The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

March 3, 2010

Anglican Church Closures

It has been a long time since I posted anything on this blog. I stopped for a month of holiday and a four month sabbatical last June. I returned in December 2009 to face talk of church closures and Diocesan down-sizing. Some of my reaction can be viewed here:

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Reports of church extinction exaggerated

By Christopher Page, Times ColonistFebruary 28, 2010

It is often said that at some time in our lives we will all get our 15 minutes of fame. Mine came this month.

You might have heard me interviewed on CBC or seen my face peering out at you from the Globe and Mail or Times Colonist. You might have caught my appearance on CHEK news or read my words in weekly papers. This surely qualifies me for "celebrity status."

No, I am not an Olympian. My claim to fame is that I have become the poster boy for the extinct church. The pictures have mostly featured me sitting, lonely and slightly depressed-looking in an empty church. The questions I have been fielding from reporters have generally been some version of, "How does it feel to be part of a church that is threatened with extinction?"

My reality is different than the impression you might have received from the media coverage.

My reality includes a group of children at the church where I work gathering for a Pro-D Day camp to learn about respect for people who live and play in different parts of the world. It includes a group of children in Sunday's service teaching a song about the gift of love that grows when shared and a massive collection of felt and towelling in the entranceway of our church to be used for sewing bibs for children with disabilities in an underdeveloped country.

For me, the reality of church includes a gaggle of toddlers wobbling around the downstairs hall in the midst of a chaos of toys while their parents encourage one another in a parents and tots support group every Tuesday.

It includes the daily gentleness of silent meditation, challenging explorations of the Bible in small groups meeting in homes and church and lively music encouraging hearts to open to the possibility of a deeper dimension of life.

My reality includes support for work among marginalized people living on the streets of our city and years of contributing to relief work in Haiti. It includes work among HIV/AIDS-affected children in Manila and money accumulating in our church bank account to enable a refugee to join us in this privileged country in which we live.

It includes contributions to a food program preparing meals for people struggling with economic hardship in Victoria, and years of support for international relief work through the national church of which my community is a part.

What you don't see in the news reports is the deep commitment of people who offer love and compassion in an unimaginable variety of ways.

And this is true in communities of faith that gather all over this city. Until my 15 minutes of fame, I always thought we were completely invisible. I thought no one noticed. But now that rumours of Anglican extinction are being spread, everyone seems to be paying attention.

Institutional religion has run into hard times in our comfortable and privileged culture. We have been hurt by scandals, rocked by controversy and justly condemned for our often arrogant and exclusive attitude toward people whose views differ from ours.

But we in the church are not entirely the authors of our own decline.

The church's once sacrosanct Sunday spot for sacred worship is now crowded with sports, charity runs, shopping malls and coffee shops. Even I am preparing to join the throng who absent themselves from church when I heed the seductive lure of the Times Colonist 10K run on a Sunday morning.

The spirituality market, once exclusively the domain of the privileged "mainline" denominational churches, is now crowded with a smorgasbord of options. We face a competitive market in our attempts to sell the Anglican way of spending Sunday morning.

But Sunday morning churchgoers are far from extinct, even of the Anglican variety. On any Sunday of the year in Victoria, you could find at least a thousand Anglicans worshipping in churches around the city, gathered to support each other in learning to live with wonder and compassion for the world.

We choose to spend Sunday mornings in church because we long to explore what it might mean to live with our hearts open to the invisible presence of God that we believe permeates all of creation.

We gather each Sunday and throughout the week to affirm that there is more to life than the bottom line or the next purchase crammed onto a maxed-out credit card. We meet to open our hearts to the reality of love and to encourage each other to live by the transcendent values our sacred text holds before us -- qualities of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

To some people these may seem old-fashioned ideas and values that perhaps ought to be extinct. To us they are the light and truth that fill our hearts as we meet together and go forth into the world to find that light wherever we go.

Christopher Page (the Venerable) is rector of St. Philip Anglican Church in Oak Bay and Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Diocese of B.C.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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