The Blast of Winter

We got our first snow of the year in Edmonton a week ago, but for the past two days we’ve had our first real winter storm – about 15 cm of snow, and temperatures tonight going down to -27 C with a wind chill of -35 C.

Here are some photos taken Friday morning at about 8.20 as I was arriving at the church for Morning Prayer.

‘O ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord; praise him, and magnify him forever.
O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever.’
– Benedicite, Omnia Opera

3rd Annual Prayer Walk for Peace, Edmonton

This afternoon I led a workshop at All Saints’ Cathedral entitled ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian To Do?’ Twenty-two of us, from several different denominational backgrounds,  gathered for a few hours to look at the biblical texts regarding war and violence and how they have been interpreted throughout Christian history and to discuss our own thoughts on the issue.

At six o’clock a group of us gathered at McDougall United Church for a short prayer service for peace. This was followed by a prayer walk, staring at City Hall, then proceeding to the Gandhi statue behind the Milner Library, to Canada Place, and finally to the war memorial. At each of the four stations prayers and meditations were offered.

All of these activities were organised by the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network in partnership with other Edmonton Christian groups.

Here are some photos from the prayer walk, taken at the stop outside Canada Place.

Some of the things I love about our church…

…St. Margaret’s, I mean!

In no particular order:

Sundays are fun! Contrary to what I hear from some other churches, we don’t seem to need to run alternative ‘user-friendly’ worship services at other times in order to attract newcomers; Sunday morning seems to attract them just fine. Yes, we’re Anglican, so yes, we use a liturgy; but we’re very informal about it, we use the bare minimum of ritual, and we’re very child-friendly. We have (at the moment) four different musicians (three keyboard players and a guitarist) who each take responsibility for one Sunday a month, and so we get quite different musical styles each week, although we probably incline to the traditional end of the musical spectrum more than the contemporary (we don’t have a worship band, for instance) The congregation seems to respond well to what I hope is a strong preaching ministry, and our Sunday School is healthy, if a bit chaotic at times! We also have an early service, quiet and contemplative but not BCP, with a strong identity of its own and a very committed membership. And Sundays are growing; we had a 15% increase in attendance last year, and I think we’re heading for another increase this year.

Collaborative leadership. Our four lay-readers are up front with me on a regular basis assisting with the leadership of the services as well as preaching from time to time. Our wardens and lay-leaders are strong and gifted and not afraid to share their ideas. We have congregational meetings three times a year, with chairs thrown around in a big circle so that we can see each other when we’re talking, and the big decisions of our congregational life are discussed in this forum.

Early morning Bible study! Thursday mornings I’m up early to go over to the Bogani Café to meet with a group of men (if we were all there at once there would be ten of us, but usually we are seven or eight) for our Men’s Bible Study. We meet for about an hour, from 7 until 8, to give people time to get to work afterwards. We use study guides to make things easy and about four of us share in the leadership. We just finished a series on the Book of Acts, one of the best ones we’ve ever done, and are now doing a twelve week study on evangelism which so far has been excellent as well. This weekly meeting is usually the spiritual highlight of my week.

(There’s also a women’s group that meets at the same time, and another women’s group that meets on Thursday afternoons, but I don’t attend those groups so can’t write about what goes on!)

Spaghetti Church. This is our home-grown version of ‘Messy Church’. We meet on the last Saturday afternoon of each month from 3.30 – 5.30 p.m. It’s very simple: opening prayer and two craft times (one food-related) in the basement, then up to the church for singing, story time, and prayer, then back down to the basement for a spaghetti meal! Our attendance has varied from 25 to 48, usually about half and half between adults and children, most of the children on the young side (i.e. pre-school). People sign up each month to lead the crafts, singing, story, and prayers, and to bring pasta, pasta sauce, desserts, veggies, garlic bread etc., and we have two dedicated ladies who throw all the food together and cook it for us. It’s noisy and chaotic and loads of fun!

No real party line. We’re not really ‘evangelical’ or ‘anglo-catholic’ or ‘charismatic’ or ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ although we have folks who would probably incline toward each of those labels. When it comes to ‘hot’ issues we have a variety of different opinions. Somehow, we seem to be able to find common ground in Christ and in serving him.

