Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Council votes to demolish church

Posted on: April 22nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The old St. Philip’s Anglican Church in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s has stood empty since 2003, when the congregation moved to a new building. Photo: Church by the Sea, Inc.


The acrimonious debate over what is to be done with the deconsecrated 120-year-old Anglican church in the town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, Nfld., was decided last night by a contentious town council vote of 4–3 in favour of demolition.

“To say that this has been a bruising journey would be an understatement,” Geoff Peddle, bishop of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, wrote in response to the decision. “It has been an incredibly difficult journey for many involved that has led to deep divisions among some that we can only hope will heal with time.”

When the Anglican Journal spoke with Peter Jackson, an architect and president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Historic Trust (one of the bodies committed to preserving the building), he said he was “very disappointed that the town chose to ignore their own municipal heritage status on the building and vote for demolition,” and disappointed that the diocese didn’t “heed the groundswell of support for the church and withdraw their application for demolition.”

Peddle, in a pastoral letter sent to members of the parish in October 2014, maintained that the diocese undertook nine months of study and consideration that involved consultations with the congregation and groups both in favour and against the demolition. He said that he received over 100 “submissions…on the matter of the old church” and the “ratio in favour of taking down the old church with dignity and care was over eight to one” among people who contacted him and actually live in the community of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, “who pay taxes there, who vote there, and who in most cases identified themselves as Anglicans members of the parish.”

The roots of the conflict, which pitted the parish of St. Philip’s against local and provincial heritage groups in often bitter dispute, goes back to 2004, when the parish of St. Philip’s moved into a new building and parish hall that had been built to meet the changing needs of the congregation. The diocese had directed the parish to “dispose” of the old building, which dates to 1894, as a condition for building a new one.

The old church was deconsecrated in 2006; in 2009, the vestry of St. Philip’s applied for a permit to take it down. Many members of the parish, not wanting the burden of having to maintain two properties, were in favour of demolition, but other members of the community were surprised and shocked by the decision to destroy a building that they said had played a central role in the town for over a century.

A committee, Church by the Sea Inc., was formed in 2010 to attempt to preserve the building as a museum and cultural space, and in that same year, the building was designated as a municipal heritage structure.

However, on the very same day it was declared a heritage structure, the church’s steeple was vandalized so badly that it toppled to the ground, where it has lain for the past five years.

At the heart of the dispute is the fact that the church sits in the midst of the parish cemetery, and so it is not as simple as handing the building over to the care of the community. “The cemetery is still in use; it belongs to the parish of St. Philip’s; it’s our responsibility,” said the Rev. Ed Keeping, rector of St. Philip’s parish. “We don’t want things going on in the cemetery that would disrespect those that have gone before us.”

The problem of what to do with the building, like so many relating to historic church properties, ultimately comes down to hard financial realities. In his pastoral letter, Peddle noted that it would cost roughly $250,000 to move the church from its current location, and roughly $455,000 to refurbish it—costs “that neither the parish nor the diocese can afford or are prepared to pay.”

While Church by the Sea has raised some funds toward restoration, boasts a large number of willing volunteers and has released a proposal for development in January 2015, the problem of the church’s location proved intractable.

An attempt was made earlier in 2015 to bring the parish and Church by the Sea to mediation, but it failed, and the decision was handed over to town council on April 20.

When asked what will happen next with the building, Keeping said a timeline for demolition would be established through conversation with the bishop and the chancellor of the diocese. After the church is taken down, St. Philip’s plans on building a meditation space and garden for those visiting the cemetery that will include a memorial to the church.

His own perspective about the building that has caused so much rancour in his community, however, is pragmatic.

“I value what the church has done in the past,” he said, “but we’re not into saving buildings. We’re into saving souls and preaching the gospel, and the building is just a building.”

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Anglican Journal News, April 22, 2015

The continuing story

Posted on: April 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

And that changes everything—backwards and forwards.

Our story—the world’s story—is rewritten in this moment. Everything that came before means something a little different now—everything needs to be re-remembered in light of this new fact.

Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, walking sadly and fearfully away from Jerusalem, away from their hopes and their dreams, away from their friends, away from their dead and disgraced, and now disappeared, teacher. They had thought they’d known the story—a story of God’s triumph manifest in the annointed one, gloriously, powerfully liberating God’s people and revealing the might of the God of Abraham and Jacob. But instead, it turned out to be a story of false hope, of the frailty of human life, the weakness of human friendship, of the immensity and invulnerability of empire.

How dreadful that road must have been.

Until a man appears—a man who helps them hear the familiar stories of their faith in a new way and returns some hope, some faith in their crucified master. Suddenly, everything they thought they knew seems a little bit different and their memories of the last few days all have to be rethought. Suddenly, the possibilities for the future seem a little bit bigger. Their hearts that had, just moments ago, been heavy and aching are now burning within them—filled with a passion they don’t understand.

Until the man takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them.

Then, all of a sudden, they see him for who he is—their own beloved Jesus, risen from the dead, and they understand their burning hearts—hearts that knew their teacher, even if their eyes did not.

And everything changes.

The sad story they shared with the stranger on the road changes. The story of God’s presence in the world changes. The story of their future changes…and they turn back, back to Jerusalem, back to their community, back to the promises of God.

Jesus is risen. Everything is possible. Fear and hate and violence have been revealed for what they are—shallow and empty and, ultimately, powerless in the face of the glory of God. Peace and love and hope and faith are revealed to be stronger than we could ever have imagined.

But that’s not all—the story is not simply ended with an alleluia and a happily ever after. Because Jesus isn’t just risen. Jesus is here—on the road, in the Scripture, at the table, in bread and wine and friendship. The promise has not simply been fulfilled—it is still being fulfilled.

Jesus is here. Don’t worry about whether or not you can see him—you can feel him, burning in your heart. The promise is still unfolding, revealing itself in our own lives as we learn how to tell our stories and the stories of the whole world in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus is here—and now, everything is possible—more, in fact, than we could possibly ask or imagine.

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

The Rev. Rhonda Waters is associate priest of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal. 

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Anglican Journal News, April 20, 2015

Life is ‘larger than one’s ownership of it’

Posted on: April 15th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Diocese of Algoma bishop Stephen Andrews’ parents, Irving, Jr., and Emmy Lou. Irving, Jr. died in October after a massive stroke. Photo: Contributed


Excerpts from an interview with the Anglican Journal and from his column in the Algoma Anglican (April 2014):

My dad died in October. He had a massive stroke, and my brother and I were able to fly down to be with him and he lingered for a little less than a week.

We talked to the doctors about not taking any heroic efforts; he had signed a life directive saying that he didn’t want any heroic measures. And so it was a real question for us, about the degree to which his suffering was something we should seek to shorten by shorten…And just as we were discussing this, I saw him with his own family—two sisters—and people from the community rallying around him… There was a sense in which, in his need and suffering, he was contributing to the depth of human community around him. He gave us the opportunity to care for him. I saw my aunts minister to my dad in a way that has completely changed my relationship with them, and so there’s a sense in which it is not just about the individual. And just because a person may not have, let’s say, a cognitive function, or may be on some kind of life support system, it doesn’t mean that they are not making a contribution to the integrity of our humanity and the integrity of our community.

I think that when we diminish the value of life in this fashion, then we are devaluing all of our humanity and the value of human community.

***

When it comes to the conditions of our dying, how much control ought we to have?

The arguments can be complex and deeply personal, involving technology, medical codes of ethics and an appropriate understanding of human dignity. But two Anglican bishops in Quebec, Dennis Drainville (Quebec) and Barry Clarke (Montreal), have weighed in on the discussion. In October (2013), they expressed concern that the bill presents “risks for the vulnerable, including the elderly, people suffering from clinical depression and those with disabilities.

“Christian thought through the ages has been guided by the principle that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and our life is to be seen as a gift entrusted to us by God,” they wrote. “Life is thus seen as something larger than any individual person’s ownership of it, and is not simply ours to discard.”

A bias in favour of life is something that the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians has strongly endorsed. “Euthanasia and/or assisted suicide have never been part of the practice of palliative care,” they write, while pointing out that the World Health Organization’s definition of palliative care is “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families.”

But the bishops here voice another core, and yet neglected, Christian conviction: that in putting us in community, God has made us mutually dependent. There are profound philosophical and theological questions about the existence of suffering, to be sure, questions that we may never resolve this side of heaven. But this is certain: part of what it means to be human is to be bound to others in suffering—both in sharing our suffering with them and in bearing their suffering ourselves.

