In early spring we had the privilege of Carmel Doyle (Professor at Queens College) joining us in our parish on a Sunday. Some of the work that Carmel does at Queens is around re-imagining the life and work of the ever emerging church. Every spiritual community is called at this time to do the work of reimagining what God is calling us to be in this age. The Church, just as with every society, is ever evolving. The church that many of us have known over the last two generations is not only dying, it is already dead. What most of mainline church leadership has been trying to do over the last 40 years is to “fix” a church in decline. That era of trying to repair what was dying has passed, for it is dead. The church that we have known historically in Newfoundland and Labrador is gone. There is a remnant left, yes. When something old is passing and something new is being called forth, God always leaves a remnant, a few to rebuild with, to revision with, to reimagine with, to recreate with. There is a remnant in every spiritual community in this province. So there is reason to hope. But this hope calls us to something new. This hope calls us to listen more deeply with our spiritual hearts for what God is already doing all around us. This hope calls us to love ourselves into new and emerging forms of spiritual community. There are things that this remnant is doing that it must always do. The Scriptures and Sacraments will always be foundational to Christian Community. But God is not limited to or confined by our Scriptures or Sacraments - or our buildings! God is Life, and therefore God is in all of Life - not only in us and in our current church communities, but in all of Life all around us. God is in our neighbourhoods, in various organizations that gathers people for a common purpose that also helps others, and in creation itself. God is wild and free, and the church does not have a monopoly on God nor does it control who has access to God. This is the church of the empire that we have inherited, and that church is long gone. But the Way of Jesus remains. The Way of Jesus recognizes the Risen Christ in the stranger and in every human being. The Way of Jesus recognizes the Love that is our deepest identity as the Love that makes us One with every other person and with all of creation. The Way of Jesus calls us to find new ways, as a church, to be lovingly present in our neighbourhoods and society. Here is one of the questions that Carmel asked us to explore: What are the limits of our love towards the stranger, the outsider, whom we encounter (in our neighbourhoods)? What does God ask of us as individuals? As a church community? Listen for the leading of the Spirit.
In 2010, John
Bowen asked me to write an article for the Institute of Evangelism’s Good Idea
Newsletter after I presented the Parish of the Resurrection’s journey of “Re-Creating
Community” at the Diocese of Toronto’s VCP Conference. Revisiting the article
eight years later, I can still hear the Spirit’s wisdom in that emerging church
– but that living church is no longer the same yet continues to emerge. Since
2010, we have now come to terms with the reality that we are a small, rural
parish, with limited resources. Our programing, still important and prevalent, has
lessened, and our hospitality ministry has become more focused.
Community Building in the School of Love
emerged since 2010, and is most important to us, is intentional and widening
experiences of community building – which we refer to as our School of Love.
Sunday is our main community gathering day with three meals – breakfast and
bible study at 9 a.m.; Scripture and Eucharist at 11 a.m.; community lunch at
noon and Christian meditation in the evening. Wednesday is our other community building
day which includes yoga, Christian meditation, afternoon tea, and a knitting
number of other areas of community building that have become important to us.
These are with “non-Sunday” participants who would still consider the
Resurrection their spiritual home. One such community within the community is
our Bereavement Support Group. We run a five week course in the fall, and then
facilitate monthly meetings throughout the year. Most of the people in this
group are not Sunday participants, but consider the Resurrection their
spiritual home and contribute financially to the parish. One other area of
community building is our monthly Saturday Buffet Breakfast. Although this is a
revenue generator for us, it has become what I refer to as “Saturday Church.”
We serve over 100 breakfasts at this monthly event, and 80% are non Sunday church-goers.
They come not just for the food, but for the warmth, love and attention they
get. Many of these people also would refer to the Resurrection as their
forward, we have also realized through our lived experience, that having a new
and nice Church House is not enough to attract people and to grow hearts in
love with God. In the coming months we will be looking at Alan Roxburgh’s
“Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World – The New Shape of Church in
Our Time.” God is very far from being limited or contained to our House, where
we have at least some idea and experience of how to be church. We hear the
Spirit inviting us to listen more deeply for what God is doing outside of our
building – in our neighborhoods and regional communities and other caring
organizations. It is time for the church to learn to join God in what God is
already doing “out there” – with or without the church.
