Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Photo exhibit focuses on Ottawa’s homeless

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Beatrice Paez


On why Centre 454 mounted the photo exhibit: “There are many smiles, many tears and most of all, so much hope and determination [among the homeless] to triumph over circumstance,” said Jennifer Crawford, executive director. Photo: Al Robinson


The homeless are largely invisible in society. Some are on the streets, but passersby rarely acknowledge them.

Centre 454, a community ministry of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, and Ottawa photographer Onno Kremers hope to change this through photographs that show the faces and tell the stories of the city’s homeless.


Photographer Onno Kremers. Photo: Pete Boyd

“So often when we walk down the street, we close our hearts to people because it’s an easier thing to do,” said Kremers. “What I wanted to do was to strip away all the grittiness that you would associate with this community, their environment.”

Using the power of the lens to alter public perception, Kremers wanted the portraits of the homeless community and its support system to pay testament to the shared human condition—that we all seek to be seen and treated with dignity—and to elicit recognition that the faces staring back could belong to a friend, relative or neighbour.

“There are many smiles, many tears and most of all, so much hope and determination [among the homeless] to triumph over circumstance. It was these stories that moved us to create Illuminated,” said Jennifer Crawford, the executive director of Centre 454.

Illuminated, an exhibit of black-and-white photographs held at Ottawa City Hall on Feb. 10, capped the 60th anniversary celebration of Centre 454.

Centre 454 developed the project in collaboration with Kremers, who had been photographing the centre’s past charity concerts for about a year.


Ray. Photo: Onno Kremers

In the summer of 2014, Kremers diligently photographed participants for the exhibit. Earning their trust was important, he said, noting that for some, it meant getting comfortable in front of the camera.

To help ease the participants’ concerns, Kremers provided cameras for them to experiment with, and set up a wall where some of their photographs could be shared. “Once we started doing that, the demand really grew sky high…Everybody wanted their photo on the wall,” he said, adding that some wanted to send their photo to someone
they knew.

Their willingness to have their portraits and stories shared with the broader community, Crawford explained, is borne out of a desire to help break down stereotypes associated with the homeless. “A lot of our participants wanted to give back and help the centre raise awareness and help eliminate some of the stigma that surrounds [homelessness],” she said.

At every step of the process, Kremers and Crawford explained the exhibit’s intent to participants and encouraged them to stipulate the conditions of their involvement, making it possible to withdraw or limit their participation. Conscious of past projects that could be perceived as having exploited the homeless, Kremers said the centre is cautious about how the images can be used. Only two portraits—of a public health nurse and a homeless man who passed away—are available to the media to publish.

For the most part, Crawford said, “participants were excited to help us illuminate the faces that come through our doors.” In the end, she said, only two people declined to have their images featured in the exhibit.

Featured alongside photographs are snippets of the participant’ biographies as well as images of support workers.

“They were brutally frank about their circumstances and about how that had happened to them,” said Kremers about how much many were willing to share about their personal lives. “There’s a real understanding and awareness about their own condition.”

Kremers said he felt the exhibit was representative of the range of experiences the homeless face, such as coping with mental illness, family separation and the joy of securing a job.

If the photographs had been presented without any narrative to provide context, many told Kremers that the portraits of the homeless would have been indistinguishable from those of the ministry and support workers.

Public response to the exhibit has been significant, but what mattered most to the organizers was the positive response from participants themselves, said Crawford. “They could not believe how beautiful they looked. One person said, ‘Wow, that really shows me and I am gorgeous!’ ”

 

BY THE NUMBERS (Source: Centre 454)

6,705 men, women and families with children sought emergency shelter in Ottawa in 2013

11 per cent of Ottawa’s population (101,235) lived in poverty in 2010

9,717 households are on the waiting list for the city’s social housing

Beatrice Paez is a multi-media journalist whose reporting spans international development issues, politics and arts and culture. 

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Anglican Journal News, February 27, 2015

Church can help open up space for dialogue

Posted on: March 2nd, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Leigh Anne Williams


(A shorter version of this interview appeared in the March issue of the Anglican Journal.)

As the new director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, Stephen Toope stands at an interesting spot where academia intersects with the public square. This son of an Anglican priest arrived here by a fascinating road that took him from his hometown of Montreal, across Canada and around the world.

After graduating from Harvard, McGill and Cambridge as a lawyer, he helped to create the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada in the 1990s, and later, to prove that Canadian citizen Maher Arar was unjustly tortured in a Syrian prison. From 2002 to 2007, he also represented Western Europe and North America at the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Most recently, he was president of the University of British Columbia. Toope has also devoted time to the Anglican Church of Canada as a member of a task force working with then primate Archbishop Michael Peers, considering the church’s future and relevance in an increasingly secular world, advising the diocese of New Westminster on canon law as it considered blessing same-sex unions, and as the chair of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) Committee.

 

How are you feeling about this new position?

I’m very excited by it. The more I learn about the Munk School, the more opportunity I think there is for it to really play a role as one of Canada’s principal interlocutors in global affairs, outside of government.

 

Are there new directions that you’d like to see for the school?

I’m always careful when I go into a new job not to purport to know more than I do before I get into it. I certainly wouldn’t want to say that things have to change radically. In fact, I think that this school is on a great trajectory. There is one program area where I’m pretty sure one of the reasons I was hired was to explore this further. There’s a program called Global Justice, and so far it’s focused a lot on international tribunals, criminal courts…There’s a shared desire to expand beyond that and to be thinking more expansively about what it means to try to conceptualize justice at a global level. Does that mean institutions? I think it does. But does it also mean policies that actually try to pursue more just outcomes for people who have been marginalized? There’s some real opportunity to think more creatively in that space. It relates to another question, which is religious intolerance, religious extremism. I would broaden that out to say deep cultural difference. How do we navigate in a world of extraordinary cultural chasms that have opened up? Do you simply accept that? It’s all very well to say we need more dialogue. But how do we accomplish that in an institutional sense at an international level? What are the roles that civil society organizations can play?

 

Is there a freedom being in the school, as opposed to the UN or a government body?

I remember Michael Peers used to describe the Anglican church as a place for people to be together. I think that’s true. What he was getting at was, “Well, we don’t all have to have exactly the same belief structure on every doctrinal issue.” You could have differences, but we wanted to be together. I think that a place like the Munk School is that, in a secular sense. It is a place…that can convene across great differences because we’re not representative of any particular ideological view; we don’t have a political position; we’re not a governmental organization.

 

Are there some big-picture things that you think are important for the church and organizations, like PWRDF, to think about now?

One of them is this question of how to facilitate cross-cultural connections. We are creating terrible divisions that seem quite impenetrable at a political level, so finding ways within civil society to create open spaces for people to connect [is vital]. I remember one of the first trips I did with PWRDF—there was a session in Thailand for Singhalese Buddhists and Tamils to get together in a safe space, partly supported by the Primate’s Fund—to be part of that creation of open space for some dialogue…Another area that strikes me as increasingly important is income inequality. How do we get societies to be thinking about the unfairness of ever-increasing Gini coefficients, where you’ve got the bottom part of the population having access to almost no resources and the top one per cent—10 per cent, 20 per cent—having access to almost all resources?

