Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

“Rebuild My House!”

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

By Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa  (Preacher to the Papal Household)

Sermon given at Westminster Abbey at the inauguration of the General Synod of the Church of England

“REBUILD MY HOUSE!” (Haggai 1:1-8) Westminster Abbey, 24 November 2015

Few prophetic oracles in the Old Testament can be dated so precisely as that of Haggai, which we have just heard in the first reading. We can place it between August and December in the year 520 BC. The exiles, after the deportation to Babylon, have come back to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. They set to work, but soon grow discouraged, each preferring to work on his own house instead. Into this situation comes the prophet Haggai, sent by God with the message we have heard.

The Word of God, once it is proclaimed, remains forever alive; it transcends situations and centuries, each time casting new light. The situation deplored by the prophet is renewed in history each time we are so absorbed in the problems and interests of our own parish, diocese, community – and even of our particular Christian denomination – that we lose sight of the one house of God, which is the Church.

The prophecy of Haggai begins with a reproof, but ends, as we heard, with an exhortation and a grandiose promise: “Go up into the hills, fetch timber and rebuild the House, and I shall take pleasure in it and manifest my glory there” – says the Lord”.

One circumstance makes this point particularly relevant. The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.

The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him. “All things were created through him and for him”; Christ is the light of the world, the one who gives meaning and hope to every human life – and the majority of people around us live and die as if He had never existed! How can we be unconcerned, and each remain “in the comfort of our own panelled houses”? We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.

We need to go back to the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we are facing a largely post-Christian world. When Paul wants to summarise the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” He says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). This is the real “articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae”, the article by which the Church stands or falls.

This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies.

Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church—and with more vigour than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or their man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity. Self-justification! I am convinced that if they were alive today this is the way Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would preach justification through faith!

Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.

The Anglican Church has a special role in all of this. It has often defined itself as a “via media” (a Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches. The presence among you of a priest of the Catholic Church, in circumstances of such special significance, is a sign that something of the kind is already happening.

Let us conclude by returning to the text of Haggai. After the people of Israel, in obedience to the prophet’s invitation, had returned with renewed fervour to the task of rebuilding the temple, God sent His prophet again, this time with a message full of hope and consolation:

“But take courage now, Zerubbabel – it is the Lord who speaks -, courage, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest; courage, all you people of the country – it is the Lord who speaks. To work! I am with you, the Lord of hosts declares; and my Spirit is present among you. Do not be afraid!” (Hg 2, 4-5).

Zerubbabel was the political leader at the time, and Joshua the religious leader. I believe that the Lord wanted me to be among you today, above all to tell you that He is addressing this same message to you, at the inauguration of your Synod and also in view of the meeting planned for next January between the leaders of the entire Anglican communion: “Take courage, Your Majesty, Sovereign of this nation, courage, Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, courage Sentamu, Archbishop of York, courage, you bishops, clergy and laity of the Church of England! To work, because I am with you. Says the Lord!”


Church of England Friday Mailing, November 27, 2015

Changing times mean new stresses for clergy

Posted on: November 29th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Are priests today so busy they can’t find the time to pray? Image: Shutterstock.

Being a cleric, no doubt, has always posed unique stresses, but the challenges now being placed on the church by the turbulence and uncertainty of modern life, some spiritual and mental health leaders say, are adding considerably to the strain.

“The church is under a lot of stress at the moment—there’s a lot of challenges,” says Linda Nicholls, area bishop of Trent-Durham and spearhead of a “healing ministry” pilot project that ran for about five years in the diocese of Toronto. These challenges, she says, often fall on the shoulders of priests.

Given the greatly diminished role the churches play in most people’s lives, priests today, Nicholls says, need to be proactive in attracting people—but few have been taught how to do this. Confronted with declining church attendance, it’s easy for clerics schooled in traditional forms of ministry to feel at a loss, she says.

“For clergy, particularly those who were trained in the pastoral care model, the stress is, ‘What am I supposed to be doing, and how am I supposed to do it?’ and ‘I haven’t been trained for this,’ ” she says. “And parishes can be very difficult, because congregations that are under stress look for somebody to blame, and it’s very easy to blame the clergy. But clergy don’t have control over all of the factors that go into the health and vitality of a congregation. And so the stress level of it has been extremely high.”

Empty pews, of course, threaten the very livelihoods of priests.

“Their job depends on the financial stability of the congregation, and so they’re watching the financial strain of a congregation and realizing that it could mean their job, and they don’t know what’s next,” Nicholls says.

“I do think we’re in interesting times,” agrees the Rev. Susan Titterington, a psychotherapist and rector of St. Chad’s Anglican Church in Winnipeg. “If you’re a cleric during this transition time, you have different expectations than perhaps you were trained for.” And the possibility of not always being able to find full-time work with the church, given declining attendance,  “raises a lot of personal stress,” especially for clerics who don’t have the qualifications for any other sort of work, she says.

Beyond shrinking congregations, says Titterington, modern life has also meant a shift in attitudes toward the church. Whereas decades ago people were more likely to look at priests with respect and at their work with admiration, many now look at the church and its agents not only as irrelevant but even sinister, she says, given, for example, the role of the Anglican and other churches in Canada in the Indian residential school system.

“I’ve met some people who have asked, ‘How can you serve the church, after what the church did?’ ” she says.

Meanwhile, the old stresses attached to priesthood remain. One of these, says Nicholls, is the expectation that clerics bring comfort and hope and a calm presence in tragic situations—often involving people they’ve come to know and love. “Especially if you’ve been the cleric in a parish for a long time, you care about the people you’re working with,” she says. “And so your own emotions are also part of that, and you have to know how to work with that, find a space that allows you to be in the presence of Christ in that moment, and deal with your own pain and your own grief and your own struggle in your own time.”

“They might be burying a 16-year-old today and rejoicing at the birth of a baby in a family the next day,” agrees Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, chief executive officer of The Southdown Institute, a psychological treatment facility for clergy outside Toronto. “It’s an emotionally laden job.”

