Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

The ‘groaning’ and ‘growing’ of theological education in America

Posted on: June 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Congregational development: ‘An opportunity for a reformation’

Posted on: June 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Congregation of St. George's Anglican Church in Guelph, Ont. The Rev. Canon Ralph Blackman, rector, can be seen near centre in the front row wearing a green stole. Submitted photo

Congregation of St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph, Ont. The Rev. Canon Ralph Blackman, rector, can be seen near centre in the front row wearing a green stole. Submitted photo

Congregational development: ‘An opportunity for a reformation’

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The following is part of an ongoing monthly series on congregational development, which features reflections from Anglicans on how they are responding to the challenges facing churches today.

What is the end goal of congregational development? Some view it as preserving the institution or the business of the church, which often involves bringing in more people to achieve a certain numerical target. Others focus on mission, asking questions about the church’s identity and what it is becoming.

After more than three decades as a priest in both the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church of the United States, the Rev. Canon Ralph Blackman—currently rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph, Ont.—has found the purpose and mission of the church to be at the very core of congregational development.

Many of the structures and methods of the church, he notes, were developed by earlier generations in a different time and context. Today, with people running their lives in a “far less structured” way, and with differing generational trust in institutions, Blackman says that the church faces the challenge of building a container or vessel that may paradoxically help “hold un-structuredness.”

“When I look out at the lay of the land, I actually see an opportunity for a reformation,” Blackman says. “But that’s where it gets scary, because that’s where it centres more on the mission of the church, and maybe not the business and the institution of the church.”

In its attempt to create new structures, he suggests, the church may find non-traditional shapes, models, forms of gathering and ways of being that it must “embrace, empower, and connect,” so as to create a sense of support and ministry centred on the gospel.

Blackman’s own parish offers a tangible example. Constructed in 1873, St. George’s is a relatively old stone church with all the attendant challenges. The church is currently slated for $1 million worth of repairs and upgrades, primarily a new heating system. Yet the congregation itself is relatively vibrant, with approximately 250 people attending services on an average Sunday.

“The challenges are monumental if we just think about business as usual,” Blackman says. “So one of the things I’ve noticed is stepping back from trying to organize everything in a methodical, structured way has empowered some things.”

He points to outreach ministry as a case in point. While St. George’s no longer has an umbrella group for outreach and social justice ministry, “what we have is much more ministry in those areas happening, because people have centred around things that are important to them.”

Through its outreach efforts, the church has created a greater sense of connectedness within the community by partnering with other groups for community dinners and projects such as refugee ministry, raising more than $30,000 towards sponsoring a family from Syria.

Support for the arts is another significant area of activity. St. George’s has opened up its doors to serve as a concert venue for local musical festivals such as Hillside Inside and the Jazz Festival Guelph, and hosting classical performers such as university choirs and the Guelph Chamber Choir.

Further rethinking the use of its interior spaces, the church recently redeveloped the rectory apartments and part of the parish house as part of a new partnership with an early childhood education centre.

“It’s exciting to see 30 to 40 young children here and their parents coming every day and all the connections that means,” Blackman says. “So it’s also a vital response to the needs of a downtown community that needed to see that type of place here.”

Such community partnerships help build what Blackman refers to as “non-traditional congregations,” which may also include groupings of affinity that cross ecumenical or interfaith lines.

“What we’re finding is all of these people from the community are having a sense of spirit and connectedness to St. George,” Blackman says.

“All of this follows our mission and our ministry,” he adds. “We have to always focus into asking ourselves what is it that God is asking us to do … Remember that we’ve never been asked for success—at least not in world terms—but we’ve been asked for faithfulness. Are we faithfully striving to do the best that we feel we’re called to as communities and as expressions [of faithfulness] in the places that we are?

“That’s really my motivation at the end of the day.”


Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, June 22, 2016

Anglicans mark World Refugee Day

Posted on: June 20th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

It is easy to forget that the 65.3 million refugees are individual people – like six-year-old Taim, who crossed the Aegean Sea last year with his family, landing on the Greek island of Chios.
Photo Credit: P Jeffrey / ACT Alliance

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The number of people displaced from their homes by war and persecution hit a record-breaking 65.3 million people by the end of 2015, the UN said today in a report released to mark World Refugee Day. Not only is the total number of refugees at record levels, but the year-on-year increase is also extraordinary – at the end of 2014, the figure stood at 59.5 million – another record-high.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said. “On land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders.

“More people are being displaced by war and persecution and that’s worrying in itself, but the factors that endanger refugees are multiplying too.

“The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs to prevail,” he said.

Throughout the world, Anglicans are at the forefront of care for refugees through many different projects and initiatives.

In Egypt, Cairo’s Anglican cathedral houses the Refugee Egypt project supporting some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are making a new home in the city. Their work is supported by the Primates’ World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) of Canada – including through a $30,000 (CAD, approximately £16,000 GBP) donation raised through a coast-to-coast cycle ride.

“For refugees who have had to leave everything behind and flee for their lives from violence or persecution, finding a place of safety, a new home, can feel like a God-send,” PWRDF said. “But even when they have arrived at a haven, refugees are often restricted in their ability to work, go to school, or even access medical care. . .

“A Sudanese refugee brought his nine-month old daughter in to a Refuge Egypt health clinic. His daughter was feverish and clearly needed to be admitted to the hospital. The man explained that he couldn’t take his daughter to the hospital – his wife had died in an accident in the winter, leaving him with seven children to care for. His 12-year-old daughter was the only assistance he had.

“If he took time off from his job to stay with the baby in the hospital, no one could care for the other children, and he would lose his income for all those days – money his children needed.

“Refuge Egypt helped the man’s 12-year old daughter to care for his sick infant. Every day she brought the baby back to the clinic for treatment, and so that she could continue to learn how to care for the baby. With the care of her older sister, the support of Refuge Egypt, and the grace of God, the baby was completely cured of her illness.”

In the UK, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his role as chairman of the ecumenical development agency Christian Aid, gave an interview to the BBC in which he challenged the “unfounded” claims by some that the UK is “full” and so unable to accept more refugees.

“Desperate people who have been driven out of their homes by war are being forced to make dangerous journeys in search of sanctuary,” he said. “Yet many countries are closing their borders and putting up barbed wire. The UK must not turn a blind eye to this crisis. We can and must do more to respond.”

He said that people making “unfounded” claims that the country is full “fail to recognise the positive, life-affirming contributions that generations of refugees have made to British society – and that we ourselves are changed by welcoming the stranger.”

His sentiments were echoed by the Presiding Bishop of the US-based Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry.

“In the late 1930s the world found itself on the verge of what became a terrible war, the Second World War”, he said. “Millions of refugees were fleeing from Europe and fleeing around the world seeking asylum and safe haven.

“In 1938 the Episcopal Church published this poster with the depiction of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus, and it read, ‘In the name of these refugees,’ referring to Mary, Joseph and Jesus, ‘Aid all refugees.’

“The United Nations is now asking the peoples of the Earth, of all religious stripes and types, to once again come to the aid of those who are refugees. . .