You helped advise the diocese of New Westminster on canon law as it considered allowing same-sex blessings. Now the national church is considering the question of allowing same-sex marriage. Would you have any advice for the church in terms of handling a potential conflict?

I was not, happily, involved so much in the small “p” politics of it because we were brought in to give our interpretation of what was allowed and what was not allowed under the rubric of the diocese, and what were the bishop’s powers, and all those things.

What I was struck by, and it made me quite sad, was the number of people who, I felt, exhibited no generosity of spirit. If I had any advice, it is to say that people can legitimately disagree on these issues…you can have a more fair-minded discussion if people enter not with the presumption that the other side has some evil intent, if I may put it that way…And maybe I’ll say something slightly provocative: I think that the bishops have a very important role. If [they] model discourse that is not exclusionary, I think we have a better chance.

 

Your father was an Anglican priest in Montreal?

He’s from Newfoundland, so he studied at Queen’s College and then came over to Bishop’s University to get his university degree, which is where he met my mother, who is from Montreal. They lived in Newfoundland for a number of years after they were married, on Change Island—which is a little island off the north coast of Newfoundland—and small places.

 

Did his influence or your family’s influence send you in the directions that you have gone in your career  [your interest in justice]?

I think so. They must have had an effect. It’s always hard to tease out where these things come from, but both of my parents—the church was their life. My mother was the parish secretary…I always sang in the choir; it was always part of daily life. The values you imbue, they become part of you.

 

You never considered becoming a priest?

No. If you listen to what’s said in church every week, the values around sharing, values around justice, values around inclusion seem to me to be pretty powerful.

 

Are there ways that you taken those values into the public square?

I’m very careful not to—I’ve always operated in secular institutions. I’ve been in public universities my whole life, so they’re not religious institutions, and I don’t think they should be. My own personal value sets, I think I bring to whatever I do, but I don’t articulate my engagements in terms of my religious sensibility.

 

What was your role in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples?

I actually worked in creating the Royal Commission. I was not part of the process. … I was working with former Chief Justice [Brian] Dickson who had been asked to do that by Prime Minister [Brian] Mulroney.  We met with indigenous leadership from across the country to find out what the major issues were that they believed had to be addressed by a royal commission. We also talked, obviously, to a lot of other people—experts, sociologists, legal experts, etc.—to shape the mandate so that the royal commission could be, we hoped, effective.

 

Looking back on it now, do you see progress?

Not enough. I find it shocking, I’ll be frank, that we have known of the issues for a long time. We know the sociological problems; we know the legal problems. I think we know the structural problems—the existence of the Indian Act is an anachronism today, and it’s been clear to most people who think about these things for a long time, and we seem incapable of making the decisions to move forward. I say publicly, internationally, that I think that the failure of Canada to create a relatively healthy environment for indigenous peoples is our great human rights failure. It’s important to acknowledge that, especially when we are in other parts of the world, critiquing the way people behave. We have to understand that we, too, have failed. It’s unacceptable, where we are.

 

What was your role in the Arar inquiry?

I was the fact-finder at the Arar inquiry. What that meant was I had to advise the commission on whether or not Mr. Arar was telling the truth about what had happened to him, which was absolutely…I mean, what an extraordinary privilege and also a great responsibility. That was one of the most moving things I’ve done. I had to meet with him, meet with his family and meet people who had worked with him. But I also had to interview other people who had been detained in Syria who had been treated very, very badly—tortured, in some cases. What I was trying to do was, in a sense, correlate—to be able to say, well, [what] Mr. Arar describes makes sense because I can say that five other people described the same sets of experiences with the same anecdote or the same memory of the physicality of the place or the people they dealt with.  It was very much really establishing credibility in Mr. Arar’s story.

I also had to go into a lot of top-secret material where people were asserting things that Mr. Arar may or may not have done. And then take all that and try to figure out what I did believe, what I didn’t believe, how credible Mr. Arar was ultimately.

And so I was able to determine that Mr. Arar was telling the truth, that he had indeed been tortured in Far’ Falastin, this particular prison in Syria. It was up to the commission to determine whether or not the Canadian government was in any way responsible for that and whether there should be any compensation. Ultimately he was awarded compensation. It was an extraordinary experience because I’ve done a lot of work in human rights over the years, but this was so visceral. It was also about my own country and what had happened to this person who, as we now know from the conclusions of this report and from the agreement that was reached with the federal government, really did not deserve to have this happen to him.

It’s a very instructive experience for a country like Canada or the United States, what we’ve just seen on this [CIA] report on torture—none of which was new, by the way; all of it had been revealed by good journalists over the last decade. But I think what it says is in times of fear, people will make bad public policy choices. We have to have systems that expose that and try to create some self-correcting mechanisms to override the fear. It’s not the first time it’s happened in Canadian history, right? Japanese internments. German internments. Ukrainian internments. There are lots of these moments in our history where we get nervous about something, and for good reason. And there’s good reason to be fearful of state-sponsored terrorism, absolutely. We’ve seen it and it’s horrible. What happened in Australia, what’s happened here, and even just individual people who take it upon themselves to behave in bad ways. So there’s a reality to the fear but you have to find ways of disciplining public policy so we don’t lose our own values in the times of fear.

 

How have these experiences changed you?

I’ve always thought of life being a constant time of learning. I think I’m being changed all the time by these experiences. I feel very privileged to have had some of these experiences; the Arar Commission [of Inquiry] was one.

When I was chairing a UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, we made a visit to Nepal, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. We actually went into prisons and found people who had been disappeared for five years, seven years. Their families hadn’t known where they were. The prison services were disorganized; I was surprised they actually let us in, but they did. We were able to report on the fact that they were alive, because no one knew where they were, and then there was the possibility of seeing whether you could ultimately get them freed. They’re political detainees, in fact. It just struck me as an astonishing opportunity for any human being to be able to concretely do something that actually changed the course of someone’s life in front of you. That’s how remarkably much of a gift that is. That certainly changes the way you think about the world. For both good and ill, there’s something arbitrary about that. Yes, there was a whole system in place through the UN that allowed us to be there, and there was a lot of work in planning this, but then to actually have that moment in a prison in terrible conditions where you find someone and you say, “Are you so-and-so?” and the answer is a yes, and then you can do something about it. That’s also, however you want to describe it, God’s will, serendipity, luck. It’s not something you can plan.

 

Is forgiveness something that Christianity has a particular angle on to offer in the global realm in conflict?

I’d like the answer to be yes. I would hope so.

 

Not that the concept doesn’t exist in other religions, but in Christianity’s focus on it?

It is certainly a defining figure of the Christian story…The reason I hesitate is [that]…I think you have to go into a situation with a perspective of modesty in order to actually generate the possibility of forgiveness. Arguing for forgiveness from an immodest position strikes me as inauthentic. That’s a complicated way of saying it. What I mean is that I sometimes worry that we’re very good in the Christian world at saying that our message is one of forgiveness, that it has to be done, but if we go into situations believing in our superiority because of that message, I actually think the message loses its value and loses its ability to convince. So I do worry sometimes that we’re not so good at understanding that we do have something to offer, but it’s part of a richness that other people have things to offer as well. So yes, forgiveness [is] hugely important, but I go into the situation understanding that there are other gifts, too.

