Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

L. Roger Owens: The desert monastics offer a lesson in discernment

Posted on: September 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Icon of Saint John Cassian Pravicon / Author unknown

 

 

A classroom exercise in reading John Cassian opened students’ imaginations to the way ancient practices can be applied to contemporary issues, writes a seminary professor.

I urged my students to use their imaginations as I handed out pages of John Cassian’s conversations with the monks of Egypt.

“It’s an experiment,” I said. “You’ve never read the desert fathers this way.”

I was asking these doctor of ministry students to use the fifth-century text to shed light on our topic: practicing communal discernment. They were skeptical.

Many of these students were pastors of congregations locked in conflict, anxious about decline and struggling to navigate the whitewater of change.

Many had engaged in the familiar contemporary approaches to solving these problems: crafting vision statements, articulating stretch goals and drafting strategic plans.

As useful as those are, though, I think what’s more critical is whether communities can discern, whether we can notice and respond to how God is present among us and in our world.

For that, I suspected the ancients might have wisdom for churches today.

If we read the monks with our imaginations, I thought, then even the sometimes strange things they had to say about discernment (a monk mistakes an angel of Satan for an angel of light, who convinces him to cast himself down a well — a case study in discernment gone awry) might be instructive for communities today buffeted by constant change.

So I passed out the pages, set my timer for 30 minutes and instructed the students to read with this possibility in mind. They then discussed the reading in groups of three and reported their insights to the whole class.

“We’re not monks,” one student said during the discussion, “and this stuff seems very distant from my congregation. But I can already see some relevance: Abba Moses says that discernment holds all the virtues together — it’s the most important. There’s always so much going on in my church — but what holds it together?

“This makes me wonder whether practicing discernment can become the guiding center of our activity.”

I nodded in agreement. That’s imaginative reading, I thought, which is itself a key pastoral practice. This student allowed the odd and distant — this ancient, monkish discourse — to bump against the near and familiar — the life of her congregation — and it gave her a new take on her present situation.

The rest of the conversation continued to confirm my suspicion: there is wisdom in this ancient source for us. Here are some of the insights my students gleaned from an imaginative reading of the text:

Discernment is a gift from God that needs to be learned. Abba Moses tells Cassian that the virtue of discernment is not one that “can be seized … merely by human effort; it is ours only as a gift from God,” yet then goes on to say that a monk must “do his utmost to acquire it.” This is a paradox.

A congregation is wise to hold this paradox. Declining organizations often exhaust themselves with problem solving — what leadership expert Ronald A. Heifetz calls “technical solutions.” These kinds of fixes, my students would say, are exactly what many congregations want, even though they generally do not address the complex problems at hand.

What a relief it must be, then, to discover that what congregations need most is God’s invitation to dismount the hamster wheel of fruitless problem fixing and to receive the gift God has already provided: the capacity to discern, given at Pentecost, still present today.

Yet the gift must be learned and honed, never taken for granted. This is where the role of the leader comes in — not in doing the discerning for a community but in creating the spaces where a community can learn discernment.

Abba Moses talks about “deliberative processes of discernment” — which the class interpreted as ways of being together, listening to God and making decisions that can be practiced and improved.

Discernment helps us see and name what spirit is moving us. “Discernment of spirits” — that’s the biblical phrase for the practice. Cassian’s work is full of cautionary tales of monks who mistook evil spirits for angels of light and suffered for it. The evil spirits, like the spirits of pride or lust, fooled the monks. Discernment is the art of telling the difference.

Communities in decline need that kind of discernment. Even if you no longer believe in literal demons, you can be moved by spirits nonetheless, and we need to be able to identify them.

Is the building campaign, strategic plan or outreach effort being driven by a spirit of fear, pride or envy? Is the spirit of nostalgia leading us to believe we can avoid risk and innovation by recovering a distant past?

Congregations need to be able to discern what spirit is moving them so they can be free to follow the Holy Spirit.

Naming the spirits that move us requires nonjudgmental space. One thing is clear from these desert monks: when a spirit is discerned and then named, it loses its power. When a monk finally confessed his secret habit of stealing, one of the elders said, “Take heart, my son; … your confession has set you free from this captivity. Today you have won a victory over the adversary who had beaten you.”

Missional theorists Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk have said that many congregations are captive to “unarticulated anxiety.” My students know this to be true; they’ve seen it in the congregations they serve. Congregations need — and leaders have the obligation to create — the space where these anxieties, these spirits, can be confessed.

Moses blames the judgmentalism of some of the older monks for the failure of young monks to confess. If elders don’t create an atmosphere of nonjudgmental compassion, he says, they will “frighten off those who run the risk of damnable despair.”

Congregations that are sinking often work feverishly to stay afloat. What they need is the space where they can, without fear of judgment, name honestly the spirits that drive them and the anxieties that fuel their frenetic activity. Without this space they are doomed, maybe not to damnable despair, but to fighting to keep a past that is no more, missing the Spirit’s guidance in their midst.

Discernment is about God: noticing, responding, following. My students and I learned from Cassian that this gift of discerning what God is up to is one we have to hone, and that honing means doing the hard work of naming the spirits that inspire our frantic efforts so that eventually, the only Spirit we follow will be the Spirit of God.

Soon in the course we would turn to contemporary writers. But we would do so with an energy that sprang from our wrestling with these ancient sources. We would do so already knowing that what Abba Moses said of monks led astray — “lack of discernment prevented them from reaching the end” — might apply to our congregations as well. Without discernment, we will labor fruitlessly to reach the end God has for us.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, September 20, 2016

Mel Williams: What I’ve learned from Baptists, monks, Quakers and backpackers

Posted on: September 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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BigStock / Oneinchpunch

 

 

A Baptist pastor has wondered throughout his career: Why do seekers show up and engage in worship or other spiritual practices?

