4th Sunday each month 3:45 p.m. service at Haro Park
The Church Office is open to the public on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., on Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (noon).
t 604-685-6832 f 604-683-3109
The Labyrinth is open at 1130 Jervis Street, Vancouver, BC (between Davie and Pendrell Streets) at the following times.
Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Tuesday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
every last Friday from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. with live music
Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
For more information please call the Labyrinth Office 604 685-6832 #17
The Advocacy Office is open at 1130 Jervis Street, Vancouver, BC (between Davie and Pendrell Streets) at the following times:
Monday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
t 604 683 4287
f 604 683 3109
Our House is a group of people living together to follow a simple program aimed at freeing themselves from their addictions to alcohol and drugs. As part of their outreach to street people, members of Our House meet every Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. in St. Paul’s Church Hall. All are welcome.
Labyrinth Last Friday Walk w/ Live music May 31, 2013 7:00pm - May 31, 2013 9:00pm Kira Vandeusen (cello) - “I improvise cello and vocal sounds in concert with the energy of the space and the walkers, listening and playing, watching and singing. What emerges is an expression of the present moment. Occasionally a classical piece sneaks in, and becomes part of the improvisation.”
All Welcome! Admission free with donation at door
Labyrinth 2nd Friday Event Jun 14, 2013 7:00pm - Jun 14, 2013 9:00pm Sounding in the labyrinth — with Kira Van Deusen
Using simple vocal play, our sounds harmonize with the world around us. Sounding is a great way to send healing to the world’s trouble spots, while giving to ourselves at the same time. The labyrinth inspires walkers to connect with landscapes both physical and spiritual. And it’s fun!
The workshop begins with breathing, vocal warm-ups and improvisational games. We move from there to focusing and sending energy outward for healing. We then walk the labyrinth, creating a moving tapestry of sound and silence that brings the labyrinth path even more present as sounds approach us and move away. Our attention turns in all directions, including those inside ourselves and those that are geographically far away.
Please come on time at 7PM for the workshop, or you may come at 8PM if you just want to walk.
Have you ever had a chance to look at one of our big communion wafers?
They are large enough to be seen from the very back, but you probably haven’t noticed that they are perforated. These indentions are supposed to help you break the wafers into 24 nice little pieces. “Supposed to” being the operative word here. At the 9:15am last week this didn’t quite happen…
I broke the wafer for the first time – and it didn’t break at all at the indentation. I broke it again – and yet again it didn’t break where it was supposed to. At this point I raised an eyebrow. I broke it again – and once more it was in a rather surprising place. And so it continued. None of the breaks were where they were expected to be. Not a single one of them! It was funny on some level – but it was also a bit disconcerting, surprising, and unexpected. Very surprising, actually, quite unexpected.
I think it is sometimes difficult for us to remember that Christmas is also a break in an unexpected place. After doing it for some 2000 years, after establishing quite some traditions around how to celebrate this festival, it is maybe not surprising that we have forgotten how surprising the first Christmas must have been. Yes, Christmas is new, comes out of left field, and breaks into our world and breaks it in places that are most unlikely.
Take Herod for example. Christmas breaks into his world in an unexpected way.
Herod is quite comfortably governing from a beautiful palace. Yes, there are responsibilities. Yes, he has to watch out for possible assassins or political intrigue. But he is the power-broker. He is in charge. And compared to his subjects, he is living in comfort enforcing his might in ways that often disregard justice and mercy alike. Like so many who think they run the world, he rules with might on the backs of those less fortunate, and particularly on the backs of the poor and lowly.
Christmas, however, breaks into his world and turns it upside down: A fragile newborn is revealed as the king of kings, as lord of lords, as God of heaven and earth. The baby Jesus is the All-powerful born among us. Yet, it is a different kind of might that is born in Christmas. It is a might that seeks to lift us out of injustice, misery, sin, and death. The powers of the world have no ultimate power. And despite Herod’s horrific and sweeping efforts to overcome the Christmas might by brutally murdering innocent children, he cannot stop the power of love made manifest in the Baby Jesus. In the end, Jesus will have the last word. The love that comes to us on Christmas is already establishing a reign that is different in a world that still too often shakes in fear as the Herods of every age speak loudly and rule with iron fists. Christmas overcomes this fear as it reveals the frailty of Herod’s loud voice and the weakness of his iron fist.
Yes, Christmas is new, comes out of left field, and breaks into our world and breaks it in places that are most unlikely.
Take the Shepherds for example. Christmas breaks into their world in an unexpected way.
Many Christmas sermons centre on the fact that the shepherds were outcast of society. And indeed, Christmas breaks into the world of outcasts, into the world of those on the margins, and affirms that they are as beloved by God as those on the in.
However, many commentators have argued that shepherds weren’t so much outcasts, as they were just walking their own path, marching to their own drum. They were outsiders, yes, but maybe they weren’t so much pushed to the margins as placing themselves there, disconnecting on their own from the rest of society.
Christmas breaks into this reality of the shepherds and reveals that none of us lives onto ourselves. No man is an island unto himself, as the saintly John Donne once said. No woman is an island unto herself. We are all interconnected and interdependent of each other. What I do even in my own four walls affects the world around me. Every action has consequences for those around us, even when only two consenting adults are involved. Ethics cannot be built exclusively on self-fulfilment and self-realisation.
For those who call themselves followers of the baby Jesus, this means that we cannot live our faith in separation. Christmas forced the shepherds to go and see the miracle of the Saviour’s birth and after they worshipped they moved forward into society to praise God with loud voices. Christmas compels us to move from self-imposed securities and self-centred communities of faith to create communities connected to and focused on those around us. You cannot be a Christian in isolation. Community is essential. So, we are called no only to secure the survival of our faith-communities, but also to do everything to share the good news of God in Christ through prayer, through action, and through word.
