Rector’s Report to Vestry – January 2020
Well, I think I’ve managed to tickle a few people’s curiosity with “Project 2020 – Exercising Our Spiritual Vision.” Today, I plan to give you the details of what I believe to be an immense undertaking, that is absolutely critical to the future of this church.
The premise of this project is my belief that we have lost our ability to tell our story, because we have, without realizing it, let our story slip away. For many years now, people in the Anglican Church have not been challenged to read, learn and inwardly digest that which breathes life into the faith that we claim in Jesus. As now two, maybe three, generations of children raised in the Anglican Church have voted with their feet, we are faced, in bewilderment, with the constant question, “What went wrong?” I believe the answer to that question is that we quit teaching the faith, we accepted, for example, a participation rate of less than 10 per cent in study groups, and we seemingly didn’t have time to engage those who wanted, not pat answers, but serious answers to deep spiritual questions. A ten minute sermon and an occasional cursory glance at the Scriptures is not enough to stoke the flames of faith. God has never stopped teaching us, so we must never stop learning.
The good news, no the great news, is that in recent years there has been an explosion in the number of authors who are researching and writing cutting edge books that tackle the heart of the questions that many people have. There are no more platitudes, but rather fresh, virbrant works of serious scholarship that are written in a manner accessible to all who will pick up a book or turn on a tablet. Faith needs to be fed to remain ablaze and this project is designed to provide a diet for all appetites. This educational component, if we all buy in, will give us the needed tools to engage faith in a way that will shift our model of ministry to one that can interact with a society that has become indifferent to what we do.
But first, a second, and connected piece of the puzzle to unveil. We have heard much about new models of ministry, how our old structures are out of date. We have for many decades worked on a model of one priest, one parish; maybe two clergy in a larger parish. That model makes us insular, commands us to protect that which is ours and our success is to be measured by our numbers. There was a time that was a good model. That time has long passed. When I came here more than two years ago, I said we needed to build relationships and find partners. We are always better served when we expand our possibilities and use all the resources we can find. I am happy to tell you that following an impromptu lunch between Dean Paul Millward and I; St. Paul’s Cathedral has been invited to participate in Project 2020 and along the way we will explore other ways in which our two communities might strengthen our faith by sharing some of our resources. One of the first ways of doing that, will be a series of clergy exchanges. For the first two and last two Sunday’s of Lent, Paul and I will form a team; while Hana and Mike DeKay will form a team as well, as we share a Lenten series, along the same lines of our Advent series, taking a look at the Old Testament readings for each Sunday, and opening up their wider context and meaning. We have also begun discussion about sharing some Holy Week services, such as the Easter Vigil and the Easter Sun(Son)rise service. It would make sense that a second round of clergy exchanges in Advent would be in our future. This is, pure and simple, the first steps in a relationship. We have no idea where God might take this, but we are convinced that it’s an opportunity to open new doors to faith for us all.
On to the nuts and bolts of Project 2020, and it is multi-faceted in nature. However it all leads to one goal: the building of faith! Attached to this report is a list of 15 books. They have been selected by myself, Hana, Paul Millward and Mike DeKay. No restrictions were placed on what we could select, save that we wanted books that would inform, challenge and intrigue. Most of the books are contemporary. They cover the gamut from human sexuality, to social justice, to leadership, to bible study, to history, to ministry styles, to story telling and even an interfaith adventure and a book on Apps. We want you to read them. The genuis of this program is that you will make as much or as little of it as you wish as a collective group. If you buy in, we can and will find a new path. And we want you to discuss what you read, with a variety of other people. And we will make opportunties for you to do this. St. James Westminster will initially bring in three copies of each book and place them in our lending library. Each month, we will order copies for people who would like to have their own. On the first Monday of the month, Rebekah will place an order. You will be asked to pay for the books when you pick them up. All are welcome to access the books electronically from your favoured provider. The idea is NOT for you to read one book and say, “Whew, I’m glad that is over!” I’d personally like to see each of you read each book over time and then branch out to find other books that will inform your relationship with Jesus. There are many more books that each of us can recommend to you if you have a particular area you wish to concentrate on. Over the course of 2020 there will be at least one study session on each of the books. Everyone will be invited to come and share thoughts and ideas. The best case scenario would be that people would then branch into their own “mini discussion groups” and spend some serious time in discussing, debating and integrating the themes of each text.
