Looking forward, looking back
At least once each year it is a healthy and good exercise to stop and look backward. That’s not a useless reminiscence, but rather an opportunity to allow what God has been saying over the past year inform what happens in the next. In my day to day ministry, the days fly by, the weeks turn one into the other and the months the same – its Christmas and before I know it we’re preparing church bulletins for Easter.
And each week I have a checklist of sorts. My best intentions are to collect as many checks as possible: an effort to meet church members on their home turf (home or workplace visitation), attention to those who are either celebrating something special or in some form of distress or sickness, preparation for the corporate experience of Sunday worship. For the most part, if I’ve managed to complete those commitments, I consider it a good week spent. But … but there is so much more. Every week brings with it unique needs and requirements. There are meetings. Oh the meetings, all important to both diocesan and cathedral life and they bring a busy punctuation to everything else. They too are important, but its sometimes difficult to see the immediate result. While Christ Church Cathedral is not a huge pastoral charge, it is among the largest in the Diocese of Fredericton. Being the one stipendiary priest brings with it a level of responsibility that is significant. I’m thankful for the honorary assisting clergy, the ministries of our staff, group and committee chairs, members of Bishop and Chapter and others who take our corporate life seriously and offer so much. I simply couldn’t do what I do and we couldn’t be what we are, without all of you.
2016 was a year full of changes and challenges. This year we welcomed three new members of staff: David Drinkell, Kathleen Snow, and Lou McKnight. All have been a blessing to our team. Adam Lewis joined us for a time. It’s the unique gifts that each of them bring to their work that brings us closer to a comprehensiveness to which we need to aspire. The Christ Church Cathedral “package” and how we accomplish what we do is important for us, important for Fredericton and important for our Diocese. We can do better, but we are on the way.
A Diocesan Cathedral
Being a Cathedral doesn’t afford us an easier road than our sister parishes in the Diocese. Our boundaries are those of the Diocese, coterminous with the Province of New Brunswick. We hold a special place among Anglican churches in this part of God’s vineyard and with that place comes both rich blessing and great responsibility. The Cathedral should always be a church towards which our Diocese can look to see a best practices example of the challenging task of being Christian in the midst of our cultural context which, it would seem, is growing ever more secular. Excellence in worship, a leader in mission both far and near, exemplary pastoral care, a place where we are being formed into disciples of Jesus Christ. In short, we are a light on the hill and being that consistently takes effort, commitment and a huge dose of the grace of God.
Bishop and Chapter
The Chapter experienced several membership changes during 2016. Resignations of Bob Garland and Carol Dixon were received regretfully and we thank them for the contribution they so graciously made during their terms. We welcomed Ed Biden, Bonnie Greenwood and Kevin Percy, and to God we are thankful for their response to the call to serve. To members with terms concluding, Kathy McBride, Catherine Schmidt and Dianne Wilkins we express sincere thanks for their contributions.
During the Fall, members of Bishop and Chapter read “Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish” by James Mallon. In December a planning meeting identified several areas where as a church community we are doing very well. Two priorities needing attention were identified for the immediate future: 1) Ministries of Christian formation and 2) hospitality, welcoming and invitational ministries
The Good News
The good news over the past year is important to note:
• Confirmation preparation was held February to June, partnering with the Parish of New Maryland, and in June six Cathedral candidates were confirmed
• In May we began a regular schedule of the daily offices read in the Cathedral, Monday to Friday, 8:45 and 4:45 with help from a team of leaders – a very important addition to our regular worship schedule.
• Bishop and Chapter has continued to move into a council model of leadership and governance as we work towards functioning committees and drawing the circle of leadership ever wider
• The Cathedral hosted diocesan ordinations on 26 June and 18 September
• With permission obtained from our Bishop, home Communion administrators were trained, and began this ministry mid-year
• Financially we saw strengthened commitment in giving of about 11%. Commitments made to Parish Nursing is a significant part of that increase and certainly indicates we are being responsive to the corporate commitments we’ve made
• Several individuals responded to an invitation to become servers and we have been blessed with their service during worship
• In December David Drinkell began a regular Friday schedule of 12:10 organ concerts
• Choral Evensong continued on the first Sundays of the month
• Ministries, including the Director of Music, Parish Nurse and Sexton, were celebrated with commissioning on 20 November, the Reign of Christ
• Combined worship with all encouraged to join at 10:30 a.m. was held on Easter, Pentecost and the Reign of Christ Sundays
Needless to say, day to day operation and ministry is in itself a tremendous challenge. On the two “growing edges” identified by Bishop and Chapter I’ll briefly comment.
