Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Honouring our baptismal promises

Posted on: January 7th, 2017 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Marites N. Sison on January, 05 2017

In the wake of one of the most divisive U.S. elections in history, activists urge Americans to renounce hate speech. Photo: Hayk Shalunts/Shutterstock


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

Here comes the new year, full of possibilities and promise.

At least, this is the view of some, for whom it brings visions of hope, a clean slate, a chance to start over. Maybe, just maybe, this year will be better.

And so the arrival of the new year is often celebrated in many parts of the world.

This year, however, is markedly different. A number of people around the world, particularly in the United States, will be greeting 2017 with a lot of trepidation.

The year 2016 hasn’t quite ended as this is being written, but already a post-election hate crime wave is a affecting many parts of the U.S. Sadly, this has spilled over to Canada.

The election of Donald Trump as president has coincided with a spike in hate crimes in the U.S., at least 700 occurring in the post-election week alone. These outbreaks of violence and harassment have been directed at Muslims, Jews, immigrants, people of colour, women and LGBTQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender, Queer)—people Trump himself disparaged during his racially charged, sexist and divisive campaign.

A particularly chilling video of Trump supporters lifting their hands in a Nazi salute and crying out, “Heil Trump” captured what Jewish organizations have described as a level of anti-Semitic hostility and nativism not seen in the U.S. in decades.

Trump’s own actions as president-elect have only added to the rising insecurity and instability many Americans are facing.

It is deeply troubling that he has not bothered to call out his supporters who are inciting hatred and violence. He “disavowed” support for them and renounced racism, not of his own accord, but only upon prompting by media.

Trump’s choice of advisers and policy makers—including his chief strategist, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and his chief of staff, who has not ruled out creating a “Muslim registry”—has been worrisome, to say the least.

The full impact of a Trump presidency is yet to come, and people not just in the U.S. but around the world are already bracing themselves for the worst. After all, as foreign policy watchers often say, “When the U.S. sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.”

But there are signs of hope. People are transforming the great sadness and helplessness they initially felt into vigilance and a resolve to take peaceful action.

In the U.S. and in Canada, interfaith groups have coalesced and staged prayerful solidarity rallies; there is a strong commitment to continue working together to protect hard-won rights and freedoms. Individuals are making personal pledges to stand up and be counted.

To speak up, to resist evil and oppose actions, especially those directed against the poor and powerless, is “holy work,” the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of The Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, stressed in a post-election statement. “This is not a partisan political statement; it is a confession of faith.”

In his message to Episcopalians, U.S. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reaffirmed his church’s commitment to support and stand with vulnerable people. It is a commitment, he said, that honours promises one has made in Holy Baptism: “To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.”

These are vows worth reaffirming in 2017 and thereafter.

About the Author

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal.

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Anglican Journal News, January 06, 2017

Worship or entertainment?

Posted on: December 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Wayne Holst on December 09, 2016

Photo: amophoto_au/Shutterstock


As a Christian living in our increasingly secular and pluralistic nation, I am finding it ever more difficult to distinguish between worship and entertainment. The difference between the two seems increasingly fuzzy, and I believe the church is falling ever more captive to politically correct societal norms. I wonder if you, my Christian reader, suspect something similar. Christmas is a special case.

In rural Ontario, where I was raised decades ago, we would anticipate and be entertained by the Christmas pageant held at the local community centre. Regardless of denomination, most everyone from town attended and enjoyed seeing Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus.

Come the special day, we would worship in our own respective congregations. Few confused the civic activity with the religious festival, even though the message was essentially the same.

Today, however, community Christmas pageants are a rarity. If there is a seasonal festive event at the local school or community centre, it is a pleasant but rather innocuous activity emphasizing holiday greetings and little more. We Canadians are particularly sensitive about creating religious or social offence. Christianity has essentially lost its role as a cultural moderator.

At the same time, many of our churches seem to offer little by way of Christian uniqueness. The wide range of beliefs represented and respected in most of our congregations makes it almost impossible for the leadership to offer Christian distinctives, and what many hear amounts to little more than a bouquet of peace, joy and goodwill to all.

If these developments even vaguely disturb you, and if you tend to agree with me about our current situation, let me offer a suggestion. I propose that those of us who are convinced of the special significance of the gospel message in the Christmas story and our need for responsive worship are going to have to be more venturesome and discriminating in the way we experience Good News today.