Yes, Christmas is new, comes out of left field, and breaks into our world and breaks it in places that are most unlikely.
Take Mary and Joseph for example. Christmas breaks into their world in an unexpected way.
You can say that again!
It is unfathomable for people in our times to understand what this surprising pregnancy must have meant for Mary and Joseph. And, yet, in this scary and horrifying moment in their lives, God speaks to them through angels, and speaks the four words which are repeated in God’s self-revelation over and over and over again: Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.
Whoever you are and wherever you find yourselves on the journey, God is with you, seeks you out, and loves you. God yearns to be connected to you just like God was connected to Mary, as he took habitation in her womb. God longs to be your guide and protector, just like God protected and guided Joseph on the long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, on to Egypt, and back home again. God wishes you to teach the insights of God’s will, God’s purpose, and God’s truth, just like he taught the scholars in today’s Gospel story. God desires to reveal himself as your true father and God desires to reveal herself as your true mother, just like God did unto Mary and Joseph when they finally found Jesus in his true parental home. And God craves to lighten your darkness, whatever that darkness might be, as he lightened the world at Bethlehem with a light that no darkness can overcome. In God’s reality no darkness is too dark, no burden too heavy, no sin too unforgivable, no fear too threatening, no life too puny. God is with us!
Yes, Christmas is new, comes out of left field, and breaks into our world and breaks it in places that are most unlikely.
Take the people of St Paul’s for example.
Wait a minute!
We weren’t in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. So, what the heck am I talking about?
Well, I believe the birth of the Saviour was a unique and singular event and took place when Mary gave birth to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christmas, however, is ongoing. And Christmas continues to break into our realities in unexpected ways. And Christmas is very much breaking into our reality in surprising ways here at St. Paul’s: When I broke the waiver at the 9:15am service last week, it wasn’t just a metaphor for Christmas. It was also a metaphor for St Paul’s.
I came here 8 ½ years ago and I thought I had a fairly good grip on what it meant to be a priest. And, I did. But nothing had and nothing could prepare me for the reality of St Paul’s. Doing ministry here is a bit like breaking a waiver and not knowing where it will break. So many surprising and unexpected things happened over my time of being your priest.
And I wouldn’t want to miss any!
Yes, I could list events such as the 100th anniversary of the building, the 15th anniversary of the Labyrinth, or the turning of the pews. All very memorable! But in the end the most unexpected aspect of my time here were the very people God had called me to serve. The most surprising thing of all was you!
And whenever I thought I had seen it all, whenever I reckoned I knew how the cookie would crumble, something new happened. Something unexpected would surprise me.
Sometimes this was hard to bear.
But most times, it was something that not only allowed me to see you more intimately, but it allowed me to claim my own self more honestly and more genuinely. And it allowed me travel more deeply into the mystery of the Divine.
The Bible calls this grace. Whenever we see glimpses of God’s love for us, it is grace. Whenever we find reasons to rejoice in God’s compassion for us all, it is grace. Whenever we recognise the image of God in others more clearly, it is grace. Whenever we find new ways of trusting God, it is grace.
You have become a sign of grace for me. Over the past 8 ½ years you have formed me and shaped me. And I know you are not the same anymore either. We have grown together in ministry and mission. And, even more, we have grown together in love. Yes, I love you: I love this crazy community. I love the wonderful people here – with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies, with all their strengths and abilities. God opened my heart to see and God placed you firmly inside this very heart. And thanks be to God for this!
As I leave, I pray and hope so much for you.
Yes, there is lots of work to do as you claim more deeply being a community focused on healing, worship, reflection, and hospitality in Christ’s name for all. God has given you a lot and there are thousands of people out there waiting for you to minister to them and to share the Good News of God’s love in Christ! Don’t let them wait! Don’t rely on others to do the work! God has called you!
However, I pray and hope that you also continue to discover in your own lives what it means to be God’s beloved – each and every one of you – and what it means to be God’s crazy and wonderful community in this place.
U2, my favorite band, once wrote a song that speaks of my wish for you. It speaks of what it means for the reality of God’s love to break into our lives in unexpected ways. It speaks of God’s grace which can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. It speaks of how grace is very much manifested here.
So, as my swansong for you, I will play it for you.
And until we meet again, may our triune God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.
Sermon on Luke 1:39-55 Advent 4 December 23, 2012 Ross Bliss
Pregnant. A word with a curious ‘charge’. A familiar enough concept, but depending on the context, still sometimes startling, even to our jaded post-modern sensibilities. Pregnant. A beautiful thing, really, obviously, beautiful, but being so obvious, also potentially scandalous.
I mean we all know about the birds and the bees…..
And then there’s Mary.
There has always been a lot of interest in Mary’s private business. Consider the centuries of impassioned discourse, controversy and even doctrines about Mary’ own Immaculate Conception, and even about Mary somehow remaining a virgin for life, despite the subsequent births of our Lord’s human siblings.
This peculiar interest should get our attention. Not because of the implied miracles, nor because of whatever is or isn’t believable or correct in these stories. What hopefully, or eventually, will strike us is this central example of our obsession with notions of sexual purity, that only apply to women, in a world where women still have yet to attain equal and full human status, in every way and in every place.
I’m guessing you can tell I’m not that interested in the quest for certainty about the specific biological mechanism by which Mary came to be with child. However, it may surprise you that on the other hand, it seems to me somehow fitting, lovely, and theologically sound, to declare that the one and only human mother who ever bore God in her womb, the one and only time it ever happened, was at the time, a virgin.
The thing is, this is not mainly about Mary, or her particular virtue elevating this cosmologically singular event to an even holier status. The point is not to establish the purity of the human vessel which bore Christ. How would any human quality or condition of any participant, increase or diminish the significance of this birth, of the son of God?
