What Time Is It? Advent 2016

mp9004443361But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!                                          ~ Saint Paul to the Roman Church

 Ask anyone these days the simple question, “How are you doing?” and you’re bound to get an answer something like “Oh my, I’m so busy!” Still others will say, “I can’t believe how fast time goes!” Everyone seems to be held captive by busyness, everyone seems to be running to and fro, caught up in the day-to-day stuff that none of us can seem to escape. Time, it seems, is a precious resource and we seem to be in short supply.

Sadly, the Advent season only contributes to this sense of busyness. All the shopping, decorating and endless Christmas parties only make life more hectic. Advent today is little more than getting ready for Christmas, not in the sense of preparing our hearts and lives, but getting ready for a day, Christmas Day. But Advent really calls us to reflect on time. Advent is about the dawning of a new time, a new way of keeping time and a reprioritizing of how we use time.

Yes, Advent is a time of anticipation, but we anticipate by slowing down, not speeding up. This slowing down is marked by the lighting of candles each week of Advent. These candles remind us of the purpose of Advent, to mark time both together and in our lives, with hope, peace, joy and love. We slowly retell the story, set the context for what we are to celebrate. Without taking time to remember that without the stories of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna there is no Jesus story, no Christmas story.

In the older Advent traditions of the church this emphasis on time is even more heightened. As Christians we are called to remember the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell and heaven. Advent took on a more penitential tone, a mini-Lent almost. And while this may be too sullen and bleak for what we know Advent to be today, it still calls us to a different appreciation of time. It reminds us that in Jesus Christ, a new age dawns, old things pass away and we now keep a new rhythm of life. It calls us to reprioritize how we use our time, and like the wild-eyed John the Baptist in the wilderness, it calls us to make preparations for this new way.

So we are left with a question: How do we get ready for the advent of Christ? Not the baby Jesus, but the cosmic Christ who was, who is and is to come, who is always coming. Jesus, who has so shaped our understanding that we mark time differently. Jesus, who turns everything upside down.

What time is it? It’s time to slow down and get ready. This Advent make time for reflection, for love, for opening ourselves up to others, for ways to take part in this new thing God is doing in Christ.

 

Jesus Goes to the Pride Parade?

Pride Parade

It’s a hot summer day. Hotter than usual for a St. John’s summer. Too hot to be doing anything of significance. Definitely too hot to be parading down Duckworth Street and up to Bannerman Park. It’s the kind of day that should be spent in the shade, or a pool, or down on the beach by the cool salt water. But today is not a day for that. There is something more important to do.

For the church, too, there is something important to do. It is Sunday, and Sunday for Christians is important enough. It is our day to gather, worship, hear the sacred scriptures, listen to homilies, eat the sacred meal and be sent back out into the world full of Jesus. Today, at least for St. Mark’s, there is something else to do. It is, after all, Pride Week and the Pride Parade. And for the first time for us, and as far as I can tell it’s the first time for any Newfoundland Anglican Church, we march in the Pride Parade with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community.

Our participation in this parade is very significant and a long time coming. And make no mistake that it did not come easily. It’s been years, even decades, in the making. In fact, even 2016 has seen many ups and downs in the journey. In January the Primates of the Anglican Communion censured the Episcopal Church of the US for its stance on marriage equality and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops. Later our own bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada released a statement saying that they felt they could not reach agreement on the motion on marriage equality that would come to the floor of General Synod in the summer. Months of anger, frustration and debate erupted.

As a parish community we also engaged in a four-week long conversation on human sexuality and marriage equality. It was a much needed conversation, and the fact that we were even having this conversation is a testimony to how much we have changed in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador. The conversation was difficult at times, but in the end the consensus was ‘let’s continue to work toward marriage equality in the Anglican Church of Canada’.

At General Synod uncertainty and division were again highlighted. The first results of the vote on marriage equality showed that the motion had failed. For those hoping for the motion to pass it was like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of our lungs. And as the air rushed back in, returning our breath, so did the anger and frustration all over again. Once again we cried out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The next moment the whole thing was turned upside down as we heard that there had been a glitch, a mistake. The motion had passed! Just a step, but a big step nonetheless.

