Monday, April 18, 2011

Charge to Synod 2010

Charge to Synod 2010 of the Diocese of Quebec.

Presented at: Maison Rivier Sherbrooke Quebec,

By: The Right Reverend Dennis P Drainville



“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

And what things we have seen with the eyes of Faith! Since last Synod in May of 2009 we have been actively seeking how to reinterpret the Gospel in our own age. At the last Synod I said: ‘This Synod, God is calling us individually and collectively to show our faithfulness by becoming pioneers again. Like them we are heading into new territory, and like them, we will have to utilize new approaches to ministry, and new strategies regarding the use of our assets. I believe that the only potential obstacle that may hinder us will be if we are timid or afraid to take risks. Let’s be mindful of the passage from 1 John 4:13 that “perfect love casts out fear”.

The road that we have walked together over the last sixteen months has indeed been challenging. It has been uphill all the way. And yet as we look back to the many engagements, events, meetings, worship services and educational gatherings that have taken place, we see a strong and steady resurgence of our commitment to respond to God’s call to us. And this is by no means based on the observation of a few random incidents. For it is discernible in all parts of the Diocese of Quebec: there is a growing awareness of the energy and power of the Gospel and of our own capacity to proclaim it with courage and conviction. Wonderful things are happening and it is directly tied to our willingness to seek God in different places and different ways and in our growing capacity to change.

Let me begin in that place where my private and public life come together most tangibly, and that is in “Bishopthorpe” the See house and the home of the Bishop and his family. Many times over the last four months as I have walked through the worksite that was once “Bishopthorpe” I had reason to recall the words of the Letter to the Hebrews.” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. We thought long and hard about what God was calling us to do with the property and over the months of consultation and prayer we decided that, for many reasons, we needed to move ahead with significant repairs and restoration of the See House. Many of us believed that the house, if renewed physically could become the vehicle whereby we could be renewed spiritually. We were forced however to look beyond the cracked and decaying plaster to the hope that stood beyond. Working to restore “Bishopthorpe” was a lesson in faithfulness.

Since October 1st 2010 my family, Cynthia, Aurora, my mother in law Marge Patterson and I have been reunited in the renewed “Bishopthorpe”. It is also now accessible to people who have mobility problems or use a wheelchair. It is a beautiful house which we hope will become a home for the whole of the diocese, as well as our own home. In the last two weeks we have hosted the Executive Meeting of the Diocesan ACW as well as an all-day meeting and dinner with the Staff of the National Church’s Department of Philanthropy.

Recently, I witnessed a discussion of a small congregation engaged in looking at the possible closure of a church building. We had spent hours talking about the fact that twelve people all of whom were in their seventies and eighties could no longer financially support the ministry and maintain the church building in good repair. As a group they were looking at options. They spoke about three options: fund-raising, selling the church building and property and stopping their support of on-going stipendiary ministry. The turning point of the conversation was when one person made an emotion filled plea to not close “our church”.

After a pause, someone else got up and said, “Look, My Grandfather built this building, I didn’t. He helped pay for the nails and the wood and the tin for the roof, I didn’t. Sure, I have given money to the Church all my life, I have felt duty bound to do it and in fact, glad to do so, but that doesn’t mean that the building is mine. And although my Grandfather did physically build the church he would never have claimed ownership. He would have said, “It’s to be used for the next generation, we’re only caretakers or stewards.”

And then he looked around at the group and said, “What are we leaving for the next generation in our village? An empty church building that needs repairs? I have a feeling that my grandfather would be disappointed. What we need to leave our children and the generation that follows is a living Faith. And what is very clear to me right now, is that this church building is not the answer to the spiritual and religious needs of our young people.

It takes discernment to see the reality that is before us and courage to meet what we truly see in a creative and humble way. We don’t have all the answers to all the challenges that are before us but we do have committed people with talents and abilities who are willing to ask the tough questions and try new approaches in their ministry. As I have said often, God is not calling us to success; God is calling us to faithfulness.

I thank God that for the many new faces of people who have joined us in ministry in the Diocese of Quebec: Francie Keats, Wanda Dillabough, Yves Samson and David Oliver. Each one of them joins our ministry team with skills and talents that they are seeking to employ as they respond faithfully to God’s Call. Already they are engaged in various corners of this immense Diocese and helping to respond to the needs and aspirations of Anglicans wherever they are to be found.

Part of the New Vision of what the Diocese of Quebec can do and be in the future, includes working in various kinds of partnerships. We are presently renewing, reworking and beginning partnerships with: The Anglican Diocese of Montreal, Our Anglican Companion Dioceses of Bujumbura and Moray, Ross and Caithness and ecumenically with the Roman Catholic Church.

When I think of the work that we do in society and the challenges that we face I am reminded that ministry is never done alone. (Luke 9:1-6) We do ministry with others. We not only discern in concert but we pray together, eat together and encourage each other in the carrying out of our tasks. When I read passages of scripture where Jesus is calling the disciples and sending them out to minister, I realize that our calling as Christians means that what we do for Our Lord and what we do for the proclamation of the Gospel is always done in union with and alongside others with whom we share the load.

If this is true of our task as individual believers, it is equally true of our work as a diocese. One of the most positive and powerful results of the great challenges with which we have been confronted, is the revelation of how we might further the bringing in of God’s reign by linking our ministry in the Diocese of Quebec to the ministry exercised by the Diocese of Montreal. It has been a real privilege for us to have had the opportunity of working with Bishop Barry, his clergy and the people of the Diocese of Montreal.

