Why Do We Need Church? Yet Another Response


This time around our response comes from Ashley Ruby. Ashley is a talented organist/pianist who has served at St. Mark’s, St. James’ United Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist here is St. John’s. Her and her husband Jamie have been married a couple of years now and the live in Goulds.

When Reverend Rob asked me to write a response to his “Why We Need Church” blog, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get it done. Thinking and chatting and writing about religion and church and theology are things I truly love to do, but there seems to be little time to do it these days. There’s little time to do many of the things you love to do when there are so many things that need to be done. Although spending time with God is, to me, something that needs to be to done, we know that God is everywhere and in everything, and when my schedule forces me to choose between taking a day to breathe and enjoy my family over waking up and dragging myself to church, I will undoubtedly choose to honor the God I see in the faces of my loved ones, the God I experience when I’m relaxing with a book and the rain is falling outside, and the God of hot coffee, peacefulness, and contentedness.

For me, this is a kind of worship, not unlike the choreographed liturgical dance that takes place within the church walls.

There is a need for both types of worship. But there is also a need for balance, and there is certainly a need to remind church-goers that there is no obligation to attend. There is nothing to feel guilt or shame over when you really need to just stay home in bed. You’re aren’t going to burst into flames because you only go on Christmas and Easter either, something I hear over and over again from the twice-a-year-is-all-I-can-stomach crowd. Guilt and shame are things I, personally, have felt on a regular basis when I have to miss church, for work or an event or even just my own mental health. When I was on the path to ordination and attending Queen’s College full-time, I went to church seven days a week, most days more than once. I would be expected to attend daily offices every single day while simultaneously juggling my studies, my family, working two part-time jobs, my church commitments outside of Queen’s, and all the while maintaining a pleasant demeanour.

I was not pleasant.

I very quickly lost sight of all the things I found beautiful about church worship. I didn’t even enjoy singing anymore. I hated rolling the same prayers around in my mouth day after day; each time I said them they became more and more meaningless to me. Obligation to worship as I was told killed the joy the freedom to worship as I choose had brought me once before. I barely saw my husband because I was spending so much time at church doing church things that church people were expecting, telling, insisting, even, that I do. Meanwhile, the man I stood in God’s house with and promised my life to got barely any of my time and attention, and I don’t know if the God people told me to be quiet and pray to was very happy with me for that. Luckily, when I parted ways with Queen’s, after taking a couple weeks off from church altogether, I began to miss it again, and returned to my Sunday routine albeit with many commitments pared away. However, I’ve since been known to just as often stay home and make some absolutely fabulous waffles on a scattered Sunday morning, just because I can. Freedom to choose is important to me, and my husband and I are both happier people this way.

For the average church-goer, the Sunday morning breakfast-church-dinner-nap routine is tried and true. There’s not a thing wrong with it, and it is that very routine that brought me to the church as an infant and kept me there as an adult. It offers routine to families with young children who need to be taught to set time apart for God. It allows like-minded Christians come together and spend valuable time as a community. There is an energy present in a sanctuary full of people reciting such ancient words, words that mean so much to each and every heart there. But perhaps the main reason this sort of worship is necessary to Christians is that it sets apart time where thoughts are focused on the divine in a variety of media which references our beliefs directly. While appreciating the beauty of creation on a long walk through the woods, or spending an afternoon in the garden with your grandmother truly are beautiful ways to worship God and honor all He’s made, we often miss Him there. We don’t hear Him walking in the garden. The reality of His unfaltering presence doesn’t faze us. We don’t notice Him there in all we do. Worship in a church setting is valuable to the Christian as it draws attention directly to nebulous of our faith with music, symbols, words, ritual, and the human connection with other believers. This is one way in which church, as a place of worship, will always be needed.

On another level, there should be a real desire in the heart of every true Christian for church to become obsolete as quickly as possible. Before you write an angry editorial to Anglican Life about the crazy chick at St. Mark’s, hear me out. What I mean is that church-goers should be consistently working to eradicate all the social issues in the world that churches do so much to relieve. One of the key goals of the church is to help the helpless, and we should be striving, as every good charity should, to create a world in which our help is just no longer needed because there is no one left in want of help. Church, as a charitable organization, is needed right now, but we hope it isn’t needed for long (so does Jesus FYI).

