This Week: “Brand New Season” [September 10th, 2017]

If you are new to St. Stephen’s, welcome! If you have been away, welcome! If you never left, welcome to you too! A brand new season launches this week, beginning with our Start-up Sunday worship.

Three major themes will dominate our fall season. The first is Charmaine Evans who will join our staff in October as our full-time Program Coordinator. Charmaine is a newly ordained deacon. She will assist with the Sunday liturgy, share pastoral care with the rector, and oversee the educational and outreach programs of our parish. Charmaine will be a great gift to us in the present, but also in the future when Brian our rector retires, providing stability and continuity when that time comes.

But a full-time staff position comes at a cost, so Stewardship becomes the second theme we will hear a lot about this fall. If we are spiritually invested in St. Stephen’s we need to be materially invested as well, so that we continue to offer ourselves as a sanctuary for the wounded, a light for seekers, and an inspiration to our neighbours. Please consider the place St. Stephen’s has in your life and, when we are asked, commit generously to the ministry we offer.

Finally, our Reno Group is studying the challenges and the opportunities of our ageing Memorial Hall. Your ideas for its use—both for ourselves and for the wider community—will be sought as we develop a vision for its complete transformation. Stay tuned for … “Open Doors Too”.

This Week: “Vast And Free” [June 25th, 2017]

As we prepare to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial we are reminded that St. Stephen’s is itself a microcosm of this great and diverse nation: regionally distinct yet globally inclusive.

In two weeks we will celebrate that great local tradition—Stampede! While few of us wrangle horses or drive cattle for a living (well, none of us actually!), we revel in that distinctive part of Alberta’s history by donning our Stetsons, pulling on our boots, and letting out a Ya-hoo or two.

Here at St. Stephen’s that means our annual outdoor Stampede breakfast and worship service, which happens on Sunday, July 9, from 9 to noon, featuring a full flapjack meal and the country tunes of the Padre and the Cow Pies, attracting a few hundred of our neighbours.

And next week—Canada Day weekend—following the 10:30 service, we will be treated to homemade fatteh, a Syrian treat prepared by Soheil Issak in thanksgiving for the friendship and welcome he and his family have received at St. Stephen’s since arriving here as refugees a year and a half ago.

Meanwhile, a small of group of church members are working hard to support the Al Jbawi family, newly arrived from Syria via Amman, Jordan, as they settle into their new life in Canada. And looking around our congregation we recognize many others who have joined us from afar.

Like this great nation of ours—vast and free—we are proud of our roots yet open to the world: God-given qualities worth celebrating!

This Week: “Confirmation” [June 18th, 2017]

Seven young members of St. Stephen’s take a major step along their spiritual journey this weekend as they profess their faith, kneel before the bishop, and receive the strengthening of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of his hands. The rite is called Confirmation.

Confirmation was devised in the early days of the church when only bishops could baptize, but when the expanding faith meant congregations didn’t see the bishop too often. So local priests were authorized to baptize their new members, whom the bishop would “confirm” sometime later when he was in town.

Over the years confirmation came to assume quite a different role, as an adult profession of faith by those who were baptized as infants. More recently the rite became an unintentional graduation ceremony for young people who had been told they only had to attend church until they were confirmed, when they could choose for themselves: which they did, and then promptly left the church!

But our current crop of confirmands makes us proud with their mature understanding that being a Christian is a lifelong calling. Their personal statements of faith (which are available for you to read in the bulletin) inspire us in their concern to apply their faith in service to God and to the world.

We join in prayer and thanksgiving for Megan Harris, Ryan and Paige Miller, Euan Mushens, Brayanna Mustard, Julian Suire, and Santana Rose Suitor who will be confirmed on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Christ Church, Elbow Park.

This Week: “Cantaré Children’s Choir ” [June 11th, 2017]

For the last four years we have been blessed to host the renowned Cantaré Children’s Choir here at St. Stephen’s. They have operated from the second-floor offices in the Memorial Hall, stored their vast music library in our under croft, and rehearsed in the church itself, not to mention performing there as well. During their workshops and training events the place has been flooded with happy and energetic children flowing through the building, filling the air with song.

