Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Random acts of evangelism

Posted on: September 4th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Michelle Hauser

Random Acts of Evangelism usually leave me grappling with a complex set of emotions. First and foremost, there’s anger. I sincerely do not want to talk to strangers about Jesus, and when they knock on my door with a Bible in hand, while I’m searing a roast, the meat gets crispy and so do I.

The only joy I get from these uninvited dialogues (monologues, really, but more on that in a minute) is when I tell them I don’t want a copy of Watchtower, or whatever, thank you very much, because I’m Anglican and we have our own newspaper, so don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Through the years, I’ve come to relish the crestfallenness that creeps across their faces during my big bad denominational reveal. It’s primarily fundamentalists who go door-to-door, and I think they prefer impassioned atheists to mainline moderates. Maybe it’s easier to catapult a prospective convert from one extreme to another? The middle, however, is a real challenge for zealous disciples: such a vast expanse of potential religious mediocrity to navigate. It’s no wonder Anglicanism seems to throw them off their game. (Of course, there are fundamentalist Anglicans, too, but that’s another column for another day.)

Anyway, anger is what I felt one day earlier this summer when I was minding my business, training my son to be a good guide for my mother-in-law (she’s visually impaired and needs to be accompanied on her walks) when two something-sisters-of-the-something-mission crossed the street and interrupted us.

In fact, the reason I didn’t read their name tags in full is because I was focused on showing my son a particularly treacherous section of sidewalk that could leave his grandmother stumbling into oncoming traffic if he weren’t extremely careful. My business was life or death—it’s unclear if it will appear on my heavenly scorecard on admissions day, but it probably won’t damage my prospects—and chewing the fat about Jesus, however good his news, was not on my agenda at that moment.

The two young women with golden curls and flowing skirts might have been resplendent in the sunlight, but their luminescence was diminished by their forced grins, which were creepy-sweet. Maybe living a good Christian life had genuinely overstuffed them with ecstasy, and I’m the sour cynic who’s missing out, but I saw strained enthusiasm, reminiscent of buskers who’ve given one too many performances under a big, hot sun. Even my son, who is eight years old, asked me later, “Why were they smiling like that?”

I was steadying my mother-in-law’s walker when the sisters launched into their spiel: “We’re just wondering if there’s anything we can do for you today?” followed, without nearly enough time for a breath, let alone a yes or no reply, “We just want to tell you about the Lord Jesus Christ, who can be your personal saviour.”

On this occasion, and so many others like it, my anger evaporated into total boredom. How could it not? It’s always the same script.

As a child, thanks to my spiritually ambiguous parents who were perpetually searching, I was exposed to a lot of conflicting theology and religious dogma without nearly enough religious practice to support any of it. Through the years, I became deaf to some of the more frequently rehearsed stuff, especially the monologues that are so overwrought with a particular kind of Christian vocabulary. Who really talks like that? Give me authenticity or give me nothing. As a result, during Random Acts of Evangelism, like the one with the sisters, I can tune out with minimal adjustments to my audio input.

This acquired hearing impairment is also what allowed me, at a crucial turning point years ago, to drown out some of the religious noise in my head and make a choice to connect with a church and believe something. And that choice has subsequently helped me to move beyond a would-be believer’s doubt and uncertainty, to explore Christianity, on my own terms, from within the comfortable confines of a denominational brand. My tolerance for people muddying my waters is pretty low.

“We’re good,” was my response to the sisters on this day. “We’re totally good.” I returned my attention to pointing out the hazards and deficiencies of municipal infrastructure and kept my guided-walk tutorial-train moving as quickly as it could in spite of the crowd of heavenly hosts clogging up the sidewalk.

But there’s nothing like the dust settling on an evangelistic brush-off to bring on guilt and self-reflection. Religious differences and competing print publications aside, maybe being closed-off to other Christians who don’t play for my team isn’t such a good thing? Is denominational identity a coping skill or a cop-out? And, most importantly, how will I know when I’ve become too comfortable?

“Why didn’t you want to talk to those girls?” my son asked.

“It’s complicated, Joe,” I said. “It’s really complicated.”

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Anglican Journal News, September o3, 2015

The stained glass ceiling holds

Posted on: September 4th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


Women bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops. Photo: Marites N. Sison


(This editorial first appeared in the September issue of the Anglican Journal.)

On June 6, when Mary Irwin-Gibson, the dean and rector of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Kingston, Ont., was elected bishop of the diocese of Montreal, the Anglican Journal published an online story that carried the headline, First woman bishop for Montreal.

Irwin-Gibson’s election was met with what has now become a familiar response among Canadian Anglicans each time a woman becomes bishop anywhere in the world: jubilation on the part of many; disdain from a few still opposed to the ordination of women, let alone the idea of having them wear the mitre.

What was quite unexpected were reactions from some who were offended that the Journal chose to highlight her being the first woman bishop for Montreal, with one reader saying it was “so quaint and oddly sexist.” The comment, which was well-meaning, concluded: “It sounds as if being female is her most important attribute…When will we stop seeing this as a ‘man bites dog’ kind of thing?”

