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.“

This Week: “ Liturgical Surgery” [April 7th, 2017]

This week we celebrate Palm Sunday, the portal to Holy Week, the day Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to the praises of the people, calling, “Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” Five days later the same crowd, bitter with disappointment and whipped up by the religious authorities, would take a very different tone, yelling, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

It is obvious that these were two very different moments, each decisive in its own way, on Jesus’ way to the cross. Yet, inexplicably, the two events were combined into one by the editors of the Book of Alternative Services, the standard liturgical resource for the Anglican Church of Canada, on the Sunday before Easter, a day they called “The Sunday of the Passion, with the Liturgy of the Palms”. In that service the people join in greeting Jesus in a Palm Procession at the start of the service and then, in a matter of minutes, they are hearing an agonizing account of Jesus’ death on the cross.

No one knows exactly what those editors were thinking (were they concerned that attendance at Good Friday services was down?), but the effect of the Sunday observance they created was nothing short of emotional whiplash. Fortunately, churches across the country, including our own, have returned to the older custom of observing Palm Sunday alone, focussing only on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, while reading the account of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, five days later. Both events warrant our observance, but separately.

This Week: “Snails Pace” [April 2nd 2017]

Back in September five Anglican clergy stood with our rector here to bless a “Queer” marriage between a woman and a Transgendered person, the legal ceremony having been conducted by a provincial marriage commissioner. Such blessings are prohibited in this diocese, though permitted in almost half the Anglican dioceses across the country—and in all other Canadian urban centres. As a result, the six clergy were chastised by the diocesan chancellor and threatened with disciplinary action by the archbishop.

Subsequently, the archbishop has initiated a series of study sessions called “Generous Listening” as a way for the diocese to discern its way forward on this issue. The first session featured two biblical scholars who took opposing sides while modelling a respectful dialogue. At the second session people gathered in small groups to share stories and then were invited to stand in larger groupings on a continuum of opinion from “Never” to “Now”, with over half the assembly crowding around “Now”, representing a clear majority who are ready to see same-sex marriages performed in this diocese.

Meanwhile, the lay people of the diocese who are concerned with the snail’s pace of progress on this issue (some have called it “glacial”) have banded together to apply pressure so that the issue is resolved quickly. Our own church members are invited to attend a congregational conversation, hosted by our churchwardens, on Sunday, April 9, following the 10:30 service, to consider our own ongoing actions. All church members are invited to attend and participate.

This Week: “A New Agape” [March 26th 2017]

This weekend the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary convenes to consider the election of a Suffragan Bishop, elected from among the Indigenous clergy of the Diocese, to provide spiritual leadership for Anglicans in the Treaty 7 territories of Southern Alberta.

For almost fifty years the Anglican Church of Canada has been working toward a new relationship with its Indigenous peoples. The 2001 report, “A New Agape”, articulated a vision that emphasized Indigenous self-governance, self-determination, and partnership within the church nationally. The election of a National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, in 2007 was a major step toward this vision, as was the creation of the Diocese of Mishamikweesh in 2014, encompassing over twenty-five First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.

As a precedent to this week’s motion in Calgary, the Diocese of Saskatchewan elected its first Diocesan Indigenous Bishop in 2012 to provide spiritual oversight for Anglicans of the Cree First Nations, which comprise over 60% of the membership of that diocese.

Questions remain about the voting process—which asks that a bishop be chosen by the Treaty 7 peoples for the Treaty 7 peoples—as it remains unclear if this bishop would become the automatic successor to the diocesan bishop in the event of illness or death, a position not supported by a general election of Synod as a whole.

But clearly, we are moving in the direction of greater autonomy for the Indigenous congregations of our diocese, a move that carries the potential for both healing and empowerment.