But Project 2020 must go deeper if we are to find “our story” for today’s world. We want you to participate in the weekend homily process as well. There will be two ways to do this. Each Sunday morning, whoever is preaching, will be available from 9:30 to 10 am to interact with you about the homily you have just heard, or are about to hear. Maybe you want to talk about the reading that wasn’t touched on. Perhaps you’d like to talk about next weeks readings. The key is to get people into reading their own bibles! Side note – If the only Bible you own weighs 20 pounds, boldly proclaims to be the King James Version, and hasn’t been opened since the last baptism or wedding was written inside; you need to get a new bible. Our weekly Scripture readings are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the Anglican Church also approves the New International Version (NIV) for use in liturgy. Long gone are the days when everyone reads the same version and they all say the same thing. With increased archeological finds and new scholarship on translation and interpretation; it is important that you have a bible you can read and understand. Either the NRSV or NIV would be a good choice, but there are other ideas as well. Perhaps you’d like to find a Study Bible which will give you increased access to notations about the Scriptures. Any of the clergy would be happy at any time to help you in choosing what is right for you. The Bible, freed from the traditional, power based interpretations foisted upon it through the ages by various agencies of church and state: is actually a fascinating read (well not Numbers, Numbers is never fascinating). People ask me questions about how I came to understand the differences within the four Gospels, where I came up with the thought that Isaiah has his own message, he wasn’t spewing gobbledegook just to allow that 800 years later Christians could repeat his words and that they were about Jesus. These and other insights, like applying Scripture to social justice, or climate change or human trafficking or any number of issues facing us today, will breath new life into tired faith, and summon up a new confidence to share faith in a new and interactive way with people who have deep questions they want you to hear and then help them answer.
In addition to the Sunday morning experience, we will be enhancing our midweek services to allow for more group discussion. Beginning this week there will be two midweek worship/study opportunities each week for the rest of the year (at least.) Hana will be offering a Tuesday night Eucharist at 7 pm, with a discussion session to follow and Keith will continue to offer a Wednesday morning Eucharist at 10 am. The homilies will increasingly be discussion oriented and the readings will be either the previous weeks or the coming weeks lectionary readings at the choice of the presider and/or the attenders. Those who now attend on Wednesday mornings will know that the homily is no holds barred and there is always a cutting edge to what we are doing. The Tuesday night service will be the same way, only developed by Hana and the community that builds around those services . These are not services that you should just show up for. These are not spectator events! You should be reading not only from the Bible but from online commentaries and other sources to prepare yourself to be a full participant in each service and discussion. From time to time there will be other study opportunities, stemming from what we are learning as we go along.
As you might guess, this will take an inordinant amount of Hana and I’s time for the next 11 months. We believe together that this project is imperative for us to reboot the model of church which is currently on life support. We can take strong lessons from our interfaith friends just by observing how much time and effort they put into their faith traditions. While this might seem terse, I believe this is accurate. “The days of just showing up is good enough, need to come to an end in the Anglican Church.” Faith is intrigal to our being. One of the books listed on our reading list, “God, A Human History” by Reza Aslan, proves conclusively that faith has been part of every human tradition since day one, perhaps as much as 30 thousand years ago. And he claims for the most part we have created God in our image generation after generation. Intrigued? Discombobbulated? Upset? Good!!
So yes, we are asking much, much more of you. We believe that faith in God is the single most important aspect of our lives. Our Creator wishes to be in relationship with us and we need to be much more diligent in the effort we put forward to learn about God. Perhaps it is a good thing that the Anglican Church in Canada is on life support. It will help us to understand just how hard we need to fight for life and faith and that like life, faith can never be taken for granted. There are no apologies for the scope of this project, but much encouragement to roll up your sleeves and dive in. Together we can find a vibrant and renewed understanding of faith in the Anglican way and in doing so, we believe we will revitalize our community from the inside out.
As our faith is challenged, expanded, strengthened and increasingly valued as being the the core of our being; we might just discover that God’s new plan is the same as the old plan: Love God and love your neighbour as yourself. That means that together we can work to achieve justice, inclusion, enviromental stability and much more in a viable and vital long term way to make this world the place God desires it to be. The first step is to strengthen the base of our own belief system. “Because” is never an acceptable answer to any spiritual question. We can never rest on our achievements because, and I believe we are seeing today, when we try to hold steady, we in fact are already going backwards. We must seek what God desires for us and in doing that we build relationships that can tear down the barricades that keep us from building a fair and just society with resources and care for all.