And it is definitely not about Mary’s virtue being determined by her sexual history. Such a narrow construal of feminine virtue is actually offensive. This ancient and unfortunately ongoing controlling obsession concerning female purity reveals a fear and discomfort around the centrality and power of women’s’ role in reproducing and nurturing life. In addition to being misogyny, and repressive, it also denigrates procreation itself.
If Jesus had been born to Mary after she’d already had children, He would be just as Holy, just as truly God, and she would be just as worthy of our admiration.
Once liberated from these unnecessary moral implications, the idea of a virgin birth could simply be a way to bear witness to the mystery of how ‘eternal God’ entered time, a way to attest to a surprise so magnificent, for which even the prophets could scarcely prepare us – the one time only conception and birth of the person who was, is and ever shall be fully God, who in order to also be fully human, was of necessity born to a human mother.
If Mary is to be a hero, or a saint, let it be for just being a woman, a real woman, who said yes, when God called.
At any rate, Mary was pregnant, and unwed. In her immediate social milieu this would have raised a few eyebrows. Our familiarity with this story, might distract us from the implicit scandal of Mary’s pregnancy in her own time and place.
But in today’s reading we hear none of this concern. The brief, almost clipped description of Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth suggests haste. And in an overall narrative that is not lacking in divine imperatives to undertake journeys, any such command to make this journey is conspicuously lacking. In other words, it seems like she just couldn’t wait to go visit her also miraculously pregnant cousin to share the joy.
And my goodness, when she gets there all heaven breaks loose. No sooner is Mary in the door than the future John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb as spirit filled oracles pour forth from her lips.
The second of these oracles, coming in the form of a question, is very important. She asks “why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Use of this word, translated as ‘Lord’, which stands in for the one unpronounceable word reserved for the God of creation, was very serious business for Jewish people in the first century. Elizabeth uses this word to refer to the unborn child in Mary’s womb.
This declaration is simply remarkable.
She is at once recognizing and confessing Christ as God. Though we know Paul’s writings are actually older than this Gospel, this may be the first Christian confession ever attributed to anyone.
Centuries of debate have also taken place around the identity and nature of Christ. Even with all the polemical and ecclesial chicanery involved, we somehow still arrived at deeply meaningful, and I believe, true, creedal statements. Let us never diminish the importance of this topic, which is still about most vital conversation going.
But it is interesting to note that before any of the earliest theologians even started thinking about what we call Christology, two humble, and likely scarcely literate expectant mothers, both recognized and declared, joyfully and unambiguously, that Mary’s unborn child, was no one less than God. In other words, they got it right, the first time.
For that matter, so did the unborn John the Baptist when he leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. His wordless physical response, possibly the first attributed act of celebratory Christian worship, says it all. Fully God and fully human. Deeply incomprehensible, and utterly simple. Paradox. Welcome to Christianity.
Responding to Elizabeth, Mary’s song of praise and thanksgiving, the Magnificat, proclaims God’s love for us, and God’s commitment to us.
Mary prays to God as Saviour, utterly declaring and defining our relationship with the one who meets our need for deliverance. This cannot be an expression of the proud. It expresses need, the need of the lowly, the poor, the oppressed, the hungry. Our need.
She also sings of a reversal of expectations consistent with what Christ preached and modeled throughout his life and ministry. In this reversal it is the poor and the weak who are fed and uplifted, while the rich and powerful face uncertainty and calamity.
Now, we know from history and personal experience that life just doesn’t always seem to work out this way. The wicked prosper, and the poor certainly do suffer, and if pride does come before a fall, we don’t always see it. Life isn’t always fair.
However, the rich, powerful, and proud are not immune to inner poverty. No one is, but a life bent and spent on acquiring and accumulating wealth and power will inevitably create deficits, both in the world, and in the heart. Whether or not every fall is necessarily preceded by pride, pride will always lead us away from God, and deeper into an abyss of our own making.
It is also true that when the rich are sent away empty and the powerful are brought down from their thrones, it is not always the worst thing that could happen to them. Then, like the poor and the weak, their lives and circumstances may lead them to embrace their real need and accept the deliverance and truth that is always on offer, from the one who loved us into being, who gave Himself for us.
Mary’s words also remind us that blessing is always bound up in the fellowship that God seeks to share with us. Apart from this relationship, we are truly in the desert.
We all may have to experience the consequences of our choices, and our sinfulness, but rich or poor, we are not abandoned to ourselves, or to the loneliness of only our will.
Thankfully, God, is always there for us.
So here we are at Advent 4, the most pregnant day in the liturgical year. Our expectancy builds as we await the celebration, along with Mary and all the Saints, of the entry of God, the great I am, into human life, with all its corruption, adversity and threatening murk, as a tiny defenceless child.
During this season, when retailers desperately hope to claim over half their year’s profit, and media everywhere bombards and compels us to comply as good consumers, we can begin to feel powerless and ineffective in a system where money seems like a prerequisite for any kind of significance, or happiness.
What can we do in the midst of this? We can remember who we are, and whose we are, and reclaim our faith in God’s triumph in Jesus Christ. From the scandal of the manger to the scandal of the cross, Jesus redeems all of creation from the epicentre of His entry into time and humanity. This same Jesus invites us, to become fully human, and be his body, of real people, committed to love, every day, with God’s help.
Mary’s story before Christmas highlights how the glory of the incarnation came about through the willingness of ordinary people to respond to God, and to God’s claim on their lives. Ordinary people, like you, like me, like Mary. Thanks be to God.
Did you know that last year, worldwide, corporations spent 131 billion dollars on advertising? Make no mistake, that’s a 131 billion dollar stewardship campaign. Its goal is to persuade you that you are inadequate, you don’t have the right stuff, you don’t have enough stuff, and the answer to all of life’s problems is more stuff. We are on the receiving end of a 131 billion dollar invitation to invest our time, talent, and treasure in a lie.