All of this is running through my mind as I stand here on New Gower street with the sun beating down on me and those gathered with me from St. Mark’s: a 90 year old in a wheelchair; three preschool age children; a young couple married less than a year; a mom whose own child is coming to terms with their sexuality; an openly gay deacon. People who I know from the wider community come by to greet us and congratulate us on the recent marriage equality vote. As the parade starts and I look ahead at the multitude of people in the parade, stretching the length of Duckworth Street, along with the hundreds that line the street, it’s hard not to get choked up.

Our banner identifying us as St. Mark’s Anglican Church gets a lot of looks. It also gets a lot of cheers and smiles. I even see some tears. It means a lot to those Anglicans in the crowd, those still in the church and those who have drifted away, to see an Anglican church in a Pride Parade. I know that what we are doing is important. It’s hard not to see the significance of it.

Pride 4

But as I look up the street at all the people marching in the parade, and wave at the people lining the sidewalk in solidarity and support, I can’t help but feel a hint of sadness. I think of all the people, our dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters who have gone before us and often walked alone. I think of those who never felt the swell of support that is on display today. I think of the teachers that taught in our denominational school systems who had to keep their sexuality secret for fear of losing their job. I think of the young men who have looked over their shoulders when walking our streets late at night for fear of a beating for being gay. I think of the girls who have been told that they are too butch, that they’ll never get a husband looking like that. I think of all those who have been forsaken, even chased from their faith communities because their sexuality doesn’t fit into their congregants’ narrow box of male/female. I think of all those who have the words queer, fag, sinner, abomination thrown at them by priests, pastors and ministers concerned more with orthodoxy than with genuine Christian love. I think of all of those who have been clobbered by bible verses, proof-texts taken out of context and misunderstood. I think of all those LGBTQ+ people who love Jesus and have a deep longing to belong to a faith community, but feel that there is no place for them and they don’t belong. I think of Jesus and the example of love and acceptance he has set for us, inviting all he meets to come and follow him, to walk with him. I think, if Jesus were here today, he would walk in this parade. Then I am reminded that he is here, because we the church, his body, are here.

I think of all those people, and yes I know what we are doing today is important, but what we do today is just one more step in a long, long journey. We have come so far, but we have much further to go. The same can be said of the historic General Synod vote; it is important, but it is not the end. The church has much further to go before we can truly say we love our neighbour, before we have true equality. Let us keep walking together, one foot in front of the other, walking in love, realizing that we are one in Christ.

 

Pentecost, the Uncomforter and the Way Forward on Marriage Equality

PentecostThis weekend marks an important celebration in the life of the Church. In Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the starting point of the Church. In fact for the past few weeks in the lectionary Gospels we have read of Jesus preparing the disciples for the coming of the Spirit, his Spirit. This Spirit, the Advocate, would teach them and remind them of the words of Christ. It would unify them in love for each other, offering an example to the world of God’s presence in Jesus and his disciples.

Our other Easter lectionary readings have been from the Acts of the Apostles and it presents a very different picture of the Holy Spirit. For Luke the Spirit is a spirit on the move. It is a spirit like that which drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face temptation and self-reflection. In Acts the Holy Spirit in constantly drawing the disciples out of their comfort zones, transforming them into Apostles in the process. The Holy Spirit is constantly redrawing the boundary lines of the Kingdom of God, expanding into further and further territory. Everyone is welcome, everyone is loved, whether they are Jew or Greek, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free.

What we do on Pentecost, though, is not just remembering the past. Pentecost is also a time to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church today. The same Spirit that reminded, taught and came alongside the early disciples is still doing the same for us today. The Spirit draws us back, again and again, to the Gospels and what they reveal to us about Jesus. In a changing landscape, where our old maps no longer apply, the voice of Jesus in the Gospels is our compass to help us find our way forward.

The Holy Spirit of Acts is alive in us as well. The Spirit irks, irritates, pokes and prods. The Spirit calls us to draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. The Holy Spirit leads us to love and truth, even when we would rather not go. As Richard Rohr says. “Yes, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” Oftentimes the Holy Spirit is the great “uncomforter”.

