Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

C.S. Lewis and the imaginative leader

Posted on: September 16th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

 
Photo of Timothy Willard

C.S. Lewis warns leaders not to be someone they are not, says a Christian author. Imaginative leadership springs from men and women who understand the power of ‘being yourself.’

David Bedell, via Wikimedia Commons
A map of Narnia, the world C.S. Lewis created in his series of novels “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

 

As leaders, we can easily overdevelop our praxis and undervalue our selves. “Who am I?” however, proves infinitely more important than “How do I …?” If I am comfortable in my role as my self, then I will not pattern myself after the popular leader paradigm.

Instead, I will work in the confidence of my “baptized imagination” — a phrase C.S. Lewis used to describe his imagination post-conversion.

Lewis saw the world anew, a capacity he attributed to his Christian faith. And it was from that baptized imagination that great original works poured forth. Lewis said it was when he stopped striving to be a famous poet and started writing from a place of pure imaginative wonder that his work found success.

It is in the great works of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “Perelandra” and “Till We Have Faces” that we find an unhinged Lewis, an author writing from a place of pure delight, an author comfortable in his own skin.

On Dec. 14, 1944, Lewis gave the annual Commemoration Oration at King’s College, University of London. Lewis advised students to eschew the ambition to be in the “Inner Ring,” that exclusive circle of folks representing social and professional success.

Lewis warned that the lust for the “delicious sense of secret intimacy” will not satisfy. Eventually we will move on, desiring yet another “Inner Ring.”

He instead urged his audience of young students to become craftsmen — to put their heads down and concentrate on what they did best. The craftsman should surround himself with like-minded craftsmen, each given to the work as the final goal.

In doing so, the craftsman finds distinction among other craftsmen — the only circle that matters.

“This group,” said Lewis, “will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know.”

But the craftsman or artisan will enjoy the fruit that comes from doing good work within a particular profession. Suddenly, she will find herself on the inside of something quite extraordinary. She will be herself, doing what she does best because she has trusted in her ability unhindered by the expectations of the popular crowd.

The Inner Ring represents a status symbol many of us desire, but too often we sacrifice our true selves to gain entry. It’s this ambition to be someone we are not that Lewis was warning against.

Imaginative leadership, then, is leadership that springs from men and women who understand the power of “being yourself.”

Painting our faces

Imaginative leadership demands originality in the leader — a leader’s true quiddity, or essence.

L’École is a theater school led by the French master clown Philippe Gaulier. Gaulier instructs his students to stop playing roles and to discover the beauty found in playing — comfortably — their true selves.

Comfort with our true selves seems foundational to leadership, yet so many of us suffocate beneath a cultural veneer.

It takes a master clown to see through the clowning leader, because he understands that to lead imaginatively, we must find the confidence to be who we are.

Mimetic leadership is redundant leadership. The truly creative leader will lead with no one around, in the quiet of the focused self. Rayona Sharpnack, the founder and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, approaches leadership from the angle of self-discovery.

“It’s the being aspect of leadership,” says Sharpnack, “that enables breakthroughs in what people do and what they learn.”

Do not think that I am promoting egoism as a pathway to imaginative leadership. On the contrary, I am aiming at discovery — leading from the realized comfort of our true selves, a place where the “selfness,” as Lewis called it, so troublesome for the Christian leader, dies, and a holy and revived uniqueness springs up.

Imaginative bounty

In the final scene of “Perelandra,” Lewis’ second book in his Space Trilogy, the hero, Ransom, witnesses the “Great Dance,” a scene dripping with cosmic beauty in which five beings give speeches that explain the meaning of creation. Near the end of the sequence, one speaker says, “When He died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less.”

The distinction of God’s dying for each man, as opposed to all men, reveals each person’s infinite worth. Lewis goes on to describe the wonderful paradox that God “has immeasurable use for each thing that is made” yet “has no need at all of anything that is made,” such that God’s love is “born neither of your need nor of my deserving, but a plain bounty.”

It is within the confidence of God’s “plain bounty” that the leader finds her imaginative footing. There, she plays no roles, nor does she seek inclusion in the social Inner Rings of leadership thought and practice. Rather, she operates from the strength of her worth and relies on her innate inventiveness.

If we seek to be better leaders, more imaginative leaders, then we should not look for entry into the “Imaginative Leader Ring.” We should instead be on the lookout for a more open country — the kind of country Lewis found when he abandoned his pursuit of poetical greatness. It was a land teeming with witches and fauns, floating islands and demon letters, hidden beauty and resurrecting lions.

We should be looking for the bounty of an imagination reserved by God for the seeker of the true self.

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Duke Divinity School, Faith & Leadership Newsletter, August 26, 2014

Jazz belongs in church

Posted on: September 16th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

A pastor who is a trained pianist discovered that he did not have to choose between jazz and Jesus — and that the spiritual power of the creative, improvisational art form can be a tool to help his congregation experience God.

Photos by Jeff Kellam
The jazz communion during Labor Day weekend is an annual tradition at First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. The Rev. Bill Carter is a professional jazz musician who performs with his band, Presbybop.

  People fill each pew as the Rev. Bill Carter takes his seat at the piano. As the man known for both his sermons and his music begins to play, members of his congregation tap their feet, clap their hands and snap their fingers. It’s time to worship God. At First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, jazz music empowers. It breaks through isolation, leads to reflection and encourages a spirit of community. For the last 23 years, Carter has organized a yearly jazz communion on the Sunday before Labor Day, bringing his jazz band, his congregation and visitors together. Now the nationally recognized jazz ministry is expanding to offer four jazz vespers services in the next year as a way to explore the powers of music and healing.