“We must find a way to end war, but we must find a way to end the suffering of human beings who are forced from their homes. So I encourage you to support United Nations World Refugee Day. And do anything that you can do to bring an end to the unhappy lot for many so that they may find life as Jesus said, and have it more abundantly.”

World Refugee Day is the start of Refugee Week – seven days of activism to raise awareness of the needs of displaced people. But for 70 New Zealanders, it is the end of a five-day Operation Refugee challenge. During it, the participants agreed to live on a typical refugee’s rations. Through it, they have raised nearly $30,000 (NZD, approximately £14,500 GBP) towards Christian World Service’s work with refugees from Syria.

“Funds forwarded to Christian World Service’s Syria Appeal will help keep open a lifeline for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon,” Anglican Taonga said. “And over the next six weeks, every dollar given to CWS for the Syria Appeal will double in value, as the New Zealand Government has pledged to match all gifts given before 1 August.”


Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS on Monday 20 June 2016

Stanley Hauerwas: What only the whole church can do

Posted on: June 10th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas discusses the term “leadership” and how he prepares his students to provide it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Updated: Stanley Hauerwas retired in 2013 and is now the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law.


Leadership can’t be abstracted from the communities that make it possible, says Stanley Hauerwas, a Duke Divinity School professor considered to be one of the nation’s most influential theologians.

Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, has sought to recover the significance of the virtues for understanding the nature of the Christian life. He emphasizes the importance of the church and narrative in understanding Christian existence, and his interests range widely, including systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, and the philosophy of social science and medical ethics.

Hauerwas’ book, “A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic,” was selected as one of the 100 most important books on religion of the 20th century by Christianity Today. In 2001, he was named by Time magazine as “America’s best theologian,” published “The Hauerwas Reader” and delivered the Gifford Lecture at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

In an interview with Faith & Leadership, Hauerwas discusses whether “leadership” is a proper topic for theological conversation at all, some current faithful examples of it (including Barack Obama, Jean Vanier and Rowan Williams), how he trains his students to exercise it and how institutions provide space for its flourishing.

The video above comprises short excerpts from this interview.

Q: Is leadership a proper subject for theology?

I have a Yoderian reaction. “Leadership” is a term that’s in play: We can use it and subvert it. I don’t have any intrinsic difficulty about the language of leadership, though I think many of the proposals about leadership are quite perverse. These can give the impression that you know what leadership is abstracted from communities that make leadership possible.

I’m sure that you must discuss these matters because it is about power. Power is rightly one of the gifts God has given us for the formation of good communities and good people. The way you put the question presupposes that you might have an alternative. You don’t. You have to discuss questions of how you discover those among you with gifts necessary for the whole community.

In the Book of Acts, the disciples chose Matthias the way the Mennonite sometimes still choose their leadership: by lot. What kind of community do you need to be that you can choose your leadership by lot? Whether you’ve done it officially by lot, that’s the way it turns out!

Q: Are you of two minds on this? Is there a Mennonite part of your brain on the one hand, while on the other hand you want your people in positions of power in the institutions you care about?

I don’t feel like I’m of two minds about it, but I may be.

One of the most important things that those set aside to help communities make decisions do is to know how to acknowledge that a decision was wrong, to know how to go on from having made a mistake. Communities that only want those in authority who never make mistakes will always be oppressive.

I’m very interested in how, under conditions of uncertainty, we set aside some people that say, “We probably don’t have adequate information, but given who we’ve been, this is what we’re going to do.”

I served as of director of graduate studies at Notre Dame and Duke for six years each. I learned that what people cannot stand is for you not to make a decision. So I would. Then you find out through time what wasn’t a good idea and what was.

It is always persuasion, all the way down. So much of how creative authority works is by being articulate for the community about what needs to be done in a way that defies limits. It often comes by reframing and helping us discover ways to understand where we are in terms that do not reproduce the necessities of the past.

Q: Can you think of an example of that sort of reframing?

The Obama Administration’s beginning to back off of the phrase “war on terror.” That’s been very deliberate. I give them good credit for that.

How can you reframe the financial challenges facing the modern university? We’ve been living beyond our means. Now we have an opportunity to discover what we ought to be about. The recognition of limit is a good discipline for discovering what kind of institution you actually should be.

Q: What can we learn about leadership from Jean Vanier?

One, be ready to be surprised. Vanier didn’t start off to be Jean Vanier. He started off because a priest told him to live with these two mentally handicapped men. Then it just happened that the institution set aside for the care of mentally handicapped in [the town of] Trosly-Breuil was no longer able to do that. He thought something needed to be done. L’Arche is the result. He’s been pulled into an international effort through the talented people that got attracted to what he was about.

It’s absolutely crucial for Vanier to know when to let talented people do better what he would not be able to do. One of the things that authority does is not to be afraid of more talented people than you yourself are.

Q: How would you describe Rowan Williams’ leadership of the Anglican Communion as Archbishop of Canterbury?

He’s a servant. If you really want the exemplification of a servant leadership, I think Rowan is it. He’s refusing to be a hero. Many people want him to take the bull by the horns and to force onto the Anglican Church an order that makes it look decisive. He is refusing to do that. I think he’s providing a paradigm of what a genuine leadership should look like.

Rupert Shortt’s biography criticizes him for being politically naïve. I think Rupert is just dead wrong on that. Rowan recognizes the intractability of many of the challenges facing the Anglican Communion and is ready to suffer through them. Suffering is a very important part of his leadership.

Rupert also meant that Rowan doesn’t know how to interact in the halls of power in Parliament and at 10 Downing Street. But Rowan thinks what the church has to say is not just another policy alternative.

He could do better at positioning himself in terms of the media. But God knows how anyone, when in the public eye that way, even begins to get it right.

Q: How is teaching graduate students an act of leadership?

Every graduate student is different. You have to let them find different levels of relationship to you. But if you think it’s anything other than a paternal role, you’re kidding yourself. You have to remember that you are an adult parent to adult children. I try to be as directive as sometimes I need to be with certain students. With other students you just let them go.

I want them to care about what I care about. I’m ambitious for my graduate students. I want them to make a difference in the world, in a Yoderian sense of difference. I’m very proud of the kind of teaching and publishing they’ve been doing.

Q: Your forthcoming memoir often has the names of institutions as chapter titles. How have those vibrant institutions been important to you as bearers of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit’s task is always to point to Jesus. I want to be careful about using the word “vibrant” as an indication of the work of the Holy Spirit. Vibrant institutions can also be extraordinarily demonic. I admire energy, but energy can also get you into a lot of trouble.

We can forget readily what an extraordinary thing it is that someone thought to have a place where the sick are not abandoned. The hospital: what an extraordinary idea to come up with something like a hospital! Whether it is counterproductive today is an interesting question, but you don’t take those gifts lightly.

My own life has been wonderfully sustained by institutions that are gifts that I want to continue to serve.