In stories, context is everything. In this case, as one reader noted, “the novelty is regrettable, but it is a novelty; she is, literally, the first.” Irwin-Gibson’s election was historic for the diocese of Montreal because it has never had a woman bishop—in its 165-year history. Even the secular media couldn’t help noting its significance, with CBC News tweeting: Mary Irwin-Gibson has been elected Anglican Bishop of #Montreal. First female in the role.

Highlighting this fact was necessary for other equally important reasons. Irwin-Gibson is only the ninth woman bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, which has had male bishops since 1787. In 1986, the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod passed a resolution allowing the consecration of women as bishops, but it only elected its first woman bishop—Victoria Matthews, as a suffragan, in the diocese of Toronto—in 1993. Today, 22 years later, women constitute only 15% (six out of 39) of the total number of active members in the House of Bishops. It is still a big deal.

Elsewhere in the Anglican Communion, the numbers are more dismal. Of about 700 active bishops across 38 provinces, only 33 (or 5%) are women. The Communion had one female primate (national archbishop) out of 38—that is, until Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whose election in 2006 was hailed as a breakthrough for women leadership in the church, ended her term this summer. This hardly qualifies as shattering the glass ceiling.

It bears remembering that only nine of the Communion’s 38 provinces have women bishops. The Church of England consecrated its first woman bishop, the Rev. Libby Lane in the diocese of Chester, only in January this year.

The situation of women in church leadership mirrors that of society. In Canada, considered one of the most progressive countries in the world, men are still two or three times more likely than women to hold senior executive posts, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

It is unfortunate and, yes, one longs for the day when neither gender nor race (The Episcopal Church just elected its first African-American primate, Michael Curry, in June) becomes the defining narrative of someone’s achievement. But until equality is achieved, it behooves us not to downplay gains.

The first woman diocesan bishop of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Sue Moxley (ret.), was reminded of this necessity by a young woman who once asked her why she wasn’t wearing her purple (bishop’s) shirt:  “I need you to wear it,” said the young woman. “I need to know it is possible.”

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Anglican Journal News, August 31, 2015

A price is paid for justice and human rights

Posted on: September 4th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Wayne Holst


One woman was permitted to audit a few of our male-dominated seminary classes, which I attended during the mid-60s. We were happy to include her, but all of us assumed that she was just “interested” in the subjects and that she would never be ordained a priest. Pastoral ministry was a male domain 50 years ago and only a few visionaries (like perhaps the solitary female student) thought that might ever change.

Fast-forward to theological college classes today—many of which continue to prepare candidates for ordained ministry—and the situation is almost a total reverse. A large number of our seminary graduates now are women.

Why did this shift take place? Because people in our society began to see the injustice of excluding women from church office and determined it to be a human right for women to be ordained alongside men.

When I attended seminary, there was little or no mention of Canada’s First Nations people and the tragic history of the larger culture’s relationship with them. The 60s were times of black power in the United States, but few Canadians who might have strongly supported “the negroes” (as we called African-Americans then) were unable to make associations between the plight of American blacks and native Canadians.

The same could be said about gay rights. I don’t recall any discussion of the possibility of same-sex marriage in our pastoral care classes. It didn’t seem possible that our nation would legalize gay matrimony. Everyone assumed that God meant marriage to be a covenant “between one man and one woman.”

What a shift of major proportions has taken place in the lives of pastors and congregations in Canada during the past half-century! I was trained to take the Bible seriously and to respect church tradition. Both interpreted women as subservient to men, First Nations people as culturally inferior and LGBT folk as misfits.

As women became ordained as pastors and key leaders in more of our mainline Canadian denominations, as concern for First Nations justice grew higher on our churches’ social agenda and as gay rights moved from the margins to legal acceptance, our churches have had to pay a big price.

A number of our members and adherents have come to view these changes as un-Christian—meaning unbiblical, disrespectful of honoured church teaching and a compromise with secular society. Those of us who stayed, but were also concerned for meaning and truth, suffered the same criticism and pangs of conscience as those “outsiders” we wanted to support.

The issues became more complex and sensitive still when First Nations Christians could not accept mainstream society’s views on same-sex marriage or when cherished liberal views were violated and abused by those with little regard for basic Christian values.

I rejoice in the human progress that I have seen in our churches these past 50 years. I realize that all this has come at considerable cost. I harbour both hope and concern for those who will be reflecting back from the year 2065.

Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter-century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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Anglican Journal News, August 28, 2015

Top three (unconventional) tips for church shopping

Posted on: August 25th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

MarthaSQA house doctor on my CBC morning talk-show casually included in his list of things that he wished his patients would do in order to live longer and better: “attend worship every week.” This was alongside other more standard pieces of advice like, exercise, drink water and eat vegetables. Just as research has confirmed that prayer had documentable and verifiable benefits in improving the chance of combating illness, or as more recently meditation has been touted as the cure-all for everything from depression to psoriasis, so the medical community is starting to list very practical reasons (live longer, raise healthier children, lower your chance of depression) why you might want to be a regular participant in a faith community.

