This Week: December 4th 2016

picture1A  secret garden is growing in the heart of Calgary’s Beltline. Flower boxes, brightly painted, mark it outwardly, busy with gardeners of all ages during the growing season. But inwardly, there is a cultural flowering of art and music that is attracting world-class artists and savvy urban audiences. That secret garden is none other than St. Stephen’s!

Several weeks ago the Calgary Instrumental Society hosted a Sunday afternoon concert by CPO violinist and concertmaster Diana Cohen and members of her musical family. Over two hundred were in attendance for this intimate family affair. This Sunday we are visited by three of Calgary’s finest classical guitarists for a baroque and classical Christmas feast.

Professional choral groups love singing—and recording—at St. Stephen’s. In coming weeks the Renaissance Singers, One Voice Chorus, and La Vie Vocal Ensemble will all be taking the stage here, and in the New Year Luminous Voices will be recording their second album in our sanctuary.

This garden is overflowing with delight. Calgary’s culture vultures know it well, but to many it remains one of our city’s best-kept secrets, which doesn’t seem right. Good news should be proclaimed from the rooftops and in the city squares.

Your church has become a cultural mecca! Come and be fed by the cultural offerings happening here almost every week (check the Sunday bulletin, our weekly e-newsletter, or the bulletin boards for details). And then go tell the world there’s a cultural garden flowering here … and that it’s no secret!

This Week: November 27th 2016

picture1In early November, our rector and his wife visited Emmanuel Gatera in Rwanda to learn more about the work of YEGO-Rwanda, a foundation created by Emmanuel to bring healing to Rwandans and peace to a post-genocidal Rwanda. This is their story, in three parts. YEGO-Rwanda (Part III)

In 2008, sitting at the computer at the home of our rector and his wife, Emmanuel Gatera, beginning his doctoral studies at the University of Alberta, tapped out the guiding principles for a new foundation—YEGO-Rwanda (“YES-Rwanda!”), its mission, to heal the lingering and devastating trauma of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Early in his ministry, while starting up a new congregation in Kigali, Emmanuel was troubled by the deep and disproportionate pastoral needs of his congregation. From adults who had lost entire families during the genocide, to young people being poorly raised by traumatized parents, to emotionally unstable individuals languishing in abject poverty, Emmanuel recognized a massive problem whose solution lay beyond what even a caring Christian congregation could do.

picture2pngYEGO-Rwanda was his answer. From a tiny office in Kigali, Emmanuel, his wife Athanasie, and a “staff” of volunteers started hearing the stories of genocide survivors; they provided counselling, healing retreats, and, for the young, programmed activities like traditional dance; and they offered what material assistance they could to those most severely marginalized by their trauma.

All the stories told by those touched by YEGO-Rwanda conclude (implausibly, given all they’ve been through!) with thanks to God and with tearful appreciation for the love and healing they have experienced through Emmanuel and his staff. Lives that were burned and scarred, like that of Rwanda itself, are rising from the ashes.

We support Emmanuel and YEGO-Rwanda through our “Outreach-Beyond” pink envelopes. But you can offer direct support through YEGO-Canada at www.yegorwanda.net.

This Week: Nov 20th 2016

In early November, our rector and his wife visited Emmanuel Gatera in Rwanda to learn more about the work of YEGO-Rwanda, a foundation created by Emmanuel to bring healing to Rwandans and peace to a post-genocidal Rwanda. This is their story, in three parts. YEGO-Rwanda (Part II)

picture1In 1994, in a coordinated attack long prepared for, spurred on by extremists, and whipped into a frenzy by local media, the Hutu population of Rwanda turned on their Tutsi neighbours, brutally slaughtering over a million in a hundred-day period. The facts are sobering enough, but the personal stories are devastating.

Anastasia is a forty-something mother of two grown children. They all bear the trauma of watching Anastasia’s husband and the two oldest children beaten to death by Hutu attackers. While her life was spared, Anastasia was enslaved by her tormentors and forced to provide for their children while her own wasted away. Surviving the ordeal, the family’s emotional scars render them incapable of living productive lives, the children both receiving ongoing treatment for mental illness.