Think of the church. What’s remarkable is that there is one. I just find that remarkable. That’s the Holy Spirit for sure. I have often been identified as someone who is very critical of the institutions of which I’m part. I oftentimes am, but that’s a lovers’ quarrel. I’m, I hope, a very institutional person.

Q: What do you make of the fact that up until the early 20th century Protestants had enormous energy for founding institutions in this country? Why don’t we do that now?

I honestly don’t know. I wonder where that energy came from. I think oftentimes they didn’t have any idea what they were doing. If you look at the Methodists running around this country putting in one institution after another, I suspect oftentimes they said, “Well, if Nashville has Vanderbilt, Durham needs Duke.” You don’t presume that it was always with the best of motives. But I think imitation is a very important aspect of institutional formation.

But I don’t know if it’s right to say that we’re not forming institutions. How do we know? They may be there more than we know. What people are doing through communication could be a very early development of certain kinds of institutions today.

For me, of course, habit is crucial. Creativity is caring through habit. We associate habit with doing the same thing over and over again. But you can’t do the same thing over and over again, because the world around you is changing, so even if you think you’re doing the same thing, you’re doing something different.

Habits create necessities through which imagination is required to do something different than you thought you were doing in the past. The developments of the virtues, and the discovery of virtues that we didn’t know we had, are a real resource for development of institutions that hopefully have promise for the future. Universities, for example, are constantly recreating themselves through basic habits.

Q: Any interesting innovation is always at least partially a reaching back into what we’ve done previously. And you can’t just be antiquarian as you reach back.

Yeah, but I’m an antiquarian. When I go to morning prayer, I want to do the same thing every morning: I want to read the psalms. I don’t know if you want to call that “antiquarian.” Obviously, the church’s liturgy has been a history of constant innovation. Innovation should occur in a way that we recognize continuities through time.

It was a bad innovation when the revivalistic structure overtook the church’s primary liturgical form in a way that charismatic preachers replaced the centrality of Eucharist. We’ve suffered from that.

Q: I was struck in your autobiography by the importance of competent leaders for the sake of an institution’s entire life.

Robert Wilkin, the historian of doctrine now at the University of Virginia, once told me when I got in political controversy at Notre Dame, “Stanley, you live in a way that you need a prince to protect you.”

Q: You are a Reformed person.

He said “the way you just let it stick out there and then you’re without protection” and it is true. I’m not very protective and sometimes I have found myself outmaneuvered by people who are adept at playing the political game.

I do think that people called to administrative positions have to undergo a deep ascetical discipline. You’re dealing with people who have possibilities and limits, the limits sometimes will drive you crazy, and you cannot take it personally.

You do this to provide space for the different gifts of the community. I’m very Pauline in this. Communities have diversities of gifts. Part of your responsibility as an administrator and leader is to help members of the community own them as contributing to the overall good of the community. To be in a position of power means that you recognize how fragile the power is. You wouldn’t have it otherwise. And you have enough confidence that you don’t have to win all the time. That’s a real ascetic discipline, a discipline of the ego, that is absolutely crucial for being an administrator and to allow the institution to go on once you’re no longer there.

Q: How does it change our notion of leadership to think of it liturgically?

I’m a lay person, so I’ve never presided [at the Eucharist.] I would be very afraid to preside, as a matter of fact.

But why is it that some are set aside to do for the church what only the whole church can do? What does that mean for their own self-understanding? They’ve been set aside to do that. The Christological notions of such servanthood are fundamental.

The problem with servanthood language is it can be such a passive/aggressive form of manipulation. Some people get very good at that exactly because they don’t want to say, “We need to do this.”

The primary title of a pope is “servant of servants.” It’s a little hard to remember that when you’re carried around on a chair! I prefer descriptions that remind me that I’ve got some self-interest involved here.

Q: What do you tell seminary students who have designs on leadership?

Don’t lie. It’s just very simple. Don’t lie to me. You may oftentimes not know what the truth is. Tell me that. Just don’t lie to me. It kills you, it kills me and it kills the community.

Just don’t lie to me. There is nothing more important than that. We want to be the kind of community that doesn’t want to be lied to.

Q: What’s an example of a time a leader told the truth in the way you’re suggesting?

Martin Luther King Jr. told the truth at Riverside Church when he came out against the war in Vietnam. It didn’t particularly allow us to flourish, but it provided a benchmark that we knew as American people that there was a truth-teller among us. That was an indication that we could be better than we were.

We’re trying to come to terms with what it means to be a divinity school in a church that is very unclear what its future may be. There is a positive response here to what may be a very bleak future for Protestantism.

The bottom line: politics is people. For any person that wants to be in leadership, if they try to lead in a way that means they don’t have to deal with people, they automatically defeat community. It is everyday interactions that make it possible for there to be people who tell the truth to us one at a time in the hopes that in that process we will be a truthful community.


Alban Weekly, June 06, 2016

Church report accepts physician-assisted dying as new reality

Posted on: June 10th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Tali Folkins



“We’re no longer in a debate about whether or not society is going to legalize physician-assisted dying—that’s happening, that train is out of the station,” says Canon Eric Beresford, chair of the church’s task force on physician-assisted death, which produced the report. Photo:Tyler Olson/Shutterstock


In a nod to changing times, the Anglican Church of Canada’s latest report on physician-assisted dying, rather than opposing the practice, recognizes it as a reality. The report offers reflections and resources around assisted dying and related issues, such as palliative care.

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down last year a ban on physician-assisted death for the “grievously and irremediably ill” as unconstitutional, notes the paper, entitled In Sure and Certain Hope: Resources to Assist Pastoral and Theological Approaches to Physician Assisted Dying, released Thursday, June 9.

In the wake of this decision, the paper states, “public debate concerning the legal ban on physician assisted dying is in some ways over.”

As a result, the authors continue, “our energy is best spent at this time ensuring that this practice is governed in ways that reflect insofar as possible a just expression of care for the dignity of every human being, whatever the circumstances.”

The paper offers to Canadian Anglicans “a framework for effective pastoral support for all concerned (patients, family, loved ones, care providers, and wider communities of support), whatever decisions particular patients ultimately believe themselves called to make.”

“We’re no longer in a debate about whether or not society is going to legalize physician-assisted dying—that’s happening, that train is out of the station,” says Canon Eric Beresford, chair of the church’s task force on physician-assisted death, which produced the report. “So now our question as Anglicans is, ‘How do we provide pastoral care to people…some of whom will choose to avail themselves of physician-assisted dying?’ ”

The paper opens with an introduction to the issue, and moves on to a discussion of related theological concerns and questions. It discusses how palliative and pastoral care ought to be provided to those facing the end of their lives. It includes suggested prayers and litanies and a list of books and other resources. It also includes the submission the task force made in February to the parliamentary committee charged with advising Ottawa on drafting the legislation around the practice, which consists of 16 questions the task force wanted lawmakers to ponder.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was not available for comment on the report as of press time. In a statement accompanying its release, however, Hiltz acknowledged that not everyone would like the fact that the report argued neither against nor in favour of physician-assisted dying.