“Church shopping” has become the typical practice for finding such a faith community. You browse the various offerings that meet your criteria: narrow down the list of denominations you might consider, check out the preaching, find out if they have programming that meets your needs. If you have children, you may open up the search field to a variety of other denominations in order to find the one that has nursery-Sunday-school-youth-group where your children can participate.

I certainly know people who have church shopped prayerfully and faithfully and have found a community where they have been able to put down nourishing and long-lasting roots. But I also know that approaching church as just one more consumer choice in a whole life of soul-destroying consumer choices can lead to worship communities that become bound, not to the life and sacrifice and resurrection revealed in Jesus, but to meeting a wide variety of individual consumer preferences.

So here are three unconventional—but life-giving—guidelines to consider in finding a worshipping community: 

1. Go Local

Our secular culture ecstatically extols the benefits of local eating. The same logic bears on local worshipping. The days seem to have long since passed when churches were populated by their parish—ie. the people who lived within a certain radius of the physical church building.  Most people in most of our congregations drive to church, and many of them pass several other church options on their way to their destination.  But as Local Eating seeks to re-connect—your body with a sense of physical relationship, and therefore responsibility for, the world around you—participating in a congregation that is in your own neighbourhood allows a number of possibilities to open:  walking or biking to worship, deepening your understanding of the people, the economy, the infrastructure, the graces and challenges in which you live.  Going local allows you to let go, for a moment, of choosing, and instead to allow yourself to be chosen.  You are chosen. By virtue of where you are, you are chosen to be part of this. Therefore, you have something both to give, and to receive HERE.

2. “What I can do”

President John F. Kennedy articulated something very true and important for his citizens: Ask not what my country can do for me, but what I can do for my country. It is a well-known quote, and yet his words run deeply contrary to how most of us live most of the time. We are so busy trying to meet our own needs, to find the right alignment of preferences that allow us to feel we have arrived somewhere, that we miss an (at least) equally important question: where do I have something to offer? So much of the dissatisfaction in our churches, not to mention our lives, stems from our disappointment that the place doesn’t measure up: the people are too gossipy and narrow-minded, the Sunday School too small, the service too long, the preaching too uncomfortable, the beliefs too loose or too strict or too unclear or too unpalatable or….

I have a friend who believes herself called to be a priest. She is Roman Catholic. And when I asked her why she continues to be Roman Catholic when she can’t be a priest if she stays there, her answer is very simple. “I have to stay in order to be part of how things will change.” It’s a faithful and surprising outlook. And while I’m not sure I could be so patient, I admire her for it.

Don’t look for the church that match.com would select for you if it were into church dating. Look for the church where something is being asked of you.

3. The first ten minutes

This might not sound like much of a sales pitch for joining a faith community, but there is a critical lesson here about church selection: the first ten minutes are the worst.

When I am out running, I always feel most discouraged, out of breath, and negative in the first ten minutes. I am dreading how long I still have to run; I am psyching myself out believing that today I don’t have it in me to make it through; I am conscious of every struggling breath, every twinge in my side, every ache in my knees. And if I can just get through those first ten minutes, I begin to forget. I get into a rhythm. Adrenaline might start kicking in. I begin to focus on something other than myself.

You can look for the quick fix version of church, just like you can look for the quick fix version of diets. You can look for the church that will entertain and stimulate and impress. Does it sound like I’m criticizing churches that use popular music, hot coffee and catchy sermon topics to hook people? I’m not. I have been part of leading church communities that have experimented with all of these things, often times with a lot of success in reaching out to new people. But whether you are wowed right away or whether you end up in a place with music and rituals that feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, worship will in one way or another end up being those first ten minutes of running: you will be stretched in silence or self-reflection or hope or possibility that will feel like a long and uncertain path is relentlessly bearing down on you and you can’t breathe right and you don’t think you are really cut out for this. You will be able to name very long lists of things that you would rather be doing than this. And nobody will think anything less of you if you stay in bed and have a pastry.

And that’s when you need to know—about running or going to church—that the first ten minutes are the worst and that if you can just stick with it, you will start to forget yourself and you will find yourself in a rhythm that will make your heart sing.

The way that you choose to seek will implicate the things that you will find. I baptized an adult parishioner a few years ago. Shortly after his baptism, he came to me railing against the inability of some of his fellow parishioners to articulate their faith. “Welcome to the Body of Christ,” I told him. Being part of a faith community is sure to be disappointing at times. People will like different music than you, express their beliefs in strange and even unpalatable ways. Most churches have a problem with gossip and some parishioners will have opinions contrary to yours about when you should bow in worship and whether to kneel or stand to pray.

But through the grace of God, a faith community can also provide a rock solid experience of strength and support to individuals in a time of grief, brokenness, or crisis. Rising to the challenge of working through our quirks with one another in order to grow closer to God, committing to praying for one another’s needs and joys, discovering a foundation of prayer on which we can rest in our own time of need, these experiences are fundamental in learning this truth: I am not alone.