 

Desmond Tutu has talked about what a necessary ingredient it was in South Africa, though not necessarily only from a Christian perspective.

It’s a very complicated issue, as you well know, and there’s a lot of discussion, especially about truth and reconciliation. Yes, you have to expect people to forgive and hope that they will forgive, but there has to be some asking for forgiveness. If it’s just forgiveness and people haven’t understood that they have committed wrongs, you actually can be developing continuing tension in the society. I think that South Africa’s a pretty good example of getting it overall right, but there are other truth and reconciliation processes which haven’t gone so well, where essentially what we were doing was evading responsibility and saying that the people who are victims have to forgive. Fair enough, but the people who were perpetrators have to ask for forgiveness and understand that what they did was wrong. There was just a big report issued in Brazil coming out of the experience in the ’70s and ’80s with the military junta. The president, who was herself a victim of torture, received the report, obviously accepted in a somewhat tearful way. But it was really intriguing to me—I noticed that one of the major generals of that era came out with a statement in which he basically said there’s nothing here to be concerned about. He said, “We were fighting the terrorists, including the terrorist who is now our president.”  So I thought, “Okay, what is that telling you about the process?” It’s telling me that yes, we now know more. But there’s no reconciliation taking place.

What reconciliation looks like…I think this is going to be a really interesting question for Canadians if we take this seriously, because it’s not just a question of being guilt-ridden. It’s a question of accepting responsibility and then saying how do we move on, accepting the responsibility and how do we ask for forgiveness while acknowledging our failures?

 

Were you working with Michael Peers when he made an apology on behalf of the church for the harm that was done in residential schools?

I was around and I remember it, and I remember him preparing for it. It coincided with a meeting that we had with him. I remember…he felt so strongly that it had to be something he did not read. And so he worked incredibly hard—he was a guy who had a pretty big job and lots of things to think about—he worked for days to not just memorize it but make it a part of him, so when he uttered the apology [it] was heartfelt. It was meant to be, and it was also an acknowledgement of the oral tradition of aboriginal peoples because that’s how they would expect something like an apology to be performed. I think there are all sorts of cultural nuances around that that were important and I think very meaningful.

 

Did your faith help you cope with the loss of your parents? [Toope’s parents were killed in a violent home invasion in Montreal 20 years ago.]

Oh, sure. I can’t say that I become more or less committed from a faith perspective. I often say that one of the things that was most helpful to me during that time was having small children—very small children; my son was only two months old and my daughter was two—and so their life went on. My daughter was somewhat aware of what happened, although we shielded them quite a bit for quite a long time. But I remember thinking that it’s very much a gift that they’re there, partly because children are, of course, always about the future, and my parents were so loving towards my daughter. They never met my son really, not in a serious way. So I think that was very helpful, knowing day in and day out that they needed me to be for them, not with my own problems…And of course I have a very supportive wife, and her family, who were incredible during that period. I also had work that I cared about a lot.

People react differently, but I never wanted to feel…that I was going to be defined as a victim in that setting. My parents were victims of a terrible crime, but it wasn’t, for me, definitional. It was something terrible that happened, but it wasn’t going to be something that actually changed who I was. And here the faith piece is important, but it came out of my own experience with my family. They were extremely giving, kind, decent people. I thought to myself, and I remember very distinctly feeling this way, from the moment I learned that this happened, that I didn’t want it to be the definition of my parents, either. It wasn’t who they were at all. Violence? This is craziness. It wasn’t who they were at all.

 

You have talked about the signs that were missed to help the perpetrators…

I don’t know; maybe there are some people who are just bad for whatever reason or evil. Maybe. But it’s also the case that people can lead very, very disturbed lives, and it has to have an impact on how they relate to other people. I do think you have to care about those things.

It’s 20 years ago. It’s hard to believe.

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Anglican Journal News, March 02, 2015

New church building a ‘command centre’ for ministry

Posted on: February 25th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

The Rev. Sam Rose and the Anglican Church of St. Michael and All Angels met in a funeral home chapel for four years before moving into their new building. Photo: André Forget


The Rev. Sam Rose, rector at St. Michael and All Angels in St. John’s, Nfld., laughs as he tells an old joke about how many Anglicans it takes to change a light bulb. “Change?” says one of the Anglicans “My grandfather gave us that light bulb—why do we need to change it?”

While this stereotype of ecclesial intransigence may ring uncomfortably true in some quarters, for Rose and the congregation at St. Michael’s, change is less an imposition than a way of life.

Not only did they buck the trend of Anglican churches in Canada by constructing a new building for their growing congregation in June 2014, but by purposely situating themselves in a new subdivision, they have been able to explore how they can use their building as a “command centre” for reaching out to the people around them.

“For a church in 2014 to open a new building when everybody’s saying the church is dead and dying, you really need to know why you’re doing that,” said Rose. “You also need to know how that should manifest itself when it happens.”

His biggest fear, he says, “is that we just revert to the old ways of being insular…only being concerned about paying the light bill and the heat bill, and keeping the doors open. If we turn back to that, then I don’t think we’ve learned anything.”

Instead of the church being a refuge from the world, Rose says it should be “reminding [people] of how much they have to go back into the world, to be the body of Christ in the neighbourhoods around.”

This wasn’t the first time that the church has moved. Founded as a mission of the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in 1885 and established as an independent parish in 1922, the congregation of St. Michael and All Angels spent the first 20 years of its existence borrowing space in school chapels. It built its first building in 1904, and replaced it with another in the 1950s, able to seat up to 1,000 people. After the ’60s, however, the congregation began to shrink, and at a certain point maintaining the building became untenable.

In 2007, Rose was hired as a “mission priest” tasked with going out into the neighbourhood to find out how the church could better meet the needs of people. He came to the conclusion that for many people, it was simply too difficult to get out the door on a Sunday morning. In response to this, the church started a Saturday service, which soon grew to around 60 people.

But while the congregation was showing new signs of growth, it was clear that the building was draining resources. On Nov. 1, 2009, Rose took over as priest-in-charge, and two weeks later the building was sold. In January 2010, the congregation began meeting at a funeral home. The symbolism was lost on no one. “We heard the jokes,” Rose says, wryly.

Jokes or not, the congregation of St. Michael’s was committed to staying together. And, according to Rose, it was then that “the funniest thing happened”—the church started to grow. “People started to hear about this church that sort of sold everything and had a plan to build a new home,” he said. “All of a sudden, people started to show up, and stay.”

After four years of meeting in the funeral chapel, the church finally completed its new home; but the work of ministry was only just beginning.

“Ministry means service,” says Rose, “doing something, rolling up your sleeves.” In St. Michael’s current context, this means finding out how the church can serve its suburban surroundings rather than assuming people will just start coming.

Many of the things Rose mentioned—community gardens, community meals, movie nights, daycare—involved utilizing the church’s space in ways that help people feel comfortable entering into it.

