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.
This week we express our appreciation to our two churchwardens who have come to the end of their terms. Dariel Bateman has served as People’s Warden for two years and Neil Miller as Rector’s Warden for three. Much has been accomplished under their watch, though most of their efforts have been behind-the-scenes.
Neil is a problem-solver. Perhaps it’s his engineer’s training, but bring a logistical conundrum to the table and Neil sits up and takes notice. You can just see the synapses firing as he does the math, tries a variant scenario, critiques that, and moves on to another. It really is rather amazing. And we have benefitted from his critical thinking through the most problem-ridden chapter of our history.
Dariel comes from the world of education where she was both a front-line teacher and a principal. She also knows the not-for-profit world through her work with the United Way, Calgary Reads, and a host of volunteer involvements. So Dariel has been our resident motivator, our mover and shaker, and our process development officer. Whether chairing Parish Council or overseeing our nursery, Dariel has a genius for engaging others in work that is both meaningful and productive.
Together with the Rector, churchwardens have responsibility for the finances and physical fabric of the church. But their personal commitment extends to the quality of our programs, the effectiveness of our staff, and the contentment of our members. Well done, Dariel and Neil: you have served us well! Now enjoy your well-deserved retirement.
WE WORK TOGETHER
Leadership of a parish church in the Anglican tradition is an exercise in negotiation. Unlike the Catholic Church where “Father knows best”, and the Protestant tradition where the majority rules, we bring clergy and lay people to the table in an equal partnership that strives to be respectful of each other’s area of expertise. The congregation cannot change basic Christian theology, for instance, and clergy cannot commit the congregation to enormous expenditures. The two must work together.
At St. Stephen’s the executive oversight of the parish is shared by the members of “Corporation”—so-called because they form the legal entity of the parish. The Corporation comprises two churchwardens—one elected by the congregation, the other appointed by the Rector—and the Rector. Together they oversee the parish’s program life, its financial stability, and the maintenance of its buildings and property.
The Parish Council meets monthly to advise Corporation about the overall life and health of the congregation. It is Parish Council where strategies may be devised to better engage newcomers or to plan a Stewardship campaign. But Parish Council also receives the reports of the Rector and Corporation, thereby providing a platform for their accountability to the congregation.
In a week’s time, at our Annual General Meeting, we will be welcoming Mary Lou Flood as our new People’s Warden (elected as a deputy at last year’s meeting), appointing Louise Redmond as our new Rector’s Warden, and electing three new members to Parish Council. We ask God to guide our deliberations.
TRAVEL WELL, SALLY
This week we mourn the passing of Sally Sherritt, long-time and beloved member of St. Stephen’s. Sally was uniquely herself, some might even say a bit of a character. She was quick-witted, sharp-tongued, open-hearted, and tirelessly interested in the lives of those around her.
We knew her for years as our church secretary, working with both Errol Shilliday and Bob Purdy. She fostered a sense of community in everything she did, creating deep bonds of friendship among the staff and volunteers of the church. Twenty-eight years ago her son Michael, an immigration lawyer here in Calgary, introduced her to Eduardo Rodriguez, who had recently arrived from Peru and was looking to start a career in his new country. Sally brought him to St. Stephen’s as caretaker … where he works to this day.
Sally loved to talk and loved to laugh, and she laughed often. In her last days, even in the midst of a deepening dementia, she engaged visitors at her bedside with humour and grace, sharing jokes that sometimes only she was getting!
We would like to think that Sally typifies what happens at healthy churches. People get to be themselves, appreciated and enjoyed for precisely who they are. We laugh and we cry with one another, we work with one another, and then we grieve one another’s passing.
Travel well, Sally, into this next part of your journey. We should be half so free to be ourselves, and so to be loved within the Body of Christ.