While it can be comforting to be surrounded by the ties of blood or by the bonds of friendships we have chosen, it is a greater testament to the truly relational nature of our biology—created in the image of God—to learn to walk with the people who become our brothers and sisters through the rather arbitrary bond of faith.

Blessings to you in your seeking, your finding, and most importantly, your being found.

Martha Tatarnic

About Martha Tatarnic

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.

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The Community, An update from The Community, August 21, 2015

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground

Posted on: August 15th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Daniel F. Graves


Graves: “I wonder what the closure of churches might look like if we were to embrace our hope in the resurrection in this way?” Photo: SueC/Shutterstock​


This past summer, my father-in-law took us to see the church in which he worshipped as a child. Church of the Herald Angel, just outside of Orangeville, Ont., has been closed for many years and is now a well-cared-for home. A workman was repointing the mortar of one of the buttresses when we stopped to take a look. Many churches simply fall into disrepair and eventually vanish.

It was good to see this church lived in and loved, and yet, there was a certain sadness in realizing the church no longer served its intended purpose, that the life of its worshipping community had come to an end. It was a bit like visiting the grave of a loved one in a well-tended cemetery; even amidst the beauty of the place, there is a profound and enduring sense of grief and loss.

Like the Church of the Herald Angel, many churches across our country have closed or are facing closure. Sometimes those churches are in “four corners” communities where the community has vanished; sometimes they are in suburban locations where religious and ethnic demographic changes have made an Anglican  church redundant or irrelevant; and sometimes they are urban churches where neighbourhoods have been replaced by industry. Whatever the context, it is clear that sometimes the life of a church must come to an end. We do everything we can to avoid allowing a church to die, and yet, sometimes it is for the best.

I know many clergy who are afraid to close a church. They somehow feel that closing a church will reflect badly on them, that they will be branded either as professional “closers” or as pastoral failures. Yet, one of the things we are trained to do as clergy is to deal with death. Spiritual palliative care is an important part of our ministry. Are we failures when a parishioner inevitably dies? The answer is an emphatic, no, for our faith teaches that death is not the final word. We proclaim hope and new life in the midst of death. Even at the grave we make our song, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”  At the death of a church, however, we may lose faith and forget that we are a resurrection people.

Many years ago, I was with a family when they had to remove their father from life support. It was Maundy Thursday. The doctor offered the family the option of waiting until after Easter. The family decided not to wait. “After all,” the daughter stated, “if we truly believe what we believe as Christians, this is the weekend for this to happen.”

I wonder what the closure of churches might look like if we were to embrace our hope in the resurrection in this way? The church in which I was baptized closed several years ago, and through a remarkable—one might say, divine series of circumstances—it has become home to a lively Chinese-Anglican congregation.

One of the Rev. Featherstone Osler’s churches, Trinity Bond Head, closed many years ago after the congregation dwindled. It was lovingly restored and is now used by a Ukrainian Catholic congregation. Every year they celebrate a requiem eucharist in honour of its Anglican founder.

In some places, folk who have expended much time and energy holding on to a church building for dear life, find relief, and new life, when they make the courageous step to let go of their building and join with other members of the family in another place and discover new mission together.

Death is always sad, but it is not the final word. It should not be the final word with respect to the closing of churches. Our belief in the power of the resurrection should be just as strong with respect to the church as it is with respect to ourselves and our loved ones. As Jesus himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

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

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Anglican Journal News, August 12, 2015

It’s time to recalibrate expectations for clergy

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

Denominations and congregations have based their expectations on full-time, paid ministry — and yet the trend is toward part-time, bivocational and unpaid clergy.

Earlier this year, I taught an introductory parish leadership class to 40 part-time local church pastors. Most of them were bivocational, balancing the demands of ministry with their obligations as police officers, truck drivers, school teachers, nurses and social workers. Many were serving congregations at considerable distances from their homes (one had a 100-mile roundtrip journey on winding North Carolina back roads every Sunday morning). All of them were in congregations that would be without a ministerial presence if not for their service.

Those 40 are part of a steadily increasing number of American clergy who are part-time, bivocational or unpaid. Hartford Seminary’s 2010 Faith Communities Today survey (link is external) indicated that about 30 percent of American congregations are served by paid, part-time clergy (2 percent are served by unpaid clergy). A thought-provoking essay (link is external) by the Rev. Carol Howard Merritt (link is external) in the August 2013 issue of the The Christian Century offers a slightly starker picture, saying that roughly half — though it could be as high as 70 percent — of American congregations are finding themselves unable to afford a full-time clergyperson today.

This trend toward part-time, bivocational and unpaid clergy raises a whole host of questions for denominations and congregations that have based their expectations for clergy on a model of full-time, paid ministry.

