Posts Tagged ‘ELCIC’

Any time I go by the Temple fire hall in Northeast Calgary, I see the vacant lot where I once was the Director of Youth and Children’s Ministries, did my Franciscan formation, and yes was the first baby on the Baptism registry (though that was when the congregation met in a Roman Catholic School Gymnasium)…St. George’s Anglican, they now meet in a local ELCIC congregation (Lutheran denom in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada, I do not understand why it is still a rental situation, not my bit to go into). What is seen in the empty lot is what many spiritual communities go through in Canada. We are small communities of folks, many more members in the Greatest and Baby Boom Generation, than Gen X or Millenials, so decline is inevitable. As a house owner raising the 3rd generation of my family in the home I can tell you property is expensive, not just to buy but to keep up…never mind when you have to make an insurance claim or get an unexpected repair (roofs are not your friend over time, neither is old piping). Many property owners get the conundrum of the aging/declining small to medium congregation. For every Centre Street Church or First Alliance in Calgary, there are literally hundreds in buildings or rental spots.

Yet here is the empty lot that shows what happens when you can’t keep up. But there is hope from the embers, rumour has it that an affordable to life seniors housing is to go in, and the congregation is primed to move back into a multi-use space. Quite a living out of the Great Commission, and knowing the social programs this little church that could offered it would be a great joint initiative. It is one example of thinking outside the box to survive and hopefully thrive. The Chinese United Church did much the same thing, and there is a host of other churches across the country that have moved this way. In Huntington Hills Westbourne Baptist Church (for history nuts, the church that launched Social Credit, and William Aberhart), had a senior residence built on their land and then brilliantly built a plus 15 for residents to use to come to service.

It is ways to allow for a form of life support while the congregation figures out what their own life expectancy means. Surprising choice of words for some. But every organization has a life expectancy, they are an organism, where the people are the atoms that make up the substance of their communal life. The struggle becomes when spiritual communities cannot see the end coming, or want to put off, much like the relative who places someone on perpetual life support. Sometimes the resuscitation works well, other times it just adds to the pain of the inevitable implosion.

In the last major downturn, many downtown churches in Calgary sold of their building limits (the rules that sky scrapers could not go above their steeples) which allowed a thriving downtown, and these churches to change direction and become relevant to those they served.

That is the key for understanding if it is time to move out of the building, and sell to pay debt, if the community wants to last longer move into a rental…or explore another options ala noted above. This is the crossroads faith communities are at. When the money conversations begin, what needs to happen though is to be able to remember there are people involved, it is not zero based accounting, or numbers or a drive to save the building. Each decision has repercussions like the pebble in the river, and an understanding needs to be reached. I firmly fall into the category of churches using their building to thrive in the community relevancy through things such as community gardens, after school youth programs, spiritual formation groups/classes/courses; sadly with the commodification of humanity food banks have become institutions; farmers market; free swap days or rummage sales; shelter beds in needed; working with social agencies to provide resource space; community meals; if you are blessed with a gym use government grants and get it back up to code to run floor hockey or basketball leagues that are free. Really understand what your community can use to be better.

I also fall into the camp though if the endeavours border on that which is for profit, then the church shall need to start paying business taxes. Below are some links to 3 recent articles on the state of the church, reflect on what is happening, are these things that should be taxed? Not taxed? Are they helpful to the community?

Church and Micro-brewery:

Quebec churches to close:

Churches saving themselves through real estate:

As noted in the Quebec diocese, is the building relevant to the spiritual community’s ability to thrive?

I simply note closed signs, and empty lots, and ponder what is to be birthed a new… for every life cycle brings struggles, death, rebirth, and renewal. This is not simply a church issue, but a parable for any community/social grouping and the same questions to be asked.

What will be the lasting legacy?

I have always enjoyed reading the practical current events spiritual magazines/newspapers published in Canada. Most are denominationally specific. Among my top 3 were: United Church Observer, Anglican Sower and Presbyterian Record. The last two I also had the privilege to write for and share thoughts, unfortunately they are also no longer publishing (the fact they carried my works has nothing to do with the ceasing of publication I believe). One can also trace in my spiritual journey, denominations or religious traditions have not been high, I have drank and do drink from the many wells the one river feeds, yet it is the one river that I thirst for.

As I wrote a few days ago after a cascade of flashbacks triggered by a denominational prayer cycle (Read post here) it is unique that the latest issue of the United Church Observer in their Question Box column, Spiritual Solidarity, touched upon clerical unionization.

                “Clergy conflict reflect the ongoing turmoil and anxiety within the wider United Church.”

-Christopher White

Workplace and community conflicts are part of existing together. They are to be expected, what is not to be expected in civilized society is such harassment, haranguing and trauma that individuals leave their employment, or wind up with deep rooted scars. This article triggered flashbacks, part of the work of trying to rise above my flashbacks is acknowledging the pain, but also acknowledging the good I have seen and been apart of.

Obviously, the article is centred on the organic transformation within the United Church on this issue, but I can attest it crosses Christianities tradition and denominational lines. Following is a few thoughts on the good and bad I have been apart of.

“I also believe that more and more…is moving from primarily seeing ministry as a covenanted relationship to seeing it as a contractual one.”

