One of the complaints of modern living is how busy we all are. In fact, it is sometimes offered as a badge of courage for surviving the fray: “Hi, how are you?” “Really busy! And you?” “Same!”
Jesus preached that we have to turn around (“repent”) in order to see the kingdom of heaven in our midst. Lent is the church season for making the necessary course corrections that will set us back on the right track. People will sometimes make special sacrifices, like dieting, or take on specific obligations, like making special offerings of time or money, as a corrective spiritual measure.
Lent at St. Stephen’s begins with Ash Wednesday, on March 1, and an evening service that offers the Imposition of Ashes, an ancient sign of humility intended to remind us of our mortality. Recalling that we are all going to die someday might sound morbid, but it works to sharpen the urgency of re-setting our priorities.
Next Saturday, March 4, we are offering a Lenten workshop that will involve walking the labyrinth, another ancient—in fact, pre-Christian—practice that engages not just the heart and mind, but the body as well, in a “walking meditation”.
On Tuesday evenings throughout the Lenten season (from March 7 to April 4) we will be studying the practice of mindfulness, the spiritual discipline of “paying attention”. Various meditation techniques will be explored to stop the racing of our minds and bring our attention back to the present moment.
Welcome to Lent!
Jesus told us to repent (“turn around”) and recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst. His parables and his actions all drew people’s attention to this heavenly realm that is not a “pie in the sky when you die by and by and by”, but a present-day reality here and now. To be a follower of Jesus means to live from this reality, and from all the healing and hope it promises.
But training ourselves to recognize the Kingdom of heaven in our midst is a major adjustment. What we see—and all too readily—are reasons for worry and despair: political changes that alarm us; economic uncertainties that loom large; personal challenges that overwhelm us. How do we “repent”, as Jesus taught, “turning around” to see signs of hope?
Most of the religious traditions identify an openness of mind and spirit that is sometimes called “mindfulness”. It is the art—cultivated through practice—of simply paying attention. We learn this in meditation as we sit in silence or quietly walk the circular path of the labyrinth. We practice it during the day as we grow conscious of our breathing and catch those moments when we need simply to exhale, long and slow.
Lent this year at St. Stephen’s will be all about mindfulness. Our Sunday worship will feature small stretches of silence, reminding us to slow down, breathe, and be present. Our Lenten study will consider a number of books on this very theme. Come, repent, and see.
Parish Council has been looking back at its accomplishments over the past year and anticipating the challenges and opportunities of the coming year. Looking back, Parish Council celebrated the collegial and cooperative way it conducted its business, marvelled at the complexity of church decision-making, and lamented that more progress was not made on a number of key issues.
Going forward, Parish Council identified three major areas that will require its attention:
1.As the boiler in the Memorial Hall approaches its centenary, plans need to be made not only for its replacement, but for a retro-fit of the entire building. This will require a new task force to update the 2003 engineering report, study the repurposing of the space (both in the hall and in the church offices), run a feasibility study, draw up plans, and begin the fund-raising for such a renovation.
2. With the Rector’s retirement approaching within two years, a succession plan must be carried out to ensure a smooth transition. Adding a staff position this year, and guaranteeing its long- term funding, will launch the first step of that plan, i.e. to create a stable ongoing pastoral presence to carry us through.
3. It is time to re-establish the local outreach of the parish, for instance, building on the success of our community gardens to create a community kitchen. This could be reflected in the renovations to the Memorial Hall but, in the meantime, could begin in our present kitchen and lower hall.
So … to work!
The “Generous Listening” process has begun, studying the unresolved issue of same-sex marriage in the Diocese of Calgary. Pressed to explain the purpose of the process, our archbishop, Greg Kerr-Wilson, told our churchwardens: “The process of discernment is intended to be a time of listening and learning, both to the resource people who will be presenting and to one another.”