I’ve had a lifelong, relentless wonderment about what compels people to seek a spiritual community.

“Why are you here?” I often asked myself as I walked into the sanctuary, facing a roomful of worshippers. Climbing the red-carpeted stairs to the pulpit, I would gaze out at my parishioners’ faces. Over and over, I would look out and ask myself, “Why are they here?”

The reasons are many — habit, pleasing grandmother, seeing friends, enjoying the music.

But I’ve always known that there is something deeper. There must be a restlessness, a longing that stirs us to show up. When I’ve asked directly, I’ve received typical answers: “I come to get my batteries recharged”; “I come to find a way to get through the week”; “I have a need to be with my people.”

Even as membership in mainline churches declines, people’s interest in spiritual practice remains vital. Those who say they’re “spiritual but not religious” may not identify with institutional religion; still, the spiritual impulse motivates them.

It may lead them to attend a mindfulness meditation group or a Buddhist retreat, or perhaps to seek a spiritual director or a life coach. Whatever direction people’s spiritual paths may take, I always want to ask them, “Why are you here?”

My question has reverberated with astonishing persistence. For 20 years, I have gone on retreat at a monastery, where I’ve repeatedly asked the monks, “Why are you here?” They give me a quizzical look and typically say, “I’m here to deepen my communion with the divine.”

Since retiring from pastoral ministry, I’ve been spending most Sunday mornings in a Quaker meeting, where about 75 people sit together in silence. There is no sermon, but persons who feel prompted by an inner message may speak.

As I sit silently among the Quakers, the questions continue to echo in my head: “Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are we here in this service of worship?”

When I ask my Quaker friends directly, they often say something like, “I’m here to attend to the inner light that resides within all of us.”

But none of the answers I’ve received gets at the core reason. So after my years of interrogating, what’s my answer to the Big Question?

I believe that we come to church, synagogue, mosque, Quaker meeting or mindfulness meditation because we want our life to be restored.

We want to come back to life. We want to be fully alive. We want the life force to rise within us with such strength that we can face our struggles, fears, dilemmas and pain.

At the monastery, I discovered that one of the earliest Christian prayers was, “God, remove the deadness. Make me fully alive.” These Christians did not focus on beliefs or dogma but on the gift of full aliveness.

They saw the human Jesus as Life Giver (“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” John 10:10).

I’ve concluded that we come to worship, to our spiritual practice, with the same plea: Remove the deadness.

That means that we enter into a spiritual process seeking to release the pain, to let go of the struggle that saps our energy, to hand over the anxiety and the sorrows. We seek to empty ourselves of whatever may be blocking the free flow of aliveness.

As the monastic writer Bruno Barnhart has said, Jesus awakens in us “that which lies at the core of [our] own being.”

This is inner work; the living water will flow freely if we are willing to clear away the obstacles to the inner wellspring. We then awaken to embody the qualities of aliveness we learn from spiritual traditions: kindness, compassion, justice, love.

Such inner work opens the heart, releasing the love and compassion that are essential for engagement with the world.

My practice has emerged from different sectors of my life. Yes, it has come from my experience in Christian worship, where “confession” is part of the liturgy, a practice that releases one’s inner struggles to hear the word of forgiveness and newness.

I’ve learned it at the monastery, where the rule invites: “Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God.” I’ve learned it from Quaker worship, where silence is the path to the inner light, the deeper self.

It may seem odd, but I’ve also learned it from my longtime group of backpacking friends. Five of us take annual jaunts into the wilderness, including the Appalachian Trail, where we can get back into the forest. We call it “the sacred center.”

Here we come to a meeting. It’s not formal worship, but it has some parallels. We hit the trail together to release stress, to bask in the moment, to feel invigorated, to realign with core values, to re-connect to life-giving energies. We take a journey together to come alive again.

My experience with Baptists, monks, Quakers and backpackers has prompted me to be more aware of the “come alive” moments in my daily journey.

I come alive in spirited conversations with my friends and colleagues. I come alive with my longtime folk group as the music takes us over and we feel that the song is singing us.

I come alive with my family as I rediscover the bond of love and laughter. I come alive in my community as I invest myself — with passion and perseverance — in advocating for economic justice, pushing to open opportunities for our neighbors to move toward economic stability.

This focus on aliveness gives clarity to how we approach our work in the world. As the teacher-mystic Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, September 20, 2016

We must stand together against antisemitism

Posted on: September 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Abp Justin Welby

Posted By Abp Justin Welby

27 September 2016

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reflects on the “insidious evil” of antisemitism and the role played by the church in its development.


Antisemitism is an insidious evil. The habits of antisemitism have been burrowing into European and British culture for as long as we can remember. In England, during the late mediaeval period, the Jewish community faced constant persecution: Shylock, the great villain of the Merchant of Venice, was a cliché of his time. By the time Cromwell reopened England to Jewish settlement under the Commonwealth in the 1650s, antisemitism had mutated within common parlance and culture.

It is a shameful truth that, through its theological teachings, the church, which should have offered an antidote, compounded the spread of this virus. The fact that antisemitism has infected the body of the Church is something of which we as Christians must be deeply repentant. We live with the consequences of our history of denial and complicity.

Even today, in the 21st century, it is shocking that antisemitism still has traction; the virus continues to seek a host. It latches onto a variety of different issues: financial inequality, wars and depressions, education, politics and government, grave international issues, such as the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, and interfaith tensions. It twists them to its own ends, with the perverted and absurd argument that a small group runs or plots against our society and manipulates international affairs.

Antisemitism is at the heart of racism. Yet, because it is so deeply entrenched in our thought and culture, it is often ignored and dismissed. This tendency must be vigorously resisted; antisemitism needs to be confronted in every part of our communal life and cultural imagination.