Our discussions have led to a clear understanding that: working together to respond to God’s Mission in the province of Quebec means each diocese working side by side as sisters and brothers in the Lord Jesus. Over the last two to three years we have had informal discussions that have confirmed our commitment to seek common ground and examine areas where economies of scale and joint ministry might make sense. Recently, QMPI –The Quebec-Montreal Partnership Initiative has begun discussions regarding specific areas where we as dioceses could join our respective organizations to more effectively and efficiently accomplish certain goals or tasks.

We have already identified some areas or operations which might be shared in the future: The monthly newspaper, the Website, payroll services, property management, support for Francophone ministries, and support for rural ministries, particularly in the Eastern Townships. These are preliminary ideas of where we might work together and what we might do in concert with each other. The how and when issues still are yet to be decided. You will be given an opportunity to show your support for this initiative through a resolution which will ask that we continue to develop new ways of working with the Diocese of Montreal to attain our Diocesan Mission goals.

Another important partnership is seen in our building stronger links and opportunities for mission together with the Diocese of Bujumbura and Moray Ross and Caithness. The last year has had its ups and downs because communications have been challenging, but it is hoped that those obstacles are now in the past and we can move on to find new ways to make connections. Our relationship with Bishop Pie Ntukamazina was given a boost when he was chosen by the National Church to be an official partner for the next three years. This means that he will visit Canada at least once a year. His recent visit to the Eastern Townships, Baie Comeau and Quebec gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn more about him and his diocese.

It would be true to say that over the last twenty-five years the Anglican Diocese of Quebec has had a cordial and generally good relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in this province. Archbishop Stavert’s long history with the Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue has been extremely helpful in cultivating and maintaining that relationship. That work has been continued through the participation of Archdeacon Bruce Myers and me on the ARC Dialogue. One of the fruits of that collaboration was the ecumenical event held in the autumn of 2009 which was focused on “Saint Paul and Ecumenism”.

However, as we move into the future we are beginning to ask whether there are some concrete ways that we can actually work together in areas of mutual concern and ministry. Last December, Roman Catholic Bishop Jean Gagnon of the Diocese of Gaspe and I were joined by the Federal Member of Parliament, Raynald Blais and the Provincial Member of the National Assembly Georges Mamelonet, along with a number of Mayors and other local community leaders, in a blockade of the Gaspe rail line as a means of drawing public attention to one more attempt by Via Rail and the Government of Canada to diminish service to the regions. The Blockade resulted in a change in policy by Via Rail Canada and highlighted the importance and effectiveness of ecumenical church leadership regarding issues of significant social concern. Being partners not only strengthens our mission but it also teaches us to be more inventive and resourceful.

One of the clearest signs that things are changing for the better in our Diocese is the significant lessening of antagonism between the regions and the Diocesan Office. When I began my work as Missioner in 2006 many of the meetings that I attended began with a list of wrongs, mistakes and injustices that were perceived as having been perpetrated on the parishes by an unfeeling, uncaring and incompetent Diocesan Office. I have to say to you, that in those early days, it made my task very complicated and in some cases almost impossible to make suggestions about how we could work together when my motives and the motives of the Diocesan Office were questioned.

By and large this is not the case anymore. Increasingly, parishes see the Diocesan Office for the partner that it is and must be, and we in Church House see the parishes in the very same light. Truth telling is essential, and we must be able to ask straight questions and get straight answers, but the aim of our relationship and communication must always be to further God’s Mission. Because we are in partnership and not in competition, we need always to seek the ways and means that show us how we can be of service to each other. Believing in each other’s basic good will must always be the pre-eminent characteristic of our association.

Bishop Barry of Montreal shared with his Synod an extract of a document written by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali entitled, What does a Bishop do? I share it as well because, it elucidates much better than I can the complex and demanding role that we are asked to take on when we are called to episcopal ministry. He writes, “bishops minister to a very large number of people, both publicly and privately, in local, national and even international contexts. The bishop is the principal minister in the diocese and as such has a responsibility not only for specifically episcopal services (such as ordinations, institutions ,and confirmations) but also for the coherence, good order and liveliness of worship in the parish churches, chapels and new ways of being Church throughout the diocese. The bishop is also involved in the pastoral care of the clergy and in their ministerial development and also in attempting to resolve particularly difficult concerns which reach the episcopal desk because “the buck stops here”. The bishop also helps to relate the local church to the wider. This means participation in national bodies and their work; the House of Bishops and General Synod spring most readily to mind. Whether it is leadership in worship, teaching and preaching or the chairing of numerous committees, local, national or international, bishops need to be aware of their” connecting” tasks. They gather the people of God in a particular locality, they relate them to other communities of faith, nationally and throughout the world, and they ensure the passing of the faith from one generation to another. As leaders in mission, they must make sure that the word and the work of God is being proclaimed in every parish, in every church plant, in the nation as a whole and throughout the world. As “servant of the servants of God” the bishop has the responsibility for those in any kind of need, for the voiceless and the oppressed and for those who are denied their freedom.