The new church has a nursery built into its chapel so that young parents can stay with their children and still feel part of the service, and in a city with some of the highest childcare costs in Canada, childcare is both a critical need for many families and a fertile area of outreach. To this end, St. Michael’s has partnered with a non-profit childcare that uses the space during the week. “It’s not meant to be a drop-off,” says Rose. “It’s meant to be a social thing.”

While many challenges still remain—the congregation of around 180 remains predominantly over age 65—Rose is confident that the best years are ahead.

“I think our job is to bring people together, and then God takes over,” he said. “People connect, new ideas happen, and then the church starts to learn from that, respond to that.”

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Anglican Journal News, February 25, 2015

Community café breaks down barriers for Calgary youth

Posted on: February 20th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Ohana cafe youth gathering

Established in 2012 by St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Calgary, the Ohana Community Café has developed into a wildly popular space for area students who find food, fellowship and opportunities within its doors.

The non-profit café, which operates out of a lower hall in the church, started as an after-school drop-in program for students at Henry Wise Wood High School. The school’s anti-bullying committee provided valuable input, including the name—ohana, a Hawaiian term for “family” that extends beyond blood relations to include adoptive and intentional members.

“The idea originally was to provide a sanctuary or a safe place for students to come, or people in general in the neighbourhood—but students in particular—that was free of any kind of judgment,” youth programming and Ohana Café operator Aaron Havens said.

Every day, the café sells homemade soup and muffins for a dollar apiece, serving an estimated 700 to 900 students each month. A team of volunteers, comprised primarily of students as well as St. Peter’s parishioners, prepare the food in-house.

With the café offering work opportunities through the Calgary Board of Education, many students volunteer as part of their mandatory work hours.

“We do what we can to facilitate that and just encourage the kids to get involved,” Havens said.

Aside from instilling a sense of ownership for the students, he said, volunteering at the café teaches them valuable skills that they can take into the workforce.

In that vein, the café features a weekly cooking class every Wednesday after school.

“We’ve got kids from all different varying backgrounds…working together as a team for one goal, and that is to create a delicious and healthy meal that they can all enjoy together,” Havens said.

“It helps us to break down social barriers and religious barriers and all different kinds of barriers that way, so that they’re just seeing one another as equal human beings and they work together for a common goal.”

March cooking class 1

In addition to serving food, the café serves as a weekly meeting spot for a female aboriginal leadership program that works in conjunction with Aspen Family, a social agency committed to addressing homelessness in Calgary. It also hosts monthly luncheons for a community aboriginal student group based out of Henry Wise Wood.

Support for the café’s operations primarily comes from the community at St. Peter’s, food service revenue and help from Calgary community kitchens. The remainder of funding comes from outside sources.

Last November, the café received major assistance in the form of a $5,000 grant from the Anglican Foundation of Canada. Representatives of the Foundation said the board was drawn to the Ohana Café’s work with disadvantaged students and aboriginal youth and its efforts to reach out to people beyond the church.

“It’s a place that’s really making a difference for good,” executive director Judy Rois said of the café. “It’s feeding people, it’s helping people develop a skill set, it’s mentoring, and it’s all about the value of human community.”

The Anglican Foundation grant will go toward covering operating costs as well as expanded programming. The café is hoping to initiate new art programs in the future, such as drum circles and an after-school breakdancing class.

“Without partnerships like that, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” Havens said. “So there’s just a lot of gratitude and feeling of blessedness from those organizations that they would support us.”

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, February 20, 2015        

Microfinance group offers RRSPs

Posted on: February 19th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Leigh Anne Williams on February, 18 2015


Using a solar drier and a peeling-and-grinding machine, Aby Ndao processes grains into maize, millet products, bissap powder, coffee blends and flour mixtures in Kaolack, Senegal. She used two loans from the Union des Institutions Mutualistes Communautaires d’Epargne et de Crédit (U-IMCEC) in 2011 to expand her business, which now has five employees. Photo: Jan Groenewold


As the March 1 deadline for buying RRSPs for the 2014 tax year quickly approaches, Oikocredit Canada has announced that, for the first time, people in Ontario can invest in microfinance projects in developing countries as a part of their registered retirement savings plans.

“There’s lots of ways for people to invest in global mutual funds that are invested in stock markets in India and China and Russia and North America and South America,” Eugene Ellmen, national director of Oikocredit Canada, said in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “But to actually make an RRSP investment in a way that contributes to international development and helps lift community in the developing world out of poverty has never been possible before in Ontario.”

Oikocredit is a global co-operative, based in the Netherlands and dedicated to helping people escape poverty in developing countries. It has ecumenical support from many churches, and the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development arm, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), has been an investor since 1996.

Ellmen noted that residents of British Columbia have been able to invest in this way for some time through “Shared World” fixed term deposits issued by the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, which works with Triodos Bank, an organization with expertise in the microfinance sector.

The Oikocredit Global Impact GIC is available only through the Mennonite Savings and Credit Union (MSCU), which purchases shares in Oikocredit with the full amount a member invests in the GIC. A minimum deposit of $500 is invested at a variable interest rate, currently 1.3 per cent, for one year. Oiko then uses the funds to promote sustainable development in about 70 countries around the world by providing loans, capital and technical support to microfinance institutions. MSCU receives an annual return on the shares and pays interest.

It’s a model that Ellmen hopes will spread across Canada. “I am talking to other credit unions in Ontario and other credit unions in the west and in the Maritimes as well, and I’d be pleased to start discussions with the chartered banks on it as well,” he said.

Jill Martin, PWRDF’s director of finance and administration, served on the Oikocredit’s international board from 2002 to 2008 and as its president for the last two years. Oikocredit, she said, is “one of the originals,” explaining that it began in 1968 with a call from the World Council of Churches for the creation of a vehicle for churches to invest ethically. Oikocredit Ecumenical Development Co-operative Society was established in 1975. “So it was way ahead of its time,” said Martin.  She noted that North American churches have considered socially responsible investment only in the last five to 10 years.

Martin said that churches have typically been more focused on what to screen out of their investments—“sin stocks” and gambling—and it has been more difficult to swing their attention to what positive investments they could make. “This is one way of doing something that makes a huge difference.”

People sometimes question the idea of charging interest on microcredit loans, but Martin said these kinds of loans can be empowering. “It’s different from charity. There’s a place for both,” she said. “Sometimes people absolutely need charity. They cannot survive without it, and there’s a time when they just need a chance to make their lives better.”

Microfinance loans open doors to money, but also to opportunity, training, advice and community support, Martin said. “These are people who wouldn’t even get into a bank in their communities…The repayment is part of the whole package. The interest rate is not preventing them from succeeding; not having access is preventing them from succeeding.” She noted that microfinance has an extremely high repayment rate, “unheard of in the banking industry.”

Personally, Martin said that she found that Oikocredit bonds were “the most incredible gifts,” particularly for teens who have everything and whose minds are opening up to the world around them. “When they get their newsletters from Oikocredit, they suddenly become really interested in something other than materialism,” she said. “It’s…a practical way of enlightening them, and yet you are saving money for them.”