Sad to say, Cantaré has decided not to renew their lease with us, so we are preparing to say goodbye to them during the summer months. They will leave a hole in our hearts, as it has been an altogether happy arrangement. They fulfilled our hopes for an ideal tenant in that we felt a personal connection with them and with the inspirational work they were doing, extending a sense of wonder into the world through song.

Catherine Glaser-Climie, Artistic Director, along with her staff and volunteer team, showed just what was possible when motivated children are given attention, structure, and direction. Rarely have dozens of young people passed so gently and respectfully among us, leaving behind only a trail of happy memories … and, of course, good vibrations.

Having sung at some of the great concert halls across Canada, including with the CPO at our own Jack Singer Hall, the choir now prepares for a European tour. But we had the privilege of hearing them first. Every blessing as they go!

This Week: “Do Something” [June 4th, 2017]

“Doing nothing is not an option!” This was the rallying cry over ten years ago when we realized our ageing buildings needed some serious attention. The result was the beautiful and functional worship space we have today, along with an elevator and many necessary upgrades behind the walls.

But now the cry goes up again. The Memorial Hall, built in 1923, has been giving us warning signs for years: electrical short-outs, plumbing back-ups, and a boiler that is approaching its centenary! We couldn’t afford to include it in our last renovations. But we can’t afford NOT to face it now.

So with a new team of movers and shakers we are preparing ourselves for Open Doors: Part II (or “Open Doors Too”). Cam Bush, an electrical engineer and project manager, and also deputy Rector’s Warden, is chairing the new Reno Group, a group so newly formed it doesn’t even have a catchy name yet.

Gerry Deyell, a lawyer with experience in the diplomatic corps, brings a passion for civic-minded partnerships. Lynda Greuel is an Event planner with a background in Human Resources and much experience as an active church member. Tim Crowe, also an engineer, is a former churchwarden and strong stewardship advocate.

The skills and experience this team bring reveal our seriousness in tackling the challenges of our buildings—transforming them from problems into opportunities. We are exceedingly fortunate to have such stellar leaders in our midst and look forward to the possibilities they will explore on our behalf.

This Week: “Charmaine Evans” [May 28th, 2017]

The Rector and Churchwardens are delighted to announce the appointment of Charmaine Evans to our staff as Deacon and Program Coordinator, effective October 1, 2017.

Charmaine is a former member of St. Stephen’s who laid the foundations for our present-day Sunday nursery program. For the past four years she has been the Coordinator of Family Ministries at Christ Church, Elbow Park.

Charmaine has a head for business and a heart for people. Her formal education brought her an International Bankers Certificate and a Post-graduate Marketing Diploma, both from South Africa, and she has held several managerial positions in both South African and Canadian banks.

But her more recent studies have included Art Therapy, Pastoral Psychology, Mental Health and Case Management, leading her to work in the not-for-profit sector, focusing on family health and emotional wellbeing and developing programs for immigrants and refugees.

To meet Charmaine is to feel immediate warmth and acceptance, and to know the assurance of competent caregiving, as befits a deacon in the church. Her personal pursuits—art-making, culture, spiritual growth and education, dance and nature—reveal an integration of her deep interest in people, culture, faith, and a grounded spirituality.

Charmaine has two grown children. Alexandria is applying to medical school for the fall and Jonathan is studying New Media and Business at the University of Lethbridge.

Charmaine will be ordained to the diaconate by the Most Reverend Greg Kerr-Wilson on June 11 at Christ Church, Elbow Park, at 4:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend.

This Week: “Reverend Donald Axford ” [May 21st, 2017]

He is one of the most charmingly irreverent Reverends we know, and he takes his place proudly as a member of St. Stephen’s: this weekend the Reverend Donald Axford is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate.

A graduate of Huron College in Ontario (M.Div), with two graduate degrees from St. Stephen’s College in Edmonton (MA, Th.M.), Don has served the church in Ontario and Alberta, concluding his active ministry as Canon Pastor of the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in Calgary.

His longest ministry was at St. George’s, Stettler. He signed on for 3-6 months and left fourteen years later as Regional Dean—and Citizen of the Year. There, despite his own popularity in both the parish and the community, he witnessed the decline of the Anglican Church in rural Alberta—leaving him the only remaining full-time priest in the deanery.

