When the going gets tough …

This Week at St. Stephen’s … for October 16, 2011

Over the next few weeks, as the Gospel story unfolds in our Sunday readings, we will witness a growing tension between Jesus and his detractors; between the power of the Kingdom which he preached and the earthly powers exercised by the religious authorities of his day. It is a tension that proved fatal for Jesus, though it also became the catalyst for the birth of the church.

It is said that the role of the preacher is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. This is one of those instances. As much as we need to hear that the peace of Christ dwells within us, there is also that faint reminder that Jesus came not to bring peace, but a sword! Following Jesus does indeed bring us “home” to a sense of peace on our hearts. But it also creates a tension between the Gospel values we espouse and the realities we often encounter in our world, realities of cruelty and greed.

Being Christians involves taking up our own cross and following the one who ushers in the Realm of God. This means we are both comforted—that God cares for us as a parent for its child—and also afflicted—that we too must take this message, with our words and in our lives, into a world that so badly needs to hear it. This is precisely the reason we gather for worship: to receive fresh strength for the difficult role of being God’s People in the world.

Balancing the Fall

 THIS WEEK at St. Stephen’s … for October 2, 2011

An odd thing happens every year at this time.  All of nature is telling us to slow down, prepare our cave, turn inward, and prepare for the big winter sleep to come. But as the sun rises later and later each morning, and hastens to its afternoon setting, we turn on the lights.  There is work to do.

This is understandable in a northern climate.  We work through the long days of winter in order to play in the summertime … and just hope that we actually get summertime! But those who live closer to the land—farmers for instance—know it should go the other way. They make hay while the sun shines … and retire when it leaves.

Perhaps, in our all-too-busy lives, church might become the one place where we can rest. That is after all the intention of the Sabbath day.  But even our worship can become busy, as we move quickly from one thing to the next, talking in shrill voices, filling the spaces with movement. But what would it be like, when we enter the church proper, to sit in silence, to wait, to breathe, to take a reflective pause between the readings, to gaze inward during the sermon?

We cannot turn back the tides of a compulsively busy culture. There is, indeed, work to do. But we can take whatever quiet moments are offered to us on the Sabbath and, putting all worry and anxiety aside, simply be. And so rebalance the universe.

Work & Play

THIS WEEK at St. Stephen’s … for September 25, 2011

                This Friday night and Saturday, as many members of St. Stephen’s roam our aisles, wine glass in hand, perusing stunning artwork from some of Calgary’s top artists, others will be sitting in small table groups poring over the diocesan rule book. It may not seem fair, but some work so that others may play.

                The work of Synod is to govern the life of our diocese. We are an episcopal church, meaning we are led by a bishop (one with “oversight”, which is the combined meaning of the Greek words epi and scopé). But we are governed by a democratic body—Synod—which is composed of clergy and lay members elected from the parishes. Synod meets annually, or at the call of the Chair, to govern the diocese through its laws, or “canons”, which prescribe how parishes operate, how clergy are employed, and how the diocese manages its funds. From time to time, as at this week’s Synod, those laws need to be revised to reflect changing times.

                This may not sound as exciting as an art show, but Synod does have a vital place in the life of the church. Unlike the business world where, all other considerations aside, a company must reflect its success on a bottom line, the church succeeds where it embodies the teachings it espouses. In other words, how we do things is as important as what it is we do. Thankfully, next weekend, our Synod delegates will be attending to this on our behalf.

Creating Communities of Hope

THIS WEEK at St. Stephen’s … September 18, 2011

 There can hardly be a Canadian who did not breathe an enormous sigh of relief at the release of three-year-old Kienan Hebert last week, following his abduction in the middle of the night from his home in Sparwood, BC.  What parents did not follow this horrific story, as if it were happening to them, drawing their own children close for safety’s sake?

Children matter. We do not need to be reminded by the Old Testament prophets that a people is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, which is how God is said to judge the nations. We already know that how we treat the children in our midst is a measure of the safety we offer to the rest of the world through our churches. And safety is vital to our mission and ministry, “sanctuary” being at the very heart of our identity, as well as our building. 

So it seems fitting that we have embarked on an assessment of the place of children at St. Stephen’s: of their inclusion in the life of our parish, of the programs we create with them in mind, and of their safety in our midst. We have called this our “Year of the Child”. Dariel Bateman, our Deputy People’s Warden, is heading up a task force to study the place of children here and to make recommendations at our Annual General Meeting. It can only make us a better—and safer—congregation.

This Week – July 3, 2011

Our slide into summer may slow us down, but no one’s asleep in the hammock here at St. Stephen’s.  Here’s what’s happening.

Next Sunday we welcome the neighbourhood to our annual Stampede Breakfast and outdoor worship.  Organizer Marion Gibson has assembled a great crew to assist with the breakfast (we are preparing for 300 this year!), Don McLeod will be presiding at the worship, and the Padre and the Cow Pies will be provide the music.

Then on Sundays throughout the summer we will be returning to our “summer lite” pattern of shorter worship services featuring the lectio divina, a meditative approach to hearing the Word.  Guest clergy (while Brian and Cathy are away) include Don McLeod, Tara Livingston, Barry Foster, and our Bishop, Derek Hoskin. 

Start-up Sunday is September 11, when we welcome the return of the summer exiles who have been wandering in dry sunny places, and also newcomers who have been searching for a spiritual home.  We will rev the engines of our fall programs and launch a new season of mission and ministry.

Meanwhile, throughout the summer and into the fall, Jack and Heather Walker and our Open Doors campaign team will be knocking on doors and making phone calls to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in our exciting vision for the renewal of our buildings and property.  

Visit our new web site and find out what else is happening this summer.  It’s up-to-date and interactive and we want to hear from you: www.ststephenscalgary.org.

This Week: June 26, 2011

Last week our “Year of the Child” task force met to begin guiding us through a year of “child honouring” at St. Stephen’s.  It promises good things not only for the children and youth of the Parish, but for all of us.

Someone asked about the “Year of the Child”—was this a United Nations designation or something?  No, this is just our “Year of the Child”.  Vestry, at its meetings in February and March, identified children and youth as deserving special attention in the coming program year.  The reason was simple: as we enjoy the recent arrival of young families to our church, we want to ensure that we engage them—and therefore keep them—as they grow up in our midst.

There is another reason too.  Raffi, the well-known Canadian “children’s troubadour”, has launched an initiative he calls “Child Honouring”.  This is a way of seeing the world, with its many challenges and joys, through the eyes of children.  By so doing, he says, many of the world’s problems solve themselves as we learn to work not for self-interest but for the sake of others.

So in the coming year our task force will examine all areas of church life with an eye for how we welcome, engage, and protect our young people.  We will link with Raffi’s initiative and become part of a larger plan to see the world through the eyes of children.  And we will become more attuned to God’s care for all of us.