Generosity. For each of the past six or seven years now, we’ve had a year-long outreach fundraising project of some kind, over and above our operating budget. World Vision has become a consistent partner of ours; we’ve bought goats and ducks for families n the developing world, paid for mobile medical clinics, drilled water wells, supported sponsor children, and raised funds for small business micro-loans. Recently we’ve been lucky enough to have a cell-phone company locate a tower on our premises and we give all that money away too (about $18,000 a year), to local and national outreach projects. Meanwhile, our people support an annual operating budget of about $140,000, and they are about to take on a major building extension as well. They are truly amazing in their generosity!

Newcomers. Consistently, over the past few years, newcomers have come to join our parish. Most of them are not just coming for casual reasons; they are spiritually hungry and are looking for a way to connect with God. Some of them have attended our regular ‘Christian Basics’ courses and talked about what it is they are looking for. We live in a prosperous part of Edmonton and some of the folks who come to us are at the high end of business, education, or government, but deep down inside they have the same spiritual hunger as anyone else, and they seem to be finding some help in our little community.

A wide age-range. We have some dedicated senior citizens and some amazing parents with toddlers, and almost everything in between. The only age group we’re a bit short of is teenagers; we have a few in their young teens, but only one or two in the older end of that age bracket. We have a monthly seniors’ lunch that attracts fifteen to twenty people regularly, and of course Spaghetti Church, Sunday School, children’s talks and so on for the younger group.

Excitement about the future. As I said, we are growing, and this is causing us some challenges. Back in June we had our regular Spring Congregational Meeting and spent some time talking together about our growth and where we thought God was leading us. This led to two motions that were passed unanimously. The first affirmed that, rather than continuing to grow our 10.30 service past the point of transformation  from a pastoral size to a program size, we would make it our goal to plant a new congregation, using our building but at a non-traditional time (Saturday or Sunday night? A weeknight? Unclear at present), with the idea that eventually it would have its own clergy and lay leadership and be independent in all but name. The second set us on course to construct an extension to our present building, giving better Sunday School and meeting space, a bigger parish hall (our current hall, in the basement, is very small and completely inadequate), and adequate office space for two clergy and administrative assistant(s).

Both these motions are challenges to us; the second, we know, is going to cost us a lot of money, but the first is also going to involve breaking new ground. However, we are confident that the Holy Spirit is leading us and that Jesus is calling us to follow him in mission to the people of our communities and beyond.

I would not want to give the impression that we are a parish with no problems; far from it! I’ve already pointed out that although we have a relatively new church building (constructed in 1996) it was intentionally built as the first phase of a multi-phase project, and its limitations are becoming more and more obvious as we grow. We are situated in a busy and prosperous part of the city and many of our members live very busy lives, which can make it a challenge to find volunteers to run programs and get things done. And we are all aware that we are not doing a particularly good job at involving teens, especially older teens, in the life of our church.

Nevertheless, despite our challenges, my overwhelming feeling as I think about our parish is gratitude. As I said in my Fall Stewardship letter to the congregation a couple of weeks ago:

I’m sure you will agree with me that there is a sense of excitement in the air at St. Margaret’s, a sense that God is doing something among us, a sense that we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit to create something very special here on the south side of Edmonton: a parish that is intentionally and joyfully centred on Jesus and his gospel, rooted in our Anglican heritage, welcoming to people of all ages (including families with small children), committed to sharing the Good News with our neighbourhoods and to making a positive difference in the world around us by our gifts and by our service to others.

If you want to find out a little more about our parish, check out our website here, or go to our Facebook page and tell us that you ‘like’ us!

Remembrance Day Prayer Service and Prayer Walk for Peace

(Photo courtesy of

On November 11, 2011, some of Edmonton’s local churches and individual Christians will gather to remember, reflect and pray for all victims of war and for peace in our world. There will be an Interdenominational Prayer Service at McDougall United Church (10025 – 101 Street) at 6:00 p.m. Then at 7:00 p.m., participants will gather at City Hall in downtown Edmonton for a Public Prayer Walk for Peace.

The prayer service and prayer walk are sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee – Alberta and the Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network ( and organized by Holyrood Mennonite Church along with Edmonton Quakers, and First Mennonite Church.

All are welcome to the Prayer Service and the Prayer Walk for Peace.

For more information, please check out or contact Scott Key at (780) 435-9960 or

The Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network is a community of Christians from different denominations who believe that violence and war are incompatible with the teaching of Jesus and are learning together how to practice this conviction in their daily lives.

Good Works Fair and Trunk or Treat Party

Sunday October 30th was another red letter day for us at St. Margaret’s!

