Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Thomas Merton: Still relevant after 100 years

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


By Jane Christmas


Thomas Merton icon by William Hart McNichols.

January 31 marks the 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth. In the same way that people remember where they were when John Kennedy was assassinated, I can recall with intense clarity the moment I discovered Merton.

I was at the convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD) in Toronto several years ago trying to decide whether God was calling me to become a nun or whether I had completely misunderstood his instructions. It was a steamy summer afternoon, and my faith was wilting. While moping in SSJD’s guesthouse library perusing the book spines, my eyes landed on Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. I had heard Thomas Merton’s name dropped into conversations about religion’s great and good, but I figured he was just another boring, time-warped priest banging on about another “revolutionary” interpretation of the gospels. With a resigned sigh, I pulled The Seven Storey Mountain from the shelf, slumped in a nearby chair, and cracked open the book. Two pages in and you could not pry the book from my hands. Five pages in, and I was frantically Googling Merton for his contact information. The crush of disappointment when I learned that I was 42 years too late is still palpable.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Merton’s prolific output will no doubt be taken aback by this milestone: Merton seems too modern, too “young” to be 100 years old. Indeed, read anything of his right now and you will be struck by its modernity. The language is confident and muscular, and as precise and piercing as an arrow fired at close range. Take this passage:


Harlem is, in a sense, what God thinks of Hollywood. And Hollywood is all Harlem has, in its despair, to grasp at, by way of a surrogate for heaven. The most terrible thing about it all is that there is not a Negro in the whole place who does not realize, somewhere in the depths of his nature, that the culture of the white men is not worth the dirt in Harlem’s gutters. They sense that the whole thing is rotten, that it is a fake, that it is spurious, empty, a shadow of nothingness. And yet they are condemned to reach out to it, and to seem to desire it, and to pretend they like, as if the whole thing were some kind of bitter cosmic conspiracy: as if they were thus being forced to work out, in their own lives, a clear representation of the misery which has corrupted the ontological roots of the white man’s own existence.


Or the first lines of his famous prayer, which taps into the zeitgeist with its mash-up of The Road Less Travelled and Psalm 23:


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.


It isn’t simply language that makes Merton relevant. He wasn’t afraid to throw a punch. Academic, cultural, political, religious—Merton sparred with it. He loved God, but he was also critical of institutional religion. That endeared him to people back in the 50s and 60s, and it resonates with people today.

During my discernment, I encountered varying attitudes to Merton from nuns and monks. One said that The Seven Storey Mountain had played a role in his decision to enter religious life; another groaned with barely disguised contempt when she saw Merton on my desk. But the overwhelming majority were fans. Merton had a stick-it-to-the-Man cockiness that endears him to the quiet rebel-angels in religious life.

At the time of his death in 1968, tentative steps were taken to elevate Merton to sainthood. He was a sort of pop star for the monastic set, further romanticized by the whiff of the messianic in Merton’s back story—bohemian artist parents (a New Zealander and an American), strangers in a foreign land (France) who were devoted to their son and who gave him a free-range childhood (in the shadow of the Pyrenees). The story moves from tragedy to tragedy as the carefree child quickly morphs into a pampered misfit, a bewildered orphan, an arrogant toff, and then stumbles like Saul toward his religious conversion.

The trajectory toward sainthood, however, sputtered as a deluge of biographies and appreciations published after Merton’s death stripped off his Vatican veneer: Fr. Louis (Merton’s religious name) proved to be a rawer personality than he let on in The Seven Storey Mountain. The drug use and the promiscuity were well known, but after his death the story emerged about his part in a teenage pregnancy and how his wealthy guardian paid off the girl’s family. That the teenage mom and infant son perished during the Blitz allows us to better understand the private torture with which Merton wrestled. There was a further juicy revelation that Merton, while still clothed in his Trappist habit, had had a gal on the side, and at the time of his death was considering leaving his beloved Gesthemane. Yet, how are these falls from grace any different from the recently canonized Angela of Foligno, the 13th-century good-time girl who whored her way through life until she recanted her behaviour, and founded a religious order?

Like almost every saint, Merton possessed a complex personality: his unmonk-like hubris versus his humility; his pining for freedom from his monastic vows versus his determination to stick to those vows; his desire for peace and quiet versus his penchant for sneaking out of the monastery to drink and mingle in the local bars with secular folk. Merton was the contemplative contradiction, and this makes him deliciously relevant and accessible.

Merton’s writing stimulates and edifies, and has much to offer the current conversation about re-visioning the church. The centenary of his birth provides a perfect opportunity to introduce this imperfect monk-priest to a new generation.


Jane Christmas is the author of And Then There Were Nuns (Greystone Books).


Anglican Journal News, January 30, 2015

Healing amidst grief and loss for the people of Old Crow

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments



This article was written by Sharon Dewey Hetke on behalf of the Council of the North.

In the Yukon community of Old Crow, Bishop Larry Robertson hears the snow crunch under his boots as he walks to the community hall. On this -43 C evening, there is a fog in the air that you can cut with a knife. Following several days of pastoral visitation, Bishop Larry is on his way to another service, part of a triad of weekend events—a Saturday funeral, Holy Communion on Sunday morning and now this community healing service.

Old Crow has seen little of the sun on this day—sunrise was at 12:29 p.m. and sunset at 2:20. But when Bishop Larry enters the community hall, the warmth and light dispel the cold and darkness outside. Bishop Larry describes the hall: “All around the room are pictures of elders who have died.” This reminds him of Hebrews 11, of “a great crowd of witnesses surrounding us.” In a few minutes, the prayers and praises of the community will join with those of the elders and saints who have gone before.

This community has suffered greatly over the past year, with several untimely and tragic deaths. But it is also a community with a “strong spiritual past they can call upon” in times of death and grief, says Bishop Larry.

The Rev. Laurie Munro knows this community well. She has been rector of St. Paul’s in Dawson and St. Luke’s, Old Crow, since September 2011, and visits Old Crow monthly. She is thankful for St. Luke’s ministry team, led by Deacon Marion Schafer, which holds weekly services and provides ongoing pastoral care. Munro says that, along with looking to family and friends, Old Crow residents do look to God and the church for support. She describes a recent funeral she officiated for a young man, after which “many house blessings were requested and many people asked for prayer in their homes and on the telephone.” She says “people opened their hearts to God and asked for his power to fill and heal them.”

This growing openness was encouraged by a service this past summer on the Sunday before Old Crow hosted a Gwich’in gathering. Munro says, “Gary Simple from Alaska played guitar and led the singing. I officiated and prayed with the people. Both Gary and I spoke about God’s healing work.” Since then, the people of Old Crow have asked for more services like it and, in early January, “God’s timing brought things together,” says Munro.

The service began quietly with several gospel songs and a teaching time on forgiveness and the path to hope. Those gathered then shared Holy Communion and were invited forward for prayer and anointing with oil for healing. As many lingered for individual prayer with the clergy, the congregation continued to sing gospel songs and traditional hymns in the Gwich’in language. Munro says, “It is hard to describe the wonderful feeling one gets when standing and praying and seeing God at work in a person’s life. Tears and laughter, pain and joy mingled as our Lord moved in people’s lives.”