Our first resource people, who presented last weekend, were the Right Reverend Stephen Andrews, former bishop of Algoma and Principle of Wycliffe College, U of T, and Sylvia Keesmaat, adjunct professor at Trinity College, U of T. Together, in respectful debate, they tackled the most problematic scriptural references to homosexuality.
Bishop Andrews interprets scripture as describing an ordered universe, discounting same-sex relationships as inherently inconsistent with that order. Professor Keesmaat takes the view that scripture remains ambiguous about consensual adult relationships, noting that the early church admitted Gentiles, for which there was no biblical precedent, thereby opening the way for a modern-day consideration of same-sex marriage. She added that, like the early church, we would do well to hear the actual stories of the people we are “studying”.
How this conversation will move us forward toward decision-making in this diocese is unclear. But the archbishop reminded the assembly of clergy and lay people that the Anglican Church of Canada is a “diocesan church”, meaning that a decision of this sort, regardless of decisions made at the national level, falls to each diocese and, ultimately, to the bishop of each diocese.
Some Christians are fond of saying that children and youth are the church of tomorrow. The corollary is that, if we want the church to survive, we must inculcate our beliefs and values in the lives of the young. Respectfully, we disagree. Children and youth may or may not be the church of tomorrow; but they most surely are the church of today. Treating them as present-day members, with their own gifts to share and their own challenges to bear, is the only way they will ever become the church of tomorrow.
We are pleased to announce that, beginning January 29, we will be sharing our faith with our younger members in a monthly Sunday morning youth class. On the last Sunday of each month, from now through April, our Rector will meet with our young people to explore the basics of the Christian tradition, from how the Bible was written to what Christians have believed, then and now, to what modern faith looks like—for them! Information will be imparted but, more important, the actual lived experience of our young people will be honoured.
Some may choose to go on to be confirmed, but this is not a Confirmation class per se. It gathers young people who are ready to think for themselves while exploring their faith. For those who do seek to be confirmed a separate class will be offered in May. For now, though, we get to learn from them, just as they will learn from us.
As many of you know, several years ago our church raised funds for the Nav Paryas Children’s Home in Panchkula, Haryana, India. Permod and Pearl Kaushal, good friends of Dave and Barb Driftmier, established and ran the orphanage with the help of many Indian and Canadian volunteers. Dave and Barb had the opportunity to spend a month at Nav Paryas in 2011 and, upon their return, drew our attention to the good work being done there through a dinner and a slide presentation as well as through their heart-felt enthusiasm for the project.
Sadly, Permod passed away in August and his family members have recently decided that they cannot continue to operate the orphanage without him. The Home will remain open until the end of this school year, at which time it is hoped the children will move as a group together to a new home. They are grateful for the support we were able to give them.
The girls at Nav Paryas have had a happy life with good education, wholesome food, health care, a comfortable place to live and, most importantly, a warm, loving home. Nav Paryas has saved lives and given its children a brighter future. The funds we donated made a real difference to these children, including the completion of a new playground. The children, who are mostly Hindu, learned that Christians half a world away could be known by their love and generosity. It has been a beautiful partnership, helping to build a better world.
Canada: Worthy of our Prayers
This year Canada celebrates its 150th Birthday! Some of us remember the national celebration that accompanied our centenary in 1967—a golden moment in our history! Those memories live on through song (Bobby Gimby’s “Ca-na-da” has become an earworm that some of us will never shake) and through countless cherished photo albums (with real fading photographs!) of cross-country trips and, of course, Expo ’67.
The world seems a darker, less hopeful, place these days. Terrorism knows no borders, warfare abounds, and the instability of once-friendly nations erodes our confidence of our place in the world. An international exposition like the one we hosted on the Island of Montreal would now seem more like an invitation for trouble than a welcome mat rolled out for the world.
