Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

‘Quandaries’ exist around assisted death ruling, says ethicist

Posted on: November 18th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Canon Eric Beresford speaks to Council of General Synod about the work the Anglican church’s task force on assisted dying. Photo: André Forget

A patient lies in a hospital bed, suffering from a degenerative and incurable disease. Tired of the pain and tired of life, he has just asked his doctor to help him die. His priest sits beside him, and he tells her that this will be the last visit, because he wants the struggle to be over. The priest is uncomfortable. She doesn’t know what to say, but she knows she has to say something.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the ban on assisted dying earlier this year, it has become increasingly likely that priests will find themselves in this situation at some point in their ministry. Canon Eric Beresford, the ethicist who heads the Anglican Church of Canada’s task force on physician-assisted dying, would be the first to admit that there is no consensus among Anglicans as to whether or not physician-assisted death is a good thing.

“We are diverse in our views of these issues,” he wryly acknowledged in a presentation to Council of General Synod (CoGS) in November on the work of the task force, “and these issues are not un-nuanced.”

There has been an acknowledgement that no matter what side of the issue they take, clergy will need to get used to providing care and support not just for those coming to grips with death, but for those trying to decide whether or not to take an active role in hastening it.

“It is a difficult decision whether you choose to avail yourself of physician-assisted dying or whether you choose not to—it’s not that one is a difficult choice and the other isn’t,” he stressed. Some clergy will face an additional difficulty: providing pastoral care effectively and appropriately to people “who might be making a decision you don’t much like,” he added.

Having edited the 1999 General Synod report Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide, Beresford is no stranger to end-of-life issues, and while he believes Care in Dying still provides a useful background to the theological issues around euthanasia and assisted dying, he acknowledges it belongs to a different time.

“Clearly it was not compelling, even in our own church,” he said, “and I would suggest that it is now moot, at least from that perspective.” The role of the task force now is to speak to the current Canadian context, a job complicated by the fact that that context is far from clear.

When the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter vs. Canada struck down the ban on physician-assisted dying, it provided few limitations or guidelines, leaving it up to Parliament or the provinces to craft appropriate legislature around how physician-assisted dying should be legally practised in Canada. This leaves a number of what Beresford referred to as “quandaries”—grey areas not yet defined by law—including issues such as: what qualifies as an adult, whether or not a patient’s illness needs to be terminal in order to receive assisted dying, how many physicians need to be involved and what role family will play.

“It is interesting that in the decision of the court, the word ‘family’ is never mentioned,” said Beresford. “That does rather suggest that one of the things that was going on in the mind of the court—and there are other reasons for believing this, too—is an understanding of the autonomy of the individual that is at least un-nuanced.”

But one of the biggest issues is that of palliation. While very much in favour of palliative care, Beresford was skeptical of the argument, sometimes made by the opponents of physician-assisted dying, that palliative care is a better alternative.

“This will only work if the choices for patients are real,” he said, “and those choices are not real where we’re divesting in health care, and they’re not real when, in particular, we are not providing appropriate, adequate and, I would even say, excellent palliative care.”

While he argued that a high level of care is, indeed, what the medical system should strive for, his views on current practice were scathing.

“Palliative care in Canada is spotty at best and is often extraordinarily poor,” he said. “Canada has heavily institutionalized what palliative care it provides, there are still palliative care services provided in a number contexts where, frankly, adequate use of pain management is still deeply problematic and where the personalization of the process of dying is not, in fact, what we have seen.”

Beresford’s task force is in the midst of creating a number of resources, including a theological reflection on the current state of affairs. However, he also asked CoGS members to share their thoughts on what the church’s priorities should be at this time.

Most responded by stressing the importance of developing resources supporting pastoral approaches in line with the diversity of opinions in the church, and the need to advocate for guidelines around assisted dying that will protect the vulnerable, with less of an emphasis on the need for the church to publicly articulate its principles or work through the issue theologically. Beresford said the task force would take these suggestions seriously as it moves forward in its work.

The task force was formed to consider the issue of assisted dying in 2014, before the Carter decision came down, and in addition to Beresford includes Dr. Anne Doig, former president of the Canadian Medical Association; Juliet Guichon, a lawyer from Calgary whose practice involves medical ethics; the Rev. Ian Ritchie, a theologian from the diocese of Ontario; Canon Douglas Graydon, co-ordinator of chaplaincy services for the diocese of Toronto; Louisa Blair, a medical writer and editor from the diocese of Quebec; and Janet Storch, professor emeritus of nursing at the University of Victoria.


Anglican Journal News, November 18, 2015

Modern life in a global village

Posted on: November 18th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Near the end of a recent two-week tour of the Holy Land, we 29 Canadian pilgrims from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan spent quality time in the eternal city of Jerusalem. Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, we had constant reminders that this place is the spiritual heart of more than half of humanity. History has created a place here that is strangely conflicted yet peaceful.

After spending time at the troubled Temple Mount and Wailing Wall, we stopped for an hour at tranquil yet cheerful St. Anne’s Church. It was a Crusader house of worship and is a splendid example of Romanesque stone architecture—presumably not far from Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus is recorded to have healed a paralyzed man (John 5:1–15). During a time of Islamic ascendancy, the original facility became a centre for Koranic study. The building has stood in its present form for 800 years and is maintained as a place of Christian worship by the Franciscans.