Much of what takes place in our churches, often followed by audience applause, is actually entertainment, not worship. On the other hand, many of our nation’s choral societies and their programs contribute much to enable worship.

This suggests to me that, while I continue to believe the church has a unique contribution to make in terms of gospel proclamation, some of the most worshipful experiences can take place outside it.

Recently, my partner and I attended an annual event we enjoy. It was presented by the Festival Chorus, a well-established choral society in our city. The theme this year was “Christmas in Paris,” and it featured a lovely program of French carols and organ solos, as well as larger works by Berlioz and Charpentier. It took place in a downtown church, which served on this occasion as a concert hall. The event was a worship experience for me.

I heard the Good News through the words and music of the choir. The audience was respectful. When we had the opportunity to join in the singing of several familiar carols, there was a palpable reverence in the house.

Performance was transformed into worship. Too often, our worship degenerates into performance.

Wayne Holst

 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, December 09, 2016

Where’s the world’s outrage for Syria?

Posted on: December 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Marites N. Sison on December, 14 2016

As the battle for Aleppo intensifies, Toronto activists stage a rally Dec. 14 calling for the protection of civilians. The UN human rights office says it has received reports of civilians being killed, “either by intense bombardment or summary execution by pro-government forces.”  Photo: M. Sison


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

“What would make you care about Aleppo?” A CNN article carried this headline on its website in October, at the height of the Syrian and Russian military assault on east Aleppo, where about 275,000 civilians were trapped inside rebel- held parts of the city.

The article then posed a series of questions, each buttressed with haunting photographs, videos, stories and statistics— compelling proof, if you will, about why you should care about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. “Would the pictures make you care? Would the numbers make you care? Would the stories make you care? Would the frustration make you care? What more will it take?”

Most of us would have seen those images and heard the grim statistics, but decided the conflict too overwhelming for words and action. Others will say they’ve done their part by welcoming Syrian refugees into their communities and giving donations for relief efforts. Indeed, many of these efforts were triggered by the image last year of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore as he and his family tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of finding safety.

But the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War isn’t over. There have been many more Alan Kurdis, the death toll is mounting and the ruthless attack on the civilian population by the Syrian government, and its allies Russia and Iran, is unrelenting. The war, which began in March 2011, is nearly in its sixth year.

In 2014, unable to get safe access to Syria, the UN stopped independently counting the number of deaths, which stood then at 250,000. The war has now killed more than 470,000 people, injured 1.8 million others and displaced half the country’s population of 21.8 million, according to the Syrian Center for Policy Research. About five million Syrian refugees are living in neighbouring countries and beyond, including Canada; about 6.6 million are internally displaced. According to the Canadian Red Cross, half of the remaining population is now dependent on relief agencies for food, household items and health services—a challenge, since even those who are delivering aid are being targeted by airstrikes.

And yet, where is the world’s outrage for Syria?

On Feb. 15, 2003, an estimated 15-30 million people from 800 cities and 75 countries around the world took part in a co-ordinated day of protests to oppose the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It was, by some accounts, the largest anti-war rally in history. It didn’t stop the war, but it still meant something. The U.S. and its allies lost in the court of public opinion; years later, many leaders acknowledged that the war had been a mistake. The unprecedented action sent a powerful message to governments that they were going to war without their citizens’ consent, hence the rallying cry: “Not in My Name.” Its impact was immediately felt in countries like Canada (where 250,000 people marched in Montreal alone), which decided not to join U.S. President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing.” Equally important, it established solidarity with ordinary Iraqis who became victims of the ensuing violence.

In contrast, the international response to Syria has been muted, to say the least.

We do not minimize what churches, NGOs and some governments have been doing to offer prayers, host refugees, provide vital humanitarian relief and press for a negotiated political solution to the problem. (See related stories, pages 8, 9.)

But it is troubling that what passes for a global mass action is Netizens using the Twitter hashtag #PrayforSyria each time a child gets killed in the airstrikes.

There is no doubt that the situation in Syria is complicated. There are too many players involved. The U.N. and some world leaders have been trying to negotiate a political solution and the European Union has imposed sanctions on top Syrian officials, all to no avail. Western powers, including the U.S., acknowledge there is “no appetite” for a military intervention, and with reason. Putting the U.S. in direct confrontation with its Cold War rival Russia will only exacerbate the situation.

