“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
These words, written by one of the early apostles of the Christian faith, still stand as a meaningful guideline for us as we strive to be a faithful and united Christian community. These words were written at a time of significant trial for the Church, urging them to persist faithfully through hard times. There is no one who doesn’t need encouragement and positive reinforcement in what they are about. There is no one who cannot benefit from membership in a healthy community.
Along the way, I have been privileged to have served as rector in two large parishes over a span of 17 years. The danger was always in drifting toward a CEO style of leadership rather than a spiritual and pastoral one. That constantly threatened to take me on a path toward burnout and away from the peace and joy of a life centred in the Christ. Anglican writer and academic Arthur Middleton said: “There is a kind of thinking in the Church that wants to reduce the priest to a mere functionary, a managing director, where administration rather than doctrine and worship are to determine the form of the Church . . . . Priesthood is not a convenient, historically conditioned form of Church organisation, but is rooted in the Incarnation, in the priesthood and mission of Christ himself.” That concept is central to my desire to come to a parish like St. John’s, and I enjoy being priest, pastor and spiritual director much more than being a boss, manager or CEO.
I strive in my ministry to be aware that I represent Christ, however inadequately, and to remain open to the constant presence of the Spirit. I hope I do that in a way that is down to earth and real, not suggesting that to be a Christian means being perfect. My approach to ministry has always been shaped by the concept that it is “the cure of souls” (or the care of souls), that is, attending to people’s inner life and motivations, helping them find a meaningful vision and perspective for their lives, and a lifestyle with integrity. The cure of souls involves encouragement, helping people find healing for their wounds, and a way forward in life. People need to know they can come to me and that they will find understanding and compassion and not judgment or condemnation. Let me say that I expect the same from you as well.
Anglicans, I would say, are spiritual AND religious. We are people with a sense of the inner and sacred dimensions of life, and we are fortunate to have meaningful forms in which to express that. In other words, our sometimes vague feelings and inclinations are given focus and purpose in spiritual and religious practices rooted and grounded in tradition and the wisdom and experience of the historic, and continuing, Church.
It appears that a more spiritual approach to ministry and church life is what modern seekers are looking for. I have noted over the last number of years that people are interested in connecting more deeply and authentically, wanting direct, personal, and not second- (or 23rd) hand experience, and wanting to know if the Church provides guidance regarding spiritual practices. Douglas Todd, religion writer for the Vancouver Sun, recently named this phenomenon as well.
“Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11) — more words from scripture, but it can’t be said enough. Mutual respect, support and encouragement must be priorities, principles and practices in any parish for it to be a place in which people feel safe enough and welcome enough, to be able to allow their light to shine. I am not just speaking of an atmosphere of tolerance, but of making sure no one is taken for granted or dismissed or diminished, and of actively looking for opportunities to compliment and bless each other. Every Sunday as I administer Communion, I am conscious of how many burdens and struggles are going on in your lives as you continue to journey forward, seeking grace. Believe me, it is not hard to find good in you.
We live in a world in which it seems like we have lost our manners – our civility – a time when many people are either moving about like robots, unconscious and indifferent, or flipping out and acting like animals. Christianity is all about what it means to be a genuinely human being. It is all too easy to start taking each other for granted and to slide into patterns of indifference. It seems to me that Christians can do a very valuable thing by expressing reverence and respect, because then we are identifying and encouraging the sacred in the midst of life.
An important part of my role is to teach and guide (and correct when necessary), and I want to suggest that we are in a process of recovering a meaningful theology of the Church. For me, the church is not primarily an institution, it is a spiritual society. When we speak of the Church as the “mystical body of Christ,” we are certainly suggesting something more than the lunchtime gathering at McDonald’s. But every individual and parish is faced with the choice of whether to live into that high calling or let the church fall into one default position or another.
On Christmas Eve, we packed the church to the doors at both services. One thing I found significant in that was the large number of young adults who showed up, on their own (not attached to a parent), to celebrate with us. Recently, I was emailed by someone requesting to use one of my sermons on a Polish language web site! There is always a larger constituency around us, some of whom have some sense of affiliation, and some who are at least sympathetic to the place of the Church in our society. We are always affecting and influencing people, one way or another. I believe there is great promise for this place if we persist in extending our vision of what we do beyond our doors, and if that is rooted in a community in which love and respect and support are obvious to all who enter.
Do you feel like you’re making progress? I hope we can reflect and determine together how we can best practise intentional discipleship – informing, guiding, mentoring and challenging people of all ages to grow up into the likeness of Christ. The purpose of the Church cannot be otherwise without failing to be the Church and simply becoming a social entity not unlike the Legion or a Lodge.
In 2011, the diocesan MAP (Ministry Assessment) process will take us on a journey of discovery. I urge you all to find meaningful ways of participating, because the future of our parish and of the Anglican Church in the Tri-Cities/Burnaby area will be affected by this.
By all accounts, 2010 was a good year for St. John’s. I am very grateful to all who exercise their ministry here in a collaborative, supportive and godly way. We are fortunate to have two deacons (Anne and Trudi) who have a strong call to serve, and I am grateful for the ways in which they serve the parish, and also how they have been an encouragement and complement to my ministry. We are also fortunate to have two wardens (Terry Walton and Sharon Cooper) who are extremely capable and insightful about the life of St. John’s. I am very glad to know they plan on offering themselves for another year. Karen Evans never ceases to amuse and amaze me. We also have people who carry out ministries like the Altar Guild, St. John’s Family Food Bank, building and grounds maintenance, ACW, treasurer, Sunday School, choir, EFM, MAP, etc …. but we need others to think about stepping up and offering to help and lead and serve. In a parish, everyone’s contributions matter. We need YOU. St. Paul, quoting Jesus, said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is true, not only about Christian life, but about life in general.
Years ago, I was a delegate to General Synod. At that synod, our Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, pointed out the distinction between attending General Synod and being members of General Synod. “Member” suggests a whole new sense of accountability. So it was like an admonition not to sit there congratulating ourselves on being at General Synod but to get down to business and commit to do our part to carry its work beyond the meetings. It’s a piece of wisdom that applies at the local parish as well. It is an essential part of Christian discipleship that we activate people’s sense of being part of the church, not just as something we attend for our personal improvement, amusement or whatever – to see it in the light of shared accountability.
2010 began with everyone exhorting each other to “BELIEVE!” That theme started with the application process, as it was not a sure thing that Vancouver would even win the bid in the first place. And based on Canada’s past performances at the Olympics, it was hard to imagine the tremendous success that would follow. Many in the community itself wondered if the city and the province could achieve success in such a huge enterprise. Despite the challenges of non-winter weather, personal tragedies, and a few other glitches, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games goes down in history as a great moment, a great triumph.
In an society which has lost faith, it is interesting that fear seems to have come to the fore. The opposite of faith is not reason; it is fear. Many people are stricken with anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and apprehension. A community which can offer reassurance, hope and support and above all, a sense of meaning, is priceless.
When you don’t know the outcome, believing can be a real challenge. Cynics can be very convincing; playing safe can seem to be the wise thing to do; deciding to get on board can seem foolish or embarrassing. The Olympics didn’t entirely silence the doubters and the nay-sayers, but in the end, Vancouver could be very proud. I hope, at the end of the day, that we at St. John’s, will be able to look at our efforts and be equally proud of what we have done.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers, B.A., M.Div.