 

Questions to consider:

  • What is the role of music in your church’s worship service? How might it be re-imagined?
  • How is jazz uniquely situated to prompt reflection on the Christian message? What other art forms present similar possibilities?
  • Carter weaves Jesus and jazz with passion and skill. How might Christian leaders inspire others to weave together unique faith practices in the same way?
  • Beyond increased attendance, what can attention to the creative arts bring to a church?

“The arts can touch or even heal some of us,” Carter, 54, said. “There is joy and freedom in what we do. A jazz approach is going to say there is always more here than what is on the page, and maybe we haven’t found it yet.” Like many churches, First Presbyterian has rich music offerings. But for many in the congregation, the jazz ministry holds particular power. “I’ve always loved music in church,” said member Judy Cutler, who sings in the choir. “When [Carter] first started playing jazz, I wasn’t really sure where he was going. But I find the services very uplifting. The music makes me feel closer to God, my faith and the people in my church.”

Jazz or Jesus

Carter’s parents signed him up as a young teenager for piano lessons. He didn’t immediately fall in love. It wasn’t until he listened to ragtime music and was introduced by his grandmother to the music of jazz pianist Dave Brubeck that Carter’s feelings changed. “Music went from something externally imposed to something internally driven,” he said.

The Rev. Bill Carter thought that jazz music and church would be two separate parts of his life, but he has been able to integrate the two.

He started to write his own music, and by the time he went to college, he played in a band every weekend. He continued to play while at Binghamton University, where he switched his major from pre-med to philosophy after several profound spiritual moments changed his path. He needed to make up credits, so his music professor gave him an independent study to compose big band arrangements. He played jazz gigs on Saturday nights and sat in a church pew on Sunday mornings. Soon, he headed to Princeton Theological Seminary, his car packed with clothes and his electric piano. But the piano would be just for fun, he thought. His purpose was to work with and inspire faith within congregations — not play music for them. He thought he had to choose between jazz and Jesus. He soon learned he was wrong.

Forming the link

In 1990, Carter gave his candidating sermon at First Presbyterian. The church’s search committee had learned not only that Carter was an excellent teacher of the word of God but that he was an accomplished musician as well. At the end of the sermon, a man in the back row stood up and spoke.

Carter preaches at First Presbyterian Church.

“We’ve heard you preach, but now we want to hear you play something,” the man said. So Carter sat down at the piano and played. He got the job. As Carter settled in at First Presbyterian, he found a congregation that valued music, though that music was usually traditional. Then a couple of years into his post, the church organist announced to the music committee that she would be away the Sunday before Labor Day and could not find a substitute. She asked Carter if he would play — and suggested that he “jazz it up.” The church released a short event notice that garnered coverage from the local newspaper and television stations. Accompanied by a singer from the choir, Carter played the piano for the service. It was music like the church had never experienced. “It went long, and no one cared,” he said. “When the thing was over, everyone asked if we could do it again.” Within a year, Carter, together with the music professor who had given him his independent study, formed the group Presbybop Quartet. With Carter as pianist and his professor Al Hamme as saxophonist, along with a bassist and a drummer, the group explored the link between jazz and faith. Presbybop now plays regularly at First Presbyterian and has played at churches across the country.

A spiritual power

With the popularity of that first service, Carter began looking at jazz and faith in a new way. He started to think about church leadership through the lens of a musician. He felt energized. So did his congregation. “All the arts have a spiritual power to them,” he said. “That can be used for good or can be used for destruction.” He writes his own spiritual jazz and rewrites the music to traditional hymns. As he began to play jazz in church, he realized how much the music was reaching people. After people left church, they perhaps forgot the details of his sermons, but they did not forget how they felt when they heard the music. The music became another tool to reach his congregation.

Carter with 10-time Grammy Award winner Bobby McFerrin.

He understood that the contagious rhythm of jazz has a rejuvenating power, and the rich harmonies and chords can invite interior exploration. A single note can provoke an emotion. But more than that, he found that the communal form of jazz can lead to the sharing of passions and pain. An artist creates a sculpture alone; a painter uses a brush in isolation. But jazz forms a community, where the Spirit’s presence can be felt, he said. The “honest music” of jazz is made for the beauty of God. It gives people permission to be creative and gives them an opportunity to open up their souls, he said. “It’s about spending time thinking about possibilities rather than about limitations,” he said.

Artistic gifts

As many churches in northeast Pennsylvania and across the country struggle with declining membership, the numbers remain steady at First Presbyterian. With 535 adult members, it is the largest Presbyterian church in the region. Carter attributes that to more than just the music; First Presbyterian is a strong faith community that makes an impact outside its walls each day. But the jazz ministry often attracts people to the church and has encouraged members of the congregation to offer their own artistic gifts. The church created a performing arts series and hosts concerts and art shows as a gift to the community. A local music school holds piano classes at the church. Creative gifts are from God, Carter said, and the arts events offer people a way to showcase their gifts and honor God in return. “Artistic expressions really feed people’s souls,” he said. “We’re not about a showbiz approach to faith to bring in observers … but a Christian faith deep into needs, hurts and hearts.” The church still has a music director and a traditional choir that sings traditional hymns. A teen choir and bell choir also perform, and jazz is not always a part of worship, but jazz services punctuate the church year.

