This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Inn From The Cold” [October 15th, 2017]

For over twenty years, through Inn From the Cold, robust teams of volunteers in churches, synagogues and mosques all across the city provided hospitality and safety to families who otherwise would have been on the street. Here at St. Stephen’s, those teams—the set-up crew, the supper servers and evening crew, the overnight coordinators, the breakfast and strike crews—comprised almost a hundred workers.

For many of those volunteers, the Inn was their only connection with St. Stephen’s, and they were grateful for the opportunity we gave them to serve. We were proud of our work with the Inn and even more proud that it was born right here in our own church hall.

A year and a half ago, when the Inn From the Cold Society put an end to its “satellite inns”, like ours at St. Stephen’s, many volunteers felt abandoned, and not a few felt angry. But the Inn had outgrown its humble beginnings and was able to consolidate its support for homeless families by centralizing their housing in a downtown location, close to social services the families needed, and providing day-to-day stability for families in transition.

The Society has continued to expand its services to homeless families, including several multi-family dwellings capable of housing larger families. But they have not forgotten their roots and now are reaching out to those many volunteers who created the “inns” that gave the Society its name, and its start. We appreciate those efforts and receive them with gratitude: Welcome home!

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Charmaine Evan” [October 8th, 2017]

Charmaine Evans has begun her work with us as a deacon and program coordinator. She will provide support for three areas of our parish life: worship, programs and pastoral care.

Our programs at St. Stephen’s include everything from the nursery to the visiting of seniors. But as a priority, Charmaine will begin focussing on programs for our children. This means stabilizing the staffing of our nursery to ensure that every Sunday we have experienced caregivers for our youngest church members. As well, Charmaine will explore the best locations for the nursery and assess its supplies and supports.

A larger challenge will be our Excellent Adventure Sunday School program. Kathleen Howes has created this engaging and effective cornerstone for the Christian formation of our young people. As she prepares to step down at the end of the calendar year it will fall to Charmaine to build on the foundations Kathleen has laid and create a Sunday morning program for the New Year. Charmaine will also oversee this year’s Christmas pageant.

In the New Year Charmaine will also be developing a program for our teens. But meanwhile, the rector will re-gather the group following their preparation for Confirmation last spring. It was a lively group and we want to build on the successes of that program heading into the future.

Charmaine will eventually be offering support for the women’s Soup Group, our team of pastoral visitors, and our local outreach, as well as initiating programs of her own. She’s just getting started.

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Quaint it ain’t!” [October 1st, 2017]

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!

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “News Of The Week” [September 24th, 2017]

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

This Week at St. Stephen’s: “Working toward marriage equality for EVERYONE” [September 17th, 2017]

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.

This Week: “Brand New Season” [September 10th, 2017]

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”.

This Week: “Vast And Free” [June 25th, 2017]

As we prepare to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial we are reminded that St. Stephen’s is itself a microcosm of this great and diverse nation: regionally distinct yet globally inclusive.

In two weeks we will celebrate that great local tradition—Stampede! While few of us wrangle horses or drive cattle for a living (well, none of us actually!), we revel in that distinctive part of Alberta’s history by donning our Stetsons, pulling on our boots, and letting out a Ya-hoo or two.

Here at St. Stephen’s that means our annual outdoor Stampede breakfast and worship service, which happens on Sunday, July 9, from 9 to noon, featuring a full flapjack meal and the country tunes of the Padre and the Cow Pies, attracting a few hundred of our neighbours.

And next week—Canada Day weekend—following the 10:30 service, we will be treated to homemade fatteh, a Syrian treat prepared by Soheil Issak in thanksgiving for the friendship and welcome he and his family have received at St. Stephen’s since arriving here as refugees a year and a half ago.

Meanwhile, a small of group of church members are working hard to support the Al Jbawi family, newly arrived from Syria via Amman, Jordan, as they settle into their new life in Canada. And looking around our congregation we recognize many others who have joined us from afar.

Like this great nation of ours—vast and free—we are proud of our roots yet open to the world: God-given qualities worth celebrating!

This Week: “Confirmation” [June 18th, 2017]

Seven young members of St. Stephen’s take a major step along their spiritual journey this weekend as they profess their faith, kneel before the bishop, and receive the strengthening of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of his hands. The rite is called Confirmation.

Confirmation was devised in the early days of the church when only bishops could baptize, but when the expanding faith meant congregations didn’t see the bishop too often. So local priests were authorized to baptize their new members, whom the bishop would “confirm” sometime later when he was in town.

Over the years confirmation came to assume quite a different role, as an adult profession of faith by those who were baptized as infants. More recently the rite became an unintentional graduation ceremony for young people who had been told they only had to attend church until they were confirmed, when they could choose for themselves: which they did, and then promptly left the church!

But our current crop of confirmands makes us proud with their mature understanding that being a Christian is a lifelong calling. Their personal statements of faith (which are available for you to read in the bulletin) inspire us in their concern to apply their faith in service to God and to the world.

We join in prayer and thanksgiving for Megan Harris, Ryan and Paige Miller, Euan Mushens, Brayanna Mustard, Julian Suire, and Santana Rose Suitor who will be confirmed on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Christ Church, Elbow Park.

This Week: “Cantaré Children’s Choir ” [June 11th, 2017]

For the last four years we have been blessed to host the renowned Cantaré Children’s Choir here at St. Stephen’s. They have operated from the second-floor offices in the Memorial Hall, stored their vast music library in our under croft, and rehearsed in the church itself, not to mention performing there as well. During their workshops and training events the place has been flooded with happy and energetic children flowing through the building, filling the air with song.

Sad to say, Cantaré has decided not to renew their lease with us, so we are preparing to say goodbye to them during the summer months. They will leave a hole in our hearts, as it has been an altogether happy arrangement. They fulfilled our hopes for an ideal tenant in that we felt a personal connection with them and with the inspirational work they were doing, extending a sense of wonder into the world through song.

Catherine Glaser-Climie, Artistic Director, along with her staff and volunteer team, showed just what was possible when motivated children are given attention, structure, and direction. Rarely have dozens of young people passed so gently and respectfully among us, leaving behind only a trail of happy memories … and, of course, good vibrations.

Having sung at some of the great concert halls across Canada, including with the CPO at our own Jack Singer Hall, the choir now prepares for a European tour. But we had the privilege of hearing them first. Every blessing as they go!

This Week: “Do Something” [June 4th, 2017]

“Doing nothing is not an option!” This was the rallying cry over ten years ago when we realized our ageing buildings needed some serious attention. The result was the beautiful and functional worship space we have today, along with an elevator and many necessary upgrades behind the walls.

But now the cry goes up again. The Memorial Hall, built in 1923, has been giving us warning signs for years: electrical short-outs, plumbing back-ups, and a boiler that is approaching its centenary! We couldn’t afford to include it in our last renovations. But we can’t afford NOT to face it now.

So with a new team of movers and shakers we are preparing ourselves for Open Doors: Part II (or “Open Doors Too”). Cam Bush, an electrical engineer and project manager, and also deputy Rector’s Warden, is chairing the new Reno Group, a group so newly formed it doesn’t even have a catchy name yet.

Gerry Deyell, a lawyer with experience in the diplomatic corps, brings a passion for civic-minded partnerships. Lynda Greuel is an Event planner with a background in Human Resources and much experience as an active church member. Tim Crowe, also an engineer, is a former churchwarden and strong stewardship advocate.

The skills and experience this team bring reveal our seriousness in tackling the challenges of our buildings—transforming them from problems into opportunities. We are exceedingly fortunate to have such stellar leaders in our midst and look forward to the possibilities they will explore on our behalf.