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.
“HOUSE” INTO A “HOME”
People build buildings. We shape them to reflect our needs, our aspirations, and our aesthetics. But buildings in turn shape us. We are finding this already with our newly renovated space.
In ways we could not anticipate while drawing up the plans, St. Stephen’s is becoming a more participatory place. Our new sound and lighting systems demand a level of expertise with which we are unfamiliar. So we are training a Tech Team to monitor the sound and lights on a Sunday, and we are making provision for a technical support person to be part of any rental agreement that uses our sanctuary as a performance stage.
We are also drawing upon a team effort for the weekly removal of our chairs so the public can gain access to our new labyrinth during the week. We are calling this group “Movers & Shakers” and it will be organized in weekly teams to place the chairs for worship and then stack them again afterward. The group will also be called upon when the chairs are needed during the week for special services and events.
We are also planning a Saturday workshop to help us turn our “house” into a “home”. Under the leadership of creative consultant Keri Wehlander, we will be considering how we decorate our new space, how we organize it, and how we offer it to others.
So our new building is re-shaping us. We are becoming a more active, more engaged, and more intentional congregation as a result.
IT’S BUDGET TIME AGAIN
It’s budget time again, which is always tricky. As a faith community we want to be open to the Spirit, to new possibilities, and to those little miracles that enable us to do things we didn’t think we would be able to do. But as fiduciary planners with the responsibility of managing the funds you have entrusted to us, we want to be realistic and sober in our projections. Too much risk and we could be paying for our miscalculation for years to come; too little risk and we could choke off the very hopes and dreams that give the church its vitality.
We are fortunate to have excellent churchwardens, Dariel Bateman and Neil Miller, who are working diligently to find this balance. We are even more fortunate to have Jack Walker as treasurer, who knows his way around investments and financial planning and who helps us all feel more confident when it comes to making our financial plans and projections for the coming year.
Behind our churchwardens and treasurer we also have helpers who count the weekly collection (the Sidespeople), deposit it (Peter Nettleton), track the donations by identifiable givers (Jean Springer), keep the books up to date and in good order (Janis Fenwick), and pay the bills (Lynn McKeown). And behind them we have … you the givers! Your pledged intentions (especially your use of pre-authorized debit) give us a base line from which to start. And your generosity, in its many forms, opens doors to new possibility!