Looking Back - Alpha,
Lectio and Three Cups of Tea (written for the October 2010
edition of the Institute of Evangelism Good Idea E-Newsletter - with some
The Church’s prayer in every generation is always for
the people of God to be renewed. When our hearts and minds are renewed it opens
us up to the unifying love that is Christ, brings the desire to serve others,
and offers peace and hope to our families, communities, and to the world. This,
of course, is the Church’s mission and raison d’etre.
In order for the local church to be effective in its
mission in every generation, its pastors need to be intentional and systematic
in guiding its people—and ultimately its whole region. The people of God need
to be loved, cared for, and shown compassion and mercy. And the people of God
also need to be well instructed in the Christian life.
In our Canadian context we are living in a
predominantly un-churched society, where perhaps only 10 to 15% of the
population is affiliated with organized religion. Moreover, the influence of
our secular society on that 15% is substantial.
Here is our story
In 1999, recognizing the church’s mission mandate, and
well aware of this societal conditioning, the Anglican Parish of the
Resurrection in South River, Newfoundland, began a process of renewal,
educating our Christian community and re-creating ourselves.
the fall of 1999, the parish was a four point charge with small, diminishing,
and tired congregations. It was evident that we would have to become one
congregation, with all the heartache that would entail or we would die. This is
how we managed, with the grace of God, to recreate ourselves into one vibrant
Becoming One Congregation
began experimenting by pooling all the human resources from the four
congregations in such a way that we would function administratively,
liturgically and catechetically as a one point parish. Liturgically, we had one
main service on Sunday mornings that moved each week around the parish. The
music was more contemporary, and the children’s church was worked into the
liturgy. Those who appreciated the contemporary worship and children’s church
would “move” to a different building each Sunday morning. Administratively, all
four vestries met and worked as one body responsible for the entire parish; and
a single financial team was put into place to manage all parish finances.
“experimental” changes made the running of the parish more efficient and the
liturgy more life giving. But the factor that gave the process deeper roots and
the desire to persevere was the intentional, systematic, and ongoing
catechetical evangelization of the congregation. If the parish was going to
survive, to be renewed and to be made effective in ministry and mission, it was
evident that we needed to challenge those already in the pews to learn more
about their faith, and to deepen their spiritual practice.
Our first Mission Mandate
at the same time that the administrative and liturgical changes were happening,
we introduced the Alpha Course to the parish. All four vestries and others from
the congregations were challenged to take part in that first Alpha course. And,
thank the Lord, most vestry members responded. This first Alpha was life
changing for a number of those who participated, not only by deepening their
experience of God, but also by building new relationships across the boundaries
of the four congregations. This was a major factor in bonding together in faith
and friendship those who hardly knew one before.
Alpha Course in the fall of 1999 was only the beginning of the catechetical
evangelization of the congregation. A Sunday Breakfast Bible study and a
weeknight Bible study began right after that first Alpha. In addition, we
dedicated two nights each week to Christian Education. Thursday nights was set
aside for Alpha, and Monday nights for other Christian education opportunities
such as After Alpha, various other programs, and guest teachers who would come
to speak on selected themes.
Move to One Building
As the faith of the congregation was deepening
and maturing, many were being prepared to make the hard decisions to become
constitutionally a single congregation with one vestry, to sell our old
buildings, and to construct a new House for the Church. During this interim
between the old order (with four buildings) and the move to the new House for
the Church, the Alpha and other various courses, including Bible studies,
continued to renew and transform our people. The Sunday homilies, strategy and
visioning workshops, and special lectures also became very important in
educating the congregation about the liturgical principles that our new Oratory
would embody, and the ideas of hospitality that would direct our new “Emmaus
moving into our new community home in 2006, we added to our Christian Education
menu a Wednesday afternoon Spiritual Reading Group. This group meets after the
Wednesday mass and lunch, and has read and discussed books including such
classics as Augustine’s Confessions and The Autobiography of St.
Teresa of Avila, and popular works such as The Shack. During the
fall of 2010, the Spiritual Reading Group will be reading and reflecting on Three
Cups of Tea, the popular story of one man’s encounter with the Pakistani
tribes high in the Himalayas, and his response to their great kindness to him.