Christmas Eve and Mardi Gras also are popular jazz services at First Presbyterian.

Along with playing the Sunday before Labor Day each year, Presbybop performs during an 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The first year of that service 15 years ago, some two dozen people attended. Now there are at least 150 people in the pews that night. A Mardi Gras jazz service is also well-attended. The jazz music complements the church’s more traditional musical offerings and has become an integral part of the congregation, said Susan Kelly, the director of music. “Jazz is something that can bring them in and speak to them in a way that is totally different from classical music,” she said. “The music itself — there is so much improvisation in jazz. It really has to come from your soul. It’s a more personal experience.” While the jazz ministry has become more popular at church, it’s also brought recognition to Presbybop. In the last two decades, the group has performed at churches and festivals across the country. It has recorded a special for the local public broadcasting station and released nine albums and two DVDs — one of which is called “Jazz Belongs in Church.” Hamme, who plays the saxophone, said he appreciates seeing his former music student “grow up and be successful.” He also appreciates the impact their music has on the people who listen to it. “I think it means different things to different folks,” Hamme said. “The people who follow us around like the way we sound. [Carter] is a very prolific preacher, and they like his descriptions of the jazz music. … Not only is he using music for worship; he’s introducing jazz to people.”

Exploration of healing

First Presbyterian now seeks to further explore the power of jazz by developing a liturgy of healing. The congregation was one of seven from across the country that was selected to attend the Yale Institute of Sacred Music’s 2014 Congregations Project Summer Seminar, where they began intensive work on the program. The project, which includes four upcoming jazz vespers services, will look at issues of human pain and brokenness and the need for healing and forgiveness. Jazz originated in experiences of brokenness and oppression, Carter said, and is the perfect kind of music to provoke reflection. Many churches have jazz music, but what makes First Presbyterian unique is that the pastor is in charge of it, said Glen Segger, the coordinator of the Congregations Project at the Yale Institute. “The program itself is quite astonishing,” he said. “Jazz is another expression. It’s just another way we can encounter God.”

A welcoming church

Members of the church say the jazz music brings energy to both the services and the congregation. Brian Schillinger, a 28-year member of the church, said the music “livens things up” and provides a different perspective on what pastors or ministers do. Carter’s music helps make people feel welcome, Schillinger said. “It demonstrates to the people coming in that it’s a place that is open,” he said. Jazz does not replace sermons but instead helps worshippers take a different approach to church, said Chris Norton, who sat on the church’s search committee when Carter was chosen. “It’s a fun, uplifting, different kind of worship,” he said. The music has also brought attention to the church and has encouraged new visitors to become members. “It’s made us more visible to the community,” Cutler, the choir member, said. “We’re not just doing the same old things over and over. I think it opens up the possibility that church isn’t just dry and someone who stands on the pulpit and speaks.”

Finding your calling

At last month’s jazz communion, members of Presbybop and guest musicians performed music by both Carter and Horace Silver, the legendary pianist and composer. About 200 people attended the communion, which served as the weekly Sunday service.

Presbybop members play at the jazz communion.

During hymns, the band played interludes between each verse. During silent confession, the musicians played the blues. During communion, they played Silver’s song “Peace.” Before the children went to their own worship, Carter invited them to the front, where the musicians talked with them about how they first fell in love with playing. The children then sat in the front while the group played Silver’s “The Preacher.” Presbybop played two songs for the service’s postlude: “Brent’s Beadle” by Carter and “Filthy McNasty” by Silver. As the musicians took a final bow, the congregation gave them a standing ovation. During his sermon, Carter had preached about Moses and the burning bush. “There are burning bushes all along your path, and no shortage of invitations to offer to the world what God has specifically given to you,” he had said. “As you reflect on your life and the work of it, … pay attention to what you were called to do.” For Carter, that is playing music and leading his church in worship, whether it’s through sermons or prayer or jazz. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Duke Divinity School, Faith & Leadership Newsletter, September 9, 2014

Ottawa church responds to graffiti with missional art

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

Nestled near the Rideau River in Ottawa, Trinity Anglican Church looks like many other urban churches—the city built up around its plain but charming exterior, arches and stained glass giving away its Christian roots. One of its inauspicious brick walls runs along a busy street. The length of the wall is punctuated only by a few benches and a bus stop.

For those with an imagination and a can of spray paint, this wall stands out as an impressive canvas. For some, this invites vandalism including tagging and hate speech. For others, like Trinity incumbent the Rev. Arran Thorpe, this same slate is a chance to showcase commitment to the Marks of Mission and to bring about renewal in the community.

Faced with the cost of graffiti removal multiple times a year, and often impaired by bitterly cold Ottawa winters, the community at Trinity pondered the purpose and meaning of their wall.

Thorpe notes that the challenges with the wall ran deeper than those brought up by a bit of spray paint. It turns out that the windowless wall was also a telling metaphor and barrier to living out the Marks of Mission. “You can’t look in to see what we’re doing, and we can’t look out to see you,” reflects Thorpe. “The church is not the wall . . . it is the people!”

Recalling a mural project out of a parish in Manchester, England focussing on kinship among Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, Thorpe wondered if urban art might be a way to forge a new relationship with Trinity’s brick wall. Instead of a barrier between church and community, and a target for vandalism, the wall could become something beautiful and transformative.