 

This Week “Alcoholics Anonymous ” [March 19th 2017]

There are many ministries happening right in our midst about which not all of us are aware. Guides and Pathfinders are among those, as is the weekly community chess league for young people and the life-long learning group for seniors. But also, three times a week, people gather at St. Stephen’s to find support for their recovery from addictions, or support for their life living with an addict.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a long history as “an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem.” It was started in the 1930’s by a doctor and a businessman, both alcoholics. They applied Christian principles to addictions and created Twelve Steps to assist alcoholics to live a sober life “in recovery” (AA never calls a sober alcoholic “recovered”, only “in recovery”).

The Twelve Steps proved so useful to alcoholics that they were applied to other addictions as well, such as drugs (Narcotics Anonymous), sex (Sex Addicts Anonymous), food (Overeaters Anonymous), and gambling (Gamblers Anonymous). The Steps also provide support for the partners and families of addicts, helping them cope with the unique stresses of living with an addict. This group is called Al Anon.

Numbers are hard to come by (AA, after all, relies on anonymity) but it is estimated that AA has helped well over 2 million alcoholics worldwide. Some of those in recovery, along with their family members, have found new life in groups that meet here at St. Stephen’s. We are proud to be their home.

SW Serenity AA

Sundays, 8:30 pm

Lower Hall

Open Group (show up)

 

Tillicum Al-Anon

Tuesdays, 8:00 pm

Canterbury Room

For family and friends of problem drinkers–

Find understanding & support

 

Explorer AA Group

Wednesdays, 8:30 pm

Lower Hall

Open Group (show up)

 

AA Help Line & Email

403-777-1212

centraloffice@telus.net

www.calgaryaa.org

  

Al-Anon Help Line

403-266-5850

www.al-anon.org

This Week : “Parish Council” [March 12th 2017]

Our new Parish Council had its first meeting last Sunday and its members clearly have their work cut out for them!  

Looming large on the horizon is a major renovation project for the Memorial Hall and office block. A team of church members will head the project, reporting to Parish Council. It will do a full needs assessment of both the engineering and the programmatic needs of our buildings and property, and prepare recommendations for the congregation’s consideration.

The issue of same-sex marriage continues to be unresolved in this diocese, meaning that parishes are currently prohibited from offering either marriage or even blessings to same-sex couples. The churchwardens are considering assembling a congregational meeting to study the range of options available to the parish in moving the issue forward toward a decision at the diocesan level.

Succession planning is necessary for all the staff changes occurring within the next few years, requiring strategic shifts away from reliance upon the rector and toward increasing self-sufficiency of the Council and Corporation.

All this requires a guiding vision and a steady hand at the wheel. So the Corporation is delighted to announce its appointment of Pat Cochrane as Chair of Parish Council for a two-year term. Among her many other qualifications and civic involvements, Pat was a trustee for the Calgary Board of Education for fourteen years, and chair of that body for over ten years. We welcome Pat to this new role and look forward to her leadership through this challenging time.

This Week : “Welcome to Lent” [February 26th 2017]

One of the complaints of modern living is how busy we all are. In fact, it is sometimes offered as a badge of courage for surviving the fray: “Hi, how are you?” “Really busy! And you?” “Same!”

 Jesus preached that we have to turn around (“repent”) in order to see the kingdom of heaven in our midst. Lent is the church season for making the necessary course corrections that will set us back on the right track. People will sometimes make special sacrifices, like dieting, or take on specific obligations, like making special offerings of time or money, as a corrective spiritual measure.

Lent at St. Stephen’s begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 1, and an evening service that offers the Imposition of Ashes, an ancient sign of humility intended to remind us of our mortality. Recalling that we are all going to die someday might sound morbid, but it works to sharpen the urgency of re-setting our priorities.

Next Saturday, March 4, we are offering a Lenten workshop that will involve walking the labyrinth, another ancient—in fact, pre-Christian—practice that engages not just the heart and mind, but the body as well, in a “walking meditation”.

