Like many others among the 1,800 parishes that comprise the Anglican Church of Canada, St. Stephen, Calgary, serves a wide catchment area. Its congregation is a mixture of young and old with differing racial and cultural backgrounds as well as varied socio-economic status; there is a diversity of interests in terms of worship style and in spiritual and pastoral requirements.
It is a parish that struggles with the challenges of the day while maintaining a healthy and vibrant commitment to faith and community.
It is, in fact, a parish like many others. “We’re more of a congregation than we are a traditional parish,” one woman said. “We come together through the church, not because we’re near neighbours.”
St. Stephen is a small part of the whole body of the church. And as with all the other small parts of the church, General Synod has a presence here that colors the life of the faith community, whether that presence be reflected in the fostering of partnerships, the emphasis placed on social programs or stewardship, the prayer and hymn books in the pews, the newspaper, publications and resources that the people read and study, the books they order from General Synod’s Anglican Book Centre, or the role of parish’s pastor on a national committee and on the board of the Anglican Journal.
The church was built in the 1950s, a handsome, square building with an airy, open worship area that seats about 400 people, and a small chapel at the side. Its stained glass windows are splendid, and it boasts a fine, 1928 Casavant Frares organ. There are meeting rooms, offices and a church hall with kitchen facilities that currently also houses a day care centre upstairs. Like many church properties, it has its limitations and the parish council, as do so many others from coast to coast, struggles to meet the challenges relating to upkeep and use of facilities.
There’s a lot going on here, with a dedicated team of staff and volunteers at work to make it happen. While the programs offered in this Calgary church may differ from those in a sister parish on the other side of the country, the commitment to ministry is one way in which the parish can be described as “typical.”
Once a month, Rev. Brian Pearson, rector of St. Stephen, meets with what he calls his Dream Team, to share a meal and discuss parish affairs. Members of the group include Rev. Cathy Fulton, part-time associate priest, Rev. Don McLeod, part time assistant, Barbara Goode, pastoral care co-ordinator and Stephen Bateman, synod representative and co-ordinator of the Inn from the Cold program.
On a recent Friday, Mr. Pearson reported on a trip to Toronto where he had attended meetings of the Information Resources Committee and the board of directors of the Anglican Journal. He is a member of both, and his involvement in the national church is invigorating, he says. Here as in almost every other parish in the country, the Anglican Journal and MinistryMatters keep church members informed about issues challenging the national church, and Mr. Pearson enjoys contributing to this process.
(Mr. Pearson is also an author whose two books – a collection of short stories and a novel – have been published by ABC.)
The group discusses a recently launched diocesan stewardship campaign and what it will mean to the parish. The program, designed to aid churches in need of repairs in Calgary diocese, also aims at building for the future. These are challenges that are familiar to General Synod. At the national level, the Partnerships and Financial Development departments assist in the development of stewardship strategies and the Anglican Foundation, a separately incorporated body, assists in funding local projects.
The parish also shares with General Synod common concerns and problems. One member of Mr. Pearson’s group suggests that a stewardship campaign might produce the same kind of “what’s-in-it-for-us?” reaction that local financial contributions to General Synod sometimes evoke.
“Maybe we need a change in style when it comes to stewardship and fundraising campaigns,” he says, adding that funding appeals might be served better if clear links were made to existing or planned programs and services. That cry can be heard right across the country, where stewardship and fundraising efforts continue, not only at the national church level, but also within each diocese and within each parish. The national church as well has been struggling with fundraising and with the formulation of effective strategies to co-ordinate fund raising.
Mr. McLeod, a Lutheran minister, updates the group on various projects. The 20s and 30s group is thriving, he says, with a membership of about 30 people who meet for informal worship and fellowship. It is an action-oriented group, very interested in the affordable housing crisis.
Mr. McLeod’s contribution to the life of St. Stephen is a direct result of the Waterloo Agreement on full communion between the Anglican and Lutheran churches signed in 2001 after years of work by the Faith, Worship and Ministry department of General Synod.
Ms. Fulton reports on her involvement with parish Bible study programs and pastoral care projects. The prayer chain is developing well, she says, and she is working with others at a United Church healing centre to research healing approaches through prayer. The spirit of ecumenism, another reflection of work done at the national level by the Faith, Worship and Ministry department, is alive and well at St. Stephen.