With enthusiastic momentum behind the mural vision, the parish turned to community partnerships to bring their vision to life.  These included a grant from Ottawa Crime Prevention, and partnerships with Ottawa Innercity Ministries: Passion 4 Youth art program and House of PainT, a festival celebrating urban culture, including graffiti arts.

Through these community connections, Trinity worked with a team of marginalized youth with artistic gifts to conceive and commission their new wall. The artists were particularly taken by the style of the congregation’s stained glass. The flowing layers of colour and play with Christian symbols found in the windows are echoed in the wall design. The outdoor piece is also rooted in scenes from the community and inspires hope in its bright motifs and images of growth and renewal.

By August 2014, the small mural community was ready to set spray paint to wall. Twice weekly through the late summer the group convened and layer-upon-spray-paint-layer watched a metamorphosis happen. Gradually the same wall that was once a barrier to community became an invitation into it.

On any given evening, Thorpe is right there along with the youth in his clericals holding a can of spray paint.  He enjoys the visual juxtaposition of a priest holding a vandal’s tool for the sake of art and community building. The strange sight, he says, challenge passers-by to think about “What is community? What is art? What is vandalism?”

The wall became a hub for a temporary, but strong, community. On Monday and Thursday evenings, as the youth paint away, women from the congregation supply home-cooked meals and eat with the youth, people stop to chat and even make donations to the church, and new friendships are forged.

Thorpe remarks that for some participating youth this is the first time they have been accepted without judgement by the church. “These kids are used to being spat on,” says Thorpe, but is heartened that at this wall reconciliation is taking place. “Our approach is to be in community, and talk about values, and be in relationship and explore how that might change people.” The wall, for one youth, is the first time she has had contact with the church in ten years.

On September 3, they celebrated the grand unveiling of the completed mural with a celebration that included friends and supporters from the parish and broader community, including Diocese of Ottawa Bishop John Chapman.

As the barriers between church and community dissolve through this project, Thorpe sees his parish at a crossroads. In this immediate post-mural time, Thorpe says they remain open to the movement of the Spirit.  He is happy other businesses in the area are taking note of the anti-vandalism and community-building work that has happened at Trinity and hopeful that it will grow beyond their wall.

The small community that formed around this project also inspired reflection on Trinity’s vocation as a space for art and spirituality in the neighbourhood, including how their parish might be home to other art programs. Though these ideas are in the early stages, Trinity Anglican Church is open—as they were with their plain brick wall—to discerning together what God is revealing to the church in this local place.

“It is amazing what happens when you go outside your church walls,” Thorpe reflects, “and discover that God is actively working outside of those walls and looking to the church to be a leader and bring people together.”

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, September 8, 2014

Big care on campus

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

 

By Diana Swift

 

The Rev. Megan Collings-Moore: “Students have told me that…the chaplain is the only person on campus asking the big questions about what it means to lead a good life, or which values matter.” Photo: Contributed


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

For all its benefits, university can be an unsettling experience for young adults. Some are living away from the familiar shelter of home and community for the first time. Some will encounter ideas that shake their long-held religious beliefs, while others will be struggling with their sexual identity. Life on campus is hardly the lighthearted “Gaudeamus igitur” experience of collegiate song. Most students will face a phalanx of competing pressures: high tuition, academic and extracurricular conflicts, and peer and family expectations.

Enter university chaplaincy services, multi-faith islands of calm dedicated to the spiritual care and development of students. Often poorly funded and unable to offer secure contracts, academic chaplaincies attract a unique type of mentors who provide one-on-one pastoral care not offered by a college’s secular counsellors and health-care professionals.

“Approximately two-third to three-quarters of my time is taken up with pastoral counselling for residents and off-campus students—as well as staff and faculty,” says the Rev. Megan Collings-Moore, for eight years the Anglican chaplain at Renison University College, an Anglican affiliate of Ontario’s Waterloo University.

Today, most chaplains will tell you that dealing with student mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder is an increasing part of their role, and as funding for student health stagnates or drops at some schools, chaplains are more important than ever. “Last year I did a lot of triage for suicidal ideation,” says Collings-Moore. “University Counseling Services is frequently overwhelmed, and chaplains pick up the slack or help students manage until they can see a counsellor.”

To help forestall psychological distress, Collings-Moore provides chapel space where students can enjoy tranquility and listen to their inner voices. “Students are never solitary. They are always attached to their friends and family via their phones or laptops. So I provide a quiet area in the chapel with candles and cushions and encourage them to take time apart.” In addition to offering safe and comfortable hospitality at the chaplaincy drop-in centre, she opens the chapel to stress- and depression-easing sessions of mindfulness meditation.

A singularly rewarding aspect of her work at Renison—the site of Waterloo’s English as a second language program—is counselling the college’s many international students. “I do also help them make connections with chaplains from their own traditions, but often students are exploring faith issues, and it can be easier to do that with someone who is not connected to their own tradition,” says Collings-Moore.