Some of these questions are seemingly small and insignificant. What to do, for example, about a monthly, weekday clergy meeting when such a gathering might necessitate a person’s absence from her other job? Should a part-time pastor be excused from the meeting, recognizing that a two-hour meeting might represent as much as 20 percent of her compensated hours that week? Should the meeting be held on a Saturday to accommodate bivocational folks, even if that takes full-time and part-time clergy away from family and other obligations? All of these choices have pitfalls. Few have upsides.

Other questions are more vexing still, in some cases pitting long-held convictions against each other.

Some denominations are finding their commitment to a “learned clergy” in conflict with a missional need to serve smaller congregations and underserved communities. The question becomes how much training can a denomination reasonably expect a part-time or unpaid clergyperson to have? If not a three (or four) year master’s degree, then what? What are the non-negotiable elements of that training, and what are the elements that would be nice but are not essential? Must training precede ministerial service, or could people be trained concurrently with their service? There are no easy answers. In many denominations, no one is happy with a compromise.

Likewise, congregations have difficult decisions to make.

Imagine that a church can only afford compensation equal to quarter-time employment (which, in most cases, means that the clergyperson has to find additional paid employment to balance his personal budget). What can that congregation reasonably expect of that clergyperson, and what is the work of ministry must laity assume? This will require renewed education about the calling and ministry of the laity (a clear good in all of this!), and it will mean — and in some places, already does mean — that some ministries will no longer happen. Prioritizing the pastoral workload will be a new practice required of vestries, sessions and personnel committees.

In many settings, denominations and congregations have relied on the goodwill of part-time, bivocational and unpaid clergy and have not recalibrated their expectations about ministerial role and work. That is an unsustainable solution. Now is the time for creativity, innovation and experimentation to adjust to what is increasingly the new normal for congregations around the country.

 

Nathan Kirkpatrick

Managing director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity
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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, August 12, 2015

Catherine A. Caimano: Called to a broader vision of family

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

 

Congregations all think they are warm and welcoming — like a family. And churches are more like families than they realize, in ways that are not always good, says an Episcopal priest.

A few Sundays ago, as on most Sundays, I was the guest preacher at one of the churches I work with in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Before the service, the rector and I stood in the narthex, greeting parishioners as they entered the building.

As people gathered, they greeted each other and their priest warmly — laughing, hugging and shaking hands. Almost everyone also introduced themselves to me, the stranger in their midst, and welcomed me to their community. By the time the service ended, it felt as though we were all old friends.

Afterward, as I stood at the doorway, most of these folks thanked me, complimented my sermon and asked me to stay and have a cup of coffee. The rector and several parishioners even invited me to lunch, but sadly, I had to decline because of other commitments on my schedule.

Although I regularly have lunch with parishioners, such spontaneous invitations are rare. Indeed, the kind of hospitality I received that Sunday is practically nonexistent. Serving in a different church every Sunday, I see a lot of churches, and I cannot remember another church where I was so warmly welcomed.

Yet whenever I ask congregations to tell me what makes them distinctive, to describe for me their very best qualities, they almost always give me the same answers. They are “friendly” and “warm,” they tell me. “We are,” they say, “like family.”

I’m not seeing it.

Maybe it’s me, but most churches I visit aren’t particularly friendly. Some aren’t friendly at all. When I get there, the doors — assuming I can find the entrance — are closed and often locked. Once somebody lets me in, I’ll find one or two people busy getting everything ready for the service, but they typically don’t say hello or welcome me. Soon, others arrive and take their seats, but they don’t often greet each other or me.

Afterward, people may shake my hand as they file out the door. But even this doesn’t happen as much as it used to. Instead, members stop in the aisle and visit, sometimes until long after I’ve headed to the sacristy to change clothes. Later, at the coffee hour, I sometimes, just to test my theory, get a cup of coffee and stand in the center of the room to see whether anyone will speak to me. Usually, I stand alone for a long time.

Congregations and other clergy get defensive whenever I tell them about these experiences. If only I visited their church, they say. There, I would be warmly welcomed. But I’m not convinced. I have seen this in so many churches; odds are, theirs is no different.

But believe it or not, friendliness isn’t really my primary concern. Though I wish all our churches were more like the one I visited a few weeks ago, a lack of friendliness is not why our congregations are in decline.

Instead, what I’m observing is a sign of something deeper. It’s about much more than handshakes and welcome. Every day, I wonder: Why do some people still go to church while so many others don’t? How and why does Christianity in 21st-century America look different than it ever has before?

Based on my experience, the family metaphor may indeed be apt. We are more like families than we realize, in ways that are not always good. Like families, churches can be very close-knit groups, with a select few people who aren’t really all that excited about bringing other people in. What group has higher barriers to entry than a family? You can’t just wander in. You can only join through birth, adoption or marriage.

No wonder we don’t act like we’re expecting guests. No wonder, even in a time of decline, we’re not putting out the welcome mat. Too many churches are like actual families, slowly bringing in and incorporating new members but rarely going out looking for them.

We don’t expect new faces at the door. We are bastions of tradition and stability for a reason. We face our decline by protecting and nurturing what we have. We are not unfriendly, exactly, as much as we are inwardly focused.