First of all, the word “formation” is new to many of us. It is not a substitute for the word “education.” Formation is a much broader term, recognizing that traditional education is only part of becoming Christian, something we are all doing every day. Worship, involvement in God’s mission and purpose for the Church, our witness to family, friends and the society in which we live, personal encounters with the divine – all of this and more are part of how we are shaped and formed into what God is calling us to be. How we are all constantly being moulded, “formed,” into disciples of Jesus Christ have come to light especially over the last few decades all across the Christian Church. Its not just the latest fad. Responsible for its recognition over the last several decades, is the reality of a growing secularism, or perhaps more accurately examples of religious faith publicly displayed and practiced being squeezed out of everything from Scouts to schools, Sundays to social life. Formation was somewhat automatic in times past. Community was different. The church was once central to the social and educational life of where we lived. What is being discovered is that if we as church are not intentional about formation at every age and stage of life, it may not happen. The absence of two or three generations of Christians in our midst is clear evidence. Parents leaving faith formation of their children to the corporate church, now too often clearly not equipped for the task, leaves a gaping hole.
Volunteers to run the programmes many of us expect should be automatic have become more and more difficult to engage. Do we have these people among us? I believe we do, but everyone will point to how busy their lives have become and that church, religion and faith now compete with many other important priorities. Few feel they are “qualified” and perceive they need training, co-ordination and coaching. It is for that reason that Bishop and Chapter and the Christian Formation Committee are seriously considering how we might bring that intentionality to how Christian formation happens at Christ Church Cathedral. It is yet another area behind which we will all need to get to take positive steps and begin to close the gap that many have been identifying for quite some time. Some will ask, “Is this about Sunday School?” The answer is “Yes.” But its about much more than Sunday School and includes an intergenerational approach to how we grow together in the faith. Those with experience have something invaluable to share with the younger in our faith family and, as is always the case, children always have something unique and valuable to teach us all. My prayer is that we stay tuned as we work our way forward because it is perhaps among the most critical of elements that will influence our present and determine our future.
Hospitality, welcoming and invitation
Hospitality is a biblical imperative. As a community of faith, the way we embrace those who are new, different and seeking is among the most important aspects of how we are the Church. “But my church is very friendly!” is not an uncommon sentiment I hear all too often. What we don’t often see is that the “my” in that sentence is the operative word. For those who already “belong,” my church is a friendly place! I know the people. I’m familiar with the surroundings. I know how things work. For the person unfamiliar, it can be, and is, an intimidating place to be indeed. While many believe a hand shaken and a copy of the Sunday bulletin at the door on a Sunday morning fulfills the hospitality requirement, that’s only the beginning.
This is the second priority for emphasis identified by Bishop and Chapter. How does a person who doesn’t yet belong to our congregational family become one of us? How do we consistently provide a sincere welcome to those who wander in and most often wander back out? Who is watching membership lists and assuring that those who are regular worshippers are identified correctly there? Does anything happen when someone quietly and unnoticed is no longer with us in worship? Does the onus lie entirely on the newcomer to attend to the necessary details of inclusion? Do we corporately and individually consistently make effective invitation? Is our church an inviting environment? Are we really an inviting place? Do we really want others to join us in the search for God in our midst? These are significant and difficult questions and the answers may surprise us all. And interestingly, we’ll unlikely find all the true answers among us.
Without a doubt, there are sensitivities that need to be recognized, but there is much that we can do to improve. Again being intentional and building in some systems and processes will go a long way to creating bridges where there now exists difficult terrain and sometimes even a great gulf in terms of membership boundaries and borders.
I continue to consider Christ Church Cathedral a very good place for me to be. After a decade in administration, my priestly vocation has been renewed over the past few years as I have the opportunity to preach regularly and attempt to be a pastoral presence in community. There are challenges. I could easily become overwhelmed. While I often wish I had the energy that was mine twenty years ago, it would seem That God has helped me learn the lesson one more time to take steps one at a time. I have a history of being a slow learner.
Pray if you will this coming year for Christian formation and hospitality, welcoming and invitation ministries.
The Cathedral is such a diverse and gifted church; our potential is incredible. I pray that we continue, by the grace of God, into 2017 relying of the Spirit of the One who calls us into his glorious light.
Geoffrey Hall. Dean of Fredericton