“A report like this is not going to please everybody because it doesn’t give a direct answer, and that will frustrate some people,” Hiltz said. “But…to give a direct answer is, in fact, to alienate people over a very sensitive and complex issue.”

Hiltz stressed the use in the paper of the term “covenant of presence”—the commitment of clergy and loved ones to be with people contemplating assisted dying, whatever their own views on the matter.

This is not the church’s first formal response to the issue. In 1998, it released Care in Dying: A Consideration of the Practices of Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide. This earlier paper voiced a “cautiously negative” view on legalizing physician-assisted dying, Beresford says.

“That document, in the end, couldn’t believe that assisting a person with their dying was an act of care,” he says. “Our society disagrees—it thinks it can be.”

Beresford says some people see the new paper as an argument in favour of physician-assisted dying. These people, he says, have “completely misread” the report.

“At this point, physician-assisted dying is a part of our society,” he says. “Now, some churches are going to continue to argue this is a bad, bad thing, and we must stop it. That’s a decision that some churches have made. I suppose our problem with that is…what do you do with those members of your congregation who say, ‘Yes, but we believe it’s the right thing for us’? Are you really going to abandon them by simply saying, ‘Well, you know, tough luck—it’s not something you should be deciding’?” he says.

“I don’t think that’s the Anglican way. I think the Anglican way has always been one of trying to find methods of pastoral accommodation, trying to find ways of being present to people who are in a diversity of situations making a diversity of decisions.”

The paper includes personal reflections by Anglican priests, including Canon Douglas Graydon, a member of the task force who also specialized in end-of-life care for more than 20 years.

“Within that experience I learned that, for some, assisted dying, if it had been possible, would have been a choice that would uphold the dignity, autonomy and humanity of their lives,” states Graydon in his reflection. “Assisted dying would have been the natural extension of ensuring control within their life and therefore would have maintained a sense of quality of life and a recognition of the sacredness of life.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Graydon, speaking on his own behalf rather than that of the task force, praises the report for not arguing either for or against physician-assisted suicide, but instead focusing on the challenge of how clerics and loved ones can be present and attentive to people struggling with end-of-life questions.

“I think its strength is that it theologically challenges people to think, and reflect, and study on the dimensions of suffering and autonomy and our duty to care for [them], and how one goes about celebrating the sacredness of life within the crucible of a conversation around ‘Help me to die,’ ” he says.

Graydon says he hopes the paper will help Anglicans talk with each other about a subject that can be very divisive.

“My fear is, and my experience to a certain degree has been, that assisted dying is one of those topics that people very quickly retreat into a corner and then they come out boxing…to defend their position,” he says. “So first and foremost, I hope the document stimulates conversation and encourages people to come together, regardless of their personal views, to learn and explore and study the issue.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has given Ottawa until June 6 to enact new legislation allowing the practice. The deadline has passed, with a bill proposed by the government passed in the House of Commons but now held up by debate in the Senate—meaning the issue is now in a kind of legal limbo.

“It is not illegal. The sections of the Criminal Code that would have made it illegal have been struck down and nothing has replaced them,” Beresford says. “You couldn’t break the law in this area because there’s no law to break.”

The parliamentary committee, Beresford says, appeared to have “completely ignored” the Anglican Church of Canada’s submission, which sought to ensure that especially vulnerable people would be protected. Instead, he says, the committee seemed to favour allowing relatively broad access to physician-assisted death—granting access to children and depressed people, for example. The bill as it was actually introduced by the Liberal government, however, was narrower—though amendments have been proposed in the Senate to broaden access once again, he says.

Beresford says he hopes lawmakers’ attempts to open up access to physician-assisted dying won’t include those in the especially vulnerable groups outlined in the task force’s submission.

“If they reopen it to people who don’t have the capacity for consent, I think this is deeply problematic—children, for example,” he says. “Do we really want to have physicians ending the lives of children—on what basis? Are we really going to limit this to like, putting a dog down?”

Also, if Canadians really want those facing end-of-life decisions to be able to decide freely, we need to significantly improve the quality of palliative care, he says.

“Our current levels of palliative care leave a lot of people, to our mind, without a genuine choice…[provision is] spotty at best and in many places quite poor,” he says. “If that’s the situation, I can completely understand why somebody would say, ‘In my current medical situation, this medical system basically abandons me to intolerable suffering or choosing death. And I choose death.’ ”


Tali Folkins

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, June 10, 2016

Seminaries Squeezed

Posted on: June 9th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Mainline Protestant theological schools are exploring mergers and campus sales as they feel a prolonged enrollment and financial pinch, but experts see smaller institutions bubbling up under different faiths.

May 27, 2016

Andover Newton Theological School’s plans to affiliate with and soon move to Yale Divinity School stand as the latest and perhaps highest-profile example of seminaries and religious institutions struggling to survive in a world of slipping enrollment and increasing financial pressure.

Seminaries and theological schools have been straining for years, prompting changes across denominations and at campuses around the country. The largest Evangelical Lutheran Church seminary in America announced major cuts in 2013. Three Assemblies of God institutions voted to consolidate in Springfield, Mo., in 2011. The Jesuit School of Theology decided to merge with Santa Clara University in California in 2009.

Even against that backdrop, Andover Newton’s decision is noteworthy. The school, founded in 1807, can stake its claim as the oldest theological graduate institution in the country — the prototype for a freestanding Protestant theological school. It credits itself for creating the model of education most other theological schools follow to this day.

The situation at Andover Newton, which is tied to the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ, is most indicative of pressures continuing to mount on mainline Protestant institutions. Meanwhile, theological schools of other traditions are operating under a very different paradigm. Experts see a wave of new, smaller institutions and movements popping up to serve growing churches more recently founded.

Statistics from the Association of Theological Schools paint the picture clearly. Enrollment at its members has been on a slow, steady decline for years — total head count at member institutions in the United States and Canada fell from 74,253 in 2011 to 71,950 in 2014 and 72,116 in 2015. At the same time, the number of member schools has risen from 260 in 2011 to 272 in 2015. The data also show the smallest schools — those with fewer than 75 students enrolled — growing in number and grabbing a larger share of the market as midsize schools with 151 to 1,000 enrollees lost share.

The new institutions are generally being formed by immigrants, and many are injecting new life into American Protestantism, said Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools. Many Asian-serving institutions have sprung up after immigrant communities established churches on American shores, he said. For example, America Evangelical University, a 46-student institution in Los Angeles affiliated with the Korean Evangelical Holiness Church, received Association of Theological Schools associate membership in 2014. China Evangelical Seminary North America, a 56-student nondenominational institution in West Covina, Calif., received accreditation in 2015. Other denominations that appear to be strengthening include Roman Catholicism. At the same time, institutions with larger endowments and those connected to larger institutions — like Methodist universities — remain generally strong.

All the signs of new life come as the old model that sustained many seminaries in the 19th and 20th centuries breaks down. Freestanding, dedicated institutions tied to and subsidized by traditional Protestant denominations have been hit by larger changes to religion. Mainline denomination membership has dropped, meaning churches face constraints on the amount of support they can offer to theological schools.

