WE’LL HOLD STEADY; A WORD FROM CLARA ABOUT THE COMING MONTHS
This past year has been a time of huge change at St. Stephen’s, and it’s been both exciting and challenging. Since we moved into our new space, we’ve had to work hard at “figuring it out” – discovering what the new ‘normal’ is, and how to make it all work. It has been, in varying degrees, hard on everyone in this parish to keep up with all the change. And it might seem that Brian’s departure on sabbatical is going to make for even more changes.
Quite a few people have asked me whether I’m looking forward to being “in charge”, but that’s not how it goes. Decision-making authority remains in the hands of the legal Corporation of the parish, of which Brian, as the Incumbent, is only one member of three. The other two members remain at the helm while he’s away: our Wardens Mary Lou Flood and Louise Redmond. And Parish Council remains in place as vision-setter and sounding-board. Together with them, my role is to be a faithful steward until Brian returns to us.
A lot of things have been changing at St. Stephen’s, but over these next four months, we’ll just keep working on the new normal that we’ve been figuring out. And the heart of what we do won’t change: come on Sunday mornings to be fed, to pray, to sing, to think and reflect and learn and grow. And we’ll hold steady until Brian comes back.
A HOLY AND LIFE-GIVING SEASON
Though Christmas is the more popular Christian festival, it is Easter that claims the more central place in our Christian tradition. Stories of the miraculous birth of Jesus began circulating only after the early disciples experienced their Lord as living among them after he had died. In a sense the Christmas story is an answer to the question, How would our Risen Lord have come into the world? In other words, first they experienced the Resurrection, and then they looked back and imagined the Nativity.
Yet in a way both stories point to the same essential Christian truth: God is alive in our midst, and we can find new life through God’s indwelling Spirit. Using the story of Jesus’ life, we imagine a similar spiritual trajectory in our own lives: God is born into the world, often in adverse circumstances, full of life-giving possibility. Life is hard and tests our belief that God really is with us, yet we learn to trust in God and so find fresh strength to live our lives. Eventually we surrender our lives to the mystery of death, only to discover that God is there too, guiding us to an even more glorious existence on the other side.
This is the awesome power of God we celebrate every time we gather. Our God is a living Force flowing through us, inviting us, from birth to death, to claim life’s journey for ourselves … and truly, faithfully, to live it! Blessings, this holy and life-giving Season!
IN SEARCH OF A VULNERABLE GOD
Throughout the Lenten season we have been studying Bob Purdy’s book, “Without Guarantee: In Search of a Vulnerable God”. If God is love, Bob asks, can God also be powerful? Does not love mean life-giving, merciful, compassion? Does not power imply domination? Can love and power ever be used together?
We considered all religious language as metaphorical, that is, describing that which is essentially elusive by way of comparisons. So while we cannot describe God literally, as we would an object, we can say God is like a loving parent, or like a rushing wind. Every time we do, we choose an image that fits our experience. Likewise, we can always choose new images that better fit our experience … which is exactly what Bob is encouraging us to do.
God is love, Bob reminds us, meaning that God chooses to serve the world rather than dominate it. Any language that implies that God wants to intimidate us, harm us, manipulate us, or interfere with us … this language must change to reflect the deeper truth of God’s compassion.
But what would this mean for the church? What would a church look like that believed in the radical nature of its own message? How does one pray to a “vulnerable” God? How do we preach this God to ourselves and reveal this God to the world?
This will be the topic for our closing session this Tuesday at 7:30. Everyone is invited to join us as we re-imagine God’s church!
Following our weekend workshop, “Making This House a Home”, we are reminded that home renovations are never done. We are justified in feeling proud for having made our buildings more accessible and our program space more flexible. But now the parts of our buildings and property we did not renovate feel tired by comparison.
Keri Weylander, our workshop leader, helped us celebrate not only our accomplishments of the last year, but also the stories and the history that reside in every corner of our church. Our space is important to us, and she helped us see that.
But touring our church with the eyes of a visitor, Keri also helped us see where our buildings still work against our desire to be welcoming and accessible. Rooms that seem to have lost their purpose, corridors packed with storage, entryways that do not say, “Welcome”—it appears we have not yet completed the task of making our house a home.
Cast your own gaze around our church. Which rooms say, “Welcome” to you, and which do not? Where do you feel most comfortable, where do you feel uncomfortable? Which spaces “work” for you, which do not? Those become the next areas of our ongoing renovation project.
To be clear, we are not starting up a new building committee—yet—nor are we revving up for a new capital campaign—yet. We are simply noticing for the moment where the work will continue, when it continues. Because truthfully, this work will never end!
GETTING BACK ON THE ROAD
Lent is the season for kick starting our spiritual engines and getting back on the road. This is why we offer Lenten prayers on behalf of those preparing for Baptism or Confirmation, as people seek the opportunity to take their next steps on their faith journey. We, like them, sometimes need a boost to our own faith.
At St. Stephen’s we are currently preparing two teenagers and two adults for Confirmation, and one adult and four infants (or their families really) for Baptism. The bishop will be with us at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 19, to do the Confirmations and we will do the Baptisms ourselves on Easter morning.
There are two additional opportunities offered here. One is formally to Reaffirm our faith before the bishop, who will offer a prayer over us and bless our intention. The other, if we have recently come to the Anglican Church from another Christian tradition, is formally to be Received into the Church by the bishop. If either of these opportunities call to you please speak to our clergy, as some preparation is necessary.
There is yet another opportunity for the rest of us. And that is to stand in solidarity with those who are affirming or reaffirming their faith. The Easter services provide for an Affirmation of Faith by the entire congregation. They will also ask our support for the newly baptized or confirmed. Let us then join with all those newly professing their faith, and newly profess our own.
