Parish Council met this past week to continue a conversation we might call “values clarification”: what are the core values that help determine our priorities at St. Stephen’s? Before we make decisions, what is our discernment of where God is leading us and who God is calling us to be in the first place?
It is fascinating—and reassuring—how quickly we can identify qualities we value about our church experience: inclusivity, authenticity, happy chaos (at times), tradition, and a gospel that invites intelligent critique. Outreach is important to us, but we may have some work to do in
finding new ways of connecting with the wider community, especially through the arts—a value we have named but perhaps have not yet completely embraced.
If these values could be gathered under one heading, that heading might be “Soul”: we value a church that has soul. This is what the rector is exploring in this week’s sermon, the second instalment of a three-part sermon he is preaching on “What I Learned on my Summer Vacation: Reflections on Church, Soul and the Next Five Years”.
Soul has less to do with the ideals of our faith tradition—what we’re supposed to do, and who we’re supposed to be—and more to do with what we’re actually doing and who we actually are. The difference, theologically, is between a God who is distant and judgmental, and a God who is in our midst, loving us into being. There will be more to come.
We’re back! The Rector has returned from his sabbatical, summer travellers from their travels, and families from their vacations. In the coming weeks Parish Council will take up its vision quest, the choir will re-gather for another season, and all our volunteers and working groups will pick up where they left off in the spring.
This is a time to reconsider our investment in St. Stephen’s—in its worship and its programs, in its many ministries and in its ongoing financial support. The building and property have done their work while many of us have been away, as concerts and weddings have taken place here and as our community garden and lending library have taken off, earning a featured spot on CBC Television News. But now it is time for each one of us to consider what our own participation will look like in the coming year.
At our “Start-up” service on September 7, which we celebrate as St. Stephen’s Day, information booths representing many of our parish activities will help us re-engage in church life. The Rector will begin a three-week preaching series titled, “What I learned on My Summer Vacation,” sharing with us his reflections on Church, Soul and the Next Five Years. This will provide further inspiration for our future direction.
But then it’s up to you. Where is God calling you this year? Is this a time to re-charge your spiritual batteries, or a time to flex your spiritual muscles? Come along and we’ll find out!
THIS MINISTRY OF HOSPITALITY
One of the guiding ideas of our building renovation project was to open the doors of our buildings to the wider community. We discerned that we are called to a ministry of hospitality in our community: to be a place where people come for a whole variety of reasons, and are welcomed here. Now that we’ve completed this phase of the renovations, our building is indeed exercising a ministry of hospitality. Last weekend we hosted a Beltline Communities Association Artisans Fair, and we’re now hosting a community garden. Our friends with the Beltline Communities Association have also applied for and won a “little library” – a beautifully-decorated box to house a free book exchange – that will be installed on our property later this summer with a presentation by the CBC. We’re hosting regular meetings of the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners, and a growing number of music performances as word about our acoustically-stunning space gets out.
There will be times when our space is busy in ways that are inconvenient to us, when we can’t use a room or an area, when it won’t be calm and quiet around us while we’re having our meetings, because of the things that are happening in the building. If we are living into our call, those inconveniences will increase, not decrease. But this is what hospitality means, and what we’re called to: to make space for others, and be glad that they’re journeying with us.
“WE’LL FIGURE IT OUT”
When we moved back into our Sanctuary, our motto was, “we’ll figure it out!” Well, seven months later, there’s several groups of people who continue to work quietly behind the scenes, helping us figure it out as we go along.
The folks on the Chair Team (aka: “Cardio for Christ”!) give us an incredible gift every Sunday, reliably showing up sometime after 9:00 and arranging our worship space. Their quiet attention to symmetry, straightness and the curve of the rows really beautifies our Sanctuary, and we are hugely thankful for this ministry of welcome.
The folks on the Tech Team are at work all the way through the service, in a way most of us never notice: subtly changing the light to match the movement of worship, monitoring sound quality and volume, adjusting the microphones for different voices, and the height of different speakers. There’s a lot to learn about our tech systems (and a lot more still to learn), and we are so grateful to them for their ongoing learning and service.
