Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Checking privilege at the border

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


Photo: www.photosearch.com


 

Flying back from a conference, I stand at the desk of an airport terminal’s gate, preparing to board, ticket in hand, passport at the ready. Like the security checkpoint prior to the gate, the boarding agent barely glances at my documentation before scanning my ticket and allowing me to board the flight for home.

I’ve participated in the rituals of border crossing so many times that they now seem both easy and natural. In truth, they are neither, but the degree to which they seem so says a great deal about my own privilege and the function that borders serve in the life of our nation-states.

As a white, blue-eyed, blonde-haired male who holds a Canadian passport, I can pass through most borders like a warm knife through butter. Not being stopped or scrutinized at borders, I am not often forced to think about them and that is how white privilege works—it gives you the luxury of thoughtlessness.

The reality is that my experience of borders is not the experience of the majority of the world’s population. About a hundred people will perish in the Sonoran desert this year, and hundreds, if not thousands more, will drown this summer in the Aegean Sea in an attempt to cross borders. They make these perilous attempts, for they know that their lack of proper documentation, their country of origin, their race or their religion will make them objects of scrutiny at the border; that rather than welcoming them as refugees, the border will harden into razor wire and walls, prisons yards and camps.

While countries that have signed the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees are required by international law to hear the asylum claim of any foreign national within their borders, this convention does not apply to those who are outside their borders. Respecting the letter of the law, Canada, like most northern nation-states, practises “interdiction,” a fancy term that means if a nation-state can stop refugees before they cross the border, they have no obligation to listen to their claims. We are happy to take the 25,000 Syrian refugees we select and deem worthy of crossing our borders, but we attempt to intercept, redirect and stop those who might try to make that crossing on their own.

This is one of the reasons that airlines check your tickets as you board the plane. Governments slap carriers with significant fines for allowing persons on board with faulty documentation. Since corporations are not subject to the Refugee Convention, they can refuse passengers even if they are forced migrants seeking asylum.  Nation-states, thus, use these fines to encourage airlines to stop potential refugee claimants before they arrive.

These kinds of restrictions are why many suffering, forced migrants will make the perilous journey over deserts and seas this summer to find a place where their claims of asylum will not be subject to our border regimes’ discrimination. In the words of anthropologist Shahram Khosravi, “Sacrifice is a primary act of worship. Sacrificing border transgressors is part of the worship of the nation-state and acknowledgement of its sovereignty.”

Yet, as followers of Jesus, we worship a God who has formed us into a people whose sovereignty is constituted and regulated, not by borders, but through our participation in the story of God reconciling to God’s self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of Christ’s cross. (See Col. 1:20). In the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, every life sacrificed on the altar of borders to maintain the sovereignty of the nation-state is an act of idolatry and an abomination to God.

Sponsoring refugees is a critically important part of pushing back against the principalities and powers of our world that deny people a place to call home, but we cannot stop there. As followers of Jesus, we must also begin to ask ourselves how our own borders, political structures and cultures of privilege might also be denying people a place to call home.

As I sit on the plane waiting for takeoff, I randomly opened my passport and began to read it. To my utter amazement, I realize that the name in my passport is misspelled and does not match my tickets—maybe it never has. I’ve been crossing borders with faulty documentation for years, and nobody noticed. It isn’t luck that no one thought to check.

 

About the Author

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.

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Anglican Journal News, May 27, 2016

The blessings of change

Posted on: May 24th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Photo: UCARI/Shutterstock


It is hard to believe that my family and I have been living in Ottawa for three months already! Our home is (almost completely) organized. We have our favourite routes for our walks to work and to school each day—and know exactly how late we can leave our home and still arrive on time. We have our routines of grocery shopping, coffee shop hopping and library stops all in place. In many ways, we are well settled into our new life here.

In other ways, though, it is still all very strange. We can’t help but think of ourselves as Montrealers who live in Ottawa, and we are still adjusting to the subtle (and not-so-subtle) cultural differences of the two cities. It takes time for new routines to become new identities. At some point, however, as we continue to build our lives and our community here, we will start thinking of ourselves as Ottawans who came from Montreal. Slowly but surely, we will become what we are already choosing to live.