But don’t worry. So long as there are Christians there will be church. If all the hungry mouths in the world are fed, all the marginalized of our society are no longer marginalized, and all our buildings fall down around our ears, there will still be church. When you welcome a friend into your house and treat her like a queen, your house is now church. You are serving your friend as Christ served, you are honoring the love you have for her as Christ loved us too. Loving your neighbour is spreading the Good News, it’s telling a message, and that message is to love. When you hold a loved one’s hand as they lie in palliative care, that hospital room suddenly becomes church too, and you are thanking God for the life they had and the time you had with them and trying to make their passage from life to death calm and easy. When you’re at a dance with your wife, and you’re swaying to the music in a crowd of dancing couples, you’re in church. You’re moving the fearfully, wonderfully made body God gave to you to house your soul, you’re feeling joy and love and happiness, and that is worship and that room is alive like a sanctuary on Easter morning and how beautiful is that?!

A little ditty comes to mind. It was one of the first songs I ever sang as a little girl in junior choir and I honestly never really understood the message until now. Here’s how it goes:

I am the church!

You are the church! We are the church together!

All who follow Jesus,

All around the world,

Yes, we’re the church together!

 The church is not a building,

The church is not a steeple,

The church is not a resting place,

The church is the people.

The church is the people! The church is a love of Christ, a belief in the gospel, a motivation to enact good in the world so as to spread the Word of God, of His power and of His unfailing love, through our own human actions.

And the world needs it. The world needs love. The world needs church. As long as there are Christians, there will be church. As long as there is love, there will be church. There just will.

Let’s stop trying so hard, okay?








Why Do We Need Church? Another Response


In this response to Rev. Robert’s post “Why Do We Need Church?”, Allison Billard tells us why church is important to her. Allison, her husband Robert and two young sons attend our 10:30 am Sunday worship. Allison is a St. Mark’s vestry member, part of our prayer writers group and writes regularly for Anglican Life.

Do we need church? I can see the argument to the contrary. For the first time in over a decade I haven’t been to church all summer. I can see how families find it difficult and inconvenient and undesirable to get up on Sunday morning and come to church. For people who only ever went a scattered time as a child, or not at all, I honestly can’t see what the appeal might be to give it a try for the first time.

I went to church nearly every sunday with my mom all while I was growing up. I do agree with Rick, whose reflection came ahead of mine, that guilt does still play a part in my getting to church some days (or lots of days, depending on how life is going). But more than that, much more than that, I feel a greater sense of purpose, belonging and just “being” when I’m involved in the church. When I stray away, I quickly feel lost and disconnected.

I feel a longing for church. I love being a part of the faithful community. I love hymns both old and new. I love the traditional bits and a lot of the fun new stuff I’ve encountered too. And I’m so happy to be even a small part of the work of the church, especially at St. Mark’s as we do some rather groundbreaking things in our little corner of the world.

I truly believe that if we are to call ourselves Christian we most certainly need church. We need to gather as a community and worship, celebrate, mourn, and mark the feasts. We need to come together and find ways to make a positive change in our community and the world. We need to reach out and help others. We need to be God in the world and we can only do it together.

If our hope for the church is that it grows and thrives, quite a lot of change will need to occur. At St. Mark’s I am confident we are ready and able to be a part of that change if given the opportunity. I’m no great evangelist but we will all have a part to play in bringing the church to others, sharing our stories, helping people to see what is so wonderful about what we do at church. Afterall:

 “A church is not a building, a church is not a steeple, a church is not a resting place, a church is the people…”

Do you know the rest?

“I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together” and so on it goes. It truly is one of the best hymns. It sums it up for all to see. We are the church.  So yes, we need church, it needs us, and we have a responsibility to bring it to others who haven’t experienced it like we have.


Why Do We Need Church: A Response


In this post parishioner Rick Hibbs responds to Rev. Robert’s post Why Do We Need Church? Rick attends our Saturday worship with his partner Steve. Rick is a part of our prayer writers group that writes our weekly prayers of the people. Both him and Steve have served on our parish vestry.

Full disclosure: I am a parishioner at Rob’s church and closet theologian. So what are my reasons for attending church? In no particular order:

Guilt: Yep, good old Catholic guilt. I wish it were not true but I must admit that the conditioning received as a child does not go away easily. Suffering through a boring, lifeless service quickly expunges any leftover pangs of guilt… at least for a month anyway.