As reported this November in the Anglican Journal, Arctic suffragan Bishop Darren McCartney, after serving as pastor in the northern community of Pangnirtung from 2003 to 2006, returned to his native Ireland for a few years to deal with the psychological strain of ministering to a community laden with despair and death.

“I needed to get out to clear my head,” he said. “I had 17 suicides in three years in a community of about 1,500 people…In that environment, in that culture and in that role, you are very close to people, and so there was a lot of pain and, I suppose, secondary trauma for me.”

Adding to the strain, Heiderscheit says, is the fact that there’s never really a time when clerics are off-duty.

“They’re on deck 24/7. It’s constant,” she says. And it’s a kind of work, she says, that can pull in many directions at once, requiring priests to be not just pastors but administrators and overseers—CEOs of a sort.

Coping with the stresses of their work can be extra-difficult for priests, Titterington says, because the need to ensure parishioners can speak to them in confidentiality can have an isolating effect. “We can’t talk to just anybody about what’s going on,” she says. “You may not even be able to share it with a partner or spouse, what you’re dealing with.”

Some research currently being done on clergy wellness suggests that the biggest stressor facing priests is one that will sound all-too-familiar to many of us: time pressure.

Since July 2014, Wanda Malcolm, a clinical psychologist and professor of pastoral psychology at the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College, has been heading a research project looking at the causes of stress and satisfaction among clergy. At the heart of the project is a set of questionnaires to be completed by clerics who have volunteered to take part in the study. This includes what Malcolm calls the “negative aspects inventory”—a list of 69 stressors she gleaned from extensive interviews with clergy before the study started. Participants, most of whom so far have been Anglican clerics from across Canada, are asked to rate both how intensely and how frequently they experience each stressor.

The list of stressors provides in itself a revealing glimpse into the soul of the Canadian pastor. Among them: “Feeling responsible to be the face of Christ to those I serve.” “Not feeling motivated to pray.” “Being emotionally and/or sexually attracted to someone I minister to.” “Being expected to have an answer for tough questions.” “Having to interact with those I minister to at ministry-related social events.”

According to results compiled so far in the 10-year study, the most important category of stressor is time-related issues. The second is issues around prayer—a finding that surprised the research team, Malcolm says.

Though it’s too early to conclude why they rated prayer so negatively, Malcolm says, one possibility is that many clerics are feeling frustrated because they hold prayer in very high value but are finding their prayer lives hampered by the demands of their work. “A lot of the other demands of their ministry life would interfere with having a deep and substantive prayer life,” she says. “So that would induce stress—I really care about prayer, but I can’t find the time to do it.”

Though statistics on the mental health of clerics are hard to come by, the experience of long-term disability claims at the Anglican Church of Canada’s pension office seems to provide some support to the notion that stresses have been building over recent decades.

“Up until the end of 2004 our long-term disability claims were really, I would say, out of control,” says pension office executive director Judy Robinson. The trend was reversed, she says, only after the office introduced a new plan design, one in which much more effort was made to communicate with people on short-term disability to help them manage their problems before they become long-term.

“The earlier people seek help, especially for stress-related disabilities, the more likely that their claim will not go very long,” she says.

“Our experience has really levelled out. I wouldn’t say it’s excellent, because I think the nature of the work people do here is pretty stressful, [but] the experience of the plan now is predictable.”

A range of resources related to clergy wellness—including information about diocese-based wellness initiatives, the “Fresh Start” program for easing times of transition and books—have been developed by the national church on its website. The web page is introduced by a note on a growing awareness of the stresses facing clergy—and a lack of understanding on how they ought to be dealt with. “Everyone, it seems, is aware of cases of ‘good clergy burning out,’…[but] it is clear that there is need for further analysis, sociological, professional and theological, of what is happening.”


Anglican Journal News, November 27, 2015

Church on the slopes

Posted on: November 26th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


The Franziskus Chapel, on the slopes of Mount Tod, serves Christians who come from all over the world to ski in British Columbia’s Central Interior. Photo: Dwight Oatway

It doesn’t have a regular working congregation, it doesn’t have a priest and it doesn’t even belong to a specific denomination. Instead, the small chapel perched on the slopes of Mount Tod, 50 km north of Kamloops, B.C., provides a vital service to an unusual demographic: the diverse, international, ever-changing group of Christians staying at the Sun Peaks ski resort during the winter sports season.

“It’s kind of a unique thing,” explains Dwight Oatway, a lay canon for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior. “I don’t know of anywhere else that does this. We get a lot of Americans up…for ski holidays, and they say they don’t know of any place down in the States where there’s a chapel up on the hill where they could go to church.”

Oatway is one of a rotating group of five lay ministers who perform prayers services at the chapel throughout the winter. He says it is always a surprise seeing the diversity of the people who show up.

“You get them from all over the world,” he says. “You get to meet all these different people and discuss their faith. Of course, we start by saying that we’re from the Anglican cathedral in downtown Kamloops, but we just do a kind of generic prayer service. [We] get all different religions.”

The Franziskus Chapel, which was completed in 1999 and holds 15-20 people, was the dream of Peter Stumboeck, the owner of Sun Peaks Lodge. Stumboeck died in 2000, and in 2004, the lodge was taken over by Mario and Silviai Erler, of Germany.

“It started out with the idea that priests or pastors would be there every Sunday, and it ran like that for about two or three years,” Oatway says. Unfortunately, this arrangement became unsustainable, and services were taken over as a project of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Kamloops under the leadership of Brian Smith, an Anglican lay reader. When Smith moved to Winnipeg five years ago, Oatway stepped in to continue the work.

The services are kept quite simple. “We have a prayer service that lasts about 20 minutes to half an hour,” Oatway says. “It’s strictly run by laypeople, and we do a small homily in conjunction with the service…our members are not professional writers or anything, but we just give from our heart what we feel for the day, and I think everybody really appreciates what we do there.”

The lay ministers have used several different prayer services, including one from Iona, but Oatway says that the current one was written specifically for use in the chapel by the former dean of the cathedral, Louise Peters (now executive director at the Sorrento Retreat and Conference Centre).

