LOVE IS A TEACHER
This past week St. Stephen’s took a major step toward helping Syrian newcomers settle into their new home. Dave Driftmier, of our parish, and Pat Glenn, a member of the cathedral, realized that language skills would be crucial to a family’s successful integration into their new life in Canada. Yet the ESL waiting lists for recent immigrants are interminable, leaving newcomers to languish, disabled, during their first months here. So the two former teachers envisaged a free ESL course offered here at St. Stephen’s to any who need it.
Aided by George Odeh, a former Jordanian who now makes Calgary—and St. Stephen’s—his home, they have begun a bi-weekly ESL class supported by a team of over twenty volunteers drawn from here, the cathedral, and St. Paul’s. Their first classes involved a mother and her two preschool children as they sang songs, learned to read their names in English, and formed a rudimentary appreciation of their new language. More will come as George moves among the Arabic community, reassuring newcomers of both the safety and the good intentions of this program.
By the time our own Syrian family arrives, later in the summer, we will have an experienced team helping them to settle in and, most important, to learn English. The benefit to the family is clear. But to the big-hearted former teachers who started this program, they get to use their considerable skill and experience to help others, confessing, as Dave put it, “It’s hard to stop teaching!”
CONGRATULATIONS, IT’S A FAMILY OF SIX!
All our patience and preparation have paid off. Sometime in the coming months, a Syrian family will be arriving via Amman, Jordan , to begin a new life here in Canada. Together with St. Paul’s Anglican Church and the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, we are their sponsors and we will become their support while they settle in.
The family comprises a mom and dad and four children—two boys, 14 and 12, and two girls, 9 and 5. The dad and the older three children speak some English, there are no known medical issues, and the dad has transferable skills for employment here. It sounds like they are well positioned to succeed in their new life.
Our NeST team (Newcomer Support Team) will be submitting a formal application to the Central Processing Office for the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program, the federal program to place UN-approved refugees with private Canadian sponsors. Once approved, the application will be forwarded to the Visa Office in Amman and we are told the family could arrive between three to six weeks after that.
So there are still some bureaucratic steps to follow, but barring any unforeseen stumbling blocks we could be meeting our family a few months from now—lots of time to raise both money and awareness and create room for them in our hearts. More information will follow as it becomes available. In the meantime you can direct any questions to Carol Rose Skelly, NeST Co-Chair.
The Spirit is a-Movin’.
This week we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, filling them with sudden courage and zeal. Many call this the “birthday of the church” because the church sprang to life—preaching the Good News, performing miracles, growing exponentially. The Spirit is seen as God’s gift to the followers of Jesus Christ, now as then, firing our proclamation and stirring us to action.
But is the Holy Spirit exclusively the gift of the church? Do not those of other faiths also exhibit the same inspiration to speak the truth and to act boldly? Do we not also see God working through civic leaders, artists, workers of charity, and good people everywhere—even those who profess no faith at all?
While the wildfire ravaged the city of Fort McMurray last week, while the first responders were risking their own lives to ensure the safety of others, offers of assistance came flooding in from all sectors and regions of our country, and from beyond. The offers came from Muslims and Sikhs and atheists and agnostics and, yes, from Christians.
It is an extraordinary thing to witness the movement of God’s Spirit in the hearts of people. It fills us with hope and with gratitude. Just as we Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit into our midst at Pentecost, so can we also give thanks for the many ways God breathes life into our world. Together we can say: God lives!
Five years ago, as our building committee bore down on plans to renovate St. Stephen’s, we said we wanted our church to become a community hub, a cultural centre, a gathering place for the neighbourhood. It sometimes seemed a remote dream, especially as the challenges mounted up and plans had to be trimmed back.
But today we witness the fulfillment of that dream. St. Stephen’s is busy most weekends with concerts, art shows, and theatrical performances. Renowned performance groups like Cantare Children’s Choirs, Luminous Voices, and the Calgary Instrumental Society thrill local audiences that sometimes burst the seams, sending patrons up into the balcony.