Clementine, seven years old at the time of the genocide, witnessed the violent murder of her immediate family. Miraculously, she escaped, carrying her newborn cousin on her back into the woods. She survived for days in the bush, avoiding capture and fending for herself, but was forced to watch her cousin die in her arms, unable to care for her, a trauma she bears to this day.picture12

YEGO-Rwanda was founded by Emmanuel Gatera, the former divinity student we supported in his studies, and a good friend whose efforts to bring healing to Rwandans we continue to support—not only for survivors of the genocide but also for the subsequent generations who continue to suffer its effects.

Next week … the inspiring work of YEGO-Rwanda.

This Week: Nov 13th

In early November, our rector and his wife visited Emmanuel Gatera in Rwanda to learn more about the work of YEGO-Rwanda, a foundation created by Emmanuel to bring healing to Rwandans and peace to a post-genocidal Rwanda. This is their story, in three parts.

picture31Almost twenty years ago St. Stephen’s asked our World Mission office for the name of a promising seminarian in a Third World country whom we could support in their studies. The name they gave us was Emmanuel Gatera, a divinity student at the University of Kampala, Uganda, who was hoping to be ordained and to serve in his home country of Rwanda.

Serve he has! Upon graduation, Emmanuel was hired as the General Secretary for the Archdiocese of Rwanda where he was also to found a new congregation in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city. Faced daily with pastoral challenges relating to the enduring and widespread trauma of the 1994 genocide, Emmanuel realized more could be done through an agency committed exclusively to personal healing and social relief. So … YEGO-Rwanda was born.

Knowing he needed unique credentials for this kind of work, with our assistance and that of our World Mission department, Emmanuel enrolled in the doctoral divinity programme at St. Stephen’s College, University of Alberta, to begin long distance studies that would qualify him for the therapeutic work to which he was feeling called.

picture41Next year Emmanuel will graduate, returning to Alberta to receive his diploma, accompanied by his wife Athanasie. In the meantime, in early November, our rector and his wife spent a week with Emmanuel in Rwanda where they heard the stories of genocide survivors and visited the homes of those whose personal trauma has isolated and marginalized them—a sobering life-changing experience.

Next week … their stories.

This Week at St. Stephen’s: November 6th 2016

acr296553145151424-3168030The chairs aren’t quite as full this morning—another day where the pleasures of lingering a little longer over coffee win out over a barnburner of a sermon and some awesome hymns, right? Not quite. This morning, and later today, about 40 or more members of our congregation will be working with Feed the Hungry to set-up, prepare, serve, and tear down a complimentary meal for nearly 600 guests at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Thanks to your generosity last month, we were able to contribute $2500 toward the food costs for today’s supper. Giving of our time, our talents, and our treasure is part of how we minister to a world beset by economic uncertainty and job losses. We work together with our partners at Feed the Hungry and our fellow volunteers to affirm our guests’ humanity, by greeting them, serving them a nutritious and tasty meal tableside, and providing them with a hospitality package at the end of the evening.

acr296553145151424-713033We know that it may be hard for some of our members to support yet another request for funds and assistance to people outside our congregation, while some of our own have themselves been affected by the very economic uncertainty we’ve been dealing with for the past 2½ years. We are called, in the words of the hymn and the Prayer of St. Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

In giving of ourselves that we receive.

We ask God’s blessing on all who are being served at today’s Feed the Hungry dinner.

 

This Week at St. Stephen’s: October 23rd 2016

thisweek1In our fast paced existence it is all too common to allow our schedules and exterior demands to control what we are doing, what we thinking and how we respond to life itself. When we get bounced around from thing to thing….we can be tempted to listen to everyone else’s wants and desires on our time…. and all but lose touch with ourselves. It is as if “we listen for guidance everywhere except from within” (Parker Palmer – Let Your Life Speak.)

It is a belief of our Christian faith that we have all been touched by God and blessed by God’s grace, present and active in our lives, and our response is meant to be open and ready to receive the Spirit of God speaking into our hearts and blessing our days. This is meant to be lifelong journey of learning and growth. But how to stay in touch with that thisweek2blessing requires time and an intention to draw to the still and listen. Spiritual exercises help us to disconnect from the outer world, create inner peace, give us inner strength, help us to become more inspired or even name one’s purpose in life.

Weekly at St Stephen’s there are many opportunities to participate in cultivating our spiritual development through listening and learning. Look for the goldenrod handout in the narthex. Perhaps something found in St Stephen’s Spiritual Menu will entice you to embark on a new spiritual aspect of your faith journey, starting today.