Struck by the acoustic resonance of the facility, and encouraged by the notice that visitors were permitted to sing any religious song they might choose, our group did not need much prompting to break forth into hymns like Dona Nobis Pacem and a rendition of Hallelujah, aided by our Jewish tour hostess, Ahuva.

We waited to see and hear who would be following our impromptu presentation. Within minutes, we were treated by a group of Christians from Northern Nigeria whose dominantly male choral offering was Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine, with a gusto I have seldom, if ever, heard. Soon thereafter a mixed-gender group of Koreans sang, in their vernacular, a piece that many of us knew, even if we could not understand the words. Many other parties circulated and sang during the remaining time we spent in this remarkable gathering place. Indeed, as I told the priest standing near me, “The global church is passing by in front of our eyes. What a privilege to be here.” This was a trip highlight for many.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam co-exist in tragic competition as well as blended co-operation in the Holy Land. Sometimes their behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. Occasionally, intentional life together is truly inspirational.

Earlier in the tour we found ourselves following online the current election results from Canada at the same time that fellow-Canadians were hearing the news. Whether in Jerusalem or near the Sea of Galilee, it became strikingly apparent that modern Christians participate in a global faith family, an interfaith reality and an international political “village” like never before in human history.

That is, as they say, bad news and good news. The bad news is that we sometimes needed to tune in to the BBC or The New York Times online to pick up stories of tragic Holy Land terror actually happening around us. The good news is that we can enjoy the human family in its marvellous variety and nobility like never before.


Anglican Journal News, November 18, 2015

Using a Scientist’s Training to Understand Theology

Posted on: November 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Sam Humphrey

These days, when scientists and people of faith can seem more like adversaries than allies, it is easy to lose sight of the historic connections between the scientific disciplines and the study and practice of theology and ministry.

It was, of course, not always so. The Franciscan friar Roger Bacon invented the scientific method; the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel founded modern day genetics; and the Episcopal Church can boast scores of scientists in its lay and ordained ministries, including Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, an oceanographer, and Bishop of Rhode Island W. Nicholas Knisley, a physicist and astronomer.

While the disciplines may seem at odds, at Episcopal Divinity School, an emerging corps of current students and recent graduates who come from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields belie that notion. Like scientists, theology students require an almost insatiable curiosity, a discerning eye for patterns, and must use evidence to draw conclusions about the world around them. Both require a tolerance for uncertainty, a drive for knowledge, and the ability, which as F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked was the sign of a truly first-rate intelligence, to hold opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

Three students who came to Episcopal Divinity School from careers in science and engineering say the same skills used in scientific fields are vital to understanding theology. And the same curiosity that inspired their first career also guided them to embark on their second one.

Dr. Laurie Triplett

Dr. Laurie Triplett ’16 is a master of divinity degree candidate and a postulant in the Diocese of New Mexico. She enrolled in EDS’s limited residency Distributive Learning program so she could pursue a bi-vocational ministry that would include ordination and her work as a mechanical engineer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where she uses computer modeling to monitor electromagnetic pulses from satellites orbiting the Earth.

“All along, my calling was to be a scientist and a priest,” Triplett said. “I felt called to volunteer my time [as an Episcopal priest] and keep my day job even after I’m ordained.”

When she decided to answer her calling to become ordained, the Rev. Dr. Rachel Wildman ’15 put on hold her career as an epidemiologist, where she studied such subjects as heart disease and diabetes.

“I felt a persistent call from God, from being in church and wanting to stay there, and from loving Eucharist and being involved. It slowly built over time until it consumed all my thoughts,” said Wildman, who graduated from EDS in 2015 with a master of divinity degree, and was recently ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of New York.

Dr. Pamela “Pan” Conrad ’17, like Triplett, is a master of divinity candidate in the limited residency distributive learning program at EDS, and has kept her day job as a planetary scientist and astrobiologist at NASA, where she is part of the team using the Curiosity Rover to explore Mars.

“Everything happens providentially if you’re listening to your instincts and you think about what gifts you have,” said Conrad.

Pattern Recognition

In their scientific careers, Conrad, Triplett, and Wildman posed questions and hypotheses, studying sets of data to find evidence and identify patterns to help them draw conclusions. In their EDS classes, those same methods helped them tackle complex theological queries.

Pan Conrad, who earned degrees in both music and science before studying theology at EDS, was intrigued by the patterns she discovered across all three disciplines.

“Since I also studied music before I studied science, I’ve been in a lot of fields, and I’ve been fortunate because they all seem to relate,” Conrad said. “Both music and science are about looking at and recognizing patterns. As we study God and our relationships with Him and with one another, we look for patterns, good ones and ones to let go of… and as you look for them, you can see the larger patterns in the church and society in general.”

Dr. Pamela Conrad

The more she studied, Conrad became focused on those patterns and relationships, examining their meanings and drawing conclusions of her own.

“The thing about relationships is they always offer someone a new opportunity, and as relationships grow, new patterns emerge, and opportunities for passion start to emerge,” she said.

For engineer Laurie Triplett, it was also about uncovering hidden evidence and revealing patterns under the surface of everyday life. “Certainly, I would bring all my logical-ness that I have to my theological studies—I can’t help it. But I don’t see the work I do at EDS as any different [than working as an engineer]. It’s seeking evidence and weighing evidence,” Triplett said of her seminary classes.