Alongside a robust condemnation of antisemitic discourse, it is imperative that we celebrate the extraordinary contribution of the Jewish community to British society over the centuries through science (Chain on penicillin), ethical finance (the Rothschilds) and the arts (Menuhin), to name but a few. To write a book on Jewish contributions to British life would require multiple volumes, not merely these few names at the front of my mind.

As a nation we continue to benefit from a flourishing and dynamic Jewish community. It is a privilege of my role that I am one of the patrons of the Council of Christians and Jews, who work tirelessly to educate our nation on historical issues like antisemitism, who strive to bring healing to some of our most divided communities through social action and who equip individuals with the language and skills to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another. I am also enormously grateful for a warm and close relationship with the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, whose faith, wisdom and leadership is a constant inspiration. It is through building these genuine friendships that I believe the discourse will begin to change.

Antisemitism is not a problem for one political party, one community or one sector of our society. It permeates and pervades all that it touches when it is swept under the carpet, denied and not confronted head-on. The challenge for us is to be united in facing the uncomfortable truths of our history and for faith groups to take a lead in being transparent and honest in exposing the hidden recesses of prejudice. The goal is ambitious but attainable: if we eliminate antisemitism we take a huge step in undermining the whole tradition of racism in our society.

All humans are made in the image of God. Antisemitism undermines and distorts this truth: it is the negation of God’s plan for his creation and is therefore a denial of God himself. There is no justification for the debasing and scapegoating of other people. Antisemitism is the antithesis of all that our scriptures call us to be and do, to work together for the common good and to seek the flourishing of all.

The challenge for us is to remain vigilant, to stand together and to speak out. A historic threat can be faced today by a society that is resolute in its defence of its minorities and confident in its willingness to confront those who seek to undermine its foundations of freedom of religion, equality in law and mutual respect. A commitment to building a cohesive and dynamic civic life can be the new, but this time healthy, contagion.


This essay was first published in “Lessons Learned: Reflections on antisemitism and the Holocaust”, a series of short essays published by the Holocaust Educational Trust and Community Security Trust. Click here to read more.

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Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS on Tuesday 27 September 2016

Congregational development: On the importance of leadership

Posted on: September 21st, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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Members of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton attend Festival Sunday, an event co-led by all ages that takes place every five weeks and includes intergenerational telling of the Scriptures. Rector Christopher Pappas is standing at centre in the back. Submitted photo

Members of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton attend Festival Sunday, an event co-led by all ages that takes place every five weeks and includes intergenerational telling of the Scriptures. Rector Christopher Pappas is standing at centre in the back. Submitted photo

Congregational development: On the importance of leadership

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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.

More than any other factor, the Ven. Christopher Pappas sees effective leadership as the single most vital quality of developing parishes and congregations.

“We need good clergy leaders and we need good lay leaders … In healthy parishes, these are not mutually exclusive,” says Pappas, currently rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church and diocesan archdeacon for congregational growth and development in the Diocese of Edmonton.

Pappas cites the importance of learning from both church and secular thought leadership, as well as the need for diocesan support, praising the example of Bishop Jane Alexander.

“Your bishop has to be inspiring, has to be open to experimentation, and has to enable leaders,” he says. “You need to be able to step back in a congregation and look at the big picture … Good leaders are necessary to help us tackle our problems, to be vital, and to help engage the world around us.”

A graduate of Yale Divinity School and Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Pappas himself has served in both church and secular leadership roles, including as the Assistant Secretary of State for Connecticut.

His interest in congregational development was spurred on through attending consultations on Vital Parishes more than a decade ago. Pappas has served as a member of the Diocesan Congregational Development Commission in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, and is currently studying for a Doctor of Ministry in Congregational Development.

“To me, congregational development [and] parish development are ways to help our parishes to serve, to reach their potential to become healthy, to become vital, and to impact their surrounding contexts … to build up the kingdom of God in our parishes and in our context in order for us to effectively carry out God’s mission.”

Pappas applies ashes to an Edmonton commuter as part of the diocesan Ashes to Go program, which offers ashes and blessings to city residents on Ash Wednesday. Photo by Margaret Marschall

Pappas applies ashes to an Edmonton commuter as part of the diocesan Ashes to Go program, which offers ashes and blessings to city residents on Ash Wednesday. Photo by Margaret Marschall

Effective congregational development, he says, begins with helping parishes and congregations find out where they are and where they wish to go. For the Diocese of Edmonton, Pappas uses an analytical framework known as the Congregational Assessment Tool to identify the strengths, weaknesses, hopes, and goals of congregations as a starting point.

“I’m a big proponent of using their strengths to grow parishes, to move them forward … I don’t think we should be pouring resources into the areas that we’re weak.”

The other key element is for congregations to determine how to engage the surrounding culture based on their own role as a church in God’s overarching story.

In the case of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, members focused on the arts as a way to increase their ties with the community, looking for ways to “make Christ visible” through the visual, musical, and theatrical arts.

Pappas highlights increase in traditional growth indicators such as increased attendance and money given to the community, but also measures success in less measureable indicators such as the congregation’s increased sense of mission and closeness to its neighbours. Holy Trinity has further developed its relationships with the community by administering ashes and going caroling in light rail transit stations throughout the city around Christmas among other ways.

“The people in our community now know who we are,” Pappas says. “Six years ago, if we went out in the streets, three blocks away from the church, many people wouldn’t know where the church was.

“Now we walk into markets and places throughout the city and you mention Holy Trinity and they’ll say, ‘Yes, you’re the church that does this stuff with the arts; you’re the church that’s engaged in the neighbourhood.’”