So it may be especially important that we keep Canada in our thoughts and prayers throughout the coming year. St. Paul encouraged this in the churches he founded. To Timothy, his apprentice in ministry, he wrote, “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered on behalf of all people—for kings and all those in authority, so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour …”
Despite all that frustrates us, and perhaps even angers us, about our nation, its leaders, and its competing territorial and ideological interests, let us pray for Canada this year—and pray with thanksgiving. Would you rather be anywhere else?
Year-end Reality Check
The stewardship program has wound up, pledges are in, and we’ve started our budgeting for 2017. But, “Houston … we have a problem!”
At our parish visioning conversations in October we identified two trends: (1) people are happy overall with the direction St. Stephen’s is moving, including the quality of our congregational life, and our outreach to the city, and beyond; (2) people want more of the same, expanding our youth programs by adding to our pastoral staff, and engaging with the wider community even more intentionally by re-fitting some of our space.
The problem is, our actual givings—including the pledges we have just received—tell us that we should be doing less, not more! In fact, barring a miracle between now and Christmas, we are likely to enter 2017 with a deficit of somewhere between $12,000 and $25,000, effectively removing new staff and building upgrades from the table!
The rector and wardens are asking all parishioners to reconsider their financial support of this “lively and diverse midtown congregation”. Specifically, they are asking:
- If you are not doing so already, please consider stabilizing our cash flow by giving by way of pre-authorized debit.
- If you have not pledged, please do so. Let us know your intentions.
- If you have already pledged, please revisit the amount and consider at least another 5% increase.
- Or give us a whopper of a one-time gift, helping us climb out of debt and into the exciting possibilities of the New Year.
Will you help?
This is a quick update of our ongoing work to make our diocese an inclusive Christian community that marries same-sex couples and welcomes all as equal members of the Body of Christ.
Back in September six clergy and a marriage commissioner joined to perform a wedding ceremony at St. Stephen’s for a “queer” couple (their own designation). It was an act of defiance within a diocese that does not permit same-sex blessings or marriages.
The six clergy were called before the archbishop a few weeks later, dressed down by the chancellor, and handed a disciplinary letter warning them not to do it again. Then, two months later, the archbishop sent an email to all the clergy of the diocese describing those events and attaching a copy of the disciplinary letter he had given the six clergy. A legal challenge has followed, citing a breach of the Personal Information Protection Act.
The archbishop is now expecting all clergy and designated lay people from each parish to attend “Generous Listening” events he has planned for the New Year. Designed as study opportunities, they are not intended to lead to a decision but rather to help people “do their work” around this issue.
A group of clergy and lay people from across the diocese met recently to plan a way forward that presses for an end to study and debate and insists that “local option” be adopted as a diocesan policy, allowing individual parishes to make up their own minds about same-sex blessings.
A secret garden is growing in the heart of Calgary’s Beltline. Flower boxes, brightly painted, mark it outwardly, busy with gardeners of all ages during the growing season. But inwardly, there is a cultural flowering of art and music that is attracting world-class artists and savvy urban audiences. That secret garden is none other than St. Stephen’s!
Several weeks ago the Calgary Instrumental Society hosted a Sunday afternoon concert by CPO violinist and concertmaster Diana Cohen and members of her musical family. Over two hundred were in attendance for this intimate family affair. This Sunday we are visited by three of Calgary’s finest classical guitarists for a baroque and classical Christmas feast.
Professional choral groups love singing—and recording—at St. Stephen’s. In coming weeks the Renaissance Singers, One Voice Chorus, and La Vie Vocal Ensemble will all be taking the stage here, and in the New Year Luminous Voices will be recording their second album in our sanctuary.
This garden is overflowing with delight. Calgary’s culture vultures know it well, but to many it remains one of our city’s best-kept secrets, which doesn’t seem right. Good news should be proclaimed from the rooftops and in the city squares.
Your church has become a cultural mecca! Come and be fed by the cultural offerings happening here almost every week (check the Sunday bulletin, our weekly e-newsletter, or the bulletin boards for details). And then go tell the world there’s a cultural garden flowering here … and that it’s no secret!