This Week At St. Stephen’s: October 16th 2016

picture1It comes as a surprise to some that an organization like a church relies entirely on individual financial donations, and not on financial support from governments.   Additionally, many of the activities and ministries are done by volunteers, not paid staff.

St. Stephen’s is no different.  It is only through the ongoing commitment of its parishioners’ time and financial donations that this church can exist and function (with some help from building rental income).

But we don’t give to a church for its existence in and of itself.  This is not its purpose.  That is not our calling.  Instead, belonging, and being committed to a church, gives us individually and collectively the opportunity to give through the church to that what God is calling us to do.picture2

And it gives us the opportunity to receive the joys and blessings God wants for us when we realize, and use, the gifts we have for God’s mission here on earth.   Jesus conveyed this message repeatedly, as do many of the New Testament authors.

This Week at St. Stephen’s: October 9th 2016

picture1Recent political hijinks in the church and in the world lead us to think about the nature of leadership, and especially leadership in the church. We are reminded that, as followers of Jesus, “the greatest among you should be the servant of all”, which is a model of leadership more often preached than practised.

The exercise of power is itself neutral. Power is simply the ability to get what you want. Everyone needs enough personal power to manage their lives. If someone has been denied that ability they are said to be in need of empowerment.

When someone is given (or assumes) power over other people we call that leadership. Jesus noted that, among the Gentiles, their rulers exercised authority over them. “It shall not be so among you,” he told the disciples. “The greatest among you must be least of all”—a radical notion in our own time, as it was then.

Jesus taught and modeled “servant leadership”, where the strong give themselves for the sake of the weak, and the powerful serve the needs of the powerless. His ultimate lesson was on the cross, where he gave up his life for the sake of those he loved.

This is a model that calls us to deep bonds of self-giving love for one another. It is a form of service that does not come easily or naturally to many of us, which is why we look to church leaders to help show us the way—by word and example.

This Week: October 2nd 2016

Social MediaA few years ago, we dreamed a dream of our future buildings and property, imagining a community hub, a cultural centre brimming with activity. We saw St. Stephen’s not just as a place for church members, but for the neighbourhood, indeed, for the whole city. Our renovations opened the doors, and the people came—for music, for theatre, for art. This week’s Midtown Mosaic art show is the triumphant realization of our dream, crowned last year by the official visit of our mayor. Here, church members mingle with our citywide neighbours in a colourful testimony to the riches of community life, creating cultural circles of connection that move out beyond our congregation.

Meanwhile, another community meeting place was evolving, one that did not require hundreds of thousands of dollars in costly renovation. It began with our web site, designed to attract seekers and church members alike, where we posted past sermons and promoted upcoming events, and projected a people- friendly image of ourselves to the world. It remains our main vehicle for meeting people who are looking for a church.

But from nowhere, a cheeky upstart called Facebook surpassed our website as the principal way we now connect with the world. A post celebrating our recent blessing of a civil same-sex marriage attracted over 2000 views, as well as wildly supportive comments from people we don’t even know. We are not one community hub, but three: a street address, a website (ststephenscalgary.org), and a Facebook page (St. Stephen’s Anglican Church Calgary).

This Week: September 18th 2016

picture1Heading into the fall season, what are the personal habits and disciplines that will keep you healthy? A good diet, exercise, mental stimulation, meaningful relationships, and of course a balanced approach to it all! St. Stephen’s can help you with your spiritual health, which has both inward and outward components.

Inwardly, we think of those practices that keep us rooted in God’s loving presence—like prayer, study, and meditation. Our meditation group will be starting up shortly for those who want to learn a simple practice of mindfulness. The labyrinth group is working on some special events this fall to introduce you to the benefits of a walking meditation. And our weekly adventure in Bible study stimulates your thinking about the Christian life.

Outwardly, we think of service, of ways we can contribute to the needs of others, and support our community life, both in church and in the neighbourhood. St. Stephen’s is exploring a new relationship with the Metro Alliance for the Common Good to identify and meet the city’s greatest needs. Our refugee committee is awaiting the arrival of our sponsored family from Syria. And cultural events such as the upcoming Midtown Mosaic Art Show help connect us with our neighbours.

All of this comes together in our worship, which offers many ways to become involved from choir to greeting to chancel work to the tech team. So pick up a copy of this year’s Spiritual Menu from the entrance foyer and choose your own new spiritual habits.