What is true for my family is true also of the church. The church is in the midst of a major change, triggered not by a move in geography but by the passing of time. Nonetheless, the church’s neighbourhood has changed and we need to establish new patterns of life—new routines—in response. Those new routines might involve new patterns of worship; new partnerships with new neighbours; new language for old mysteries; new strategies for stewardship. For a while, it will all seem very strange, not quite “us.” And that’s OK. It’s not necessarily a sign that the new routines are wrong, just that they’re new. It’s true that they’re not quite “us”…yet.

And this, I think, is why we are nervous about such change. We know that these changes are not simply window dressing. We know that these changes in our routines will change who we are—and we quite like who we are. But I believe that God is calling the church to change, not simply for the sake of our neighbours or for the sake of the gospel, but for our own sake.

When my family and I decided to move to Ottawa, we did not do it primarily because we thought we could be useful to Ottawa or because we thought we could be more “successful” there. We followed God’s call to Ottawa in hopes that we would experience growth and change that would lead to newness of life for us. We trust that God has brought us here because Ottawa will be a blessing for us, even as we seek to be a blessing to Ottawa.

The church, too, is being called into newness of life in a new “place”—a place that will be a blessing for us if we are willing to actually live in it, to let it shape our routines and our concerns and our communities. And, with courage, patience and perseverance, we will one day realize that we have become the church God intends us to be for this time and that we are a blessing to the world, even as we have been blessed.

About the Author

Rhonda Waters

Rhonda Waters

The Rev. Rhonda Waters is priest-in-charge at St. Matthew’s, diocese of Ottawa. 
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Anglican Journal News, May 24, 2016

Armageddon

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

Photo: [email protected]


“I looked at the sky,” said a young man as he pointed his iPhone in the direction of a wall of flames, ominously challenging easy escape from  Fort McMurray, Alta. “It was like Armageddon.” What is Armageddon? What to do about his predicament?

Armageddon is both a theme and art form used frequently today in novels, sitcoms and movies. It is related to another term with a biblical source—apocalypse. Both are used interchangeably, often with little awareness of their historic theological or spiritual distinctions. Now is a good time to clarify these ancient terms.

Only one biblical reference relates specifically to a battle of Armageddon. Found in Revelation 16:12–16, its meanings are nebulous. In symbolic language  (translated from Hebrew to Greek) it is associated with Megiddo (thus “mageddon”), located today in northwest Israel.

Situated on a strategic trading route that links competing world powers from Mesopotamia and Egypt, Megiddo is a valuable archeological site. It contains pivotal defences, reflecting the impact of warring armies and devastating conflicts. Megiddo connotes cosmic battles between good and evil forces.

“Armageddon” has became a symbolic location and “apocalypse” the catastrophic events associated with it. They are linked by dramatic signs in  the sky: the sun darkening and abrupt social disintegration resulting from earthquakes, flooding and fire. But cosmic renewal can follow cosmic catastrophe in some scriptural teachings.

Personal experience on the part of those directly involved in the Fort McMurray disaster confirms this. Family members Sarah, Ronnie and their daughter Mya relived similar horrors in neighbouring Slave Lake, Alta., five years ago this month. Sarah recalls sudden, shocking trauma when she got orders to exit the town immediately. “I remember how scared and hysterical I was,” she says. “Ronnie had left to fight the fire and I couldn’t contact him. I knew I had to get out of town with Mya at once, but was frozen in fright.”

Sarah identifies with the people of Fort Mac. “I can just imagine the immediate fears and later, the post-traumatic stress disorder that must consume so many. You have more than just our empathy. I say : ‘We’re with you. We’ve been there. We know the shock, terror and feelings of   helplessness…’ Ronnie and I have done a lot of good reflecting this time. Mya and I also looked together at a picture book about our town’s story.”

Sarah’s advice to current evacuees is compassionate and pragmatic. It is also supported by a maturing faith that comes from facing the abyss and then, in time, struggling through it. “Learn from the experience. Shock and loss happened to us and we are grateful for the community support and how it combined—locally and beyond—when we needed it. Five years after, we feel very blessed to have each other.” Ronnie continues to show solidarity by heroically fighting the fire in Fort McMurray.

Armageddon and apocalypse continue to explode into real life today—not just in the movies. It will continue to happen. Members of our own family have learned to say to the darkness: “We beg to differ.”

