Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Are Church leaders the world’s most active peacemakers?

Posted on: July 8th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 

Diplomat Magazine, July/August 2014

 

CHURCH DIPLOMACY

Michael Binyon says church leaders are now using their moral authority to persuade leaders in conflict situations to look again at proposals for peace

Are Christian church leaders becoming the world’s most active peacemakers? Only a week after President Peres of Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the Pope’s invitation to pray together with him in Rome, the Archbishop of Canterbury made a dramatic flight to Nigeria to pray with President Goodluck Jonathan and encourage him to make every effort to find the schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

The Archbishop’s impromptu trip came hard on the heels of a visit to Pakistan, where he visited a small embattled Christian community and praised their efforts to forge closer links with the wider Muslim community, despite regular attacks by militants, the threats of mob violence and the increasing use of the notorious blasphemy laws to force Christians from their land and property.

The two men,  both new in their jobs and  both with fresh agendas that place considerable emphasis on peace and reconciliation, have been increasingly active in tackling conflicts that have defied the efforts of the world’s political leaders to resolve. While insisting they are not taking on political roles, and cautious of wading into the thickets of global diplomacy, both Pope Francis and the Most Revd Justin Welby have shown themselves skilled at using their huge moral authority to improve the political climate and persuade leaders in conflict situations to look again at proposals for peace.

This was dramatically demonstrated in Rome at the beginning of June, when President Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, arrived at the Vatican for a formal ceremony to plant olive trees – the ancient symbols of peace. With the world’s cameras watching, both men greeted and kissed each other before shovelling earth around the roots of the trees. Coming after the breakdown of formal Israeli-Palestinian political talks on peace, the gestures were almost as astonishing as the famous handshake 21 years ago between Yassir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin of the White House lawn as President Clinton sealed the agreement of the Oslo Accords.

The Pope may not be a politician. But over the past year he has demonstrated an extraordinarily deft touch in his use of gestures and symbols to underline the messages he wants to convey. This was particularly evident during his visit to the Holy Land. In an image that will define his papacy, he paused to bow his head in prayer and pressed his hand against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel’s formidable ‘separation wall’ – the barrier built to seal Israel off from the occupied West Bank. As his aides later conceded, it was a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.

  The Palestinians were delighted, feeling that the Pontiff had drawn attention to their plight in a way that Israel was obliged to recognise. The Israeli government was visibly irked, but responded diplomatically. But the gesture then made it impossible for either side to refuse his invitation to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to join him in Rome to pray for peace.

At the very moment the Pope was in Jerusalem, the Archbishop was in Lahore, meeting bishops and leaders of other minority faith communities in Pakistan. His visit, part of his plan to meet the primates of all 38 provinces of the Anglican Church around the world early on in his time in office, was also laden with symbolism. It came only months after a devastating attack by two suicide bombers on a church in Peshawar, which killed and wounded more than 230 worshippers, and amid tensions over the increasing threats by Islamist militants against the Pakistani state and especially the small non-Muslim communities.

At a joyous morning service in the imposing Gothic Anglican cathedral in Lahore, he praised Pakistan’s Christians for their steadfastness in the face of these threats. He said the work they did in running colleges, health clinics and even a special school for children with learning difficulties (a provision not offered by the state), open to all and overwhelmingly attended by Muslim students, was an example of Christian service in action.

There was no doubt of the political risk he ran in making the visit. By ghastly coincidence, the Archbishop was listening to impassioned pleas by Pakistan’s bishops for the right to worship in freedom and safety at the very moment when, only streets away, a pregnant young woman lay dying in the dust outside Lahore’s High Court, her face and head smashed by bricks hurled at her by her family.

The woman and her husband had gone to court to swear an oath that they had married of their own free will, despite the opposition of her father. Every year there are around 900 ‘honour’ killings of women by their families. There could have been no more dreadful example of the dangers of hatred, ignorance and fanaticism that are now gripping Pakistan.

Security was extraordinarily tight for the Archbishop’s visit: armoured cars were used to move him and his wife around. It was a precaution that only a week later was shown to have been justified. In Karachi, where the small group from Lambeth Palace stayed a night, riots broke out a few days later, following the arrest in London of an exiled political leader who controls powerful militias in the sprawling city. The British High Commission building there, where the Archbishop stayed, was closed and evacuated. Three days later, militants stormed Karachi airport, from where he had earlier flown on to Bangladesh, killing officials and forcing the airport to close.