I want to publicly give thanks to God for surrounding me with so many friends and colleagues who walk with me in this journey of faith. If I have hope, it is because these friends and colleagues manifest it in their relationships one with the other and share their abundant hope with me. If I have love, it is because I have so much love and kindness shown to me in all of the small communities I visit and across the full expanse of this diocese. I would indeed be remiss at this time if I did not personally acknowledge my family’s gratitude for the prayers that are offered up each and every week for our welfare and guidance. Let me assure you the prayers are both needed and appreciated.

I would like to offer special thanks to the clergy and the lay leadership from across the diocese of Quebec. In particular I wish to acknowledge the debt of gratitude I owe to those who hold positions of trust and leadership: To all the members of the Diocesan Executive Council and the Central Board of the Church Society.

My profound thanks to those who work in the Diocesan Office: Archdeacon Garth Bulmer, Executive Director Guylaine Caron, my assistant Sherry Knox, the bookkeepers Marie-Sol Gaudreau and Emma Earle, James Sweeny the editor of the Gazette, and the Archivist and Jean Thivierge, who although not directly on our staff does numerous things to help us do our respective jobs.

Although she cannot be here, I want to acknowledge my profound thanks to my wife Cynthia Patterson. Her vision, her indomitable spirit and faith filled convictions are a strong support to me and riches that she willingly shares with the diocesan family. I thank God for her work and her presence in our collective lives.

At the beginning of this address I quoted from the Letter to the Hebrews about Faith. Further on in that passage we read:

“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

We too are on the same journey of Faith. We too desire a better country, a heavenly one. And by God’s grace and guidance I believe, that what we are being led to, is nothing less than the resurgence of a stronger faith in Jesus Christ and the birthing of a renewed and reinvigorated Church. May we continue God’s good servants and may God’s will be done. AMEN and AMEN.

2009 Charge to Synod

The Bishop’s Charge to Synod


The Right Reverend Dennis Paul Drainville, 12th Lord Bishop of Quebec, at the

Opening of the 81st Ordinary Synod of the Diocese of Quebec May 28th 2009





“That you may be strengthened in your inner being

with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in

your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and

grounded in love”.

Once upon a time there was a community of people. This community, like all

communities, gathered regularly to share the joy and excitement of just being

together. And like most communities they gathered around a particular

leader. For some time things worked out pretty well. They

worked on projects, they shared dreams of the future, and they realized

over time, that the leader that they had accepted was quite exceptional.

He was able to speak to all of them with simplicity and

great affection. Even when he was challenging, he was able to do it in

a way that affirmed the best part of who they were. They learned that

being together, living together and dreaming together was both empowering

and enriching. In fact, they eventually understood that

this sense of communal unity was an essential element of their lives.

The whole thing seemed to come crashing down around them

when one of the group, someone they loved and trusted, decided to

sabotage the relationship with their leader. In just a couple of

days, their leader was arrested, tried and executed. Almost all

of them fled. Fear gripped their hearts and minds. Doubts assailed

them and they began to wonder whether they had been

wrong about everything: their leader, their lives together and

the vision they had of a different world.

Of course, I am speaking about Jesus and the early disciples.

It wasn’t the first time nor would it be the last time that

the Church teetered on the edge of existence. The sack of

Rome, the fall of Constantinople, the rise of totalitarian regimes

and many, many smaller conflicts have, through the

ages, brought our Church to the very edge of existence. What

saved the Church then, and all the times after, has been the

abiding presence of God’s Spirit and the amazing capacity of

Christians in every age and in every part of the world, to rethink,

renew, re-educate and re-establish the Christian Community.

We in the Diocese of Quebec are in no different position

in the twenty first century than were the earliest Christians. I

say this because perspective is important. Very often when

we stand too close to the issues we can’t see a solution. Being

too close makes it difficult to see the whole picture. Being too

far away makes it difficult to see the various parts and how

they interact and relate in making up the whole. What we need

is to take a position that allows us to appreciate the whole as

well as the differences between the various parts and how

they inter relate. This is what I am going to try to do over the

next few minutes as I speak about the challenges that lie ahead.

Over the last six months I have communicated with you

through the Diocesan Gazette, through Conference Calls with

the clergy, through the DVD and through the discussions that

went on as a response to the communications process that we

set in motion. By and large, the results of this extensive process

have led me to understand more about: who we are, where

we are and how we are. I would like to share with you a few

reflections related to the three primary spiritual Gifts that the

Apostle Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians 13: Faith Hope and

Love.

FAITH

We are a community of Faith. This is an historical reality

as I indicated in both the Gazette article and the DVD. Since

the inception of the Diocese of Quebec we Anglicans have

been committed to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ

throughout the province. We did not only take the Word of

God to the areas where there were large populations but to the

fishing villages, the farms, the small towns and the lumber

camps. We traveled by foot, horse, boat, train, automobile,

snow mobile and airplane. And we did this work openly, joyously

and with an enthusiasm that energized our communities.

Our commitment to the task spurred us on to build

churches and rectories and church halls all over the Diocese.

We did all of these activities as a faithful response to the God

who called us into relationship. But being a community

of Faith also means that we are engaged in a spiritual reality.