St. Paul wrote, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves” (Rom. 14:7). The great New Testament scholar Joseph Fitzmyer called this verse “the basis of life in Christian society.” Our General Synod acknowledged this interdependence in a resolution on assisted suicide passed in 1998: “The Christian vocation is to keep faith with and show respect for another by keeping company with them through the terminal stages of a disease or the life-span of a disability…The Christian response is always one of hope. This hope exists in the context of the physical, emotional, and spiritual support offered by the community.”

Both in preparing for death and in dying, it is important that we respect and treasure the sacred nature of life and the nexus of human relationships in which God has placed us. Where these things are honoured and preserved, advance care planning can be an act of compassion and a source of comfort both for ourselves and our survivors.

Stephen Andrews is the bishop of the Anglican diocese of Algoma.

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Anglican Journal,  April 13, 2015

Choosing the ‘escape clause’

Posted on: April 15th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Diagnosed with primary progressive MS, Elizabeth MacDonald warned her husband that she could not live with complete paralysis. “I’m not sticking around. I’m not going to be trapped in my own body.” Photo: Contributed


(This story first appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Anglican Journal.)

The Rev. Eric MacDonald, a retired Anglican priest who lives in Windsor, N.S., said he was “overjoyed” by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to legalize doctor-assisted suicide. “I think it was about time,” he said, but added, “For Elizabeth, it is 10 years too late.”

Elizabeth was MacDonald’s wife, who in 2006, when she was facing rapidly progressing paralysis due to multiple sclerosis (MS), tried to take her own life. “She was asleep for about 48 hours, but she woke up again and was disappointed about that.”

She was so determined to die that later she asked MacDonald if he would accompany her to Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1942. In June 2007, when Elizabeth was 38, they travelled to Zurich, seeking the help of Dignitas, an organization that offers medically assisted suicide.

Elizabeth was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in 1998. What began with a bit of numbness on one side of her face in September moved steadily, so that by the time she saw a neurologist in November, she was already having trouble walking. The couple knew people struck by the same disease, including one of their neighbours, who had been completely paralyzed and had a feeding tube surgically installed into her stomach, MacDonald recalled. “She could not move or speak or indicate what her wishes were. Her body…was spastically being bowed backwards on the bed. She couldn’t do anything at all.”

From the early days of her diagnosis, his wife had said, “If this is primary progressive, I’m not sticking around. I’m not going to be trapped in my own body.”

The uncertainty of when or how she could die and how it might involve him and the rest of their family preyed on her mind over the years of her illness, and may have contributed to her health’s steady decline, he said. “If she had less stress and was confident that when things got too bad, she had an escape clause, she could have been quite comfortable about things,” he said. The high court’s ruling “will give security to people like Elizabeth, who need that comfort…that when things are just too bad, they can leave.”

MacDonald said his own views on the issue were established long before it confronted his own family. “As a priest, I had seen a number of people die and many of them, I am afraid, in misery.”

When they travelled to the clinic in Zurich, MacDonald said Elizabeth first met with a doctor who made sure she was really ill and that she indeed wanted to die. By that time, she was paralyzed from her arms down and her voice was becoming gravelly. The next day they went to a Dignitas apartment, where MacDonald said the staff talked with them for about three hours as a part of the process. “They kept repeating along the way, ‘Mrs. MacDonald, you don’t have to do this. You can pack up and go right straight back home and nobody will think any less of you.’ She said, ‘No, this is what I’ve come to do. I’m not going back home.’ ” The staff explained that she would be given barbiturates that would kill her if she drank the mixture. When she said she understood, they gave her the glass. “So she lay on the bed and she lay in my arms as she died, and that’s what she wanted to do,” MacDonald said.

Dignitas then notified authorities and MacDonald said that within 15 minutes, a doctor and two assistants, the public prosecutor, an assistant and two police detectives were in the room. The process was well documented in Switzerland and included a video recording of Elizabeth’s stated intent, but MacDonald faced questions on his return to Canada.