Jesus issues a very different invitation. In today’s New Testament reading, he declares that he is — then and there — inaugurating the restoration of the kingdom of God. He invites anyone who will listen to join him in making the world a place where the poor are restored to social access and social power, where liberty, justice, health and wholeness abound. This is an invitation to all of us, to align ourselves with that vision, and live out of that experience. It’s about sharing who you are and what you have not out of guilt or duty or compulsion, but for the sheer joy of participating in the kingdom of God, here and now.
As if sympathetic to how you might feel when you find yourself between 131 billion dollars worth of advertising on one side, and Jesus’ invitation to change the world on the other, Jean Vanier, offers this observation in his book, Becoming Human: “We are all frightened of the ugly, the dirty. We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness, and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives. Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves. We shun our own weakness and the weakness in others. We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy. How easy it is to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make of our broken world a place that can become more beautiful.” (Becoming Human, pp. 80-81)
To the parish community, I encourage you to place the question of your financial support of the work of St. Paul’s into this picture, as just one of countless ways to respond to the life-giving invitation to trust again in your divinely-crafted capacity to restore beauty in the world. To everyone, I encourage you to resist the 131 billion dollar campaign to invest in the illusion of beauty, in favour of investing in the real thing. Live and give as as if the realm of God were already among us, as if the last were already first, as if every person already knew they were included in the embrace of a loving, generous God.
My introduction to St. Paul’s happened five years ago when I came to Vancouver on vacation. At that time I attended first the Wednesday evening service and then the morning service the following Sunday .I knew immediately that everyone was accepted in this beautiful old the church. It seemed that the congregation represented all walks of life. It was like a small United Nations.
I had been involved to some extent with Our House since it was founded here in Vancouver. I knew that that addiction program had received significant support from the advocacy office, Father Markus and parishioners of St. Paul’s. Even so I was surprised when I saw that people from the street, sometimes disheveled, using and barely able to walk were accepted lovingly into the services.
A few years ago I found myself in a position where I could no longer look after my country property in Ontario. I considered returning to Ottawa, but then I remembered the winters. Perhaps Vancouver? I visited again for a month and during that time I made my decision. I returned home, sold my property, packed a few belongs and moved here. No doubt it was a good decision.
During the past three years I have attended St Paul’s regularily.I have seen folks leaving the church happily carrying bags of groceries, others going to the advocacy office to get advice and assistance, homeless folks gathering outside and waiting to chat with parishioners who happen by or waiting to attend an Our House meeting. I have met non parishioners who have told of the comfort they received by walking the Labyrinth path. Social time after the Sunday service is always a happy time when we share the experiences of the past week.
The diversity of cultures, languages and ethnicities’ brings a special warmth and understanding to all of us. No matter the colour of our skin, sexual preference, the clothing we chose to wear, status in the community, rich and poor we at St Paul’s are a close community, a loving and caring family. It is always nice to be told “I love you “But it is wonderful to be shown unconditional love.
My mother always said “it takes all kinds of people to make this world, and there are none of us missing”. We are so very fortunate to have found each other in this loving and caring Parish that is St. Paul’ and none are missing.
I am proud to be a supporter of this family which is St. Paul’s.
We’re Christians; we’re about to celebrate the Incarnation, the time when our God takes on flesh and chooses to dwell among us.
How can we feel sad or lonely or filled with some aching something that we can’t pin down?
We just get over it…or keep it inside and don’t rain on everybody else’s parade.
Back in the early ‘60’s the poet Randall Jarrell wrote a collection of essays entitled “A Sad Heart at the Supermarket”. That title has always stuck with me: “A Sad Heart at the Supermarket”…a sad little heart wandering along the vegetable aisles, pinching the avocados, sniffing the melons, and trying to convince itself that everything is OK
How many of us are truly joyful at Christmas? If you look at the crowd on the sidewalk, the results are probably as mixed as they would be for any question. Some are bubbling with happiness and excitement, some are clearly frazzled for the moment but smiling inside, some are openly indifferent or openly sad…and quite a few are putting a lot of effort into being festive but it’s not working very well.
Why do we have a healing service in preparation for Christmas?
For a lot of us, as children, the Christmas season was traditionally a time of anticipation, of happy expectations and the closeness of family. But we’re grown-ups now. Now, sort of like Marley’s ghost dragging its chains after it, we carry our past with us: and for many our past and our present now include the death of a loved one, separation from family or close friends, increasing health problems, diminished resources, or a broken family where “you get the kids Christmas eve and I get them Christmas Day”.
And, of course, there are the larger scale tragedies: like the death of 20 children and 7 adults at an elementary school in Connecticut just ten days before Christmas…difficult to absorb and haunting our thoughts.
It’s all there, the heartbreaking stuff of our mortal human life.
Yet, somehow, at Christmas, our subconscious suggests we should feel guilty about this sadness.
Why do we have a healing service in preparation for Christmas?
Because we need to be healed in some way before we can be open to our happiness.
Our disillusionment and our loss can be very tough, especially if they are recent or inexorably tied to time around Christmas. There are gaps in our lives that cannot be filled again in this mortal life.
And as if in response, out of this darkness can come the glowing words of a passage of Scripture: a passage like the one from Philippians read earlier.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And then the following verses (not included in the reading):
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of Peace will be with you.”
This is Advent: a time in which you can create something new to accompany the memories you already cherish.
Don’t be put you off your shortbread and fruitcake…because Advent is a time of happiness, a time of great happiness.