Many of the world’s political and religious leaders believe the only viable option is for Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to go, and for Russia and Iran to stop propping up his regime. A coalition government could then be set up to rebuild the nation and address threats to its national security, in particular, ISIS. “His [Assad’s] stepping aside would be the most heroic thing to do in his life and the best decision he’d ever taken,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

Assad, however, is digging in his heels. The citizens of the world need to send Assad and his allies a strong but peaceful message that he has to go and the carnage has to end. There’s no guarantee it will work. But we will all have failed Syria if we do nothing.

 

About the Author

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal.

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Anglican Journal News, December 15, 2016

Theologically conservative churches more likely to grow, study finds

Posted on: December 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Tali Folkins on December 14, 2016


A soon-to-be-published study of churches in southern Ontario suggests that theologically conservative churches are more likely to grow. Photo: Stester/Shutterstock


In a study whose results he says will probably be controversial, a Canadian professor contends that theologically conservative mainline Protestant churches are more likely to grow while their liberal counterparts decline.

“It is clear that theological conservatism plays a role in distinguishing growing from declining mainline Protestant churches,” concludes Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy, a paper to be published this month in the Review of Religious Research, an American scholarly journal.

The paper’s authors state that by “conservative,” they mean views that are typically held by conservative Protestants, such as a high regard for the authority of the Bible, a literal belief in teachings such as the deity and resurrection of Christ, and a belief that Christianity is true to the exclusion of other religions.

The article summarizes the results of a recent study done of 22 churches in southern Ontario, drawn from the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada. Seeking to identify the possible reasons for growth and decline among mainline Protestant churches, the authors looked at both churches that had gained and lost congregants over the previous 10 years. It surveyed 2,255 regular attendants and 29 clergy on their theological views, religious practices and other matters; the study also involved interviews of clergy and selected congregants.

Lead author David Haskell, professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, and his team compared the survey results with whether the churches had been growing and declining, and identified a number of trends.

The features they found that tended to be most associated with growing churches, according to the paper, were, in order of importance: how churches used contemporary worship; their emphasis on youth programs; the theological conservatism of the clergy; and the theological conservatism of the parishioners.

Although theological conservatism actually came third and fourth on this list, the paper describes its importance as a predictor of church growth as the “most notable result” to emerge from the study. This, Haskell says, is because the authors conclude from the interviews they conducted that the first two factors were in some sense underlain by the second two.

The evangelical nature of conservative Protestant theology seemed to enjoin on these clergy and parishioners, he says, an unusually high desire to adopt practices—such as contemporary worship and youth programs—deemed more likely to attract new people.

“These people are willing to modify their services, be innovative in both their worship and in their youth programs because they are inspired by their doctrine to do so,” Haskell says. “If it means guitars and drums in church, then that’s going to happen. If it means a youth group that does paintball and then Bible study, then that’s going to happen.”

The survey found that both congregants and clergy of growing churches tended to score highly on a questionnaire intended to gauge their theological conservatism. For example, asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb,” 93 per cent of clergy and 83 per cent of parishioners from growing churches agreed, versus 56 per cent of clergy and 67 per cent of parishioners from declining churches. Asked to respond to the statement, “The beliefs of the Christian faith need to change over time to stay relevant,” 69 per cent of clergy from shrinking churches agreed, compared to zero per cent of clergy from growing churches.


David Haskell, professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the author of Theology Matters. Photo: Contributed


Haskell’s paper acknowledges a 2014 report based on an 18-month survey of Church of England members, which claimed that theological orientation or “churchmanship” was an essentially insignificant predictor of church growth or decline. That paper argued that the prioritization of growth by clergy, a sense of clear mission and purpose among the congregation and an openness to change were more strongly associated with growing churches. But the Church of England study, Haskell says, suffered from some key flaws. Instead of surveying a large number of congregants, for example, it relied on answers posed only to a small number of “key informants.” And instead of attempting to gauge theological orientation by asking questions on specific points of belief, it asked respondents to locate where they stood on three scales—catholic vs. evangelical, liberal vs. conservative and charismatic vs. non-charismatic—a less reliable method, he says.

According to figures released this fall, the Church of England lost more than 100,000 regular worshippers  over the past decade.

Even apart from the results of his study, Haskell says those who deny that church growth is linked to theological conservatism should ask themselves why evangelical churches have been growing in recent decades while mainline Protestant ones have been declining.

“You can say it’s not the theology, but you’d better be able to tell me what it is,” he says.

Dean Peter Elliott, of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, says the study will likely affect people differently depending on the assumptions they hold about the importance of congregation growth versus other factors, such as truth in church teaching and preaching.