“It’s got a lot about the mountain, the hills and the streams, and it ties in the whole idea of being on the mountain,” Oatway says. “It’s really neat, and people really like it.”

André Forget joined the Anglican Journal in 2014 as staff writer and social media lead. He also serves as managing editor of Whether Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, The Winnipeg Review, and the Town Crier.


Anglican Journal News, November 24, 2015

Wife of Henry VIII wrote BCP prayer

Posted on: November 18th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments


Professor Micheline White says that her “surprising” discovery reveals the role women played in the creation of the BCP. Photo Credit: Carleton University

A Canadian university professor has discovered that the Prayer for the Monarch, contained in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and retained by many provinces, in one form or another, was written by Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, and selected for use in the BCP by Queen Elizabeth I.Chris Cline, a spokesperson for Carleton University in Ontario, described the discovery as “surprising”, telling ACNS that “it has always been assumed that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was composed and edited entirely by male clergymen.”

Professor Micheline White made her “accidental” discovery while researching one of Parr’s Ladies-in-Waiting. She came across a book of prayers published by Parr, which included a prayer for the King which struck a remarkable similarity to the prayer still used in the BCP.

“I was astonished,” White said in an interview with CBC, “because although it was a book of private prayers which I assumed . . . were apolitical and a bit boring, I realized that, in fact, they were intensely political and that it was a major work of military propaganda. . .

“The thing that really caught my eye was at the back of the book, there was a prayer for the King; and I thought ‘mmm, that’s a bit odd.’ Prayers for the King were tightly controlled. They are about the King’s image and Henry has a whole batch of advisers who manage his image for him. So why would he be asking Parr to disseminate a prayer about him that depicts him to his people.”

She told CBC that “Only senior male clergymen could be involved in putting together the text that everybody uses in public worship every Sunday. And so to find that even in 1559 under Elizabeth, that a text . . . produced by a woman, was included in the Book of Common Prayer is just very surprising. . . It means that women were not only authors of prayers for public worship, but they were also editors.”

Speaking to ACNS, White said that “The critical editions of the BCP and the existing historical scholarship on the 1549, 1552, and 1559 editions of the BCP all assume that clergymen were responsible for editing, translating, and compiling [it]. Previous scholars have not raised the possibility that Elizabeth or Parr, or any other women, were involved at all in the editing and writing of parts of the BCP.”

The BCP was first compiled and edited by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and revised in 1552. It was further edited under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1559, after Cranmer’s death, and again, more extensively, in 1662, leading to the version that is most commonly found in use today.

The Prayer Book Society (PBS) works to “defend the continued use of the Prayer Book [and] to secure an increasingly significant role for this sometimes neglected treasure at the heart of the worshipping life of this and future generations.”

“While some of the prayers came directly from [Cranmer’s] own heart and pen, he also drew together material from other sources,” Prudence Dailey, chairman of the PBS told ACNS. “While it can safely be assumed that the great majority of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer were composed by clergy – who would, of course, by definition have been male – I don’t think it would be terribly surprising if one of them originated with Queen Katherine Parr, since the Prayer Book contains prayers drawn together from a variety of sources, not all of which are known with certainty.

“We do, of course, already know that the development of the BCP was not devoid of some female influence—that of Queen Elizabeth.”

A Prayer for the King, by Katharine Parr (1512-1548)

O Lord Jesu Christ, most high, most mighty, king of kinds, lord or lords, the only ruler of princes, the very son of God, on whose right hand sitting, dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: with most lowly hearts we beseech thee, vouchsafe with favourable regard to behold our most gracious sovereign lord, King Henry the eight, and so replenish him with the grace of thy holy spirit, that he always incline to thy will and walk in thy way. Keep him far off from ignorance, but through thy gift, let prudence and knowledge always abound in his royal heart. So instuct him (O LORD JESU) reigning upon us in earth, that his human majesty always obey thy divine majesty in fear and dread. Indue him plentifully with heavenly gifts. Grant him in health and wealth long to live. Heap glory and honour upon him. Glad him with the joy of thy countenance. So strengthen him, that he may vanquish and overcome all his and our foes, and be dread and feared of all the enemies of his realm. Amen.

A Prayer for the Queen’s Majesty, as found in the Book of Common Prayer

O Lord, our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Anglican Journal News, November 18, 2015

Gregory Wolfe: Art, theology and faith

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

Gregory Wolfe

Gregory Wolfe is a writer, teacher and editor and is the founder of Image journal, which focuses on faith and the arts.
Photos courtesy of Gregory Wolfe

The founder and editor of Image journal talks about why it’s important for people of faith — and those grappling with questions of faith — to engage with art.

Does religion have a culture problem, or does culture have a religion problem? Has the Christian community sacrificed beauty in search of truth and virtue?

Gregory Wolfe, the Seattle-based founder of the arts and literature journal Image (link is external), has been grappling with these questions for decades, walking a fine line between provocation and conciliation, originality and tradition.

“That tension between what Christians would call a fallen world and the ideal itself is a form of beauty,” Wolfe said.

In addition to editing the journal, Wolfe is a teacher and author. Among his books are “Beauty Will Save the World (link is external),” “Malcolm Muggeridge: A Biography, (link is external)” “Sacred Passion: The Art of William Schickel (link is external)” and his latest book of collected essays, “The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith and Mystery (link is external).”

Wolfe, who is also the founder of the master of fine arts program in creative writing at Seattle Pacific University, spoke with Faith & Leadership to share his thoughts on art, faith and the value of leadership. The following is an edited transcript.

Cover of Image magazine

Q: You started the journal Image in 1989, near the beginning of the culture wars. Were you tempted to use the journal to enter into those debates?

Those debates were sterile at best and truly destructive at worst, for both church and society. The impulse of the journal’s founding was really to find a different way.

Our editors were very much aware that in many Christian circles, the preferred method of engaging the world was primarily in the areas of apologetics and politics. The models were to get votes and win souls. Both models overemphasize rationality and a kind of dry or abstract affirmation of doctrine.