We have experienced these two elements of the Spirit in our recent conversation on Human Sexuality and Marriage Equality. Here’s a recap of what we talked about:

 

  • The Bible: We all use the bible to varying degrees, some often and others only in the context of worship.  Our understanding of the bible has changed over time.  We are much more comfortable with multiple meaning in scripture.
  • Change and Diversity: Change can often be difficult, especially in the church.  Change within the Anglican tradition is complicated, with decisions being shared between bishops, clergy and laity, at both the national church and diocesan levels.  The Anglican Church has changed dramatically over the years, for example: the ordination of women, allowing divorce and remarriage, and Confirmation as a gateway to communion.  Change most often comes from the ‘grassroots’ up to higher levels of leadership.
  • Human Sexuality: It is hard to define human sexuality but it is an intimate part of what it means to be a human being created in the image of God.  Human sexuality is complex, especially in our more liberal, Western culture.  The church is only just beginning to find its way through the contemporary reality and complexity of human sexuality.  The conversation, not a debate, needs to continue.
  • Marriage and family: Our understanding of marriage and family has changed over the years. No longer do we define marriage and family as husband and wife, with 2.2 kids and a white picket fence. There are blended families, single parent families, same sex couple with children, multi-generational families, and families with couples choosing not to be married or to have children. Our understanding of marriage and family though still centers on love, trust, commitment and mutual respect. In the church marriage centred on the sacramentality of love as a vehicle of God’s grace, a covenant before God between people who love each other. The example of Christian marriage comes from the relationship between Christ and the church, one of self-giving and loving service. In our discussion we saw no reason as to why all of this could not apply to same sex couples in the church.

We also acknowledged that the way forward will not be easy and we may not get the result we desire from General Synod, and that there are likely those in our own diocesan family who do not share our views on marriage equality. We articulated a need to continue to pray for those who disagree with us and to love and accept them as part of our Christian family too. We acknowledged our own LGBT brothers and sisters at St. Mark’s and the very real hurt and exclusion that they feel. We hurt with them because we are a family. We know that further discussion is necessary as we seek to respond to whatever happens at General Synod and in our own diocese.

We are all left with the question: where is the Holy Spirit leading us? That same Spirit that teaches and reminds us of Jesus’ love and acceptance is still calling us to follow Jesus. The same wild Spirit that knocks down barriers, drawing the circle wider and wider, is still beckoning us deeper and deeper into the love that God has for all of God’s children, regardless of race, gender, class, or sexuality. Are we willing to listen to the uncomfortable call of the Holy Spirit?

Entering Holy Week

blurred Jesus

This weekend we join Christians around the world in entering into Holy Week. In our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday we will, through words, music and movement, follow Jesus from his triumphal entry into the holy city Jerusalem to the suffering of the cross. The change in mood will be stark, the emotion jarring. We are called to follow, to experience the cross. Throughout Holy Week we are also called to enter into the story. We will do this through the Stations of the Cross, foot washing, stripping the altar and solemn Good Friday prayer.

The Passion stories of the Gospels, and in particular this year’s account from Luke, are full of emotion. The story is raw, filled with betrayal, doubt, desperation, injustice and cowardice. They are more than anything else, dramatically human. But as I read and reread Luke’s story I am struck with one question. This question paralyzes me. It makes me want look away, to not see what is happening to Jesus. That questions is why. Why does Jesus have to die? Why is the system so bent on silencing him? Why does Jesus go so willingly? Why do the disciples, his friends, forsake him? Why? Why? Why?

Much ink, and no small amount of blood has been spilled, trying to answer this why question. Some scholars have written at great length of the death of Jesus as sacrifice. Still others have written as Jesus as the great moral exemplar. Most in the very early church saw Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory over the devil. The gospels themselves, though, say very little about the theological significance of Jesus’ death. Jesus himself also says next to nothing about why he must die. I think the reason for this is that the mystery of the cross, the multi layered meaning of the cross, dare I say the scandal and the horror of the cross is just too much to be explained in any one theory. The cross is a mystery to be entered into, to be experienced, not simply something to be explained. More on that later.

If you read carefully the story that Luke weaves (and you can read the whole passion story here), he does have Jesus give us a hint as to why this is happening.

“Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

For you. Jesus tells his disciples that his death, his broken body and spilled blood is for them. This too is a mystery too deep to fathom and raises more questions than it answers. But for now it is enough to say that in the cross, in the suffering and death of Jesus we see love as God gives God’s life, for us. God takes our biggest fear, death, and lays it bare. In Jesus God shows us the truly difficult way of love, forgiveness and acceptance. In the cross we see that God is for us, always for us, and not against us.

Which leads me to another question that I eluded to earlier regarding experiencing the cross. Can I follow? Now I don’t mean literally. I don’t expect us to go out and get crucified, or lethally injected, which would be the modern equivalent. But if Jesus is showing us something of love, something of what it looks like and what it cost, I have to ask: can I follow? Can we follow? Sara Miles says it’s as if in the cross “Jesus says: this is how you do it.” This is how you love. This is how you serve. This is how you follow me. Can we do it? Can we pick up our cross and follow?

The answer I believe is yes. Yes we will fall. Yes we will doubt. Yes, like the disciples we will run away, and abandon. But like Jesus we will love; like Jesus we will forgive; like Jesus we will care. We will do it because he has shown us how. We will do it as we love each other. We will do it as we welcome the stranger, whether they be from Syria, Eritrea or down the street. We will do it as we work for equality and justice for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We will do it as we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the sick and lonely, and care for all prisoners.

So this week let the story of the cross become our story. Don’t look away but enter in. Experience the great emptying of God. Feel the darkness and the earth fracture beneath our feet. Then, ever so gently, pick up our crosses and follow him.

Audrey Power: This is My Story

audrey&maatouks

My faith journey began on rather shaky legs. My parents were Anglican, but not actively religious so God was not a big part of my childhood. Like my parents, I spent long stretches away from the church, being drawn back for significant life events – confirmations, marriages, births, deaths. As a teen, I found myself questioning who I was, what I believed. I had watched people find strength and comfort in God, blame God for everything bad, and be indifferent to God’s existence. In university, I never found any answers but I learned it was okay to question and seek greater understanding as we traveled.

Both my marriage and my son’s baptism had me take a serious look at where the church and faith fit into my life. I realized I did believe in God, I just didn’t know what that meant. More importantly, I believed in Christ’s teachings to love God and to love one another. If I could just figure out how to follow Jesus in the world we lived in.

Life moved on, and the world showed how ugly it could be – recessions, Chernobyl, genocides, the Gulf War, Los Angeles Riots, Israel/Palestine conflict, 9/11, natural disasters. It seemed different forms of discrimination and hatred increased even as people helped those in need. On a personal level, there were several significant family sicknesses, traumas, and deaths that left me battered. It was impossible not to question God’s presence.

I had begun an on-again off-again relationship with St. Mark’s as my son grew and was confirmed here. I found the welcoming acceptance and friendship offered to all and the many outreach ministries spoke to me of Christ’s command to love our neighbour as ourselves. I began attending services more regularly. Surprisingly for me, I found myself drawn more into parish life – bible study, prayer writing group, Pub Theology. With an open heart and mind, I searched to discover how Christ’s teachings applied in the context of today’s world. I came to believe that the Spirit could lead us to different answers, and we had to respect diversity and accept all people with a good heart.

Last fall, as the pictures of Alan Kurdi made the Syrian Refugee crisis unbearably human, the people of St. Mark’s came together to sponsor a family. It felt so right to join the Refugee Transition Team, to reach out and make a difference to a family. The Advent messages of hope, love, joy, and peace enriched all our preparations – it was deeply moving.

And then we got the call – the Maatouk family would arrive in three days, Dec. 19! The outpouring of generosity, thoughtfulness, love and help from our parish family still brings tears to my eyes. We were truly blessed as we scurried and put a wonderful home together in just two days! As we welcomed them and showed them their new home, I watched their faces light up with happiness and relief, and the children began to laugh and play. They were tired and unsure but their appreciation and hope shone in their eyes. Here was the meaning of Christmas, to give of yourself to those in need, to give them hope. It is indeed the greatest gift of all.

As we celebrated the birth of the Christ child to Mary and Joseph on Christmas, I thought about the wonderful gift God had given this needy world, and the many parallels to this family.