We affirm that spirituality is an essential component

of the well lived life. And for us of the household of Faith,

we acknowledge as fundamental a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship

teaches us that we are most faithful when we are active

in bringing in the reign of God, which is precisely the framework within which

Jesus worked. Of course, in terms of society, this is not the vision

of today nor will it be the vision of tomorrow if we do not

take up the challenge to be the disciples of Jesus that we

are called to be. Jesus said, “But seek first God’s Kingdom,

and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.” But what did

Jesus mean when he spoke the words, “seek first the Kingdom of God “?

The scriptures indicate that the Kingdom is both a

present reality and yet it is to be looked at as a future blessing

as well. This may seem contradictory but in fact it makes sense

to me. We, that is: the Church, when it is faithful to the call,

lives out that faithfulness by responding to “the other” in

society. We are the ones who by Christ’s command, serve. We

bind the wounds of those who are hurt and rejected, we feed

the hungry, we advocate for the poor, and we visit the sick.

When we do these selfless things, merely because Our Lord

has commanded that they be done, the Kingdom erupts into

our consciousness and becomes manifest in our community.

The love and compassion of Jesus becomes an existential

reality. But however significant this reality is, it is only a foretaste

of what the Kingdom is meant to be when we finally

attain full unity with God through Jesus Christ in the eschaton.

The question that we must ask ourselves is: what does

bringing in the reign of God mean to us in our own day? In the

nineteenth and twentieth centuries it meant building churches

and rectories and halls. That is where evangelism happened.

But what does it mean for us today?

I think with rural depopulation, a profoundly secular

society, and significant elements of alienation in our society,

that we are being called to engage in ministry outside the

traditional locus of our communities. If we are to bring in the

reign of God, and I suggest that this is no option for us, we

must begin to meet people where they are and frankly they are

not in our churches. We can no longer say “they are welcome

to attend if they choose”, and think that our mission is complete

if the door to our church is open on Sunday morning.

Bringing in the Kingdom requires a reordering of our priorities,

a wise and generous use of our assets and a willingness

to be God’s people in new and creative ways.

This Synod, God is calling us individually and collectively

to show our faithfulness by becoming pioneers again.

Like them we are heading into new territory, and like them, we

will have to utilize new approaches to ministry, and new strategies

regarding the use of our assets. I believe that the only

potential obstacle that may hinder us will be if we are timid or

afraid to take risks. Let’s be mindful of the passage from 1

John 4:13 that “perfect love casts out fear”.

HOPE

I have to admit to you that when we decided to move

forward with the comprehensive communication strategy that

I was not at all clear about what would be the outcome. As we

had never attempted such an approach, it wasn’t clear whether

Quebec Diocesan Gazette June 2009 page 3

people would engage in the process, whether the information

received would clarify our understanding of the problems facing

us or whether any strategies would flow from the dialogue

itself. In fact we had a significant response rate from congregations.

Well over half of the congregations of the Diocese

engaged in the process. The responses certainly enlarged our

understanding of the issues facing us. However, the answers

to the questions focusing on the DVD, and its message, were

for me the most helpful because they did give us a sense of

what strategies might be employed by churches and the Diocese

in the future.

Here are but three of the many themes that were strongly

supported in the responses received:

We have to be creatively engaged in God’s work outside

the Church building, in the community. This is how Jesus

will become real to us individually.

We have to be practical about church property. If it is

helping us to do God’s work, and we can afford the up-keep,

continue as before. If it is hindering our capacity to do ministry

because the few who come to church are overwhelmed by

keeping the doors open and maintenance is costing too much

financially, then, get rid of the property, invest the proceeds

and use the interest for ministry and choose another venue

for worship.

We must intentionally build and expand the educational

part of our ministry by being open and friendly communities

offering courses and programs that interest people. This can

serve not only to evangelize but to help people to feel that

there is a community for them where they are known, accepted

and invited to participate.

I have put together these three statements from the many

responses to questions raised through the DVD. I find them

wonderfully practical and above all hopeful. They are hopeful

because they presuppose that God is calling us to be engaged,

creative, stewards who minister to people outside the

present church community. I believe that this is precisely God’s

call to us. Many responses reaffirmed that the priority for us

as God’s people set ongoing ministry as vastly more important

than issues of maintenance and property.

LOVE

What is communicated repeatedly through the responses

to the questionnaires is the primacy of Love. It is

clear that love of God and love of one’s neighbour are neither

platitudinous nor peripheral to our individual and collective

lives as Christians. Rather, we are being called by God to minister

to those who are poor, or sick or in need and we are

challenged to bring in God’s reign by creating communities

where the love of God is manifest in its members and in their

compassionate ministry.

When describing mission and what is being done presently

by members of congregations, most people see mission

as helping “others”, and doing this by donating to worthy

causes and organizations like PWRDF, Food Banks and local

charities. It is worthy of note that in every region of the Diocese

the ACW are recognized as the most important vehicle

for ongoing mission.

In conclusion, as you will note, I have not spent time

looking at “problems”. I think we are very clear about where

the great challenges lie. Our task this Synod, is to chart a

course that will take us toward God. And as we move together

on this great journey, let us strive to attain the three spiritual

gifts of Faith, Hope and Love. For it is by these gifts of the

Spirit, that we will be empowered to do the will of God. As

Jesus sought to bring in the Reign of God, let us follow his

example, and use all our talents, abilities and gifts in the fulfillment

of this great enterprise.

Let us pray:

Glory to God,

Whose power working in us,

Can do infinitely more

than we can ask or imagine.