Peacemaking and reconciliation – within the Anglican Church and between the world’s main faith groups – were the declared priority for Justin Welby from the moment he became Archbishop. He is well qualified for the role. As an oil executive who visited Nigeria often before his ordination, he has seen at first-hand the conflict raging between Christians and Muslims in Central Nigeria that is now taking a deadly toll. As a former head of Coventry Cathedral’s Centre for Reconciliation, he has himself conducted delicate negotiations between militant groups in an effort to free hostages, often risking his own life.

On reaching Lambeth Palace he appointed Canon David Porter, an Ulsterman who succeeded him at Coventry, as his Director of Reconciliation. And together they have focused on many of the world’s more intractable conflicts. The machinery and strategies for reconciliation are now in place at Lambeth Palace.

The Pope, too, has made reaching out, especially to the poor, a focus of his papacy, and has spoken out strongly in favour of greater justice and opportunity for the downtrodden in the world’s slums. He, too, has reorganised the Vatican bureaucracy, appointing cardinals whom he trusts to carry out the priorities he has laid down.

Both men, with influence over vast numbers of nominal Christians and their political leaders, now look set to make the running in peace-making. Both are determined to halt the deterioration in Christian-Muslim relations around the world. And both are not afraid to speak out, unambiguously, in condemning violence and prejudice. The Most Revd Justin Welby called the stoning of the woman in Lahore a “revolting lynching” and said he had been “utterly horrified.” He has also called the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls an “atrocious and inexcusable act.”

The Church leaders are not attempting to supplant United Nations negotiators or politicians with responsibility for maintaining global security. But at a time when the world’s leaders seem paralysed in the face of its more intractable problems – poverty, injustice, ethnic conflict and civil wars – maybe the Church is rediscovering a role that could make it a formidable political as well as moral force: the role of championing humanitarian causes and chastising those who fail to take a stand against war, conflict and violence.

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Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), July 8, 2014

Leading in the circle

Posted on: June 17th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

This column first appeared in the June issue of the Anglican Journal.

On April 23, 2014, near his home on Siksika First Nation, we laid to rest my adopted brother and friend, the Rev. Mervin Natowohki (“Holy Water”) Wolfleg. Even in his long illness, he continued to be courageous, loving, humorous and connected. Even in the sadness of his passing, the many unique qualities of his leadership and fellowship were present, but some things stood out with special clarity and strength.

Even if you have never heard of Mervin, you have been touched by his work. He was the artist who created the symbol of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples. Other aspects of his ministry are not as well known, though they had deep and broad influence. Merv was a trailblazer. Long before it became widely acceptable, he advocated a gospel welcome to indigenous culture and practices. Many now accept the possibility that indigenous symbols, ideas and ideals can serve within the framework of a rigorous and dedicated Christian discipleship. That was not true when Mervin started his work.

He was way out in front on many issues—political advocacy, spirituality and indigenous identity, in particular—but he never seemed to be apart from the rest of us. He always wrapped his very firm stances with friendship, humour and humility. He was a leader, but never seemed to be a leader in a stand-in-front sense. It was always the type of leadership that typifies the very best of indigenous elders: leadership within the circle. When he spoke, it was with the authority of a friend and brother, not of an office or position.

Mervin brought the presence of his family and nation with him—he loved them deeply, but he invited us all to be a part of that love, helping us to see that by loving family in a good way we become relatives to others—including the rest of creation. While Western institutions are often uncomfortable with indigenous ways, he would insist that they made sense and received fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He was, in all things, a believer—a believer who made the church look good to those who had long ago given up on it. Having suffered in the residential schools, he spoke with courage about his experience, without losing compassion for others, even those who hurt him. In his 67 years, he had his own ups and downs, but his experience appeared to give him admirable humour, humility and hope.

We will miss Mervin greatly, but his influence and example will be with us as we go forward. I will eagerly pray and look for his anointing to fall on some of us who have been left behind. Blessed rest, my brother.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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Anglican Journal News, June 13, 2014

Coffin takes on new role as metropolitan

Posted on: June 17th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Leigh Anne Williams

Archbishop-elect Percy Coffin, the bishop of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, has been elected as the new metropolitan for the ecclesiastical province of Canada.   Photo: Contributed


Percy Coffin, bishop of the diocese of Western Newfoundland, will begin his new duties as metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Canada later this month after the current metropolitan Archbishop Claude Miller retires. Archbishop-elect Coffin will be installed in the office on Sept. 18.Coffin was elected on the second ballot in an electronic vote by provincial synod members at the end of May. With his characteristic self-deprecating humour, he told the Anglican Journal that his initial reaction was “fear and trembling,” but then he said more seriously that it was exciting to see how the election was unfolding. Reached more than a week after his election during a break in a hectic schedule, he said he still feels his election is “a bit overwhelming,” but he added, “I’m a firm believer in calling, and when you have that conviction, there’s a strength that comes with it in the belief that you are sustained in this by God and also by the people you work with.”