Bishop Larry describes moments when “anger and fear” were displaced by a “healthy grief and a determination to make change happen with God’s help.”

Old Crow’s spiritual leaders have the wisdom to know that this service was just the beginning of the change that needs to come. But it was, in Bishop Larry’s mind, a “turning point.”

“Healing has begun,” he says. “God is good.”

Click here for more stories from the Council of the North.


Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, January 21, 2015

The stark reality of Jesus’ birth

Posted on: December 26th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


By William Portman


The idyllic manger tableau doesn’t reflect the first Christmas in Bethlehem, argues the author. Photo of artist Gerard van Honthorst’s The Adoration of the Shepherds: The Yorck Project/Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, an English bishop suggested adding a bucket of fresh manure to the traditional Christmas decorations in churches, to remind people what the first Christmas was really like. Predictably, there were cries of protest that this would ruin the “beauty” of the season.

The “beauty” of course shows in stained glass and Christmas cards and Sunday school pageants: radiant mother dressed all in blue, gazing adoringly at her baby boy sleeping angelically in a box of straw…solid, upright husband standing guard over his new family…the friendly animals looking on in wonder.

A pretty picture, sentimentally enhanced by the great star overhead, shepherds and wise men—just like those manger scenes we set up in church. Beautiful, yes, but look again.

There’s not much beauty being a young mother, near her time, riding a balky donkey, then delivering in a smelly cave because nobody had room for a pregnant girl whose first-born had a cattle feeding trough for his first cradle.

Neither is there much lovely in a 21st-century Iraqi refugee mother, living with 20 others in a refugee tent, who delivered her baby with no medical help, wrapping the child in a shirt literally off someone’s back; nor a Palestinian family in Gaza displaced from their ancestral land by an expansionist state.

There’s nothing romantic in Matthew’s account of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, nothing much sentimental in the gospel’s portrayal of the Holy Family becoming refugees in Egypt to escape a murderous King Herod, or the lot of Coptic Christians in today’s Egypt who must pay protection money to Islamic overlords if they want to live.

None of this would seem out of place in today’s Middle East with its seemingly endless cycle of hatred and suspicion, violence and revenge—an especially dangerous situation for Christian communities in the Middle East and parts of Asia as they become more and more the target of fundamentalist Islamic violence. The Christmas story becomes very contemporary when we think of the millions of people uprooted by war, the homeless or poor in our own country, the many who through flood or famine will die of starvation—some on Christmas day itself.

The Incarnation, the earthly life of Jesus, took place in the heart of those realities. The son of God entered this world not in glory and comfort as a guest of the upper classes, but as the child of a peasant couple, born in a barn behind a fourth-rate hotel, in a third-rate town, in a second-rate country that was a backwater of the Roman Empire. Christmas is God coming to live among us as an ordinary person with no special privileges. Were this not so, it would not be real, and we would not be celebrating it as the source of our hope all these centuries later.

Christmas points us beyond the baby to the man Jesus. His self-emptying of glory to become incarnate, to become human, was only the beginning: it carries through Good Friday and Easter, the cross and resurrection, showing the same love for humankind. It promised victory of light over darkness, of good over evil, and the vision of what the world could be like.

We need to be alert to receive the life-giving, liberating good news of Christmas: that the love of God—God’s own son—came into the world “for us [everyone] and for our salvation in body, mind, and spirit.”

Maybe the idea of manure in church isn’t such a bad idea—the aroma might remind people that Jesus gave his life to clearing up the mess men and women had made, and are still making.

It is ironic that the lands where originated the world’s best-ever plan for peace on earth, goodwill among people, is today the scene of so much suffering and hatred.

It reminds us that there are two sides to Christmas—the stark reality and the hope it brings: that the crib and the cross were both made of wood.

The Rev. William Portman is a retired priest of the Qu’Appelle diocese and a former book review editor for the Anglican Journal.


Anglican Journal, December 23, 2014

Quebec Growing Project Grows in Size, Ways it Raises Funds

Posted on: December 15th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Nelson & Sharon

Nelson and Sharon Weippert at their Christmas tree farm.

Corn, grain, hay, music CDs, auctions, luncheons, apples, concerts—these are some of the ways people in Quebec’s Chateauguay Valley have been raising funds for Canadian Foodgrains Bank over the past 17 years.

And now, just in time for Christmas, they have a new way to raise money.

“Our latest project is a Christmas trees,” says Nelson Weippert of the new way their local growing project is supporting the work of the Foodgrains Bank.

Nelson and his wife, Sharon, started the Christmas tree fundraiser six years ago when they planted 300 trees on their property. It takes awhile for the trees to grow to a salable height; last year 14 trees were sold.

“We only advertise through local churches because only a limited number of trees are ready to sell,” he says. “But in a few years more trees will be available and we will offer them to our entire community.”

The Christmas tree project is just one more in a series of ways the project has supported the Foodgrains Bank since it started in 1997.

Back then, the Huntingdon Pastoral charge of the United Church of Canada started a growing project on a six acre plot of land donated by church members Ian and Jennifer Gill.

That year, 300 bales of hay were produced, raising $300 for the Foodgrains Bank.

Today, the project has grown to include 14 area churches: Athelstan Presbyterian Church, Riverfield Presbyterian Church, Georgetown Presbyterian Church, Rockburn Presbyterian Church, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Howick United Church, Franklin Centre Church of Nazarene, Franklin United Church, Huntingdon United Church, Rennies United Church, Saint Paul’s United Church, Zion United Church, Beechridge Presbyterian Church and Saint John’s United Church.

Since its start, the project has grown to include many other activities such as an action, held in 1998 on the Weippert’s farm, and several musical evenings in 1999.

Also that year a “soup and crusty bread luncheon” began after the service at the Huntingdon United Church—something that has become a favourite annual event.

In 2000 the project produced a Christmas music CD, called “Voices from the Valley Singing for Their Supper.” The CD, which featured choirs from local churches and elementary schools singing carols, raised $12,000 for the Foodgrains Bank.

“Adopt an Acre” was the theme from 2001 to 2003, with the Huntingdon project helping a new project at the Howick United Church.

“We joined in with the Howick growing project and raised the funds to pay the rent of the land they were using,” says Nelson, adding that they worked together to grow wheat or corn.

In 2004, area churches were invited to raise $150 each, the equivalent of the price of one tonne of corn. For each $150 raised, churches placed Foodgrains Bank grain bags filled with paper in their sanctuaries. The Athelstan Presbyterian church filled the most bags that year, with 23 bags lining their sanctuary.

The project is still going, but now it is called “Feed a Family of Five for a Year.” Each church sets up its own fund raising program.

In 2008, people from all ages went to the farm of Harley Bye to pick apples, which were then sold to a local processor. The apple project raised $6,154.

And this year, the project organized a concert with the 40-piece West Island Brass Band at the local high school and a violin concert—along with the Christmas trees.

“It’s wonderful thinking back over the 17 years since we started on our Quebec Canadian Foodgrains Bank project to see how it has grown, both in the number of churches, the number of people and the amount we have raised for the Foodgrains Bank,” says Sharon.

“When we look back at all the people involved from all the congregations and the wonderful memories we share, we can say that our project is “Spirit filled and has God’s blessing.”


Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) Update, December 15, 2014

Warren Kinghorn and Abraham Nussbaum: Friendship and people with mental illness

Posted on: December 10th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Churches are the front line of encountering suffering in large portions of our culture and have the opportunity and responsibility to minister to people with mental illness, say two psychiatrists trained in theology.


Life for people with serious mental illness can be isolating, but it does not have to be that way, say psychiatrists Warren Kinghorn and Abraham Nussbaum.

Instead, churches can do much to welcome, be with and support those with mental illness.

“The Christian life, with its account of patience, charity, responsibility and the other virtues, offers a more robust response [than the culture at large],” Nussbaum said.

Learning how to be friends with people with mental illness is really about learning how to be friends with people generally, Kinghorn said.

“The practices of friendship, both individually and in community, are essential regardless of whether mental illness is present,” he said.

Trained in both psychiatry and theology, Kinghorn and Nussbaum are organizing the conference “Walking Together: Christian Communities & Faithful Responses to Mental Illness,” to be convened in Houston in February 2014.

Kinghorn is an assistant professor of psychiatry and pastoral and moral theology at Duke University Medical Center and Duke Divinity School. Nussbaum is the director of adult inpatient psychiatry and an assistant professor at Denver Health and the University of Colorado.

They spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about the church, friendship and mental illness. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Give us an overview of mental illness in the United States today.

KinghornKinghorn: Mental illness is very common in the U.S. and affects most congregations, many families and every community. About 1 percent of the population has schizophrenia, 2 to 3 percent have bipolar disorder, and about 15 percent over the course of their lives will have depression.

Around 30 percent of Americans experience some form of mental disorder in any given year.

That’s not to say that everyone needs to be thought of in terms of mental illness but to say that suffering in our culture is common. It comes up in various ways and often takes the forms that we label mental illness.

There is no one such thing as mental illness. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and depression and PTSD and addiction and personality disorder are all different kinds of things and affect people and families and communities in different ways. They need to be seen and treated differently, just as different people with the same mental health condition might experience it in very different ways.

Q: What are some of the challenges of living with mental illness?

NussbaumNussbaum: It depends upon the person, the degree of his or her illness, and their situation, but part of what makes mental illness particularly challenging — particularly, severe and persistent mental illness — is that it causes you to change how you perceive yourself and to change how others perceive you.

If you have a broken limb, people don’t necessarily perceive it as a threat to the self. But mental illness, particularly serious mental illness, often constitutes a threat to a person’s identity and can complicate their relationships with other people.

So the first thing is this kind of existential challenge it poses.

The second is that the treatments for mental illness are not as effective as some of the treatments for things like a broken limb and are sometimes difficult to access, particularly in the United States, where insurers provide different levels of access to mental health treatments.

There’s also a stigma around people with severe and persistent mental illness. Part of what our project has been about is saying that we need to acknowledge the people in our homes, neighborhoods, parishes, faith communities who have mental illness and to consider again our responsibility to them and our relationships with them.

Q: Is life with mental illness inherently isolating?

Nussbaum: It can be. It certainly doesn’t have to be.

Life can be very difficult for somebody with a serious and persistent mental illness, but there are alternative social arrangements that can be much more welcoming. Some of those have come under the banner of Christian communities, and our intention is to reclaim those when they are worth reclaiming and to try to engage other people in that work.

Kinghorn: Mental illness is complicated. It does bring challenges, but it also brings opportunities for growth and learning and wisdom, both for people who have mental illness and also for their families and communities.

Mental illness is always an interplay of biology and one’s personal constitution and the culture in which one lives. So a lot of the suffering that comes with mental illness is in how the person is met and greeted and treated by social systems, by educational systems, by communities. The suffering of mental illness is a social reality as well as an individual medical reality.

Q: Speak some to the challenges for friends and family members.

Kinghorn: There are a few. One is that friends and family members are there with the person with mental illness in a more continuous way and over a much longer time than anyone else. There’s a challenge of how do you continue to be present and in someone’s life when others aren’t.

Along with that is the challenge of how to best advocate for someone, especially with severe forms of mental illness, and how to advocate within complex medical systems and educational systems.

Many families also struggle with how to think about accountability — how to balance between a compassionate approach that sees the person as somehow not accountable for his or her actions and a need to hold the person accountable for certain kinds of actions and behaviors and ways of being and habits of living.

Nussbaum: Much of medicine is built around metaphors taken from trauma medicine and infectious diseases. We talk in psychiatry about how our treatments are antidepressants and antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, and the metaphor is that they’re something like antibiotics.

But an antibiotic for pneumonia is a relatively short treatment that can be lifesaving, whereas the treatments for psychiatric illness are really meant to support the fundamental changes that you have to make. They’re not like taking an antibiotic for pneumonia. So the very structure of contemporary medicine can make that more frustrating for a family.

Q: So how does one go about being with and being friends with people with mental illness? And what’s the church’s role in that?

Nussbaum: The short answer is that they go about being friends the same way they do with everybody else.

People with mental illness are all around us, so I’m pretty uncomfortable with this strong distinction between those with and without.

There are some special gifts to Christian friendship that need to be reclaimed. Christian friendships ought to be more focused on the virtues. The question of patience, for example, is different from many accounts of friendship. In contemporary American life, friendship is often reduced to an exchange — it’s somebody who is able to do the same things and enjoy the same things I do.

But the Christian life, with its account of patience, charity, responsibility and the other virtues, offers a more robust response.

Kinghorn: The best way to cultivate the ability to be friends with people with mental illness is to cultivate the ability to be friends with people, period. The practices of friendship, both individually and in community, are essential regardless of whether mental illness is present.

Respecting human dignity, of people both with and without mental illness, is a matter of respecting people as agents in the world, as those whose beliefs and actions and ways of being matter. So any friendship with people with mental illness needs to focus on how can I really respect this person as an agent and honor that.

That might mean, actually, to hold people accountable for actions and for ways that people are present or not in communities. It doesn’t mean simply to adopt a position of thinking that this person is sick and needs some kind of treatment, but rather that this person is a human being in our community or in my relationship and needs to be treated primarily as such and not as anything else.

Nussbaum: One way to think about mental illness that also helps explain why it’s often so challenging for people who have mental illness, and for the people who are in relationship with them, is that people with mental illness often suffer from a diminishment of their own agency.

That’s one of the ways [of understanding it] that ties together the very different kinds of things that we call mental illness in contemporary life. A personality disorder and bipolar disorder and alcoholism are all very different, but in each case there’s a diminishment in somebody’s agency. So one of the things that you want to do in the context of being in relationship with people with mental illness is to increase agency.

Kinghorn: In Christian terms, agency comes in healthy relationship. We gain ourselves and our selfhood in relation with each other and with God, so cultivating good, healthy relationships is central to that ability to encourage agency.

Attention to context is really important. For example, I work at the Durham VA Medical Center and work a lot with veterans with combat-related PTSD. As long as they are seen in our medical system only as people with PTSD with certain symptoms that need to be treated, then they’re going to be treated in relatively technical ways, and clinicians who are not veterans are just not going to understand the context of that experience.