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Anglican Journal News, February 18, 2015

Growing food, caring for creation

Posted on: February 17th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features


“The relationship God expects Christians to have with the land and creation is [more like] partner and participant,” says professor-farmer Jerrmie Clyde. Photo: Contributed


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

Jerremie Clyde has a passion for food—for growing it in a way that is healthy for the people who eat it, for the planet and for a just sharing of God-given bounty.

Clyde, who is a librarian and professor at the University of Calgary, said that he and his wife, Rita, a speech pathologist, were already big into gardening and were selling produce at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Farmers’ Market in Calgary, when Rita read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and then books by American journalist and activist Michael Pollan. Those writers led them to think more about the effects of pesticides and fertilizers used in industrial farming, not to mention the greenhouse gases emitted by these products. “That really made us wake up to what we were doing to our own food supply,” he said. “And once you know, there’s no going backwards.”

When they were parishioners at St. Barnabas Anglican Church, the couple began a community garden. From their stall at the farmers’ market, they had seen the potential of a space behind the church, which had a great southern exposure. With the parish’s support, they designed some senior-friendly plots. “Most of them had gardened all their lives, but they couldn’t garden where they’re living now, or couldn’t garden unassisted,” said Clyde.

But the garden was also open to non-parishioners. “I don’t know how well it’s worked as a tool for evangelism,” said Clyde, “but certainly in terms of an awesome garden space and community involvement, that’s worked out really well.” It may also have helped, he said, to change non-Christians’ perceptions that the church’s approach is only about “subduing the earth,” demonstrating that “the relationship God expects Christians to have with the land and creation [is more like] partner and participant.”

Clyde has also given gardening workshops at various Calgary churches. He encourages people to treat gardening as a devotional activity, to look for revelations of God in it.

He recently travelled to the Sorrento Centre in B.C. to make a presentation on sustainable agriculture at a food security conference organized by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). “Jerremie helped our group catch a glimpse of what is possible for everyday folk to engage in, in terms of both growing food and care of creation, be it in their backyards, their parish grounds or their community gardens,” PWRDF’s public engagement program co-ordinator Suzanne Rumsey said.

Although the Clyde family still lives in Calgary, they farm 160 acres near Sundre, Alta.  Clyde said he has seen worrying signs of climate change on his farm—such as weeds and insects expanding into new territory. But because the Alberta economy is closely tied to the fossil fuel industry, the topic of climate change is controversial there. Clyde invited Bishop Greg Kerr-Wilson of the diocese of Calgary to talk about the issue while helping harvest the organic rye. With the Rev. Mishka Lysak, an Anglican priest devoted to environmental issues, they decided to start building an ecumenical group focused both on the theology of creation care and current issues. Kerr-Wilson said that Clyde played an important role because of his “willingness to take the small step and do it because it is the practical thing you can do.” As evidenced by Clyde’s farm, he sees value in starting small and building “acre by acre,” said Kerr-Wilson.

About 25 people showed up for the first meeting in early December, and one of the first things they hope to do is to support new Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in his stated goal of phasing out the use of coal.

The Clydes donate about a tenth of their harvest—several hundred pounds of fresh produce—to the local food bank each year, and they have also had some low-income families help on the farm at times. Out there, Clyde says, “there’s no economic divide. You can’t even tell by how people are dressed. Everyone’s just working on the farm, enjoying it together. They all get the same awesome food at the end. God really meant for everyone to have that.”

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Anglican Journal News, February 17, 2015

Eternity is Real

Posted on: February 11th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Eternity is Real

GT_NK_WebA Conversation about Time with Br. Geoffrey Tristram and The Rt. Rev. Nick Knisely.

So many people today seem to suffer from a sense of disordered time; our experience of time is polluted by misuse and abuse. And it’s poisoning our lives—like a disease, really. Yet time is meant to be a gift from God. Geoffrey Tristram sat down with Nick Knisely in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of this complicated realm in which faith and science intersect.

GT: Thanks so much for sitting down with me, Nick. I know that you wear two hats, being both a bishop and a physicist. I’m hoping that you might be able help us to gain a clearer understanding of how time and space relate to each other.

NK: If we can solve that one, we’ll win a Nobel Prize! Well, let’s start with Einstein. Essentially, Einstein took the relativist philosophy of the nineteenth century and began to express it mathematically. To do so, he went back to some mathematical equations that Hendrik Lorentz had devised at the turn of the century, dealing with the mathematical idea that when you move, things begin to change their character, or your experience of them begins to change their character. Lorentz’s equations found a way to express the idea that as you are moving, space begins to collapse or conversely time slows down.  Either way, whether it’s time slowing down or space collapsing, the two effects give you the equivalent result: that light is always the same speed in every direction no matter whether you’re moving or stationary or anything else.

This is a huge deal for physics, because Einstein is able to take this equation and say there is no privileged reference frame. Anybody can say, “I am the center of the universe,” and they would be absolutely correct. Everybody is the center of the universe.  It’s really a quite lovely thing to meditate on.

GT: That’s essentially the theory of relativity, right?

NK: Right.  And what it means is that in a certain class of observers—people who are moving at a constant velocity, people who have been rotated but are not rotating at the moment, or people who have to move from one place to another (they’re called inertial observers)—any one of them has an experience that cannot be argued about by any other observer. This means that your experience of reality and my experience of reality—even though they’re different—are exactly right for each one of us.

GT: What are the implications of this for our understanding of time?

NK: This means that time—which Isaac Newton imagined as a river flowing ever majestically, like the Thames, on down to the sea—does not in fact flow at a constant rate at all. Instead, time bubbles, whirls, slows down, and speeds up effectively depending on what the observer is doing at the moment. This becomes hugely important! Practically, it means that even something as simple as sending a radio message to a robot on Mars has to take into account the relativistic effects of Martian motion, our motion, and then the dual effect of climbing out of our gravitational field, because general relativity shows that gravity also slows down time.

GT: So that’s a quite practical example. And if I understand the implications of it: time itself is not a constant.

NK: Not even close. This idea—that your reality, your experience of reality, is valid for you, and my experience and my reality is valid for me—means that the idea of finding an absolute truth becomes a lot more difficult.

GT: And I take it that this includes any notion of time as an absolute truth. What does this mean, theologically, then for our understanding of God?

NK: I think the poetic imagination is helpful here: I’d say that God is the ultimate truth in eternity, outside of the flow of time. And we who live in the boundaries of time and matter and space can get asymptotically close to God, but cannot cross that barrier—in this life at least.

GT: See, this is interesting: the very possibility of a relationship between God who is timeless (yet who creates time) and we who exist in time. For we do have these breakthroughs, moments where, somehow, we become aware that time is shot through by the timeless. Or, to say it another way, there are moments when we sense that our timeless God had somehow broken through to us, in time.

NK: Well, not to complicate matters further, but there is a whole pool of physicists who argue that time itself is an illusion. There are great problems with time—one of them is called the “arrow of time” problem. Namely, we don’t understand why you can go backwards and forwards in space in any direction—in the X-axis and the Y-axis and the Z-axis—but in time you can only go forward. You cannot go backwards, and no one really understands why. It’s a huge unsolved problem in physics and philosophy.