It is a challenging time for the seven dioceses in the province, in large part because the church is shrinking drastically in most areas, he said. Anglophone Anglicans have migrated away from Quebec and many rural communities are losing population to urban areas. While the Anglican population in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, which includes St. John and the economic activity produced by offshore oil, is holding steady or growing, in the diocese of Western Newfoundland it has shrunk by two-thirds, Coffin says, from 37,000 Anglicans in 1977 when the diocese split into three, to under 13,000 now. That drop, he said, is consistent with figures from the last three Statistics Canada census reports, which have shown drops of 12 to 20 per cent in the population of rural communities.

Coffin noted, however, that last year was the only year in recent time where every parish in this diocese paid its assessment, allowing the diocese to pay its apportionment to General Synod. That’s an indication that “the church is still very important to the people who are left,” he said.

In response to the church’s changing situation, Coffin explained that resolutions at recent provincial synods have directed dioceses to re-examine their boundaries and look for ways to share resources. The dioceses of Montreal and Quebec are expected to have discussions, as will Fredericton with Nova Scotia and P.E.I., and the three Newfoundland dioceses. Newfoundland, for example, might revert to the sort of structure it had prior to 1977, he said. “There are some serious implications in those resolutions that would need to happen on the ground in each diocese.”

Aside from outmigration, Coffin noted that the church is also challenged by the fact that faithful Anglicans are aging and dying, and in an increasingly secular society, they are not being replaced by younger generations of Anglicans.

“In Western Newfoundland, I suspect that we have one foot in Christendom and one foot in the 21st century,” he said, recounting a recent conversation with a priest who commented that kids aren’t available for Sunday school on Sunday anymore because they are busy in activities such as figure skating and hockey. “Because it can’t happen on Sundays, it seems that we’ve given up Christian education. I think pitiful is a good way to describe it, for the most part,” Coffin said. “My response to that issue is that Christ came and took us as we are on whatever the day of the week it was he came. Maybe it’s not going to be a Sunday morning or Sunday afternoon,” he said, adding that the church needs to find ways to reach out to people beyond Sunday church services.

Coffin added that more Christian education for adults is also needed. “We are largely a biblically illiterate society. People are just as likely to quote a hymn or Shakespeare, thinking it came from scripture. We don’t know the stories of creation, deliverance, prophecy and salvation, and we have to recover that,” he said.

Coffin’s own faith formation began almost from infancy, he said. Born a few days before Christmas, underweight and struggling, his parents asked the priest to come to their home to baptize him. It was only in recent years when Coffin’s sister told him that a bowl in their mother’s home, which his mother often used to deliver soup to neighbours who fell ill, was, in fact, his baptismal font. “I said I’d like to have that bowl. Mum, who was well into her 90s at this point, said, ‘I’m not finished with it,’ ” he recounts, acknowledging that indeed his mother’s ministry of caring for the sick wasn’t finished. The bowl has since been passed down to him and he says it is a daily reminder of his baptism. He added that Bible stories his parents and grandparents read to him and a pre-school Sunday school class taught by his mother’s cousin, “Aunt Lucy,” were an important part of his Christian education.

He said he first heard a call to ministry as an undergraduate student at Queen’s College in St. John’s. He spoke to the principal of the college at the time, but was told “Young man, I think you’d better give this more thought,” he recalled. At almost the same time, his friend David Torraville, now the bishop of Central Newfoundland, also spoke to the principal but was told to get out of the man’s office, a memory Coffin says the two bishops recently joked about.

In Coffin’s case, time for more reflection “and salt air deprivation” while he spent a year with the medical corp. of the military in Calgary was useful, he said. When he returned to Memorial University and Queen’s College in Newfoundland, he took the calling seriously, finished his undergraduate degree and completed a master of divinity degree. He was serving as a priest in Newfoundland when he met his wife, Monica, with whom he has four children, the last of whom is just graduating from university, he said. The family has lived in Corner Brook for the last 18 years.