 


—With thanks to Mary Jo Leddy and help from Harper’s Bible Dictionary, The Oxford Companion to the Bible and the DK Complete Bible Handbook.

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, May 17, 2016

Blessed are the troublemakers

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

For many centuries, the church has considered itself the religious aspect of the larger society. Entrance in the church was entrance into society and vice versa. Everyone was to live in harmony with the larger pattern of life in what was thought to be a Christian society. Fitting in with the expectations of civil society was an unquestioned norm. This approach reached its height, it would seem, in the 1950s, the last great period of growth and influence for the church in North America.

That isn’t the way Jesus did it. He didn’t seem to fit in at all—not socially, not religiously and not financially. And though Jesus clearly wanted us to live a righteous life, if his example is any indication, keeping your nose clean in the larger society wasn’t high on his list.

If this is a Christian society, it really makes sense that we would fit in. The problem is, it isn’t, and to fit in is to pursue a way of life that—especially in terms of its subservience to financial goals—seems at odds with gospel faith.

Could it be that the troublemakers are blessed? To not fit in, even to shake it up a bit, seems the Jesus norm. Certainly we are to be lovingly and compassionately kind, but to go along with the flow of the mainstream, at this point in time, seems hostile to the example and intent of Jesus.

When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and helper, he did clean me up quite a bit, and I have tried to be faithful to that. More and more, however, faithfulness hasn’t meant going along with things the way they are—it is not to just fit in, and not just getting along. I am sure that I have not been as much a troublemaker as Jesus would like, but it has become clearer that this is the way of his footsteps.

Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.
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Anglican Journal News, May 17, 2016

Jerusalem: the city of peace

Posted on: May 10th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The Archbishop of Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani (centre) introduces the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, Michael Curry (left), to His Beatitude Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem and All Palestine (right), as the Revd Robert Edmunds, the Episcopal Church’s Middle East partnership officer, looks on, at the Carter Centre in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo Credit: Episcopal News Service

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Jerusalem’s vocation is as a city of peace, the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, has said. The seemingly incongruous statement was made in a speech at the Carter Centre in Atlanta Georgia in which he spoke about the Church’s role as peace-builder in a multi-faith context.

“The vocation of Jerusalem is to be a city of peace,” he said. “Its very name invites us to explore diversity and peace within the one shared reality. In the first instance, as is well known, the salem element in the name of our city refers to the words for peace in both Hebrew and Arabic: Shalom and Salaam.

“On the other hand, the dual form of the word in Hebrew suggests some kind of plurality about this place of peace. The very form of the word invites us to imagine Jerusalem as more than a simple reality, but rather a place where a rich diversity is integral to the Shalom/Salaam found within its walls.”

He explained that throughout the Middle East, and particularly in Jerusalem, religion is “integral to the identity of individuals, families, communities and national societies”. This was not always recognised in the secular West where “religion is seen as an optional personal attribute.

“The religious diversity of Jerusalem is apparent even to the casual observer, and sometimes the diversity leads to conflict that shames every person of faith,” he said. The Archbishop explained that he was not merely talking about differences between Christians, Jews and Muslims; but also differences within those groups.

“Our religious diversity, and the competition it often breeds, has too frequently been part of the problem in our region. However, that very diversity may also be an asset as we seek to deepen trust and reduce violence.”

In explaining the Church’s “essential role” in the “complex social and political context” of Jerusalem, Archbishop Dawani spoke of the need to “develop, embrace and practice a theology of presence as a form of mission”; and said: “Such a theology will not ignore witness and evangelism or turn away people drawn to Christianity from other religious communities. But it will understand that proactive evangelism is problematic and perhaps even unhelpful in our context.”

He went on to explore the Church’s presence through the areas of faith, hope, hospitality, service, solidarity, prophecy and justice.

“These seven suggestions are some essential attributes of a Christian community that embraces a theology of divine presence,” he said. “You may have already noticed that none of them are exclusively Christian attributes, even though they are authentic Christian attributes.

“Herein lies perhaps our major task as a Christian community engaged in interfaith dialogue. When we are true to our own deepest calling, we are close to the deepest calling of our interfaith colleagues.