Plot Twists: I am pretty confident the church calendar will honour the same feast days, but I do get pleasure when someone offers a new interpretation of a previously closed bible passage. I relish attacks on the rigidity of that childhood conditioning.

Community: I consider the service I normally attend as a family. Isn’t it human nature to want to connect with your family on a regular basis?

Self-Help/Improvement: I want to be a better person. I think we all should want to be better people and that is the pathway to making a better world. I was born and raised Christian, not Buddhist, not Muslim, not Jewish, not Native, not… Jesus laid down the pathway I know to being a better person. It’s not an easy path to follow (or find sometimes) and God knows I am rarely on it, but I aspire to be on that path. Regularly checking in with other Christians reminds me of what that path looks like.

Routine: Many consider routines oppressive; I have begun to appreciate them as I age. Day follows night; fall follows summer; the weekend follows the workweek, these are natural to us. So too is attending a service on weekends, as it’s part of resetting the week for me.

Fear: Fear is not the same as guilt. I do not fear damnation if I do not attend church, nor if I go to the Keg on Good Friday. I fear self-righteousness: straying from God’s path and instead inventing my own, all the while reassuring myself how good I am. Being part of a Christian community and regularly checking in with them helps keep me aligned.

Why Do We Need Church?


This may sound odd coming from a priest, but I can see why people don’t go to church. Yes, you read that right. I see why people choose not to go to church on Sunday morning. Shocking, I know! Before you snitch on me to the Bishop, hear me out.

I had this revelation just recently. It was at the end of a week of study leave. As part of that leave I also took the weekend off, which meant no church on Sunday. I always relish the occasional Sunday off, especially in the Spring of the year. It always feels like there is little break in the busyness of parish ministry from September to May. So once Easter is over, I look forward to a Sunday to myself.

I wouldn’t say that this was an “out of the blue” revelation for me though. This was not a Paul on the road to Damascus experience; no “Luke, I am your father” shocking plot twist. No, it’s something that has been building in me for quite some time. In fact, for the past few months I have been immersed in conversations about our current religious climate and the future of the church. I have recently read four books that focus on this:

Charles Taylor – A Secular Age

James Smith – How (Not) to be Secular

Brian McLaren – The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian

Dianna Butler Bass – Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution

I recently gave a talk at a St. Mark’s planned giving event on the future of the church, which subsequently became a blog post here. Our Bishop has been writing extensively about the future of the church and he just recently hosted a gathering of reps from the Anglican churches in the metro area. Talk of the future of the church seems to be all over social media as well as traditional forms of media. So it’s not by accident that my mind went where it went on that particular Sunday.

The Sunday started off as does every other day in our house. I am an early riser so I was the first one up. Over coffee, I did a little reading and caught up on the news. My wife got up next and went off to her running group followed by yoga. After she left I took our dog up through the forest trails behind our house in Airport Heights for a walk. I came back home and started making brunch for the family. Our two daughters and a friend joined us for brunch at 11:00 a.m., an early rise for them on a Sunday. As I drove to pick up my youngest daughter from her friend’s house where she had spent the night, I noticed there was a neighbourhood cleanup taking place. I saw a number of individuals and some young families picking up trash all around Airport Heights. I heard on the radio that the walk for MS was taking place and I was reminded that I had heard about this on Facebook from friends who were taking part. When we got home we ate together and chatted about what was going on in our lives at work and at school. The rest of the day unfolded as do most Sundays in our house with some chores, reading and a trip to Costco.

It was in the car on the way to pick up my daughter that my moment happened. It was as I drove through the community cleanup and the scattered jogger that it hit me. Why should people bother with church at all? Why would people give up Sunday morning (probably the only morning they have to themselves and their families) to go sit in church? Is it more spiritual to go to worship in church or to take part in cleaning up creation? Is it better to give your morning and weekly offering to the church and its daily running, or is it better to give that time and money to a great cause like the MS Walk, or the AIDS Walk or the Relay for Life? Is it more important to break bread in church or to break bread around the family table where you are too busy to hardly eat together anymore? Aren’t running, yoga and other forms of exercise types of spirituality, perhaps just as legitimate as what happens in churches, mosques and synagogues?

Something really clicked for me in that moment. I really got it. I understand why people choose not to go to church on Sunday morning, or Saturday evening for that matter. People don’t need to come to church to be religious, spiritual or good. People have all kinds of ways of expressing themselves spiritually today. The spiritual marketplace is vast and the church no longer has the market cornered on God.

