Rev. Jamie Howison stands in front of the joint Anglican-Lutheran fridge in the kitchen of St. Stephen and St. Bede, Winnipeg.
I can’t begin to count the number of times over the past year that I have had to explain what it means to be the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede in Winnipeg: an Anglican and Lutheran worshipping community.
I’ve made countless explanations, yet really gotten only two basic kinds of response: “I don’t think that could ever work in my parish,” or “wow, that makes a lot of sense to me.” Oddly, it is often people who have little tie to a traditional church community who make the latter response, while church folk tend to see it as a good idea for ? well, for someone else.
In our context, it has been a good idea. This is partly because the two founding congregations already had a 30-year relationship in a shared building (including a five-year experience of shared worship and Christian education), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. What many Anglicans don’t realize is the common ground that exists between an Anglican parish that celebrates weekly eucharist using the Book of Alternative Services and a Lutheran congregation that uses the Lutheran Book of Worship for its weekly communion services. The sacramental and liturgical threads tying St. Bede’s to St. Stephen’s were more numerous than those tying us to a neighbouring Anglican parish that alternates between eucharist and matins, using exclusively the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer.
And so, Sunday by Sunday, we alternate happily and comfortably between a basic Lutheran communion liturgy and the BAS contemporary rite. Where they differ, they tend to be complimentary, each shining interesting and colourful light on the other. I have to confess that as an Anglican priest called to provide liturgical leadership to this shared ministry, I have been somewhat shy in making changes in how we worship with our Lutheran texts; far more shy than I have been in shaping our use of the Anglican liturgy. A year in, however, and between my familiarity with the Lutheran rite and the high level of congregational trust, this has begun to shift to a more balanced place. Of course, that should not be a great surprise, for any marriage takes time to mature and to deepen in trust and comfort. And this is just our first anniversary; for newlyweds, we are doing just fine.
As a sacramental church, we look for effective signs of our union. Oddly, the strongest “sacrament” of our union is found not in our worship space, but in our kitchen. For years, our double-sized fridge with its two sliding-glass doors had two sides, the Anglican side and the Lutheran side, holding Anglican cream and Lutheran pickles and only occasionally an ecumenical cake. Down the counter a few metres were the separate Anglican and Lutheran coffee cupboards, containing different coffee brands and cookie packages (it is probably just a matter of taste, but the Anglicans had better coffee, while the Lutherans were much more adventurous cookie purchasers). We now have a very catholic fridge, in which everything belongs to all. Even better, our shared coffee cupboard stands side by side with an equally ecumenical, and particularly well-stocked, cookie and snack cupboard. This is the fruit of the Waterloo Declaration at its most immediate.
That the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede (where the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, was once rector) works is thanks to the courage of two congregations which, after thirty years of living parallel lives, realized that the most promising and enlivening future lay in forging a life together. We are not a strategy for congregational survival, nor are we a one-size-fits-all template for the church of the future. We are instead one very local example of where the Spirit can lead when a community decides that it is time to wonder about possible futures beyond this budget or that book or this established habit.
Besides, it is rather nice to not have to worry that I might be putting Lutheran cream into my Anglican coffee.
Rev. Jamie Howison is the pastor of the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede in Winnipeg.