Outreach into the community
strand of catechesis we’ve been developing over the last four years has been
outreach to the wider community: courses on marriage, parenting, bereavement,
divorce and separation courses (using resources available through Alpha Canada)
and relevant support groups. We’ve moved into this area for a number of
reasons: we want to be seen as a resource to our region for people who are not
members of our parish; we discerned a need in this area for our region; and
there is potential that when folk participate in the outreach programs that we
run out of our café, they may decide to explore faith issues with us as a
Continued Growth within the
for those interested in learning the disciplines of meditation and
contemplation, and early in our process of recreating our community, we
introduced the practice of Lectio Divina, which has become an important aspect
of our catechetical evangelization. This has developed into a regular corporate
practice on Sunday evenings, and, when we moved into our new House for the
Church, on Wednesday mornings also.
schedule for catechetical evangelization in the fall of 2010 is full: the new
seven week Alpha course; a Bereavement Course; the Spiritual Reading Group
discussing Three Cups of Tea; Sunday morning and Tuesday evening Bible
studies; corporate meditation on Sundays and Wednesdays; Sunday and Wednesday
Mass; and a Parenting Course and a Divorce and Separation Course on request.
The winter schedule will be similar, except that we will add the Marriage
we have sought to develop a mission focused parish, we have discovered that
ongoing, intentional, and planned “catechetical evangelization” needs to be a
regular component of congregational life. The results, by the grace of God, can
I’ve recently read Alan Roxburgh’s “Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in our Time.” This is a small, readable book that reflects accurately where the diminishing church is today, is inspiring in how we need to discover being church in new and spiritually deeper ways, and is encouraging with practical ideas and pathways forward. Anyone reading this article knows that the church and society they once knew is no more. That realisation can be a good thing that will hopefully set you free to more deeply discern with the Spirit new ways forward as the people of God. Richard Rohr, in one of his recent daily meditations (that I would highly recommend subscribing to at www.cac.org), writes “The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart - disruption and chaos - invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore.” He goes on to say “Change can either help people to find new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Something “old” is falling apart. We are living in a time of rapid change at every level of global civilisation. The church is going through a time of transition, some would even say “reformation.” Of this there is clearly no doubt. God is in God’s world doing what God does in ever emerging new life and the creating of new and loving connections. God’s life is in no way contained to or controlled by the “Church.” The church is a school of Love that is called to be a participant in the life of God. The Spirit is very much active and alive in our communities, but the church has fallen behind and has in many ways become disconnected to what Spirit is doing all around us. Roxburgh, Rohr, and many other modern day prophets, are calling the church, the people of God, in addition to what we are effectively and meaningfully doing in our church buildings, to connect to what the Spirit is doing “outside” of our church buildings. The remaking of the church has everything to do with deepening spiritual practice and spiritual listening, learning to discern more clearly what the Spirit is already doing outside of our church buildings in our communities, and becoming co-creators with the Spirit in the transformation of our world. The church that we once knew is dying. But God is always creating new ways forward. In Roxburgh’s words, let us “Join God in the remaking of the church and changing the world.”
In this season of change and transition for the Church in our society, Bishop Geoff, among others, has recognised the need for our clergy and people to listen more deeply to how the Spirit is forming a new and emerging church. Two years ago he invited The Rev’d Dr. Winston Charles and the Rev’d Carole Crumley (both Episcopal priests and both directors at Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington DC) to come to the diocese and to lead a clergy conference on the practice of deepening contemplative prayer - listening for Spirit not only with our thinking minds but also, and more importantly, with our deeper spiritual hearts. The encouragement and experience of deepening contemplative prayer at that conference resonated so well amongst the clergy, the Bishop invited Winston and Carole to return to the diocese and lead another conference this October past. In addition to encouraging deepening contemplative prayer practice, this second conference was also about intentional listening from our deeper spiritual hearts as to what the Spirit is doing in the emerging church during this time of institutional transition and change. In the context and practice of contemplative prayer, the invitation in the movement and flow of the conference was: i) to let go of that in the church’s life that is no longer relevant or meaningful to our mission; ii) to recognise and name that which still has value and meaning and can be carried forward with the emerging church; and iii) the church is the Spirit’s work, not ours, so how can we listen more deeply for what Spirit is doing, to co-operate and “receive the Spirit in all things.” Whatever it is that is unfolding in the church and in our society, God is in it - “Christ is all and is in all” (Colossians 3:11). The Spirit’s call on the church, the people of God, is to listen more deeply to what Spirit is doing, to trust deeply, and to lean into the mystery of what is emerging. This is to admit that we don’t know exactly what we are doing, but that we recognise the invitation to surrender our thinking mind’s need to control and manipulate, and, through deepening contemplative prayer, to open up to our spiritual hearts - the very Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) - and surrender to the moment by moment flow of Love’s Life amongst us and as us. I don’t know what tomorrow’s church will look like, but I am ready to Love my way into it. That much I do know.