We believed that this was an imbalance. Imagination was being slighted. For centuries within Christian circles, it’s been tricky to promote things like beauty when truth and goodness seem to get all the good PR. Beauty seems to be untrustworthy, or potentially even dangerous. In the Christian tradition, we have emphasized faith and reason to the exclusion of imagination.

Without a balance, we tend toward abstraction and legalism. We tend to see everything in terms of warfare, and we treat religion as a set of propositions rather than as an encounter with a presence.

Q: Do you think religious art or art of any kind has to be beautiful?

A lot of people think that beauty really means prettiness or attractiveness or the ideal. This goes way back. The Greeks struggled with it. On the one hand, they loved the ideal form, the supermodel.

On the other hand, there was Greek tragedy. There was this sense that beauty, in a very strange way, can coexist with brokenness. That Oedipus — with his eyes gouged out and blood and gore dripping down his face — was in some mysterious way an image of beauty, an image of dignity in distress.

That tension between what Christians would call a fallen world and the ideal itself is a form of beauty. Tragedy is not only part of the Greek tradition; it’s part of the Christian tradition, too.

To understand that the cross ties into all this is very important. I really don’t feel that the problem is with beauty; I think it’s with the ways that we’ve historically come to define what beauty is.

Q: The artwork in Image is almost exclusively contemporary. How do you decide what art and which artists fit with the journal?

We joke around the office that dead people need not apply. And it’s not because we slight the tradition. We are very much traditionalists. But that particular choice was made precisely during the era of the culture wars.

I sometimes think that anger is underestimated as a motive for true leadership. Back when we were hammering out plans for this journal, one thing that angered us was the strange confluence of agreement between two vastly different groups of people.

On the one hand, there were millions of believers in America who seemed convinced that modern art was always capitalized — “Modern Art” — and that it was monolithic and terrible. In other words, the world itself, and modern art with it, had become so tainted that the best we could do would be to circle the wagons around an older cultural heritage.

On the other hand, sophisticated secular intellectuals and cultural gatekeepers welcomed this. Why? Because Freud and others had made it abundantly clear that religion was escapism, so there could be no way to make new, great art out of an engagement with faith. Art is fundamentally about the real, and if you’re running away from reality, you can’t generate great art.

Our question at Image was, how could millions of religious believers and hundreds if not thousands of cultural-intellectual gatekeepers agree that this was not possible? So our choice to focus on the contemporary was deliberate.

Q: So the contemporary focus is deliberate, but what about the often nonreligious focus? How do you decide what’s appropriate for the magazine?

Not all short stories have to be about troubled youth ministers or alcoholic priests. Not every poem has to be about Lot’s wife. There have been hundreds of thousands of poems written about Lot’s wife, so we can take a little holiday from those for a century or two.

So what’s the criterion after that? I think there’s an element of mystery to it, a case-by-case approach. You look for resonances, you look for some sense of moral or spiritual tradition as having a kind of resonance in the world.

We’re open not only to contributors who are happily ensconced in a creedal and institutional context but also to those who are angry, those who are baffled, those who are puzzled, those who are, like Jacob, wrestling with the angel.

I call these people “grapplers,” because I think the word “seeker” is, frankly, too lame. You can be seeking for your brand of coffee on the shelf. But to grapple with something, to really not be willing to let it go, even if you’re hurt and confused and upset — that’s something. And I love that the grapplers mix in our pages with those who are more comfortable with faith and religious institutions.

The mixture of such quiet resonances between these pieces in any given issue is one of the great joys of the journal.

Q: How does being Catholic influence you as a writer and editor?

Catholics believe that the world, while fallen, still isn’t so broken that it doesn’t provide us with good analogies to understand God. We have a sacramental view that’s willing to look for those resonances without jumping immediately to the doctrinal or intellectual or philosophical divides. There’s a kind of predilection toward seeking unity, seeking a kind of fundamental human commonality.

No good-minded Catholic would say that we can figure all this stuff out without revelation. But the incarnation reveals to us that we can look at the world and discover things, and I believe that’s important.

Then again, I was not raised Catholic. I became Catholic while in graduate school, in part because of art. I was reading these great Catholic novelists of the 20th century — writers like [Graham] Greene, [Evelyn] Waugh, [Flannery] O’Connor, [Walker] Percy, [Georges] Bernanos and Muriel Spark. And I was exposed to painters like Georges Rouault and others. Their sacramentality as artists won me over.

Q: Do you have your own spiritual practices that are related to art?

I’ve been blessed in my vocation, because I really am able to embody that old Benedictine motto of ora et labora — to pray and to work. The process of reading all this rich material and then finding what we could publish and share with the world gives me an opportunity for a contemplative search for grace.

For me, slogging through the slush pile means potentially being surprised by joy and grace and even pain, but the kind of pain that is a tragic awareness of the beauty of broken things.

The other part of my life, of course, is nurturing the capacity of people to go and do these things. I’m a teacher, an educator, the founder of an MFA program in these areas. So I can understand how craft and artistic discipline are similar to ancient spiritual practices. When I’m trying to help a writer write more honestly and more poignantly, I’m really in some sense looking to enable her to tell her story, to expose the moment of grace and the epiphany.

I get these two great pathways — content and form, or vision and craft — both of which are deeply meditative. Sometimes I feel guilty that I try to make that stand in the place of actual prayer, and I probably have something to answer for there. On the other hand, at the end of the day, I really do believe that those are true forms of spiritual practice.

Q: Do you see yourself as an institution builder?

I do. I think building institutions is a lot like marriage. You don’t really foresee everything that’s involved up front, because you’re too in love with the immediate moment. I just loved literary publications and quarterlies so much that I wanted to make one. But I woke up the next morning realizing I had to figure out a way to keep it going.

I think that you’re the best institution builder when you don’t set out to build institutions but rather to pursue what you love. But I had this shock pretty quickly — the morning after, so to speak — realizing what life would have to be like. I decided that if I loved this enough, I had to be serious about the rest, because I wouldn’t have the one without the other.

So I received a whole education in what founding sustained institutions is all about. It’s a rare skill, but I think it’s very important in the larger economy of work and ministry for people who have a passion for “a long obedience in the same direction,” to quote the title of a Eugene Peterson book.