Since then, there continues to be lots of work for our transition team to help them settle and get on their feet. They left their home, everything they had, everything and everyone they knew, out of fear, to come to a strange land in search of safety. As I get to know Mounzer, Alaa, Mohamad, Kater al Nada, and Ahmad, I see the love in this Muslim family. I see children so like children everywhere. I see my neigbours. Learning just a little of what they have been through, I wonder if I could still smile, love, and trust, as they do. We have become friends. They share with me their dreams and hopes for a better life for their family. I know I have a small part in helping them on their journey.

As I help the Maatouks adjust to life in St. John’s, they ask me why we help people, Muslims, whom we don’t know. I answer because it is the right thing to do, because God teaches us to love and help all people. Here, I know I do Christ’s work as I share God’s love with these people, my neighbours.

Of everything I have seen, heard, considered, experienced, rejected, accepted… for me helping the Maatouks embodies what it is to be a Christian in today’s world. This is the message I hear in Christ’s teachings. I believe every time we reach out our hand to someone in need – to show compassion, acceptance and love, every act of kindness, large or small – God is with us, around us, present in us. Finally I know how to follow Jesus in today’s world.

 

Rosalind Bartlett: This is My Story

Hong

Our faith journeys are collections of stories, moments and relationships. Each of these is a grace, a gift from God. This week Rosalind Bartlett shares one such grace of a special relationship in our St. Mark’s Choir. There’s more good things happening in our choir besides singing; there’s friendship, faith and love.

I believe that our triune God is a God of love and relationship. We are not meant to live in isolation, but in community with God and with each other, caring for and encouraging one another. This is a story about relationship.

St. Mark’s has had a longstanding connection with the Association for New Canadians providing gift hampers at Christmas time for new Canadian families and individuals. About four years ago, we asked the ANC if we could do more. What was their greatest need? Their answer was, “a sense of community.” In response we offered St. Mark’s as the venue for bi-monthly cooking classes for the ANC Women’s group. Volunteers from the parish, the ANC and the MUN Medical school offer an evening of cooking, eating, healthy living lessons and fun.

On such an evening I was chatting to a young woman from China who had studied at MUN, married a Newfoundlander and was working in St. John’s. Jie told me that her parents had moved here only six months before. She didn’t realize she was talking to the St. Mark’s choir director as she described how her Mom, an award winning choir director in China, was missing music terribly. I was introduced to Hong, gave them the music our choir was learning and invited them to sit in on our Tuesday night rehearsals. Sure enough, they arrived the following Tuesday and wonderful new relationships began.

A few days after that rehearsal, I received a very moving email from Jie. She said that as a child she hadn’t really gotten to know her parents well because she was in boarding school, then at University and finally had moved to Canada. Jie wrote that after our choir rehearsal her mother had said to her, “Now that you know the beauty of music, I will teach you to sing.” “This,” Jie said, “has become a precious mother-daughter bonding time for us.”

Jie and Hong continued to attend choir practice until Jie’s husband became seriously ill. When Alan died several months later, Jie contacted the choir and it was our privilege to sing at his funeral.

Now, Jie and Hong are an important part of our choir. Jie sings alto and Hong sings soprano. They continue to take their music home to practise and if they are absent from rehearsals we miss them. Hong’s English is improving, in part because of reading the music, and she teasingly calls us her teachers.

I believe that, if we allow it, God works through our ordinary lives in our small kindnesses and gestures of empathy and compassion. We are here to learn how to love and in giving ourselves to others we receive grace upon grace. St. Mark’s choir has been made richer by embracing Jie and Hong. It has always been and will continue to be about love.