“More of my classes have been experiential [and] intellectual. They pushed me on issues like racism,” Triplett said. “But I started coming to terms with the implicit advantages of being white. I saw that a lot of minorities don’t have the same experiences I have.”

As an epidemiologist, Wildman “fell in love” with the process of thinking that an epidemiologist goes through. “I liked thinking about all the different things that could come in and change the interpretation of our data,” she said. “A whole bunch of stuff comes together in one discipline, and you get to collaborate with people all over the country and the world.”

At seminary, Wildman adjusted that way of thinking to explore ideas that could not be solved through scientific reasoning alone. But her training as a scientist helped her adapt and learn about theology with the help of her fellow theologians.

“In science, everything is critiqued and given feedback, so I learned to get fulfillment out of proposing an idea and having a discussion based on that idea,” Wildman said. “It was helpful in seminary too as I got to watch that process take place.”

Each of the women noted that their curiosity and drive to learn helped them explore Christianity more deeply.

“Theology brings in a lot of the curiosity that was inherent in science,” Wildman said. “Through all the collaborations I had done, I found research to be a humbling discipline. Scientists I met were gracious with their time, and shared their data and their resources, so being trained in that spirit worked well for me. EDS is a very collaborative place and I used that training all the time.”

Balancing Beliefs

For years, some members of the scientific and religious communities have argued over the validity of the others’ beliefs. At the extreme, scientific thinkers like Richard Dawkins and religious leaders like Ken Ham have insisted the two cannot coexist, that only their own respective worldviews are correct. In their professional lives, Conrad, Triplett, and Wildman have fielded questions and have had long discussions with their colleagues about their faith and call to ministry, and how they balance their spiritual life with their scientific research.

“I once had someone from work come up to me when they found out I was a Christian, and said ‘But I really respected you as a scientist, how could you believe in that?’” Triplett recalled. “I think one important point is that there’s no dichotomy between faith and science. I think it’s perfectly rational to believe in them both at the same time.”

Though her colleagues may not share her faith as a Christian, or understand her calling to ministry, Triplett seizes these opportunities by inviting them into a conversation about it.

“I work with a lot of non-believers, and I feel called not to convert them, but to show God to them,” Triplett said. “For a while, I didn’t tell people at work I was in the ordination process, but when they found out, they were all extremely supportive of me going forward with it. I have lots of non-believing friends on this journey with me, and they are excited that I will be ordained.”

The Rev. Dr. Rachel Wildman

Wildman also found a receptive group of colleagues who were interested in learning about her faith life and call to ministry.

“At the time I decided to pursue seminary, I was working at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. There was already a culture of Jewish faculty honoring their faith tradition at work … I think that allowed people to ask me more questions about [my faith],” Wildman said.

“People encouraged me to think about how to keep my scientific background active as a priest,” she said. “Science itself is a lot to keep up with, but it should be a question posed to clergy who come from STEM backgrounds: How do you bring science into your day-to-day life?”

Choosing EDS

Three eminent scientists—each different in their fields of study, in their experience and their temperament, but each called to ministry and drawn to EDS for some of the same reasons that so many have been drawn to EDS over the years, from the first women ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, to LGBT people, to women and men from across the global south.

“EDS—from the moment I visited—felt like a place where I could be myself, and be even more of myself than when I arrived. More so than I would probably be at any other seminary,” Rachel Wildman said. For her and others, EDS was the perfect seminary to help her bridge her life as a scientist to her calling to become an Episcopal priest.

For Conrad and Triplett, the flexibility of the limited residency Distributive Learning option gave them rich educational and formational opportunities while they continued their careers as astrobiologist and mechanical engineer, respectively. Both in the two-week residential intensives twice each year and in blended synchronous online classes, the community that Triplett and Conrad found at EDS was crucial.

“EDS has something really special going on, in the traditional, on-campus program and the hybrid program and how much community is built into it,” Triplett said. “I have loved going to EDS, and my experiences there have shaped me in a way I will never forget.”

The concept of transformation is one that finds a home near the center of both science and theology—birth and growth, love and sacrifice, death and resurrection: what are these except forms of the only constant, change?

The kinds of changes we face right now both as individuals and as a global community can seem stunningly complex, from inequality, disease, and violence to climate change and stewardship of the Earth’s natural resources. For Conrad, Wildman, and Triplett, theological education and answering a call to ministry represented an opportunity to continue their work as scientists trying to understand the changes and challenges of the world around us, a new way of satisfying curiosity, martialing evidence, and recognizing patterns. It became, in fact, an extension of their very selves.

“The most important thing is that it’s a fabulous opportunity to take everything in your mind and heart and mix it all together to be the most authentic version of yourself you can be,” Conrad said. “EDS has such a core-value commitment to social justice that you can feel transformation in your own heart as a student there. You feel yourself turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly.”

Pictured top to bottom: Dr. Laurie Triplett, Dr. Pamela “Pan” Conrad, and the Rev. Dr. Rachel Wildman

This article will appear in the upcoming Fall/Winter issue of EDS Now.