But if clinicians or others can begin to inhabit the reality of what it would be like to go to war and to be faced with the kind of experiences and memories and actions that modern warfare entails, then suddenly veterans with PTSD look much less like abstract medical patients and much more like human beings who are doing the best that we can to make it in a world that is often confusing and broken.

There’s a humanity that is often concealed through the medical language that we use to describe psychiatric disorder. So context is important in terms of where somebody lives and what the home situation is like and what kinds of relationships do people have and what are the experiences that have formed people in the way that they’re formed.

I have a mantra that I always teach my residents, which is that people will do their best with what they’ve learned to get what they think they need in any given situation. That applies not just to people diagnosed with mental illness but to all of us, and because it applies to all of us, it is helpful in being friends with people with mental illness.

Q: What could and should churches be doing? And tell us about your upcoming conference.

Nussbaum: My hope would be that churches would be a place where we learn to be friends with each other, not just with the people that we choose but with the people we are given by God. It’s not about learning to be friends with people with mental illness. It’s about learning to be friends in general.

The second thing is that throughout church history, different churches have responded in different ways to persons with mental illness. Certainly, there are many instances where churches have increased the stigma and shaming of persons with mental illness. But what we’re trying to do in this project is to reclaim some other examples that are less well-known.

Part of this project began out of our friendship and our own training. Warren and I trained to be psychiatrists at roughly the same time, and we both studied theology at roughly the same time. And we began looking for nonmedical examples — examples where the church was providing care to persons with mental illness.

We were surprised how few well-studied examples we could find, so we’ve been talking for the last three years about how to learn more about these examples, both for ourselves and as a resource for the larger church, as a reminder of what it’s capable of doing with persons with mental illness.

We started talking about some examples, and wrote a couple of papers, but then asked other people to help us in writing more.

Q: What’s the conference about?

Kinghorn: Feb. 6-8, in Houston, we’ll be convening a group of scholars, clinicians and local community leaders and congregations to listen to stories throughout Christian history about Christian communities that engaged in creative ways of caring for people with mental illness.

Our presenters will be telling stories from history in an effort to mine how they might be applied today in congregations. We’ll think together about how to engage the examples of these stories to imagine new possibilities about creative and faithful ways to walk with people with mental illness.

Churches are the front line of encountering suffering in large portions of our culture. So they have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to minister to people who are going through various kinds of suffering, much more so than any clinical system.

Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, December 10, 2014

A meaningful Christmas

Posted on: December 9th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Anglican Journal staff


Christmas traditionally is a time for sharing and giving. Photo: Focal Point


The Anglican Journal asked readers to tell us about things they have done that have made Christmas more meaningful. Here are some stories:


A meaningful feast in the company of new friends

Christmas 2013 was everything we could have hoped for. Under the tree were treats for everyone. The turkey and trimmings were prepared with care. Our table was filled with the chatter and laughter of beautiful young people. But the young people were not our own children and grandchildren. They were students from several African countries attending McGill University. We had been delivering winter coats and jackets from our church community to the International Student Centre when we met Nellie, a vivacious young lady from Kenya. When we invited her to our home for Christmas, she asked if she could bring some friends who were also in a program for African scholars. Soon, we had invited 12 for Christmas dinner! Many of our friends offered to help. The students were from Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda, in touch with their families only through Skype and email. “My mother says thank you! She couldn’t believe you were having us all in your home,” one of them told us. Amid laughter and storytelling, we learned about one another. When we asked God to bless our food and our time together, the students nodded in delight. This was part of their tradition as well. The evening went too quickly. With hugs, and our hearts filled with gratitude, we decided it had been one of our best Christmases ever!—Sue Winn, Anglican diocese of Montreal


The songs that bind us together

I like to sing, but I usually just sing with the choir for Christmas and Easter. I think being involved just at those times makes it kind of a special thing, and I think that the close study of music and the words that go with it, going over the pronunciation and articulation of the words with a fine-toothed comb, really drives home what those words are and what they mean. They become part of me as I sing them in rehearsal every week, and this gives me a chance to dwell on their beauty.

I don’t necessarily have a favourite song, and the carols and music that are most meaningful to me change from year to year, but recently our choir has been doing pieces by Rachmaninoff. The Russian words are lovely and strange, and they drive home the beauty and strangeness and mystery of Christmas. When I sing these unfamiliar words in a foreign language, I feel the Orthodox sense of mystery and ancientness that the music reflects.

But there is one constant: every year we end with Silent Night. This is always a beautiful moment for the congregation, at midnight when it is snowing outside, and I think there is something important about this repetition.

This year was different for me. I didn’t sing in the choir because I spent the autumn months living overseas, and when Advent rolled around I was visiting some friends in Scotland. I went to the Advent service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, and even though I was on the other side of the ocean, I noticed that they were singing a lot of the same music that we sang at St. Margaret’s, back in Winnipeg.

Every family has traditions, but sometimes we grow out of them. I have found myself wondering, with some of my family’s traditions, why we need to keep doing these things just because we’ve always done them. It’s different, though, when you share a tradition with a whole community. There are no blood ties binding people in a church together—instead we have liturgical traditions. I think it’s lovely that even if we don’t share things throughout the whole year, we still have that tradition and that liturgy every year. This is what we have in common.—Annalee Giesbrecht, diocese of Rupert’s Land


A time for reflection

One thing I noticed this year is that some of our Christmas hymns offer snapshots, “Polaroid moments” of the Nativity Story. Away in the Manger features the one moment when the baby is quiet, while In the Bleak Midwinter mentions the moment when Mary kisses Jesus on the cheek. There is no Christmas hymn I’m aware of that talks about Mary changing Jesus’ diapers or fussing with him during feeding time. As any parent knows, those messy moments are as much about parenting as those nice, sweet, sentimental moments.

Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation. Incarnation is about God entering into the full range of human experience: the joys, the sorrows, and the boring mediocrities, and transforming them. To be incarnational in our spirituality is to be aware that those messy moments, those moments of failure and disappointment, can become moments of divine grace as well as those happy moments of triumph and success.

Some stress that in the commercial Christmas season, there is an unspoken obligation to be “happy” even when one does not feel particularly merry or joyful, especially if one is going through a difficult time. Christians can offer this: Christmas as a time of prayer and reflection as we offer all of our lives, both joyful and sorrowful, to God. For as Cecil Francis Alexander puts it: “He feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth our own gladness.” —The Rev. Justin Cheng, Assistant Curate, St Paul’s Nanaimo, St Philip’s Cedar, St John’s Ladysmith, diocese of British Columbia  __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anglican Journal News, December 08, 2014

The Gospel behind bars (Council of the North)

Posted on: December 7th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Prison Ministry in the Council of the North is grounded in the power of grace and transformation.


Baffin Correctional Centre

Baffin Correctional Centre


On a snowy Sunday afternoon, following a busy morning in his Iqaluit parish, Rev. Cyrus Blanchet drives to Baffin Correctional Centre.  But he admits that there are days he just doesn’t want to go: “Sometimes it just gets tiresome, dragging myself out there on a cold day, going in there with my bag of hymn books and Bible…and the place has a smell to it.”  Still, he goes—and he knows he doesn’t go alone.  “The good Lord goes with me and before me…I’m trusting the Lord too—that I’m here for his purposes and he’ll take care of me. Even when I feel like not going, I go anyway and I’m always glad I did.”

