This Week: “Communities Of Care” [December 10th, 2017]”

Parish churches are microcosms of care. And mid-sized midtown congregations, like St. Stephen’s, are particularly well suited to this calling. Like villages scattered throughout the urban landscape, it is here that we become known, that we have a sense of belonging, that we learn to welcome into our hearts our neighbours, learning to love as we ourselves are loved.

This capacity of Christian congregations to become communities of care is especially critical when church members face hard times brought on by physical or mental illness, or by bereavement, or by financial disaster. It means no one has to face such challenges alone.

St. Paul wrote that, as Christians, we are all members of one body. When one member suffers, the whole body suffers; when one rejoices, the whole body rejoices. So as we get to know one another, and welcome each other into our hearts, we find quite naturally that we reach out to one another. We pray for each other, we check in with each other, we visit each other, whether in home or in hospital. We extend our best wishes by sending flowers, or providing casseroles.

The city can sometimes seem like one big anonymous machine, and social isolation is the result. But not at church. Look around you. These are your brothers and sisters. When they hurt, you hurt; when they laugh, you laugh. It is here that we learn how to love the world, by loving one another. This is God’s gift, and our greatest calling

This Week: “Company Of Men” [December 3rd, 2017]”

Men are like icebergs. Not that they are cold and unfeeling (anyone can be like that); but they have a lot going on beneath the surface, of which they are largely unaware. So, like an iceberg, hiding over 90 per cent of its bulk in the icy depths, that weight can suddenly shift, upending the entire mass, creating devastating consequences for anyone close at hand.

Once a month, a group of men meets at St. Stephen’s as the “Company of Men”. They share stories of what life is giving them to work on—which may come from relationships, from dreams and preoccupations, or from their work lives—in order to bring into the light the darker movements from the depths.

A man shares his story, while the others listen silently. When he is done, each one affirms the speaker, reflecting back one thing they heard him say. Then those who want to, reference similar stories from their own lives, confirming that the story they just heard is not as uncommon as the speaker might have thought.

The effect of this simple process is “sanctuary”—a safe place to access what is going on beneath the surface. The men don’t tell each other what to do (the one rule is: “No Advice!”). But they listen in such a way that “normalizes” their work, reminding each one that they are not alone, that their struggles, however unique, do not make them weird or strange. In such a way, men are warming up.

The next gathering of the Company of Men is on Saturday, December 9, from 8:30 to 10 a.m., in the Canterbury Room. All men are welcome.

This Week: “Happy New Year” [November 26th, 2017]”

Happy New Years’! That’s right, it’s out with the old, in with the new—at least according to the church’s liturgical calendar. The Christian year begins four Sundays before Christmas, on the First Sunday in Advent, and ends the Sunday before that, which is traditionally celebrated as The Feast of Christ the King, or, more recently, the Reign of Christ.

The original calendars were set according to the lunar cycles, from which we still set the date for Easter (the first Sunday following the full moon that follows the northern spring equinox). But those calendars set the start of the year variously as May 1, March 15, and even September 1—until, that is, the Julian calendar was established in the 1st Century, CE, and which was then upheld by the (more refined) Gregorian calendar we in the West have used since the 16th Century.

While still observing the Gregorian calendar for civic purposes, the church regards the year as the unfolding story of Jesus Christ. So it begins, in the West, by backing up four weeks from the traditional date of Jesus’ birthday, December 25, to hear the prophecies concerning his arrival. It then tells his earthly story up to his death and resurrection at Easter, and then beyond, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The rest of the year is a wide-flung consideration of Jesus’ parables and teachings, until we roll it all up in a celebration of his reign … and then start again.

This Week: ““A Progressive Faith” [November 19th, 2017]

We pray routinely for the baptized, that God gives them “an inquiring and discerning heart”. But the words race by, their significance lost. We are praying, not that we have all the answers, but that we ask the right questions, and that we discover for ourselves our own answers.

This is a hallmark of what some call “progressive” Christianity—followers of Jesus who are content to live not only with what they know, but also with what they don’t know, holding contradictory truths in tension, accepting the ambiguity that some truths remain unclear and incomprehensible.