Glory to God from generation to generation,

In the Church and in Christ Jesus,

for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

“Behold I make all things New”:The Anglican Church of Canada in Transformation



“Behold I make all things New”:
The Anglican Church of Canada in Transformation

An Address given at Convocation to the Graduating Students of Montreal Diocesan
Theological College
By
The Right Reverend Dennis Paul Drainville





As we read the reports from the Council of General Synod and scan the articles of the religious press across Canada we have sufficient proof that our Anglican Church is undergoing massive change, restructuring and a process of fundamental realignment.

One might think reading these articles that the major issues that concern us are declining numbers and lack of financial resources. My view is quite different. I believe that the Anglican Church of Canada is facing a far more challenging problem. Over the last fifty years we have lost our ability to communicate the Faith to the succeeding generations and as those people have not been taught or mentored in the Faith, they have drifted away or rejected the Anglican Church. The result is that we no longer have the critical mass of Anglicans who choose to believe or are interested in supporting the present church community.

Understanding how this diminishment in the numbers of Anglican Christians has happened is important. As many would acknowledge, we live in a post Christian Age. The members of contemporary society, by and large, believe that they know what the Christian Faith is all about. They have received their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ from television, movies, the internet, political commentaries and from observing individual christians whom they know. In reality, what our contemporaries have rejected is a mere distorted image, the vestiges, the bits and pieces which make up the sum total of what is understood to be the Christian faith, but is not. That image is more a creation of pop culture than it is an expression of serious religious experience or belief.

However, my concern this evening is not with the great masses of people who believe they know or understand what constitutes the Christian Faith and reject it. No. rather, my focus is on us, the Household of Faith, the women and men who for a variety of reasons and in a myriad of ways consciously are trying to follow the Way of Jesus the Risen Lord. And yet, what makes grappling with this issue complicated is that we too are part of post Christian society.

From what I observe, we seem to be no more immune to the effects of pop culture on the Christian Faith than our contemporaries who seemingly claim knowledge and render a decision to reject the faith. Unfortunately, we contemporary Christians think we know the basic tenets of Faith and have appropriated a sense of the story of Jesus within ourselves individually and collectively, but in fact, we too have lost much of the story. The clearest and most striking example that proves the point is found in the empty pews of our churches. The story of Jesus no longer seems to hold power even for us who claim to be believers.

To put it another way, we have forgotten how to be a Christian community. For if there is one attribute that has been constant in our life of Faith over the past generations it has
been our knowledge of how to train and educate the next generation of believers in the Gospel message. The Church has changed countless times in countless places over the
past two thousand years. Relating to contemporary culture has been a constant engagement in our history as Church. We have reformed, realigned, and renewed in many different situations according to the society that we are part of and according to
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We are in such a time now. I believe that the Church that will emerge from the present crisis will be fundamentally different from the institution that we now know and of which we are members.

However, we must not conclude that the decline in numbers is a rejection of Jesus Christ, for a true rejection can only happen if there is a real meeting. Rather, it would be
more accurate to say that, as we have lost our capacity to understand, share and teach the Word of Life, contemporary members of society no longer are either able to
comprehend what it is that we truly believe or are not interested in what the Anglican Church seems to offer.

St. Paul wrote in Romans about the importance of how we communicate the Good news: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one in whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news". For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?" So Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard, comes through the word of Christ." Romans 10:14-17

To illustrate this problem I have set out three vignettes or stories that reveal the challenges we are presently facing. They are true stories although they are put together
from many different anecdotes and places in Canada.

Vignettes of the Contemporary Church

Vignette One

An individual who I will call Joan 34 has sought an interview with the bishop regarding possible ordination in the Church. Joan arrives with a C.V. in hand and ready to initiate
her career as a future member of the clergy. Joan is quite clear that God has called her to ordination. She already has a degree from university and has worked for a number of
years and is clear that her professional and educational qualifications are adequate to the job requirements. In conversation with the bishop the following observations are
made: Firstly, that neither Joan nor her family come from a church background, and she has been a regular attender at church for only about a year. Secondly, on hearing that
ordination is a lengthy process and includes several procedural and formational steps including: studies leading to another diploma, interviews and discussions with church
members, a police check and psychological testing; Joan responds that she thinks such a process is unnecessary as God has most certainly called her and surely the process
needn't be so long and convoluted. Many people from her parish have affirmed her education and gifts and have said clearly that ordination is the most natural thing for her. Thirdly, in discussion with Joan it is apparent that she has very little knowledge of prayer, the bible or experience of leadership in the parish that she has only recently joined.

Vignette Two

Several parishioners have been vociferous in recommending that it is time for a Confirmation Class in their parish. Several things puzzle the new cleric who has been in the local community less than a year. Firstly, the request for the Confirmation Class is not being made by the parents of the young people or by the young people themselves, but rather by the grandparents. Secondly, when the young cleric tries to engage with the parents about the process leading to the setting up of the class, she finds that she has
not met and therefore doesn't really know most of the parents as they rarely enter the doors of the Church. Except for one particular child, who is at Church every Sunday with his parents, the other nine young people, like their parents, are not Church goers.

Thirdly, the classes are hugely challenging for the young cleric because she finds that there is little or no interest or commitment to being part of the class. She also has found
that the young people are largely uninformed about bible stories or prayer because those things are not at all part of the lives that they live, and because they are not
attending Church, they have no point of convergence with the life of Faith as it is traditionally understood.