We also want to say thank you to the Coffee Time volunteers and the Sides People for their flexibility in adjusting their roles to match our new space. And a huge thanks to the staff in the office, Lynn and Beverley, for their hard work and endless problem-solving capabilities. We continue figuring it out, and thank you to everyone for journeying with us as we do!
LOOKING AHEAD TO SUMMER
With the lovely weather these days, we start looking forward to the glorious months of summer ahead, and again this summer, we’ll be winding down activities at St. Stephen’s. Normally, we follow the civic calendar for when we begin winding down, but Easter was very late this year and so the liturgical calendar is giving us reasons to do things a bit differently.
Because Easter was so late, Pentecost is late too, falling on June 8, and the Sunday following Pentecost is Trinity Sunday (June 15). That means that there’s only two Sundays in the gap between Trinity and the Stampede Service. If we did things for the 10:30 service as we usually do, that would mean 5 different worship templates over 7 weeks, and that’s just too much! The thing about Anglicans is we like to establish a little routine, a little repetition, so we can take some things for granted in the worship services (which is relaxing) and yet we still get some new material every week (which keeps things interesting).
As a result, this year, we’re going to start our Summer Lite services on June 22, and the service will be very similar to previous years. But there will be one particular change to the 10:30 service to see if we can make it more family-friendly: we’re going to try it without a period of silence. We’ll give this a try for this summer and see how it goes. Start Up Sunday will be September 7.
“A word from our Synod delegates about Synod May 9-10”
Four members of St. Stephen’s attended Diocesan Synod this past weekend: the Rev. Clara King, Heather Campbell, Blake Kanewischer, and Jean Springer. Why did they give up their weekend?
Diocesan Synod is a decision-making body that advises the bishop and his senior administration of the wishes and will of the clergy and people of the diocese. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? This year’s synod was largely administrative in nature, and there was relatively little discussion about substantive issues in the life of our diocese.
Some of the administrative tasks we accomplished included electing clergy and lay delegates to our senior synods—the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod, which meets in Toronto in 2016, and our Provincial Synod, which meets in Saskatoon in June 2015. Heather Campbell was an unsuccessful candidate for General Synod delegate, though she will serve on the Legislative Committee of the diocese.
We also made some housekeeping changes to our canons (our church rules and laws). One of the most significant was the removal of a maximum age for clergy to hold a license from the bishop (it was age 70).
The other joyous (and challenging) part of the weekend was the presence of the Very Rev. Canon Kevin Martin, who shared some insights into how churches continue to grow. He spoke of the tension between love and growth, and of the shifting demographics we face as a church. He’ll also be speaking at the Clergy Conference, so look for more about his ideas next week!
A Different Kind of Resurrection
It’s been almost two years that the little fenced-off patch of land beside the door of the Memorial Hall has lain abandoned. But one person’s trash is another’s treasure: the Beltline Communities Association has been looking for a location for a community garden, and it’s a brilliant ministry opportunity for our abandoned patch of land. Gardening is good for us in all sorts of ways: apart from the physical benefits, it reduces stress, improves your mood, eases symptoms of depression, and it can even lower the risk of dementia. And perhaps even more importantly, it can play a crucial role in building community. Social isolation is a big issue in this high-density neighborhood of ours. A community garden gives people a reason to interact with their neighbours and build connections with strangers, which in turn builds safety, supports diversity and promotes neighborliness, and that can have huge knock-on effects for our collective physical and mental health.
You’ll see the garden being installed over the next few weeks, and we’ll be planting on May 31, the day of the Community Fair we’re hosting in the Lower Hall. All members of St. Stephen’s are warmly welcome to participate in the Community Garden, and you are particularly encouraged to get involved if you’re also a resident of this neighborhood. We’ll even be hosting some gardening classes (specific to our climate!) on June 7, 14 and 21 to help get you started – details are on the bulletin board.
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!