On Tuesday evenings throughout the Lenten season (from March 7 to April 4) we will be studying the practice of mindfulness, the spiritual discipline of “paying attention”. Various meditation techniques will be explored to stop the racing of our minds and bring our attention back to the present moment.

Welcome to Lent!

This Week : “Paying Attention” [February 12th 2017]

Jesus told us to repent (“turn around”) and recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst. His parables and his actions all drew people’s attention to this heavenly realm that is not a “pie in the sky when you die by and by and by”, but a present-day reality here and now. To be a follower of Jesus means to live from this reality, and from all the healing and hope it promises.

But training ourselves to recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst is a major adjustment. What we see—and all too readily—are reasons for worry and despair: political changes that alarm us; economic uncertainties that loom large; personal challenges that overwhelm us. How do we “repent”, as Jesus taught, “turning around” to see signs of hope?

Most of the religious traditions identify an openness of mind and spirit that is sometimes called “mindfulness”. It is the art—cultivated through practice—of simply paying attention. We learn this in meditation as we sit in silence or quietly walk the circular path of the labyrinth. We practice it during the day as we grow conscious of our breathing and catch those moments when we need simply to exhale, long and slow.

Lent this year at St. Stephen’s will be all about mindfulness. Our Sunday worship will feature small stretches of silence, reminding us to slow down, breathe, and be present. Our Lenten study will consider a number of books on this very theme. Come, repent, and see.

This Week : “The Road Ahead” [February 5th 2017]

Parish Council has been looking back at its accomplishments over the past year and anticipating the challenges and opportunities of the coming year. Looking back, Parish Council celebrated the collegial and cooperative way it conducted its business, marvelled at the complexity of church decision-making, and lamented that more progress was not made on a number of key issues.

Going forward, Parish Council identified three major areas that will require its attention:

1.As the boiler in the Memorial Hall approaches its centenary, plans need to be made not only for its replacement, but for a retro-fit of the entire building. This will require a new task force to update the 2003 engineering report, study the repurposing of the space (both in the hall and in the church offices), run a feasibility study, draw up plans, and begin the fund-raising for such a renovation.

2. With the Rector’s retirement approaching within two years, a succession plan must be carried out to ensure a smooth transition. Adding a staff position this year, and guaranteeing its long- term funding, will launch the first step of that plan, i.e. to create a stable ongoing pastoral presence to carry us through.

3. It is time to re-establish the local outreach of the parish, for instance, building on the success of our community gardens to create a community kitchen. This could be reflected in the renovations to the Memorial Hall but, in the meantime, could begin in our present kitchen and lower hall.

So … to work!

This Week: “Listening … Generously” [Jan 29th 2017]

The “Generous Listening” process has begun, studying the unresolved issue of same-sex marriage in the Diocese of Calgary. Pressed to explain the purpose of the process, our archbishop, Greg Kerr-Wilson, told our churchwardens: “The process of discernment is intended to be a time of listening and learning, both to the resource people who will be presenting and to one another.”

Our first resource people, who presented last weekend, were the Right Reverend Stephen Andrews, former bishop of Algoma and Principle of Wycliffe College, U of T, and Sylvia Keesmaat, adjunct professor at Trinity College, U of T. Together, in respectful debate, they tackled the most problematic scriptural references to homosexuality.

Bishop Andrews interprets scripture as describing an ordered universe, discounting same-sex relationships as inherently inconsistent with that order. Professor Keesmaat takes the view that scripture remains ambiguous about consensual adult relationships, noting that the early church admitted Gentiles, for which there was no biblical precedent, thereby opening the way for a modern-day consideration of same-sex marriage. She added that, like the early church, we would do well to hear the actual stories of the people we are “studying”.

How this conversation will move us forward toward decision-making in this diocese is unclear. But the archbishop reminded the assembly of clergy and lay people that the Anglican Church of Canada is a “diocesan church”, meaning that a decision of this sort, regardless of decisions made at the national level, falls to each diocese and, ultimately, to the bishop of each diocese.