Elliott sees in the theological conservatism presented in the study an emphasis on clarity and simplicity—traits that are likely to appeal to people but often come at the expense of deeper understanding, he says. He hopes the study won’t sway church leaders toward more simplistic teaching in a bid to fill pews.

“I don’t doubt their research, but where that leads me is asking the question, ‘So what?’ ” he says. “I worry sometimes that studies like this can be dispiriting to those of us for whom our practice of Christianity moves more in the gray areas rather than black and white, and that acknowledges the complexity of theological questions and invites thoughtful engagement with the Christian way rather than a sort of blind obedience.”

Christ Church Cathedral, often regarded as a liberal church, has seen its congregation grow significantly over the past 20 years, he says. Elliott attributes this growth at least partly to its liberal theology. People are drawn to Christ Church, he says, because it encourages “thoughtful engagement” with Christianity. “I think people feel that their intellects are respected—that their Christian journeys are ongoing through a life,” he says.

Canon Barry Parker, rector of St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto—one of the growing churches that took part in the study—says he wasn’t surprised to learn of its results. They seem to support what he’s seen in Anglican and other churches in North America, he says.

Parker says St. Paul’s Bloor Street is theologically conservative in terms of its adherence to creeds and other historic elements of the faith, though not necessarily conservative in its application of ministry.

The conservativism of his church, Parker says, has more to do with focusing on what’s essential in the Christian message than providing clarity and simplicity for their own sake. People are drawn to this emphasis on the historic teachings of the church because they’re seeking sustenance from timeless truths, he says.

“I know some people criticize us, saying people want black or white in this chaotic age, but my experience is very different,” he says. “I think people are looking for hope, and meaning, and purpose—those three particular things—and they want it with content. They want to know that what they can believe can stand the test of time, and the test of life.”

 

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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Anglican Journal News, December 15, 2016

The second coming of Christ

Posted on: December 14th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Mark MacDonald on December 13, 2016

 

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

In many circles of our church, outside of the liturgy itself you don’t hear much about the second coming of Christ. It is a major article of our faith, with the same status as the birth of Christ or the Resurrection. To our ancestors in the faith, the proclamation that Christ is coming again was not just a doctrine to believe, it was a source of constant hope and great inspiration. Certainly, not everyone has forgotten, but the return of Christ does not  favour our preaching and teaching in the way it used to among our ancestors of faith.

Perhaps we have lost sight of it in the comforts of our time. Perhaps it is too fearful an idea. For some, it might appear too fanciful. In any case, its disappearance should make us wonder.

For the poor, marginalized and threatened, knowing that Christ is coming again—and, as Scripture insists, soon or perhaps quickly—has always been a cherished hope, perhaps even an experience—some claim they experience the  first movements of Christ’s second coming, here and now. We can see it in the Eucharist; we know it in justice and peace. These realities should also make us wonder, since the most damaging and dangerous reason for not holding fast and close the second coming is that we are too comfortable and too powerful in this life to look for another.

Christ our hope, regardless of our state in life, tells us 1) to work for the good, as if each day is our last, and 2) to let hope for a new day, when all will be made right, guide all of our actions in life

About the Author

Mark MacDonald

Mark MacDonald

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

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Anglican Journal News, December 13, 2016

Christmas in spirit, Advent in tone for church choir concerts

Posted on: December 5th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

 

By Desmond Devoy on December, 01 2016

There’s something special about Advent concerts, which draw Christians and non-Christians alike.  Music “draws people to a church in a way nothing else can,” says Sandra Bender, choirmaster, Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, diocese of Quebec. Illustration: Alida Massari


For choirs across the country, you can have a concert during the Christmas season— just do not call them Christmas concerts.“You should know that St. Margaret’s does not put on a Christmas concert,” wrote Ruth Widdicombe, music director for St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg, during an email exchange with the Anglican Journal. However, she stresses that St. Margaret’s does put on an “Advent Festival,” on the first or second Sunday of Advent, with as many as 10 readings from Scripture, followed by a choral response. There are also Advent hymns and prayers.

“No Christmas lessons are read, no Christmas hymns are sung…This is because Advent is not Christmas backwards, but is a time of preparation for the mystery of the incarnation; and because it is such a great mystery, it must be prepared for,” says Widdicombe. “On Christmas Eve, and only then, does the church sing Christmas carols…lots of wonderful choral Christmas music,” from then until the Epiphany.