Episcopal Divinity School, EDS Now, November 02, 2015

Taking prayer seriously

Posted on: November 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

imageDuring the 15 months of our parish’s construction project, I constantly felt out of my depth, stretched beyond my own understanding and ability. There were days where I felt I spent more time wearing a hard hat than a clerical collar. It felt like I spoke about glulam beams, requests for information, and change orders more than I did the deep things of our spiritual lives. I often tell people that nothing moves you to prayer more deeply than a church building project. Those who may have walked this road probably understand where I am coming from.

Now that our construction project is completed, people ask me questions about the project all the time. Sometimes people ask, “How were you able to manage the parish during the craziness of construction?” To this question, I often respond, “well, I prayed a lot.” Or, the more financially minded inquire, “What is your plan to repay the loans that you took for the construction costs?” Again, my response is, “well, I’m praying a lot!” Then, there are those who ask me my thoughts about church growth, about building up a strong congregation, about my ‘strategy’ to reach out to the neighbourhood and increase the ‘numbers’ in our church. My response is—you guessed it—“I’m praying a lot.”

Usually, my questioners believe me to be joking. Sometimes they chuckle. Sometimes they look at me with a gaze that says, “please be serious.” But here’s the secret: I am being serious. I know of no other way to be a person of the church than to live from a prayer-filled centre.

As a church community, we are called to be a community of prayer. Prayer is to fill our lungs, and it should inform the very manner in which we approach all areas of our life together. We are called to be a body of people who continually pray for God’s blessing on one other, and on our ministry. Prayer defines who we are.

I have to admit, sometimes I wonder if we take prayer seriously in the church. Can prayer really be a serious answer, solution, and resource in our life of faith? Or do we see prayer as some sort of passive activity, pertaining only to the liturgical life of the church, whereas the ‘real work’ of ministry occurs through the sweat of our efforts and the mastery of our skills? Do we get so caught up in our own efforts and strategies that we end up defining ‘healthy churches’ as congregations whose people try harder, do more, sing louder, and spend less?

It may be a hold over from modernity’s emphasis on progress, or it could be a product of the individualism of this age, but this understanding of the life of the church is only about what we create for ourselves. Rather than sinking deep into, and following, the movement of the Spirit, we skim on the shallow surface of our own abilities; we mistakenly assume that presence of new parishioners is linked to our slick programs or fancy invites; we understand ministry only in terms of what we are called to do; we succumb to the lie that says bigger is always better and blessedness is about having more.

I don’t want to deny that we have a role to play; of course we are all called to be involved with the life and ministry of the church body. Of course there are things we are called to do as the church in this world. Faith without actions, James reminds us, is dead. But what of the spiritual life? What is the foundation of our actions? Where does the power, the inspiration, the motivation for our activity come from?

Before we do anything in the church we should be praying for the church.

We are called to pray for God’s blessing, guidance, and power in all areas of our life—from Sunday school to parish council members, to Altar guild recruits, to our parish finances. The blessing of the church is a spiritual reality, not a strategic one. Strategy is about results. It is about maximizations, efficiencies and increased margins, and more than anything, it is about what we bring to the table. Blessedness is about God’s presence. It is about God’s ability to do that which is beyond what we ask or imagine. Praying for God’s blessing in the church means that we anticipate, experience, and respond to the Spirit of God amidst us. It means we put down any sense of our own control and trust that God will indeed guide us and keep us.

Let us not forget to pray for our church. Let us pray that people experiences the love and grace of Jesus at every single service. Let us pray that God guide our decisions and tasks so that they reflect the presence of the Spirit in our midst, and not just our own smarts. Let us pray that God send us those specific resources our community needs to do the work that God has called us to do. And let us pray for each other. Let us hold one another up before God, asking God’s grace to fill, relieve, empower, and sustain us.

Strategy and effort is shallow business. Sure, it may create big structures, many programs and multitudes of people. but the strength will exist only on the surface. Plumb the depths and what will you find? Prayer, on the other hand, is serious business, for it goes to the heart of who we are called to be and it calls us to long for, and respond to, the blessedness of God’s Spirit in our midst. Perhaps this is why Scripture continually affirms the fundamental identity of the church as a house of prayer. More than anything, that is who we are called to be.

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
The Community, An update from The Community, November 06, 2015


Posted on: November 14th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


MarthaSQOur amazingly multi-talented Youth Minister at St. George’s began offering Zumba classes at the church a few weeks ago. I have recently discovered that I love Zumba—the music, the dancing, the way that for one hour I think of nothing other than trying to master the steps and then walk out at the end feeling the exhilaration of an elevated heart-rate and some exercise endorphins circulating through my body. So I invited a friend and went for the inaugural Thursday night class.

Even with such good feelings, I couldn’t help a slightly snarky comment on my way in. “I wish I could get this same turn-out for Bible study,” I murmured out of the side of my mouth, watching women of all ages excitedly file past the sign-up table, especially that demographic that is so often missing in our studies—the twenties, thirties and forties who are juggling full-time jobs and raising children, who have no time for most of our church activities, and struggle even to regularly attend worship. I meant no disrespect to Tanya, who is the kind of bubbly and talented and genuine personality that people gravitate toward, and also turned out to know how to throw a slamming Zumba dance party. And I have utter sympathy for why people my age find it hard to make church participation and its various learning and prayer disciplines fit into their busy lives. I get it. My comment, instead, was born out of a question for me as a Christian leader: if people can make time for fun physical fitness that will help them to feel healthier and more energized, how can we better be communicating to our people that a religious discipline will likewise have the same kind of life-giving effects? If we can carve out time for Zumba, surely carving out time for church is also possible?