This past week St. Stephen’s was part of a small delegation that approached our bishop about the unresolved issue of the blessing of same-sex relationships. Forty years after the first church-sanctioned same-sex marriage, twenty years after the issue was first raised at General Synod, almost ten years after Canada legalized marriage between same-sex partners, priests in the Anglican Diocese of Calgary are still not permitted to bless same-sex couples. Nor is it even on the agenda of the diocese, official or otherwise.
The delegation sought a way forward by proposing a protocol parishes in the diocese could follow to decide whether they wish to offer same-sex blessings. The protocol ensures broad-based consultation within the parish and notification to the diocese when the process is underway. But diocesan approval is not being sought for a parish to proceed, nor is there is any compunction for parishes to move forward with this. It is called in some dioceses the “local option” approach: all parishes may, none must, and some should.
The point was made that the church has been woefully behind the times on this issue so that now the world could care less what we do. (At St. Stephen’s we have not had a request for a same-sex blessing for over ten years.) But we do have same-sex couples in our parish who are legally married yet who have been denied a blessing from their own church. That should be reason enough. The bishop promised to “think seriously” about the matter.
Every year at this time we hear people asking what we are “giving up for Lent”. This recalls an older spirituality that associated the forty days leading up to Easter as a time of penance and self-denial, a time to consider our sinful ways in order that we might amend our lives.
Self-denial can be a useful tool to bring balance back into our lives, especially if there are areas of excess we need to curb, like eating or drinking or television watching or any activity that has become habitual and therefore a possible distraction from our spiritual path.
But sometimes “taking something on for Lent” can be a better approach, reminding us that ultimately we live for God and for others and that, if our lives have become too self-serving, a little outreach to others can be what we need. So some people use the Lenten season to make contributions of time or money to a cause that is important to them.
Another approach is simply to take time to reflect upon the state of our soul and our spiritual journey. This is done through intentional reading, spiritual “check-ups” with a trusted friend or mentor, and through private prayer and public worship.
In each case the point is to redirect our energies back to God our Creator, especially where we may have gone off track, to refresh our souls with the love of Christ our Saviour, and to make ourselves available for the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.
People sometimes complain that they cannot relate to the God of the Bible, a God who at times seems vengeful, violent and cruel. This is often posed as a difference between the Old Testament and the New—that the former is frightening while the latter is compassionate. But this oversimplifies the case which, in truth, depicts God as equally angry and loving in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
This Lent we invite you to explore this dilemma through a study of Bob Purdy’s book, “Without Guarantee: In Search of a Vulnerable God”. As a retired Anglican priest (and former rector of St. Stephen’s) with over fifty years’ experience in the ministry, Bob knows this dilemma from the inside out, especially how damaging the image of an angry God can be to people struggling with power issues in their own lives.
Recognizing the predominance of biblical “power” imagery relating to God—God as “King”, the “Almighty”, “Judge”—Bob searches our tradition for that “other” God, the God who is also compassionate, giving, and ultimately vulnerable, that is, open to being hurt and even rejected by God’s own creatures. In the end, he says these characteristics are not only more accessible to us, they are ultimately more life-giving.
Join us on Tuesday evenings, March 11 through April 8, from 7:30 to 9, as we follow Bob’s search for a vulnerable God and make important discoveries along the way that will open new doors to our own active, inquisitive and compassionate faith.
MAKING OUR “HOUSE” A HOME’
It takes a while before a new “house” becomes a “home”. We begin of course by making the place functional. We arrange our furnishings, we hang curtains, we hook up the phone lines. We could stop there, but we don’t. Because the next step is to decorate the space with familiar items that say, “This is MY space.” So we hang pictures, we display cherished keepsakes, we create the comfortable nooks and crannies where we can recline and “be at home” with ourselves. Down the line we may take on larger projects that further define the space by our particular tastes. We might paint a room, change the carpet, even take out a wall or install hardwood.
Here at St. Stephen’s we have moved into our newly renovated space, we have made it functional. But now we are making our “house” a “home”. To help us “own” our new space we are offering a workshop on Saturday, March 22, led by Keri Weylander. Keri is the editor of “Creating Change: The Arts as a Catalyst for Spiritual Transformation”, about the creative things churches have done to adapt their sacred space for ministry and mission (available for $25 at our new Merch Table).
Keri will lead us in an engaging consideration of our own space—of how our new “house” of worship can become a “home”, both to us and to others. The workshop is for any church members who are drawn to this satisfying task. Please plan to join us.
MORE THAN WE CAN ASK OR IMAGINE
At the parish AGM last Sunday, we re-elected our three Synod delegates: Jean Springer, Blake Kanewischer and Heather Campbell. This year will be their first chance to represent St. Stephen’s at Synod, in the debates that will shape the future of our Diocese. But what do Diocesan issues have to do with St. Stephen’s? We are a healthy, forward-looking parish, and if other Anglican parishes aren’t so healthy or creative, why should that hold us back?
Being part of the Diocese is about more than paying our apportionment and arranging as much independence as possible, and there’s more to it than what others can learn from how great we are. In preparation for Synod, Bishop Greg has convened two “Un-Synods”, facilitated conversations between parishes, to discern what we are called to build together as the body of Christ, how we can work together to become more than we can be alone. This is totally consistent with what we believe at
St. Stephen’s: that diversity is not a barrier, that our differences actually are a gift, that we can do more together – though it’s harder work – than we can do alone. And we believe that the ‘strong’ have just as much to learn from the ‘weak’ as they have to share. It’s as true between parishes as it is between people: when we come together across differences, God’s power working in us really can do more than we can ask or imagine. And this is the gift a Diocese can offer.