Widdicombe adds that Charpentier’s “Midnight Mass for Christmas,” complete with flutes, strings, organ and soloists, has been performed at St. Margaret’s on Christmas Eve.

Sandra Bender, choirmaster at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City, agrees that, at her church, there is “never a stand-alone Christmas concert,” but, like St. Margaret’s, the cathedral will host an Advent concert on the third Advent Sunday. (Coincidentally, Bender was a musical assistant at St. Margaret’s in Winnipeg before moving to Quebec several years ago.)

Bender prepares her 12-member choir for the Advent concert with two, two-hour rehearsals, with seven different pieces rehearsed on the Tuesday and Saturday preceding the concert. She gives credit to her choir in being able to turn things around quickly. “They pull off some rather amazing things,” Bender says.

As for the Advent concert itself, “it’s a service that has no sermon,” the trained opera singer said. “[But] it’s a lot like a concert,” and choosing the music, for her, is a matter of “how Advent-y versus Christmas-y you want to make it,” choosing between choral pieces and hymns. “I’m always looking at the whole experience. It’s like planning a dinner party.”

Bender is also the cathedral’s director of liturgy, so, by her definition, she helps “plan the variable parts of the service.” She chooses hymns, which she says helps, as she seeks to bring Advent lessons and carols back. Now, more performances outside of regular Sunday services have been added, like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Born into a Mennonite family, Bender began conducting church choirs when she was 17 in her native Winnipeg. Christmas was a “special” time for her as a child, but “finding that [right] music as an adult is difficult,” Bender says. Hearing the music of the Advent choirs when she was younger, “I was captivated by that, the ancient tradition of music…I do see music as something that draws people to a church in a way nothing else can.”

Widdicombe agrees that there is something special about an Advent concert.

“The church is packed for this Advent Festival,” Widdicombe wrote. “The church is dark, with a few candles lit.”

Even though everyone is welcome in the church at any time of year, on Christmas Eve, “many people from the wider community attend these services, even those who would perhaps not call themselves Christians,” says Widdicombe.

 

Desmond Devoy is a newspaper reporter and broadcaster who lives in Smiths Falls, Ont.

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Anglican Journal News, December 02, 2016

Do we ignore the women at the centre of Advent?

Posted on: November 25th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Paul Knowles on November 25, 2016

Photo: Renata Sedmakova/Shutterstock


Advent— a time for sober reflection. Or, for joyous celebration. A time when the church commemorates the role of women in the gospel story. Or, virtually ignores women, spending much more time with an Old Testament prophet and a strange desert visionary than with the “mother of God.”

Former United Church of Canada (UCC) moderator the Rev. Gary Paterson sums it up: “Advent…is a strange season in the life of the church.”

Is it a time of joy or a time of penance—or both? Is it possible that a church traditionally dominated by males has created a myopic tradition that largely ignores the female perspective? And are there reasons to suspect that the mainline church’s focus on Advent as distinct from Christmas may be a roadblock to evangelism?

In the beginning

By the sixth century, Christians were celebrating the anticipated coming of Christ. Other traditions followed—the association of each successive Sunday with hope, peace, joy and love and the odd development of the much-misused Advent Calendar, in the 19th century.

Church lectionaries feature four readings for each Sunday of Advent. This year’s readings include four segments from Isaiah, four Psalms, calls from Paul, James and Matthew to prepare for the second coming, two readings about John the Baptist, and the story of Joseph and the angel.

One alternative reading is suggested—the Magnificat, Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46–55), but this optional reading omits the first three words of the passage. Those words are, simply, “And Mary said.” The song is there—the female author is omitted.

Misogyny or mystery?

Does all of this represent an anti-female bias among those who created the lectionary? Opinions vary.

Paterson says, “I think John the Baptist is a helpful voice in Advent…but I only give him one Sunday despite what the Lectionary suggests. And Mary always gets a Sunday…And often Elizabeth gets one, too.”

United Church clergy have more wiggle room in ignoring lectionaries than some other mainline churches. Canon June Hough, rector of the Church of the Ascension (Anglican) in London, Ont., has no doubt there is a problem: “The women are supporting characters. Even at the temple, we have a song of Simeon, and Anna is secondary… A strong patriarchal spirit pervades most of how we interpret Scripture.”