GT: And in theology! This issue of time moving in one direction is also a huge unsolved problem in people’s lives. In spiritual direction, we hear again and again how much of people’s longing is to go back.

NK: And there’s no reason, mathematically, why we can’t. And yet we can’t. This flow of time—we don’t know why, but it goes in one direction.  Now although time flows in one direction, it can go faster and slower.

GT: Which I’m guessing opens up again the question of relativism.

NK: Well, it doesn’t just open it up—it cracks it right open, and there you have it! It means that there is no absolute truth, at least scientifically, that anybody who is in this universe can access. We don’t like it, but there it is. When you put together the idea of multiple truths and the flow of time, you hit upon the fact that the flow of time is completely and totally subjective. Think about it. This bears out in our experience. When I’m bored, time goes so slowly, when I’m having fun, time goes so fast. And I’m not talking about the perception of time.  I’m actually talking about what’s measurable with atomic instruments.

GT: So are you saying that time actually slows down?  This would mean that each observer in time, so to speak, has his or her own validity. Even if there is no absolute truth, wouldn’t their experience of time still be absolutely true for them? This has to change the way we think, theologically, about the individual’s experience of everything—even God.

NK: Yes! Surely you’ve had the experience of hearing a directee explain their experience of the divine and thinking, “That’s not what it’s like for me.” When I hear this, I know I’ve often had to just shrug and say, “Oh, I’m just wired differently.” Or, “My neurotransmitters are firing differently.”

GT: Yes! Because such experiences are unique to the person having them. The question then is this: is there a point at which you can say to a spiritual directee, “Actually, your experience of God is wrong”?  Do we have any access to a greater truth that we can use to help direct or confirm or deny the experience of others?

NK: I think we can use revealed truth. That’s the majesty of the gospel of salvation history: in salvation history the eternal pokes its nose, if you will, into the temporal.  As a natural theologian and as a natural philosopher, I’ve studied what I can learn about God by looking at the machinery of Creation. And there’s a lot you can learn.  But there comes a point where that knowledge approaches absolute truth, yet does not cross over, because you just can’t get there. So the truth has to be something that pokes into our experience from the absolute. And we, as Christians, would say that the fullness of that revelation is the person of Jesus Christ.

GT: And can you say that this revealed truth, that “God is love,” actually trumps any person’s own particular perception of reality?

NK: That’s where faith comes in. As a person of faith, you have to give your assent to the gospel message. But you can’t make the argument, as much as I’d like to be able to make it, that natural philosophy leads you to God.

GT: But if this God—who is Love—who is beyond time, can nevertheless poke through into time, then that’s incredibly hopeful! Because it means that whatever happens in time, however awful, there will always be love returned.

NK: Yes. You see throughout all the biblical witness that God is actively engaging in human history. And the alternative is terrifying: the idea of the watchmaker, God, who sets this thing up—

GT: —and then just leaves it—

NK: —exactly, it’s horrible. You’re left trying to explain why a God who created the universe and pronounced it “Wunderbar!” wonderfully good, is allowing the slaughter of children in Gaza today, in Europe in the ‘40s, all over the world across time.

GT: But instead we see that God is constantly pushing into reality, into time.

NK: Yes we do. An acquaintance of mine, Bob Russell, is the director of the Center for Natural Theology in Berkeley, California. He and I are both members of a religious order, the Society of Ordained Scientists. He has Ph.D.’s in both Theology and Physics and is an ordained member of the United Church of Christ. He has done some amazing work in thinking through the way that science and theology can find what he calls creative mutual interactions. His latest work is on the nature of time itself and the physical meaning of eternity—all of which is motivated by his desire to understand the meaning of the bodily resurrection of our Lord. What he seems to have proved is that if there is an eternity that contains our experience of the flow of time, not only is it possible that the resurrection of the dead is a physical possibility but, he told me in a private conversation, we can explain why time only flows in one direction (which is why we can’t go backwards in time). In a sense, the argument is that the flow of time and the bodily resurrection are intimately connected to each other.

GT: This makes me think of the old monastic theory that we are surrounded by eternity: every moment and every place in Creation is infused with divine light. There are “thin” moments and places where we can see it, and moments that are “thick,” when we cannot. But your point here suggests that if my perception is that I don’t see any light, or don’t experience that eternal break-through, I can actually be helped to see it.

NK: So then your question is: if it’s not that it doesn’t exist, what’s blocking me from seeing it?

GT: Yeah. It means that our perception is not fixed, and the Eternal is there nevertheless.

 

NK: Correct. It’s not as if your time is flowing at one rate, and my time is flowing at another rate, for our whole lives. It’s that at one moment, your time is flowing at one rate, and at another moment, my time is flowing at another rate. A few moments later, my time may have sped up, but your time may have slowed down.

And this change is actually happening on the order of a nanosecond. You can’t measure it on a wristwatch, but we can measure it. A tenth of a second is the shortest time that we can be aware of, but we can measure time to a femto of a second. That’s a decimal point followed by fourteen zeros and then a one.

GT: So we now live in a world where human beings, using mathematics and tools, can actually think about time—and maybe even build systems and machines that manipulate time—to a femto of a second. I have to second our founder, Father Benson’s worry: as humanity comes up with such technology, one hopes that humanity’s heart keeps up with it.

NK: I think that’s one of the key reasons that the Church has such a critical role to play in re-asserting moral teachings. The Eternal did appear and show us that there are fundamental things that we cannot apprehend by intellectual thought, but which we have to accept on faith.  And these things are important. If we do not order our lives according to these we will all die. We are all going to kill each other off.

You Brothers are a proof that we can choose another way. You are in touch with a different, rhythmic way of living. You are creating a kind of time outside the frantic flow of time in society. And this is a simple proof that time is subjective and relative. People have a choice: are they going to live their lives at Internet speed or are they going to live their lives at human speed, the speed for which we are created?

GT: I think we Brothers could probably say that our rhythm also predisposes us towards perceiving the breakthrough of the timeless.

NK: Absolutely. When I go on retreat and keep a different rhythm—a rhythm of prayer that is deeply connected to the rising and the setting of the sun—I find that I am more in tune with nature, and that puts me more in tune with Creation. My time scale is matching Creation’s time scale. And the author of Creation is that Eternal that I accept, as a person of faith. This means that my perception of the timeless is an actual physical thing. When your time is moving faster, the vibrations are much faster, and you are literally moving in a different time scale than the Creation around you, a rock, say, or a tree. But if we are close to the same time as Creation, then we are resident with Creation.

GT: Can you calibrate your own time, then? Is there actually a choice—that you can move towards residence with Creation, or away from it? Is that more than just a metaphor?

NK: It much more than a metaphor. What we’re talking about is actually real.

GT: This is amazing. You know that, at Emery House, we have been moving towards consciously providing a place where people can get back in touch with the natural rhythms of Creation. And people talk to us about the powerful experiences they have when they go there. Now you’re suggesting that, actually, they may well be experiencing a physical complement with natural rhythms. That their very experience of time may be being transformed?