The dollar amount of support religious organizations send to schools has not changed in two decades, according to Aleshire. Meanwhile, the costs of running theological schools has jumped, fueled by drivers like rising technology, health care, administrative and even library costs.

In abstract, the situation for many theological schools is similar to the one faced by public universities: an outside source of support — funding from the state or church — hasn’t kept pace with rising costs. But while public universities have been able to turn to out-of-state students and the higher tuition revenue they bring in to help offset the widening gap, theological schools have had to look elsewhere.

“We have very few ATS member schools for whom the primary revenue stream is tuition,” Aleshire said. “So what’s happened, as you look at the increase of contributions from individual donors, it more than makes up for the loss of revenue from denominations. So theological schools are still about a third of their revenue streams from tuition, and two-thirds is either from religious organizations, endowments or individual donors.”

Drawing funding from individual donors is very different than drawing church support, though. Offices that solicit donations from individuals are more expensive to run than ones that open checks from church organizations. Individual donors also introduce a more complex set of relationships and motivations into the mix. And many of the schools facing these changes have just 200 to 300 students, limiting their ability to easily absorb the unexpected.

The pressures have added up to years of mergers and affiliations. About 20 percent of Association of Theological Schools members were affiliated with larger institutions 30 years ago, Aleshire said. Today it’s nearly 40 percent.

Planning and Soul-Searching

Andover Newton’s experience generally fits into that narrative about mainline Protestantism. The agreement with Yale came after much planning and soul-searching, said Sarah Drummond, Andover Newton’s dean of the faculty and vice president for academic affairs. The theological school faced mounting deferred maintenance costs on its campus outside Boston. It also saw a decline in enrollment — from 450 students in 2005 to 225 today — even as students took on more debt and faced a tighter job market.

“The ecology caught up with us,” Drummond said. “The decline in our denominations is about 45 years old, but it took a while for our seminaries to change their enrollment patterns.”

Andover Newton has held discussions about and entered different partnerships in the past — with the since-closed Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine, with Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, N.Y., with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago and with its next-door neighbor, Hebrew College. But it’s never decided to make changes as drastic as those called for under the Yale Divinity School agreement.

Ultimately, leaders moved forward with Yale after deciding it was the right fit culturally, Drummond said. The institutions have a number of historical ties, and Yale Divinity School has a history of integrating another institution while allowing it to keep its identity — in 1971, it brought in the Episcopal Berkeley Divinity School as an affiliate.

The timeline going forward will have Andover Newton operating in two locations next year. The institution will have a small presence at Yale Divinity School at first while continuing to operate in Massachusetts until existing students can graduate. Operations are expected to gradually shift the 130 miles southwest to Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus. If all goes well, the move should be complete in the fall of 2018, and the two sides will reach a final deal that will have Andover Newton becoming a unit within Yale Divinity School. While all details have yet to be finalized, administrators said the plan is for Yale to eventually become the degree-granting institution, much as it is for Berkeley Divinity School.

Deciding to move to Yale was not easy, Drummond said. But some change was necessary because of Andover Newton’s finances. The school had run a deficit of $1 million or more for 10 straight years as of 2014-15. That’s substantial red ink for an institution with an operating budget of approximately $6-7 million and an endowment of roughly $20 million.

“The finances were really tough,” Drummond said. “In nonjargon, we were running out of money. It’s really not any more complicated than that.”

Andover Newton will face a vastly different economic situation at Yale Divinity School. The goal at Yale is to provide full-tuition scholarships to students demonstrating need, said Gregory Sterling, Yale Divinity School dean. Average yearly tuition at Andover Newton currently averages between $9,000 and $16,000, depending on the program. The school says scholarship aid will not cover students’ full costs.

Yale Divinity School has had other discussions about bringing in institutions over the years. They didn’t progress because Yale needed a partner institution to have a certain level of resources, Sterling said.

Andover Newton has many attributes Yale wanted. Yale is an ecumenical school, meaning it strives to represent different denominations. Yale has been tilted most heavily toward the Episcopal Church after its 1971 affiliation with Berkeley Divinity. Adding Andover Newton, and its ties to the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ, offers balance.

The affiliation will also allow efficiencies of scale to kick in on the back end. Expenses related to administrative staff, libraries and classrooms are all easier to swallow at an institution with more resources. From a facilities standpoint, Andover Newton will no longer be tasked with keeping up a campus built for as many as 500 people.

“When they are fully here, they will have far more resources to devote to programs and student support than they currently have,” Sterling said. “One of the things that is important to realize is that most theological schools spend right at 50 percent of their budget to sustain their infrastructure — their campus, their physical buildings, not their salaries.”

Sterling admitted that the change process will not be easy. Still, Yale Divinity School wants Andover Newton to keep its identity, he said.

“We want them to have that, because they have ties to alumni, to friends that we don’t have,” he said. “It’s important that they have that independence. At the same time, they need to be fully integrated with Yale. So there’s a push-pull that goes on between those two that is delicate.”

Yale Divinity conducted a study four years ago finding its ideal size is 400 students. The school already has that many students. Total enrollment won’t change, even after Andover Newton comes onboard. The makeup of those students, and what they study, will likely be different, though. At a research institution like Yale, line of study is another balancing act.

“There is a natural pull for a divinity school to move in the direction of research, and I celebrate that,” Sterling said. “But I also want to be passionate and committed to service to churches, so I’m hoping Andover Newton’s presence will give a little more emphasis on the professional preparation, or ministerial formation.”

Sterling also talked about changes to Andover Newton’s demographics. He hopes it can draw more nationally and that it can expand its scope to include other churches with congregationalist forms of governance.

“That means they will also become a natural home for all kinds of Baptists, and perhaps for interdenominational students or nondenominational students, which is a huge movement,” Sterling said.

Andover Newton isn’t the only northeastern Protestant institution to consider shaking up its institutional structure. The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, is moving to unify with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The institutions’ finances clearly favor more collaboration as student bodies shrink and buildings age, said the Reverend Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen, dean and professor of systematic theology at the Gettysburg seminary.

Gettysburg Seminary’s enrollment over the past decade dropped from 160 full-time equivalents in 2005 to 81 in 2015. That mirrors trends across the eight Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminaries, where enrollment fell 39 percent.

The merging seminaries hope to keep both campuses open but unify under a single organization in July 2017. Having two campuses has advantages, Largen said. It could mean exposing students to different campus cultures — a more urban, diverse, commuter population in Philadelphia and a small-town, residential campus in Gettysburg. But decades down the road, it’s not clear whether a two-campus solution would continue or be re-evaluated.

Gettysburg’s student body is noteworthy for how it has declined. It still has many enrolling straight out of undergraduate programs, and it draws a substantial population of older students age 50 and above. But it’s lost those in their 30s and 40s, Largen said.

“The irony is, in the past couple years, our average student age was in the 30s, 40s, even though we didn’t have students in that age,” she said. “That has been, in the last 10 years, a little bit of a trend.”

Gettysburg Seminary wasn’t in the worst financial straits — it wasn’t drawing down its endowment, Largen said. But it found itself doing more with less and decided to explore a change sooner rather than later. The change could help it offer more programs students need in current times.