Q: What was the hardest thing for you to learn in terms of transferring a passion into an ability?

One of the key moments for me was learning when to step aside, and learning that, for all of the inestimable value of the fanatical founder, sometimes the successful completion of an activity requires a community rather than just an individual.

My biggest problem about getting out of the way was that I framed it to myself as if I was being virtuous, as if it was an act of humility.

For instance, I took forever to get a real board of directors going. I kept saying to myself, “Well, how can I ask these busy, important people to come hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets and hotels just to help me with this project? Who am I to ask that much of people?”

Eventually, people started to say to me, “Greg, so it’s really about you! You’re saying you don’t have the right to ask this of people, as if it depends on your will. What if these people want to come because they believe in what the total package is about?” It took me a long time to understand that my pride was parading as a false humility.

Q: For someone who isn’t already inclined to be engaged in the arts, what writer, musician or visual artist would you recommend?

I think there are very few people who don’t have any art in their lives, even if they’re just people who have a poster of a sunrise with a Bible verse on it. So I think one simple answer may be a big cliché: just start where you are. What is it that you like? Is there any more of it out there, in museums or concert halls or what have you? Follow the pleasure that you already have.

The funny thing about beauty is that it has this pleasurable element, which has led a lot of people to suspect it. Because, of course, pleasure is always about guilt, right?

So follow your pleasure, and see where it leads you. There’s always a tradition there. Learning about that tradition, learning how even the most contemporary thing has deep roots, can become a great source of pleasure and reward to people.

Blake had this wonderful image of the golden string. It’s sort of like a loose thread in anyone’s experience. If you can find that thread, that golden string, and tug on it, it’s going to lead you somewhere. And I think there are many resources out there for people who are hungry to see whether or not art and imagination and beauty can enrich their lives and make their faith more concrete, more human, less abstract.

Fundamentally, for me, that’s the gift that art gives to theology and faith.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, November 17, 2015

Monks, mushrooms and the sacramental nature of everyday eating

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

Thanksgiving isn’t just a rote exercise over turkey and stuffing one time a year. Truly giving thanks means making the connection between our daily bread and the Bread of Life, writes Fred Bahnson.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m standing in the choir of the church at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery near Charleston, S.C. The priest lifts the bread and wine and asks God to “make them be for us the body and blood of Christ.”

I sing the Lord’s Prayer in halting Gregorian chant. Give us this day our daily bread. My prayer is answered when I line up with the monks to receive Christ’s body and blood. We eat. Then the monks file out the door, on to morning duties, on to earning their daily bread.

I follow Father Guerric, who is in charge of all things agricultural at the abbey, into the garden. Some monks work in the vegetable garden, where they grow collards, pole beans, broccoli and lettuce. Most work in the oyster mushroom operation, which, aside from donations, is the monastery’s main source of income. After chatting with Father Guerric I poke around the monastery gardens and think back to the morning Mass.

Thanksgiving is upon us, a time when “giving thanks” can easily become, even in Christian households, a rote exercise one performs over the turkey and stuffing, a necessary cultural artifact one gets out of the way and doesn’t repeat until the following year. Of course we give thanks at Thanksgiving, whether the thanks is meant or not.

But as I wander the monastery gardens I find myself thinking not about the feast days but of ferial repasts. These are the everyday meals which, without a rich sacramental life to accompany them, become bleak affairs signifying nothing more than the intake of nutrients.

What was the connection between those consecrated elements and the pumpernickel I ate for breakfast or the oyster mushroom risotto I had at lunch? Perhaps our sacramental bread is less a representation of our daily bread than something that actually gives shape and meaning and coherence to it. Eucharistia, in Greek, means thankfulness.

Is there a relationship between the ritual of Eucharist and the amount of appreciation we’re able to muster when we offer God thanks for our food?

And, given that most of the food we eat comes to us via the industrial food system and thus is grown in a matter that could be hard to describe as holy, could it be that we have impoverished food lives precisely because we have impoverished sacramental lives? Looking at the growing movement in the church to reconnect with that most fundamental part of life — food — my answer is yes.

Whether we sit before a simple bowl of soup or a groaning board of turkey and fixings, this moment before we eat is our chance to make the event more than just a herd of animals around a feed trough. Food is not merely fuel or cultural expression. It is the daily sacrament by which we affirm our creatureliness and our utter dependence upon God.

In his book “For the Life of the World,” Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann says, “Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence. A meal is still a rite — the last ‘natural sacrament’ of family and friendship, of life that is more than ‘eating’ and ‘drinking.’ To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that ‘something more’ is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.”

I came to Mepkin Abbey with such a hunger and thirst, and I was not disappointed. I left with the conviction that a life steeped in liturgy and sacrament can make us appreciate what we mostly take for granted: food, shelter, the clothes on our back, a community to support us.

If, as I fear, we face a future of climate disruption, economic crises and a collapsing food system, the need for places like Mepkin takes on practical considerations as well. Father Guerric is modest about his efforts, as the monastery has only recently started focusing on sustainable agriculture. But he sees great possibility for this place to become a model for sustainable  Christian communities. He also sees hope in a growing movement in the church helping people reconnect with the sources of their food, and most importantly to see the link between our daily bread and the Bread of Life.

During the four years I directed a church-supported community garden ministry we would often hold Eucharist in the garden on our Saturday workdays. I came to learn what was confirmed at Mepkin: that the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood doesn’t end at the communion table. It spreads outward into the streets and fields, the creeks and rivers, the gardens and mushroom buildings, the Thanksgiving feasts and the monks’ Spartan tables and back again to the lifted elements. Had we the “conviction of things not seen” we would recognize this seamless flow of nutrients both visible and invisible, profane and holy. And we would be changed.