But this awakening opened up another question for me. It’s a most troubling question, one that the church really needs to come to terms with: Why do we need church? It’s one that we need to answer quickly. The decline in church attendance and involvement is pretty obvious. The “nones” (those who are religiously unaffiliated, eschew institutional religion and describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, secular or unbelievers) are on the rise. We talk a lot of attracting young people to church, but why? Why do we really want them to come? Is it to stop the decline and to perpetuate our current models of the church? Why in God’s name would young people want to do that?

If you’re waiting for me to give you a grand or clever answer to these questions then you are about to be disappointed. It might be a tad disingenuous for someone like myself, who gets paid to go to church, to write a long schpeel about why church attendance is important. I have my reasons for why I go to church, why I have chosen this as my vocation. Even if I didn’t work for the church I would still feel the need to be part of a church. I would still worship on a regular basis.

What I think would be more interesting is to hear from the people who do go to church as to why they feel the need to go. How would they answer the question, “Why do we need church?” Even more interesting might be to hear from those who choose not to go to church at all or only very, very infrequently. How would these people on the fringes answer that same question? So over the next little while that is exactly what we are going to do right here. We will hear from people, everyday people, not paid spokespeople, as they articulate an answer to the question, “Why do we need church?” There are no right or wrong answers, just people’s honest, authentic reflections. Not all of the things shared will be things we want to hear, but all their voices need to be heard.

So I invite you to stay tuned. Take some time to reflect on this question yourself. Share your own reflections and engage with those presented here.

Rev. Robert Cooke is the Rector of St. Mark’s in St. John’s NL and adjunct professor at Queen’s College Faculty of Theology.

The Future of the Church

broken church

The following is a talk given by Rev. Robert at a Planned Giving event in April at St. Mark’s.

While the this talk is intended to be about the future you may notice that I spend more time talking about the past and the present than I actually spend on the future. But a big part of seeing into and preparing for the future is understanding where we have come from and where we are at the present time. In the interest of time, in our looking back we only look at the broad strokes. Our view of the present is only a snapshot, or to use more a more contemporary metaphor, a meme or a GIF. The discussion around the future is really where I want to draw your attention. It is there that I want us to linger, to focus, to dream.

Where we came from

Much of our understanding, practice and organization within the church became firmly established before the 1800’s. We were very heavily influenced by the European church and European culture. Here in Newfoundland we were influenced by the British understanding of the church, the local church, which was called the parish. The picturesque rolling hills and small villages gave us the idea of a small local church. This idea emigrated to Newfoundland in the 17th and 18th centuries and was firmly fixed in our religious understanding by the 19th century.

The church was mostly rural, close-knit, denominationally based and central to the life of the people and communities in which they were located. Your membership in a parish was based on where you lived not whether you liked the music or the minister’s sermons. You were born into your denominational church. You were either a cradle Anglican, Methodist or Roman Catholic. Your parish was also central to your survival. People not only prayed together, they fished together, hunted together, farmed together. In a world where death by starvation, disease and disaster was an ever present reality, you relied on each other for survival. Your parish identity was central to who you were, where you came from and who you would become. This was even true even in a city like St. John’s, which was for many years, and perhaps still remains today, the only real urban centre in Newfoundland. Where you lived in the city pretty much determined where you went to church.

The role of clergy in this close-knit community is that of a caretaker and caregiver. The role of the clergy is pastor or shepherd. The shepherd cares for the flock, spends time with the flock, and knows them intimately. The shepherd is there in all the ups and downs of the flock, the sadness and joy, the life and death. The shepherd cares for the wounded and hurting sheep. The shepherd feeds and waters the thirsty sheep. And as much as the shepherd is among the sheep, he (yes always he) is not the sheep. He is above them, in charge, often the only educated or even literate person in the community.

Even with the onset of the industrial revolution in the 19th and 20th centuries the parish remained the model of the local church. Even though our church buildings got bigger, we pretty much kept this rural, pastoral model of the parish. We added to it the methodology of the factory. The goal became making Christians, making Anglicans. We entered the age of the program. National church bodies turned out programs for teaching the flock how to be Christian, how to be Anglican. Denominations published curriculum on Baptism, confirmation, marriage, and bible studies. The role of the clergy shifted from just a shepherd to now the shepherd/teacher.