But Canon Wendy Fletcher, principal at Renison College at the University of Waterloo, Ont., doesn’t see a problem. “Of course, women as the child-bearers in our world are at the centre of Advent’s meaning…The third Sunday of Advent, which focuses on Mary—her joy, her willingness to give everything for love—is an appropriate balance to Advent One’s call to turn around….to ‘repent.’ ”

But Bishop Linda Nichols of the Anglican diocese of Huron has some questions: “I think the lectionaries only need one Sunday on John the Baptist—I have not heard anyone explain the double Sunday emphasis.”

Nonetheless, she rejects the suggestion that male decision-makers have de-emphasized the role of women because of “male mystification” around the reality of pregnancy.

But could that be a possible explanation of the perhaps inordinate focus on men in what is essentially a story of a pregnant woman? Current UCC moderator the Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell takes a cautious position: “I suspect that women experience pregnancy and birth as mystery perhaps even more deeply than men do…Wherever pregnancy and birth are major themes, I think mystery and wonder are the only authentic responses we can have, regardless of our gender.

I do think the church is quite afraid of human bodies, and female bodies in particular. So we do tend to ignore or down play the very embodied experience of Mary and Elizabeth. That is a mistake. The incarnation is all about the incredible mystery of God taking on our human flesh. How can we begin to appreciate what that means if we don’t embrace the very physicality of it?”

Hough adds, “This is not Lent. A woman or man doesn’t celebrate only the moment the child is birthed—there is the heartbeat, watching it move, even with adoption, there is the waiting, getting a room ready…a sense of joy.”

The Rev. Nancy Knowles, of Thamesview United Church in Fullarton, Ont., says, “Men have perceived the roles of the women in the Advent/Christmas stories as diminished by comparison to the stories of the male characters. It’s actually rather humorous, especially when one considers that there would be no birth of John the Baptist, birth of Jesus, or even the harried innkeeper, without female characters present…Quite simply, what the female characters bring to the story is…life.”

Fr. Murray Watson, professor of theology, Huron University College in London, Ont., and a Roman Catholic priest,  takes exception to the idea that there might be a mistaken, male-dominated focus in Advent. “This represents a misrepresentation of the richness of what Advent means to the Christian church, and relies on stereotypes and caricatures of ‘male thinking’ that are, at best, reductionistic, partial and often incorrect. My own experience has been that excitement and anticipation of something significant on the horizon…is common to men and women equally.”

The Rev. Dawn Hutchings, from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ont., and creator of the blog, pastordawn.com, is unequivocal: “I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary…have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again…The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba…even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm!”

Joy or penance?

Watson thinks that Advent is often a season of misunderstanding. “The official documents of my own Catholic church say that ‘Advent is…a period for devout and joyful expectation.’ “However, I think that this understanding has yet to trickle down to many parishioners, who continue to see Advent as a somewhat grim penitential season.”

Bishop Nichols points to a symbolic change: “Anglicans have shifted from using the colour purple to using royal blue, leaving purple for Lent.”

Fletcher insists, “The sentiment of doom and gloom has no place ever in the Christian worldview—we are creatures made in joy, held in joy and called home in joy. Period.”

Advent and evangelism

All of these hopeful and joyous observations considered, it’s probably important to remember that these are mainly “inside the church” comments—the colour of vestments, the lectionary readings, and so on.

But a question remains: if the birth of Jesus is the second-most-important story in the Christian canon (Nichols reminds us that “Christmas is meaningless without Easter”), is Advent a time for evangelism—and is the church succeeding at it?

Society begins to celebrate “Christmas” shortly after Halloween; meanwhile, churches are debating whether or not Christmas carols should be sung during Advent. Is there a disconnect between the church and society at large—and is this an opportunity lost?

Paterson suggests there are pros and cons: “We are out of step with the cultural activities all around us…and that’s both good and bad. Good, because it presents a counter-cultural voice to the building frenzy of consumerism…The invitation to focus on an inward journey that celebrates life (and yes, pregnancy), and peace and joy and hope and love feel so important. Whether we do that well is another question.”

Watson adds: “I think that the discipline of hopeful waiting is an important aspect of the Christian faith, and so I would be very hesitant for us to take our lead from a largely consumerist society.”

Cantwell agrees: “While it would be popular to jump on that bandwagon, it certainly would not be faithful.”

However, she is perfectly happy to sing Christmas carols during Advent: “I think folks want to sing Christmas carols during Advent, and why the heck not?”

Missing or meeting the mark?

So, is the church missing some key aspects of Advent—opportunities to celebrate the central role of women, to celebrate joy, to carry the gospel out into society?