A final memory of my visit: On my last morning at the abbey, I take a walk in the woods and discover a pile of discarded mushroom spawn, or starter. Growing out of this refuse are several pounds worth of beautiful oyster mushrooms. I take them for what they are: a surprise gift, undeserved, requiring nothing more than to be eaten in gratitude.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, November 17, 2015

Workers for PWRDF partner in the Philippines risk death

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

Abie Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, says the biggest challenge to her group’s work is “the intense militarization in our communities.” Photo: Tali Folkins 

Development and advocacy work everywhere comes with unique stresses. In the Philippines, it can mean risking your life.

Abie Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), knows this first-hand. In 2006, besides having her house ransacked, she had a knife pressed to her throat.

Going home after work one evening, Anongos says, she was grabbed by a knife-wielding man wearing a bandana over his face. She counts herself lucky to have survived.

“He told me not to scream if I wanted to live,” she says. “Of course, my initial reaction was to scream and I just ran for my life.”

Anongos’ organization is an alliance of some 200 non-governmental and community groups from across the Cordilleras, a mountain range in Luzon,  the largest island of the Philippines. A partner of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) since 1985, the alliance promotes the rights of the Indigenous people living in the Cordilleras. According to a document on the PWRDF website, the alliance “supports grassroots mobilization for environmental and socio-economic justice through joint action, networking and capacity building.”

Often, simply put, this means fighting mining companies eager to exploit the region’s minerals—a daunting task, given not only their tendency to hire private enforcers, but also the Philippine army’s officially mandated role as “investment defence force” for industry, says Anongos.

“As far as our experience goes, where there are mining operations and applications, there is military deployment to suppress the opposing communities, to harass the local leaders and members, and this has resulted [in] a significant number of human rights violations across the country,” Anongos says. “It is a very bad experience for the leaders, for the women, for the children, because everybody becomes a victim.”

The year 2006 was especially violent, she says. In that year, one of the members of the CPA’s regional secretariat was gunned down in front of his son; another CPA leader, Dr. Chandu Claver, was ambushed with his family. He and his daughter survived, but his wife did not.

Meanwhile, she says, the killings and disappearances continue. One CPA member disappeared in 2011 and has not been heard from since, Anongos says. Over the past five years, she says, there have been more than 100 extra-judicial killings of Indigenous people in the Philippines.

Some dozen Canadian mining companies are now involved in partnering with Philippines-based companies, Anongos says—and it’s implausible to her that their leaders are unaware of the human rights violations.

“Surely they are aware,” she says. “In our efforts, and with the help of journalists also, we have come up with public information materials that have widely circulated. Actually, they are aware of these, because their local counterparts would issue counter-statements denying the violations….When we come up with alerts, we make sure to send them to the companies themselves.”

The role of Canadian mining companies in international human rights abuses is, many say, relatively unknown to Canadians themselves.

Asked to comment on whether innocent blood was being spilled in the Philippines to protect Canadian mining interests, Jessica Draker, director of communications for the Mining Association of Canada, replied that none of the association’s member companies were active in the Philippines. “Given this, we unfortunately do not have any knowledge of what you are referring to and are not in a position to comment,” she said.

Anongos spoke to the Anglican Journal when she was in Toronto for the PWRDF’s national gathering of board directors, diocesan representatives and youth council on November 4-7. She was expected to give a presentation on the CPA, including a summary of its project work this year.

Among the alliance’s accomplishments, she says, have been the establishment of seven new people’s organizations; the acquisition of draft animals in some communities to help with intense agricultural work; the setting up of simple waterworks systems providing drinking water; and the purchase of machines for rice-pounding.

Some of this project work, simple though it may sound, has had the added effect of developing the leadership potential of the region’s Indigenous women, she says.

“It has eased the burden on women, who are usually tied up with the domestic shores of the household…such that they have more time now to participate in the decision-making activities of the communities,” Anongos says.

The biggest challenge to the CPA’s work, she says, remains—simply put—survival.

“Even during project implementation, the biggest challenge that we met is the intense militarization in our communities,” she says. “Where there is strong community opposition to destructive projects, that’s where the military is…It is sad, in the sense that the work we are doing is in the service of the people. The work that we are doing should be the work of the government.”

Over the past few years, the PWRDF’s funding to the CPA has sat at slightly more than $30,000 per year, according to a PWRDF document; it has also provided emergency response funding on a case-by-case basis.


Anglican Journal News, November 10, 2015

Out of the shadows and into the light

Posted on: November 10th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

“I find that being able to move into my brokenness in a really intentional way actually helps me,” says Melanie Delva, who has been formally diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder in 2007. Photo: Contributed

(Part one of a two-part series on mental health and spirituality. This story first appeared in the November issue of the Anglican Journal.)

Soon after The Rev. Claire Miller arrived at her new parish of St. Thomas Anglican Church in Owen Sound, Ont., she complained to a parishioner about feeling drained. Now, years later, she still remembers his response.

“He said, ‘But you’re holy. You’re closer to God. You shouldn’t be feeling these things.’ ”

If only he knew. For most of her life, Miller says, she has struggled with anxiety and, in her words, “times of deep clinical depression.” Medication has helped her a lot, she says. So has prayer—especially in the form of singing hymns or writing a journal to God.

Every 10 years or so, however, the drug she’s using fails to be effective anymore, and she needs to switch to something new. The adjustment can take two or three months, she says—and put her in places that don’t seem particularly holy.

“There are times that I wonder where God is in this, especially when it goes on too long and I’m thinking I should be feeling better,” she says. “When you’re in the depths of it, that often happens.”


The Rev. Claire Miller, who has struggled with anxiety and clinical depression, says there have been moments when she wondered “where God is in this.” Photo: Contributed.

Miller is definitely not alone. To many people of faith struggling with mental health problems, religion can at times seem like a double-edged sword, suggests Sr. Dorothy Heiderscheit, chief executive officer of Southdown Institute, a psychological treatment facility for clerics outside Toronto. It can be a priceless font of hope and healing, but also a source of particular challenges—putting pressure on clerics, for example, to be almost immune to normal fluctuations of mood.

“We expect them to be a perfect model just short of being God or Jesus Christ,” she says.