At both our services this morning we had a ‘Good Works Fair’. We had representatives from four mission agencies in Edmonton – Hope Mission, the Mustard Seed, Habitat for Humanity, and the Edmonton Food Bank – come and speak to us about the work their agencies do. After each service we had a coffee hour and an opportunity for our members to speak with the mission representatives and find out more about their work and what individuals and groups can do to help. Many people mentioned how much they appreciated what our four mission partners had to say and the fact that they were willing to come and take time to talk with us, both as a group and as individuals. One of the agencies represented was the Food Bank, and our Sunday School children had prepared small parcels of food which they presented at the end of the 10.30 service.

Then it was out into the parking lot for ‘Trunk or Treat’! Those who participated had brought Halloween treats in the trunks of their cars; we closed off the parking lot to make it a safe place for our children, and then the children went from car to car ‘Trunk or Treating’. We had a costume competition and ended the proceedings with a wiener roast around the fire pit behind the church. Wieners and pop were sold and all proceeds went to our Sunday School’s World Vision mosquito net appeal.

Everyone agreed that the day had been a great success. Many thanks to Marci Chesterton, who had the idea for the Good Works Fair, to Maggie Woytkiw who worked with her to organise it, and to Erin McDougall who organised the ‘Trunk or Treat’ party!


Food bags from the Sunday School offered for the Edmonton Food Bank.

Members of St. Margaret’s interact with our mission agency representatives after the 10.30 service.

Our four mission agency representatives: Armand Mercier (Habitat for Humanity), Joel Nikkel (Hope Mission), Paula Cornell (The Mustard Seed), and Kelly Cailliau (Edmonton Food Bank).

Our four mission agency representatives with Marci Chesterton, who first had the idea for the ‘Good Works Fair’).

‘Trunk or Treating’ in the parking lot!

Children and parents ‘Trunk or Treating’.

The day’s events ended with a wiener roast around our fire pit behind the church.

For more pictures check out the Facebook album here.


Edmonton Ecumenical Peace Network

I belong to a growing network of Christians in Edmonton who believe that war and violence are incompatible with the teaching of Jesus. Together we’re trying to learn how to practice and spread this message.

We’ve already organised a couple of study days, and on November 11th we’ve got a few events coming up. We’ve also got a website which you might like to check out here. And for those of you who are part of the wacky world of Facebook, visit our page and tell us you like us!

Just one question for the Tory leadership candidates

Tomorrow night Alberta will have a new premier. Either Doug Horner, Alison Redford, or Gary Mar will win the second ballot in the Progressive Conservative leadership race tomorrow and, since Alberta is virtually a one-party state, will become the new leader of our province as well.

During the campaign the candidates have debated many issues, but there is just one that is dear to my heart. I would like to ask the three remaining candidates this question: ‘Gary, Alison, and Doug: which do you think is more important: NHL hockey, or enough teachers to do a good job of teaching our children?’

I have a very personal interest in this question. You see, my daughter worked very hard to get her education degree, because the only financial help I was able to afford to give her was a free place to stay. She got a small inheritance, and she worked part time, and she worked a summer job through ’til Christmas one year, taking five years to get her B.Ed. instead of four, but she came out without a student loan to pay off. She then decided to take advantage of the opportunity to teach in England and ended up working over there for two years.

My daughter decided to come back to Canada in the summer of 2010, hoping to get a teaching job here. Bad timing! Budgets were so tight and there were so many unemployed teachers around that she was not able to even get her name on a sub list here in Edmonton. And as for getting a job this Fall – forget it! School boards across Alberta were laying off a thousand teachers because of inadequate funding from the government. Consequently, she is now back in England, looking (so far unsuccessfully) for another  job over there.

Meanwhile, here in Edmonton, what does our city council think our province should be spending taxpayers’ dollars on? A brand new hockey arena! Darryl Katz (a millionaire), who owns the Edmonton Oilers (another group of millionaires), apparently thinks that he doesn’t have enough money to build this piece of private enterprise himself. So, like so many capitalists, he wants to be socialist with his costs and capitalist with his profits; he wants the city to contribute money. The city has agreed to put a total of $225 million into the project, and is asking the provincial government – the same provincial government which is apparently too poor to continue to employ the one thousand teachers it laid off this summer –  for another $100 million.