NK: Yes. They are experiencing an emotional reaction to something fundamental. When you change your time scale, it allows you to be more present to the Creator who made this Creation. You’re living on the human scale—the time scale for which we were built.  Otherwise we’re living our lives at a frantic speed that doesn’t allow us to function as we are meant to. We’re putting the wrong gasoline in our engine, the wrong weight of oil in the oil pan.  It sort of works for a while but, you know, our parts are wearing down. The Brothers, on the other hand, have a rhythm that the great spiritual lights of humanity have discovered again and again. I think you’re living a rule of life that is baked into the nature of Creation.

GT: So it seems that the first thing to do, then, is to get people into a new time scale: break the frantic cycle that is keeping us out of tune with the time scale of Creation. Then the next thing is to help people not just be in the flow of time, but also become aware of how the Eternal is breaking through to us.

NK: Yes, and I think this is where the rule of life becomes very important.  The rule of life—the idea of stopping at least daily for prayer, or maybe four times a day for prayer—changes our perception of time. It changes how we experience time itself, as well as how we experience dropping out of time.

GT: So the rule of life can shape our subjective experience of time.

NK: Ah, but that’s the key thing: I’m saying there’s an objective reality. This isn’t simply subjective, poetic imagery—that it’s better for me if I stop for prayer.  No, it’s objective. It changes us—like medicine.

We were created and have evolved to live on the surface of this planet, with its rhythms, and the surface of this planet was created and evolved by the Creator to sustain our lives. I think the resurrection of eternal life is really about the destruction of death and this ability of our own lives to enter eternity, to break through into that greater reality.

GT: So the resurrection is the moment when you break free from being bound by time to being timeless—

NK: —to living in the now, the eternal now. Bob Russell’s argument, which I find compelling (and boy, if he’s right it’s a very big deal) is that the “arrow of time”—the argument that time only goes in one direction—implies that eternity is real.

GT: And eternity is God’s love.

To download this interview as PDF click here.

It’s time to… Stop, Pray, Work, Play & Love

Go to www.SSJE.org/time and subscribe with your email.
You will receive an introductory email and the videos will be sent to you daily.

So much of our stress and anxiety derives from our pollution of time. God has given us the gift of time, and called it holy, yet we often experience time as a curse. In a series of short, daily videos over five weeks, the Brothers of SSJE invite us to recapture time as a gift. Join the Brothers as we wrestle with questions of time and discover how to experience the joy of the present moment.

This series is designed so that everyone in your community can participate. Everyone is busy. Time is at a premium. It is hard for all to come together to deepen our faith.

Each theme is introduced with a video of a Brother priming us for the week’s theme. The theme is then explored in depth in six short reflection videos (around 2 minutes each). A compilation video is also available each Sunday.

Each reflection video ends with a thought-provoking question for you to ponder over the course of the day, then answer on the worksheet.

All the supporting materials are available to download for free or can be ordered at www.SSJE.org/time

A joint offering of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island and the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.

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Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) e-newsletter, February 05, 2015

How Christianity’s Eastern history has been forgotten

Posted on: February 11th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 

Rowan Williams reads from Arabic text

Christianity has a history that most of us know little about. A history that spreads eastward as well as westward, writes former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams for BBC Newsnight.

 

We would probably take it for granted that someone reading a religious text in Arabic would be a Muslim – but the truth is that you will find plenty of Christians reading their Bibles and books of prayers in the language.

It is a sharp reminder of the diversity that once marked the Arabic-speaking world.

Chinese Christian

It is a reminder, too, of aspects of Christianity’s history the majority of us have little idea about: a period when there were probably as many Christians in Asia as in Europe.

The familiar story is of the Christian faith moving west, towards Rome – spreading out from there to more remote areas, as far as Britain and Scandinavia, then being spread again outside Europe by missionaries.

But the facts are dramatically different. Christians were active in what is now Iraq and Iran by the 2nd Century. They were in India and the north of the Arabian Peninsula by the 3rd Century.

By the 7th Century there were monks and scholars from Iraq working in China, translating texts and ideas into Chinese and building Chinese-style churches and monasteries.

The Nestorian Stele – an 8th Century stone in Xian – records, in Chinese and Syriac, the arrival of missionaries from Iran. Very soon they were composing poems and philosophical discussions in Chinese.

Chinese Catholics attend church
Findings from Pew in 2010 suggest 68 million Christians live in China, though this is believed to be rapidly increasing

 

In the 13th Century, two monks from Beijing – part of a vast church whose centre was in Iraq – travelled to Europe, getting as far as France and meeting King Edward I of England – a Marco Polo story in reverse.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Christians – speaking and writing Arabic – were a familiar part of the scene in Muslim societies, often referred to in the literature and folktales of the region.

They suffered some serious social discrimination, but were seldom actively persecuted. Often they were doctors, diplomats or entrepreneurs.

It was a situation that continued for many centuries. But Christian communities in these regions steadily shrank in numbers.

And because they were mostly not part of the big European church families – Catholic and Orthodox – as a result of ancient disputes over details of teaching, they had to work hard to make and keep friends and supporters outside the Muslim world.

Late in the Middle Ages, many of these groups suffered genocidal violence at the hands of fanatical Central-Asian warlords like Tamerlane.

It was a hideous foreshadowing of the situation faced by many of their descendants today as they confront the butchers of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Iraqi Christians who fled the violence in the village of Qaraqush, about 30 kilometres east of the northern province of Nineveh, sit in Saint-Joseph church in the Kurdish city of Erbil
The rise of Islamic State has forced huge numbers of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes

 

Although IS is mostly focused on conflicts within Islam, the history of the last 15 years or so has reinforced for many the myth that Christianity is somehow alien to the region and allied with Western interests.

Communities that can trace their roots back a millennium and a half to the first four or five centuries of the Christian era are treated by militants as if they had no right to live there.

But these communities are a massively important part both of the Christian family and of the history, culture and intellectual development of the nations in which they live.

Many Christians were at the forefront of Arab nationalist movements in the 20th Century. They stand as a reminder that Christianity is not just about European – let alone American – power, but also of the fact that the Arab and Iranian world is not just Muslim in its history.

The current threat to all Christian communities in Western Asia is a threat that seeks to deny something fundamental to the history of human civilisation – that people of very different convictions can still build a culture together.

That’s why the fate of these beleaguered and abused minorities is an urgent issue for us all.

Newsnight is broadcast on BBC Two, weekdays from 22:30 GMT.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, February 10, 2015

Migration a part of life in Newfoundland diocese

Posted on: February 9th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By André Forget

Migration is part of the cultural memory in Newfoundland, says Rev. Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

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It is known colloquially as “the turnaround.”

Every few weeks, thousands of Newfoundlanders make the long commute to northern Alberta to work in the oil industry. They stay there for a “shift” of two to four weeks, and return to their families on their weeks off.

Since the collapse of the cod fishery in 1992, Newfoundlanders have had to be creative in finding work if they want to continue to live on the island. The province registered an unemployment rate of 11 per cent last year, and in 2008 there were around 20,000 Newfoundlanders working in Alberta alone. The turnaround has funnelled money from the oil sands back to the island and allowed many families to continue living there.

