THE PRESENT MOMENT
Where is the time going? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were barbecuing in the back yard and trying to gear up for the fall season? Well, now fall’s just about gone! And suddenly we’re talking Christmas … with snow on the ground!
St. Stephen’s is a busy place these days, so we’re sorry if we’re contributing to the sense of the rapid passage of time. Next week we host the event on death and dying called “What Really Happens When We Die: Is the Paranormal Normal?” Coincidentally it falls on the last weekend of the Christian calendar—the Reign of Christ—which is about the end of time.
Then, the next week, we begin a new church year with the season of Advent, looking forward to the coming of Christ into our midst—both at Christmas and at the close of the age. It seems, irretrievably, we are always lurching forward to the next thing.
So here’s an idea. Stop. Take a deep breath. Stand still. Take note of your surroundings. How is your body? Where are your emotions? What thoughts keep breaking through? What is happening in the stillness of this present moment … where it is not actually necessary to DO anything?
Regardless of the lightning-speed passage of time, God is with us fully and manifestly right here, right now, within us and around us, as we are held in the palm of God’s hand. Even in the midst of all our busyness: God is with us.
A FISH…OR A ROD?
Give a man a fish, the saying goes, you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he feeds himself for a lifetime. Both day-to-day solutions and long-term strategies are required to end the cycle of poverty.
Here at St. Stephen’s we know several of the day-to-day solutions quite well. Since 1997 we have provided safe refuge for the homeless through Inn From the Cold. Twice a month volunteers provide food, accommodation, and a warm welcome to the guests who find their way here. Once a year we participate in the Feed the Hungry Dinner program of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral. We join a volunteer force of 100 people to serve a full Sunday meal to up to 500 people.
Along with the many other citywide programs to alleviate the effects of poverty, these are important initiatives. But they don’t tackle the larger problem of poverty itself. Why do so many remain homeless in our city, and what can we do to solve that problem at its source?
In 2008 the Calgary Homeless Foundation took on the task of coordinating Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness, focusing on the principle of “housing first” (i.e. get a person housed, then they can address the root causes of their homelessness). In the years since its implementation the Plan has provided housing for over 6000 individuals and seen a 15% reduction in homelessness overall.
So we all have a part to play—giving a man a fish, or a rod.
“REACHING FARTHER:GIVING SMARTER”
An important shift has occurred in our day-to-day outreach at St. Stephen’s. In the past we responded as best we could to anyone who came to the door looking for help: a food voucher here, a book of bus tickets there. We tried to deal fairly and respectfully with those in need, but our response always felt inadequate.
Now, through a new relationship with the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS), we have found a more appropriate niche within the larger network of social agencies in the city. When people in need present themselves at our door we now refer them to CUPS. There, a proper assessment is done by professionals who are plugged in to a citywide database and who have at their fingertips resources for both food and housing.
But their mandate is very specific and often CUPS is unable to respond to needs that fall outside that mandate. For instance, a bus ticket home to attend a funeral is out of reach for people living in poverty. A security deposit can be too great a hurdle for the working poor to secure an apartment. And sometimes a person just needs to sit and talk.
So CUPS now refers to us those whose needs we are in a better position to meet. We help fewer people this way, but our assistance in each case has become more substantial and far more effective. To support this local outreach, please give generously to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund, this month’s Pink Envelope.
“SLOW DOWN (YOU MOVE TOO FAST)”
Contemplation is not a word most of us use on a regular basis. When we do we might say we need to contemplate an idea or a situation, meaning we need to think about it deeply, mulling it over in our minds before we act.
For some spiritual seekers, contemplation is a way of life—observing the details of daily life deeply and thoughtfully. It is a stance of perceiving without reacting, appreciating without judging. This is not always easy in a face-paced world where things happen fast, requiring quick decisions and sudden actions.
Contemplation slows life down to create “space” around every action, around every moment, so that its essence emerges, lessening our urge to react and inspiring our awe and wonder in the world God has made. It follows the dictum, “Less is more.”
This week we begin a monthly Sunday evening gathering we are calling a Wisdom Gathering. Through music and ritual we will create “space” to contemplate an aspect of the spiritual life.
Tonight (October 25th) at 7:30 we will consider rituals that help individuals and their families face death. Our special guest will be Sarah Kerr, a “death midwife and celebrant” whose work with the dying will also be featured at our upcoming event, “What Really Happens When We Die”.
If it sometimes seems that life is going by too fast, that we need to slow down so we don’t miss it, then contemplation may be just the antidote. And tonight may be the start.
Stewardship means taking care of what we have been given. It is ours only as an entrustment, like a wine steward his cellar or a flight attendant her passengers. It is the responsibility implied when a parent asks an older child to look after a younger child: “Take care of that which is precious to me!”
Many interpret the creation story in this light—“God blessed humankind and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28) It is not that we are to do whatever we want with God’s creation, rather that we are to take responsibility for what, in truth, still belongs to God.
When we come to this time of year when we turn our attention to stewardship at St. Stephen’s, it is a way of asking ourselves, “How well are we taking care of that which God has given us? How can we do better?”
So we examine our resources—our many talents and abilities, our building, our money, our staff—and we ask how we can put these to use to fulfill God’s will here in this place. Does our building need repair (always and everywhere!)? Do we need more staff (is the Pope Catholic?)? Are there ways each of us can help? Then we make a pledge to do our best. Simple.
Ever wonder what (really) happens when we die? Is the paranormal activity associated with dying—clairvoyance, walking toward the light, mystical union—actually normal? In death do we finally experience the world as it truly is? Are you dying to find out? Well, maybe you don’t have to!