Shortly after the advent of the Industrial Revolution came the Information Age. First, there was radio and then television. People’s worlds began to open up. There was a shift from the village to the city. People became more educated and standards of living increased. Women entered the workforce and the idea of family began to change. Our world was becoming more diverse. We no longer all looked the same and sounded the same. Two world wars, the horrors of the holocaust, nuclear devastation and increasing political and religious scandals caused us to question everything we thought we knew about ourselves, the church and God. All of this and yet our understanding of our local church stays the same. A parish, whose members all look the same, hold the same beliefs, have a physical building and pay a clergy to take care of them, remains unchanged.

It was into this environment that St. Mark’s was born. A growing city. The need for an Anglican presence in the north eastern part of the city. There was a priest, Charles Hiscock. The identified need for a building. It all sounds pretty traditional. But if you look closer there was something different happening. I learned this by working with our archives committee on our 40th anniversary celebrations. The people who worked to plant St. Mark’s, many of whom are here this evening, were seeking to grow something different. The language that was used for what was being formed was different. There was talk of a worship centre, not a church building. The fledgling group referred to themselves as a community of faith which while common today, was rare and innovative for its time. There was an intentional aversion to the traditional and a desire to embrace new ways of being the church. Originally, two other denominations were approached to share in a common building for worship and ministry but there was no interest from them. There was a sense that the church, the building and its people were meant to serve the community. These founding values of innovation, inclusion and community partnerships are still evident at St. Mark’s today. They are a part of the spiritual DNA of this parish.

Where we are now

A couple of weeks ago during Holy Week, CBC Radio aired an episode of the noontime talk show Cross Talk that focused on spirituality. I think the airing of this particular episode gave us great insight into where we are as a society here in Newfoundland when it comes to faith and religion. I think this for several reasons.

First, pay attention to the topic that the show was dealing with: spirituality. Not religion, not faith, but spirituality. The show was on in Holy Week and there was no talk of worship, Good Friday or Easter Day. Indeed we live in a world where terms like religion and faith do not evoke the positive feelings that they once did. We all know someone or several people who refer to themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. There is an ambiguity to that word spirituality and I think that’s no accident. I challenge anyone to give me a concrete definition of what we mean by spirituality. But there is a freedom and individuality that comes with spirituality and I think that is part of its draw. Religion and faith, on the other hand, are too scandal-ridden, too narrow. They evoke a sense of judgment, exclusion and dry tradition to be attractive to today’s seeker.

The second telling thing about the show was who was in studio in the role of “expert”. It was not a priest or pastor. It was not a bishop or archbishop. The person in studio was a friend of mine, Sean McGrath. Sean is a former monk who left his order for the academic world. Sean is the head of the philosophy department at MUN. He does teach theology at Queen’s but he is not connected with any faith community. He refers to himself as a secular Christian. He is a deeply spiritual person, knowledgeable of both Christian and other religious traditions. On the show he had keen insights into the spiritual and moral landscape of the 21st century. But it just goes to show how we have shifted as a culture here in Newfoundland that we could have a radio call-in show on spirituality that does not include representation from one or more of the major Christian denominations. The church no longer has exclusive rights to spirituality. Clergy are no longer the go-to experts when it comes to spirituality.

Another noteworthy thing about the show was the people who called in and what made up their sense of spirituality. The minority of callers, only three in an hour long show, claimed to be regular church goers. Almost all got their sense of spirituality from nature, exercise, yoga, meditation and personal study. All looked to acts of kindness and charity as examples of a healthy spirituality, but not necessarily through a church. Hardly any of them made mention of community or fellowship as part of their spirituality.

My final reflection on the show was who was absent from the conversation. There was only one young person who called into the show. He was a MUN student doing a PhD in psychology looking into whether spirituality adds value to people’s lives. That’s it – one person. Now we might deduce from this that young people don’t care about spirituality. It would be easy to make that assumption. They don’t go to church. They don’t give to the church. Their morality seems questionable at best. Millennials tend to get described as selfish, flaky, consumer driven and somewhat ignorant of the ways of the world. I believe that is a very unfair characterization of this generation. Just in our own parish we have seen young people start a charity like One Step Shoe Recycling, do an internship with NASA, study neuro-biology, be the first woman in the province to write a prestigious math exam, play in the Scott Tournament of Hearts, serve on extended aid trips to Central America and do amazing volunteer service with groups like Shallaway, the Janeway, the CNIB and the Autism Society (just to name a few). Don’t doubt for a second that spirituality, morality and charity are not important to the next generation. Think of your own children and grandchildren. Think of their lives and accomplishments. They may not participate in traditional forms of spirituality or media but they are engaged nonetheless. Their spirituality is lived out not in churches or volunteer organizations, but through social media, charitable organizations, in the community, in yoga studios, on the East Coast Trail and on pilgrimages to India and other spiritual hubs. Nature is their cathedral and its care is often their religion. Their conversations on theology, philosophy and morality aren’t happening in church bible studies or worship services, but in classes at MUN, at coffee shops and pubs and around informal tables with friends. Their patterns of beliefs, practice and giving are dramatically different from previous generations. The church needs to stop bemoaning this fact and start adapting to this reality.