Vignette Three

All Saints Church is one of five congregations in a fairly large rural parish. The ten members who gather every week are all in their 70's or 80's. They love their charming wooden neo-gothic church building which seats about one hundred and was built in 1890. Unfortunately, the building is in significant disrepair. The bell tower, the roof and the foundation in the N.E. corner need immediate and costly repair. The two
neghbouring churches, St Peter's Church with 15 members and ten minutes away, and St. John's Church with 12 members and twenty minutes away, have offered to open their doors to them. Both of these churches, although not large in numbers, are in significantly better repair. Unfortunately, All Saints has other problems as well, they can no longer afford to pay their bills. The congregation has informed the diocesan office
that they can no longer afford to pay the diocesan assessment or the stipend and benefits for their incumbent priest. They will, however, try to pay their insurance costs, because it is necessary to keep the church open. The bishop meeting with them asks what they believe their mission is to the local community, to which there is little response. He then asks what they want from their church. They reply that they want to
keep their church open, their services from the BCP and regular visits from the parish priest. The bishop gently suggests that although on the surface it looks like the
congregation wants the same things that they have always had, there is one significant difference, they no longer have the financial and human resources to keep going as they have for over one hundred years. When asked why they will not join one of the other churches in the area where they would have the advantages of more resources, greater participation and less demand being made on them individually and collectively, they
reply through the treasurer that they know they are dying as a congregation but it is to them of primary importance that the church stay open so that they can be buried from it. Obviously, when they are all gone it won’t matter anymore.

Now what do all three of these vignettes have in common? All three vignettes reveal a lack of clarity among the individuals about what is appropriate for them to be and do within the context of the Christian community. In the first example Joan barely knows what it means to be a Christian and there she is, convinced that whatever it takes, she has the capacity to be a leader. In the second story the grandparents are locked into a dream of the past and how the community operated in their youth. They do not really see that their own children have, by and large rejected lives of Faith as well as rejecting being members of the church community. In the third vignette the small congregation doesn’t see that what they are advocating is the opposite of what Christ has offered. In the scriptures Jesus offers those who believe abundant life not abundant death.

Another issue which is brought to light through each vignette is the disappearance of the Christian as “disciple” or learner. Increasingly, those who are coming to faith are people who have little or no knowledge of the Christian Story. Whether it is Joan who has only recently joined a church community, or the parents and children to be confirmed, who
never attend church and are ignorant about issues of faith, or the few members of All Saints Church who reject the kind and generous offer to share a church and live together in community but opt rather for separation and death because of a their mistaken obsession with their church building; all of them have stopped living the life of a disciple and have adopted other ways of relating to the church.

Finally all three vignettes reveal the slide into a negative focus based upon the question, “what can the church do for me? Joan wanted a job. She believes that her diploma and
work experience and the supportive words of others are all that one needs to be ordained. After all that’s how everyone else gets a job, isn’t it? The grandparents, for
their part are hoping that by forcing their grandchildren to be confirmed that they will achieve a small bit of success to mollify themselves for feeling that they have been so
unsuccessful with their own children. This of course is based on their own feelings and perceptions of failure. Finally, the people from All Saints want to be buried from their
own church, and that church only. It is as if the final act of burial will prove their undying commitment to the building their ancestors built and to a way of life that they were raised to value. They little think that perhaps their commitment might be somewhat misplaced.

The challenge that the Anglican Church has in many communities across Canada is not primarily financial, demographic or based upon competition with other churches, religions or secular society. I believe the real issue is: that we have forgotten how to be the Church. This disabling forgetfulness can be demonstrated by observing three important areas of our communal life: first, we have not maintained a focus on our individual and collective relationships with Jesus Christ, second, we have lost our identity because we are not taught the elements of Faith as disciples or learners of Jesus have been taught since time immemorial, and third because we do not know or live out the story of our Faith, we are not able to be effective instruments of God's mission in the world. The Church of which we are now members is living with the results
of these losses.

Living with and Knowing Jesus the Risen Lord

To appreciate more fully what I am saying let us turn briefly to the questions that are asked at baptism following the reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant. These questions put squarely before us three central issues that are absolutely necessary for the building of Christian community: a relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord, a clear sense of our identity as Christians and an unwavering commitment to God’s mission in the world.

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and
return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of
every human being?

I think these questions fairly clearly chart out the life that we are to live as baptized members of the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ is central to each commitment. Following the Apostle’s teaching will help to guide and direct us in our communal life in Christ. Through our openness to learn we become true disciples of Jesus, for after all, the word
disciple comes from latin and means learner. Therefore, being a disciple means being a learner. Gathering together in fellowship, links our lives together bonding us to Christ
and with one another and helps us to grow in the Faith as we actively become one in the Spirit. Through the breaking of the bread we not only spiritually sustain ourselves so that
we may do God’s work but we re-enact over and over again, through the sharing of the bread and wine, the ritual coming together of the disciples, whose sole object was to focus on His presence and receive the benefits of being in communion with His life. It is through prayer, regular, focused and heartfelt that we allow Jesus access into our most inward thoughts, hopes and aspirations

Living in Christ through Christ and with Christ, is the aim. But nowhere does it say that this way of life is easy or even attractive to contemporary people. Those who choose Christ are truly choosing, "the road less traveled". They are engaged in a counter cultural movement that fundamentally rejects the violence, materiality and shallowness of the present age. And yet because we are in the world it is so easy to be led to do those things that negate the call to Christ. Not only must we resist evil, but we must be ready to analyze our own lives and submit ourselves to the call to repentance.