In assessing successful congregations, Pappas finds a number of common factors within the Diocese of Edmonton:

  • High satisfaction, marked by a sense of wholeness and prosperity;
  • High energy, as members find a compelling purpose or message and feel highly engaged in the process;
  • Flexibility in approach, e.g. if the church wishes to reach children and families, it may be willing to change its time or style of worship;
  • High hospitality to newcomers;
  • Healthy ways of resolving conflict;
  • Educational opportunities, promoting life-long discipleship;
  • Good governance structures, in which members feel represented by their leaders; and
  • Good worship and good music

Across the diocese, he adds, there has been a consistent emphasis on putting mission first.

“We shouldn’t be looking for church-shaped missions,” Pappas says. “But we should be a mission-shaped church.”

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, September 20, 2016

Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corporation return bolsters Inuit ministry in Montreal

Posted on: September 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The Rev. Annie Ittoshat currently serves as Aboriginal community minister for the Diocese of Montreal. Submitted photo by Janet Best

The Rev. Annie Ittoshat currently serves as Aboriginal community minister for the Diocese of Montreal. Submitted photo by Janet Best

Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corporation return bolsters Inuit ministry in Montreal

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In February 2015, the Anglican Diocese of Montreal hired a diocesan-sponsored clergyperson to focus exclusively on Indigenous ministries. Originally from the northern Quebec community of Kuujjuarapik in the Diocese of the Arctic, the Rev. Annie Ittoshat brings a strong cultural and professional background to her position as Aboriginal Community Minister. Her newly-created position offers a particular focus on ministry to the large population of Inuit in Montreal who have come from northern communities for employment opportunities, social services, or to seek medical treatment.

An alumnus of John Abbott College and Wycliffe College, where she became the first Inuk person to obtain a master of divinity degree, Ittoshat has helped bolster the outreach to Inuit residents through hospital visits, prison chaplaincy, and regular services in Inuktitut within the diocese of Montreal.

With the return from the Anglican Church of Canada Resolution Corporation, the diocese was able to extend its support for this vital ministry. This sign of support extends Ittoshat’s contract, covering the cost of the Aboriginal community minister further into the future.

Archdeacon Bill Gray estimated that the Diocese of Montreal had received a return of approximately $54,000.

“The money came from the residential school settlement [return],” Archdeacon Gray said. “So I think we wanted to use it in particular for something that would have that connection—something that would be connected to Aboriginal ministries and benefit the Indigenous communities.”

The decision to sponsor an Aboriginal community minister, he said, arose from a context of dedicated focus within the diocese to issues around Indigenous ministry and community, which coincided with the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Along with the national response of the Anglican Church of Canada to the report’s Calls to Action, the Diocese of Montreal had made its own local response a priority.

“Annie was a key part of that reflection … giving us advice on what our response should be and raising the profile in our diocese as to the need to focus on this,” Gray said.

By the time the diocese decided it wanted to establish its Aboriginal community ministry, Ittoshat had become a trained and ordained Anglican priest, making her an ideal fit for ministry to the city’s Inuit population, many of whom are Anglican.

“There’s a big number of Inuit living in the south [of Quebec], and so there’s that need for the Inuit to have services,” said Ittoshat, who is currently based at the Parish of St. Andrew and St. Mark in Dorval.

The benefits for Inuit Anglicans of being able to hear services in their own language, delivered by a priest who shares their cultural background, are essential.

“We do understand each other, and I understand where they’re coming from, what they might have gone through,” Ittoshat said.

Besides offering worship services in Inuktitut, Ittoshat also regularly visits patients at local hospitals. She also makes monthly visits to serve as a chaplain to inmates at the federal prison in Laval.

Having had her initial one-year contract extended for an additional two years, Ittoshat indicated a wait-and-see approach as to whether she would continue as Aboriginal community minister past that point, based on the diocese’s assessment of whether there is an ongoing need.

“At this moment, it’s a perfect time to be here, and it feels right … I really appreciate being here.”

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Anglican Church of Canada, News from General Synod, September 07, 2016

A story of our time

Posted on: August 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By John Higgins


It’s late May, and our last day in Canada before we fly back to Scotland. We’re sitting on a bench on Granville Island, Vancouver, taking in the atmosphere in the warm afternoon sunshine and trying to eat large ice creams before they either fall to the floor or rise skywards in the beak of some ever so attentive seagull. The “we” consists of myself, my wife, Kay, and a young married couple we first encountered half a world away.

 

Let me go back to the beginning. It’s 2012, and I’m working in Ankara, Turkey, as the priest at the Church of St. Nicolas of Myra, within the British Embassy complex, and ecclesiastically within the Church of England diocese in Europe.

 

Amongst the slowly growing number of refugees seeking out St. Nicolas is a nervous young couple recently arrived from Iran. They’re penniless, lost and facing an uncertain future, but what has brought them here? They say that love is blind, but sometimes it is stupid, too, for this is a Romeo and Juliet story set against the backdrop of cultural and religious prejudice. The boy is from a minority sect in Islam, but through patient searching and online ministry, he has become a Christian. The girl is from a large and passionately orthodox Shiite family—even worse, her uncle is the presiding judge of a religious court. In secret, they commit themselves to each other and are married, and only then tell her family. They are angry beyond words. They attack her, cracking her skull, breaking her nose, ripping off her ring and forbidding her to see him again.

 

That night the young man escaped to Turkey and the following day our “Juliet” joined him. Sometime later they found their way to St. Nicolas and to me. In the months that followed, they grew in faith and commitment, both to each other and the religion that so many of the refugees there described as “one of love and life”—the very opposite, they said, of their experience in the world from which they’d fled.

 

But back to our story. Obviously we did not expect a refugee to contribute financially to the church, but often they insisted on making a contribution in kind, and this couple took on the cleaning of the church, while at the same time attending catechism and Bible study, which often went on for two or more hours after the Sunday Eucharist, led by my colleague, Fr. Ebrahim. In due course, they were baptized and confirmed.