At the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, the Rev. Richard Reimer, a Lutheran chaplain, echoes her point that student mental health is a growing issue. “Students are sometimes referred to me by staff members of faith at the university’s counselling services, and we work together in a complementary fashion,” he says. “A chaplain can help them weather the demands of the university and society, pressures from their families and their own demands on themselves,” he says. He strongly believes in helping students learn to breathe in the Christian tradition of breathing prayer or breath prayer—for example, the formulaic Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

Throughout his chaplaincy, Reimer has been an outspoken advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the life of the church. “There have been threats from some groups to withdraw financial support for what detractors have called a ‘pro-gay gospel,’ but it is part and parcel of the prophetic mantle of Christian ministry to advocate for the LGBTs community.” By prophetic mantle, he means the social implications of the gospel based on Jesus’ unconditional inclusion of lepers and sinners. “If we attach any condition, we make it less than the God’s gospel,” Reimer says.

For Reimer, who spends quite a bit of time raising half the money to sustain his underfunded ministry, the chaplaincy provides a community of faith—whose outstanding feature is constant peer support—amid the struggles of campus life. “Something happens organically, so students don’t get to the point where they are so stressed they break down,” he says. “It becomes a peer-to-peer ministry in which faith is an integral part of spiritual maintenance.”

In Saskatoon, the Rev. Emily Carr is testimony to chaplaincy’s often precarious financial footing. For two years, the former youth minister served as an ecumenical (Anglican, Presbyterian, United) chaplain at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. But after she and her wife adopted a baby girl, she had to become a parish incumbent. “I loved the job, and I want to see campus chaplaincy grow. But the funding was not there. The position was just 20 hours a week for nine months a year, and I needed something more stable,” she says.

She notes that while some chaplaincies such as Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant are often well funded, that is not the case for the mainline services that share the university’s code of ethics and can therefore fully support campus programs such as women’s health.

She remains, however, a staunch supporter of campus ministry and its unique mentoring role. “Chaplains are not like professors or administrative employees of the university. They’re not marking them; we don’t want money from them. So we can be more objective than others on campus,” she says.

That is especially important at this pivotal time of life exploration when young people must consider their larger life picture, unencumbered by the expectations of others. “Students are starting to feel out what kind of person they want to be, what their priorities are, and chaplains can help sort out those things,” says Carr.

Collings-Moore agrees: “Students have told me that frequently the chaplain is the only person on campus asking the big questions about what it means to lead a good life, or which values matter, so I think the perspective the chaplain provides is helpful. These are questions that the faith community can participate with them in.” Even providing a convenient nearby place of worship is a valuable service to new students disoriented by a strange city.

Moving from working with at-risk youth, Carr was shocked at the widespread incidence of anxiety and depression on campus and how quickly the excitement and optimism of September evaporate with the grind of university life. “I was expecting everyone to be happy,” she says. She recalls the case of a tall, good-looking, well-dressed young man who came to her office. “He looked like the captain of the football team and I asked myself, ‘What’s he doing here?’ Then he sat down and he just began to weep and [he] talked about his problems—his academic program, his family and all the drinking he was doing as part of campus culture.”

In her two years, Carr married students and presided at student funerals. “Chaplains are called when there’s a death on campus or a rape, and we can help by participating in conversations about these,” she says. Chaplaincy may also serve as an unofficial triage service, directing troubled students to therapy. But for her, the main benefit is the creation of community: bringing students together in a safe, supportive and eclectic environment for sharing food and having discussions.

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, Clement Mehlman has been an unordained Lutheran chaplain for 16 years. Mehlman, who taught English for 31 years before training for the chaplaincy, feels certain students may feel more comfortable with an unordained adviser. “I’ve always been interested in spiritual direction, but I’ve resisted the pedestal,” he says with a laugh.

He sees his role as that of a servant and takes his philosophy of chaplaincy from a Michigan minister who advised her colleagues not to form groups that students would feel guilty about not attending, but to find out what students are working on and join them in their work. “So one of my first acts was to send a note to the president of Be Glad, the bisexual, gay and lesbian group on campus, saying I’d like to meet,” he said. Today that gesture has evolved into a 170-plus network of students, staff and faculty that strongly supports the LGBT community.
Another high point of his chaplaincy was raising the funds to bring seven family members of one of his African students to Halifax.

Mehlman, too, has met students who were depressed to the point he worried they might take their own lives. Although he’s been able to intervene in a positive way, he doesn’t try to give therapy. “I don’t solve these problems, but I connect a person with an appropriate caregiver. And counsellors refer students to me.”

Ultimately, chaplains cannot take away the stress of campus life. But they can walk with students and help them navigate it—and be there as they wrestle with the big questions of where they want to go in life. And as student mental health issues overwhelm secular counselling services, the healing guidance of chaplains is more essential than ever.

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Anglican Journal News, September 2, 2014

 

 

Sheer silence

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

 

By Vianney Carriere

 

 

 

“To seek silence is to seek God; to love silence, to learn the beauty of stillness, is to invite God to touch us and our lives.” – Text and photo by Vianney Carriere.


 

(Editor’s Note: The following article is republished from the Spring 1999 issue of MinistryMatters, a now-defunct publication of the Anglican Church of Canada. Its author, Vianney (Sam) Carriere, a former editor of the Anglican Journal and the church’s director of communications and information resources, died on August 10. Described by many of his colleagues and friends as a gifted writer and editor, Carriere crafted graceful, insightful prose that were often about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.)

Now there was a  great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. (Kings: 18: 11-13)

Silence is something like one’s good health. It is most prized when abruptly taken away, most cherished when suddenly recovered, when, as with the rush of light, we suddenly realize that we have been deprived of it for a long time. Then as it returns, a wealth of rediscovered feelings comes with it. Silence begins as something external and it becomes a state of being.