Thousands of kilometres southwest of Iqaluit, an Anglican layreader visits Prince Albert’s Saskatchewan Penitentiary.  Kathleen Stewart, who worships at St. David’s Anglican in P.A., is part of a broader parish ministry: she leads weekly evening prayer at the SK Penitentiary; five other parishioners pick up inmates from minimum security Riverbend Institution for Sun. worship at their church; and Stewart’s parish priest goes to Riverbend monthly for Holy Communion.  Stewart also participated in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission visit to the Pen, in which she saw the power of listening and prayer in healing circles.

Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart

It wasn’t always easy for Stewart to enter “The Pen.”  She explains, “When I first entered as a younger person I was working as a photographer. And I was very intimidated then because all I heard was the bars clanking and no one escorted me through.”  With a few more years of experience under her belt, Stewart says of her call to prison ministry, “I’ve never felt threatened…. At first they kind of test you out to see where you are—because if you’re not real in the Christian faith, they soon let you know. They have that attitude where they just don’t put up with anything that’s fake.”

In Whitehorse (Diocese of Yukon) the Rev. Martin Carroll, who ministers at Whitehorse Correctional, describes the setting for his work. “Well this is a brand new prison and it’s almost like maximum security—there’s 600 cameras in this place, everything’s electronic keys, they have sensors to track you—it can be intimidating.”  For Carroll, one of his main challenges is developing collegial relationships with staff: “So you have to work on that relationship so you can do the work that God has called you into.”

What helps these Anglicans see past the sensors, electronic keys, institutional barriers and intimidating “tough guy” behaviours? Haukenfrers, Stewart’s priest at St. David’s in Prince Albert, says the knowledge that  “Jesus is still in the resurrection and transformation business” keeps him going.

And once they’re in, past these hurdles, a diverse ministry—all grounded in a sense of grace—unfolds.  For some, music is key.

Stewart sees a lot of guitars—and hears a lot of country and blues. Theirs is a mix though: she says, “We have done some popular music from Hillsong and that kind of thing, some of them like that, but the ones that come up to the chapel really like to hear the kind of bluesy stuff.” She says the former Chaplain used to call one of the lead singers “‘the Johnny Cash of the chapel’ because he sounded like Johnny Cash—with all the riffs to go along with it.”

Blanchet describes a recent service: “A fellow last week, he said he could play the guitar, actually he was pretty good, and he wanted to sing “Nearer My God To Thee”—which isn’t really what I expected from him. I thought he’d want to sing something sort of more lively.  But he really knew that one and we all sang that and everybody enjoyed it.”

In between guitar riffs and gospel songs, these chaplains weave Anglican worship in several languages, Bible study and personal testimonies.

In Saskatchewan, the services at “The Pen” are varied. Stewart leads an Anglican evening prayer service while they work out a regular schedule of priests to lead Holy Communion. Stewart also builds flexibility into the service structure by using “A Disciple’s Prayer Book”—a resource she was given by Bishop Mark MacDonald.  It’s one of Stewart’s favourite resources since “a lot of them don’t speak English very well and of course they’re new to prayer so it’s a lot shorter than the Prayer Book.”

The Rev. Cyrus Blanchet

The Rev. Cyrus Blanchet

Cyrus Blanchet describes the service he leads at Baffin Correctional: “It’s a church service.  When I can, I get someone with a guitar, or if we don’t have a guitar, we still sing.  And we have a Bible reading and a message and prayer.” Sometimes the service becomes something more interactive: “It sort of borders on being a Bible study sometimes, but it’s a church service,” he says.

Blanchet’s services are a mix of English and Inuktitut.  He explains that while most inmates speak English, only some speak Inuktitut. So the service is mostly in English, with some singing in Inuktitut “because the songs are written in Inuktitut, English and syllabics.” Bible lessons are read from the Inuktitut Bible.

Blanchet also tries to include parishioners in the ministry: “There’s a couple of fellows in the Inuktitut congregation who come with me from time to time. They’re older guys, maybe in their 60s but they will come up with me from time to time. And then when they come, there’ll be prayer in Inuktitut—and the people like that because it’s their own language, you know, their first language. Blanchet also explains: “There’s people in the church I know who have been in jail, they come out with me sometimes.   They’ve been there and they don’t like going out there very much. But they go and help out.”

These visits are not always easy for Blanchet and his parishioners: “I have been intimidated a little bit when I’m in there by sort of very aggressive young guys who want to show how macho they are (to the other prisoners mostly)…And they get a little mouthy sometimes. But mostly they say ‘Thank you for coming’ and want to shake hands.  And they seem to appreciate it.” For Blanchet, it’s more than worth getting past all of that to the softer side—and sometimes all it takes is a Bible reading or a hymn.

“There’s lots of tears over the years I’ve been there—there’s Kleenex out in the middle of the table, and there’s different people grabbing that during, just, you know, the subject isn’t even particularly emotional, it’s just reading the Bible or singing a hymn.  But to them it’s emotional because it means something to them.  Or the Holy Spirit is just convicting them or there’s something spiritual going on there that’s causes the tears.” Whether Blanchet finds aggressive behavior or a softer side, he knows he is not alone. “I don’t want to get to the point where I feel like I can do it myself, because I think God wants me to trust in Him and depend on Him to do things.”

For Carroll, the time he spends visiting with people in prison is likely not the only interaction he will have. “Some of them I know and have met on the street, so we maintain a relationship if they should happen to be charged and incarcerated.”  And then, when they’re out, the relationship continues.

Blanchet describes a young woman that was at the Women’s Correctional Centre: “She’s probably 22, 23—I saw her in church just last Sunday or the Sunday before.  I was leaving church and she was sitting there and she looked familiar.  She was there before the Inuktitut service started, so of course I said ‘hello’ to her; she was quite friendly—seemed glad to be recognized and spoken to and I think she’s trying to turn over a new leaf.” Blanchet says, “I know I’ve met her on the street a couple of times in the store, and on the street another time and she said she wanted to volunteer at the soup kitchen.  So she wants to do well.”

For these northern Anglicans, ministry in their local prisons brings home the power of the Gospel.  Haukenfrers reflects, “Was there a crime? Typically yes. Is there guilt and brokenness? Yes. Is there sadness and anger? Yes. Is there injustice and fear? Yes. Is there Hope? Yes, there is hope.”

Sharon Dewey Hetke
Council of the North Communications


Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, December 04, 2014

The Interview: “Ecumenism is hard work”

Posted on: December 5th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


By André Forget


The Very Rev. Hon. Lois Wilson welcomes friends and well-wishers at the launch of her new book, held at Toronto’s Emmanuel College. Photo: Saskia Rowley.


A condensed version of this interview was printed in the December Issue of the Anglican Journal.

The Very Rev. Hon. Lois Wilson is an outspoken anti-poverty activist, a critic of political oppression and an advocate for the environment; she is also a woman who has spent her career building bridges in Canada and abroad between people of various faiths and none who want to see the advent of a more just world.

Wilson has had a long and august life in ministry. Ordained to the United Church in 1965 after 15 years as a homemaker, she went on to become the first female president of the Canadian Council of Churches (1976), the first female moderator of the United Church of Canada (1980), was elected as one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches in 1983 and chosen as a senator by Jean Chrétien in 1998. She also served as Chancellor of Lakehead University from 1990–2000.