 

For the next two years, earning whatever few coins they could through hard, unpleasant manual work that is so often the lot of refugees in order to pay for their rent and food, they not only survived but slowly made their way through the UN’s refugee processes and then those of the Canadian embassy to which the UN has referred them. Little by little, the pieces fell into place, until after what seems a lifetime to them, they fly out of Turkey and on to Canada; eventually into the pastoral care of an Anglican parish priest in Burnaby, Vancouver.

 

That was two years ago, and these past few days have seen both a tearful and a joyful reunion, one in which their Ankara past and their Canadian future have been given equal expression, as together the priest and I prayed both with them and for them. Theirs is just one journey amongst so many in today’s world, but one in which the church, its message of faith and love, and its ability to join hands across the world, has been central to every aspect of it. Lots of hard work lie ahead for them both as they continue to build their new lives in Canada, but they have such determination, faith and commitment to each other that they will unquestionably succeed— with the faith and faithfulness of the Anglican congregation in Burnaby, Vancouver, which will be with them every step of the way, as was that of the congregation of St. Nicolas, Ankara, before them.

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Anglican Journal News, August 19, 2016

The exodus of Fleet Street

Posted on: August 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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The exodus of Fleet Street

Posted By The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce

19 August 2016

The closure of the London editorial office of the Scottish newspaper the Sunday Post earlier this month, marked the end of an era, as the last two journalists working in Fleet Street, Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith, bade farewell to a place that has long been synonymous with the newspaper and printing industries. The Revd Canon Dr Alison Joyce, Rector of St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, is de facto chaplain to the British media. In this column she reflects on the role of the press in society.


It was a story that began in the year 1500, when William Caxton’s apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, relocated his printing press to a site adjacent to St Bride’s Church. Other presses followed suit, and Fleet Street swiftly became the hub of the printing industry in the city. St Bride’s remained at the heart of this development, exercising a distinctive ministry, initially as the Printers’ Church.

In 1702, the first British daily national newspaper, the Daily Courant was launched in Fleet Street; other newspapers were then founded here, and, as the industry developed and broadened over time, so the ministry of St Bride’s evolved in tandem, providing pastoral care and support to journalists as well as printers.

The turbulent days of the Wapping dispute in the 1980s, and the radical changes in technology and working practices that accompanied it, marked the beginning of the end of the old Fleet Street days: one by one, the newspapers moved away, culminating in the departure of Gavin and Darryl on 5 August 2016. Yet, interestingly enough, the ministry of St Bride’s to the media industry remains as active and significant as ever: these days it extends to newspaper proprietors, journalists, photographers, and those working in film and television, social media and for on-line publications.

This is, in part, because the challenges faced by those working within the industry have never been greater. Journalists are under more pressure than ever before: increasing numbers of reporters are working freelance, without the job security or support of a news organisation behind them; and the instantaneous nature of communications in the digital era can make the sheer pace of work hard to manage: as one seasoned political journalist observed to me recently, contrary to all his professional training and instincts, finding sufficient time to check his sources adequately was starting to feel like a luxury rather than a requirement.

For those reporters working in conflict zones the stakes are even higher. The days in which the word “PRESS” on the back of a flak jacket could offer a reporter a measure of protection from gunfire are long gone: today it is more likely to single out the wearer as a target. One of the most significant occasions in the St Bride’s calendar is the annual Journalists’ Commemorative Service. In November 2010 the foreign correspondent Marie Colvin spoke at this event. Fifteen months later she was herself killed in Syria.

The Journalists’ altar at St Bride’s features memorials to journalists who have lost their lives during the course of their work: James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Kenji Goto, beheaded in Syria, are all commemorated, alongside those murdered in the Charlie Hebdo massacre. In addition, candles are lit each day for the journalist John Cantlie, held hostage in Syria since 2012. The journalistic community is global and inclusive: in 2015, St Bride’s hosted a memorial service for Ammar al Shahbander: an Iraqi Muslim working for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, who was killed by a car bomb explosion in Baghdad (ironically on the eve of World Press Freedom day).

We need journalists; we need good journalists; and we need to celebrate good journalism. Although the reputation of some sections of the British press has been tarnished in recent years, the need for quality reporting and good investigative journalism, which can give a voice to the voiceless, and tell stories that would otherwise remain untold, has never been more urgent – particularly as press freedom is curtailed in so many parts of the world.

The departure of the last two journalists from Fleet Street on Friday 5 August comes at a time when one of the most exciting, positive and creative developments in the history of communications – the advent of on-line journalism – is rendering the future of print journalism increasingly uncertain. That is a fact of journalistic life. However, one of its more worrying side-effects can all too easily be overlooked. Because not only have we become accustomed to news that is instantly accessible; there is a rising expectation, particularly amongst a generation that has known little else, that news should also be available free of charge. And that is where we enter murky waters.

Because the need for “slow journalism”: the kind of extensive and detailed investigative journalism that can take months to undertake, remains essential to the quality of our press reporting. A case in point would be the exhaustive and time-consuming research which exposed the appalling child abuse scandal in Rotherham, involving as many as 1,400 victims.

That story would never have seen the light of day, had it not been for the readiness of a newspaper editor to grant the journalist Andrew Norfolk, whose painstaking research uncovered that horrific reality, both the time and the resources to make it possible. And that kind of journalism does not come cheap. Nor will advertising revenue alone (which, in any case, can introduce an agenda of its own) provide the solution. Good journalism is a very costly business – but at its best it is worth every single penny.

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Anglican Communion News Service, Daily update from the ACNS on Friday 19 August 2016

‘The sky’s the limit’: In Vancouver and Toronto, church buildings fetch top dollar

Posted on: August 12th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Realtors Leonardo Di Francesco (left) and Rav Rampuri (right) and have been specializing in selling worship space in the Vancouver area for more than two decades. Photo: Contributed


What do you get when you take a booming real estate market and add a high demand for worship space fuelled by the arrival of new immigrant communities? In Vancouver and Toronto, you get a red-hot market for church property, some real estate agents say.“There’s not very much out there, and whatever comes for sale sells pretty quick,” says Leonardo Di Francesco, who, with his partner Rav Rampuri, has been specializing in selling church real estate in the Vancouver area for more than 20 years. “These type of properties are rare, and now with real estate becoming even a hotter commodity, they’re even more rare.”