Commitment. It has been the word I have been mulling over continually this fall. We have been studying the book of Revelation in our Adult Ed program. We have wrestled with such weighty and terrifying words of condemnation as these:

“Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands,  they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. (Revelation 14:9-11)

Context is important. The author of this text, John, is a persecuted Christian living in exile, who writes the book at least in part as an argument for staying staunchly Christian in the face of the pressure to renounce one’s faith, participate nominally in Roman culture, and avoid being thrown to the lions. While Revelation is the most graphic and violent of such arguments in the New Testament for staying close to the Lordship of Jesus, the entire canon of books assumes that Christianity is risky business and that commitment is required. “Take up your cross and follow me,” is a clear and costly call. Jesus doesn’t even recommend that a would-be follower put off The Way to bury his own father, let alone for any of the myriad of better options we have casually and consistently placed ahead of seeking and serving God.

That call to commitment had an obvious necessity to would-be followers in those newborn years of the church. The only version of Christianity that could exist and thrive through the several centuries of on-and-off persecution was a version that stood firmly in opposition to the mainstream culture. Of course, the greater part of our church’s history has been a startlingly opposite experience: Christianity as mainstream. People were committed Christians simply by virtue of being citizens of Christian countries.   They prayed, went to church, learned the Scriptures, etc., by virtue of participating in society’s norms. In the North American Anglican church, anyway, we are still figuring out this new day into which we have awoken, a day in which there is no particular fear attached to the practice of Christianity. In our country anyway, following Jesus is not a life and death choice. At the same time, there is nothing about how our life is now structured and the social expectations upon us that naturally support our Christian practices.

We haven’t figured out what commitment looks like without either persecution or Christendom.

I danced my way through that first Zumba class. I, along with every other woman in that room, came out feeling revitalized. Life and health, I thought. We need to connect our Christian practice to life and health. People will find time, they will prioritize church if we link our religious practices to life and health. It was a fun class, and it inspired what I thought to be a valuable lesson. John’s revelatory images of the fire, sulphur and the endless torment provides fearful imagery entirely consistent with the fearful times in which John was living and writing. But what I need to do today is to get closer to that Galilean who promised that his advent into our lives was for the purpose that “you might have life, and have it abundantly.”

This theory has since been challenged.

I haven’t been back to Zumba. I had a wonderful time. It was one of the high points of my week. But I haven’t been able to claim that one hour into my schedule since.

I looked in on the class this past week, on my way to another meeting at the church. The numbers were a fraction of what they were for the first class. The same dynamic that I see in worship, adult ed, youth group, choir, youth choir and Sunday School was also wreaking havoc on that perfectly fun and easy way of getting a work-out.

Maybe it’s not the case that we need to convince people that church is worth making a priority. Maybe our struggle isn’t around commitment at all. Maybe St. Paul summed it up best, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15). Left to our own devices, we struggle deeply and continually with setting our lives on course with the practices that afford us the greatest health and joy. Whereas most of us can show up for a job, honour a contract, and keep a lunch date, mostly every ‘extra’ or ‘option’ in our lives challenges our ability to achieve regular follow-through…. even when we really want to. That’s why new members in our churches thrive in their new-found discipline when they are put on schedules and asked to show up for things where it is clear that something is being asked of them. That’s also why efforts to make it to worship or exercise classes “when I can get there… I’m aiming for once a month,” are almost guaranteed to fail. We might find something fun and invigorating. We might know it is good for us. But the only other real option in grounding our lives in healthy practices, other than knowing something is expected of us, is to make it so routine, so much a part of our everyday life, that it is no longer a choice. Exercise and worship and Bible study become things that I do when they become things that I always do. No choice. No commitment. No problem.

The ironic thing, the thing that I guess we know deep down and yet doesn’t necessarily make us any better at choosing the right priorities in our lives, is that if we can get those routines set, those routines that make us feel well and connected and cared for and energized, then it’s amazing how much easier it is to make other fun and life-giving commitments fit too.

I have a new theory. If Tanya were even half as good a Zumba instructor as she is, but she required that people sign up and pay in advance for a set of classes, if there were some sort of check-in or accountability built into the regime, I believe that attendance would improve significantly. In those first several hundred years of Christianity, those years of persecution out of which came our Scriptures and the surprising spread of Christianity, “showing up” for the practices and proclamations of the faith was of obvious power and importance, telling a radical and penetrating story to those who saw that following Jesus was worth paying any price. Similarly, in the hundreds of years in which Christendom reigned, “showing up” was not nearly so dramatically meaningful, but its weight was also felt through the mere fact of structuring society around the daily routines of faith. In the absence of Christendom, in the blessing of our religious freedom, and short of threatening people with John’s “fire and sulphur,” evidently it is incumbent upon us as Christians to figure out one of the two following, if not both:

  • That showing up is a matter of critical importance, not just for you and your health, not just for your family, but for all of us. There are people, there is maybe even the Creator of the Universe, counting on you. Better than the “All are Welcome” words ubiquitously on our church signs, might be “We Are Expecting You.”
  • How to take Christian practices out of the realm of the special and into the everyday. We don’t need to make church more exciting, we need to make it more boring. More habitual. More routine.