People who live in cities almost never experience silence. There is always something – traffic in the distance, the chatter of neighbours, a far-off siren, even the white noise of office buildings.

Yet it is a mistake to think of silence as the absence of noise. Silence is not a negative, not an absence at all, but an overwhelming presence, an awesome something that brings sustaining and resuscitating gifts all the more precious for their rarity. Silence is a wonder for all the faces that it has, all the garments that it wears, the nuances and qualities that come with it: the silence of a starlit night in a wilderness; the silence of a deserted church, empty yet holy, the engulfing silence of fresh snow, the silence that passes in a glance between a loving couple, running like electricity through a wire. All different. All magical.

That is why we whisper when we pray, why our “I love you’s” are spoken so softly – it is isn’t all reticence or a need for privacy. It is a tribute to the silence of special places and special moments, the mystery of special moods that we know are so fragile and so transitory that the merest sound can drive then away. We know in our very soul that we ought not to disturb these times. They are as skylarks, timid, every poised to swoosh away.

The very best kind of communication that can happen between people is silent. This is one of life’s mysteries – how we, as a species with the marvelous and unique gift of speech, make ourselves understood, share a moment, communicate our love and our passion with a look or a glance, so much more effectively than we do with words.

So much of what we say to people with whom we live and work or to people whom we meet is not important at all. It won’t be remembered or it will be misunderstood. The really crucial things are communicated wordlessly, punctuated, perhaps with a mere squeeze of the hand, with a smile, or with a look with which you suddenly find yourself gazing into the very depths of someone else’s silence.

The wordless way we have of communicating our really vital thoughts and emotions are as personal as fingerprints. No two people do this the same way. It requires awareness, fullness of soul, love, and silence. Silence, above all, cannot be dispensed with.

It is a way of communicating not unlike the way we are taught, as infants, to communicate with God, the way we are taught to pray. Prayer, even for those who find it difficult, is enabled by silence. Silence, stillness, is the route to holiness and to communion with God, much more so than the other props we’ve picked up, the icons of prayer, the formulaic words we learn as children, the beads of a rosary, the gestures.

There is a reason, surely, why Jesus and all the prophets sought out the wilderness in their quest for inspiration and to nurture their special sight. They were seeking holy silence – the consuming presence of an empty, quiet space, which is the surest conduit to God and the things of God that nature allows.

To seek silence is to seek God; to love silence, to learn the beauty of stillness, is to invite God to touch us and our lives. And in silence, in this private, internal wilderness that we create, God finds us, as he once found the prophets, and speaks to us in ways that can enlighten, inspire or confound. That is another mystery, another level of communication, another place. A silent place is a holy place if only we can learn to hear and love that mystical nothingness that is everything.


Photo by: Vianney Carriere

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Anglican Journal News, August 15, 2014

 

 

Parish moves ‘from lament to hope’

Posted on: August 21st, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

By Deborah Kraft

 

St. Thomas Anglican Church in Thunder Bay, Ont., converted its empty Sunday school classroom into a vibrant centre that serves those in need. Photo: Deborah Kraft

 


“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8–9).

Every second Friday around noon, there is a flurry of meaningful activity at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Thunder Bay, Ont. Tables are sent up, a barbecue is started and the doors of the church are opened wide.

About 50 people come for a free and delicious lunch; they are also offered a bag of nutritious food and encouraged to visit rooms in the church where they can pick out clothing, pet supplies and toys.

St. Thomas has shifted its purpose, from teaching Christian education to hundreds of local children in the Thunder Bay community of Westfort to reaching out to those in need.

Established in 1887 as a mission of the diocese of Algoma, the first church was built in 1890 and rebuilt twice after two fires in the early to mid-1900s. Church attendance soared and a Christian education centre with multiple classrooms for Sunday school children was built beside the church.

Over the past decades, however, attendance at Sunday school declined significantly. Most of the classrooms in the centre were closed and became storage rooms. It would have been so easy to lament the good old days and to yearn for hundreds of children to return to Sunday morning worship and Christian education. It would have been so easy to throw up one’s hands and say that everything had  been tried. Instead, the parishioners and their rector, the Rev. Doug McClure, started to pray about God’s purpose for their parish community. They believed that God was leading them to help people in need, to feed the hungry, provide basic necessities and to be a voice for those in need. They decided to develop a Family Giving Centre, using the empty Christian education classrooms.

The people at St. Thomas moved from lament to hope and opportunities. Several classrooms have been put to use for food and toy cupboards, housewares and clothing for men, women and children. There is even a pet boutique. The rooms are clean, bright, attractive and stocked with care.

The congregation is involved through donations of food, time, clothing and money. In addition, several clients have become volunteers. Chef Tim Chadukiewich cooks the free community lunches. He started to come to the Family Giving Centre a couple of years ago, and now volunteers for the lunches. Chef Tim said that there is “joy in helping and giving back.”

The Rev. Doug McClure (right) with volunteers and some clients of the Family Giving Centre. Photo: Deborah Kraft

Janis Barker, food cupboard co-ordinator, recalled that around 300 children used to attend Sunday school. While saddened by the number of people in need, Barker said she is heartened by the willingness of many others to help.

Lesley McClure, who is in charge of the “pet boutique,” said it was “humbling to see the need and that it is hard to keep up.”