So just for a moment I want you to hold those two images together in contrast. The traditional parish and the snapshot of our current spiritual environment. Hold that thought for a moment as we transition to look at the future.

Where are we headed?

The church should always be in discernment, always asking questions like “who are we?”; “what are we supposed to be doing?”; “where is God calling us?” This is true today more than ever. This part of this talk is a little more difficult. I have no crystal ball and I do not trust my powers of prediction, but I do want to share with you some broad stroke ideas of where the church needs to go.

Hope – All this talk of change can be very anxiety inducing. We’re afraid of what we will lose, what will die. Brian McLaren addresses this anxiety in his latest book:

The primary concern for many of us Christians is our churches. We see how they’re wrinkling and shrinking, how they’re aging and experiencing numerical decline. We know how important church has been in our lives and we want to save our churches from going the way of the phone booth, cassette tape, or landline. But whenever I find myself in conversation about “saving the church,” I can’t help but recall Jesus’ words if you want to save your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. Jesus’ words make me wonder: could our desire to save our precious religious institutions and tradition actually hasten their demise? Could it be that the Spirit of God is calling the church to stop trying to save itself, and instead to join God in saving the world? Could pouring out itself for the good of the world be the only way for the church to save its own soul?

The foundation of our Christian story is death and rebirth. We like to call ourselves an Easter people, a people of the resurrection, new life. But do we believe it? The Easter message and, in fact, the Gospel message is one of hope. The divine message in the New Testament over and over again is “Fear not”. God is with us, and is calling us to take part in healing and renewing the world. Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death. The good news is exhilarating and should flood us and our church with new life. If the church is not a place of hope, what hope is there?

The Earth – In Genesis God created all we see and said that it is good, yes very good. In the same story God also bestows the responsibility of stewardship, caretaking of the earth to us human beings. For too long the church has treated the earth as a temporary stop-over on the one way trip to heavenly bliss. We treated the gospel like a get out of hell free card or a divine insurance policy. You could say that this downplaying of the importance of this fragile earth, our island home, has led to the rampant corporatist, capitalist environmental degradation that we now live with. We find ourselves in the throes of environmental crisis. What is the role of the church in such crisis? There are many, but I think two are vital. One is to be a prophetic voice calling all people, not just all believers, to strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth. Second, we should lead by example. The church should speak out against the empty consumerism that is driving us into debt, despair and clogging up landfills with our unwanted stuff. That means giving voice to creation care in our liturgy, in prayers, sermon and song. It means planting gardens, installing solar panels, organizing community cleanups, starting recycling/composting programs, switching to environmentally friendly cleaning products and getting our congregations out into nature to simply enjoy it.

The Vulnerable – Perhaps the first question that any parish or congregation should ask itself when trying to reimagine their purpose in the world today is, who are the most vulnerable among us and what can we do for them? Our example for this is none other than Jesus. Jesus’ entire life was oriented towards those on the margins of society, the disenfranchised, the forgotten and ignored. He healed the sick, and ate and drank with outcasts and sinners. As disciples, literally apprentices, of Jesus we are called to learn from and mimic Jesus. We do what Jesus has done.

So who are the most vulnerable among us? Here at St. Mark’s we have identified that new Canadians and refugees, hungry children at Virginia Park elementary, elderly in institutional care and single parent families struggling to make ends meet are vulnerable. So we have acted to feed, clothe, visit and befriend these vulnerable people. We have also partnered with the local community centre as it seeks to serve the vulnerable in the community who struggle with poverty, addictions, education and unemployment. But there is much more to be done, more who are vulnerable. In particular there is much more to be done with seniors. As our population continues to age our seniors will need more care, more advocacy and more presence. What is God calling us to do for these vulnerable people in our midst?