At least one part of my first theory was right: I/we need to draw closer to that Galilean who promised springs of living waters and bread that would satisfy our deepest hunger. If we could get a handle on the above two things, I suspect that our churches would be fuller and we would be able to live more abundantly.

The Reverend Martha Tatarnic serves as the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines. Previously, she has served in congregations in Orillia and Oakville. Her focus in congregational leadership has been in empowering justice initiatives and outreach in the small church, starting a new service, the possibilities and potentials of Anglican-Lutheran partnership, and forming disciples through the power of music. As a young mother navigating family life through the continually changing waters of modern-day life, she is passionate about connecting the dots between faith – worship – Scripture, and exploring the concerns, joys, questions, stresses, worries, celebrations, of Right Here, Right Now.


The Community, An update from The Community, November 13, 2015

Holy Communion: First and lasting impressions

Posted on: November 12th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Michelle Hauser

“Communion is so gross!”

The cruel words, which were whispered but still plenty audible, cut quick and deep. The visitors in the pew behind me had, apparently, been dragged kicking and screaming to an infant baptism and were now having a mini freak-out about our proclivity for drinking from a common cup. Anglicans spend a lot of time wondering what newcomers are thinking, but I have to ask, “Do we really want to know?”

Our traditions make perfect sense to us, but they’re a million miles away from where most people are at. I’m normally an advocate for bridge building between the church and the culture at large, but even I have limits. It was all I could do to keep from turning around and snapping, “Why don’t you just beat it, then!” Moments earlier the couple had vowed to support the wee babe in his life in Christ—of which Holy Communion is a big part—and now they were making fun of the whole thing.

Their first impression of communion stood in stark contrast to my own some three decades earlier: “Communion is so cool.”

I was 10 years old. We rarely went to church, but my aunt was singing a solo—a haunting rendition of Ave Maria—and my mother and sister and I had gone to listen to her. Blessed Sacrament had also been my mother’s church before she married my dad and broke with Catholicism.

When it was time for communion all the pews emptied out, but we three stayed in our seats, notably and conspicuously separated from the crowd. I had questions for my mother, chiefly, “Why aren’t we going, too?” Mom wouldn’t make eye contact with me. Her heavy sigh and faraway expression told me this was yet another closed door for the second-stringers—the kids from the “other family” of a woman who’d hitched her wagon to a divorced man.

With a kaleidoscope of stained glass dancing across the carpeted aisle, I watched, mesmerized, as the crowd moved together in the sombre but dignified march to the Lord’s Table—a destination that was off limits because my family’s paperwork was too messed up.

“You mean I can take communion?”

Such was my incredulity 20 years later at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church in Toronto. My sister had joined the choir and, once again drawn in by the music, I had come for a visit. During coffee hour a friendly parishioner schooled me on some of the complexities of being Anglican and I asked for clarification about the fine print in the bulletin: “All baptized persons may receive Holy Communion.”

“Were you baptized?” she asked. “Yes,” I said, “when I was 12.” It was in the Free Methodist church, but I withheld that information. Frankly, I was afraid the Methodists hadn’t made the denominational cut. Had the C of E really flung the door that wide open?

I calmly nibbled on a cookie, but my heart was pounding: the old paperwork anxieties flared up again. The Anglicans had been nice to me, so far, but surely the moment of reckoning was at hand. Could I even find my baptismal certificate? Wouldn’t the Sacrament Police have to stamp it before I could finally make the long-awaited pilgrimage to the Lord’s Table?

Of course, there was none of that. Open communion was exactly as advertised. The next Sunday I returned to St. Aidan’s and joined the communion march. If my head ever gave germs and backwash a second thought, it was significantly overruled by my heart. For the first few months, the oneness of the experience, the holiness of it, and the emotional release of no longer being barred from this hugely symbolic act, had the unexpected consequence of making me bawl like a baby.

I learned to stuff my purse full of Kleenex on Sunday mornings and began the truly bizarre custom of sitting in the front pew—no better place to hide outbursts of raw emotion—which I still do to this day. This geographic positioning puts me in fairly steady contact with newcomers who tend to arrive late and don’t realize they’re not supposed to sit up front.

On the day of the infant baptism I reminded myself that the utter cluelessness of my pew mates was not for me to judge and spared them the evil eye during the recessional hymn. (I wanted to give it to them, though. I really, really wanted to!)

On the surface, it may seem like a fairly standard procedure, but the truth is we all make our own journey to the Lord’s Table. For some, the road is more winding and twisting than for others—nearer to the grave than to the cradle.

And it is worth remembering God is the one directing the traffic. Cantankerous crossing guards need not apply.

Michelle Hauser is a former fundraiser turned newspaper columnist and freelance writer. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph, and worship at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Her work includes contributions to CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Kingston Whig-Standard. She can be reached through her website at


Anglican Journal News, November 12, 2015

Ottawa, Montreal dioceses vote to divest from fossil fuels

Posted on: November 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Carbon emissions from an oil refinery in Alberta.
Photo: Bruce Raynor

A majority of delegates from synods of the diocese of Montreal and the diocese of Ottawa recently voted to divest from fossil fuels, joining 430 other institutions and 2,040 individuals representing $2.6 trillion in assets who have chosen to pull fossil fuel stocks from their investment portfolios.