And yet Jesus had a different take on family, one that wasn’t focused on self-preservation: “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29 NRSV).

Maybe our challenge isn’t to make our churches “friendlier” but to rethink notions of family that may be preventing us from following Jesus. If church is a “family,” then maybe Jesus is calling us to adopt a broader vision of family — and perhaps occasionally even to leave our family, if only for a while, to go and make disciples of all the world.

A warm smile and a hello, standing on our own safe turf, is better than nothing. But we are called to so much more. What if, as Jesus said, we occasionally left our houses, our places of worship, joining others on Sunday or having services in public places?

What if we sought out strangers where they are, to share the gospel with them? What if we risked being the stranger and opened ourselves on occasion to discovering hospitality where we least expect it?

The gospel is not easy. It is not familiar. And it always pushes us to follow the risen Christ into places we have not gone before. We are called to something deeper than waiting for people to wander into our familiar, homelike church and then remembering to say hello. We are called away from “family,” and toward eternal life.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas,  July 16, 2015

Court ruling on refugees rights wrong, says priest

Posted on: August 5th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The Rev. Jeffrey Metcalfe says the federal court’s ruling will make the refugee claims process fairer. Photo: Contributed


On July 23, Canada’s federal court ruled that by denying refugees from countries deemed to be “safe,” the Canadian government was violating their Charter rights.

While the ruling will not directly impact the refugee sponsorship initiatives taking place across the Anglican Church of Canada, it will likely reduce the number of refugee claimants forced to seek out church sanctuary to avoid deportation, according to an Anglican priest.

The ruling strikes down a law passed in 2012 allowing the Canadian government to limit the claims process for applicants arriving from certain “designated countries of origin” (DCO) deemed to be unlikely to produce refugees. The ruling, written by Justice Keith Boswell, argues that the law “serves to further marginalize, prejudice and stereotype refugee claimants from DCO countries that are generally considered safe and ‘non-refugee producing.’”

Ultimately, Boswell says, the law unjustifiably discriminates against claimants based on their country of origin.

While the federal government has already said it will appeal the ruling, the Rev. Jeffrey Metcalfe, a priest from the diocese of Québec who has for some years been involved in the Canadian Sanctuary Network, an ecumenical organization that shelters refugees facing deportation, said that if upheld, it will make a big difference for those working with newly arrived refugee claimants.

“Sanctuary itself has been, by and large, a stopgap measure for precisely these kinds of situations,” he said, citing the case of a Roma family from Hungary (a “safe” country, according to the DCO list) whose refugee claim was rejected due to negligence on the part of their lawyer and who were forced into hiding to avoid deportation. “What this ruling does, essentially, is make it so that theoretically [refugees] do get access now to a merit-based appeal.”

The problem with the expedited claims process for applicants from designated countries of origin, Metcalfe explained, is that refugees have only one chance to make their case: “If there are mistakes—and in all systems there are mistakes—there is no way to correct [them].”

Metcalfe is hopeful that the ruling, if upheld by the Supreme Court, will mean a fairer process for refugee claimants. But he also believes it vindicates the work Anglicans have done behind the scenes to protect claimants who may have been unjustly denied refugee status.

“I think that this speaks for the importance of the church’s work in relation to sanctuary—because essentially the courts are catching up with a kind of moral imperative that the churches have picked up through sanctuary,” he said.

The head of the diocese of New Westminster’s refugee unit, the Rev. Christopher McGee, said the ruling “doesn’t directly affect” the Anglican Church of Canada’s refugee sponsorship initiatives, because most of the refugees sponsored by the church have already been designated as such before they arrive.

When it comes to refugees being sponsored, they are “typically refugees that are in camps, that are somehow—though not always—connected to the United Nation High Commission for Refugees and been given a [refugee] designation internationally.”

But McGee welcomed the court’s decision. “I think it’s a very just ruling. I appreciate the decision because I think that it’s unfair to not treat all refugee claimants equally, and if we have someone who has a legitimate need for appeal, that should be heard, regardless of the country of origin.”

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Anglican Journal News, August 05, 2015

How to apologize for abuse

Posted on: July 27th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


“Sexual violence, like any abuse of power, only stops when we expose it and commit to effective prevention and response practices,” says the author. Photo: LeviQ/Shutterstock


Christ fundamentally restructures power systems. In the Beatitudes and in every parable, sermon and directive, he insists that the needs of the most vulnerable be tended first, informing how we organize and prioritize the use of resources. They also ensure full apology, restitution and healing when abuse happens. Unconditional compassion and unflinching accountability are Christ’s hallmarks and, not incidentally, the underpinnings of abuse prevention.

In 1994, Gordon Nakayama admitted to sexually abusing boys during 62 years as an Anglican priest (1932−1994). He died in 1995. Church officials neglected to report his abuse to police.

His adult children, Joy Kogawa and the Rev. Canon (ret.) Timothy Nakayama, have shown great fortitude in publicly acknowledging their father’s violence, extending solidarity towards survivors, and offering to participate in reconciliation.