The Spirit – We live in a spiritual age. The spiritual marketplace is flooded with multiple options for spiritual expression. In fact, spirituality is big business – just witness the success of authors and speakers like Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer and Tony Robbins. Yoga, exercise (especially cross training and running), meditation, mindfulness, healthy eating, naturopathy/homeopathy, fair trade and buy local movements all tap into a form of spirituality. Yet what we hear about religion almost exclusively focuses on decline, controversy, scandal and exclusion. Why, in this age of spiritual awakening, is there such an aversion to traditional forms of religion? What are we to make of these spiritual but not religious folk? First, we have to acknowledge that the church doesn’t have the market cornered on God anymore. People do not feel that they have to come to church to get access to God. Second, I think we show that it’s not an either or choice between religion and spirituality, but that you can be both spiritual and religious. Third, we need to do a better job of presenting a healthy, more loving (and dare I say more positive) spirituality. Fourth, we need to remind the spiritually-minded that we do not seek alone, but that we are at our best spiritually when we seek together. What the church has to offer to the conversation and practice of spirituality is community. Finally, we need to do better at tapping into the rich Christian tradition of spiritual practice and recover ancient ways of prayer, fasting, meditation and sacred reading of scripture. Our spirituality cannot be limited to Sunday alone. We cannot sustain ourselves if our only spiritual meal is the Eucharistic meal once a week. We need daily nourishment from the deep well that is God.

Leadership – There is much more I could say about the future such as community partnerships (i.e. government, business and non-profits), ecumenism and multi-faith dialogue and cooperation, social media presence, youth ministry and catechesis, evangelism, advocacy and peacemaking, and evolving our theological perspectives to speak to the current scientific-technological world we live in. But I feel a word needs to be said about leadership. Who will lead us into the future, into this new church? Most of the clergy we have today are not trained to lead in this current climate let alone into the future one. First of all we need better programs at our theological schools to better equip clergy to minister in the 21st century. Second, we need to move away from the pastoral model of parish ministry described above. Priests can no longer just be shepherds of the flock. They must also be skilled communicators (both inside and outside the church), social workers, collaborators, marketers, teachers, entrepreneurs, spiritual directors, advocates and public theologians. Third, the current economic status of most parishes tell us that there will be fewer full-time priests and more part-time, two-career and non-stipendiary priests, which means that lay people will increasingly have to take the lead in ministry. The church has been talking about and promoting the ministry of the laity for years now, and yes some big progress has been made. I would hold up St. Mark’s as an example of great lay ministry, but there is much more to be done in this area. Oftentimes one of the biggest hindrances to this is not the people themselves, but the clergy and dioceses who are too territorial over who does what in the church.

Finally, I think one of the greatest ways the people can lead into the future is to believe that a new way of being church is possible and to give themselves to it. That means letting go of some things in the church that are currently on life support. Don’t get me wrong – this is not an argument for wholesale change right now. We are really now a church in between two times. We are in transition. In our rush for what is new we cannot ride roughshod over the people for whom the church as it stands now still carries great meaning. There is a great piece of work to be done in the church that resembles palliative care – dying with dignity. But part of this care is the resurrection belief that there is life after death; that something new and different will emerge once our old models and institutions die. Even in the midst of dying we work toward the new life of Easter morning. That means giving of our time and resources now for the future. Planned giving will play a huge role in this future. The faithful, faith-filled people who have worked so hard and given so much to the church – they have carried it and been carried by it. Now we need you to help us plant the seeds of what will grow into a beautiful, loving and caring community of faith.


A Slower Kind of Fast


One type of Lenten fast is taking on a life of its own in the larger church, and that is the idea of a “carbon fast.” That is, to make every attempt to reduce our carbon footprint during Lent, and hopefully gain some insights into ourselves – and creation – in the process.

Scientific consensus is pretty clear that our climate is changing, and far more rapidly than usual, because of gases emitted from human activity. Carbon dioxide, methane, and even water vapour contribute to higher temperatures on a global scale, and more extreme weather events locally.

So what can we do, as Christians and as individuals, in the face of such an enormous problem? Well, we cannot change industrial policy in China, India, or the United States. These emitters will always be bigger than us; so while we can advocate for change, many things are beyond our control.