While many faith organizations already have policies in place to prevent investments in tobacco, alcohol, weapons, gambling or pornography, as awareness about climate change becomes more widespread—and concern over its effects more heightened—an increasing number of churches are choosing to divest from the fossil fuel industry as well. (In May, the Church of England’s governing body moved to sell its 12-million pound investment in coal and tar sands.)

“We know what the effects [of climate change] are now,” said Lenore Fahrig, a biology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, who led the environmental group that helped bring the divestment resolution to the Ottawa synod on October 31. “And we know how to stop it—and we know why we’re not stopping it, which does come down, essentially, to money.”

It logically followed, she said, that money would be the place to start when looking for ways to respond to the crisis. While only about $1 million—less than 10% of the diocese of Ottawa’s total investments—were tied up in coal, oil and natural gas, the amount of money was only part of the point.

“I think it’s a way of putting pressure on governments. It’s a symbolic act in the sense that symbols can be very powerful,” she said.

While it is not yet clear how much money the diocese of Montreal has invested in fossil fuels, its synod—held October 16-17—passed a resolution urging the finance committee “to take, in a timely manner, all reasonable measures in its power” to divest from companies trading in coal, oil and natural gas.

A press release posted on the diocesan website on November 4 notes that “the diocese does have holdings in such companies but diocesan staff could not provide details right away,” and goes on to explain that the diocesan investments are largely held in a mutual fund, the Anglican Balanced Fund.

“It was expected to take some time to cross-check the holdings of the fund against the lists of the Fossil Fuel Indexes and report back to a diocesan council on a detailed divestment policy,” the release stated.

Although the finance committee of the diocese of Ottawa has already isolated the assets it needs to sell, the executive archdeacon of the diocese of Ottawa, David Selzer, said it is not yet sure how that money will be reinvested once it has been freed up, and couldn’t say whether it will be put toward green industries or sustainable energy.

“It’s up to the investments committee,” he said. “We didn’t want people micromanaging investments, especially when investment people know a lot more than we do.”

But as the diocese of Montreal made clear in a backgrounder to the divestment motion, the reasons for divestment were financial as well as moral. While “it is wrong to profit from an industry whose core business threatens human and planetary health,” the diocese also finds that “fossil fuels are risky and volatile. In recent years, they have not performed well, and the long-term picture looks grim.”

Selzer said that the diocese of Ottawa followed a similar logic, and in the lead-up to drafting the resolution, the finance committee and the environmental group worked in concert.

“It wasn’t as if it was environment vs. investment,” Selzer said. “It was really a coming together of the minds and how to craft a resolution that would meet both the concerns of folks concerned about the environment and folks concerned about investments—some of whom are the same people.”

While divestment can be an important symbolic act, does it have any effect on the actual fossil fuels industry? Fahrig says that is “much less clear.”

“It’s a public statement, and it is an effort to influence public opinion and public policy,” she said. The power of divestment lies in the number of people choosing to divest, and the message that sends to governments.

The resolution to divest from fossil fuels was only one of four climate-change related resolutions brought before the Ottawa synod; there was also a call to bring the matter of divestment before General Synod 2016, to encourage the entire Canadian church to bring its investments in line with its teachings on environmentalism, to educate Ottawa Anglicans about climate change and to make the diocese carbon neutral.

Carbon neutrality, or a net zero carbon footprint, means balancing carbon emissions against an equal amount of carbon sequestered or offset. Selzer noted that while “it is not something that we have passed [effective] immediately,” it was an aspirational goal.

“We know that we are very dependent on fossil fuels to run our own lives—transportation and so forth—and in Ontario we are not fossil-free in terms of our use of electricity, so it’s something to work toward,” he said. “Ontario, on the other hand, is far and away ahead of other provinces and states when it comes to fossil free fuel, which is a great thing. How do we support it? Let’s try to do it in our churches.”

Selzer suggested that green audits and increased use of solar power would be a good place to start.

“It’s a coaching mechanism—to say to congregations, you’re not doing this alone, this is part of a discernment of the diocese, and we will help you through the whole process.”


Anglican Journal News, November 06, 2015

Our agenda, as we wake up

Posted on: November 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Last month, this column spoke of the institutional church’s captivity to the mindset of Western culture. We called it a kind of “hypnotism” whereby many of the assumptions of Christian faith were blunted or obscured by the powerful counterpoint of Western ideas. This is not to say that there weren’t many points of mutual agreement and benefit in this exchange. There were, however, many aspects of this mutuality that may be seen as negative, as in the way churches played an animating role in colonization.

Today, a spiritual resilience in the churches, from Pentecostals to the Pope, is leading many to rethink major elements of the institutional ethos and practice of the past few centuries. We might call this a kind of “waking up,” a rediscovery of truth and new life in ancient paths. As we wake up, I would like to make a few suggestions for a conversation of renewal. Though far from perfect and much less than exhaustive, here are the elements that I believe should be a part of our theological agenda. If we move toward them, these would preclude the kind of practice that led to the churches’ part in colonialism:

From just war to active non-violence. 
As a church of worldly power, we compromised with power and formed alliances that directly contradict the active non-violence of Jesus. More than just practising pacifism, we are asked to walk the extra mile of resistance to confront evil with the power and truth of the one true God. This will often place us on the other side of the cozy relationships we have had with worldly power.