According to these leaders from several mainline churches, the answer is yes…and no.

There is no general agreement about how well the church is doing at celebrating the women at the centre of the story, but there is entire agreement that they should be celebrated.

When it comes to a choice between somber reflection or joyful celebration, the consensus is, there should be both—but the emphasis should be on joy.

And is the church disconnected from society when it comes to commemorating Advent and Christmas? Again, yes, and no—and this is both good news and bad news. Good, in that the church should present a counter-cultural alternative; bad, in that our perhaps arcane practices may be a barrier to evangelism.

There is total agreement among these mainline church leaders—unlike many evangelical or fundamentalist churches—that Advent is a key part of the church year.

The Rev. Margaret Walker, of St. George’s Anglican Church in New Hamburg, Ont., wonders, “Perhaps the church has a responsibility to bring society back in line with the calendar rather than having agendas set by the marketing department and commercial interests. Christianity was, and should be, counter-cultural; just because our culture does it does not mean that we, Christians, have to do it as well.”

 

Paul Knowles is a writer, editor and lyricist who lives with his wife, the Rev. Nancy Knowles, in New Hamburg, Ont.

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Anglican Journal News, November 25, 2016

Five lessons on how to be a priest and a Christian

Posted on: November 24th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Rhonda Waters on November, 23 2016

Photo: Halfpoint/Shutterstock


On November 20, I joined in the celebrations to say farewell and thank you to the dean of Montreal, Paul Kennington, as he returns to London. I worked with Paul for five fabulous years, first as curate and later as associate at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, and I learned an enormous amount from him about how to be a priest and how to be a Christian. Here are five of those lessons:

  1. It’s all about Jesus. We share pretty much every other aspect of our faith with other groups of people—God, Spirit, justice and peace, love and service, stewardship of creation, respect for the dignity of all people. These points of commonality are wonderful gifts, and understanding the subtle differences between traditions and philosophies leads to new depths of understanding. But it is also important to remember that there is one big difference, one thing that makes us Christian and not something else: we follow Jesus.
  2. Rejoice in your own piety. Don’t be shy about letting people know how you pray and what happens to you when you pray. Create liturgies and spaces and practices that feed your soul. The authenticity will allow other people to pray as well and, even more important, it will give them the desire and the permission to do what they need to do so that they can get closer to God.
  3. Ministry takes place on many time scales. We have plans and dreams for our communities. Some of those dreams will come to fruition in our presence and some of them will wait until we are long gone. Figuring out which is which—and then finding the patience to leave it in God’s hands—is a valuable skill.
  4. Ministry is like improv—you should always try to say, “Yes, and…” Affirming people’s passions is the best way to unleash their energy and welcome the Holy Spirit’s power into a community. Plus, it’s better for your own soul than constantly saying “no.”
  5. We go where we are needed. Priests don’t all do the same thing. Parishes need different priests at different times. God calls us to where we are needed and, in so doing, makes room for the person needed next to arrive. This is also true of lay ministry leaders within parishes. In fact, it’s true of ministries as well. Different parishes and different ministries offer us new opportunities to grow and the chance to rest already well-used skills. Change is part of God’s plan for our well-being as individuals and as churches.

So, five deceptively simple lessons, offered with thanks and love, to honour a wonderful priest, mentor and friend who will be sorely missed.

 

About the Author

Rhonda Waters

Rhonda Waters

The Rev. Rhonda Waters is incumbent of the Church of the Ascension, diocese of Ottawa. 
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Anglican Journal News, November 24, 2016

A place of ‘sober second thought’

Posted on: November 17th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Marites N. Sison on November 16, 2016


Photo: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock


(This editorial first appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Anglican Journal.) 

This month, the new members  of Council of General Synod  (CoGS)—who will help govern the church for the 2016–2019 triennium— meet for the first time.

Elected by their provincial caucuses at  last summer’s General Synod, a majority  of them are fresh faces—only about five of  the 27 (excluding seven officers of General Synod) have served the council in the previous triennium or in recent years.

This is an exciting development. The  infusion of new blood in any organization  is generally seen as a good thing, ripe with promise of alternative ideas and infectious energy. The arrival of new, creative thinkers/doers, for instance, can help shake things up and pave the way for meaningful, beneficial change. No matter how smoothly an organization has been running, there should always be room for growth.