-Christopher White

  1. The small congregation that hired me as a youth leader leaving my first experience, and then a minister. Both with contradicting missions. The congregation responding to the pain their abuse had caused catastrophe with previous ministries, allowing those with the money to run rampant. Online abuse existed before social media it was done via cc and bcc on e-mail as my character and personhood were attacked by those in the church that did not like their children/youth thinking. The harassment also continued through the office of clergy towards me, and some youth with mental health concerns. Meetings were held; then it went up to the Presbytery level to meet with the congregation and even though these meetings concerned me I was not allowed to attend. Eventually they beat you down, and I chose to surrender my ministry—yes the majority wanted to bring me on as minister, but even with mechanisms to sanction the vocal minority bullies—they refused. How did the organization reward this community? With more money, bigger space…message sent to those targeted—you do not matter.
  2. Being a Lay Professional Leader in a congregation doing things such as contemplative worship services, pulpit fill in; leading a bible study. Yet the wealthy in the aging congregation got their tempest in a tea pot over kids at play, noise, and the online attack campaign begun. Unwillingness again to call out a spade as a spade from those higher due to—yup you guessed it—money at play as donors.
  3. Stalked on and harassed via social media by a congregation and their pastor—why? As a family, we attempted to advertise our home bible study and potluck on the church Facebook page. My wife encouraged to distance herself from me and my unChrist-like influence. When she refused, and we chose to leave as a family those that said they were our “friends” shunned us like leaving a cult.
  4. My son’s joyful noise at a Santa Clause service being called out in vehement anger by the minister and called to leave service. Shunned by the supposedly “inclusive” spiritual home. In the moment those who preached standing up for injustice became the bystanders while the bully postured and the bullied was left believing he was on Santa’s naughty list.
  5. In Bible College having a professor point blank tell the class when I answered in favour of inclusion “that is why your church must die”…and being taunted in the halls as the “fag church member” still standing strong and up as best I could, leaving the learning environment to be battered in my “church homes” as I tried to build ministries.
  6. Para-church directors head hunting to fire me for my political and/or theological beliefs not aligning with their personal understanding.
  7. Being the family scape goated by an ill-equipped children’s educational ministry, because we had the “special needs kid” and not looking seriously at the bullying issue by the children of the long term generational members, and having the “r word” used to describe my son.
  8. Hearing during service a priest being called out on the rug because he took a stand for inclusion of God’s children, and love for those who are differently abled.

That is the darkness. Some can see through that a need for the mediating voice, but a union is not just there for the darkness, they are there to create a support network for successes. A place where the story can be shared for what has transformed, what has been overcome, and can create a relationship where clergy can easily move between denominations.

  1. I have been apart of wonderful churches that have had no actual building. Where ministries and retreats for youth were sponsored by church family members (with or without kids) in their own homes.
  2. I have been there when seniors have continued to answer the call to serve our children as they closed in on 100 years old, as we created “Elders Time” where a big comfy chair was created and the Elder could share the story, and then have the youth be their hands and legs for the activity.
  3. I have seen the passion of inclusion, where walls were broken down and churches laughed off the “tradition” of church youth/community youth time tables to have open youth group for all where spiritual formation was encouraged, and critical thought.
  4. I have seen youth and young families forego the “contemporary” service to be apart of the old liturgical service because it is where the seniors were, and allowed those without grandparents to find that role in their life in church.
  5. I have broken bread, shared meals, lifted many families and friends within my own home around simple things as movie discussion nights, bible studies…where life was done for those shunned by churches they did not fit the mold for due to life circumstance, simple acts of kindness and love allowed the journey to continue… and yes, the noise of children is apart of that.
  6. A Children’s Ministry coordinator coming and speaking directly to my son about coming and being part of the group, not asking us, asking him and listening close for his body language and spastic voice if he wanted to come.
  7. Having a priest during High Mass while blessing the host pause, as my son cheers loudly, and state to the congregation overflowing, “May we all have that excitement to be one with Jesus!”
  8. A minister that contacts my son about if he wants to be in the Christmas pageant, and then the congregation learns about inclusionary communication tools.
  9. Simple things, like a free half day Vacation Bible School that I was blessed to be apart of growing up, and then my teacher asking if my daughter would attend as they are re-launching (and yes, this past summer she learned some French!).
  10. Offering scholarships for VBS’s that have a cost so no child is turned away.
  11. Celebrating the diversity in our unity as spiritual beings from who we are to where we are from…whether it is being Affirming or Dancing our Offering to the Altar to everything in between and not even dreamed of yet.
  12. A Priest taking the flack for replacing offering over two weeks of masses to ensure the food cupboard is overflowing with blessing.
  13. A nun that gathers toys to deliver with food hampers to families in need, and when families without homes sleep in the church ensure that even the volunteers have what they need.
  14. A priest that is troubled by persons with mobility issues not being able to get to the dining hall with dignity for church meals, installs and elevator.
  15. A priest that volunteers with homeless families and realizes they do not have the opportunity to shower in the parish before going out for their day. Installs showers, and announces offering from that weekend needs to be generous to pay for it.

For every horror story there is good stories, even great ones. Yet we cannot say the good outweighs the bad. We cannot say “this is church” to allow for the bullying. People are essentially good. We need to be generous in our ability to do what we can to build a better world, one simple act of kindness at a time.

A union for church employees on the surface may be something to be scoffed at, but it creates a mediating body, removes the ability of congregations or higher church authorities to cover up for PR reasons. It creates an environment with standardized codes of care and conduct that cannot be shouted down due to the “wealthy donor” paradigm. It levels the playing field, much like the gospels pointed to.

This is my story, my experience, my opinion. My act of reconciliation as the story stands, the truth told…now it is time to move forward…into a new day, and a hopeful healthier relationship in the congregation we have settled in.