Coffin spoke of the value of consultation and fellowship. He has made a habit of leaving his sermon notes on his desk for suggestions and input from Monica, who is also ordained. “I have a wonderful staff around and people available for consultation, and I have regular contact with other bishops for advice and just to converse with,” he said, noting that he appreciates people who challenge his thinking or plans. “It’s always healthy to have people around you who will do that…to make sure you don’t get into hot water. It’s a fellowship I rely on.”

Editor’s note: Several minor corrections have been made to quotes in this article.

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Anglican Journal News, June 13, 2014

Small island states and global warming

Posted on: June 11th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Small island states and global warming

Posted By Bp Terry Brown

05 June 2014

A reflection for World Environment Day from Dr Terry Brown, former Bishop of Malaita, Anglican Church of Melanesia (1996 to 2008).

We sometimes have very strange ways of imagining or writing about small island states and global warming. For example, we may think of the small island as a kind of oil rig, locked forever at a certain height from the bottom of the sea, being overwhelmed by the rising sea level, incapable of response, a victim. Or we may speak of small island states as “sinking” into the sea when precisely the opposite is happening. We may assign blame to some, innocence to others. Indeed, small island states themselves sometimes take on these explanations. But it is not really as simple as all that.

Quite a few years ago, I arranged to have a small holiday house of bush materials constructed beside the sea on a small atoll-enclosed island on the east side of the large island of Malaita in Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. Because it was so close to the sea (the children swung from the nearby tree to dive into the sea), I arranged for the house to be on high timber pillars, the local fashion.

I had many enjoyable trips to the house but began to notice something. Rather than the sea encroaching upon my house, climbing up the pillars, sand was climbing up the pillars and my house was (so to speak) moving away from the sea. More and more sand was being deposited upon the beach. Now the tree near my house was rather far away from the sea and children could no longer dive into the sea from its branches.

I asked local people what had happened. They took me to the other side of the island, where a seawall had been constructed to protect a large church nearby. There the seawall was being eaten away by the sea and a side of the church was in danger of falling into the sea. It appeared that the sea was rising and taking away the island.

Of course, I learned, it was all about currents that were both depositing and removing sand. This would be very evident after big storms. Sometimes big gaps closed with more sand, sometimes islands were torn in two. There was a sense in which the island was alive, actively responding (often quite well) to the rising sea level, when not interfered with.

I am not suggesting there is no climate change crisis. Small island states are very vulnerable. But nature also has considerable capacity to adapt. But we contribute to climate change and paralyze nature’s capacity to adapt when we attempt to engineer or control nature: when we cover cities with concrete, when we destroy mangroves and replace them with seawalls, when we replace natural riverbeds with cement ones (remember New Orleans), when we strip the land of forest and seas of fish, when we destroy forests to grow grain to produce ethanol, and when we (including the citizens of small island states) insist that cars and trucks are the best transport, buying more and more of them beyond sustainability and putting tons and tons of pollution in the air.

I lived about 22 years in the Solomon Islands over about 40 years. During that time I have seen enormous destruction, now culminating in killer storms, flash floods, rapid sea level rise and increasing poverty, violence and corruption. It is time to reaffirm the “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation” championed by the World Council of Churches decades ago.

Poverty also causes environmental destruction and climate change: the need to sell a precious area of rainforest to foreign loggers to pay school fees, the need to live on an urban flood plain because no other land is available, the failure to repair a polluting truck because there is no money to do so, and dumping garbage anywhere because the city cannot afford garbage collection.

Small island states are often just as guilty as big continent states. Just because the latter produce more pollution, it does not mean the former are off the hook. Some of the world’s worst pollution is in small island states around the world, where the need for cash in the face of poverty brings about the destruction of nature. Part of the solution is a lot less global money spent on war and much more on poverty alleviation.

The answer is a personal commitment to leave only a very light carbon footprint on this earth, to allow nature a fair amount of freedom and respect, and to address the economic and political structures of global society that both cause global warning and prohibit it from being addressed politically. The problem is not nature’s, the problem is ours.

Pope John XXIII was fond of quoting the proverb, “drops of water wear away the stone”. No matter how small our contributions to addressing climate change and global warming may be, no matter how small our island state is, let us be those drops of clean water, wearing away the stone of global warming.