Romans 10:14-15 reads in part “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” For our feet to be beautiful we need to know our story; not just a little bit, we need to understand faith in a complex and complicated world that will tear at the fabric of that faith just as easily as promote it. We need to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the good news that has come to us and we are required by God to take seriously how we learn about faith, how we constantly grow in and share the love of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you encounter this often, perhaps you don’t. But I believe it to be true that a significant percentage of our population today knows next to nothing about God, spirituality, church or faith. They have been disenfranchised from religion, perhaps more than a generation ago and have never given a second thought to attending a church. They aren’t interested in our platitudes, but want to ask hard, difficult and complex questions about, for example, the relationship between science and faith. They won’t default to our knowledge, we will have to earn their interest. To do this, we must be much better versed in our own story, contemporary in our understanding of church and faith in the cultural context of today. We have some work to do to begin to re-engage those who have become distanced. Project 2020 will provide us the tools to put together a program that will exercise our faith, in a way not dissimilar to the way we exercise our bodies. It will take much impetus to get started. It will be difficult at first, and always be a challenge to maintain. But being well spirituality is as important in today’s world as being well physically. So let’s get started, let’s decide together that we should, can and will revitalize what has been so important to so many for so long at St. James Westminster. This will be as successful as you make it. Each of you has a decision to make about whether you will participate or not. Ultimately, I believe the participation level will have a direct impact on whether we go forward, or continue to stall out. By the nature of our baptism, Jesus has called us all to ministry; given us all strengths and skills to help revitalize the ministry of the church. The world around us will continue to change at a break neck pace. The world around us will continue to need the love and care that God wishes us to offer them. If we are to succeed, then we must be willing to meet the world head on, with honesty, integrity and deep wells of knowledge. As always, the choice is yours as to how we proceed.
And yes, there will be a Project 2021 and Project 2022 and …….
The Much Anticipated Book List
Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
If the Bible isn’t a science book or an instruction manual, then what is it? What do people mean when they say the Bible is inspired? When Rachel Held Evans found herself asking these questions, she began a quest to better understand what the Bible is and how it is meant to be read. What she discovered changed her—and it will change you too. Drawing on the best in recent scholarship and using her well-honed literary expertise, Evans examines some of our favorite Bible stories and possible interpretations, retelling them through memoir, original poetry, short stories, soliloquies, and even a short screenplay. Undaunted by the Bible’s most difficult passages, Evans wrestles through the process of doubting, imagining, and debating Scripture’s mysteries. The Bible, she discovers, is not a static work but is a living, breathing, captivating, and confounding book that is able to equip us to join God’s loving and redemptive work in the world.
The Universal Christ by Fr. Richard Rohr
From one of the world’s most influential spiritual thinkers, a long-awaited book exploring what it means that Jesus was called “Christ,” and how this forgotten truth can restore hope and meaning to our lives. In his decades as a globally recognized teacher, Father Richard Rohr has helped millions realize what is at stake in matters of faith and spirituality. Yet Rohr has never written on the most perennially talked about topic in Christianity: Jesus. Most know who Jesus was, but who was Christ? Is the word simply Jesus’s last name? Too often, Rohr writes, our understandings have been limited by culture, religious debate, and the human tendency to put ourselves at the centre. Drawing on scripture, history, and spiritual practice, Rohr articulates a transformative view of Jesus Christ as a portrait of God’s constant, unfolding work in the world. “God loves things by becoming them,” he writes, and Jesus’s life was meant to declare that humanity has never been separate from God—except by its own negative choice. When we recover this fundamental truth, faith becomes less about proving Jesus was God, and more about learning to recognize the Creator’s presence all around us, and in everyone we meet. Thought-provoking, practical, and full of deep hope and vision, The Universal Christ is a landmark book from one of our most beloved spiritual writers, and an invitation to contemplate how God liberates and loves all that is.
What Happens When we Die?: A Little Book of Guidance by Thomas G. Long
A straightforward treatment of the only existential issue that matters from the Christian perspective. The author is a renowned preacher, esteemed homiletician, and well-published author. In What Happens When We Die? Tom Long provides information about the promises and convictions of the Christian gospel concerning death and life after death. He surveys in simple terms the major themes surrounding death, dying, and hope for an afterlife.