At a recent ordination of the BC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, one of my Lutheran colleagues shared this story:
On the way to a meeting, he had stopped at a church he had known for a long time. These days, its congregation is on the move and the building is up for sale. As he was strolling around the grounds, he came upon the notice board.
Now… I could fill sermons about church notice boards. They are notorious for very cheesy and at times awkward messages. Just go to internet and google it…! Not everyone is as creative and as tongue-in-cheek as we are here at St Paul’s: When we advertise for the service of Blessing of animals and pets we invite along bears and cougars…
The notice board, by which my colleague was strolling, however, had some other issues. Somebody had broken open the notice board and then this person had proceeded to rearrange the letters to spell something that – shall we say – consisted of four letter words, which did proclaim no more God’s love and compassion to the world.
As he stood there in shock, he muttered under his breath “Don’t they know? Don’t they understand?”
At this point I would have loved to interrupt the story. I would have loved to say to my colleague: “No, the world doesn’t know and the world doesn’t understand.”
It is a folly for us to assume that the world in which we live has any knowledge or any understanding of God’s love. Many do not know. Many do not understand what is at the heart of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. Many have no idea that the Creator of heaven and earth is a loving God, who not only loved us into being, but who continues to reach out to us in ways that are loving and in ways that allows us to claim a profound and compassionate relationship with the Creator, with one another, and with our true selves.
No, people do not know and do not understand. And unfortunately, the reason for this far too often is this: For many, the message of God’s love is marred by the behaviour of the members of the church.
Contemporary events such as the recent failure of the General Synod of the Church of England to allow for women to be consecrated bishops make us look not just silly, but they also leave us unequipped to provide lasting and profound answers for our present age. We in the church seem stuck in a world that has nothing to do with the reality all around us. And our internal struggles, disagreements, and power-fights really make us ineffective and hypocritical witnesses to God’s love.
Who would turn to us for guidance when we cannot even see God’s image in the ministry of women?
Who would want to seek out our advice when we are obsessed with righting perceived wrongs in others rather than getting on with the work God has given us to do?
Why would anybody at Pumpjack, Numbers, or Steamworks listen to what we have to say about fidelity and faithfulness when we still fail to fully embrace the sacredness of sensuality and sexuality for all?
We are becoming more and more irrelevant. We are less and less a moral and a spiritual compass in a world that (last time I checked) was still enslaved by exploitation, injustice, war, sin, and death. We are like a notice board with rearranged letters that do not spell God’s love for the world to understand.
Yet, we operate as if we still have a voice. We still think the church is an entitled and privileged part of society. But we are not. And far too often, not unlike the disciples in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark, we send people away either by what we say, or by how we say it, or by what we do.
Why is it that we fail to speak plainly from our heart and our own experience? Why do we use words such as “Eucharist,” “eschaton,” or “rector,” – words, which nobody outside the church understands or cares to understand?
Or if a refugee family from Afghanistan walks into one of our churches, would we welcome them, seek to find out how we can serve them, and sit with them to explain the ins and outs of why we do what we do? Or would we politely turn them away, because they obviously cannot be Anglican?
If a young man with a baseball cap peeks into one of our services, would we invite him in, seek to get to know him, and joyously speak about God’s compassion and love? Or would we demand for him to remove his cap first and thus send him packing?
People do not know or understand of God’s love!
But neither do we, neither do we!
That’s what I would have liked to say if I had interrupted the story of my Lutheran colleague. But I didn’t. After all he was preaching. It would have been rather awkward, especially since I was participating in the ordination in an official capacity…
Yet, just as well. Just as well, I didn’t interrupt, because my colleague continued to make a point about his story that, although quite different, equally has validation.
Rather than bemoan the fact that vandals had messed up the sign, my colleague shared his insight about what happens when God is no longer proclaimed – by a vandalised notice-board, or by any other way. He explained that a god, whose good news is not share with creation turns into a monster. And indeed, a deity that remains unknown, remains not-understood, remains un-proclaimed, remains hidden and arcane is not god at all. God is not a god tucked away out of sight.
Why would God create and then withdraw into the off? Why would God set things into motion and then let things spin on their own? Why would God bother only at the beginning, but then not bother at all?
Sure, we will never fully understand the divine mind, but this kind of understanding of God does not make any sense. If there is “God,” and I hope, trust, and believe that there is, than God is still involved. And then God is all about self-revelation.
God wants to be known and God wants to be known by all and in all. God yearns to be discovered, explored, and found. God does not hide in some shadow watching from the sidelines, but God is involved in our lives, and God seeks, and indeed yearns, to be known and understood by all of us, so that the love of God can unfold in our lives and so that we can claim the beauty that God created us to be.
Of course, I realise this is much easier said then done. And, yes, I wish God would push Himself upon us more plainly so that we would have a clearer sense of who She is. At times, I indeed wish I had certainty.
At the same time, though, I know that certainty has nothing to do with faith, because certainty does not allow us to grow ever deeper into the love of God. Certainty is static, is immovable, is, in fact, dead. Faith, on the other hand, lives. Faith allows us to grow into an ever deeper understanding of the divine mystery. Faith gives us each a chance to claim what we need to know about God at any given moment in our lives, and this understanding will and must change over time. Faith meets us where we are, not where we are supposed to be. Faith is a dynamic force that, however, it does not force itself onto us. Faith is not unlike love, which, according to one divine sage, is patient and does not insist on its own ways.
And faith allows us to claim God’s self-revelation in Holy Scripture in diverse ways, even when the text does not seem to makes sense at first, does not seem to connect with our reality. When Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” we must look at this through the lens of a dynamic faith in order to discover that this verse does not require of us to become like a child. But Jesus embraced the children, because they come to him without pretending to be something they were not. The children came as children, as who and what they were.