Elizabeth had thanked Dignitas in her obituary, and the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition asked the RCMP in Nova Scotia to investigate. The RCMP asked MacDonald to come into their station for an interview. An officer asked him to recount the story of his relationship with Elizabeth and how it ended. He was asked specifically about whether she had made her own arrangements for the trip. About a week later, the same officer came to his house to tell him that no charges were going to be laid.

MacDonald said his belief in an individual’s right to choose how they will die didn’t conflict with his faith or role as a priest, but the church’s stance on the issue has. “I’ve been angry with the church, to be quite frank, because the church has had a discussion paper in existence [for years], but it hasn’t done anything about it.” (In 2000, the church published the report, Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide.) MacDonald said he was outraged by the report’s suggestion that assisted suicide is a failure of community. “That really means that people who are helped to die are really being abandoned by their community, and I think that’s a horrible thing to say.” In Elizabeth’s case, he said, “For me to have refused and said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to assist you in this—there’s no way I’m going to accompany you to Switzerland’—that would have been, to me, abandonment.

“It’s a human being’s right, it seems to me, to have a choice about how to die,” MacDonald said. “Of course, it is compassionate, but it is not compassion that drives this; it is a sense that it is a person’s right. It’s not that we’re doing something for somebody, but [that] we are allowing somebody to do something for themselves, even if they need assistance to do it.”

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Anglican Journal News, April 13, 2015

Heeding a gospel warning

Posted on: April 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The hypocrisy and corruption associated with the Pharisees, as portrayed in the gospels, has made their name a potent insult. But Christian teaching, despite describing this corruption as extremely dangerous, often places the threat of the Pharisees’ attitude and actions far away from our present day context. This is a mistake.

Jesus describes the attitudes and actions of the Pharisees as a present and persistent danger to his followers. He said to his disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” encouraging them to be vigilant in avoiding this threat to themselves and others. And the others are often the vulnerable, as the gospels’ narratives show. The poor and the marginalized are the most frequent victims of religious corruption.

The use of the word “leaven” is important, describing the way religious corruption can quietly, even in small doses, overwhelm the individual disciple and whole religious communities, systems and institutions. Hearing this should steer us away from quick judgments of any other person or group, even the Pharisees. The main thrust, however, is to be on guard against the subtlety and persistence of religiosity and its tendency to despoil and corrupt religious faith and community.

The simple positive here, the antidote, is to put God above all else in life, making this real by faith and trust. Applied to our religious practice, individual or communal, it means that we must never let the human response to God, however beautiful or noble, become more important to us than God. We must never let fear be our guide. Though this might seem to be elementary, in practice it is often illusive. Whenever we think the dignity of a whole institution is more important than the life and well-being of even one child, we are feeling the influence of the leaven that plagued the Pharisees. Whenever we value the economic or legal integrity of the church more than a fearless pursuit of God’s truth, we feel the influence of the leaven. The pride that leads us to believe that we may have discovered or developed a uniquely privileged form of faith; that it, rather than the gospel, will save us, is the influence of the leaven. Fear and uncertainty seem to make this leaven work more quickly, and conflict and division seem to increase its reach.

Although it has been a constant danger, the leaven of religious corruption seems a particular danger to us now—every one of us and all of us together. It will take a turn to faith and a return to vigilance to save us. Avoiding the influence of the leaven of religious corruption may seem costly, but not if we remember and practise the promise of Jesus: if we lose our life for his sake, we will save our life.

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

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Anglican Journal News, April 08, 2015

Being on-the-record about Christ

Posted on: April 8th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Michelle Hauser

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)

 

The majority of the writing I do these days is for secular media, which means I spend a lot of time denying God.

Mostly I try to rationalize my denial as banal, classifying it as errors of omission and therefore, not as egregious as outright denial. Although, when you think about it, St. Peter had armed Roman soldiers with a penchant for sadism and committing horrific acts of violence to contend with—what am I so afraid of, anyway? No one’s going to nail me to a cross or feed me to the lions.

It’s incredible, really, with the freedom of speech and religion we enjoy in the west, that I choose to be a fair-weather Christian who tip-toes around with God, as if he’s an under-age friend I’m trying to sneak into a bar: “Just don’t draw too much attention to yourself G. and everything will be fine.”