But it has not been without its costs, and both rural and urban clergy in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador are aware of the impact it has on families and individuals. “The younger families don’t seem to mind,” said the Rev. Dianna Fry, a priest in the parish of the Holy Spirit in the western end of the diocese “I suppose because they are young. But they also find it difficult in that the mother is alone with the children for three, four weeks at a time. They feel like a single parent sometimes.”

The Rev. Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s, has noticed this problem as well. “It can have negative effects on people’s families. I think that it’s a whole lot more of a challenge than most people might like.”

However, this kind of seasonal, migratory lifestyle is not new in that part of the world, he said. “It’s not a long time ago in the Newfoundland cultural memory when this happened anyway, because men went away to fish on the Labrador coast, or they went off on the seal hunt, and they could be gone for stretches at a time.”

But Rowe does believe it is harder now than in previous eras. “Fifty years ago, if Dad had to go and work, well, things were pretty much the same whether he was home or not,” he said. “But kids now have to be in after-school programs and things like that because Mom is working.”

The church has largely responded to this situation through pastoral ministry. There are other reasons, however, that the turnaround may not be a long-term solution. Dropping oil prices have been cause for concern among some in the province. Lower prices would not only affect the province’s offshore drilling operations, it could potentially put Newfoundlanders working the turnaround out of a job. According to news reports, some oil companies have already started laying off workers.

But it isn’t just the turnaround that leads to disruptions in family and community life. Long daily commutes have become common on the Avalon Peninsula in Eastern Newfoundland, and many people who live in small outports are driving to St. John’s for work. The Rev. William Strong, rector of the parish of Upper Island Cove, said that a significant number of his parishioners are professionals who drive the 100-odd kilometres one-way to the city every day. Many of Fry’s parishioners make a similar commute.

This transient lifestyle limits the freedom of some Newfoundland Anglicans to participate in parish life.

While some of the larger parishes, like Strong’s, have managed to maintain a vital ministry in their communities, smaller, more geographically spread out multi-point parishes have greater difficulty doing this.

Fry believes the church must make itself more flexible to respond to these changes in the lifestyle of its members. “We need to somehow be able to find out what the needs of these families are and meet them,” she said, “whether it be a Tuesday or a Wednesday, and not necessarily a Sunday.”

She herself has started to spend more time with parishioners in the evenings, when they are home from work, rather than trying to keep a regular nine-to-five schedule.

The Labrador region of the diocese has to deal with a lot of transience as well, but there the problem is the opposite—many come to work in the hydroelectric or mining industries, and leave when they reach retirement age.

“Our church family never stays the same,” says Nellie Thomas, the territorial archdeacon for the archdeaconry of Labrador. “People mostly when they retire move away, either back to their own homes or to some community where they feel they want to retire.”

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Anglican Journal News, February 09, 2015

Newfoundlanders still see church as part of their identity

Posted on: February 7th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By André Forget

Newfoundlanders still see church as part of their identity

The diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador is a place of contrasts. In its centre, St. John’s, wealthy property developers rub shoulders with fishermen and oil workers just back from Alberta’s Fort McMurray. In its farthest-flung regions, priests drive for hours to visit remote parishes in Labrador.

These contrasts are present, too, in the life of the church.

Like many other dioceses in the Anglican Church of Canada, Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador is facing serious questions regarding what to do with its property and buildings as its members age. And, like many other dioceses, it is trying to invest more of its energy in new kinds of mission.

But at the same time, there are signs of unusual kinds of growth.

“There are some weird things going on here,” says Geoffrey Peddle, the bishop of the diocese. “In 1961, we were [baptizing] 18 per cent of live births. We’re doing over 30 per cent now. Go figure. There is something happening.”

Peddle celebrated the first anniversary of his consecration in January, but he has been studying what makes Newfoundlanders different from the rest of the church for years.

Drawing on his academic background in empirical theology, which uses statistical analysis to understand religious life, Peddle has come to some surprising conclusions about how the Newfoundland Anglicans relate to their church, and in a talk given at the diocesan synod in May, he presented some of his findings.

“The desire for the ministry of the church at times of deep significance in individual lives remains strong,” he said, citing the increased rate of baptisms and the increased percentage of weddings in Anglican churches. He went on to suggest that there is a large number of “passive” members who, while not necessarily active in parish life, have not turned their backs on the church either.

For Peddle, this requires a refocusing of vision around what the church is for.

“We must consider the needs of the younger generations,” he said. “When our maintenance and cemetery budgets vastly exceed our budgets for children and youth ministry, we need to look at what we are doing.”

Peddle is not the only one in the diocese asking these questions. Many young clergy are actively engaged in figuring out new ways of meeting the needs of their parishioners. The Rev. Robert Cooke, for example, hosts theology nights in pubs, where people can ask questions about the church and explore answers in a more open environment.

St. Michael and All Angels, the only Anglo-Catholic parish in the diocese, has opened up space in its new church building to house a daycare. In a city with chronic childcare shortages, this is an important way to both bring people from the community into the church and to meet their needs in a tangible way, says its rector, the Rev. Sam Rose.

Jonathan Rowe, curate at the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, has a hunch that, despite the supposed decrease in membership, the church may actually be growing—the growth just isn’t being measured properly.

“I think that more people are coming to church now than there were 10 years ago, but they’re not necessarily coming every Sunday,” he said. “There might be negligible growth in terms of average Sunday attendance, or even some decline, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that things aren’t happening.”

He suggested that this might be due to the larger demographic changes happening in Newfoundland: with many people engaged in work that takes them away from the city, the traditional metrics of weekly attendance don’t necessarily yield an accurate picture.

But it is not as though the diocese is without problems. In the outports that dot the coastline of rural Newfoundland, the individual church buildings are a key part of local identity. The twin villages of Chapel Arm and Norman’s Cove in the western area of the Avalon Peninsula, for example, each have an Anglican church.

“In Chapel Arm, they have to go to Norman’s Cove for gas, they’ve got to go to Norman’s Cove for groceries, and they’ve got to pass by each of the churches,” said the rector, the Rev. Dianna Fry. “It’d be great if we could have one church and we could all come together, but that’s not going to happen.”

At the same time, though, this possessiveness can also lead to good things, as the Rev. William Strong saw at the 200th anniversary celebration of one of the parish churches, St. Peter’s, in Upper Island Cove. The building was packed with parishioners and local notables, a brass band played and a banquet for more than 200 people followed the service.

Newfoundlanders in the outports, whether or not they attend regularly, tend to see the church as being part of their identity—and they are proud of their identity and work to maintain it.

So, what is the way forward for the diocese? In answering the question, Peddle stressed what he considers to be one of the most distinctive parts of his church’s identity.

“Religious life here is relational,” he said. “[Newfoundlanders] are not terribly concerned with matters of liturgy, theology, doctrine, ethics. There are no great theologians or musicians produced here; we produce pastors. That’s what matters to us.”

For Peddle, and for many of the priests in his diocese, the task at hand is simply to relate to Newfoundlanders in a way that accommodates the new realities its congregants face in the 21st century.

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Anglican Journal News, February 04, 2015