And this is crux: This must become true for us too. We need to come to Jesus as who and what we are, and not as something else. The faith of a five-year old is absolutely fine – for a five-year old. Our faith must mature in time – just like our own selves ripen. Faith, as I said, is dynamic and God uses this dynamic aspect of faith to reveal Himself to us in ways that are age-appropriate. And this will lead to an ever-changing meaning of our sacred stories – even though the stories remain the same.
Take the story of St Nicholas for example.
The story of St Nicholas lends itself to all kinds of romanticism and nostalgia. What’s not to love about a benevolent bishop, who brings gifts to children and thus prepares them for God’s ultimate self-gifting in the child of Bethlehem?
But for us of more mature and riper age the myth of the saint needs to challenge us differently. It needs to focus on the fact that the saint brought gifts to children in his life-time, so that they weren’t sold off into slavery and prostitution.
Children still are threatened by slavery and prostitution, even today. How then does St Nicholas’ story compel us to interrupt this horrible business? How are we challenged by the saint to intervene whenever the image of God is violated in one of our sisters and brothers?
Yes, the children in today’s Gospel found God in Jesus’ embrace.
And so do we.
But we also need to find God in the witness of the prophets and saints who call us to join them in not only proclaiming redemption and forgiveness, but also in working for peace and justice.
And this is true not just for today’s feast day, not just for Advent, but for every day of our lives.
St. Paul’s Labyrinth officially launches its own dedicated YouTube channel.
Currently, they present two new videos for sharing:
1) Introduction to St. Paul’s Labyrinth
This short video introduces the history and community offerings available at St. Paul’s Labyrinth, since opening in 1997. Share a glimpse of this ancient practice of reflection, healing and celebration with your friends!
2) Music for the Labyrinth Kira Van Deusen performs three improvisations for solo cello recorded at St. Paul’s Labyrinth. Kira is featured regularly at the labyrinth as a music performer and storyteller and is also a certified Veriditas labyrinth facilitator.
Sometimes we see something and it sticks to our mind. For no particular reason. It just does. Yes, there are images we all have seen and we all remember. But sometimes there is an image that for very personal reasons stays in your minds, and stays in your mind only.
One of these kinds of images that has been stuck in my mind for quite some time is a photograph from Japan. I don’t know when it was taken and I cannot remember where I first saw it. It is a photo of a Shinto priest, decked out in vestments that are colourful, ancient, rich, traditional, gorgeous, multi-layered, … and that would make any Christian priest blush with envy. In the photo, the Shinto priest stands in the middle of a busy city-street in Tokyo. Right in the middle of the street. And it is not an empty street by any stretch of the imagination: There are cars lined up, cyclists and pedestrians everywhere. It is a busy road. Think Granville Street meets Georgia Street many times over.
The priest just stands there. Eyes closed in meditation or prayer. His right hand holding a ceremonial shaku, a ceremonial sceptre used only by the Japanese emperor and Shinto priests. And everything around him has stopped. The pedestrians do not move. The cyclists have demounted their bikes. And the cars are sitting idly on the crowded road. And nobody is complaining. Nobody is ringing their bicycle bell or honking their horn. Everything is just still.
It is a moment of silence in one of the busiest, loudest, most hectic, and fastest moving places on the planet. Everything around the priest is paused for a moment – until the priest steps aside and the craziness of living and working among a fellow 35 million residents of Metro Tokyo starts again.
Yes, it is an incredible image and for me it signifies what being a religious professional is all about. It is about stepping into the middle of the busyness of life, interrupting it and bringing it to a halt, even if it is just for a moment. It is about refocusing the hectic routine not just of bustling metropolises like Tokyo, but even our own hectic routines. It is about bringing these routines to another dimension, a spiritual dimension, thus reminding people who they really are, and more importantly whose they really are. On the surface, it is the Shinto priest in all his liturgical finery who seems out of place. But is he? Isn’t he rather the only one in place? On closer observation, it is actually the mass of people in cars, on bikes, and on foot around the priest, who seem most out of place, seem disconnected from life, lost in a faceless world.
One of the most profound revelations about moving to Canada has been Remembrance Day. The way Canadians have chosen to commemorate the war dead and honour veterans is a markedly different from what I have experienced in other countries. Rather than engage in overzealous triumphalism and in a hyper-glorification of the military, Canadians have chosen to stop in silence for two minutes every eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the midst of the business of our lives, as merchants in their greedy quest to commercialise every aspect of our lives defile the Christmas season with premature decoration; in the midst of hectic schedules and overwhelming agendas, as we rush from one place to another overlooking the homeless drug addict passed out on the street; in the midst of loud political battles and disputes, as we seek to open new markets and seemed to focus exclusively on the economy; even in the midst of on-going conflicts around the globe, we stop for two minutes. And there is no complaining, no communal car-honking: Like the Shinto priest in Tokyo, so Remembrance Day interrupts our lives and reminds us of the importance and beauty of life, reminds us of the preciousness and fragility of life, reminds us that war is never pretty, and reminds us that those who have been killed on the battleground will never be forgotten.
Whatever we might think – whether we believe that God calls humans to absolute non-violence, or whether we believe that at times it is justified to engage in armed conflict in order to preserve justice – and, btw, both these positions can easily be justified by Christian theology – whatever your position, Remembrance Day is not the time to fight fierce arguments about theological differences on this issue. We must do so at other times. Remembrance Day also is not about loud celebrations of victories over long-time enemies, as much as I am grateful for and rejoice in the Allies’ triumph over the evils of fascism and National-Socialism.
No, Remembrance Day is a time to be silent. Remembrance Day is an interruption of our at times thoughtless routines and mindless assumptions. Remembrance Day is a time to stop, to remember, to be thankful, and to recommit our lives to stand up for justice and peace.