Dr Terry Brown is currently Bishop-in-charge of  Church of the Ascension, Hamilton, Ontario, in the Anglican Diocese of Niagara,  Anglican Church of Canada

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Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), June 06/06/2014

 

 

Mia Anderson: On the stage, on the page and in the pulpit

Posted on: May 27th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Leigh Anne Williams

 

The Rev. Mia Anderson, who won the 2013 Montreal International Poetry Prize, appeared in many stage productions in Canada and the U.K. before becoming an Anglican priest. Photo: Danielle Giguére


A shorter version of this story was published in the May issue of the Anglican Journal.

 

Staged as a play, the Rev. Mia Anderson’s life would have a plot full of twists and surprises.

Act 1: A young Canadian actress sets off for theatre school in London, England, and soon is acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Act 2: She tends sheep on a farm with her husband in southern Ontario.

Act 3: As a priest in Quebec City, she becomes a shepherd of a different sort, using music, a garden and a labyrinth to rejuvenate the parish.

Act 4: She steps into a different kind of spotlight when one of her poems wins a $20,000 international prize

The play may seem to be about four different lives, but in each there is an artist contemplating and seeking to express something about truth, the divine and human life.

Anderson grew up in Toronto in a family that was not particularly religious. She watched her mother write poetry, and her parents took their children to the theatre from a young age. Theatre grew in importance for her.

Early in her acting days, she appeared in summer theatre festivals in southern Ontario and did two seasons at the Stratford Festival while still an English major at the University of Toronto’s . She travelled to England for classical theatre training, and soon an audition led to a role in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. Looking at the posters for the show in the London Underground, she recalls thinking, “Here I am, this hick from the colonies, and here’s my name for doing Shakespeare up on the walls of London…This is really mind-boggling.”

Anderson went on to do more Shakespeare at the Ludlow Shakespeare Festival in the ruins of a medieval castle, repertory theatre and to act in the Royal Shakespeare Company, eventually acting in experimental productions with prominent English director Peter Brook.

After four years, she returned to Canada, finished her undergraduate degree and then an M.A., and was once more performing at the Stratford Festival. (See photo below: Playing Julia in the Stratford Festival’s 1975 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Photo: Robert C. Ragsdale)

In the early 1970s, she also staged her own one-woman CanLit-based show, Ten Women, Two Men and a Moose, which toured nationally. In that show, Anderson performed pieces drawn from contemporary Canadian literature such as Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs, Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman.Atwood injected some comedy, not only from her novel but also with a personal suggestion that Anderson include another bit of Canadiana—an audio recording of a Quebecois hunter’s practical instructions on how to attract a moose. The second act opened with Anderson just quietly sitting on stage in dappled light, like sunlight through forest leaves, while the recording played. “People fell about. It was so funny because it’s telling you how to imitate the sound of the female peeing in the water of the marsh because that attracts the male,” she said, laughing. “So, thanks to Peggy for that idea. That’s why the moose is in the title.”

And the sheep? While teaching at the University of Guelph, Anderson met her husband, Archdeacon Thomas Settle, who was dean of arts at the time. He had been a Methodist minister in England, but came to Canada as professor of philosophy. After they married, it was Anderson’s idea to live on a farm and raise animals in addition to their other careers.

Anderson says her interest in religion began long before she met her husband as a personal search, “sort of like a wisdom tooth, that kind of started up and receded again,” she said. She became familiar with Anglican worship while at Trinity College, and in England had attended an Anglican church. Along the way, she studied Aikido, a Japanese martial art that has a spiritual side, and the hands-on healing practices of Japanese Reiki. Later, she and Settle were confirmed as Anglicans and studied healing ministries with the Order of St. Luke.

Together, the couple began attending St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Elora, Ont. Anderson loved singing there so much that she later joined the choir at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, Huron St. in Toronto, commuting from the farm twice a week. That musical experience was also an important part of her spiritual development, she said. And it was while singing there one day in 1996 when she heard a call that said “I should be a priest.” Although she had been interested in contemplative prayer and healing ministries, until that moment, “it had simply never crossed my mind that my relationship to the church would be as a priest,” she said. At first she dismissed it because of her age and the cost of training, thinking it was “some…stupid idea of my own brain.” But then she noticed that the idea had begun to “inhabit” her, and she began an intense discernment process. Obstacles she had anticipated seemed to be swept away. Three weeks later, she enrolled in a divinity program at Trinity College. In 1998, she interned with Bishop Rowan Williams, another poet-priest, when he was still in Wales.