“In being who God calls us to be, we encourage and support people of other faiths also to be what God calls them to be. If every religious community in Jerusalem and the Middle East practiced these seven attributes then our region would be a more peaceful place, and perhaps even a model of justice and reconciliation for other parts of the world.”

Archbishop Dawani concluded his speech with examples of the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s presence in the region, including the Princess Basma Centre in East Jerusalem; the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza; the Theodore Schneller School in Amman, Jordan; and the St Luke’s Hospital in Nablus. “Each of these institutions and many others beside them, give glory to God and serve our neighbours in their moments of need,” he said. “They do not compete with others or seek to draw people away from their own communities of faith. They are simply expressions of Christian presence, and as such they are signs of God’s presence with us all.”

  • Click here to read Archbishop Dawani’s full speech.

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Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS on Tuesday 10 May 2016

Between a rock and a hard place

Posted on: April 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The church’s bishops are split three ways on the issue of same-sex marriage—yes, no, maybe.


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

On February 29, the House of Bishops dropped a bombshell  when it issued a statement that they were “not likely” to muster enough votes among themselves to pass a draft resolution allowing same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.

A draft resolution changing the church’s marriage canon to include same-sex marriage is coming up for a vote at General Synod in July. This potential change in doctrine requires the approval by a two-thirds majority in each order—bishops, clergy, laity—at two successive General Synods.

The bishops’ statement—which was sent to Council of General Synod (CoGS), the church’s governing body between General Synods—sent ripples of shock and anger among some Anglicans, and was met with relief and joy by some, befuddlement by others. Some cited its usefulness in figuring out how the resolution can be dealt with “without people being shredded in the process.”

Many of those dismayed by the move have asked why the bishops chose to disclose this information ahead of General Synod’s vote. Some see it as an attempt to influence the outcome of the vote and derail the process. It did not help that the House of Bishops deliberated behind closed doors, denying the rest of the church the benefit of context and perspective that is so critical in understanding a decision of far-reaching import. At the very least, the house could have, upon release of the statement, appointed bishops to explain the intent behind their action and the process for how they arrived there. In their absence, and as the Journal tried to contact bishops to put together a coherent story, conjectures and suppositions spread like wildfire on social media and elsewhere.

The primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, and other bishops maintain that their action was motivated solely by a desire to be honest and transparent. The church’s 39 bishops are split three ways on the issue—yes, no, maybe. “So clearly you haven’t got a two-thirds [majority], either way,” says Hiltz. Ottawa Bishop John Chapman says it would have been “disrespectful to keep [private] this knowledge.”

One can understand the bishops’ dilemma about whether or not to reveal their “inability to come to a common mind in discerning what the Spirit is saying to the church.” Either way, they would have been excoriated.

By informing CoGS, the bishops were “acting in good conscience,” says Hiltz, noting that “it’s far better for the council to have to wrestle with this now than for us to have to wrestle with it on the floor of General Synod.” The hope, some bishops say, is that well-thought out alternatives on how to move forward can be explored now, and not at General Synod. They note past instances when motions were brought forward that—because of time limitation, tempers flaring and exhaustion setting in—were not thoroughly examined and debated, producing the unintended consequence of bringing issues back to square one.

Only time will tell, of course, what the impact of the bishops’ decision will be. A draft resolution amending the marriage canon will still be brought forward by CoGS to General Synod 2016, as required by General Synod 2013. It would be up to General Synod to act on the resolution as it sees fit.

What is clear is that, regardless of one’s position on the issue, this is not the time to give in to frustration and despair, but to step back, pray and do some creative thinking.

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, April 15, 2016

Pope Francis joins the human quest

Posted on: April 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Pope Francis on his way to greet pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican.  Photo: Giulio Napolitano/Shutterstock


Modernity has not been kind to those upholding the truth of the gospel as well as the authority and unity of the church. Global Christian communions, for example, currently encounter significant internal challenges to the truth claims and structures that have long served them well.

Some of our best theological minds are engaged with what it means to maintain the “Good News first delivered to the apostles and saints” for our time and in spite of schismatic threats to the visible Body of Christ. How distressing when liberals and conservatives clash destructively on issues such as divorce or gay marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church and its head, Pope Francis, is an interesting case study as he transitions his global community from past to future and through the great ambiguities of the present.