So it is curious that we ourselves are seldom numbered among the members of the audience, even when we are co-sponsors of events offered here. True, we designed the space for use by the wider community. But we host some of the best talent in the city right here in our sanctuary, and for the reason that (we said) we love the performing arts.
So this is just a reminder that we are part of the community too. When our neighbours come to see a performance, they are also coming to see us—not just our buildings, but the people who reside here. In coming weeks we will host a program about Sound and Spirit, and bring back the Donald Ray Johnson Blues Band, among other events. It would be unfortunate if we were to miss out on the very blessings we offer to the world.
“FROM THE GROUND UP”
Following the suspension of Calgary’s Inn From the Cold satellite program, where churches like St. Stephen’s offered food, shelter and hospitality to the homeless, many of us wondered how we might continue our work with those in need in our city. Serendipitously, a respected broad-based community organization has arisen in Calgary that may help us continue that good work, creating and sustaining a community that offers respect, equality and justice to all its citizens.
The Metro Alliance for the Common Good (MACG) is a new iteration of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an alliance of faith-based and community organizations that transformed the inner city of Chicago (the “Industrial Areas”) in the 1940’s. It now operates in over sixty-five cities worldwide developing leadership, coordinating civic-minded organizations and galvanizing citizens to create local communities of which we can all feel proud.
The Calgary chapter of MACG is currently offering a series of three listening events where citizens gather to explore the areas of greatest need and concern in our city. (The second in the series is being held Monday, May 2, 7 – 8:30 pm, at Beth Tzedec Synagogue.) St. Stephen’s has been invited to participate and several of our members will be in attendance.
To help us become better acquainted with MACG and with the social demands of the Gospel, The Reverend Ryan Andersen, Lutheran minister and lead organizer of MACG Calgary, is our guest preacher at both services on May 1st. You can also visit the IAF and MACG websites online.
“Into the Fray”
Last week our Primate, the Most Reverend Fred Hiltz, spoke with the Anglican Journal about the most recent House of Bishops meeting held the first week of April. Specifically, he shared his concern for the aftermath of July’s General Synod meeting when it votes on an amendment to the marriage canon to permit same-gender marriages.
He acknowledged that very little has changed in the mindset of the House, despite all the work the bishops have done on this issue in recent years. So it remains split three ways: those in agreement with the motion, those opposed, and those who “struggle” with the issue. As the motion will require a two-thirds majority vote in each of the “houses”—clergy, laity and bishops—it remains unlikely that the motion will pass.
The Primate said that if the motion is defeated it will “upset” the LGBTQ community, which will be “deeply offended”. Many may leave the church. Moreover, he fears that clergy may take matters into their own hands and perform same-sex marriages as an act of “civil disobedience”, something he says every bishop must be prepared to deal with.
On the other hand, if the motion were to pass, the Primate foresees that there are clergy and congregations opposed to same-sex marriage who are also poised to leave the church. So either way, this is going to be a divisive vote.
In the meantime, how do we at St. Stephen’s continue to advocate for those we love whose relationships are being denied?
St. Stephen’s’ members are generous people. We provide almost $460,000 annually to pay our staff, operate our buildings, and run our programs. Approximately $350,00 of that comes directly from the offerings of our members (most of the rest comes from the rental of our space).
Last year we managed to adjust several of our staff salaries to bring them into better alignment. We made several costly repairs and improvements to our buildings. We were also able to retire a sizable portion of a debt we have been dragging along with us into each new year.
But what we were not able to do, entering 2016, despite having named it as a priority, was budget for an associate clergy position to replace the one held for three years by Clara King. This is disconcerting for several reasons: (1) the pastoral, program, and administrative demands on the clergy at St. Stephen’s cannot reasonably be met by one person; (2) reliance on a single priest limits the reach, and therefore the growth, of our various ministries; and (3) succession planning cannot be properly managed without a second ongoing clergy position.
