PATHS TO AN EMERGING CHURCH
It’s not easy watching something new emerge. It takes patience—and faith—not to prejudge it, not to jump to conclusions, not to short-circuit the creative process. It requires openness and curiosity to allow God’s future to unfold.
Last Sunday evening a group of Christian seekers met at St. Stephen’s to witness the first tentative shoots of a new church emerging from our traditional roots. Some came from Catholic and Orthodox traditions with their emphasis on ordered worship; some came from evangelical churches with their focus on a personal relationship with Jesus. But all found their way to St. Stephen’s seeking an expression of the Christian faith that transcends the restrictions of any one tradition. All are looking for a more inclusive, more open church.
The gathering reflected all the paths that brought us here: the circle was spacious and the tone was contemplative; the praise music was led by guitars; the reading was meditative and the conversation in small groups was soulful; the sharing of bread and wine was communal and unscripted; and the departing was open-ended.
We asked everyone to leave us some thoughts on paper and we’re in the process of reading and assimilating those. They will help us give words to the changes we are seeking in the church … and perhaps a picture of what the emerging church looks like.
We all remember adults who mattered when we were growing up—our parents, of course, but also grandparents, teachers, neighbours, coaches—adults who played a loving and supportive role in our lives, reminding us that we were lovable and talented and competent and smart.
This time of year we pause to offer our thanks to the adults who are part of the lives of our children here at St. Stephen’s. Our children may carry impressions with them throughout their lives of our worship and of our building and of the things we tried to teach them. But more than anything else they will remember the people—the adults who loved them.
Care of our children begins in our nursery where Beverley Senko and Anna Bhattarai greet our youngest members each Sunday and engage them in play and creative activities … or sometimes just hold them. If you have not had a chance to see Bev and Anna at work, look in some Sunday morning and prepare to have your heart warmed.
We think of Kathleen Howes and her extraordinary work as the coordinator of the “Excellent Adventure”. Working without a curriculum, Kathleen comes up with endlessly evocative themes and topics, and then enlists volunteers to help her carry out the Sunday morning program. Each week our children rush to meet their friends and then emerge afterward with smiles on their faces, and sometimes a craft in hand.
Thanks to you all, staff and volunteers, and everyone who loves our children!
In recent weeks security upgrades and enhancements have been added to our buildings and property. This is in response to a series of break-ins at the church over the Christmas holidays and a subsequent fund-raising campaign that brought in over $20,000 in donations from church members and friends.
The elevator has now been fitted with a lock-off key that prevents access to the second floor church offices during off hours. Elevator access to the lower level, where the washrooms are, is being maintained.
Exterior lighting has been enhanced outside the Canterbury Room, the Memorial Hall door and the Sacristy exit door, with enhancements still to come for the main church doors, the eastern face of the church, and the courtyard. Windows by the chapel and rear entry doors have been reinforced with mesh embedded glass.
Perhaps most significantly, over the summer months we will go “keyless” for all our exterior doors, requiring a card or fob issued by the office to gain entry. (Lynn our Parish Administrator will be in touch with those currently possessing keys, to provide instructions regarding the new system.) And security cameras will appear over the main entry points, which can be monitored in the office, but also from remote locations.
All this is regrettable for a church like St. Stephen’s that prides itself on openness, accessibility and inclusivity. But it is a modern-day necessity for an urban church, that we protect our resources in order that they are available for our service to the world.
OPENING HEAVEN’S DOOR
One of the great privileges afforded clergy is accompanying those who are dying and those who attend to them. All pretence and artifice fall away as together we stare into that most mysterious portal of death.
In the days leading up to someone’s passing, things often become surreal. If the dying person has been incommunicative, perhaps even comatose, there is often a moment of utter clarity when they sit up and share images of the afterlife, or conversations with those who have gone before, only to sink back down again … and then depart. Sometimes a word or action by a loved one will evoke a reaction in a dying person who is otherwise unresponsive.
At the actual moment of death, their passing is sometimes accompanied by sudden feelings of calm and reassurance within a loved one in attendance. Sometimes a death will be “felt” halfway around the world by a friend or relative who suddenly “knows” it has happened. And in the days afterward, many people report feelings of inexplicable closeness with their departed loved ones, sometimes described as a “presence”.
Canadian journalist Patricia Pearson has done a great service by exploring these phenomena in her recent book “Opening Heaven’s Door”. She has discovered that, once the topic is introduced, almost everyone has a story to tell. In correspondence with our rector, Patricia has suggested joining us for a conversation on this topic in the fall, perhaps as part of a study group. Any interest? Please let us know.
PLEASE JOIN US!
Traditionally, we Christians have been called the “Church Militant”, meaning all the faithful living on the earth. Those who’ve gone before us, who now dwell with God in heaven, have been known as the “Church Triumphant”. These are lofty terms from a more confident time in the church’s history.
More recently we have witnessed what we might call the “Church Hesitant”, that is, fearful Christians painfully watching the old outward forms of faith fading away. But look up and get ready, because God is doing a new thing. It might be called … the “Church Emergent”.
Even while mainline Christian denominations watch their numbers fall, their beloved buildings close, and their influence in the world wane, the church is being reborn, and a restless diaspora of sensitive souls is faithfully watching and waiting for its new form to take shape.
We at St. Stephen’s have been blessed by the arrival of such Christian seekers into our midst. They have come from Roman Catholic, evangelical, and mainline backgrounds. Many have been disappointed by their former church experience, and some have been hurt by it. But they have joined us with a hope that something new is in fact emerging—and that perhaps it is emerging here!
So on Sunday evening, June 14, at 7:30, we will be offering you an opportunity to gather for informal worship to consider together how and where God is calling the church forward. It isn’t “Kingdom Come” exactly … but we are expectant. Please join us!