“Congregations are smaller; there are fewer of them,” Largen said. “We are just hitting the wave of a large group of retirements that are coming, so there’s also a need for more senior pastors.”

Institutions are also moving to change in ways that don’t involve mergers or affiliations. Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School has agreed to sell its 24-acre campus in upstate New York. The 130-student school announced a deal to sell the campus in May that will have it creating a new campus by the 2018 academic year.

It’s a major move both for the institution’s physical presence and its income statement. Colgate Rochester Crozer had helped compensate for a campus that was too large for its student population by leasing space to other tenants that it felt fit its mission. It brought in the American Cancer Society, Ithaca College and the Veterans Outreach Center, said Tom McDade Clay, vice president for institutional advancement.

But there are real costs in time, energy and money to keeping up a campus. Over time, Colgate Rochester Crozer was worried it could find itself skewing toward landlord and away from seminary as it used its own facilities less and less.

That wasn’t just a function of the number of students enrolled. It was a function of changes in the student body. Students are no longer just 22- and 23-year-old unmarried men attending seminary full time, McDade Clay said. They’re older and often have families. They’re carrying higher levels of student debt, working jobs and looking for evening classes.

In the end, students needed an accessible campus, not necessarily one built in the early 20th century to house a large number of single students.

“People need to work, whether they’re going full time or part time,” McDade Clay said. “The idea of a graduate program offering courses for three days a week and then people going to lunch and then to the library and then going to their second class, that’s a thing of the past.”

While many theological schools face similar pressures, they’re reacting in various ways, said the Reverend Dr. Christian Scharen, vice president of applied research and the leader of the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary.

“There are lots of different ways that I think people are trying to figure out how to rightsize,” Scharen said. “Some feel more desperate to me, and some feel more mission driven.”

Many of the dynamics driving changes in theological schools today were present 10 or 15 years ago, Scharen said. More and more institutions are now having to recognize the landscape and adapt.

A key point to watch going forward will be whether longstanding theological schools tap the groundswell of new religious traditions experts see. Right now, the traditional Protestant denominations often exist in parallel to new religions practiced by immigrant communities and other worshippers.

“There is this story about the dominant white Christian churches, which, partly just because of birth rates, but also because of secularization and other dynamics, have been losing membership since the ’50s, the high-water mark,” Scharen said. “On the flip side, with Pentecostal denominations and Hispanic programs for Roman Catholic lay ministers and Churches of God, lots of independent, evangelical traditions, you see all sorts of new things being started.”

The innovation flies under the radar in many ways because the people driving it have few institutional resources. They’re “pop-up shops” located in churches, and they are often unaccredited as educational institutions, Scharen said. But they’re becoming stronger and more sophisticated as communities coalesce and grow around them.

There are also examples of existing seminaries trying to evolve to change with the time. The Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, has been vocal about its attempts to become more entrepreneurial and adapt its degree programs in order to keep pace with changes in religious practices. Additionally, some existing seminaries are partnering with Hispanic congregations and Pentecostal traditions in order to offer them theological education, Scharen said.

“It means they have to transform their bread-and-butter degrees — it’s a lot bigger ask,” Scharen said. “But if they can create this experiment on the side and get that going, that ends up being a really effective track for these things to make progress.”

Change is hard at any institution of higher education. It can be more difficult for theological schools and seminaries. Not only do they have the typical stakeholders and considerations — faculty, students, alumni — but they have their larger religious missions to consider.

Stick an institution between the pressures of passionate belief and cold, hard finances, and the situation can boil over. Take the case of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, which faced backlash after a plan last year to pay for facility upgrades by selling air rights that would enable a luxury condominium tower to be built. A key line of protest was that the development of a building for the rich clashed with Union’s allegiance to the poor.

Whatever the specifics of a situation, the bottom line is that more and more theological schools are evaluating their futures.

“The thread though all of these schools is they really tried to turn what they’re doing toward the future,” Scharen said.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, June 06, 2016

Farmers are saving Bangladesh’s endangered soil

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

By Josiah Neufeld

Mariam Begum holds eggplants from her garden.
Photo: Paul Plett

Light trickles through thatched walls into Mariam Begum’s seed hut. Painted clay pots and salvaged medicine bottles crowd the bamboo shelves along the walls. Begum unstops a bottle and tips the contents into her palm, careful not to drop a single grain. Her seed vault may be low-tech, but it holds a resource that will be vital to the people of Bangladesh as they face the upheavals of climate change.

The people of Bangladesh expect to feel the effects of climate change sooner and more acutely than most places on the planet. The country is a low-lying sandy delta, split by three major rivers and criss-crossed by countless tributaries that drain into the Bay of Bengal. A one-metre rise in global sea levels would permanently inundate 15% of the country, wipe out thousands of acres of valuable agricultural land and displace 30 million people, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Those effects are already being felt. The country’s rich alluvial soil, which grows most of the food the country consumes, is in danger. Every year, about 8,000 hectares of arable land are lost to urbanization and degradation, according to research by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Another 8,700 hectares are swallowed by shifting rivers. As sea levels rise, saltwater pushes inland, flowing up rivers and canals and rendering fields near the coast too salty to grow crops. Every year, tens of thousands of farmers move to the city, looking for work.

House on stilts in Bangladesh. Photo: Josiah Neufeld

As her country struggles to continue to feed itself and adapt to changing weather patterns, Begum, a midwife, community activist and organic farmer in the township of Ishwardi, central Bangladesh, has taken on the role of safeguarding the soil her community depends upon.

Begum doesn’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. She makes her own organic compost and mulches her soil so it retains more water. She brews bio-pesticides with cow dung, ashes and banana leaves. To further protect plants from insects and preserve soil nutrients, she mixes crops—ginger with cumin, for instance.

And she harvests her own seeds and keeps them in her seed hut. Among her treasures are 90 varieties of rice indigenous to Bangladesh: some are resistant to drought; others can survive in salty soil.

Begum no longer has to spend money on seeds, pesticides or fertilizer. She can sell her produce for higher prices in the market because it’s organic. And she shares her organically grown seeds freely with anyone who promises to join UBINIG, the movement she belongs to.

UBINIG is a grassroots organization founded in the 1980s by a handful of Bangladeshi academics and professionals who wanted to empower poor farmers. “We wanted to know why we were poor, why major development organizations were telling us what to do,” says director Farida Akhter, a slight woman with grey-streaked hair.

At the time, the technologies of the Green Revolution—hybrid seeds and chemical inputs—were credited with increasing production and saving millions of lives in India and Bangladesh. But the women Akhter talked to were noticing something else: the chemicals in their food were making their children ill. Butterflies were disappearing from the fields and the small fish that thrived in the standing water in rice paddies were dying.

UBINIG’s approach to agriculture is based on a combination of new research and old technologies. They call it nyakrishi, which means “new agriculture,” even though many of their practices are ancient.