On November 20th and 21st St. Stephen’s is hosting an experience-based conversation on death and dying, featuring Toronto journalist Patricia Pearson, the author of “Opening Heaven’s Door: What the dying may be trying to tell us about where they’re going”, and practitioners in the field here in Calgary.
Patricia Pearson’s book is our recommended reading for the fall season (one copy is available on spec in the narthex). She will be our keynote speaker on the Friday evening, and she will also lead two smaller workshops/conversations on the Saturday.
The other Saturday workshop leaders will include Darrin Parkin, Spiritual Care Coordinator, and Alison Potter, Director of Clinical Care, both with Hospice Calgary; Sarah Kerr of Soul Passages, a death and dying doula who assists individuals and their families through the spiritual process of dying; and Jane Fleming and Lily Illescas, two mediums from the Calgary First Spiritualist Church.
Patricia Pearson will also be our special guest on Sunday morning, November 22nd, for a dialogue sermon with our rector on the implications of her research on death and dying for Christian belief and practice.
More information is available on our website. Tickets are available online and through our office. Better buy yours early!
Some of you may be wondering where we are in our attempts to receive our archbishop’s permission to offer same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
The rector and wardens met with the Archbishop Greg in July to seek a clear statement of his intentions on this matter. The archbishop feels there has not been adequate conversation about same-sex blessings in the diocese, nor a thorough theological debate across the Anglican Church of Canada. The archbishop is proposing more discussion.
He would consider putting same-sex blessings on the agenda of a future meeting of diocesan synod, though in his view that might be two years from now. Pressed on his response should such a synod vote in favour of same-sex blessings, the archbishop conceded that he would still be hard pressed personally to give his approval.
Meanwhile a commission of our national church has completed its recommendations to change the marriage canon to permit the marriage of same-sex couples in the Anglican Church of Canada, the result of which is a draft motion to go before General Synod at its meeting in June of next year. Should that motion pass, provision will be made for local bishops and clergy, as a matter of conscience, to refuse to offer such marriages.
We are now considering a formal request for Shared Episcopal Oversight, wherein on this issue we would receive the pastoral care of another bishop. However, Archbishop Greg would be unwilling to share his jurisdictional authority with another bishop.
And there we are.
[Read the Report of the Commission on the Marriage Canon either in full or in summary by entering “Marriage Canon 2016” into the search engine at the Anglican Church of Canada website: www.anglican.ca. ]
The good thing about being an open-minded Christian congregation is that no one is going to tell you how to vote. Our core values remind us that God has made each of us unique (“Be real”); that the church is a community that celebrates its diversity (“Belong”); and that this is precisely how we come to know the grace of God in our midst (“Believe it”). So in all likelihood, in the coming federal election, our church members will be voting for all four of the principle political parties—and for a wide variety of reasons.
But all Christians share concerns that may not be at the forefront of the parties’ campaigns. No one gets elected because they want to eradicate poverty, for instance. And no one would campaign on a platform of increased foreign aid. We expect our politicians to lead us to a more prosperous future while not trampling anyone’s rights and freedoms in the process. So a federal election is an opportunity for Christians to raise questions about matters that may not otherwise arise—like homelessness, overseas development, aboriginal issues, and care for creation.
In anticipation of the coming election our national office has produced a resource to help Anglicans raise questions about these neglected issues and seek answers from those running for public office. It contains a letter from our Primate to the leaders of all federal parties and brief backgrounders on the issues we care about. Type “Election 2015” into the search engine at www.Anglican.ca.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Last week we learned that Clara King, our Associate Priest, will be leaving us to become the Incumbent of her own parish—St. George’s Anglican Church in Northwest Calgary—effective October 1st. While we are saddened by her departure, it was inevitable from the start that one day she would leave us to take up a ministry of her own.
Clara came to us as a recent graduate of the Vancouver School of Theology … and as a church member sitting in the pews. She was uncertain at that point whether she would be ordained. But Clara’s abundant gifts and exuberant personality could not be hidden under a bushel basket and it was not long before the Bishop of Calgary ordained her first, in 2012, a deacon and then, in 2013, a priest and appointed her as Assistant Curate at St. Stephen’s.
A curacy in modern times is like an apprenticeship, where a new ordinand applies his or her theological education to a supervised ministry in a parish church. It is understood that, as the ordinand grows in skill and in confidence, they will one day be given the responsibility of a ministry on their own, either in another parish or in a clinical pastoral setting like a hospital or nursing home.
We will have the opportunity to express our thanks to Clara on her last Sunday, September 27th. We have been well blessed by her ministry in our midst and she will go with our love and our prayers.
AS THE WORLD WAITS …
This week marks the return of our vacationing exiles, those who have been travelling near or far, breaking free from their routines, seeking nourishment under the summer sun. Understandably we are glad to regroup, catch up with old friends, meet new ones, and prepare for a new season of Christian life together.
But recently our attention has been grabbed by the plight of real exiles—refugees whose desperate flights have been caught on camera and by news agencies, and spread through social media. There are now 50 million displaced persons worldwide, languishing in refugee camps, some now seeing third and fourth generations being born and raised within the stultifying confines of their virtual imprisonment.
This year, in the wake of civil war and sectarian violence in Syria, and crushing poverty in Northern Africa, more than 330,000 migrants have risked a perilous journey across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. Many have died, and those who survive discover their new reality to be, not a job and a new start, but the overcrowded conditions of a refugee camp.
So as we gather for a new year of Christian growth and witness we do so with the world pounding at our doors calling out for help. Several church members are exploring the possibilities of refugee sponsorship. Others are researching refugee relief through international aid agencies. Until we have a coordinating group to monitor and communicate our efforts, if interested, please speak to one of our clergy.
Welcome back—the world awaits!