The group turns to a discussion of the homelessness issue in the city of Calgary. At St. Stephen, the response to the crisis is reflected in the Inn From the Cold program, which began at the church in 1997. It is an ecumenical program, providing hospitality for homeless people, especially families, in church facilities. This endeavour, co-ordinated by Mr. Bateman, is ever in need of broader support.
The outreach cluster at St. Stephen is developing a program to educate parishioners about aboriginal issues. Using the New Agape binder and other resources provided by General Synod, the group, which includes some aboriginal members, hopes to develop a partnership program with aboriginal organizations in Calgary.
Another important outreach element at St. Stephen concerns the Calgary chapter of the Integrity movement, which has been meeting in church facilities for 10 years. In a climate where inclusion of gays and lesbians in church life is an increasingly divisive issue, St. Stephen offers a note of hope. One parishioner, who is in a committed gay relationship, says “This is the first church I’ve ever been to where I have been welcomed as part of a couple.”
A Sunday morning at St. Stephen
Mr. Pearson celebrates at a Book of Common Prayer service in the chapel. About 35 people attend regularly. The chapel is an intimate space, with glowing wooden pews, warm candlelight and a magnificent window that catches the morning sun. Offering a BCP service is important, Mr. Pearson says. “Change is always a sensitive issue. Everyone adapts at a different rate.” Many prefer the poetry and solemnity of the older service, and at St. Stephen’s, the voice of those who wish to worship in a traditional way is heard.
Primate’s World Development and Relief Fund (PWRDF) representative Kristiana Barton prepares a presentation as part of the parish Life Choices Series, a project in which parishioners speak about their faith journeys. In 1989, Ms. Barton was in Kenya, working as a nurse as part of a mission service to that region through another religious organization. She learned how development work is funded and organized, and had some concerns about it. Afterwards, she researched various organizations, and concluded that the PWRDF was the answer.
PWRDF works in partnership with local organizations on problem-solving strategies rather than employing Band-Aid measures, and funds self-help programs designed and controlled by the recipients, she said.
“PWRDF seems to be the best vehicle for helping people overseas,” she says. She shows a 10-minute video, produced by PWRDF, called Here I Am. The audience is riveted.
There is a Book of Alternative Services Eucharist with nursery and children’s program. It is March break, and many regulars are missing but the church is still full of energy and there are plenty of people in the pews. Hymns are sung from Common Praise, the “Blue Book,” and the service is from the “Green Book” – the BAS.
The liturgy at St. Stephen is shared by every parish in Canada – whether BCP or BAS, the service of Holy Eucharist is the central element in what makes us Anglican.
The prayer and hymn books developed by General Synod are published and sold through the Anglican Book Centre. They and the Anglican Journal are probably the most ubiquitous sign of General Synod’s presence in local parishes.
Fellowship and coffee in the Canterbury room. The space is filled with parishioners, and the Fellowship committee is hard at work providing treats and hot drinks for all. It’s loud, and busy, as fellowship hours are everywhere. Honorary assistant Archdeacon Turq McCollum poses for a picture with a friend and talks of the video project recently undertaken by Mr. McLeod and Ms. Fulton, to record his life’s adventures for posterity.
St. Stephen’s is a typical parish in many important ways and it is unique in many other equally important ways. Last year, a survey of Canadian Anglicans done by Environics and later published by the Anglican Book Centre, reported that some Canadian congregations felt alienated enough from General Synod to consider striking out on their own. When the idea was put to members of the parish here, what emerged was a sense of Anglican identity that people felt transcended the differences between church members in one part of the country and those of another.
A Sunday at St. Stephen illustrates both the unique flavor of the parish and the ways in which it shares a common life with each of the church’s 1,800 parishes.
Concerns that face Anglican congregations in Canada are for the most part universal – there is a strong need to respond to social justice issues, to provide a safe, nurturing worship environment for all members of the faith family, to resolve the continuing wrangles over inclusiveness and diversity, and to keep parishes, dioceses and the national body strong and unified.
“What’s the benefit to us?” people may ask of General Synod? The answer may lie in a collective voice, which, when congregations say the doxology together, remains very strong.
Mel Malton is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Ont.