After retiring from the senate in 2002, Wilson has continued to pursue ecumenical work, and earlier this year published a new book, I Want to Be in That Number: Cool Saints I Have Known.

Where did the idea for your recent book come from?

The idea came when my daughter and I were up on Lake Superior on holiday. I went over to her and said “I think I want to write something about the mythology of old age.” And she said “No, no, you should write about something you know about. You know the biblical texts, why don’t you open that up for people?” So I went home and opened my bible and discovered that when a friend had died, for years now I have entered their name and the date of their death opposite the scripture that was used at their funeral. I had no idea why I was doing this, but I had over forty-five entries in my Bible, all the way form Genesis to Revelation. So it occurred to me that that was their legacy – either they chose the passage or their family did because it was appropriate for them and their faith and what their life was about.

I discovered later that I was really starting to write about the communion of Saints that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described, saints being in my understanding faithful people in the scriptures. My criteria was I had to have known them well.

So, in some ways this is tied to your own experience of aging, as these are all people who have passed…

Yes, and what is their legacy.

Why is legacy important to you?

When I was in New York – again with my daughter – we visited Riverside Church. They had the usual vestibule parade of pictures of ministers who had previously served there, but instead of just putting their picture and name up they had put a sentence that focused on what their main contribution had been to that congregation. And I decided that if I could focus on what this person’s main contribution has been to us then that is what I would do. And I didn’t leave it there; I also ended up including what I thought the scripture might mean for those of us who are trying to create a better world.

You’ve spoke elsewhere about the importance of the mission of the church rather than its survival. What does mission mean and what is its value?

Well, unless the church is in mission it doesn’t exist; and by “mission” I understand in some way (by word and by deed, or however) to be proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Unless it’s doing that, it might as well not exist. And that’s usually for people both inside the church boundaries, but also outside. It’s about engaging people in their own spiritual quest and saying what you stand for, and in whom you believe – not insisting that others copy you, but making it clear that this is who you are and that you would be glad to engage them in conversation.

You’ve been in ministry for many years. How has change in the world led to change in mission?

I think we’ve become aware of the world church in a way that I wasn’t aware of when I was younger. It came alive for me through the World Council of Churches. The meetings are absolutely stimulating because you meet these people, and suddenly you realize that your local congregation is not only part of the larger ecumenical community in Canada, but you’re part of the whole world community as well. And that led me to another understanding of the word “ecumenical,” which comes from the Greek word oikoumene, from a psalm that says “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the oikoumene and all that dwell therein.” It’s a very broad term, and Christians have very much narrowed it to “some of my best friends are Anglicans.” But it’s got three meanings: one is inter-church, one is inter-faith (which is really important in Canada), but the root meaning of it is the whole inhabited world. So the gospel is for everyone. That greatly enlarged my understanding of what mission and ecumenism is about.

Your work has always been connected with more than just the United Church…

Absolutely. And more than just the church. It’s been what’s happening in the community. The Bible says “God so loved the world” not “God so loved the church.”

There’s a lot of talk right now about ecumenical winter, and this sense that the fervour of earlier decades is dying down. What is your opinion of the ecumenical moment we are living now?

It’s certainly diminished. In numbers of people committed to it, and also in terms of the budgets that churches allow it. They do not support it the way they used to. For me, my first thought in mission was always to seek out colleagues who were going to engage with me in it. So I tried to do nothing as United Church, but always in an ecumenical setting. And now that extends almost to interfaith as well, in some instances.

It’s a very strange thing, because you would think as mainline churches diminish in numbers they would seek to join others for strength, but the opposite is happening. We’re all into survival, and let’s keep our own little thing going, and I think that’s death. There’s no sense of mission there. Not understanding that if you don’t give your life away, it’ll go. You’ve lost it. To give away your life is to save it. That is one of the paradoxes of the gospel.

Why do you think there has been this withdrawal? Is that rooted in fear, or is it rooted in people feeling like they have fewer resources to use?

I’m not sure when it started. I know now it is certainly connected to the survival instinct. The last thing they are going to do is seek out their neighbours, because ecumenism is not a cup of tea – I mean, it’s hard work. And who wants that when your roof is collapsing or you can’t repair the furnace. But I think it started earlier and I’m not sure why. I just don’t know. It’s a great mystery to me.

One of the marvellous things we had going in Canada were those inter-church coalitions, that dealt with Latin America and all sorts of issues. That’s all gone –well not quite, it’s been picked up by Kairos, but because of lack of resources they are not able to do one quarter of what we were able to do then. And for me, I was asked to go on many of those fact-finding trips around the world, and that re-converted me. My thesis is that Christians have to be in a state of perpetual conversion, and it certainly re-converted me when I saw what was going on in Latin America. But that doesn’t happen now, and you can’t ship the whole world elsewhere to find out what is going on. So I can’t really answer that.

You’ve had a remarkable career in many ways, and you’ve had many successes, but I was wondering if you could speak a little about things that you personally have felt were perhaps failures, or not complete successes.

Well, hardly anything has been a complete success! My life is riddled with failed causes. But I think that is the measure of what you try. The measure of your commitment is the number of times you have tried and failed, not the number of successes. Even the discussion that has been going on about palliative care and end of life and so on, that’s been under discussion for years, and I was always in favour of that, but you know that’s one of the losing causes so far. The gap between the rich and the poor – we tried the Jubilee year, when we asked for forgiveness for all of the in-debt countries, and that worked for awhile but now it’s slipped off the agenda and hardly anyone talks about that anymore. The Gospel speaks of release of the prisoners – I don’t know how many church people go into prisons.

I was at the Jesuit College listening to Sister Prejean, you know, the one who accompanies men on death row, and after her speech someone at the back says “could you tell us what prisons are like on the inside, because very few of us are likely to go in them.” And she says “well, that’s too bad. Have you not read the gospels?” We have to keep doing these things…but I would say my life has been a series of causes that have not been eminently successful. The environment is another one. But that isn’t why you do it. You don’t do it for success anyway, you do it to maintain your own integrity, and for the cause. Because you think it is in keeping with the gospel as you understand it. Success isn’t a gospel category. Faithfulness is, but success isn’t.

I understand you are an avid canoer.

Yes! My first canoe trip went three months. My parents took me every summer, and when I was a minister at Thunder Bay in charge of youth work I decided maybe they [the youth] would like to go canoeing as well, but I said “well, you’ll have to do an hour of Bible study every day because I’m not just taking you on a little trip.” That cut out quite a few of them. And I’m still in touch with many of those girls. It changed their lives, as it changed my life. So I keep doing that, I’ve been taking canoe trips for women over 75 for awhile now. It’s a little slower but we get there.

Do you see canoeing as a kind of spiritual practice?

You know, people ask me that, but I did it as a holiday, for heaven’s sake. But I have to admit that the trees heal me. There is a certain healing quality there in the trees and the hills and the loons and the water. I think many people feel that. I certainly felt it. But I don’t do it as a spiritual exercise, I do it as a holiday. But I do get fed by it, and it gets me through the winter.