This year, two pro-active Anglican bishops publicly disclosed Gordon Nakayama’s history of harm and, on June 15, issued an apology to the Japanese-Canadian Anglican communities where he preyed.

Commendably, this was built on an 18-month consultation with the Reverend Nakayama Disclosure Working Group. The apology expresses regret for avoiding public disclosure, acknowledges “sexually immoral behaviour,” commits to listening and promises pastoral care. In this, Bishop Melissa Skelton (diocese of New Westminster) and Archbishop Gregory Kerr-Wilson (diocese of Calgary) have offered a strong example of servant leadership. But, as Bishop Skelton has said, it’s only a start.

The larger context

Two pivotal questions remain, however: why wasn’t the abuse reported in 1994?  Why didn’t the apology process begin until 2014?

The Bulletin (a Japanese-Canadian journal) says survivors and human rights advocates began meeting in 2006, following years of rumour and complaint within the Japanese-Canadian community. Meanwhile, the church sat on Nakayama’s admission.

During his career, Nakayama was supervised by two bishops in the diocese of New Westminster, four in Calgary and, in retirement, was simultaneously overseen by three in New Westminster while still under Calgary’s authority. Nine bishops did not prioritize the needs of children, provide adequate supervision, insist on sufficient accountability or ensure complaints could be made with ease and dignity.

In 1994, church leaders were alert to Anglican sexual abuse cases (e.g., John Gallienne −1990, William Starr−1993, Ralph Rowe −1994 and residential school disclosures). There was wide media coverage of the 1988 Criminal Code changes regarding child sexual abuse. Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, and the first diocesan sexual misconduct policy was adopted by the diocese of Toronto in 1992. We were not ignorant.

Failure to report

Apologizing for avoidance of public disclosure is important, but secondary. The primary issue is failure to follow child protection law in 1994.

Since 1965, adults have had a legal duty to report current and historical child maltreatment to Child Protection. (There is no statute of limitations on child abuse or sexual assault in Canada.) Adults who remain silent are legally, and morally, responsible for abuse that occurs following failure to report.

A police investigation while Nakayama lived would have determined the scope of predation and found survivors. The refusal to report undermines the church’s ability to make amends, provide pastoral care and apologize.

The survivors of Nakayama currently range in age from 40s to their 90s.

According to British and U.S. research, child molesters in institutional settings victimize 44 to 61 children/youth on average before being caught (increasing with time and access). They typically do not stop until caught.

Several factors suggest higher numbers in Nakayamas case: a 62-year timeline, ordained authority, minimal supervision, easy access to victims in multiple settings, confined internment camps (and his movement between them), “superstar” status among Anglican Japanese-Canadians, a regular ministry to 20 Alberta communities beyond his parish and strong cultural taboos against discussing sexual abuse or challenging authority in Japanese culture, the Anglican church and Canadian society.

In a parallel case, authorities estimate that more than 200 boys were abused, over only 20 years, by former Anglican priest and Scout leader Ralph Rowe, who was convicted in 1994 of 39 counts of sexual abuse involving 15 boys. Like Rowe, Nakayama also ministered to isolated families and remote communities traumatized by government policies. It’s possible we need to consider a greater scope of harm.

We’ll never know the actual number, but one is already too many.

The apology

A full apology is difficult. It requires courage to look at harm directly and name it; whatever we’ve done or left undone. It requires us to be mindful, accountable and compassionate and to listen well, express genuine regret, take action for restitution and ensure prevention.

We must accurately name Nakayama’s behaviour as violent abuse of power. Euphemisms like “mistakes” or “sexual bad behaviour” or “immoral sexual behaviour” minimize the violence. These were criminal acts against children by a trusted, church-endorsed adult: it’s called molestation, sexual abuse/assault/exploitation.

Neuro-psychology and trauma research identify sexual assault as one of the most psychologically damaging crimes because it is such an intimate act of violence, such a profound violation of trust, and  invokes such extreme shame in victims. Sexual assault results in one of the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of any violent experience—97%.  (In contrast, combat veterans show 30% PTSD rates.)

The act of apology involves empathic listening until survivors trust they’ve been fully heard. Those who crafted the recent apology to Nakayama survivors clearly intend to listen deeply. This will take time and won’t be easy. It may necessitate finding other abuse survivors to listen to, if the survivors of Nakayama can’t or won’t come forward.

The focus of compassionate apology is on the needs of survivors, not our desire for forgiveness or relief from shame.

In addition to avoiding our duty to report, we owe an apology for favouring the elderly comfort of a sexual predator over those he violated, for abdicating responsibility for justice and care until now, for denying survivors a recovery process until now and for neglecting to protect children in the first place,  including Nakayama’s children.

Unflinching accountability includes actions of restitution and prevention meaningful to survivors.

Sexual violence, like any abuse of power, only stops when we expose it and commit to effective prevention and response practices. When we say, “We take this very seriously,” survivors want to know what we will actually do to ensure no one else suffers this way. We need to share information about safe church efforts and ask what actions would further communicate our commitment to justice, making amends and preventing harm.