This approach heeds the apostle Paul’s advice to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. We may accept God’s unconditional love for us, poured out for us on the cross, planted deep in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; but what does it mean, and what does this actually look like in the life of a Christian?

Asking questions is not, as some suppose, a lack of faith. It is precisely the opposite. To ask questions is to deepen our understanding of the truth, and to apply it creatively to our daily lives. It sees faith as lively exploration rather than as blind obedience.

To help fulfil our baptismal prayer, we offer, from time to time, a Tuesday evening “Inquirers’ Group”. So on December 5, 12 & 19, at 7:15, we welcome all inquirers to bring their questions about Christmas: what does the birth of Jesus, so long ago, really mean to us now?

This Week: “Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera” [November 12th, 2017]

This week we welcome Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera, from Rwanda, into our midst, having already welcomed them into our hearts. Emmanuel has been studying long-distance through St. Stephen’s College, U of A, in Edmonton, and he and his wife Athanasie have come for Emmanuel’s Convocation, where he is receiving his Doctor of Ministry degree.

When we first met Emmanuel, almost twenty years ago, he was a promising student at the University of Kampala in Uganda, referred to us by the World Mission Department of our national office. We corresponded with Emmanuel through his studies, to his eventual ordination to the priesthood, then while he was given the prestigious position of general secretary of the Anglican Archdiocese of Rwanda while at the same time building a new congregation in his home city of Kigali.

Both Emmanuel and Athanasie lost family members to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, one hundred days of unspeakable atrocities that took the lives of almost one million Tutsis and that scarred the nation forever. But Emmanuel and Athanasie chose hope over despair and today they are working to heal the wounds of the genocide through YEGO-Rwanda, a not-for-profit organization they founded to provide necessities of life, counselling, and support for Genocide survivors, their children, and Rwanda’s many orphans.

We will hear their story and learn of their work. But mainly we will celebrate with them their enormous achievement of bringing light into the darkness. You can support their work through www.yegorwanda.net or through our own Outreach-Beyond Fund.

This Week: “In The Presence Of Greatness” [November 5th, 2017]

It is our privilege, in the church, to dwell in the presence of greatness. Not fame, necessarily, nor worldly power or success. But great people nevertheless, doing great things, inspiring the rest of us.

Last week our own Jean Springer was named one of 150 women of Calgary who have made a difference. “She Who Dares” is a program of recognition of YWCA Calgary. “Extraordinary women” were chosen from 150 years of Canadian history, highlighting the accomplishments of pioneers, caregivers, artists, and teachers. Jean was chosen as a teacher of mathematics and a university dean, roles she played with customary grace and aplomb, influencing through example the many lives she touched along the away.

No sooner had we learned of Jean’s laurels, than we were devastated to learn of the passing of another great light: Gerald Smith. A member of St. Stephen’s for 70 years, since he joined the parish at age 17, Gerald was a wise leader, a true gentleman, and a treasured elder in our midst. His care and consideration, his generosity, and his quick wit and intelligence—these will not soon be forgotten. Indeed, they have become the very characteristics of the church he loved.

We are called to be God’s saints—God’s holy ones. But it is easier to rise to this calling when we have the good examples of great people in our midst. We thank God for them!

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Feed the Hungry” [October 29th, 2017]

Every year at this time, for almost twenty years, dozens of St. Stephen’s members have skipped church to chop onions, plate salads, ladle soups and feed over 500 people a hot meal across town at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

For us it’s an annual service project but, in fact, the “Feed the Hungry” program happens every Sunday year-round, engaging thousands of volunteers, some from churches and some from businesses and community service organizations throughout the city.

Not only do we provide a small multi-generational army of enthusiastic chefs and servers, we also raise the funds to pay for the meal. So two of our monthly Special Outreach Envelopes (formerly known as “Pink Envelopes”) are designated for this work, raising over $2000 a year.

The need is obvious among our city’s most impoverished people—those without homes, without jobs, and without a place to belong. But the effects of the weekly meal go beyond a hot Sunday meal: those thousands of volunteers are meeting poverty face to face, hearing the stories, breaking down the walls of “us and them”, and creating the desire to end urban poverty and homelessness. Especially for children 

and young people, the program provides a safe “exposure tour” of the social needs of a big city, and a practical, compassionate, Christian response.