For many believers, too, the notion that one can simply pray one’s way through mental distress leads to a form of prayer that is both a “masquerade” of real piety and a barrier to seeking help, says Canon Megan Collings-Moore, chaplain at Renison University College, at the University of Waterloo.

“Because the prayer is masquerading as religious language, it’s harder for them to then move to the point where they say, ‘actually, maybe I should get some help; maybe I should see somebody about that,’” she says.

Or mental illness can even be seen as a sign of sin; the hopelessness of depression necessarily means a lack of faith.

Religion often seems like a blessing to Melanie Delva, archivist at the diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver. Formally diagnosed with recurrent major depressive disorder in 2007, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder, Delva says she has suffered the symptoms of mental illness since around 1995, when she was a teenager. Medication helps her, Delva says, but faith is even more important in helping her cope and grow with her challenges.

“Medication can keep me on the rails to a certain extent, but faith animating life—there’s no medication that can animate life for you,” she says.

“In my own struggle with mental illness, there has been surviving and there has been living…I can go through the motions. I can get up and go to work. But that’s not living. The times when I have been able to live have been times when I have been able to integrate my faith into my survival so that survival becomes life.”

For Delva, this could mean anything from seeing a dandelion growing out from under a dumpster as somehow a miracle of God, or reflecting on Lent to discern meaning in suffering.

“I find that being able to move into my brokenness in a really intentional way actually helps me,” she says. “Lent…helps me to move through my depression, to be able to actually name the brokenness.”

It wasn’t always this way. Delva was raised in a church in which, she says, she was made to feel ashamed about the symptoms of her mental illness. She was told that her depression was the punishment of God for sins perpetrated by her ancestors of the third and fourth generation.

Members of that church, she says, saw her feelings of hopelessness as “me refusing to see the goodness of God in my life, me being selfish…it was my sin, the sin of my family” and suggested that she ought to deal with her despair by, essentially, praying harder.

The advice was intended to help her, she says. But it just made her feel worse.

“I took the messages that people were giving me as…‘this is God’s people speaking God’s word into my life.’ So I saw it as: God is ashamed of me. God is angry at me. God thinks I need to clean up my act.”

Eventually, she felt that God hated her and had abandoned her.

“It absolutely damaged my faith,” she says. “So if I didn’t have that, what hope is there to animate my life? And if I lose my connection to faith and to God, there is nothing to animate hope anymore. So there isn’t anything to get up for in the morning.

“The impact goes both ways. It can turn my life into something that’s worth living and it can turn my life into something that’s not.”

Delva says that when she rejected the teachings of her family’s church, it ostracized her as one of the “lost,” and as a result, she no longer has any contact with her family.

Delva traces these teachings of her family’s church’s to what she says was its radical evangelical strain. Some evidence suggests there may be a connection between evangelical Christianity and the notion that one can simply pray one’s way through mental illness. Nearly half—48%—of evangelical respondents to a 2013 survey said they believed prayer alone could overcome serious mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, compared to 27% of non-evangelical respondents.

If this view is more prevalent among evangelicals, it seems that at least some of them worry about its effects. The 2013 survey was conducted by a U.S. evangelical research firm, LifeWay Research, whose president, Ed Stetzer, said he was concerned by its findings. In an interview with The Guardian, Stetzer said the survey showed churches need to work harder at understanding mental illness.

“You have to distinguish between character change and mental illness, and I think that’s sometimes hard for people to do,” he said.

For her part, Collings-Moore says she sees this kind of belief in Christians of all stripes. “I would say there’s a huge base of Christianity that [believes that] if you believe, you’ll always be assured that God is with you and you’ll always feel that,” she says. It’s akin, she says, to the notion that nothing bad will ever happen to us if we have enough faith—a belief she calls “the total opposite, actually, of the gospel [teaching].

“If that was the truth, then Jesus doesn’t end up on the cross, so clearly that’s not actually what we proclaim!” she says.

Trying to cope with mental illness through prayer alone can be especially dangerous if the illness is long-term. “Pushing through or just keeping going regardless is disastrous for chronic health issues, and a lot of mental health stuff is chronic,” Collings-Moore says.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that mental illness can pose special problems to people of faith, given the often problematic relationship that psychology and religion have had with one another—think, for example, of Sigmund Freud’s view of religion as a kind of psychiatric problem.

Today, however, many people most concerned with faith and mental illness—Christians grappling with mental challenges, psychological professionals and spiritual counsellors—say that the landscape is changing.

In the next part of this series, the Anglican Journal will look at how a shifting understanding of the relationship between faith and psychology is helping mentally-ill Christians both cope with their condition and grow spiritually.


Tali Folkins

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


Anglican Journal News, November 05, 2015

Reflection by the Archbishop in Jerusalem on the situation for refugees in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East

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

Reflection by the Archbishop in Jerusalem on the situation for refugees

By Archbishop Suheil Dawani

The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East serves Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Lebanon. In this article, the Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, reflects on the situation for refugees in the area.

The Samaritan “bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’” (Luke 10:34-35)

The story of the good Samaritan is one that is a guide to Christians across the globe as to how we can be neighbours for those who need us, whoever she or he may be; and it is, I believe, relevant all the more so in our approach to how we as individuals and communities welcome and care for refugees. It is with this in mind that I write, aware of the extraordinary work that ordinary men and women in our diocese are doing in caring for refugees from Syria and Iraq. The refugee crisis is serious – very serious – and demands that we respond with compassion and care to people who have faced untold horrors, and who have had to leave their martyrs behind.

As refugees seek sanctuary, we as Christians are challenged to open our doors and share what we have with strangers. Archbishop Mouneer in his article Our calling: Welcome refugees, support development, make peace, cites Jesus commandment that we must share what we have. If we cannot for whatever reason share our house, then we must share our gifts and our resources.

Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of this diocese: for centuries we have shown hospitality to pilgrims, to people who went on their way “sometimes not knowing whither they would come”, but seeking an expression of the Kingdom of God, as Abraham did. On other occasions and throughout history the churches of the region extended hospitality to the thousands of people forced to leave their homes for an unknown destination. During the past one hundred years there were Circassian refugees from Russia, Armenians from Turkey, Jews from Europe, refugees from Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, and many other places. Now our challenge is to show hospitality to yet another traveller, refugees and migrants from Syria.

