…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!