Don has played many civic roles, including President of the Rotary Club, President of the Music Festival, and Padre to the Legion. He is a member of the Canadian Club of Calgary, the Calgary West Rotary Club, and the Eau Claire YMCA. His political activity is legendary and he has known just about every major Alberta politician of the last thirty years.

Don has survived the many battles of modern Christianity, from abortion to the ordination of women to same-sex blessings (Don was one of the “Rogue Six” who blessed a same-sex marriage at St. Stephen’s last year).

We’re just happy he’s here. Congratulations, Don!

This Week: [May 7th, 2017]

St. Stephen’s’ members are creative people. It’s reflected in the way we’ve developed our worship space as a hub for the arts, and our Memorial Hall as affordable studios for artists. It’s reflected in our programming, which includes the Midtown Mosaic, a major annual art show curated by Ginny Binder—herself a successful artist.

Sometimes our members break through themselves and make us proud. Two weeks ago Todd Hirsch and Rob Roach launched their book on successful adaptation to unwanted change. “Spiders in Space” begins with the observation that spiders in the International Space Station re-learned how to spin a web in zero gravity. Todd and Rob then collect stories of local adapters who, similarly, have learned to thrive when adverse changes rocked their world; and they draw conclusions about the personal qualities of successful adapters everywhere. An inspiring read, and all the more so because we know the inspiring authors bringing us the story!

Then, last week, our own Maureen Jones won a Rosie Award for Best Narrator at the Alberta Film and Television Awards in Edmonton. She was cited for her work in the 2016 short fantasy film, “It’s All in Your Head”, a creepy bedtime story about a monster in the closet. Her voice is described as “eerie and menacing … perfect for the story.” But we already knew that Maureen’s voice is “perfect for the story” for all the times she has brought the Biblical stories to life for us! Our congratulations to each of you!

This Week: [April 30th, 2017]

Reasonable people may disagree. Reasonable and caring people may disagree. We at St. Stephen’s are nothing if not reasonable and caring people. And, about one issue we’re all agreed: we must move the diocese forward to permit – at least as a local option – the blessing of same sex unions. But how to do it is another matter.
After the 10:30 service on April 9, we held a parishioners’ meeting to brainstorm ideas for action. There were ideas aplenty, offered passionately, persuasively and respectfully, all to be considered at Parish Council on April 30. The meeting itself was a powerful demonstration of our strength in diversity, hearing and coming to understand opposing views.

Here’s a sampling of the actions suggested: write and publish the story of our struggle in The Anglican Journal; join the Calgary lay movement Facebook site, “Moving Forward, Embracing Diversity;” lead an economic sanctions movement of like-minded parishes in the diocese; join the Diocese of Edmonton; fly the rainbow flag alongside a protest banner that explains our dispute; march in the Pride parade with banners stating our opposition to the Diocesan position; conduct an organized letter writing campaign, sending copies of every letter directed to the Archbishop also to the House of Bishops and the Diocesan Council; make a video of our story, for wide dissemination; go public.
All of these ideas will be considered at Parish Council and a proposal for next steps prepared for presentation to the congregation.

Thanks to all the reasonable, caring meeting attendees.

This Week: “It Is In Giving To All That We Receive” [April 23rd, 2017]

We at St. Stephen’s do Holy Week well—if we do say so ourselves! From the drama of Palm Sunday through the reflective solemnity of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to the festive lights and sounds of Holy Saturday and Easter morning: it is an engaging story that pulses at the very heart of our faith.

But it is just as lively behind the scenes as it is at any given Holy Week service. On Saturday morning, for instance, preparations for our Easter services brought out a small army of willing workers—polishing brass and silver, trimming wicks, dusting window ledges, ringing bells, raising voices in song, setting lights and sound levels, staging liturgy. It is clear that (1) good liturgy is created by careful preparation; but also that (2) there is as much Easter joy in that preparation as there is in the services themselves.

This is one of the hidden gifts of congregational life. We may think we are attaching to a congregation for the benefits we receive—great music, thoughtful sermons, interesting people. But inevitably we are drawn in to become, ourselves, the willing ones, the workers, who end up blessing others by our efforts. We who once received become, ourselves, the bearers of the gift others are seeking.

There is in this observation a deep resonation of the Easter message. As we sing in the Prayer of St. Francis: “It is in giving to all that we receive, in dying that we’re born to eternal life.“