Please understand – I know it is not a simple issue of the next premier of Alberta making a straight choice between $100 million for an Edmonton arena or $100 million to put more teachers in our classrooms. I know that there are many potential projects for funding and that the issue of provincial budgeting is a huge one. But nonetheless, the idea that I might possibly be a citizen of a province that laid off a thousand teachers while giving Edmonton $100 million to build a new arena for its millionaire hockey players somehow sticks in my craw. Just as it sticks in my craw that in our province child and youth care workers (who often put their personal safety on the line) working in group homes still make about $15 an hour, while provincial cabinet ministers make $184,000 a year (one third of it tax free!).

So far, to his credit, Premier Stelmach has said ‘no’ to direct cash grants to Edmonton’s arena project, although he has mused about other ways of helping. But of course, after tomorrow night Premier Stelmach will be out of a job. So I would like to ask the three people who are contending for his job this one question: Gary, Alison, and Doug, which do you think is more important: NHL hockey, or teachers?

I would really like to know.

On the eve of a very special day for me.

This is another one of those ‘catch up’ posts.

I love winter, but even I’m getting tired of this Edmonton winter. It feels as if we’ve had snow and cold for months on end with very little relief (although, to be fair, we did have a warm spell a few weeks ago). The parking around our neighbourhood has become very congested because we live near one of the new LRT (Light Rail Transit) stations and there is not adequate parking on site, hence commuters use the residential streets around as a free parking lot. That causes congestion at the best of times, but when snow ploughs have left huge wind rows and thereby narrowed the streets considerably it’s even worse. Pox on the whole business! I love winter, but even I am looking forward to spring, snow melting, sunshine, days at the beach, a week camping and hiking in the mountains, sitting on the hill at Gallagher Park for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival…

On Monday night my friend Alex Boudreau and I played a last-minute gig at the Second Cup coffee shop on Gateway Boulevard and 34th Avenue. I say ‘last minute’, because Alex had been booked to play the regular Monday night gig there and he invited me to join him at the last minute. Alex and I used to play music together a lot, but we’ve been doing so less frequently recently. He has been getting more into bluegrass music, and I’ve learned a lot more traditional folk songs since the last time we played together. When we share a gig we do some songs by ourselves and some together, and we joke that ‘we practice live!’ Anyway, we had a really good time and agreed that we should do it again before too long.

Last night a small group of us started a Lent book study at St. Margaret’s; the book we’re using is John Bowen’s The Spirituality of Narnia: the Deeper Magic of C.S. Lewis. In this book John examines the Christian roots of the Narnia series and what it can teach us about spirituality and walking the Jesus Way. There are eight of us involved in the study – six made it out to the first one – and we had a very fine conversation. I’m especially looking forward to the last week of the study when John is going to have a Skype conversation with us about the book.

I’ve conceived a new traditional folk music project, which I call ‘A Folk Song an Hour’ (a play on Jon Boden’s very fine ‘A Folk Song a Day‘ project). The idea is that I will gather a group of people together for four hours on a Saturday afternoon and guarantee to teach them to sing (and play on guitar, if they play) at least four traditional folk songs. The emphasis will be on the words and the tune rather than on guitar artistry, as is only proper with traditional songs. I asked for ten people and twelve have signed up for it; we will be doing it on Saturday May 7th from 1-5 p.m., venue to be announced. There’s room for a couple more, but a maximum of fifteen, so if you’re in the Edmonton area and you’re interested, call me as soon as possible.

Tomorrow at St. Margaret’s we are holding a ‘conversation’ on the difficult subject of war and peace; we’re calling it ‘War and Peace: What’s a Christian To Do?’ We will be examining the different ways of interpreting the biblical material (just war, pacifism etc.) and then sharing our own views and listening to one another. Ten of us will be participating in this conversation from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a very timely and important subject and I’m looking forward to it.

Then on Sunday after church we’re having a ‘Giant Omnibus Pancake Event’. This is really a combination of four things: (1) our annual Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, but on the Sunday before instead, (2) an appreciation event for our former administrative assistant who moved on to other things a few months ago, (3) an appreciation event for our many volunteers, and (4) a recruiting event for new volunteers. We expect that a good time will be had by all (and many pancakes consumed!).

Finally, tomorrow (March 5th) is a very special day for me. I was baptized as a baby on December 29th 1958, but on March 5th 1972, with my Dad’s help, I prayed a simple prayer giving my life to Jesus and asking him to live in me. My experience is that praying that prayer (or, rather, God’s answer to that prayer when I prayed it) set the course for the rest of my life in ways I never imagined at the time. My Dad is nearly eighty now, and I will be talking to him some time tomorrow to remind him of that special day. I will always be grateful for his challenge and his encouragement as I began my intentional Christian journey.