I’ve written stories for publication about forgiveness and honouring the oneness of marriage, all the while having side-stepped explicitly Christian references, or failing to credit the passage of Scripture that inspired my actions in the first place. Why did I do this? Because telling the whole truth—versus burying it in between the lines—about the Creator’s hand in my life would have rendered the article un-publishable in mainstream media. In other words: being mainstream mattered more than honouring God.

The essays were printed, and aired on the radio, but the experience was bittersweet because my hesitancy and fearfulness permeated the work. While friends and family celebrated my success, I was left grappling with the truth of myself as the cowardly lioness scribe at work: she who lacks the courage to be on-the-record about Christ.

When I read Matthew 26:31-35, I sink low in whatever pew or chair I occupy because I recognize myself in it: The arrogance, the unmitigated gall of “Not me, Lord, definitely, not me!,” followed by the ultimate betrayal. Two thousand years later, this remains the greatest challenge of those who attempt to follow Christ: How to summon the courage to publicly align ourselves with Him, at all times and in all places, in spite of the risks—be they death or, in my case, irrelevance?

Recently, I heard a preacher say that the Bible is a miraculous text, and that if we strip the miracles out of it, then it becomes something other than what it was intended to be. His words made me re-evaluate my tendency to cherry-pick Scripture, leaving out the gory bits with which my intellect, shaped by too much comfortable morality, cannot cope.

He also made me think twice about my Christian witness and its conveniently adjustable and fully detachable Christ-filter. When I leave God out of my writing, am I not someone other than He intended me to be?

From time to time readers will write to me with words of encouragement and say, “You’re on your way!” The truth is, though, and I can say this with all sincerity, whatever journey God has in mind for me as a writer has only just begun.

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Anglican Journal News, April 08, 2015

Being Easter people

Posted on: April 3rd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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(This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of the Anglican Journal.)

April is here and for those fortunate enough to be surrounded by caring family or friends, there is much to celebrate—both sacred and secular.

After Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when devout Christians reflect on the suffering and death of Jesus, comes Easter Sunday, a joyful celebration of the resurrection that begins with a eucharist; it is often capped by a feast, and for the children, an exhilarating hunt for those pastel-painted eggs. On this same weekend, the Jewish community begins its weeklong observance of Passover, which commemorates the liberation of Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt.

April brings the splendour of spring, of course. Sweetness fills the air as once again, flowers of every imaginable hue bloom, birds compose a symphony, and days—bathed in glorious, aureate light—arrive, and linger, at last.

These celebrations and the arrival of spring have—since time immemorial— symbolized hope and renewal, a chance to start over. Spring, declared Henry David Thoreau, “is a natural resurrection, an experience in immortality.”

But as important as it is to celebrate the beauty of new life, one must not forget that for some, April will be just like any other month of the year, where each day can be an interminable struggle to simply survive. When one is in desperate need of food and shelter, suffering from depression and isolation, unable to make ends meet, fleeing violence or in excruciating pain from an incurable disease, picture-perfect April can seem like a cruel joke.

Christians often declare, “We are an Easter people.” Now, more than ever, is a time to prove this. Being an Easter people means being harbingers of hope and justice and living out the Lenten call for true discipleship in the world.

Recently, not-for-profit and faith groups launched Dignity for All, a national campaign urging the federal government to legislate an anti-poverty plan to address the plight of 4.8 million Canadians who live in poverty. (See page 1.) One in seven Canadians struggle to make ends meet, and yet there is no national strategy in place to address this unconscionable situation. “There is no excuse for poverty in a society as wealthy as ours,” said Dignity for All in a report. “…The sluggish recovery since the 2008–2009 recession has created further barriers as benefits of economic growth are increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few.”

Historically, faith groups have been at the forefront of helping to feed the poor and hungry. They continue to provide these services, while acknowledging that these are stopgap measures that do not solve the problem.

With a federal election on the horizon, Dignity for All is urging every political party to make a commitment to develop and implement an anti-poverty plan “with measurable goals and timelines.” It is something to which faith groups—and indeed, all Canadians—should hold them accountable. As faith groups in the U.K. said when urging their own government to address the growing hunger in their midst: “Hope is not an idle force. Hope drives us to act.”