It is equally valid, of course, to argue that having a fresh slate does not always yield positive returns. There are many factors to consider—among them, the willingness of the “newbies” to do their homework, in terms of learning about their role, the function of the organization they are serving, the issues it deals with and the processes in place for addressing these.

While a volunteer position, being a member of CoGS is nonetheless a privilege that carries a huge responsibility. CoGS governs the church between meetings of General Synod, and it is one of the places where important decisions about the life of the church are made, including its spiritual and financial health.

From day one, CoGS members will be given an orientation, but in the end, it will be up to each of them to make choices about how much they are willing to participate. One hopes they will remember that they have been elected not simply to sit through discussions or act as a rubber stamp when decisions need to be made.

Newbies (and it goes without saying, even veterans) must be willing to step up and offer ideas, seek clarification and yes, ask the hard questions and respectfully disagree when necessary about matters requiring their approval, no matter how perfunctory they may seem. Like Canada’s Senate, and General Synod, for that matter, CoGS must be a place of “sober second thought.”

It is not that the decisions they will be asked to make are questionable in and of themselves, but they will be more solid and have great integrity if they have passed the test of due diligence. Of course, one always has a reasonable expectation that a church behaves more morally and more ethically than most institutions. Historically, however, such has not always been the case with religious institutions, in Canada and around the world, and it is precisely for this reason that this church has chosen to be more open and democratic than most and to offer checks and balances.

One hopes that CoGS will uphold this ideal of transparency and accountability at all times. This extends to granting the Anglican Journal  unimpeded access and thinking twice about in-camera meetings.

As a Journal editorial written in 2002 noted succinctly, when Journal staff are asked to leave so that information can be received in secrecy, “it is the members of the church who are ejected; the parishioners, the people in the pew whose financial and moral support is sought at other times, are thus excluded.”

Transparency and accountability are particularly crucial at this time when the church is faced with divisiveness over the issue of same-sex marriage. Canadian Anglicans are looking at their church for clarity, honesty and for courageous leadership on this and many other critical issues of the day.

 

About the Author

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal.

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Anglican Journal News, November 17, 2016

What is truth?

Posted on: November 15th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Wayne Holst on November, 15 2016

Image: DenisFilm/Shutterstock


“Truth? What is that?”—Pilate (John 18:38 New Jerusalem Bible).

“The lie is a contradiction of the word of God, which God has  spoken in Christ and upon which the creation is founded.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in an unfinished essay on truth-telling).

 

I am still reeling from the angry, divisive rhetoric of the recent American election. Of all the victims in that epic political fight, truth-telling seems to have suffered most.

With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of Nazi Germany’s Christian martyrs,

I cry out in anguish: “What does it mean to tell the truth?” and

“How can we be more intentional in our own speaking of the truth?”

Here, for your reflection, are some discoveries resulting from my quest to answer Pilate’s frustrated and cynical retort during the trial of Jesus as recorded in John 18.

Truth-telling is a contextual exercise. We need to recognize that particular situations evoke different understandings of the truth. Truth-telling requires moral character, but also honest reflection on the setting in which it is spoken. Two people may observe the same phenomenon and yet testify to that event from two different perspectives. Both may be reporting truthfully.

Truth-telling centres on knowing what is real, as reality exists in God, and it takes considerable knowledge and experience to speak truthfully. Ultimate truth stands above all human attempts to know and express it.

Divine truth stands above human understanding. Without a grounding in what is real, or of God, there can be no commonly accepted truth.

Satan can misguide and confuse our understanding of truth. Satan can make a lie out of what is true and hold it hostage to the principle of self-contradiction. A lie repeated can appear to be true.

It is sometimes dangerous to express the truth; but that should not prevent us from attempting to do so. When we fail to speak the truth out of fear, we need to recognize that we are an accomplice to the lie.

With its own special confusions, the media can distort what we consider to be true into a falsehood. That can lead to a loss of respect between people in a relationship, a family or a society. More than ever, we need to be aware of both the blessing and the curse of modern media.

How can we be more intentional in our speaking of the truth? We need to know what causes, and entitles us, to speak. We need to grow in our understanding of the place out of which we speak. We must struggle to relate the truth we come to know exists in God to the context wherein we find ourselves.

* * *

My heart aches, and my mind is heavy with confusion. I need time—away from the post-election fray—to clarify my feelings and fears. I want to know what is true and to hope again. Through prayer, I will ask God for guidance.  Through discussion with people I trust, I will recreate a roadmap for the way ahead.

About the Author

Wayne Holst

 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, November 15, 2016