Rosalind Bartlett is our Choir Director and Rector’s Warden. Rosalind is also actively involved with the St. Mark’s ministry with the Association for New Canadians Women’s Group. The only things sweeter than Rosalind’s singing voice is her warm smile and gentle demeanour. At St. Mark’s we believe that we have the best choir. Don’t believe us? Come check them out at 10:30 am worship on Sunday. Pictured above is Rosalind and Hong

Ashley Bradley: This is My Story

Ashley

The best word for the place I come from is awkward. Really awkward. I come from an awkward family situation, which I suppose is now commonplace for people my age. My parents divorced before I had said my first word and I never knew much of my father. I grew up in my grandparents’ house in a small town with my nan, pop, mom and her three brothers. I’m my mother’s only child, but I was raised as my uncles’ baby sister, albeit with at least twenty years difference in age between me and my youngest uncle. I was always “Pop’s little buddy” and stuck to him like glue. Everything I did, I did to make him proud. My family was Anglican and always had been. My mom and her brothers had been active in the family church when they were children, serving on the altar or singing in the choir. After confirmation, as it is with most youths, they drifted away. There never was and still isn’t much for youth between confirmation and adulthood in the Anglican Church. I don’t blame them for drifting. Being an adolescent leaves you a total misfit in the church, and it gets old after a while. To be honest, I don’t know why I stayed either, but I’m glad that I did.

Anyway, I wouldn’t say my family was particularly religious and certainly not strict. We were involved at church because everyone was. That’s just what you did. We only said grace before meals on special holidays like Christmas and Easter because that’s just how we always did it. I had to kneel down and ask God to bless every single member of my immediate and extended family every night before bed just because it was part of my routine. I never minded and I would miss it if I didn’t do it. I went to church with my mom, grandfather and my great-grandmother every single Sunday from the time I was baptized at twenty-one days old. Mom taught Sunday school for a little while, but eventually stopped going altogether. When my great-nan passed away, it would only be Pop and I in the back pew of the church every Sunday. Even when I was very small, I loved hymns and had a fascination with the organ. People always looked at me in amazement when my squeaky five-year-old voice belted out those big words in the “old” hymn book. Vouchsafe, penitent, omnipotent, those are huge words for a kid! I still don’t know what half of them even mean. I begged to be in the choir, and they finally agreed to let me join when I turned seven, an age at which most kids can read well enough to follow a score. I would go on to become the assistant organist at the tender age of thirteen, record a Christmas CD with the choir and serve on the alter.

After confirmation, most of my friends drifted. I stayed and would be granted my Eucharistic assistant’s licence, and my lay reader’s licence. I’m not sure why I stayed. In all honesty, there wasn’t much for me there. I was a sixteen-year-old in a choir of only senior citizens. There were no youth clubs or youth ministry programs except CLB, which I wasn’t allowed to join because “that’s only for boys.” I was either the youngest or the oldest in every branch of the church. All the same, I was there. Every single Sunday. Nobody was forcing me to go. I don’t know what it was, but something kept me going back, week after week. Part of it was making my Pop proud, but there was something more to it, I know it. My childhood dreams of going to music school soon shifted to seminary. I can’t pinpoint the time in which they changed or even why they changed, but they did. I had the talent to be a wonderful musician, but it wasn’t where I belonged. I belonged in the church and that sense of belonging to something bigger- much bigger than the ACW or the alter guild or what have you- is probably a lot of the reason I stayed.

I began to pursue the steps to jump right into seminary straight out of high school, but was greeted with some huge obstacles. They were painful but, looking back, necessary and even beneficial. They would upset all of the plans I had made and send me down a path that would be long and rough, but where I would be forced to slow down and take my time learning about living life, my faith, my purpose, and ultimately, myself. I would have to learn how to ask for and accept help when I needed it, and how even when I had nothing to my name, I could still give something back. This path would teach me first by tearing me apart, but then leading me to the right people and places where I could find a strong foundation on which to build myself back up again.

The biggest obstacles came in the form of illness, but not my own. My grandfather and grandmother whom I absolutely adored both fell extremely ill, both at the same time. Exactly the same time, and both with unrelated illnesses. The timing was bizarre. Their sickness placed enormous amounts of stress on me. I flunked my first year of university because I skipped class so much and just couldn’t concentrate. I was put on academic probation and forced to wait at least another year before I would be re-admitted to school to give it a try again. When my grandparents returned home from the hospital after months and months of rehabilitation, things weren’t the same. Tensions grew between us. The changes in their health, especially the changes in my grandfather’s personality and demeanor following his stroke, were massively difficult for a teenager to adjust to. I was only eighteen, I couldn’t even drive a car, but as the only one still living at home and the youngest girl, I was suddenly expected to do a lot more to look after them, all while I was trying to begin my own life. My grandfather wasn’t able to walk or talk, let alone go to church, for a very long time. Because of that, I stopped going too, but I missed it. I wanted to move out and get a grip on things myself. I loved my grandparents with every little bit of my heart, and still do, but you can’t pour from an empty glass- you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. So I did.