And Remembrance Day is a time to think about and remember the little people, the people so often forgotten in wars, the people who easily become statistical blips on the radar screen, the people who so inhumanly and sinfully are called “collateral damage.”
Little people, like the unknown soldier, who before even turning 20 was killed by a sniper on Flanders’ Field and who now lies buried amidst many, whose name is known only to God. Or little people like the woman grabbing her kids and a few belongs to rush into the basement of a house, not realising that the planes were much closer, and who was killed as her house collapsed over her after hit by a bomb. Or little people, like any of the 1.5 million children murdered and discarded in a most evil way during the Shoa, the Holocaust. Or little people, like the merchant marine sailor, whose ship carrying food and supplies to civilians was sunk by a torpedo unleashed by a submarine. Or little people, like the fireman on the roof of a historical church, whose courage during an air raid saved the ancient structure, but could not save his own life. Or little people, like any of the unnumbered civilians killed in the Iraqi conflict, who we so easily forgot here in the West. Or little people, like Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard, whose precious, promising, and beautiful life was ended in a fire fight in Afghanistan. Or little people, like Dr H. Dean Smith, step-father of fellow parishioner Tom Kertes, who was a brave military man during the Vietnam war, but whose contact with Agent Orange killed him slowly, painfully, and cruelly over a period of 35 years. Or little people like Hermann Stöhr and Martin Gauger, who were murdered by the German government in the 1940s for their biblically inspired radical pacifism.
Or little people, like the widow in today’s reading from the Gospel according to Mark.
Much has been made of the significance of the money in today’s story. And yes, the selfless sacrifice of the widow is indeed a prophetic witness and a strong challenge to how each of us shares with the church and with the world the resources that we have been gifted by God.
But there is another aspect of the story, an aspect on which I want to focus today.
Not unlike the Shinto priest, and not unlike Remembrance Day, today’s story is an interruption. The widow interrupts the lives and assumptions of the political and religious elites of her time. Her quite, yet intentional way of worshipping God by offering all that she is and all that she has disrupts the self-gratifying self-importance of those who think they run the show, those who forget who they are, who they are to serve, and who is really in charge.
The widow didn’t need any fanfare, any loud proclamation, just a silent act of acknowledging that all things come of God and that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from God.
It was indeed a quiet act of worship. And it was a quiet act of insistence. The widow hadn’t given up. Despite of her own poverty, despite having experienced pain and horror, despite thousands and millions of reasons why she shouldn’t be there in worship, the widow had not given up on God. She gave back to God, because she had experienced the loving and compassionate presence of the Creator in the midst of her life, even in the midst of her darkness.
Even in the midst of terror and war, even in the midst of horror and fear, God does not run away, but goes all the way with us, goes with a poor widow into her worship and into her despair. By giving so much of who and what she is, the widow affirmed that despite of the things that happen around us, despite of darkness, pain, or sin, despite of death, war, and injustice, God does not abandoned us, but is still with us, is still intrinsically involved in our lives, cares about us, loves us, and reaches out to us in ways too deep for words. God even goes to the hard wood of a cross to die a horrendous death, so that there might not be a single aspect of the human experience that God cannot not enter – not even death.
No darkness is too dark for the light of God to pierce it.
And this is at the heart what we do today: Today is about remembering.
And today is about acknowledging the little people.
But there is more: Today is about having our lives interrupted. Today is about stopping for a moment to turn away from strife and hate, from business and ignorance, from complacency and carelessness, so that we can focus on the abiding presence of the Creator, who is Lord of all and who is God of “every tribe and language and people and nation.”
It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m standing in Nelson Park with parishioners from St. Paul’s Anglican Church, waiting to proceed to the church on Jervis Street two blocks away.
There’s a trumpeter, a trombonist, a few drummers and choir members in robes. A few people hand out palm leaves. After the priest, Markus Dünzkofer, tells us how we will proceed, he adds, “If bystanders ask what we’re doing, refer them to Clare, our seminarian.”
Everybody laughs. Clare looks uneasy.
As people begin to sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour,” I get the image of a Salvation Army band, and offer a silent prayer that I see no one I know along the way.
I am here, after all, as a journalist, not a churchgoer.
Once inside the church, after the Opening Versicle, the Hosannas, hymns, prayers, the Gospel, and Confession and Absolution comes the Peace, during which we all turn and nod to one another, or shake hands briefly and say: “Peace be with you.”
I know the drill.
But what’s this? It goes on and on. People wander up and down the centre aisle, in and out of the pews, embracing one another and greeting more and more people.
I think: Good Lord, we’ll be here until Tuesday! Let’s get on with it.
The truth is I’m uncomfortable. All of this flies in the face of what I’d come to view as the stuffiness of the Anglican Church. Not that I like stuffiness. It’s just that all this kissing and hugging throws me off balance.
The truth is these people seem to know and care about each other in a way I don’t normally associate with church.
My reaction surprises me. Even more surprising is that I return for Good Friday services and again for Easter Vigil.
“The Anglican Church isn’t the church of your grandmother and grandfather,” Markus Dünzkofer tells me in a phone interview many weeks later.
Apparently, it’s also no longer the Church of the Empire, or the last bastion of British immigrants in Canada, an image that many Anglicans have been trying to change for years now. And Dünzkofer, a German who studied theology in Edinburgh and was ordained in Chicago, is emblematic of that change.
Curiosity and openness
“We’re an ever-changing community,” Dünzkofer explains, “a crazy and wonderful community. There’s an openness at St. Paul’s, a real curiosity about people, a willingness to engage with the divine, with each other and the neighborhood.”
The young woman to whom Markus Dünzkofer wanted to refer questions during the procession on Palm Sunday is seminarian Clare Morgan, aged 27, a self-proclaimed “Christian punk Goth.”