Di Francesco and Rampuri spoke with the Anglican Journal shortly after a meeting with a Lutheran bishop about the sale of a church in Burnaby, B.C., outside Vancouver. The partners are asking $8.8 million for the property, which includes 10,000 feet (929 square metres) of floor space (two sanctuaries, plus a house) on an acre (0.4 hectare) of land.

Prices for church property tend to go up or down with prices of real estate property in general, Rampuri says, because of the potential of church property to be converted to other uses. A one-acre parcel of church land, for example, could be converted to roughly six residential properties worth $1.6 million each, for a total of about $9 million.

“We have to do a direct comparison on value of land, and what the use is later on—so, what is the potential of that property,” he says. “And you always have to look for the highest and best use to determine the value of the church land.”

The most expensive property Di Francesco and Rampuri have ever sold was a 40,000-square-foot (3,716-square-metre) Salvation Army building in Vancouver. The building, which included a hostel for unemployed men, went for $15 million some years ago to a Buddhist group, and has since been transformed into a monastery for Buddhist nuns. The building would be worth about $25 million today, Di Francesco says.

Church property that has a trifecta of commercial-sized kitchen, large sanctuary and ample parking represents a “gold mine” for any congregation that wants to sell it, Di Francesco says.

“If you’ve got all three components, for the big religious groups, honestly, price is not the issue…Because it’s so rare, the sky’s the limit. Within reason. Not 100 million, but 20, 30 million [dollars] is not unreasonable.”

Typically, says Di Francesco, their work involves them selling a church for a long-established congregation whose numbers have dwindled, to faster-growing congregations of various religions, often largely composed of new Canadians.

“A lot of new immigrants that are moving here are currently renting space right now,” he says. “Their congregations are small, but you know they’re growing. So as they grow, the demand for their own building changes, plus financially they become stronger.”

According to a 2015 Angus Reid survey, 35% of Canadians born outside the country are likely to attend religious services, compared to 21% of Canadian-born people.

Di Francesco and Rampuri are asking $8.8 million for this property in Burnaby, B.C. Photo: Contributed


“Some of these [long-established] congregations…had 300-400 people, 30, 40 years ago, and these 400 people are down to 75 because most of them have passed away,” Di Francesco says. The partners have sold church buildings to a wide range of religious communities—Chinese groups of various faiths, Pentecostals, Hindus, Muslims, and more.

But church property doesn’t come up for sale very often. Some of the fast-growing congregations are unable to find the space they need despite their willingness to pay handsomely, the partners say.

“We had two groups actually call us—they were looking for a church on the west side [for] up to 20 or 30 million [dollars], and they couldn’t find them,” Di Francesco says.

In its latest monthly report, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver announced the average price of all residential properties in Metro Vancouver had reached $930,000 in July—32.6% higher than a year earlier. The average price for detached homes was $1,578,300, 38% higher than the previous July. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, housing prices in Greater Vancouver have nearly doubled since early 2009.

Because of this high demand for worship space, Di Francesco and Rampuri say, about 90% of the churches they handle are sold to other religious organizations—unlike in other parts of the country, where churches are frequently converted into residential or other space.

Sometimes, one of two or more congregations sharing the property will want to sell their space. In this case, says Di Francesco, one of the challenges is to find another congregation of the same religion to move in.

“To make the transaction easier, you want to sell to the same religion,” he says, since different religions often have different needs in terms of altars and other physical elements.

Some churches express preferences in terms of how their properties will be used after they’re sold, and some don’t, he says.

Church property is also one of the specialties of John Morrison, a real estate agent practising in Canada’s other famously hot market, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Like Di Francesco and Rampuri, Morrison says he’s seen church prices move in rough lockstep with residential prices. This means that on average they’ve probably roughly doubled over the past seven or eight years, although they can vary enormously, he says, depending on factors such as location, parking and their proximity to highways.

Prices are not likely to be as high in less ethnically diverse parts of the city; but in areas where there are higher immigrant populations, Morrison says, “there are certain communities that are really aggressively looking for churches.”

In the GTA, churches once sold also often end up being converted to residences or some other institutional use (such as a private school); or being demolished to make way for some new development. There’s hardly a limit to how much can be fetched for a church in prime residential spots that can easily be converted to condominium space, he says. Many people, Morrison says, are willing to pay a premium to live in converted church space.

This spring, a three-storey condominium in Toronto’s posh Rosedale neighbourhood was listed at $3.95 million. The condo was one of five residential units that had been converted from a former Baptist church.

The hot market can make it difficult for religious groups looking for worship space, Morrison says, because it often means they have to compete with other groups for the same space. Also, he adds, financing can be more challenging because banks are sometimes more reluctant to lend to congregations than they would be to individuals or companies.

 

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.

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Anglican Journal News, August 12, 2016

Enuma Okoro: For the love of God, write

Posted on: August 4th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features
Author, consultant, speaker

Making a living as a writer is choosing to struggle with the tension of being called, having that call affirmed as ministry and discerning the particulars of that ministry, says the author of the memoir “Reluctant Pilgrim.”

In the past several months, I have had close to a dozen current or recent seminarians reach out to me asking for counsel on what to do with their desire to write.

Engaging in the craft of creative writing is where they feel most alive and the means by which they feel most passionate about witnessing to “the things about which [they] have been instructed” (Luke 1:4 NRSV).