Anglican Journal News, December 03, 2014

Loren Mead: Still stuck on the importance of the local church

Posted on: November 25th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Forty years after starting the Alban Institute, Loren Mead is still convinced that the local church is ‘where the rubber meets the road.’


Forty years after founding the Alban Institute, the Rev. Loren Mead still believes in the fundamental importance of congregations.

“I am still stuck on the importance of the local church,” he said.

It was that “monomania,” he said, that prompted him to create the institute in 1974.

“I sort of woke up in ministry with a sense that whatever’s going on, it’s the parish that’s the issue, that the local church is where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “And I focused on that part of the institutional framework.”

At the time, many in the church discounted the life of local congregations, but Mead was “clear that that was not the way to go, that we needed strong local churches.”

Looking back, Mead said he hasn’t been surprised at the track record of mainline and other churches over the past 40 years, and he offered a general critique.

“It feels like we’ve been fighting a defensive war and not shifting our model to understand the power of the laity as the important part of the church,” he said. “We’ve gotten more hierarchical and defensive. We’re worrying about how to survive rather than what we ought to be doing.”

An ordained Episcopal priest, Mead is an educator, consultant and author who has worked to strengthen religious institutions, especially local congregations. He served from 1974 to 1994 as president of the Alban Institute, developing its national, multidenominational work of research, publishing, education and consulting.

He spoke recently with Alban at Duke Divinity and Faith & Leadership about the institute and its work. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: You started the Alban Institute 40 years ago, in 1974. Tell us about that. Why did you start it?

Well, a lot of it goes back before Alban. I sort of woke up in ministry with a sense that whatever’s going on, it’s the parish that’s the issue, that the local church is where the rubber meets the road.

And I focused on that part of the institutional framework. I probably discounted a lot of other important things, simply because that was what I felt called to deal with. The parish is what I was about. I expanded to look at other things that affect parishes, but that was my monomania.

Q: What were the issues at the time? What was it about congregations that caught your attention?

What I saw was a church that largely discounted the life of the local congregation. At the time, in the 1960s, clergy were leaving in large numbers to go into all kinds of social work and whatnot. I was clear that that was not the way to go, that we needed strong local churches.

I was partly reacting to the negative image that seminaries and churches had in the ’60s. Everybody said, “You need to go where the action is” — and that was not where the church was. I thought that was just wrong.

I was asked to do an experimental project for the Episcopal Church, Project Test Pattern, and for three years I studied local churches, how to change and strengthen them.

We were beginning to worry about people leaving the church. We didn’t have the data yet, but everybody told me that the problem was evangelism — we weren’t getting people into the church.

I discovered that the problem was that they were leaving the church. We got lots of people into the churches in the ’50s and ’60s. I mean, they flocked in — couldn’t stop them — but they went out the back door after a year or two. I always thought that the issue of evangelism is, “How do you close the back door?” more than worrying about getting them in the front door.

In Project Test Pattern, we experimented with organizational development that was being used then in education and management — industry and universities. We sent consultants in to work with congregations.

Previous efforts at changing congregations were pretty thin. People would tell congregations what to do, and they would or wouldn’t do it. People in the church structures would develop programs for congregations, but they never found out whether the programs worked or not.

What we did was send trained people into congregations to help them make decisions about what they needed to do, what they needed to respond to. And the consultants wrote up what they discovered and what they saw and what happened.

That was the key turning point. We started getting data about what really happens in congregations. Before, most of what we knew about churches was from sermons about churches or proposals that people made for churches. We didn’t know what actually went on in a church board, for example, or what happened when people got in a fight in a church.

These consultants began writing reports of what they saw happen in churches, and what they tried and what the reaction to the trial was. We began to build up a body of information and knowledge about what happens with churches. That was the basic thing we did in that project.

Q: What were some of the most important of those findings? What did you learn in assisting these congregations over the 20 years you headed Alban?

I guess the first thing we learned was that you can learn, that you don’t have to just sit down and accept what happens. We can learn what is going on; we can learn how to change it; we can learn how to plan what we’re going to do and then figure out how to do it.

We learned that every congregation went through crises, and those crises were when they were open to change. Probably the major crisis that happens to any congregation is the change of pastors.

Every time a pastor changes, a congregation has an opportunity to change. We came to see it as the critical point in the life of a congregation.

Pastors didn’t like to hear that, because we pastors think the most important thing is what we help the church do. But the fact is, the biggest change that happens in a church is already over when the pastor gets there. The congregation has had to face the loss of a previous pastor and decide where they want to go. When you come in, if it’s been done well, the congregation is ready to go in some new directions.

So we spent a lot of time working with placement systems and trying to help people learn. We helped develop the concept of “interim pastor” and ways to train and prepare them to go in and help the congregation get over the previous pastor and get ready for the new one.

Q: Do most congregations take advantage of that opportunity for change? Or does it just inevitably happen in any pastoral transition?

We thought for years it just would happen, but we discovered — and others discovered — that paying attention to that change point is a critical, strategic issue for the church. But most churches don’t see it that way. They see it as “an unfortunate time we’ve got to go through before we can get a new pastor.”

But we discovered that often the most creative moments in a church’s life happen when the pastor isn’t there.

That’s true of the interim period, but also, for example, when a pastor’s on a sabbatical, or the pastor is unable to get to a board meeting, and the board goes in a new direction. Sometimes the way pastors relate to congregations makes it difficult for the people in the congregation to have their true authority.

Congregations that go through a long period without a pastor always think everything’s going to hell in a bandwagon or something, but before long they discover that they’re learning new things and doing things in new ways and feeling pretty good about it.

Another crisis point we discovered was church fights. Most people hate the thought of them, and they’re terrible experiences, but we found that a church fight often opens a congregation up to new life. Things that have been neglected have to be dealt with.

Most churches try to squelch fights. And people today think the way to deal with conflict is for some people to leave the church. Sometimes that works, but we felt that it’s possible to learn something from conflict management to make that kind of crisis different.

Q: These discoveries from 30 or 40 years ago seem very relevant to church life today.

Yes, I think they are.

I was ordained in 1955, at a time when the church was on an incoming tide. This was after the Second World War. The strength of the American economy was unmatched; we were getting richer; there was more money; the church was popular. Religion was important in everybody’s life; it was the way we made community in a lot of places.

From 1950 to 1965, we had a massive movement of people into the churches. We built stronger institutions. Our seminaries were made stronger; membership went up; every judicatory, every Methodist conference and Episcopal diocese built a headquarters. People who used to run a judicatory with a bishop and a secretary suddenly had five or six people on the staff.

And about 1965, the mainline churches — and about 25 years later, the evangelical churches — discovered that the tide had peaked. It was 1966, I think, that the Methodist Church for the first time lost members. The tide started going out, and since at least 1970 the membership and strength of the churches has been declining, and the institutional structures we built in the ’50s and ’60s we can no longer pay for. But all of that related to local churches.

Q: If you were launching an Alban Institute today, would you still focus on local congregations or on repairing those larger institutional structures?

I am still stuck on the importance of the local church. And I think that a lot of those other structures came and went.

The structures of the churches think organizationally, but they often don’t see the interrelationship between things. When we started Alban, we discovered that churches of different denominations are dealing with the same stuff, but they do not share what they know with each other.