At the moment Jordan welcomes some 1.25 million Syrians, 300,000 Iraqis, 400,000 Egyptians, 100,000 Libyans and 50,000 Yemenis. In Irbid (Northern Jordan) there are 250,000 refugees; and in the refugee camp of Zaatari’s on the Syrian border there are some 120,000 people who live in tents and caravans. Places that were once desert are now large towns, which require infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, electricity and water, shops and roads, and much more.

One way the Church has managed to respond is through “The Network”, which, under the supervision of the Revd Canon ‘Brother Andrew’ De Carpentier of the Anglican “Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deafblind Children” in Salt, has brought together different local organizations providing essential medical and paramedical care to thousands of refugees with disabilities in need. The “Network” is a partnership between: The Dhia Society (a Jordanian charity for visually impaired children), The Raja society (a school for the education and training of those with cognitive issues), The Avicenna (Ibn Sina) society (a Jordanian organization for helping those with mobility issues); and the Palestine Hospital (A Church-affiliated specialist hospital for Trauma and Neurology).

Another way the Church responded is through the work of St Paul’s church in Ashrafiyeh – Amman. The Reverend George Kopti describes how refugees have become part of the church family, with activities provided for the children and for women, as well as a new mid-week Bible study for the Christians who have fled. As winter approaches, the congregation are gathering gas stoves to hand, and distributing food coupons.

The Revd Canon Samir Esaid, vicar of the Virgin Mary Episcopal Church in Irbid, explained how his church is reaching out to refugees in the community with a special focus on providing education and support to parents of children who are blind or visually impaired. It helps parents cope with their children who attend the Arab Episcopal School for visually impaired and sighted children. Not only did they take in refugees as students, but in one instant also had a refugee working as a volunteer teacher in the school. He explained that for many the border between Syria and Jordan was quite arbitrary as related families were living on both sides, with many Jordanians now looking after their Syrian relatives.

It is hard for those who have not experienced the need to flee their homeland to envisage what life is like. Where is the next meal? Where will I sleep tonight? What about my children’s education? What shall I do for my child who is ill? Where shall I go with my child who is blind or deaf, who is traumatized and disturbed? Who can help me with a child that has mobility problems, suffers of epilepsy or cerebral palsy? These are real questions for real people looking for sanctuary, safety and friendship.

What is heartening is that these experiences give us all faith in humanity and encourage us to go the extra mile and help those in need as Christ asks us to. If all of us, whoever and wherever we are, can reach out to those who are suffering, whether they are strangers seeking sanctuary or are well known to us, I believe our lives will be transformed and become more like the person Christ calls us to be: Good Samaritans, brothers to all whom we encounter, sharing our gifts, and ultimately grafting our lives more into Jesus when his love, compassion and generosity work in and through us.



Anglican Communion News Service, ACNS Today’s Top Stories, November o2, 2015

Research demonstrates benefits of corporate singing as new website highlights choral evensong

Posted on: October 28th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments

The Choir of Westminster Abbey, London
Photo Credit: The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

[ACNS] Singing helps people to form new friendships and relationships faster than other forms of social engagement; according to research from Oxford University’s department for experimental psychology, which suggests that religious groups benefit from corporate singing during services. Publication of the research, in the journal of the Royal Society of Open Science, coincided with the unveiling of a new online tool to help people find choral evensong services in Britain.

The research began with the premise that “singing evolved to facilitate social cohesion” and set out to test whether “bonding arises out of properties intrinsic to singing or whether any social engagement can have a similar effect.”

To test the theories, researches set up different adult education classes. Some focused on singing and others focused on crafts or creative writing. While all groups showed equal levels of connectedness at the end of the trial period (seven months); the singing groups “demonstrated a significantly greater increase in closeness” after just one month.

“This represents the first evidence for an ‘ice-breaker effect’ of singing in promoting fast cohesion between unfamiliar individuals, which bypasses the need for personal knowledge of group members gained through prolonged interaction,” the researchers say. “We argue that singing may have evolved to quickly bond large human groups of relative strangers, potentially through encouraging willingness to coordinate by enhancing positive affect.”

The researchers conclude that “Although protracted interaction is likely to be necessary in order for intimate personal relationships to develop within a group, singing may be able to kick start this process in humans: singing breaks the ice so that individuals feel closer to the group as a whole even if they do not yet know anything about the individual members.

“Such an effect may overcome time constraints on the creation of individual relationships to allow large human groups to coordinate effectively and quickly. In this regard, it is interesting that religion, another potential mechanism for connecting large numbers of individuals, often incorporates singing or chanting in groups.

“The capacity of singing to bond groups of relative strangers in humans may have played a crucial role in allowing modern humans to create and maintain much larger social networks than their evolutionary relatives, which in turn may have facilitated the colonization of risky environments across the globe.”

Wabbey _evensongEvensong at Westminster Abbey, London. Photo: The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

The publication of the research coincided with news of a new online tool to help people find choral evensong services taking place in their locality. The new website – – was devised by Dr Guy Hayward, a former choral scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, who was awarded his PhD for research into how group singing forms community.

“Choral evensong is one of the richest cultural treasures of Britain. But most adults don’t know about it,” Dr Hayward told the Independent newspaper.

He described the website as “a simple idea”, and added: “It allows people across the country to see that there are services near them. It can be hard to find what services are happening, where and when. Hopefully, it will make people realise what a big tradition choral evensong is. It’s at a nice time of day, between the end of work and dinner, and it’s free.”

The service will launch on 22 November – the feast of St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians – with a service at St John at Hampstead in London, during which the vicar, the Revd Stephen Tucker, will bless a laptop with a browser running on it.

“In Britain, we have been blessing the plough for hundreds of years,” Dr Hayward told the Independent. “However, to avoid electrical malfunction, we may have to stick to smudging the laptop with incense or lighting a candle near it.”


Anglican Communion News Service, ACNS Today’s Top stories, October 28, 2015