“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!
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.