Ordained in 2001 at Saint Michael’s Anglican Church in Quebec City, the only parish in which she served, Anderson found lots of work to be done there. The average age of parishioners was 75. The neighbourhood, predominantly francophone, assumed that an Anglican church would be English-only and have nothing to offer them. During Anderson’s time, Saint Michael’s became a bilingual parish. A garden and labyrinth were built on church grounds to serve as an invitation to the surrounding community, and hymns were also sung in French. When Anderson left, the parish was still small, but the average age was 34.

Her theatre experience proved useful. “One wants to have some of the elegance of liturgy, the flow of it, the shape of it, when it peaks and when it unwinds, all those theatrical values,” she acknowledged, but said the connection to drama is sometimes overrated. “The high point for me is always prayer…it’s the cure or care of souls, as the old expression goes.”

Anderson has also published books of poetry. Poetry, she said, seems most closely connected with her work as a priest. “The thing that astonished me…was to find that the sermons and poetry come from the same source inside me.” That might not be true for other poets or priests, she acknowledged. “But it’s probably in the area of just how mysterious it is trying to put the faith into words, and it is mysterious trying to put whatever it is a poem is grasping for into words. That is the parallel.”

Now retired from parish ministry, she and Settle live in the country in the Portneuf region along the St. Lawrence River. When Anderson’s poem “The Antennae” won the Montreal International Poetry Prize in 2013—selected from more than 2,000 entries from 70 countries—she kept reminding herself that the praise and attention were a fleeting, if much appreciated, experience. And the $20,000 prize didn’t hurt. “Poets don’t get that kind of money,” she said.

In 2012, she published The Sunrise Liturgy, a meditative poem sequence that brought theology and poetry together with inspiration from the St. Lawrence, which her publisher Wipf and Stock described as winding across the page as “a tidal presence at once natural and mystical.” A new book, Light Takes, due to be published in August, is less overtly religious. ”I suppose [that] I less and less put the theology in the forefront because it is such a secular age,” said Anderson, “and I want to be talking to people who wouldn’t really want to have anything to do with church but we might still have a conversation.”

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Anglican Journal News, May 26, 2014

 

Anne Blue Wills: Ruth Bell Graham was more than Billy Graham’s wife

Posted on: May 24th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Anne Blue Wills: Ruth Bell Graham was more than Billy Graham’s wife

The story of Ruth Bell Graham is not well-known. Although she embraced her role of “preacher’s wife,” she also lived out a deeply personal Christian commitment, says a scholar who is writing her biography.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 22, 2014

 

 

Jason Byassee: We may all be headed to bivocational ministry

Posted on: May 19th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Jason Byassee: We may all be headed to bivocational ministry

Our institutions have to become more nimble, more entrepreneurial, more missional if they’re going to have futures, says a theologian and pastor. And that means a change in the nature of ministry.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 6, 2014

 

 

Stanley Hauerwas: The question cannot be avoided

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Stanley Hauerwas: The question cannot be avoided

The Lord’s question, “Do you love me?” is not just for Peter but for all of us, the theologian tells graduating divinity students. What does our love of Jesus mean for ministry?

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, May 8, 2014

 

 

Taken

Posted on: May 17th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Leigh Anne Williams

 

Annette Stokes says she wanted to, and tried to, keep her daughter. Photo: Marites N. Sison

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(This article was published in the May issue of the Anglican Journal.) 

Valerie Andrews says the memories are burned into her mind. She was 17 when her family sent her to stay in a maternity home for unwed mothers in 1969.

On the surface, these homes—many of which were run by or supported by churches or individual church members—provided a refuge, shielding girls and women from the social stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock, but Andrews and other women say there is another side to the story. They say they were coerced into giving up babies they wanted to keep, by methods that included shaming, intimidation and withholding information about alternatives.

Andrews recalls her amazement when a new roommate told her she was keeping her baby. “Are we allowed to do that?” Andrews asked. She went to see one of the matrons in charge of the home, a brigadier of the Salvation Army who greeted her pleasantly, but when she said she wanted to keep her baby, the woman’s demeanour changed.  “‘How dare you come in here with a [request] like that? You selfish girl…’ ” She just took a strip off me,” Andrews said. The matron dismissed her roommate’s situation as exceptional and told her to get back to work. Afterwards, Andrews said the woman “was doggedly on me whenever she saw me,” once interrupting her work scrubbing floors to tell her she looked “disgusting” and to go find a “looser garment.”