Begum was one of the first people in her village to adopt nyakrishi farming. Fifteen years ago, she was having trouble providing for her family. She heard about UBINIG and travelled to Dhaka, the capital, for a seven-day workshop. Since then, she has persuaded 257 farmers in her community to join the movement. Across Bangladesh, 300,000 farmer families now practise nyakrishi farming.

Aminul Islam Gain, a nyakrishi (new agriculture) farmer, used to grow tobacco, but after taking UBINIG training in nyakrishi farming techniques, he now grows mustard. Photo: Josiah Neufeld

UBINIG has partnered with The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF)—the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development arm—since the 1990s. PWRDF funds are used to organize nyakrishi training workshops and build seed huts like the one Begum manages. PWRDF has also funded the construction of community birthing centres, and provides training and equipment for local midwives.

Begum says since her village has stopped using chemical-based pesticides and fertilizers that butterflies, worms and several species of small fish have returned to the fields. As a midwife, she’s also observed an improvement in the health of newborn babies.

Josiah Neufeld is a journalist based in Winnipeg. Last December he travelled to Bangladesh to research the effects of climate change. His trip was funded by Canadian Foodgrains Bank, of which PWRDF is a member.


Anglican Journal News, May 27, 2016

L. Roger Owens: Work too important to delegate — the leader as culture manager

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

BigStock / DavidArts

Associate professor, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Managing the culture of an institution is a leader’s work, says a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He offers three suggestions to cultivate a healthy culture.

I was sitting in the most beautiful office I’d seen on the seminary’s campus. It was the last I would visit during my two-day interview for a teaching position.

As we sipped freshly brewed coffee, the president posed the only question in the entire process that surprised me. He wanted to know whether I would fit the culture of the place.

“Here,” he said, “we shoot for no secrets, no surprises, no subversion and lots of support.”

He taught preaching; of course he had to alliterate. “Are you willing to live that?”

The content of the question didn’t surprise me; by then I was familiar with the specifics of the culture he was describing.

What surprised me was that the president of the institution would even have this conversation with a potential hire. Wasn’t this a manager’s job, not a leader’s?

As a pastor hoping to teach leadership, I’d thought a lot about what a leader’s role is. Several years earlier, I’d been influenced by John Kotter’s classic article “What Leaders Really Do.”

The main point? Leaders and managers do different things. Leaders watch the future; managers attend to the day-to-day.

My wife and I had practiced Kotter’s theory in the church we co-pastored. By virtue of our particular gifts — and my particular allergy to administration, spreadsheets and numbers — my wife, Ginger, became the manager-in-chief. She supervised the staff, met with administrative committees and managed the budget.

I was the leader, and I tried my best to do what Kotter advocated: cast a vision, communicate the vision and inspire people to act on the vision.

Yet here I was on a job interview having coffee in the office of someone I hoped would become my leader, and it seemed to me he was dabbling in the work of management, messing around in the business of the day-to-day.

I now realize I was wrong. He was not at that moment managing the day-to-day — administering a budget or performing a staff review. Other people had those jobs. He was managing the culture.

I have come to appreciate that there is one management task the best leaders won’t ignore: shaping the culture an institution seeks to embody.

This is something my co-pastor wife had tried to teach me once.

In order to have healthy conflict and function effectively as a team, our staff had decided to adopt a staff covenant, which I’ve written about before.

Ginger led our staff meetings. At the beginning of each meeting, we reviewed a portion of the covenant, seeking to hold ourselves accountable. One day I got impatient with the conversation and said something circumspect and subtle like, “Can’t we get on with things?”

After the meeting, Ginger pulled me aside (our covenant said we should have these conversations one-on-one) before I could scurry back to the “real work” of leadership. “You might consider yourself the leader,” she said, “but managing the culture isn’t just my job. You’ve got to do it, too.”

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when the seminary president tried to do what I had failed to do in that meeting — take a leadership role in upholding the culture.

As an academic (I got the job), I don’t lead an institution anymore, but I work in one every day. I watch leaders, and I read about them. And I’ve come to believe that there are three things leaders can do to help manage a culture.

First, leaders can create the space for a community to articulate the culture it strives for, how it wants to be and work together. Peter Block calls this work “leadership as convening,” and it’s an undervalued leadership opportunity. Leaders can summon people, creating the space to make progress on defining the institution’s culture.

Second, leaders can hold people accountable to that culture, and allow themselves to be held accountable. My wife held me accountable, and at the next staff meeting, I was obliged to tell them — I hope I did — about our conversation, apologizing for not taking seriously the work of our covenant.

Third, leaders can point out when the values and practices of a culture are being embodied well. Even if leadership scholar Barbara Kellerman is right that leadership is facing a crisis, people do still listen to their leaders, read what they write and take cues from them. Leaders are in the best position to reinforce a culture by highlighting when it’s lived well.

There is work that leaders shouldn’t do. When leaders get mired in management, attention to the future gets sidelined. But managing the culture is not the work of department chairs, division heads, supervisors and human resource specialists. It’s the leader’s work, work too important to delegate.


Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, May 17, 2016

‘This house is resting gently on the Earth’

Posted on: May 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments

Inspired by a desire to preserve the Earth, Manitoba Anglicans Will and Bev Eert designed and built an energy self-sufficient home. Photo: Contributed

Spurred by a desire to leave as light a footprint as possible on God’s creation, a Manitoba couple has designed and built a completely off-grid home. During the first week of April this spring, Will and Bev Eert moved into their new house some 40 km southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man.—and two km past the last hydro pole.

They haven’t looked back since.

“It’s delightful, absolutely delightful,” says Bev. “There are a few small things I would change, but overall, it’s a huge success. It’s performing beyond my expectations.”

The house, four years in the making, combines a raft of environmentally friendly concepts—solar panels, earth sheltering, heat-retaining construction materials, triple-paned windows and more—into a single energy self-sufficient dwelling. Will, a retired power engineer, and Bev, a retired architectural designer, poured their combined expertise and passion into the project, Bev says.

“We took everything we had learned in our careers and put it into this house,” she says. “There’s really nothing unusual about any of it—the unusual thing is it’s all in one design.”

The Eerts are Anglicans, and Bev says the house is an important expression of their beliefs.

“This is faith-based,” Bev says. “I believe that we need to take responsibility for caring for God’s creation. The Earth is not ours to plunder—it’s not ours at all…I can’t bear to destroy what God has made, and I feel that that’s what we’re doing. In our drive toward more and more convenience and comfort we are essentially destroying God’s creation.”

The origins of the house go back to several years ago, when the Eerts, recently retired and living near Nanaimo, B.C., realized they both wanted to build an energy self-sufficient home. They spent two years looking for a suitable location before choosing the site, a south-facing hillside that overlooks Manitoba’s Assiniboine Valley.

Once they had designed it, the Eerts built the home almost completely by themselves. They hired outside help only to finish the concrete floor and drywall—one reason why the process took them four years, Bev says.

They also tried to leave as light a carbon footprint as possible when they were building the house. They put up the solar panel first, she says, so that any power tools they used didn’t require outside electricity.