As Anglicans we have often found proclaiming the Gospel a major challenge. We have often avoided the word evangelism and felt that it was better left to those who were more fundamentalist or radically protestant. Despite this, the biblical record is replete with exhortations regarding the centrality of "baptizing", "making disciples", and "preaching the Good News". Surely, considering the world we live in, the number of crises and catastrophes that presently face the world and the obvious need for Christ to be proclaimed, we can no longer see this as a secondary engagement.

I am often reminded when I read the words, "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons," of St. Francis who captured the essence of the gift of showing love. When we allow ourselves to be used by God as instruments of love, what better, clearer, simpler communication needs to be made. In one and the same act we draw someone into God's embrace and we are drawn inward into the very act whereby Jesus has reconciled the world to himself. We become as it were the enfleshment of the "new commandment".

And what of Justice and Peace? In the Western world these terms are often used by people to denote their dissatisfaction with governmental policy or antagonism to the various ruling
elites. But speaking of Justice and Peace in lands where Genocide has occurred or is occurring, where hundreds of millions are homeless and without clean water, where the
grief stricken faces of family members can be seen watching as their loved ones die for want of medications that cost a few pennies, this is a different order of reality and must
call from us a real response. This is the test of our resolve as Christians: that given the vision of a world based on Justice and Peace, you and I willingly and intentionally
choose to be the vehicle for God to bless the many. The miracle is that we must do it one person at a time for every human is worthy of dignity and respect.

Who are we? The Issue of Identity

There are many passages in scripture which are good responses to the question, What is our identity as Christians in contemporary society? In my view, this question is most
completely answered in the 28th chapter of Matthew's Gospel. It is often called the Great Commission.

And Jesus came and said to them, "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with
you always, to the end of the age."

In the early 1980’s I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know the Rev. Bob Brow who at that time was serving the parish of St. James in Kingston Ontario. He was a well
known Evangelical cleric and I had come from the Anglo Catholic part of the Anglican Church. Despite our very different approaches to things theological and ecclesiological, we both enjoyed discussion, debate and the sharing of ideas. He was ministering right at the foot of Queen’s University and almost daily entering into a teaching relationship with the many students that would cross his path. I was amazed and impressed at how intentional he was at presenting the Faith to people who came from secular, theistic or other religious traditions.

Bob wrote a book entitled “Go Make Learners: A New Model for Discipleship in the Church”. This book was a revelation to me because the model of discipleship that he put forward made intrinsic sense and corresponded to my understanding of the
scriptures. He put forward the view that it was when we are learners being taught the Faith that we were being most true to our call. As in all models, it is not perfect in all its
points. But I believe it is a very helpful approach as we attempt to grapple with the challenge of passing on the Faith to the next generations.

The central issue of the discipleship model as Bob Brow outlines in his book is simply the making of disciples or learners. It is this activity which is the primary work of the Church and the dynamic force that draws people into a relationship with Jesus so that they receive the gifts and other benefits that come from being taught by and about the
Word of Life.

The Book of Acts is a key document in the demonstration of how this is a central approach in helping the Church be the Church. The author of Luke /Acts highlights the teaching ministry of the Early Church mentioning the word teach or teaching over 20 times. In Acts 2:42 we find the passage that has been incorporated into questions following the Baptismal covenant: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”. So, we are to primarily be learners. This is a good thing, because from the stand point of someone who is seeking to know God’s will and is endeavouring to do the things that God is calling us to do, it is nice to know that we don’t have to be an expert, or possess secret knowledge, or belong to the right family or even be of a certain race. All we need is to believe in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, have an open and inquiring mind and be baptized.

It seems clear to me that baptism was the means by which the new believers would become enrolled as learners. This entry into discipleship required the public taking of oaths and the ritualized washing away of sins as a sign of entry into the new relationship or new life. As Bob Brow quite rightly points out, “What is striking about the early churches described in the Book of Acts is that they seemed to take in anybody! Since all baptisms were immediate, there was obviously no time to investigate the new disciples, no probationary period to weed out the good from the bad. Disciples were baptized first and then taught. This was certainly the case for with Jesus’ first twelve disciples.”

I would say that this openess toward baptism and the enrolling of learners or disciples makes sense when seen in relation to the charge of the Pharisees that Jesus spent too much time with tax collectors, prostitutes and the ritually unclean. He in fact called all persons into a relationship of learning. To know him was to know the Father or to learn of the Father. As Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.” John 6:44-45 The role of the Holy Spirit as teacher is also attested to by Jesus in John’s Gospel: I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I said to you.” John 14:25-26 So it seems to me that if we would understand most clearly who we are, we must acknowledge that our identity is inextricably tied to the call to be a disciple or a learner.

An unwavering commitment to God’s mission in the world.