Kim, a client at the centre, said that the help she has received “has made it possible for me to have and create a home, to be safe and no longer afraid.” She added: “Thank you all for all you do for our community. You uplift me, and you have given me hope in my darkest hours.”

In addition to the Family Giving Centre, the church provides healthy snacks for school children and backpacks with school supplies.

—The Ven. Deborah Kraft, archdeacon of Thunder Bay, Anglican diocese of Algoma, contributed this piece.

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Anglican Journal News, August 19, 2014

 

Kids’ alumni choir gets adult reincarnation

Posted on: August 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

By Diana Swift

 

 David Legget arrives to conduct the revived Fern Alumni Chorus.  Photo: Contributed


 

If he psychs himself up for it, basso profundo David Michael Legget can still hit the C below the bass line. And for the past two years he’s been the director of a reincarnated choir of 50-somethings that he founded nearly five decades ago. By the way, he turns 80 at Halloween.

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PHOTO: Legget as a young
newspaperman gets ready for some
aerial reporting.

Photo: Contributed
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A high school dropout—“I quit school in grade 11 because I was having too much fun and not making any progress,” Legget had a way with words and an eye for good pictures. So he soon became a reporter and photographer at a small-town newspaper and then at the Montreal Star. Later, he traded his camera and notepad for chalk and pointer, becoming a grade school teacher in the mid-1960s.

“I started music lessons at age four,” Legget says. Later, trained in piano at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music,  a child member of Toronto’s St. Simon-the-Apostle Church choir under Eric Lewis, and an assistant organist at Grace Church on-the-Hill under Giles Bryant, Legget specialized in music teaching.  While on staff at Fern Avenue Public School in the Little Poland district of Toronto’ west end, he founded the school choir and instrumental groups. In its first year the choir placed first in 17 of 18 competitions.

 

“He turned the school’s entire music program around,” says Shireen Whitmore, 57, a Fern alumna and a current chorus member. And in what was then a rough neighbourhood of recent immigrants, he created a haven for kids who often came from troubled homes. “He showed them something different from what they faced in their daily lives,” says Whitmore, a Toronto property administrator.

No one, least of all Legget, wanted to see the fine singing come to an end, so in 1970, he brought together some of his former pupils, now in high school, in the Fern Alumni Chorus and Orchestra. In its second year, it made a well-received church tour of England, Scotland and Wales, performing in high-profile venues such as Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.  The first alumni chorus disbanded in 1980 but that was not to be the end of it.

Although he recently stepped down as head, Leggett re-established the choir in March 2012, after reconnecting with many of his former pupils at a reunion in a downtown Toronto hotel.  As 110 of his former charges serenaded his arrival, he stepped right up to direct them. Afterwards, he uttered words that were music to the choristers’ ears, “What do you say we get together once a month and do this?”

Specializing in sacred music but mixing things up with Broadway show tunes and traditional ballads, the new group (“the Alumni-Alumni Chorus,” as it members fondly call it)” rehearses two Sunday afternoons a month at St. Martin-in-the- Fields. Its most recent concert at St. Martin on Mothers’ Day, 2014, raised $1,000 for the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund, a camping program for disadvantaged kids.

“He sure has inspired us over the decades,” says chorus member and Fern graduate Jackson Freeman, 54, an auto mechanic with a passion for music who owns a heavy truck alignment shop. “He has a big heart and he has always treated us as one of his own children

He also challenged them. “We were one of the few of the grade 7 and 8 choirs to sing Attwood’s coronation piece, I was glad when they said unto me,” Freeman recalls.  Over the years, he and his brother have often had “Aw, Legget” moments as some piece of music triggered poignant recollections of their formative experiences under his tutelage.

Says Whitmore, “He lifted up young minds and set people on a better, more positive path. He made young people aware of the possibilities.”

The chorus in full voice at the Mothers’ Day concert with “Sir” at the helm.  Photo: Contributed

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Anglican Journal News, August 18, 2014

 

Finding Hilda’s Grave: A residential school survivor’s search for a lost sister

Posted on: August 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

 

In March 2014, 81-year-old Inez Dieter journeyed to Edmonton for the final national gathering of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). She had been to a number of regional and national events, but knew that this one would be different. This was a last chance to visit with the community that forms around these events, talk with archives staff, and find open hearts to listen to the story of her time in an Indian residential school.

Inez’s story of truth and reconciliation reaches back more than seven decades. One of twelve children born to a Métis mother and First Nations father, Inez was all but orphaned at age four after her parents divorce and her mother’s death.

In 1941, when she was eight, she was sent alone by train to St. Barnabas School in Onion Lake, Saskatchewan, where she would experience the trauma and abuse so tragically familiar in life at residential school.

In between her mother’s death and her time at St. Barnabas, young Inez lived at a nearby Roman Catholic school. Even years later, she recalls the striking reactions of other children once they discovered her Indigenous identity. “They treated me all fairly until they found out that I was Indian,” she says, “One of the girls said ‘Dance powwow!’ and I didn’t even know the first thing about this, but of course she was a bigger girl so I pretended to dance and that made her keep quiet.”

On her transition from the Roman Catholic school to Anglican-run St. Barnabas, Inez recalls particularly chilling—and particularly apt—words from a nun, “‘If you ever leave the Catholic church, you’re going to go to hell.’ And her prediction was true, in a way, because when I went to the residential school it was hell.”