To learn more, go to www.feedthehungrycalgary.ca. Or speak with Blake Kanewischer, St. Stephen’s’ “Feed the Hungry” coordinator. Or, better still, sign up for next year’s dinner. It’s a life-changer … for all of us.

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Facebook” [October 22nd, 2017]

Last weekend St. Stephen’s was a lively place. But it wasn’t the events themselves that had us spinning; it was the speed with which the news of those events got out, and the number of people who knew about them almost instantaneously.

On Saturday afternoon we learned that Mayor Naheed Nenshi might drop by for a “Meet and Greet” prior to the Sunday service. We posted the news on FaceBook on Saturday evening and by the next day almost 500 people had seen it.

Louise Gallagher spoke to us at the Sunday service about Inn From the Cold, suggesting ways St. Stephen’s and other churches might remain involved in tending to homeless families. A video touching on her visit was posted on FaceBook on Monday, where it reached over 600 people.

But the biggest news—Saturday’s vote by Synod to ask the bishop to permit same-sex blessings in this diocese—caught fire in a FaceBook post on Saturday night and to date has reached an audience of over 4600!

Sometimes the news isn’t the message but, as Marshall McLuhan told us, the medium is. Increasingly people are keeping up to date with St. Stephen’s not by the website, not by email, not even by being here … but by following us on FaceBook, where the news is delivered weekly, and whenever else it breaks. Maybe you should join us there. Our FaceBook page is “St. Stephen’s Anglican Church Calgary”. “Like” us, and you’re in.

 

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Inn From The Cold” [October 15th, 2017]

For over twenty years, through Inn From the Cold, robust teams of volunteers in churches, synagogues and mosques all across the city provided hospitality and safety to families who otherwise would have been on the street. Here at St. Stephen’s, those teams—the set-up crew, the supper servers and evening crew, the overnight coordinators, the breakfast and strike crews—comprised almost a hundred workers.

For many of those volunteers, the Inn was their only connection with St. Stephen’s, and they were grateful for the opportunity we gave them to serve. We were proud of our work with the Inn and even more proud that it was born right here in our own church hall.

A year and a half ago, when the Inn From the Cold Society put an end to its “satellite inns”, like ours at St. Stephen’s, many volunteers felt abandoned, and not a few felt angry. But the Inn had outgrown its humble beginnings and was able to consolidate its support for homeless families by centralizing their housing in a downtown location, close to social services the families needed, and providing day-to-day stability for families in transition.

The Society has continued to expand its services to homeless families, including several multi-family dwellings capable of housing larger families. But they have not forgotten their roots and now are reaching out to those many volunteers who created the “inns” that gave the Society its name, and its start. We appreciate those efforts and receive them with gratitude: Welcome home!

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Charmaine Evan” [October 8th, 2017]

Charmaine Evans has begun her work with us as a deacon and program coordinator. She will provide support for three areas of our parish life: worship, programs and pastoral care.

Our programs at St. Stephen’s include everything from the nursery to the visiting of seniors. But as a priority, Charmaine will begin focussing on programs for our children. This means stabilizing the staffing of our nursery to ensure that every Sunday we have experienced caregivers for our youngest church members. As well, Charmaine will explore the best locations for the nursery and assess its supplies and supports.

A larger challenge will be our Excellent Adventure Sunday School program. Kathleen Howes has created this engaging and effective cornerstone for the Christian formation of our young people. As she prepares to step down at the end of the calendar year it will fall to Charmaine to build on the foundations Kathleen has laid and create a Sunday morning program for the New Year. Charmaine will also oversee this year’s Christmas pageant.

In the New Year Charmaine will also be developing a program for our teens. But meanwhile, the rector will re-gather the group following their preparation for Confirmation last spring. It was a lively group and we want to build on the successes of that program heading into the future.

Charmaine will eventually be offering support for the women’s Soup Group, our team of pastoral visitors, and our local outreach, as well as initiating programs of her own. She’s just getting started.