Happy Easter.

email: editor@anglicanjournal.com

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Anglican Journal News, April 02, 2015

A generation lost

Posted on: March 31st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Daniel Graves

In the mid-19th century, the Rev. Featherstone Osler founded 20 churches in 20 years in Upper Canada. Photo: Osler Library of The history of Medicine, McGill University


(This article first appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.)

There was a general feeling amongst the elderly in the community that a whole generation was being lost. Their adult children had fallen away, and their grandchildren knew nothing of the faith at all. One of them proclaimed, “O sir…our children are growing up faithless and our little ones have never been baptized!”

This might very easily be the lament of any of our senior parishioners on any given Sunday in one of our churches. Yet, these were words spoken to the Rev. Featherstone Osler, the first resident clergyman of West Gwillimbury and Tecumseth in Upper Canada, shortly after his arrival in 1837. The shortage of permanent resident clergy and the failure to build churches over the preceding 30 years had led to a whole generation of settlers falling away, and their children never coming to faith at all.

It was into this world that Featherstone Osler was thrust. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, with a profound sense of calling and a fortitude that can only be considered remarkable, Osler went about the work of building the kingdom in the two townships and outlying areas committed to his charge. He wore out more than one horse, proclaimed the good news fervently, and in 20 years founded 20 congregations, established Sunday schools, trained bush clergy and built at least a dozen church buildings. He could have flagged; he could have returned to England and taken up a more comfortable sinecure, for his was a family of means. But no—he laid hold of the yoke his Lord laid upon him, trusting in the faithfulness of God and embracing the hope of the kingdom.

Our age is not so different. We lament the loss of a whole generation in the church. But shall our faith falter? Will our fortitude fail? We may not be called to answer the problem the same way Osler answered his call, but we are called to rise to the challenge. We are called to believe that God will give us the tools to meet those challenges.

And we have that one thing that Osler and so many others before and since have had: the good news of God in Christ. The means of proclamation will vary with the age and place, but the hope of salvation is sure, and our God is faithful as we proclaim the words of life to a hurting world.  

The Rev. Daniel F. Graves is the incumbent of Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, Ont., and editor of the Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society

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Anglican Journal News, March 31, 2015

Seminaries and graduates and churches, oh my!

Posted on: March 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Leaders can empower congregations to move with confidence and joy into God’s future.

By Molly Marshall

Marshall Molly ColumnSeminaries are in the news these days as the church continues to shift in social location in our communities. Theological education, in my judgment, can be a source of renewal for congregational life, and it may be the only place devoted to preserving and developing Christian theological identity in postmodernity. I am biased, of course, for this is my life’s work — since shortly after the earth cooled!

If churches are in precipitous decline, as many suggest, then there will not be the necessity of seminary education, with its freight of educational debt. Indeed, a critical question may be “can the church and the minister afford each other?” Compensation patterns in most churches do not allow ministers to discharge educational debt quickly; negligible stewardship among too many congregants makes the calculus more daunting, but I digress.

Churches are in decline where there is a self-preserving mentality, and few are interested in helping patch a listing ship. Churches are in decline when there is not a clear message of what they are for, not simply what they are against. Churches are in decline when they are invisible in situations where moral courage is needed. Churches are in decline when they resist adaptive change, which could make gospel witness more winsome.

I do not believe decline is inevitable; rather, I staunchly believe that this season of reflecting on the church’s mission is healthy and promising. Indeed, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that more than the church having a mission, God has a church to use in the divine missio Dei. A disposition of humility in this can make us much more useful in the divine purpose.

As I write, I am in Myanmar for a doctor of ministry seminar at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, a regular pilgrimage for me in the spring. Meeting with faculty I hear echoes of some of the same notes as at home. Graduates leave the seminary with high hopes of doing the contextual theological work that will move congregations beyond the inherited patterns of the missionaries. When they get to the churches, and they attempt to change the music, reorder the liturgy, engage their communities, or transform the role of the pastors, deacons, or laypersons, resistance ensues. Because ordination may take a number of years, some do not move into the roles for which they prepared. And the church forfeits visionary leadership.

Many faculty members here write about the need to let the cultural forms of Myanmar be the focus for the expression of Christian discipleship, letting go of the transplanted western worship practices. Yet, when I visit the churches I hear hymns from the 19th century. I cannot remember the last time I sang “Count Your Blessings,” “For I Know Whom I Have Believed” and the requisite threefold amen following the benediction. Actually, I do remember. It was last year when I worshipped here.