But these men and women seek counsel on discerning how writing can be ministry and where they might turn for support and encouragement in understanding how faith and writing intersect. They share earnestly their hunger for Christian mentors who can affirm their felt callings and help them cultivate what such a ministry could look like.

I know of such hunger.

I have been writing since I could pick up a crayon. My love of words began with poetry — Mother Goose nursery rhymes and a million different versions of “Roses are red, violets are blue.” Eventually, I tried my own hand at it and fell in love with the ability to play with words.

Naturally, as I’ve grown older, I have come to appreciate that writing is not just about wordplay. It is also about power and beauty, truth telling and possibility, and hope and activism.

Questions to consider:

  •  Enuma Okoro describes writing as her “discerning shawl,” the way she comes to understand the work of the Spirit. Who or what functions in that way for you?
  • Okoro identifies several practices — silence, solitude, prayer and reading — that are essential to her vocation of writing. What practices do you engage in that are vital to the living out of your sense of calling?
  •  What books have you read, what songs have you heard and what experiences have you shared that have given you permission to live into your calling? How have they shaped your imagination and challenged your assumptions?
  • In the spirit of creative writing, write a letter to an imagined mentee about what you have learned from your vocational journey. What would you tell a person 15 years younger who has expressed a calling similar to yours?

Still, it has taken me decades to discern my calling as a writer, to accept this call as valid and to slowly navigate with the help of other writers, teachers and priests how my own particular writing ministry will look.

Such discerning is a work in progress. But an important part of vocational discernment is listening to how the community of faith responds to your perceived gifts, and a key moment for me occurred when people began to respond to my writing in ways that affirmed a sense of call.

Because I understand writing as a significant part of my call to Christian discipleship, I have also come to understand that other necessary habits must coexist with the discipline of writing to help me best live out this call.

So to the seminarians who email me with their concerns about how to cultivate a faithful writing practice, I share only what I have learned through my own experience.

I have learned how essential it is to welcome, appreciate and make space for silence and solitude. The first task is listening — cultivating attentiveness to life in general, both locally and beyond. Every single thing around you and in the midst of your days can help you be a better writer. It is as poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned: “Earth’s crammed with heaven,/ And every common bush afire with God,/ But only he who sees, takes off his shoes; / The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

I have also learned the importance of prayer. Wordsmithing is in itself a form of centering of breath, mind and prayer. Yet I speak particularly of the asking, seeking, knocking kind of prayer that beseeches God to reveal God’s self and God’s purposes for you as God’s child and for you as a writer and as one more fellow pilgrim in a broken community that groans for redemption.

I suspect it would be difficult for me to take writing as ministry seriously if I were not also an avid reader. The two tasks go hand in hand.

Beyond intellectual growth, reading teaches me that any physical space has the potential to become holy, a sanctuary where my thoughts and emotions can alight one by one like candles of blessings commemorating the dead. Reading draws me uniquely into the community of saints both present and passed on. It helps form me in faithful ways of engaging space and being in relationship.

Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” for example, affirmed anew the spiritual and communal truth that I am part of a bigger narrative than what I see. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea” taught me something significant and long-lasting about being female, creative and made in God’s image in these very ways. And John Leax’s vocational memoir “Grace Is Where I Live” helped me ease into the reality that it was OK to love both God and writing, and to feel called to writing as vocation. The book brought me into community with other Christians who had similar struggles.

Making a living as a writer is choosing to struggle with the tension of being called, having that call affirmed as ministry and discerning the particulars of that ministry. I have found it an ongoing challenge to live into a vocation as a writer, someone who culls words for the sake of faithful witness and imagined creativity and not for research or academic pursuits.

But I rely on narrative for spiritual nourishment. Returning words to God has always been my primary impulse of navigating my way through the world. Writing is the discerning shawl with which I wrap things whenever I sense the soft or strong winds of the Holy Spirit. It is one of my daily attempts to live and work faithfully with the gifts God has given me for the sake of the kingdom. I write because I believe writing is essential to my unique proclamation of God’s goodness.

Integrating my love of God and of words has been a somewhat solitary endeavor, a spiritual, intellectual and creative journey where I have found myself elated at the occasional fellow pilgrims I encounter with similar longings and hungers. I understand the space from which these seminarians who seek my counsel speak.

During my own theological training, I too wish I had been encouraged more to think of the disciplines of reading and writing as a response to God’s call and as a sort of spiritual practice inviting me to delve further and struggle creatively in God’s presence.

I wish I had encountered more mentors who had the time and space and concern to say to me, as someone who imagined writing as Christian vocation, “Take the leap of faith and trust in your gift to proclaim God’s word in new ways.” I hope I can grow into the sort of mentor who recognizes the writing gift and call in others and boldly and daringly says to them, “Write for the love and power of words. Write for the love of God.”

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Alban Weekly,  Alban at Duke Divinity School, July 25, 2016

The hardest worship—common prayer reflections from the floor of General Synod 2016

Posted on: July 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Features

Martha TatarnicEvery cell in my body was in flight mode. I wanted out. It was not that I didn’t know that the vote on expanding the Marriage Canon would be difficult and divisive. It was clear throughout the process of careful listening in our break-out groups, and then the long legislative session in which sixty members of Synod went to the microphone to speak to the motion, that we are ultimately a broken body, that at the end of this day, that the story we would be lifting up to the world would be one of sacrifice and pain.

And yet there had been much about our General Synod to that point that had led me to a place of wild hope going into this marriage motion. We had received stories of God’s beauty and transformative power shared from across the communion, we had seen truth and reconciliation emerging as our Indigenous voice was heard and was heard in a way that offered an exciting dream of a renewed church for all of us. Our “Neighbourhood Groups”–the break-out sessions in which we reflected on our concerns and hopes regarding the Marriage Canon–were difficult, but in many of our groups, the voice that was heard most clearly was a desire to stay together, to continue to walk together, to find our relationship with one another marked by Christian charity and abiding generosity, even in the face of pain and division. If this was true, then what could hold us back from doing this?

