Dramas set in England often depict the church as a beautiful old building with a congregation of upright (if not upt ight) parishioners sitting placidly in pews, and a charming, if not also doddering, vicar who visits his flock over cups of tea when not pottering in the garden at the rectory. A quaint picture, and nostalgic to some, but hardly a portrait of a robust faith community.
A modern picture, there as here, would explode that view to include a daily beehive of activity, worship that is anything but staid, and clergy who are more like community organizers than pastoral visitors. In fact, the modern church, when it is highly functional, looks more like a community centre than a sanctuary—more an advance into the world than a retreat from it.
We see this in all the busy activity that starts up this time of year. For church members we offer worship on Sundays, meditation on Tuesdays, Bible study on Thursdays, men’s fellowship monthly on Saturdays, women’s fellowship at the call of the soup-maker, and more than a dozen organizations from choir and chancel guild to parish council and the refugee committee, from the Excellent Adventure to the ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Out).
For the wider community we host Brownies and Guides, three recovery groups, several continuing education adult groups, young people’s activities (like the chess club), the community garden, and an exciting array of performing arts groups using our space for concerts and special events. Quaint it ain’t!
Here is a brief round-up of news for the week.
Diocesan Council (comprising clergy and lay people from across the Diocese) met last week to hear a report that from the resource person who facilitated the Generous Listening process. Her conclusion: the diocese is ready to consider adopting a practice called “local option,” that is, allowing each parish to decide for itself whether or not to offer same-sex blessings. Apparently there was some strong support for this direction, but the bishop once again has said, No. So it’s on to the meeting of Synod on October 14, where a motion will be presented to the same effect.
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The refurbishing of our Memorial Garden has finally been given the go-ahead from the Rector and Wardens. Consideration had been given to a fulsome plan that included redeveloping the entire northeast corner of our property to include a labyrinth. Initial estimates of the project were in line with our cash in hand, plus the possibility of a grant from the Anglican Foundation. But the final estimate came in at over three times the original amount; so all extraneous plans are being shelved. Work on the Garden itself will begin shortly.
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A small group of “Inquirers” are preparing to meet in October, some to pursue Baptism or Reception, others simply to explore their questions about the Christian faith, the Church, and their own spiritual beliefs and practices. Speak to the rector if you would like to be included.
It has been a while since we have posted any updates about same-sex blessings and marriage in our diocese. While such pastoral services are being offered to couples elsewhere across Canada, especially in urban centres, our bishop and archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson has opted for ongoing study and conversation instead—a frustrating tack to those who feel strongly that the time for talk has passed.
A year ago we had the opportunity—and great privilege—of hosting and blessing a Queer marriage (between a woman and her transgendered partner). A marriage commissioner oversaw the legal ceremony while six clergy of the diocese rose to offer the church’s blessing, against the wishes of the bishop. Predictably, the six were threatened with disciplinary action, but a local lay movement rose up to ensure there would be ongoing progress.
Meanwhile a series of diocesan conversations—called “Generous Listening”—was held from January to June, with visiting scholars representing different perspectives on this issue. The process was not intended to facilitate decision-making and ended prematurely and inconclusively.
A meeting of diocesan synod has been called for October 13-14, the first such meeting in four years, and the lay movement has put forward a motion calling for the freedom of clergy and congregations to act according to their consciences on this matter.
Two weeks ago members of St. Stephen’s marched in the Calgary Pride Parade under a banner that read: “Working toward marriage equality for EVERYONE”. Sadly, we felt it was the most we could say.
If you are new to St. Stephen’s, welcome! If you have been away, welcome! If you never left, welcome to you too! A brand new season launches this week, beginning with our Start-up Sunday worship.
Three major themes will dominate our fall season. The first is Charmaine Evans who will join our staff in October as our full-time Program Coordinator. Charmaine is a newly ordained deacon. She will assist with the Sunday liturgy, share pastoral care with the rector, and oversee the educational and outreach programs of our parish. Charmaine will be a great gift to us in the present, but also in the future when Brian our rector retires, providing stability and continuity when that time comes.
But a full-time staff position comes at a cost, so Stewardship becomes the second theme we will hear a lot about this fall. If we are spiritually invested in St. Stephen’s we need to be materially invested as well, so that we continue to offer ourselves as a sanctuary for the wounded, a light for seekers, and an inspiration to our neighbours. Please consider the place St. Stephen’s has in your life and, when we are asked, commit generously to the ministry we offer.
Finally, our Reno Group is studying the challenges and the opportunities of our ageing Memorial Hall. Your ideas for its use—both for ourselves and for the wider community—will be sought as we develop a vision for its complete transformation. Stay tuned for … “Open Doors Too”.