Last week we received the word we were waiting for: the Province has granted us $125,000 from the Community Facility Enhancement Program to help make our buildings more accessible to the public. We now have the funds to complete the full scope of work we had originally envisioned for our renovations.
Next week our contractor, Karson Builders, will oversee the removal of asbestos from our old boiler room and from floor tiles and walls where it has been found. This could take several weeks to accomplish. Then the real work begins.
“BRANDING” ST. STEPHEN’S
This week, following our 10:30 service, we will talk about “selling” St. Stephen’s. No, we’re not going anywhere. But we are considering how best to present ourselves to the wider community and therefore, in that sense alone, “selling” ourselves.
Churches never had to do this in the past. They enjoyed a central and even privileged place within the social fabric. Everyone knew what churches did and how they contributed to the common good. That’s because just about everyone belonged to a church, or knew people who did. Now, when a grocery clerk has to ask what a clerical collar stands for, we know times have changed.
As the church recedes farther and farther from public notice, we must become intentional, entrepreneurial even, to win a place in the modern world. So we must be as clear as we can about who we are, what we are about, and what we have to offer the wider community. Then we must employ all the means available to us to present ourselves to that community.
In the marketing world this is called “branding”. A product becomes known by a certain image, a certain impression, which plants itself in the public’s mind. But that impression must be both accurate and compelling. If it is not accurate, it is false advertising. If it is not compelling, it simply fails.
So as odd as it may sound, yes, we are preparing to “sell” St. Stephen’s. Take part in the conversation, if you can. It’s your church.
“BECOMING PUBLIC SERVANTS”
There was a time, not so very long ago, when church and politics mingled as easily as a glass of port and a good cigar. The Anglican Church in particular was so embedded in Canada’s political life that it was sometimes referred to as the “Conservative Party at prayer”! Not so much anymore.
There are those who grow nostalgic for those days of insider power and privilege. But the church in the modern age has been a given a new opportunity to define itself in the world. Now it must create its own usefulness. It must prove its worth and its place in the world rather than taking anything for granted.
At St. Stephen’s we continue to explore our usefulness as disciples of Christ and servants of God’s world. Over fifteen years ago Inn From the Cold started here, and that helped us enormously in finding a new role for ourselves: that of public servants. Now we are exploring relationships with the arts, offering our buildings as administration, studio, rehearsal, and performance space.
Some say these are hard times for the church; and declining numbers across the country would bear this out. But these are also exciting times, if we can but grasp the spirit of the age and discover new ways to love God and love our neighbour. Those of us who gather regularly here for worship and for ministry feel the great privilege of walking by faith and learning new ways to be ‘Church’ in the modern world.
TO SIP OR TO DIP, THAT IS THE QUESTION
As we used to pray in the service of Morning Prayer, “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws …” It may not be as bleak as all that, but we do need to address a matter that in recent years has led us astray: the practise of dipping (known as “intinction”).
With the outbreak of devastating diseases such as AIDS and SARS, it is understandable that Anglicans have raised questions about the potential health risks of sharing a common cup. Many have chosen, as an alternative, to receive the bread, hold on to it, and then dip it into the chalice when it is offered. This practise is now actively discouraged by the Anglican Church of Canada. And for good reason.
Nasty viruses like AIDS , for all their destructiveness, are relatively weak and are destroyed by exposure to air, soap and virtually any disinfectant (including alcohol). There is in fact a greater risk of infection, especially from common viruses like influenza, through the hands than through the lips. And intinction invariably means dipping not just the bread into the wine, but also the fingers!
For this reason, if individuals feel uncomfortable with the common cup, the better alternative is to receive only the bread and not the wine, tradition reassuring us that the presence of Christ is equally in one element as in the other.
REJUVENATING OUR TIRED BODIES AND SOULS
For those of us who worked through Holy Week, right up to the words of dismissal at the Easter morning service, we might have thought a rest would be in order. But that’s the thing about new life: it is irrepressible!
So this week we are baptizing no fewer than seven children at our two morning services, accompanied at the 10:30 service by the Soul Food Band. This is a happy development from the many young families who have been finding their way to St. Stephen’s in recent years. And it is as hopeful a sign as the robins singing from the treetops.
Two weeks from now we will host the King’s Own Calgary Regiment, and along with them the Honorable Alison Redford, Premier of the Province of Alberta, as we receive and dedicate a plaque in memory of Nathan Hornburg who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2007. It is an honour to have this association with the KOCR, and a privilege to be receiving this plaque, which will be affixed to a wall of our chapel, the official chapel of the Regiment.
Meanwhile we can expect to see construction equipment starting to arrive onsite as we prepare for the renovations planned for our church buildings: a ramp, an elevator, new accessible washrooms, revamped worship space to double as performance space, plus technical upgrades throughout.
So there is no shortage of new life around here! All of which has the effect of rejuvenating our tired bodies and souls.
ALIVE AND GROWING IN FAITH
Our theme throughout Lent has been growth. On Sundays, at the 10:30 service, we have witnessed the weekly progress of delicate plants whose seeds we planted way back in early February. We have looked over the shoulders of the children gathered at the front of the church and marvelled ourselves at the new life shooting up right in front of our eyes.