Now that hope and expectation felt like a distant memory. The outcome, one vote short in one house, fell on our assembly with a thundering silence. Somehow I had not been able to imagine myself here. I had come into this vote thinking in abstracts and principles: we need to listen to the LGBTQ2+ voice; we need to be respectful of one another; no matter what, we must reach out to those who are feeling most vulnerable, disenfranchised, and alone; and we must honour the voices that are different from ours. Now abstracts and principles were made real. I was in a place of crushing disappointment for me–for my friends and fellow parishioners who I carried with me to General Synod knowing how deeply they needed to hear that their experience of how their committed relationships indeed bear the same marked of covenant and sacrament as a heterosexual marriage, for the new friends I had made at General Synod as fellow members of Synod who had bravely and beautifully shared their stories with us all.

And so I wanted out.

I wasn’t just there as a delegate, I was also at General Synod as Chair of the Worship Committee. I had felt myself grinding against the liturgical nature of our church’s worship at times throughout our planning. It could feel an impossible task to plan our worship months in advance, trying to guess what might be needed or required as our meeting unfolded. We had considered many different possibilities for Monday night of General Synod, imagining that after such a difficult afternoon legislative session, it would be appropriate to clear our evening agenda and to simply dwell in a time of extended corporate worship together. I had imagined a sort of free-form, non-liturgical time of extemporaneous prayer and hymn singing. But the wisdom of the group settled instead on a traditional service of Chorale Evensong, hearkening back to the older language and prayer that had been common to the entire body of Anglicanism for centuries.

Now here we were, almost 10pm, the conversation having swelled far outside of the scheduling confines we had initially imagined, all of us exhausted, not one person in that assembly showing any outward signs of celebration and happiness that “their side had won,” and clearly I wasn’t the only person who wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. “We’re not still going to do Evensong, are we?” my neighbor whispered harshly to me.   “Let’s just have a hymn and a prayer and get on with it.” He sounded as frantic as I felt.

But our Evensong Officiant was already standing up, already vested, the bells were beginning to ring, and we were going through with the prayer plan we had.

“It was too much,” someone commented to me the next day. “It was too long, it was too heavy after everything we had been through.”

True. It was all too much. It was too much, and I spent a lot of our worship crying, leaning on the person next to me, existing in choked up silence, or trying to absorb the tears and devastation all around me. I came in and out of being able to join in the responses and song of the church, and when I did, my voice was frayed and fragile. I was trapped by my own big proclamations from earlier in the week about needing to continue to walk together. I didn’t want to walk together. I wanted to leave.   But somehow I understood that I had made a promise and now payment on that promise was being asked of me.

It was the hardest worship in which I have ever participated. It made me angry and sad. And it confronted me with truths I didn’t want to hear and needed to more than ever. We began with words of confession, and I understood in a new way why we choose to acknowledge our sins before God together: because our inability to see God’s goodness in one another is a reality that we bear collectively, and because ultimately a new path must be found through God’s grace and in one another’s presence. My voice failed me, and the voices of others lifted me. I was held up by others, and at times I realized I was able to be part of how others in that space were held. And through those ancient words and in that most broken of places, I felt this strong sense that we were being joined in our prayer by the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven–this great cloud of witnesses surrounding us–and there was a depth and a yearning and a resonance to our voice that I had never heard before.

I don’t know exactly what the Spirit was up to with us through the confusion of General Synod that ended up being our headline story. Yes, there was human error that led to the mis-filing of one vote. But we had also made the commitment to one another that we were placing ourselves in the embrace of the Holy Spirit in going forward. “The Spirit will speak,” one prophetic voice had said in Monday’s break-out group. “And then we need to attend to how we respond to that.” When a new outcome to this vote was announced within minutes of the close of General Synod, when we discovered that the motion had indeed passed, there were still glimmers of grace and loveliness at work in our collective disbelief:

  • again it was a thunderous silence that fell over us, there was nothing of the unbridled victor present in that room.
  • every single person in that assembly would walk away knowing what it was to be hurt and disappointed. Every person there had now been faced with a choice – to let that hurt and disappointment rule, or to stay together.
  • and before us again was the invitation of our common prayer. Now it was God’s table to which we were called. Our liturgical Anglican character asked that we trust in how God’s Spirit might be present, not through our spontaneous prayer, but in the ancient signs and symbols, stories and prayers, that have always needed to be big enough to hold and bless every human fear and hope and loss and joy.

Where do we go from here? was the question posed to us by our remarkable Primate, Fred Hiltz, through this most painful twenty-four hours of our church’s life recently.   It strikes me that the great teacher of the church, Thomas Merton, reflected on this question decades ago:

“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is a resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate. Hatred recoils from the sacrifice and the sorrow that are the price of this resetting of bones. It refuses the pain of reunion. But love by the acceptance of the pain of reunion, begins to heal all wounds.”

At the end of the day, the body is undeniably, visibly, broken. There is no victory, except in the cross of Christ. These are not new realities. And the way forward is always the same: trusting that the Spirit has our back, and allowing ourselves to hold, and be held by, one another.

About Martha Tatarnic

The Reverend Martha Tatarnic serves as the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines. Previously, she has served in congregations in Orillia and Oakville. Her focus in congregational leadership has been in empowering justice initiatives and outreach in the small church, starting a new service, the possibilities and potentials of Anglican-Lutheran partnership, and forming disciples through the power of music. As a young mother navigating family life through the continually changing waters of modern-day life, she is passionate about connecting the dots between faith – worship – Scripture, and exploring the concerns, joys, questions, stresses, worries, celebrations, of Right Here, Right Now.

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The Community, An update from The Community, July 22, 2016