I moved to town with nothing but my clothes, my bed, and two semesters worth of debt. I worked odd jobs for a year and saved up enough money to get back into university. I went back to school with the intentions of pursuing a double major in political science and religious studies. I loved religious studies, but I was also very interested in politics, and it would give me employable skills, right? I wanted to get working right away. I didn’t have much money; only what I got from my student loans. If I was going to go into the ministry, I wouldn’t be out working for at least seven years. I couldn’t wait that long. I wanted my life to begin ASAP.

Something intervened. Something caused me to step back and slow down. I discovered new talents at university, when I thought everything even remotely special about me had already been revealed in childhood. I had a real knack for political science and I enjoyed it, but I had even more of a knack for religious studies. I loved picking apart the Bible, an enthralling series I’d never really taken the time read (outside of Sunday mornings). I loved the real-life, down-to-earth, here’s-what-actually-might-have-happened-and-here’s-what’s-probably-bogus nature of the discipline. I came to believe everything in scripture serves to teach us something, regardless of whether or not it actually happened. I no longer found myself groaning “but why does this even matter?” and quickly found myself discovering more and more reasons why everything mattered. Literally everything mattered all of a sudden. It was thrilling to sit down and try to decipher what such familiar passages were actually trying to say to me, and I wanted to share this way of understanding that was so new and so exhilarating to me, with everybody. I could read about how my own faith blossomed from other ancient beliefs over and over again. It never got old because I learned something new every single time I sat down to study. While looking at scripture so objectively could destroy the faith of some, it only strengthened my beliefs in a way I had never thought possible. Maybe in a way, this study brought the distant, celestial God that I could never seem to reach down closer to my own level. I could wrestle with my faith in the context of words on a paper rather than things I can’t see. I was never bored, because I could never learn everything there is to learn.

“Look how many ancient religions told stories similar to ours! There must be something to this.”

“Look at how quickly the political authorities silenced Jesus…they were scared of him…there must have been something to him.”

“Look at how many generations have passed, yet even the greatest scholars still have no idea what this book even means…there has got to be something to this.”

They told me I was good at it. I received scholarships for my work. My marks in religion soared far above anyone else’s and made my own marks in other subject areas pale in comparison. I was the most talkative and attentive person in religion class, but the most sleepy-eyed in any other subject. I struggled with science and language and geography, but I absolutely excelled in religion.

I’ve been given something.

In the same way I’d been given the gift of music, a gift which I didn’t realize as a child I so urgently needed to give back to God, I’ve been given a gift of…well I’m not sure what this is a gift of really. But it’s a gift. A talent. An unbelievably strange and unique enjoyment I get from reading and studying and dissecting scripture. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly this gift is, why I have it and what I’m meant to do with it, but for the time being, I will continue to study and to grow as much as I possibly can. In pursuing my Master’s degree, I’ve joined a community of others who are just as confused yet just as strongly called where I might try to discern just how I’m supposed to use this gift, and how I can give it back to God and to the world he created. In the past year I’ve found more and more blessings laid out before me, quite plainly now that I think about it, that are clearly meant to help me along my way. One of them is this wonderful man I’ve found whom I will soon call my husband. He is not only supportive of my journey, but is interested in everything I am learning. He has been supportive enough to put aside his own initial assumptions about the church and come along with me, learning everything that he can and finding his place in the church, too. We have been blessed enough not only to find each other, but to be welcomed into a beautiful parish family that has accepted us both in every way. We look forward to learning more about ourselves, about each other, about our faith, about our gifts and about our place in this great big world together.

Ashley is currently studying theology at Queen’s College and hopes to become an ordinand in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, and eventually a priest. Ashley and her fiancé are new to St. Mark’s but both have been warmly welcomed and have gotten involved as readers and regulars at Pub Theology. In January Ashley became our Junior Organist at St. Mark’s, which involves singing in the choir and filling in when our organist is away.