Andrews relinquished her son for adoption, but she when she accessed her file years later, a social worker had noted that she wanted to take her baby home. She did not have the support of her parents, which was presented as the only way she could keep her baby. No one told her about social assistance. Her painful experience did, however, inspire her in 2009 to become the executive director of Origins Canada, the Canadian branch of an organization that supports and advocates for people separated by adoption.


Many mothers say homes for unwed mothers treated them with the same stigmatization they were supposed to shield them from and that there was a punitive atmosphere of shame. Women who wanted to keep their babies were told they were being selfish. Photo: Humewood House 


 

According to Andrews, the majority of the 60 to 80 maternity homes that operated over the years in Canada were affiliated with the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army; a small number had ties to the Anglican and United  churches and other denominations. Once, mothers faced less pressure to give up their babies because motherhood was seen as redemptive, said Andrews, who is researching this history for her M.A. at York University. But particularly after World War II, the government was encouraging women to give up their wartime jobs and return to the home. There was a great societal emphasis on motherhood. That included was pressure for married women who didn’t have children to have them, and for unmarried mothers to keep their pregnancy and child a secret, so that they would again be considered marriageable. Andrews argues that the government created a social experiment, “systemic, institutional policies and practices creating an adoption mandate and subsequent mass surrender,” that punished unwed mothers and rewarded married ones with babies available for adoption. Her research indicates that at least 350,000 women were subjected to these policies and pressures from 1942 to 1972.

Annette Stokes was 16 years old when she became pregnant in 1964. Her family sent her to Toronto’s Humewood House. The home was established in 1912 by a committee of St. Thomas’ Church, Huron Street in Toronto, which became the Humewood House Association. “The whole environment in those days was such that you were to be not seen…I felt like a criminal actually… something subhuman,” Stokes said.

Not knowing of any alternative, she signed an adoption consent form, but once she had given birth, she was so insistent that she wanted to see her daughter that  hospital staff reluctantly allowed her, on the third day, to hold Joyce, as she had named her.

Stokes managed to find out which foster home her daughter was in and secretly visited her regularly. She thinks her mother found her photos and alerted Children’s Aid Society (CAS) staff, who arranged a quick adoption.

Stokes had contested her consent, but her plea was dismissed by a judge who deemed that her job did not provide sufficient income. He did not inform her of any social assistance available. Stokes feels the experience tainted her life; she never had another child. She and her daughter have since found each other, but she says efforts to reconnect are a difficult road.

Origins Canada has met with officials from the Salvation Army and the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican and United churches. Andrews says she wants the churches to support Origins’ call for a parliamentary or a senate committee to investigate these issues. Origins is also asking the churches to make a joint statement in favour of open records across Canada. “Six provinces still have closed records where…an adoptee cannot even get their own birth certificate,” Andrews said.

So far, she says she is very encouraged by the churches’ “participation, by their active listening, by their compassionate responses to the mothers.”

The Salvation Army has met with Origins and is discussing the issue with other churches involved, spokesman Lt. Colonel Neil Watt told the Journal.

Michael Thompson, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he is glad that this issue is “coming to light because it gives us an opportunity to respond to those emotional and spiritual needs that come out of a sense of abandonment on the part of many children and traumatic loss on part of many mothers and fathers as well.”

Origins Canada can be contacted at originscanada@gmail.com or by phone at 416-400-5730.

Editor’s note: Additional information has been added to the web version of this article.

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Anglican Journal News, May 14, 2014

 

 

‘Nearer God’s heart in a garden’

Posted on: May 13th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Leigh Anne Williams

 

An avid gardener, my mother Evelyn Williams, cherished her granddaughter, Alia, above all her other beloved flowers. Photo: Leigh Anne Williams


 

This reflection first appeared in the May issue of the Anglican Journal.

Every Canadian gardener knows the rule that it is not safe to plant anything before the Victoria Day weekend. That’s particularly true on the prairies, so my family’s annual trip to the outskirts of Camrose, Alta., to the greenhouses to buy bedding plants was a spring ritual that I eagerly anticipated while I was growing up. It was so wonderful to follow my parents down the hothouse aisles, breathing the warm, moist air, heavy with the scents of flowers and green things, and admire the bursts of colour when spring was still just getting started outside. My mother loved flowers, and I learned their many names, as they dropped regularly into her conversation. We would drive home, our trunk full of red and pink geraniums, bright marigolds, an array of petunias and begonias, purple and white lobelia, spiky dracaena and silvery-soft dusty miller to mix into planters.

