking for a Sign
Back in the day, churches displayed the times of their Sunday services on their outdoor sign … and called it advertising. In an age when most people went to church, and when most of them already had their denominational affiliation, there was nothing else to say.
Now, in an age when almost no one goes to church, and when most couldn’t tell you the difference between an Anglican and a Baptist—nor even the difference between a church and a synagogue, telling the world who we are has become more complicated. Most of those who find us today have done so through our web site, or our Facebook page, or through word of mouth. To these folks the outdoor sign serves only to confirm that this is indeed the place. It also lets our neighbours know we are still alive and kicking inside our fortress walls. We are looking for some enterprising church members to help us let the world know who we are.
We have someone—Chad Dudley—who works on our web site for us, and who posts updates on our Facebook page. What we lack at the moment is a vision and a strategy to keep our communications current and to seek new ways of being “out there”.
Is this you? Do you have a passion for St. Stephen’s? Do you have your eye on the social media? Would you like to help create our new “sign” for the world to see? If so, let us know.
How would you feel if you could look your assailant in the eye? What would you say? Would it be an opportunity for vengeance? Or would it be a time for compassion, perhaps even forgiveness? We’re about to find out.
Our church was broken into five times over the Christmas holidays—all, apparently, by the same intruder. Thankfully there was no vandalism. But there was damage, and there was theft. Six hundred dollars in cash was stolen, along with a computer and some cheques received as Sunday offerings. Our repair bills ran into the thousands. The staff was left feeling nervous and insecure. So we are now beefing up the security of our buildings, a project that will cost us over $15,000.
The intruder was caught and arrested. He was well known to the police, his face showing up on the after-hour surveillance videos of several local businesses, and his rap sheet including (we are told) upward of fifty previous convictions. He will have his day in court and then, presumably, he will be back in the hood.
Some of us are exploring what it would be like to make it personal, to meet our thief, to ask him why he did it, and to offer him a restorative relationship. Once we better understand the process, we are considering making a victim impact statement that would include the possibility of our being part of his rehabilitation. What do you think about that? How does it feel? What would you say?
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.