Ross Douthat, a conservative New York Times columnist, has written a clarifying article entitled “The New Catholic Truce” (April 10, 2016).

Here are some seminal points:

So far, left- and right-wing Roman Catholics have found ways to remain “officially” united and the church’s official teaching remains conservative, even as the everyday life of Catholicism is shot through with disagreement, relativity and dissent. The impression given is still essentially unchanging, holding firm to the traditions. But from the outset of Pope Francis’s pontificate, it was clear that he was dissatisfied with this understanding. He wanted to renegotiate its terms in liberal Catholicism’s favour and in ways conservative Catholics deem impossible. The Pope’s new letter on marriage and the family demonstrates the self-contradiction between “unchanging” and “flexible” doctrine.

On the one hand, he does not challenge the traditional teaching on matters such as divorce, while on the other, he encourages existing practice in many places—i.e., the informal admission of remarried Catholics to communion by sympathetic priests. The truce is still in effect, but its terms have definitely changed. A formal teaching remains that remarriage without annulment is adultery, and a mortal sin. That consoles conservatives to a point.

But there is also now a new papal teaching in favour of the truce itself. The post-1960s disconnect between doctrine and pastoral practice has now received a papal imprimatur. By this truce, the Pope seeks to renew the church. It is not a change of doctrine, but encouragement for innovation locally. He “licenses” innovation but encourages the church’s contradictions. In truth, it may even ultimately undermine his authority. What the church once stated authoritatively, it now proffers tentatively in tones of self-effacement.

The Pope intends this language as a bridge between the church’s factions—just dogmatic enough for conservatives but perpetually open to more liberal interpretations. His deliberate ambiguity offers a centre of sorts for a deeply divided church. But not one, I fear, that’s likely to permanently hold.

I applaud Douthat for the clarity he brings to such complexity. But I hope he is wrong, because I admire the pastoral commitment to mercy and humanity the Pope advances. In the long arc of history, I believe Pope Francis will be recognized as leading prophetically.

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, April 15, 2016

‘Like a living tree’

Posted on: April 29th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Is your church blossoming?
Image: Ori-Artiste/Shutterstock

Wes Frensdorff, the one-time bishop of Nevada (now deceased) wrote a piece called “The Dream.”* He imagines a church that has recovered its New Testament charism and passion, a church that celebrates the ministries of all the baptized, a church “so salty and so yeasty that it really would be missed if it were not around.” At the heart of his dream is “a church without the answers, but asking the right questions; holding law and grace, freedom and authority, faith and works together in tension, by the Holy Spirit, pointing to the glorious mystery who is God. So deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.”

I am quite taken by this image. First of all, it is rooted in Scripture. It reminds us of our calling as the people of God. “Happy,” says the Psalmist, “are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1–3).

Secondly, it is grounded in the spirit and ethos of Anglicanism. We welcome questions and opportunities for dialogue in matters of faith. We embrace commonality and difference. We continually pursue the truth that sets us free. We open ourselves to the Spirit of God speaking whatever he hears, and declaring to us “the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

Thirdly, it is inspired by the signs of new life we see in the springtime. Up from the ground, green shoots are popping. The trees are budding and bursting with new foliage. The scent of blossoms fills the air. The image prompts a few questions. What new expressions of ministry are popping up? How are we watering and tending them? What’s budding? What’s blossoming? What new fragrance fills the world with the promises of Christ?

“A church so deeply rooted in gospel and tradition that, like a living tree, it can swing in the wind and continually surprise us with new blossoms.” That was Wes’s dream. May it be ours, too.

* The complete text of “The Dream” by Wes Frensdorff is available online at http://bit.ly/1WJhT1V.

Fred Hiltz

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

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Anglican Journal News, April 29, 2016

Sanctified in the truth

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Jeffrey Metcalfe 


Image: Christophe Boisson/Shutterstock

 

In the Meantime

Walking home from a riveting lecture on Christianity and peace, I had just started to cross the quiet intersection that leads to my neighbourhood when a black SUV, creeping past the stop line, hesitatingly pulled through the intersection and cut me off. It was not the first time this had happened.

Filled with righteous indignation at having to once again interrupt both my train of thought and my walking trajectory to avoid becoming roadkill, I raised my hand and, ever so lightly, I tapped on the side of the car.