Helping us make a good apology is not a survivor’s burden. Usually we wait for survivors to report abuse before taking action. In this case, the perpetrator admitted harm. Since then, we’ve had a clear responsibility for right action, whether survivors ever come forward or not.

It’s up to us, as a faith community, to continually live and communicate genuine apology (for this and other histories of harm) by giving priority to the needs of the vulnerable.

Culture shift

Based on every sexual misconduct case I’ve reviewed, and reports from the Church of England and the Australian Anglican Church, we are consistently failing and often re-traumatizing survivors, particularly at the parish level. Ignorance about sexual assault results in dismissiveness, rumour-mongering, victim-blaming, ostracizing and even harassment of survivors and/or their families. Often this destroys the victims trust in the church and faith in a loving God.

Strangely, in most cases, a parish community rallies around the perpetrator at the expense of  survivors. We’re often more passionate about the possibility of wrongful accusation (which is less than 2-3% according to Canadian, U.S., Australian and British police data) than we are about believing and meaningfully supporting the person who has experienced life-shattering harm.

Is it any wonder survivors are reluctant to disclose and request support? We have yet to prove we can be trusted to respond with compassion and accountability when we learn of abuse.

Apology does not demand forgiveness

Genuine apology doesn’t pressure survivors to forgive and move on. The 2011 Church of England document Responding Well cautions: “To encourage victims to forgive, where there is no effort to act on their behalf to hold the abuser to account, is a gross form of injustice.”

We must live our full apology whether or not those harmed are ever able to forgive us.

While Bishop Skelton and Archbishop Kerr-Wilson have made an excellent start, I invite them and the House of Bishops to think more deeply on this matter, particularly its implications for those living with this harm (one in three women and one in six men) and for the life of the church. I invite all of us to do the same—we are church only in relationship to each other.

Christ unflinchingly called power to accountability, especially in relation to vulnerable community members. He prioritized the needs of the vulnerable, the victimized and the stigmatized. His commitment was immediate, responsive, compassionate, needs-based, assertively proactive and pragmatic. This is the core of living a genuine apology, and it’s the core of living Christianity.

The Church of England resource Responding Well (2011) offers comprehensive guidance for providing pastoral support to survivors.

About the Author

Marion Little

Marion Little

Marion Little implemented the sexual misconduct policy and abuse prevention trainings for the diocese of British Columbia for several years.  She is a founding member of the Anglican Church of Canada Safe Church Working Group, and of the international Anglican Communion Safe Church Network. Little, who has an MA in dispute resolution, teaches conflict resolution skills and is also a master trainer with the Canadian Red Cross RespectED violence and abuse prevention program.

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Anglican Journal News, July 24, 2015

Summer goodbyes

Posted on: July 22nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal is located a few blocks down the hill from McGill University. As a result, our pews always hold a scattering of students and, as the cathedral’s ministry to students and young adults falls under my portfolio, it’s my job to get to know them. I have a really great job.

I’ve had this job for four years now. And, this summer, the last of students from my first year left Montreal—and she outlasted many folks who arrived in the intervening years. Students are a transient bunch, arriving in our midst and staying for a year or two—or, if I’m lucky, four—before moving on to the next stage in their lives.

This sending is an important part of young adult ministry. We are an important stop on the journey to Christian maturity. In many cases, we are the first church a student chooses for themselves; the first church where they are not primarily someone’s daughter or grandson. We don’t want to be the last. So we make space for the gifts and ideas and passions of these new members as quickly as we can, inviting them into the community at large and the community of young adults in particular.

Which means, every summer, we say goodbye to people we can’t quite imagine being without, people who we could count on to ask the hard question or break the silence or crack the terrible joke or do the dirty job. Every summer, we say goodbye to people we have grown to love.

This makes summer a challenging time for this ministry. The wounds are still fresh, the edges still ragged around the gaps people left behind. Our numbers are lower than during the school year, our ambitions smaller, our gatherings shorter. And I can’t help but worry a little—has our luck run out? Is this what it will be like all the time now? Was last year our last good year?

These fears are unfounded, of course. But more than that, they are unfaithful. These fears are rooted in my desire to have a “successful” ministry for which I can take credit, a ministry with robust numbers and lots of activity. And so summer is an important time for my own spiritual well-being. Summer reminds me that this ministry is but a small part of God’s much bigger mission. It does not exist to stroke my ego or justify my salary. It exists to serve those God sends to us and then, in the fullness of our time together, to send them on with thanksgiving and blessing. “Success” is a question not of numbers but of depth: how well do we welcome? How well do we love? How well do we send?

And then, after a summer of goodbyes and worries and wonderings, autumn comes. And every autumn, God leads new students through our doors and the community re-forms itself, accommodating the gifts and quirks of these new members and learning how to get along without those who now minister in other places. Every autumn, we say hello to people we know we will grow to love…and we will one day say goodbye to.

We welcome. We love. We send. And we trust that, in God’s great mercy, that will be enough.

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Anglican Journal News, July 22, 2015