“I’m like normal here, not anybody’s mascot,” she says. “I still consider myself part of the Cathedral, but you come in with tattoos and a weird haircut and people love you, but they’re a little titillated to know someone like you. I never noticed until I was at St. Paul’s that no one here made assumptions. People don’t kind of slot you into something like: Oh look! A young person with blue hair!”
“We may look as if we’re all WASPS,” says parishioner Leslie Buck, “but you look a bit deeper, and there’s an impressive diversity: Dutch, German, French, Turkish, Iranian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish.”
Ordination of women and same-sex marriage
A British-born, life-long Anglican, Buck came to St. Paul’s in 1993 when he and his wife moved here from Ottawa.
“We do things now that would have appalled people 50 years ago,” says Buck citing the ordination of women and same-sex marriage. He also cites shifts in the teaching.
“There was a time when the message was primarily keep your nose clean and don’t worry too much about what you do at work the rest of the week. Nowadays more is made of the social gospel, issues like homelessness and poverty. Which is not to say that one’s individual relationship with God or one’s behavior is not an issue, but the church is also responding to the world.”
Buck gives me a bit of St. Paul’s history. The church was first formed in Yaletown, and parishioners included Canadian Pacific Railway workers and their families.
As people prospered, they moved to the West End to build mansions. In fact, a friend of mine insists it was Benjamin Tingley Rogers (of BC Sugar fame) who started the trend in 1900 by building his massive stone house on the corner of Davie and Nicola. And when Mr. and Mrs. Rogers moved on to Shaughnessy, the socially ambitious followed suit, which in turn marked the beginning of what the West End has become today—primarily apartments and condos for single people, small families, and pensioners.
The present St. Paul’s was built in 1905, at a time when the West End was still home to Vancouver’s prosperous.
“The original ethos and style remained much the same from 1905 until 1985 when last of the old style rectors retired. David Crawley took his place and started to change things. The church started ministering to AIDS patients. The change came from the rector, but gradually everyone became supportive and more gay people came into the church, which changed the make-up of the congregation.”
Change or close
“After World War II and up to the eighties,” says Dünzkofer, “the parish thought of themselves as the bastion of English. David Crawley gave them a choice: change or close.
He flung the doors open, and people came in: prostitutes and drag queens. It’s heartbreaking reading the records in the mid 80s. There were three or four funerals a week during the AIDS pandemic. People came to think of us as the gay church. I would not use that term. We are the West End church. We reflect the particular make-up of the neighborhood. We put energy into the questions of poverty in the neighborhood, and what it means to be a Christian with social conscience, and how to be a traditional Christian community that’s open to welcome people in, without losing identity.”
“I think the easiest answer is worship,” Dünzkofer continues. “It’s the centre of who we are. I still think it opens ways into the mysteriousness of God—that constant rhythm of prayer. It empowers us to do the work we’ve been given to do. We are very much a praying community.“
In 1995, St. Paul’s established its Advocacy Office to provide information and support to anyone in the community who sought help with housing problems, legal problems, immigration issues, welfare applications, and other access to government services. The office used to see around 1,000 clients a year. Now it’s over 3,000.
St. Paul’s also supports Our House, a recovery house for people trying to break free of addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“We have a grant for a full-time homeless outreach worker,” says Dünzkofer. “The neighborhood puts a high demand on the church. Other parishes have more advocacy resources. We need to be creative in finding more resources for that.”
Some in the community know St. Paul’s because it’s where their chorus meets, or their regular 12-step meeting is. Others know it because it’s church hall houses a labyrinth that one can walk as a meditation.
“The labyrinth program was first established by people in the church,” says Leslie Buck, “but it opened itself up to the community in general, so we find people coming there who have very little to do with the church. Some wouldn’t be caught dead in the church.”
When I ask about St. Paul’s future, everyone seems to point to the past. In other words, they feel they can lean into the reconciliatory history of the Anglican Church, and its stand for freedom of thought and expression.
“The saint of the Anglican Church was Elizabeth I,” says Buck. “She established the importance of common prayer over a confession of faith. And that has persisted. We’re more open to individual interpretation, to the spirit rather than the letter of the law.”
Buck is optimistic about St. Paul’s future.
“My optimism lies in the current situation, on the people who are here and the way in which they go about their business. “In general people here are of good will. The Spirit is among us. If we keep our wits about us and don’t get complacent, I have hope for the future, though I have no idea what it will be.”
Seminarian Clare Morgan says, “I still hold out for a church where we try as hard as we can to stay together as a family, with a commitment to talking and sharing stories. A lot of fundamentalists go and split and form another church and keep splitting. A friend of mine likes to say ‘We’re good at being heretics, but we don’t like to be schismatic.’ So we yell at each other, but we’re all still Anglican.”
A deepening identity, advocacy and community
From Dünzkofer’s point of view, St. Paul’s future includes a deepening sense of identity. “I crave tradition that creates mystery,” he says, “that sense of the numinous. We also want to experience liturgy that meets people where they are. Some conversation needs to happen [about this], and we have great resources to deal with that. It is our tradition—the language of the people—and worship is a common experience. Praying together—that’s how we find out what God is telling us to do.”
St. Paul’s has faced many changes in the past 27 years. And now it faces yet another. At the end of Sunday’s service on October 21, one of the Church Wardens stepped forward to announce that Markus Dünzkofer has been called to be the next rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, and he has accepted. He will be leaving St. Paul’s at the end of December.
Dünzkofer says what impressed him most about St. Paul’s when he arrived eight-and-a-half years ago was “the intentionality of ministry in this community—in worship and music and the labyrinth. They were intentional about building it and intentional about getting the community involved. It’s the same thing with advocacy.”
One senses that this same intentionality along with discerning prayer and dialogue will be what carries St. Paul’s through its next set of changes.