Faculty wonder if they did not teach their students sufficiently, and churches wonder why they should support seminaries that do not replicate embedded practices. Graduates get discouraged about the process of change, perhaps because they lack leadership skill to bring about the incremental shifts that would make the church more relevant. The necessary partnership between seminary and church breaks down, and churches remain mired in alien or irrelevant expressions of Christian identity. And I am not just talking about Myanmar.

This persistent reality suggests to me that what may be needed in seminary — in addition to theology, biblical studies and the arts of ministry — is even more focused attention to the process of leading change. Leaders of change are characterized by a stubborn optimism that change can occur, that the church is a dynamic organism, that theological insights are not inert and that people can be inspired toward transformation (with the exception of a few old soreheads).

Leaders of change realize that stasis means death, and that coasting inevitably means a downward trajectory. Leaders model and live into the change ahead of the structure they seek to shape; they also learn to build coalitions that will welcome new horizons for ministry. Leaders can empower congregations to move with confidence and joy into God’s future.

Seminary graduates are a treasure to the church. Churches have formed them and encouraged them to pursue theological education, and when they welcome them back in their home or other congregations, it should be with the same openness that faculty desire in their students. Churches should not recommend students to attend seminary if they do not want them to grow and change. Graduates bring energy and fresh eyes to the responsibilities of ministry.

I believe that the gap between classroom and congregation can be bridged, and the relationships of seminaries, graduates and churches can be an alliance that serves the respective interests of each. There is understandable tension between embedded ways and new challenges, but not insurmountable. We need each other, and our participation in God’s redemptive mission depends upon strengthened partnership.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.

“I Sit in Silence”

Posted on: March 27th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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In early February I attended a book launch marking the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.  A simple Liturgy of the Word was followed by an opportunity to meet the author and chat with the sisters about their past and their future as a community of religious.

“In the meeting room down the hall”, one of them announced, “are a number of artifacts for the taking. If you would like to make a contribution we would be grateful.”

Down the hall I sauntered and to my delight found a couple of the renowned Oberamagau crucifixes.  I made a contribution and gladly took away these priceless treasures.  One hangs in my study at home and the other I have placed in the chapel at Church House.

Never have I sat before an image of a crucifix of such proportions (three feet in height and two in breadth) for any length of time on a daily basis.  But this Lent, when I’ve been home, I’ve been able to do just that, each evening.

I light a candle. The flame quickly illuminates the carver’s detail in the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross.  Then my eyes are drawn to his pierced side, his outstretched arms, his sacred head sore wounded with a crown of piercing thorns.  I look upon his face and think of the wood carvers whose skill and precision, love and devotion to Christ, reveal the agony he bore for the redemption of the world.  My eyes are drawn to his and I wonder what he sees in me – what good, what ill?  I wonder what he sees that I can or will not see? I wonder what he sees in his Church – What holiness, what brokeness?  I wonder what he sees in the world – what righteousness making him glad, what injustice making him weep?

Then I find my eyes focussed on his very lips.  I recall his prayer that we be forgiven our sins.  I hear his word of mercy to a penitent thief.  I remember his cry of dereliction and his thirsting that his work be finished.  I hear him drawing his mother and the beloved disciple into a new relationship, and indeed through his reconciling love, all of us.  I hear him commending his spirit into the hands of the Father and I think of all who earnestly yearn for a good life and a holy death.

It’s one or another of these words that has come to mind, depending on what I have been carrying into this moment at the end of each day…

I sit in silence…and invariably I find myself humming words from one of the great hymns of The Passion of Jesus,

“What language shall I borrow
to thank you, dearest friend,
for this your dying sorrow,
your mercy without end?
Lord, make me yours forever:
your servant let me be,
and may I never, never
betray your love for me.”

(Hymn 198, “O Sacred head, Surrounded”)

These words capture how lost I am for words before his suffering.  They humble me to an honesty that leaves my soul naked and in need of that mercy and grace with which only He can clothe me.  They summon me to renewed steadfastness in my devotion to Him.

As they have become my prayer through Lent, I carry them now into the solemnities of Holy Week.

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, March 27, 2015