What we can do is control our own actions, and do the best that we can. This is what we do as ethical Christians in our day-to-day lives, and this is what we can do as individuals concerned about what climate change means for future generations.

A good first step is to learn what our carbon footprint is. Giving up driving completely is unrealistic for most of us, but most of us can take actions to drive less. It’s actually quite easy: just track how many kilometers you drive in a typical week. And then start thinking about what you can do to reduce it. The amount by which you can reduce your driving will be different for each of us: 5, 10, or even 20%.

As an example, say I drove 300 kms each week, and chose to reduce that amount by 10%. That would make my goal 270 kms per week, or about 40 kms per day. And it’s easy to find ways of reducing how much we drive, but it does take a little organization and discipline. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to reduce how much I drive:

  • Combine errands – sometimes I feel like half the distance I drive each trip is just getting in and out of my neighbourhood. So I rarely leave to get just one thing.
  • Show patience – if you’re getting low on milk, or bread, or dog food, you don’t have to buy it right away. Get it on the way to work, or when you’re leaving the house for another errand.
  • Plan ahead – if you are going past the pet store, check how much dog food you have left.
  • Wait around – if you’re dropping someone off, don’t go back and forth between places. Take a book and read while you’re waiting. Go for a walk with the rest of the family. Use your cell phone to ring the person you’ve been meaning to call.

By using some of these tricks, and more you’ll figure out on your own, you may just find you have more time for yourself and your family, and your pace of life might just become a little less frenetic. By doing good for the planet, you may do even more good for yourself.

Similarly, we can think about where our food comes from. Buying strawberries from California in the middle of a Newfoundland winter is probably not very environmentally sustainable. These berries are picked, packed, and shipped completely across the continent to make it here before they go bad. Instead, try to eat the sorts of things our forefathers did in the winter: root vegetables, winter squash, apples from Nova Scotia, or other produce from local producers.

Food that is grown and sold locally is also a good option for reducing our carbon footprint. There are growers who attend the local farmers’ market (stjohnsfarmersmarket.org), and you can get a variety of local vegetables and baked goods there, even in winter. And yes, these items do cost more, and will until there is more demand (and supply) for their products. So while it may not be affordable to buy all our groceries there, perhaps once a month is manageable, to help build that market. As an added bonus, you are helping small farmers and their families to make an honest and rewarding livelihood right here in Newfoundland.

Lent is a time to slow down, become contemplative, and maybe deny ourselves some pleasures we take for granted. Chocolate, alcohol, and sweets often top the list of things to give up, but how about the convenience of getting whatever we want, whenever we want it? Maybe we don’t need to run to the corner store for a loaf of bread right now. Maybe it can wait, and we can get it on the way to work tomorrow.

I encourage you to use the traditional Lenten activities of self-discipline, meditation, and preparation. Any act can be holy if done for the right reasons, even something as mundane as choosing to drive a little less. I hope you find a way to try a new kind of fasting; my even greater hope is that you will like it and keep doing it.

Richard Janzen is a vestry member at St. Mark’s and chair of our Creation Care Working Group. Richard attends our 10:30 am worship with his wife Hanna and their three children.


Tips for Keeping a Simple Lent

simple Lent

So how do we keep a simple Lent? Well first you may want to ask yourself these questions. Where do I need to simplify? What is cluttering up my life? What is distracting me from my relationship with God, other and creation?

Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Join us in keeping a Carbon Fast. Pay attention to our dependence on fossil fuels and explore ways to curb it.
  • Keep a Screenless Sabbath. Try not looking at your phone for a day or part of the day. Take the time you gain to read a book, go for a walk, meditate or talk with a family member.
  • Give up social media. We are increasingly addicted to Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. Yes there are great things about these types of media but too much of them can cut us off from each other, reality and God. How about day, a weekend, or if you’re really brave, forty days without social media?
  • Watch the documentary Minimalism and see if you can find ways to break the hold that “stuff” has on your life. Spend less; live more!!
  • Make time each day for silent contemplation. Just 10 minutes of meditation each day can improve your health, energy and sleep patterns. Try yoga or tai chi as types of whole body prayer.
  • Keep the daily rhythm of morning and evening prayer either at St. Mark’s or own your own. It can be as simple as you need it to be.
  • Keep a spending fast. For the season of Lent only buy things that you absolutely need. You’ll be surprised at how little you actually need.
  • Share with us your ideas of how to keep a simple Lent.