Having completed its turn, the car immediately pulled over at the other side of the road, lowered its tinted windows and waited for me.

I swallowed deeply.

Awash in adrenaline as I approached the car, the driver inside looked at me and smiled. “You need to be careful,” he chided in a friendly tone, “when you cross intersections like this—you need to be sure you stop first, otherwise vehicles won’t know if you are trying to cross. Also, it’s not very nice of you to knock on the side of my car.”

I tried to explain to him how he had been the one who, by pulling through the stop line, had failed in his obligation under the law to stop—he didn’t agree. After a long discussion on our differing views about our observance of the laws of traffic, I apologized for knocking on his car; we shook hands and went our separate ways.

Human beings are self-deceiving creatures. While we are experts in observing and judging when others have crossed a line, we are wonderfully oblivious to the lines we may be creeping past ourselves. As Christians, we are called to be a people who are sanctified in the truth (John 17:17), and the truth is that we cannot trust ourselves to tell the truth about ourselves.

That is why the church needs an editorially independent media—a set of ecclesiastical journalists removed from the structures, interests and perspectives that animate our church’s ministries. Not because those structures, interests and perspectives are uniquely vulnerable to crossing lines—ecclesiastical journalism is just as fallible—but rather because we are all of us vulnerable to our own obliviousness, and we all need one another’s help in keeping ourselves accountable.

Just as the church needs an editorially independent media, so an editorially independent media needs the church. How many governments, corporations or communities of interest are actually willing to fund and defend a gaggle of nosey reporters who might at times hold their feet to the fire of public scrutiny? True editorial independence requires the existence of a people willing to sanctify themselves in the truth; a people who understand that, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8); a people who know that the truth, however difficult at times, will set them free (John 8:33).

As I was walking back to school the next day, I stopped to re-examine the intersection. The stop line was definitely not where I remembered it to be. My righteous indignation fled in the face of humility as I began to question the truth of the story I had told myself. Did he really cross the line, or, did I?

 

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.

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Anglican Journal News, April 21, 2016

A church faithful in its time

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Just a couple of short weeks ago, my front lawn was covered (again) in snow.  It felt like winter would never end and every casual conversation included a complaint about the insult of snow in April. And then someone shared a photo on Facebook of their snow-covered yard, captioned with a complaint—a photo that they had originally shared exactly one year ago. Because, it snows in April. Every year. And we are surprised and horrified. Every year.

This is either a testament to our great optimism that this year it will be different or to our remarkably short memories. Either way, it points to an almost wilful denial of reality. By April, we are so desperate for spring that we mistake our desire for reasonable expectation. We think back to last April—but only to the part we liked and fool ourselves into thinking that it’s the whole picture.

We do it in the church, too. We look back to a time of overflowing Sunday schools and full offering plates, and bemoan our empty pews and dwindling bank accounts. And we want it with such passion that we assume we are right to want it. If spring would just come again, we think, all would be as it should be.

But our memories are both short and selective. Sociologists of religion have done the work to show that the age we tend to wax nostalgic over was, in its day, a new thing and the evidence in front of us reveals that it was not a sustainable thing. Instead, that way of doing church was a particular response to a particular set of social conditions, the same conditions that produced the baby boom and the United Nations and the rise of the suburbs. People of faith looked around their world and created a church that spoke the language of its time and met the needs of its time. As a result, many good, faithful things happened—the Gospel of Christ was preached, disciples were formed, communities of love were nurtured, justice was proclaimed. Not-so-good things happened, too—because the church of that time, like the church of all times, was fallible.

Some of its mistakes have had lasting impacts—so did the mistakes of previous generations and so will ours. It was faithful in its time—as were previous generations in theirs and as we must be in ours. Our desires must come to reflect the work that God is doing, and not the work we wish God was doing, so that we will be able respond to the social conditions in which we find ourselves today, creating ways of being church in which the same good, faithful things can happen in new ways.

When we think back to last April, we need to see the whole picture so that we are better able to prepare for the spring that is coming, rather than lament the spring that has passed.

Rhonda Waters

Rhonda Waters

The Rev. Rhonda Waters is priest-in-charge at St. Matthew’s, diocese of Ottawa. 
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Anglican Journal News, April 25, 2016