The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis
No one has failed to notice that the current generation of youth is deeply – some would say totally – involved with digital media. Professors Howard Gardner and Katie Davis name today’s young people The App Generation, and in this fascinating and relevant book they explore what it means to be “app-dependent” versus “app-enabled” and how life for this generation differs from life before the digital era. Gardner and Davis are concerned with three vital areas of adolescent life: identity, intimacy, and imagination. Through innovative research, including interviews of young people, focus groups of those who work with them, and a unique comparison of youthful artistic productions before and after the digital revolution, the authors uncover the drawbacks of apps: they may foreclose a sense of identity, encourage superficial relations with others, and stunt creative imagination. On the other hand, the benefits of apps are equally striking: they can promote a strong sense of identity, allow deep relationships, and stimulate creativity. The challenge is to venture beyond the ways that apps are designed to be used, Gardner and Davis conclude, and they suggest how the power of apps can be a springboard to greater creativity and higher aspirations.
The Sin of Certainty: Why God Require Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs by Peter Enns
Biblical scholar, Pete Enns, explains how Christians mistake “certainty” and “correct belief” for faith when what God really desires is trust and intimacy. With compelling and often humorous stories from his own life, Bible scholar Peter Enns offers a fresh look at how Christian life truly works, answering questions that cannot be addressed by the idealized traditional doctrine of “once for all delivered to the saints.” Enns offers a model of vibrant faith that views skepticism not as a loss of belief, but as an opportunity to deepen religious conviction with courage and confidence. This is not just an intellectual conviction, he contends, but a more profound kind of knowing that only true faith can provide. Combining Enns’ reflections of his own spiritual journey with an examination of Scripture, The Sin of Certainty models an acceptance of mystery and paradox that all believers can follow and why God prefers this path because it is only this way by which we can become mature disciples who truly trust God. It gives Christians who have known only the demand for certainty permission to view faith on their own flawed, uncertain, yet heartfelt, terms.
Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Based on the same topic as his viral TEDTalk, the second most viewed of all time, Simon Sinek discusses the concept of ‘why’, and how holding ‘why’ at the centre of your vision and mission creates the space for great success. More than just looking at business practices, Sinek’s Start With Why gets to the heart of how humans interact in communal ways, and how we build authenticity and purpose into our lives.
Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
The early Christian Church started out as a radical, spiritually intimate gathering of believers that ultimately changed the face of history. And yet, today, millions of churchgoers are content with being mere observers. In Letters to the Church Francis Chan invites readers to wrestle with the idea that the church has drifted away from God’s vision and challenges us to ask: What does God want for his church?
Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by Lenny Duncan
Shifting demographics and declining congregations are what we focus on, but Lenny Duncan sees something else at work: a direct correlation between the church’s lack of diversity and the church’s lack of vitality. Dear Church offers a bold vision for the future of the Evangelical Lutheran church and the broader mainline Christian community as it rejects the narrative of church decline and calls everyone, clergy and laity alike, to the front lines of the church’s renewal through racial equality and justice.
Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow by Carey Nieuwhof
There is no doubt that the church is in a time that few church leaders are prepared for. But there is no reason to think we are done, we just need to have the right conversation. Designed to facilitate the tough discussions needed to have an honest conversation around church growth Lasting Impact helps readers envision that the best days of the church could be ahead of them.
Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisioned, and Keep Your Day Job by Kerry Weber
When Jesus asked us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the imprisioned, he couldn’t possibly have meant it literally! In her book, Mercy in the City, author Kerry Weber, a modern young single woman in New York City, attempts to do just that as she works to practice the Corporal Works of Mercy in an authentic, personal manner while maintaining a regular life. Speaking with honesty and transparency, Weber explores the Works of Mercy in the contemporary world and how we connect as people of faith.
God: A Human History by Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan, who ruffled a few feathers with his book Zealot, about Jesus, will fascinate you with this look into how humans have understood God, as long as there has been humans
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown
Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest and an accomplished author. She spent a good portion of her professional life teaching a course in World Religions at a small college near Atlanta. In this book, she shares how she has been impacted by the faith of others.
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz Weber
Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor, pulls no punches in her latest book (her other books are exactly the same.) This is a deep look into a Christian Theology around sexuality, and she advocates for a cutting edge rework. The book contains frank discussions about sex and some adult language, for which Nadia does not apologize
Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin
This 500 plus page book moved me in ways I did not expect. James Martin is a Roman Catholic Priest and author. He recently made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and did his best to visit sites in the chronological order of the Jesus story in the Gospel of Luke. Vibrant discussions of the holiest of places, paired with a theological commentary around Luke’s version and some heart warming personal stories. This book was incredibly informative for me.
Faith: A Journey For All by Jimmy Carter
So, what if you are a humble farmer and Christian from Georgia and you suddenly find yourself in the most influential position in the world: President of the United States. In his usual humble style, Carter wends a tale of how his faith has guided him from simple beginnings to the spotlight of the world.