Our denominations make us siloed, so that each denomination is trying to solve its problem by itself, and they don’t realize other congregations down the street are having the same troubles. We have to relate them to what other congregations are doing.

Q: Has that situation improved over the last 40 years? Are congregations working together a little better?


For example, take the loss of members in a church. In the ’70s, I was consulting with a bunch of churches in New England. And everywhere I went, I found big churches having the same problem. They had built a church for 1,000 members but now had only 200 members. And they were all asking, “What can we do to get more members?”

I remember working with one in Scarsdale, New York. They had lost members and were having a hard time paying their bills, but they were stuck on the fact that they no longer had a strong youth program. So they decided they would raise a lot of money and get a new youth director.

What they didn’t know was that all their young people had moved on and gone to other places. There had also been demographic changes, with a large increase in Jewish residents and a large number of Japanese immigrants. The church was trying to recapture what they had been 20 years before. They didn’t look at what was going on in the world around them.

And then I found that all these large churches were each trying to solve it themselves. They didn’t realize that changes were happening all over New England. They were just looking at themselves. They didn’t know that every church in town had the same problem. [Each denomination was] trying to solve it on a congregational basis, when the problem was a systems problem.

We lost the capacity to look at larger issues. We were structured to deal with things denominationally, when the problems weren’t denominational. We thought the answer was a new program or a new staff person, when first we had to figure out what was going on in the world around us.

Our judicatories really have that responsibility, to look at the larger picture, but they are also siloed. They only see their own churches; they don’t see the larger issues.

Q: Are there any areas where you think the church, especially the mainline churches, have made progress, have done things right?

I think basically they’ve tried to double down on what they used to be and have not looked at the new things that are coming along.

But there are a few areas. When we started, seminaries and the judicatories and most of the congregations were concerned that people coming out of seminaries were remarkably well-educated in theology and denominational matters but didn’t know how to lead a congregation.

We helped do some research on the boundary between the seminary and the congregation in the 1980s and 1990s. A lot of seminaries now have programs to help with the transition from the seminary to the congregation, and that’s helped a lot.

Another thing, when I came out of the parish, there was very little continuing education available for clergy other than book learning. Very few training agencies that worked with congregations helped pastors learn how to lead. Now, a lot of seminaries have some kind of continuing education that isn’t strictly academic.

Also, when we started, it was hard to get good publications about the nitty-gritty of parish life. Now, many publishers are publishing stuff that comes straight out of the life of parishes.

But there are still too many things trying to tell parishes what to do. If there’s one terrible thing the church does, it’s that we believe in gimmicks, that there is a gimmick somewhere that will fix it all. I don’t believe that.

Q: As you look back over the past 40 years, what has most surprised you? Anything catch you unaware about how the church has developed or not developed in the U.S.?

I guess not. It feels like we’ve been fighting a defensive war and not shifting our model to understand the power of the laity as the important part of the church. We’ve gotten more hierarchical and defensive. We’re worrying about how to survive rather than what we ought to be doing.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity,  Faith & Leadership Newsletter, November 04, 2014

How the Canadian hymnal evolved

Posted on: November 24th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments


By Diana Swift


The hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada, created 1905 to 1908, “became the first concrete expression of the new national spirit of the church,” says historical musicologist Kenneth Hull.    Photo: Diana Swift


The stormy history of the Canadian Anglican hymnal might surprise many who each week sing contentedly from the Book of Common Praise. At a recent conference commemorating the 175th anniversary of the Anglican diocese of Toronto’s founding, Kenneth Hull recounted how this small book became an ecclesiastical football in the latter half of the 19th century and a touchstone for burgeoning Canadian nationalism.

“The first authorized hymnal of the Canadian church, created 1905 to 1908, became the first concrete expression of the new national spirit of the church and was a pivotal moment in the life of Canada’s new General Synod,” said Hull, a historical musicologist and associate professor of music at Ontario’s University of Waterloo.

Hull spoke Nov. 1 at the University of Trinity College, University of Toronto, in the conference session “The Beauty of Holiness.” He noted that 19th-century hymn practices were very diverse across Canadian dioceses, many of which had their own customized collections. England’s Hymns Ancient and Modern (A&M), originally published in 1861, predominated but shared the stage with the more evangelical collections Hymnal Companion to the Book of Common Prayer and Church Hymns, published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Preferences split sharply along low church versus high church and Anglo-Catholic versus evangelical lines. “In reaction to the perceived high church theology of A&M, in 1874 the diocese of Huron approved two evangelical collections for parish worship, thereby cutting out A&M,” said Hull, adding that this was an expression of the diocese’s “militantly low church convictions.” In contrast, A&M, with its high church complement of old plainsong hymns, was widely used in the neighbouring diocese of Toronto. New Brunswick’s diocese of Fredericton boasted no fewer than six different hymnals.

The sacred songbook battles, fiercely fought in the Canadian Churchman (predecessor to the Anglican Journal), reflected not only the diocesan autonomy of the day but also the theological polarization of a fractious period in Canadian Anglicanism. “The two major parties had their own organizations, leaders, controversialists, networks, mission societies and Sunday school curriculums,” said Hull. “At synods and in the church press, the two sides attacked each other with an energy, and frequently with a scurrility, that is now surprising and even shocking.”

By the end of the 19th century, opinion had diversified and the polarization in churchmanship had softened. As the centrality of church life declined, the focus shifted away from politics and theology to better service. With the creation of the Canadian General Synod in 1893, a new avenue opened up for proposing a national hymn book. Far from being only a component of worship, a Canadian hymnal raised the issue of the Dominion church’s relationship to its English parent: was it just an ex-colonial dependent or a mature partner?

The cause was taken up by Toronto magistrate James E. Jones, who convened hymnal committees and used the pages of the Churchman to ensure passage of the hymn book proposal, which came in 1905. Key was the committees’ operating principle of “unity by inclusion, not by exclusion,” so that worshippers of every Anglican stripe could find hymns to express their style. “For the church to accept such an inclusive book required a tolerance that had not existed concretely before,” said Hull.

Before the authorized hymnal emerged in 1908, there were more polemics and much suggestion gathering. Some looked to the model of the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s 1880 hymn book, which Jones praised for having “driven out a lot of American and other trash.” Others favoured adopting the highly successful hymns of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Another faction preferred importing a collection from the English mother church, which raised the objection that English hymns were “pitched too high for Canadian voices.”

Overall, the polemics and the passionate letters in the Churchman were testimony to the growing importance of music in the church, and to the potentially unifying role of a Canadian hymnal, which finally appeared in 1908.

In other papers, Jonathan Lofft, a junior fellow in divinity at Trinity College, outlined how Edward Marion Chadwick helped create pontificalia for the bishop of Toronto, designing four mitres and, most notably, a magnificent jewel-set crosier. The Toronto lawyer and heraldist also designed a droll coat of arms for Bishop Arthur Sweatman and the coat of arms for General Synod. Lofft also read a paper on behalf of the University of Toronto’s Bruce Russell on the Anglican patronage of Gerald Larkin, scion of the wealthy Salada Tea Company family, which resulted in the ethereally beautiful Trinity College Chapel.


Anglican Journal News, November 03, 2014