Going forward, the Corporation is considering that we hire a part-time minister in the fall with funds available within the budget. This position would be dedicated to our young people and specifically to a yearlong Confirmation program. Then, following an ambitious fall stewardship campaign, we plan to budget for a full-time position beginning in January 2017. We’re generous people. We can do this.
THE BENEFITS OF MEMBERSHIP
We are so fortunate to be St. Stephenites! In the relentless forward march of the calendar, bringing with it already another new season of programs and ministries, let us stop for a moment simply to count our blessings, so many of which were evident throughout our Holy Week services.
First, we are enormously blessed with a diverse and engaged congregation. Every worship service includes children (last week, several newborns!), as well as older members—pillars of our faith community who have guided us through the best of times and the worst—as well as visitors and newcomers who are thrilled to have found this lively church. There is a warm familiarity in our gatherings, and a welcome, and always laughter.
Our renovated facilities continue to extend our hospitality out into the wider community. A picture taken from the balcony during our Easter morning service and posted on Face Book was seen by over 600 people, some who felt moved to comment. It’s a stunning space, and wordlessly conveys the openness and flexibility that are hallmarks of our Christian witness.
But we are especially blessed by so many talented leaders (all “ministers” in their own right) who work tirelessly so we can offer our best to the world—from Lynn and Bev in the office to the Chancel Guild members working quietly behind the scenes to Jeff and our lively choir, and so many more. Our hearts are filled with gratitude and we feel once again the confidence to move forward.
RE-LIVING THE MYTHIC STORY
This week we enter the mythic story of the Passion of Christ. And that precisely what we do. We don’t just sit and listen to the story. We get up out of our comfort zone and allow ourselves to be carried along with Jesus on the road to Gethsemane.
So on Palm Sunday we find ourselves joining the crowds as they welcomed Jesus into the Holy City—jubilant but wary, because we know how the story ends. Then on Maundy Thursday we find ourselves seated round the table at the Last Supper as Jesus washes our feet as an example of humble service. On Good Friday we gather solemnly around a hooded cross, joining the angered crowd as they cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
On Easter Eve we light a new fire outside, bringing that light into the church as a sign of hope in the midst of darkness—the promise of life in the midst of death. Then with our hand bells we ring in the Easter acclamation: “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” The cry is picked up on Easter morning when, at 8 a.m., we welcome new members through baptism and, at 10:30, we affirm our faith in the God of life.
Like primitives dancing their history round a blazing fire, or like moderns recreating family traditions round a groaning dinner table, we don’t just tell this story. We re-enact it through ritual. That is how it is with a mythic story. We tell it … by living it.
WHO YOU GONNA CALL
This week we welcome our new Corporation and Parish Council, both of which had their first meetings of the new term last weekend. Together the Corporation and Parish Council are the governing bodies of St. Stephen’s between General Meetings of the congregation as a whole.
Corporation—so-named because it forms the legal entity of St. Stephen’s Church—comprises the rector, two churchwardens, and one deputy churchwarden. The churchwardens are either appointed (as with the rector’s warden) or elected (as with the people’s warden), but once they have found their way onto Corporation they function as a team, sharing information and making decisions by consensus.
Parish Council comprises at least six members-at-large (we currently have more than that), three lay delegates to synod, the members of Corporation, and a recording secretary. It meets monthly to help determine the overall direction of the parish, the state of its finances and property, and the programming priorities that we should be attending to. Currently Parish Council is considering priorities for the coming year, but has already identified youth ministry as one area of particular concern.
So if you have a question or concern, “Who you gonna call?” All our Corporation and Parish Council members are listed on the back of the Sunday bulletin. Speak to our churchwardens about parish finances, staffing or building & property. Approach one of our members-at-large with questions or concerns about parish programming. Seek out one of our lay delegates to synod with concerns about the diocese or national church.