During the same time we have been going to tender in preparation for renovations that will bring new life to our ageing buildings. That which was becoming burdensome to us will now be a source of pride and a providential vehicle for ministry and for mission into the wider community.
New life is apparent as well on Parish Council where a new generation of church members is taking up the challenge of imagining the future direction of our parish, and leading us there.
And in hundreds of silent ways, we have each been growing in our faith. We have been wrestling with loss, finding strength in one another, entering into a deeper appreciation of scripture, extending our helping hands into the world, exploring our sense of vocation, and taking time to cherish the many blessings of this life.
This is as it should be. A congregation of Christian disciples who claim the Spirit of Jesus in its midst should be, above all else, alive … alive and growing. It should embody the experience of springtime, new life emerging from old. St. Stephen’s is such a place these days.
GROWING IN GOD’S LOVE
Have you noticed the first signs of spring yet? On poplar trees around the city, you can see the first signs of new buds, and the branches of the willows at River Park are turning yellow in preparation. These are our first signs of hope: we could still have another month or more of winter to slog through, but the time is coming – and now is! – when Spring is springing. Later will come that wonderful time, when Spring is in the smell of fresh earth in the air, and the sounds of birds and squirrels getting serious about their domestic arrangements, when the trees and plants are quivering with energy, pushing new green life into the world. If we didn’t know it by experience, it would be hard to believe Spring could happen; but it has already started, deep down in the earth.
The kingdom of heaven is like Spring: sometimes, when we think of our lives how they are now, it can be hard to imagine how much we might change and grow. We think we should be better people, or more educated, or more generous, or more diligent. We can be so focused on all that we’re not, that we can miss the subtle signs of God’s transformation in us. But it’s there, deep in the earth of our being. So this last week of Lent, let’s look for the Spring of God’s love growing in our lives, and walk into Easter filled with new possibility.
We are in campaign mode once again. But not for long.
The bids have come in for the renovations we have been planning for the spring. Given our funds at hand—a combination of donations to our Open Doors Campaign and a government grant—plus the pledges still coming in from the campaign, we find ourselves $345,000 short of our goal.
We have enough to fund the priorities the congregation set when we launched the campaign: an outdoor ramp up to the Canterbury Room doors; an elevator connecting the three floors of our main buildings; and new washrooms adequate for our seating capacity.
But it is not enough to allow us begin renovating the worship space. This renovation would have featured a new sound system, the replacement of the pews with (padded) chairs, theatre lighting for both our worship and the performing arts, and a low apron stage at the foot of the chancel.
Grant applications are currently pending for community enhancement and accessibility programs of the provincial and federal governments. We are also waiting for the resolution of a generous bequest earmarked, in part, for the renovation. Together these potential funding sources would have helped meet the shortfall. But they are speculative in nature and indefinite in timing.
So we are returning to the congregation to help us fulfil our vision. When you receive a letter from Jack & Heather Walker, our Open Doors Co-chairs, please consider prayerfully your response. We need to hear from you by March 17th.
HERE WE GROW AGAIN
There are many different ways to understand the Season of Lent. The movie Chcolat, with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp presents the story of a vivacious chocolatier who opens her chocolate shop in an austere French village just in time for the start of Lent, for them a time of strict fasting, penitence and self-restraint. Yet rather than bringing forth a spirit of charity and Christian humility, many villagers instead embody jealousy, self-righteousness, and zeal for judging others. So what is the fasting for, if we do not go deeper in loving God, and loving our neighbour as our selves?
The Apostle Paul contrasts the “works of the flesh” from the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5: 19, 22). Works are what we set ourselves to accomplish, something we produce because we have willed it. But a tree does not grow fruit because it wills it, but because producing fruit is integral to the tree’s very nature, part of what it means for the tree to be a tree. Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
This Lent, our theme is growing, like seedlings, into God’s tender love. Lent is a time for getting back to the basics of our faith, and deepening in love and grace. As we grow this way together, let us uphold in ourselves and each another those fruits we see growing in our community, and grow deeper.
RENOVATIONS AT ST. STEPHEN’S
This week (though not in time for this writing) we will have received the contract bids for our renovation work. By next week we will likely be back in campaign mode, approaching the parish once again for its financial support, and cutting back on the overall scope of the project.
We can say this with confidence because in spite of our care in costing out the project and our diligence in raising over $1 million from parishioners, none of us on BRAG have any experience of bids ever coming in under the original estimates … or renovation projects coming in on time, for that matter. So we are preparing for this next round of adjustments before the contract is awarded and the work begins.
Our hope is that work on the elevator, the new washrooms, and the exterior accessibility ramp will begin immediately after Easter. This will make things messy but it will allow us to continue worshiping in the church and working in the offices.
Work on the church itself should begin in May and at that time we will move our worship down into the lower Memorial Hall. Think of it as a kitchen renovation that requires a family to eat its meals down in the basement for a while: a temporary break from routine that makes everyone appreciate even more the routine itself.
God willing (and the creek don’t rise) we will all be back in our new digs by Start-up Sunday, September 8th. Or by Christmas.