Inez’s account of her time in residential school is peppered with the words ‘mean’ and ‘cruel.’ “It was really terrible. We never had enough to eat . . . that’s where we learned to steal. In that residential school, we broke all of the Ten Commandments.”

In 1943, St. Barnabas was destroyed by fire and children were sent back to their reserves. At 9-years-old, Inez Dieter entered a new and unfamiliar world. She was sent to live with her father, whom she had not seen since she was a toddler. Her relatives didn’t know about her. “People came around and they were hugging me and they spoke a different language. They spoke Cree. I didn’t understand.”

Young Inez settled in with her brother Eli and his wife Gladys. She had fun playing with her niece and enjoyed helping build a mud house on the farm. This reprieve was short-lived.  Inez was soon sent back to residential school, this time in Prince Albert, where familiar sights and sounds enveloped her again. “I witnessed a lot of strappings, I witnessed a lot of kids crying,” she remembers.

At night, Inez would strain to listen to other children speaking Cree. “I’d try to catch on,” she recalls, “because I knew that was my language.”

As a teenager, Inez and three other girls made a plan to run away. “The situation was really bad,” she remembers, “We never had enough to eat. We were always on our knees, constantly praying.”

Sneaking down the fire escape one night, the foursome fled. They were caught in short order, punished with a strapping, and told, “If you ever run away again, you’re going to go home in a wooden box.”

Like many residential schools, boys and girls lived and were educated separately at St. Barnabas. Inez and a brother were on either side of this divide. She was not usually allowed to speak to him, however, she remembers meeting him in a parlour and that “he looked exactly like me.”

The pair reconnected on a school outing where the children were piled onto a truck “like cattle.” They sat next to each other and he taught her how to say ‘stick’ in Cree.

In listening to children crying at night, meeting her father’s family, and sacred times with her brother, Inez found fuel for a lifelong appetite to learn Cree. “I wanted that language so bad. I knew it that it was meant for me. My ear was always tuned to hear this Cree because it was such a beautiful, beautiful music.”

She left St. Barnabas in her late teen years and went to work at a doctor’s office in Fort Qu’Appelle, continued her education, got married, and had six children.

Today this soft spoken and good-humoured woman struggles with how her time at residential school made intergenerational survivors out of her children. She speaks with sorrow about the cruelty and bitterness and anger that she passed on to them as she tries to understand and heal from her life at St. Barnabas.

Like many Indian residential school survivors, Inez has done a lot of work for the sake of her own healing and the healing of her family. As an adult, she returned to Indigenous spirituality and ceremonies and now feels at home on her healing path.

Inez also carries with her a deep compassion for her former teachers at St. Barnabas.  “They must have been having hard times and they took it out on us,” she says sympathetically, “They were mean because they had all this work. Probably they were under a lot of stress looking after us, so they stressed us out, too.”

Now, generations after she left residential school, Inez sits near the archive tables in Edmonton and is pensive, “My life has been pretty well fragmented. Now I’m just tying up the pieces . . . getting them together.”

Two of significant pieces have yet to find their place in the story of Inez Dieter’s life. She is still missing her siblings Hilda and Edward. Like Inez, they attended St. Barnabas. Unlike Inez, they did not survive.  They are among the upwards of 4,000 Indigenous children who died in residential schools in Canada.  They were not returned to their families, nor has Inez been able to find their graves.

*********

Saskatchewan Anglicans Roger and Mary-Ann Assaily embody a deep commitment to right relationship, and through this commitment find their own story woven with Inez Dieter’s in providential ways.

The Assailys first met Inez Dieter at a Regina TRC community hearing, where Inez gave testimony about her time in residential school and of her missing brother and sister.  They felt a connection with her because she came from Red Pheasant First Nation, which was quite close to where they lived and worked for some time.

Months later at the Onion Lake regional hearing, the Assailys remembered Inez and sought help in looking for the graves of Hilda and Edward.  Through a few connections, they managed to find a fenced-in, abandoned graveyard nearby the ruins of St. Barnabas Indian residential school.

In silence, they picked up decaying and knocked over crosses, and scraped thick moss off wooden grave markers revealing the first names of the Indigenous children who lay below.

They prayed, took some photographs, and left.

Two years passed. Regional hearings and national TRC events continued. At the last of these in Edmonton, Roger thought to bring photos from that day in the Onion Lake graveyard to Anglican archivist Nancy Hearn.

While Roger was uploading pictures of the grave markers, Inez wandered by looking for records and photos from her time at St. Barnabas.  Roger helped find a binder for her, and Inez shared with him that she had lost a sister and brother there. Since they died before Inez was even born, she was craving any kind of connection with them.

Roger clicked through a few pictures and as he turned the laptop around said, “This is at the bottom of the hill from the school.” On the screen was a long-forgotten cross that said simply, “Hilda.”

Inez broke down and began to weep. Roger joined her.

A journey that began with a small child on a train going across the Prairies, now finds part of its end more than seventy years later in a bustling conference centre—Inez had finally found Hilda’s grave.

The grave of brother Edward still has not been found. The Assailys plan to go back, keep tidying up graves, and finding more names. 

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, July 29, 2014

Are Church leaders the world’s most active peacemakers?

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

 

 

Diplomat Magazine, July/August 2014

 

CHURCH DIPLOMACY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leading in the circle

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anglican Journal News, June 13, 2014