From the culture of money to non-possession.
 The early church practised non-possession, its members sometimes sharing with each other in common, but more often, practising an ethic of non-possession. We are trustees of God’s wealth and we are called to live this long abandoned ethic—sharing with each other, generous to those in need and grateful for God’s abundance.

From the dominion of creation to the eucharistic life.
Western attitudes to the environment are often, at a practical level and in effect, a denial of doctrine of creation. The gospel asks us to embrace a eucharistic acceptance of the gift of creation; we use only what we need, respecting and acknowledging the interdependence that is the vestige of the Triune God’s creating presence in our universe.

From flirtation with wealth to life among the poor and marginalized.
Jesus said in Matthew 25 that we would meet him in the poor, the imprisoned and the abandoned. Our institutional life, even the placement and direction of our ministries, should follow this priority. This would, at minimum, impact where we place our congregations and how we house them.

From institutional membership to communion.
Churches in Christendom were a vital organization, but later they became institutions of the larger culture. Can we become—in practical impact as well as in our theological theory—members, one of another? This desire, so urgent in our young people, would simultaneously make us less like members of an organization and more like family, living together in communities of moral imagination—rethinking our lives in light of the gospel.

Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada. 


Anglican Journal News, November 06, 2015

His view

Posted on: October 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

I have always looked forward  to the festival of All Saints. It is a  culmination of all those days when we  remember, with thanksgiving, the work and witness of particular saints and  the lives and labours of holy men and women throughout the ages. They  include family and friends and colleagues and mentors and spiritual companions.

In this wonderful festival we are mindful of how we are compassed about—that is, surrounded and inspired by their examples. In that great company, too, are those who have been near and dear to us and who have great influence in shaping our own call to lifelong discipleship.

In our view of the communion of saints, we so often find ourselves looking back, albeit with much gratitude for all those who have been chosen vessels of God’s grace at work in the world. While I honour that view, I often find myself wondering if that is our Lord’s view. While I imagine him looking around at all his saints who now rest in his presence, I see him looking ahead, anticipating the next wave of his faithful followers. Rejoicing in all those who embraced his gospel and became ambassadors of his love for the world’s healing and transformation, his gaze shifts from time to time to the future and to all who, in their respective generations, will become lights in the world. It seems to me this view of “the blessed company of all faithful people” reflects the hope of the Psalmist:

“We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done…

“That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn;
that they in turn might tell it to their children. ”

(Psalm 78: 4,6)

Might his view of looking back, around  and ahead become our view of the communion of saints in all its fullness.

 Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. 


Anglican Journal News, October 29, 2015

The abundant waters of faith

Posted on: October 27th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Managing director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity

A Chagall painting helps us consider abundance and scarcity in our work and how we practice our faith.

At the recent ecumenical gathering of pastors, professors and other institutional leaders, “A Convocation of Christian Leaders: Taking Faith Seriously,” we used a painting by Russian Jewish surrealist painter Marc Chagall as a warm-up on the first day of the event.

The painting, one of Chagall’s depictions of “Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water (link is external),” served to introduce us to the themes of abundance and scarcity in our own work, ways of practicing our faith, the character of the prophet, and questions around “What gives life?”

Chagall’s depiction of Moses striking the rock portrays Moses with a raised stick in front of a dramatic sun, looking down at a river of water cascading over a cliff. Chagall uses dark, thickly painted colors to portray the Israelites on either side of the water. The crowd is a somber bunch, many with outstretched arms or hands, empty cups and hollow expressions.

Chagall’s portrayal of the Israelites reflects themes from his own heritage. Born to a simple family in a village in Russia, Chagall filled his paintings with images from village life. Using surrealist techniques like impressionism and cubism, his paintings were dreamlike, imaginative and magical. While he studied art around the world, he was homesick for his village and family and, as a result, his paintings were filled with themes of Belarusian folk life, the Bible and Hassidic Judaism.

With this introduction and the image in front of us, we began by answering two questions in small groups around our tables:

  1. What do you see? Describe what is going on in the painting.
  2. Who in the painting is taking faith seriously and how?

After a few minutes to discuss these questions, we entered more deeply into the painting by answering: “Where are you in the picture? How are you showing up to our week together? If Chagall had painted you into the scene, which figure would you be and why?”

Participants responded by talking about the ways in which they instinctively thirst for living waters, without always knowing what it is they need. The painting helped them express their desire to live “in the light,” to be at times joyful about the abundance that God provides while at other times fearful that what they need might not come.

One participant resonated with the figure of a woman in the painting who simultaneously extends her empty cup while placing her hand over her heart. She at once expresses both her faith and her need for the abundant waters. Another participant noted that while the water is flowing abundantly, the crowd doesn’t seem to be noticing. Are their times when, as poet Wendell Berry says, “What we need is here (link is external)” but we don’t recognize God’s gifts?

Other participants identified with Moses, the leader who, keeping his face in the light, acts on his faith by obediently striking the rock.

Perhaps Moses, like these leaders, hoped beyond hope that his seemingly impossible act of obedience would bring forth sustenance for his people, abundance out of scarcity. New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson (link is external) writes that the character of the prophet is one full of spirit, word, embodiment, enactment and witness. Chagall’s painting helps us see both these characteristics of a leader as well as what it might mean to take our faith seriously.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, Faith & Leadership, October 27, 2015