FAITH AND POLITICS
A responsible church that honours the intelligence, the faith, and the individual freedom of its members does not presume to tell people how to vote. So it is difficult to formulate a collective response to the sea change Albertans experienced in last week’s provincial election. But what we can do is ask ourselves where God is in all this, and to discern for ourselves what such a political shift means for people of faith.
If we believe that God is in the world, and not just in the church, then even non-religious social movements reveal something of what God is doing. This need not be a direct connection, as if God raises up one political party and casts down another. But assuming that everyone—religious and secular alike—can identify some higher principles worth living (and voting) for, what was the populace saying in this election? What did so many Albertans feel was missing from the status quo, and what are they hoping for in this new regime?
Often, when we are able to identify the moral principles that are important to us, we discover that the difference in political parties is more about how we get there than what we want. For who doesn’t want good government that serves its citizens, social services that improve our quality of life, and laws that safeguard our freedoms? Perhaps an election like this one forces us to go back—whatever our political stripes—and consider: what are those principles worth voting for?
SHARED EPISCOPAL MINISTRY
This week we will take our first steps toward breaking the impasse between our bishop and ourselves over the issue of same-sex blessings. The initiative is called Shared Episcopal Ministry and should result in our receiving the pastoral services of a bishop who is sympathetic to our request to perform same-sex blessings at St. Stephen’s.
Back in 2004 the House of Bishops passed a resolution that accepted Shared Episcopal Ministry as a model for resolving conflict between parishes and their bishop over this issue. Then, the concern was for congregations offended by diocesan decisions that allowed parishes to decide for themselves whether or not to offer blessings to same-sex couples. Now, of course, it is the reverse, as we find ourselves frustrated by a bishop who has categorically dismissed same-sex blessings as an option for the Diocese of Calgary.
Shared Episcopal Ministry means that on all routine matters we would continue to be led by our diocesan bishop. But on this one matter we would receive the support of a bishop appointed to us from another diocese. We would continue to have seats at Synod and to participate fully in the life of the diocese.
The Parish of St. Laurence joins us in this initiative. Christ Church—Elbow Park is voting on the issue this weekend. If a formal conversation with the bishop fails to find a resolution then we will call a General Meeting of our congregation to seek your approval to apply for Shared Episcopal Ministry. Your thoughts?
soulful church honours all the sacred moments in the lives of its members. Happy or sad, all life’s circumstances come with their attendant challenges and blessings. And each in their own way, they affect the community as a whole.
In recent weeks we have celebrated the lives of members or friends of St. Stephen’s as we have gathered to mourn their passing: Alan Stanwell, Larry Dornan, Roger Bowles, Rosie Binette, and last week Fred Hatt. Our faith community is diminished by the losses of these saints, even while we thank God for their presence in our midst and for the hope of resurrection.
But this week we celebrate the marriage of Clara King and Michael Thakkar. It has been one of the quiet joys of being part of the St. Stephen’s family, witnessing the growth of their love for one another, especially as it has made its way out into public view. Our hearts smile at this lovely new beginning for the two of them, and for the ways our fellowship with one another is enriched by their relationship.
It has been said that, in recent times, people do not go to church to ensure their eternal salvation—that was the concern of another age. Rather, we go to church to belong. The fruit of such belonging are the trials and triumphs we are privileged to share with one another. The life of faith is a rich soulful experience—especially when God’s children love one another, as Jesus commanded.
This week we enter the myth of Holy Week, the
great story about death and resurrection that
unites us to all mythic traditions, yet also
separates us out.
It may sound strange, calling the central
Christian events a “myth”. Are we not talking
about historical events? There is no good reason
to doubt that we are. That Jesus was an actual
person, that he died on a cross at the hands of
the Roman authorities, that his followers
experienced him as living in their midst after his
death—these facts are all rooted in human
memory and experience.
But what we have done with these historic facts is to create a mythic narrative that rivals any
throughout human history. Joseph Campbell, in his ground-breaking book, The Hero With a
Thousand Faces, identified the hero myth as among the most common of the world’s myths: the
hero leaves the tribe in order to carry out some salvific mission on the tribe’s behalf, and thereby
leaves the mortal realm for the divine.
Jesus the man, through his crucifixion and resurrection, became the mythic figure the Church began
calling the Christ, associated so closely with God to be called Son of God. Stories soon began
circulating about his miraculous birth. His earthly presence was described as “incarnation”. His place
in glory called his followers on to their own eternal destiny.
Yes, this may be the stuff of history. But it is also myth in the making: a myth that has changed our
A GREAT GIFT
We could never say enough about the great gift our children are to us! It used to be said that children are the church of tomorrow. But the truth is, they’re the church of today. Their active presence in our midst enriches us all.
Throughout this Lenten season we have been exploring ways to celebrate a more positive message than sin, repentance and self-denial. These themes have their place in Christian spirituality, but they are adult themes and therefore a hard sell to children. We wondered if we might rediscover the blessings of Lent by approaching it through their eyes.
So each week we have explored with our children, “Where is God?” We looked inward and celebrated the many ways our bodies are “wondrously made”. We considered how seeds, when they are buried, produce magnificent results. Then the children led our worship with a reminder that each of us has been given gifts to share with the world.
Last week and this, they have helped us look outward into our world to find God in the cosmic game of Hide and Seek, where the “Good News’ often lies hidden within the bad news.
This year our children have drawn us back to the basics of our faith: that we are all wonderful creations of God, loved and filled with purpose. And they have proved that they are indeed a vital part of our church today! Our thanks to them all, and to Kathleen Howes, their guide on the Excellent Adventure.