People think that the home is going to look weird…you’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’re going to have to make serious sacrifices,” Bev Eert says, “but my goal was that none of that was going to happen.” Photo: Contributed

The home defies stereotypes some people might have about low-carbon footprint homes, she says, in its livability.

“People think that the home is going to look weird—and sometimes it does—and you’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’re going to have to make serious sacrifices, but my goal was that none of that was going to happen,” she says. “We’re not suffering in any way.”

Solar panels power the house’s lights, electric range, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, washing machine and other appliances. It also heats the house via a system of floor-warming pipes. A fireplace and a large stone chimney in the centre of the house, with their combined mass, radiate heat while also providing a “romantic” touch, Bev says—though the couple, she adds, prefer not to use it often and are planning to enlarge the solar array so that they won’t have to burn any more wood for heat.

The house works not only by tapping renewable energy, but by saving energy as well. Bev says the Eerts designed the lighting system of the house, for example, very carefully. An array of mostly south-facing windows, besides helping heat the house, eliminates the need for artificial light during the day; at night, the Eerts use “task lighting”—electric bulbs illuminate only the areas where light is actually needed; there are no overhead lights, for example.

The heavy materials used in the house’s construction—the floor is made of concrete slab overlaid with ceramic tile—retain heat in the winter and stay cool in the summer. This May, when outside temperatures reached a startlingly high 39 C, the interior temperature of the house never got higher than 26 degrees, she says.

The Eerts also hope to be self-sufficient in food, Bev says, with a garden, moveable greenhouse and newly planted orchard.

Bev is the diocese of Brandon’s representative for the Creation Matters Working Group, an ecological justice initiative of the Anglican Church of Canada. At a diocesan function soon after the election of Bishop William Cliff last fall, she ran into Cliff and asked him if he’d like to bless the house. Cliff says he enthusiastically agreed.

On Earth Day, April 22, a couple of weeks after the Eerts had moved in, Cliff, together with two local parish priests, the Rev. Robert-Charles Bengry and the Rev. Sean-Patrick Beahen, blessed the new home. Parishioners of St. Paul’s and friends of the Eerts joined in the celebration, then enjoyed a vegetarian meal made from produce the Eerts had grown themselves.

During the ceremony, Cliff read the creation account from the book of Genesis, and, in a short homily, drew his listeners’ attention to the concept of dominion in the passage.

“We redefined the word, but God defined the word first and it’s important to remember that,” he said.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, Cliff said he meant that we ought to understand God in Genesis as telling Adam and Eve not simply to dominate the Earth as a mere possession, “but to steward, and to care and to pass on, very much like we have received this land for this time, and we have to pass it on in as good or better shape than we found it.

“And that doesn’t necessarily mean the myth of progress, where we plow it under and pave it, but actually may mean tending it and giving nature assistance in healing when we’ve gotten in the way.”

He and others who were present at the blessing, Cliff said, were impressed both by the building and its builders.

“It’s as if this house is resting gently on the Earth—it’s not taking more than it gives,” he said.

“There’s a real spirit of innovation with these two, because they’re looking at ways they can improve on what they’ve already received, so that others can follow—and that’s really an example of what the gospel’s about, right?”

About the Author

Tali Folkins

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, May 19, 2016

Congregational development: ‘Being the people God calls us to be’

Posted on: May 17th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
The Rev Christopher Page, parish priest at St. Philip Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C., speaks to children during an Easter service. Submitted photo

The Rev Christopher Page, parish priest at St. Philip Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C., speaks to children during an Easter service. Submitted photo

Congregational development: ‘Being the people God calls us to be’

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The following is part of an ongoing monthly series on congregational development, which features reflections from Anglicans on how they are responding to the challenges facing churches today.

For Anglicans concerned about how to develop and grow their congregations, the Rev. Christopher Page has a simple suggestion on where to begin.

“I think the first thing they might do is stop worrying about developing and growing!” chuckles Page, currently parish priest at St. Philip Anglican Church in Victoria, B.C., and who previously worked in two Manitoba parishes.

The anxiety and stress engendered by a concern for numerical growth, he argues, can actually serve as a detriment to the well-being of the church.

For Page, congregational development starts with developing people’s spiritual lives, nurturing their awareness of Christ’s work in their lives, and encouraging them to co-operate with that work.

“I think we develop by concentrating on being the people God calls us to be,” he says. “And that is first of all a worshipping people, a praying people, a people of compassion and love and care.”

While never consciously seeking to be a “parish development person,” Page’s experience of more than 35 years of ordained ministry has given him plenty of food for thought on the subject.

In that time, he has witnessed tremendous changes in the context of ministry, such as the rise of the Internet and social media. One of the challenges for congregations and clergy today, he says, is the expectation to grow and sustain “what was” while also putting enormous energy into new approaches to ministry.

“All of the activities of what church used to be—home visiting, nursing home ministry, bazaars, rummage sales, tea parties … all that has to be maintained as it was in the ’50s,” he says. “And yet at the same time, clergy are being asked to go out there and launch bold new initiatives. It’s just not sustainable energy-wise.”

Whether the focus is on maintaining existing structures and activities or developing new approaches to mission, Page suggests that congregations must maintain a strong commitment to their chosen form of ministry, given the available resources.

Unlike other parts of the country, his own experience at St. Philip is not of a primarily aging congregation. He estimates the average age of Sunday morning worshippers as around 40 years old, with dozens of children and teenagers.

With younger families often very busy and other activities competing for their attention, Sunday worship remains the centrepiece of spiritual life for many. But attracting families with young children can mean embracing the concept of “messy” church, even on Sunday mornings.

At St. Philip, children at the Sunday service are able to play with Lego at a table set up near the back of the church. They can also play a special role in the service, coming up to the front as a group or listening to members of the congregation read a children’s story.

“I think we have to be really determined, if we want younger families, that we intend to welcome them, and that means welcoming them on their terms, and in the way that works for them, with children and with the commitments that they’re capable of,” Page says.

Where the focus of congregational development is more on mission than on maintenance, he notes, congregations and clergy must be clear on two major points.

“If in fact we believe mission is vital and more important than maintenance, then we have to acknowledge there’s a price to pay to giving up maintenance.”

However, if congregations wish to go out into the community and carry out mission “authentically,” they must be clear that they are not doing so merely to bring more people into Sunday worship.

Page offers the example of his congregation’s sponsorship of two Syrian refugee families in Victoria, where the first move was to put out a note to the community inviting them to join in sponsoring the families.

Following a large community meeting, a committee now exists of 20 people, which includes eight from the parish and 12 who do not belong to any church at all.

“They’re getting involved, they’re working, they’re communicating with people in the church, they’re getting to know me,” Page says of the latter. “But I honestly don’t believe any of those 12 people will come to church on the Sunday morning, and I have to be OK with that, if I’m genuine about saying I’m doing mission.”

“Mission is not ‘come to church on Sunday,’” he adds. “Mission is [that] we can find common ground in compassion and care and love, and we can find where God is at work, and we can join together in enhancing that and furthering that.”


Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, May 17, 2016