At home, Dad would get out a small rototiller to churn up the beds around the house, stirring up the smell of the black earth and avoiding the peony shoots, while I helped Mum with the fun part of planting.

The rest of the spring and summer were intimately connected with the welfare of the garden. There was joy and satisfaction when plants flourished, impatience when cold weather stunted them, concern when heat wilted them or a hard rain pelted the blooms down into the mud. The worst was hail. Many a time my mother ran out into a shower of small ice pellets to pull the baskets and planters into a sheltered spot. A particularly terrible hailstorm that tore the leaves off the trees and wreaked havoc with the plants nearly ruined her summer a few years ago.

When I moved to Halifax to go to university, I revelled in the verdant abundance of plants, trees and flowers that grew in the more temperate east coast climate.

“There’s a peach tree in the yard,” I excitedly told my mother by phone, eager to share the wonders of my new city. I often detoured through the public gardens to walk or sit among the huge rhododendron bushes, azaleas and bed after bed of tulips and roses. Gardens for me, like her, were places to seek peace, solace and joy amidst the beauty of what was green and alive.

Hot Toronto summers, I found when I moved again, had their own exoticism. “Mum, I can grow jasmine and hibiscus and bougainvillea!” The Victorian garden at the Cathedral Church of St. James offered another welcome refuge from the slings and arrows of everyday life. I loved to read the quote from a poem by Dorothy Frances Gurney, inscribed on a plaque: “One is nearer God’s heart in a garden/Than anywhere else on earth.” My mother shared my wonder on a visit, admiring the English-style gardens and huge trees. “You’ve got to see the magnolia trees,” I told her, raving about that brief springtime window of a week or two when those big, delicate waxy-pink blooms cover the trees.

Two years ago, my mother came to help me care for our year-old daughter, Alia, while my husband was abroad. It seemed like the magnolia timing was right. She was here for the beginning of spring, but an unusual warm spell that March moved everything far ahead of its proper time. The magnolia buds were starting to open when a hard frost came. Almost all the flowers were ruined.  We were both disappointed but told ourselves there would be other springs, other magnolia seasons.

Soon after, though, our own hard frost came. My mother told me that the doctor had found a tumour. Since she had no symptoms, no pain, I told myself it was early and all would be well. There was a surgery, and we hoped and prayed. But five weeks later, Mum was gone, torn from our arms so quickly we were all left frozen in shock and disbelief in the icy wind of February.

Not much grew on our balcony last summer. Maybe I didn’t have the heart or the energy to put into container gardening. I had to reserve my time and energy to tend one precious flower, the one that Mum loved more than any other—her only grandchild, Alia, whose middle name is Jasmine. “Take care of Alia,” she told me when she was in the hospital.

“I wish Grandma could go back to Grandpa’s house,” Alia said to me one day last winter.

“I wish she could, too,” I said, “but she can’t come back from heaven, sweetheart.”

“Is heaven far away?”

I faltered. How far is it?

“God is always with us, and Grandma is with God, so maybe she is close by,” I said. “Maybe she can see us.”

“Does heaven have a window?” Alia asked.

“Yes, maybe it’s like that,” I said.

I often think I am still frozen. I have been reminded that no season is truly safe, but I lifted Alia up the other day to touch the big fuzzy buds on our neighbour’s magnolia tree. And I’m watching to see how the big trees in the park, so broken in December’s ice storm, will begin to grow again. I think of the last stanza of Gurney’s poem: For he broke it for us in a garden / Under the olive trees / Where the angel of strength was the warden / And the soul of the world found ease.

Maybe this spring, I will begin to plant again.    

God’s Garden

The Lord God planted a garden
In the first white days of the world,
And He set there an angel warden
In a garment of light enfurled.   

So near to the peace of Heaven,
That the hawk might nest with the wren,
For there in the cool of the even
God walked with the first of men.  
And I dream that these garden-closes
With their shade and their sun-flecked sod
And their lilies and bowers of roses,
Were laid by the hand of God.  
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,–
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.  
For He broke it for us in a garden
Under the olive-trees
Where the angel of strength was the warden
And the soul of the world found ease.
 
Dorothy Frances Gurney

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Anglican Journal News, May 12, 2014