Thus far we have spoken about knowing and living in a relationship with Jesus our Risen Lord and we have examined our primary identity as Disciples or Learners. The third element that we must consider is our commitment to God’s Mission in the world. That Mission has already been touched on previously. We, the disciples of Jesus have been commanded to go into the world and make other disciples. We do this firstly
because we have been commanded to do so by Our Lord. However, we also do it because it has been demonstrated over two thousand years, that by engaging persons in such a relationship with Jesus, that lives will be changed. Not only the individual lives of those seeking to know God but the lives of many others who live close to those who have become learners.

Three examples of how we can advance God’s Mission seem obvious: We must leave our church buildings and meet people wherever they are. We must communicate with everyone we meet in the language they understand and talk about issues and concerns that are real to them. And we must pay special attention in our working out of God’s mission to respond to the poor, the marginal, the homeless and hungry and those who are rejected by society.

For years Anglicans have spoken about an “open door” policy. That everyone is invited to share worship in their church and that if any person is searching for God they will be most welcome. Most people have not taken up the offer because it was not clearly put and because the very building that is so important to the members of the Anglican Church is often viewed as a fortress within which prayers and rituals go on which neither attract the individual seeker nor do they provide a point of convergence that might bridge the gap and make communication happen. The person feels like an “outsider”
and the building only underlines that reality.

The fact is people are not in the church building they are in the streets, in the coffee shops, at the mall, in grocery stores, in the workplace and in their homes (if they have a home.) How can we make disciples if we sit waiting in our empty churches. Surely their very emptiness is in itself an indication that we had better take our mission to where the
people are and reconsider the vocation of the building.

Church communities are a mystery to most people. They are a mystery partly because what seems so obvious to us about our prayers and rituals doesn’t make obvious sense to the uninitiated. The language of the scriptures and the theological concepts that we use are also confusing to people who have not been taught. We Anglicans often assume that people who attend our services find the liturgy straight forward and clear and we seem surprised when they never return. Just as Jesus spoke simply and in parables we must learn to communicate with everyone we meet in the language they understand.

If a person has been out of a job for six months and doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from, he is not familiar with nor does he probably care about the sexuality debate going on in the Anglican Communion. What needs to be communicated is the desire of Our Lord that he be supported and treated with respect and dignity. The Christian Scriptures are full of stories about how Jesus entered into the lives of total strangers and responded to the real needs and fears with which they lived.

However our mission is secondarily also to care for those whom we know. When we make a phone call to our neighbour who is going through cancer treatments, we are ministering. When we take the time to read with a child in our community, we are ministering. When we drive people to appointments, organize a potluck to bring people together, help individuals wade through government paper -work, or be a companion through grief, we are ministering. All of these activities are part of God’s Mission and almost all of them happen outside the church building.

An important part of God’s Mission is what has been called the preferential option for the poor. We continue to live in a society that is divided between those who have and those
who do not have. A close reading of any of the Christian Scriptures clearly shows that Jesus advocated for the poor, the dispossessed, the sick and the outcast and also
believed that righteousness called us to live in relationships of justice and peace. We must see such engagement as central to what God is calling us to be and to do. In a world where there is little peace and where justice is rarely made manifest, we are challenged as Jesus’ disciples to work actively to bring in the reign of God. This means not only using our resources to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but to challenge those in power to do justice while living in relationships of solidarity with those considered marginal.

We also live in a society that is struggling with its fundamental values. Out of control consumerism and a pace of life whipped on by exploding technology camouflage voids of loneliness, frustration and futility. We live in a milieu of confusion and conflict. In the midst of such a society people yearn to be in community with others, but often don’t know how or where it is found. In reality I believe people are looking for faith, hope and love. They are more precisely looking for someone who knows them to their core, and yet forgives them and continues to love them.

I believe they are looking for Jesus. We who know Him must now learn how to share Him. It is not enough to sit in our empty churches and wait for people to come to us. No. We are the Body of Christ. We are the physical manifestation of Jesus in the world. It is up to us, His disciples, the learners who have sat at His feet and now must go out into the world and help others to make connections so that those who are called to be in relationship with Jesus, receive the greatest of gifts: the opportunity to meet Him and to know Him, and to live with Him.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Church Invisible; Prefatory Comments and a Hope Expressed

I have only been a bishop for three years, however I have been an ordained person for twenty-nine years. In that time, I have witnessed huge changes in our collective sense of who we are as God's people in the world and what that means for the mission of the church. Even more dramatically I have seen and experienced the significant marginalization of the Church and how we, as christians are either negatively perceived by much of humanity or how we are rendered invisible to vast numbers of people of our own age because we have lost our capacity to live up to the great commission: that is, to share the Gospel message with the world.

My basic thesis is very simple. I believe that we have forgotten what it means to be church. From the beginning the focus of the christian witness was community: community with Jesus, community with each other and community with the world (which includes in my view the whole of the created order.)

This blog will probe and examine in no systematic or scientific way what it means to be Church.

Being the kind of person that I am, some of the offerings in this blog will be provocative, some will be passionate others may be tentative and questioning. Despite the force of my communication, at no time do I claim a direct revelation of "the truth" nor a definitive explanation of issues that have been discussed for millenia. I am no academic I am only a seeker of truth as a means of drawing closer to the person of Jesus.

Within this context, the texts that will make their way to this page will be my own.  I will never, let me repeat myself, never, claim any unique understanding of these issues and concepts. I invite others to question, debate, discuss with me To the best of my ability, I will give appropriate attribution to any ideas and quotes that belong to others.

So, with all of that said, where do we begin?