March 9, 2023

One of the practices that has long been associated with Lent is almsgiving, but that word itself may be less familiar to us. Alms is a word that comes to us from an old English word, which has Latin and Greek roots, meaning pity or mercy. Alms are basically money, food, or other material goods donated to people living in poverty. You may have seen it depicted in films where the poor or lower classes are given coins by the upper class, often as people were leaving church. I remember seeing it in the movie, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” While class divisions may be less distinct or overt today, the concept remains the same, those who are able, helping those who are in need. 

As followers of Jesus, we know that part of our calling is to care for others. From the earliest days of the church as described in the Acts of the Apostles, “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45). Paul also reminds us that we are one body with many members, who all need to work together for the good of the whole and that when one suffers, all suffer. (i.e., 1 Corinthians 12:26). In our baptism we commit to respect and dignity for all, which is only possible as we seek to care for the needs of one another. So caring for one another has been and should be part of our DNA as followers of Jesus. See this highlighted in the invitation to a holy Lent, where almsgiving is one of the Christian or Spiritual disciplines mentioned. I can remember as a child being given a small collection box in which to put coins during Lent. I think these boxes came from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) as a way that we children could give alms, helping those in other parts of the world. I also remember adults receiving coin folders that had slots in which to put a quarter, which seemed like a significant amount in those days. This was how we practiced almsgiving. 

With the inception of the Trinity Outreach Committee in 2019 we introduced a focus or project to which we as a congregation would contribute our alms each Lent. In 2020 we set a goal of sponsoring a night at Inn from the Cold in Newmarket and were able to raise enough for two plus nights. In 2021 we focused on clean water for indigenous communities, as many indigenous communities have been unable to drink their own water due to contamination that has come with civilization of these areas. Last year, in 2022 we focused on food insecurity, recognizing the exponential growth in the reliance on food banks, and as result not only made a one-time donation from the parish, but also an ongoing commitment to seniors’ (and others) delivery programs. This year, we wanted to take on a global project, in recognition of the global community that we are part of, so we chose to raise money for a shallow well in Kenya through PWRDF, specifically $1250 which would provide half of a shallow well. 

The PWRDF has partnered with Utooni Development Organization (UDO) to install shallow water wells with hand pumps in communities in Kenya.  In many parts of Kenya, much of the population gets its drinking water from unsafe sources such as ponds, streams or unprotected wells. Water from these sources is often contaminated with dangerous bacteria that can cause serious illness. This is also about safety for women and girls, who are typically responsible to gather clean water, usually far away. This means long walks to collection points and hours lined up in scorching heat, leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault and other dangers. To help facilitate these shallow wells in drought affected areas, UDO has been constructing sand dams, which are reinforced concrete walls built across a river to collect water. Then sealed pump wells are installed to make the water from these sand dams easier to collect, and safer to drink and drastically cut down the distance and wait time for women and girls to collect clean water, keeping them safe and freeing up time allowing them to focus on other priorities. In addition, local training is provided on how to properly conserve and protect sources of water as well as how to store and treat water within households. Projects like this are changing lives. 

This Lent, I invite you to consider contributing to this project, which seeks to provide communities with access to clean water, safety for women and girls and the necessary training for sustainability. Donations can be made in the usual ways, marked as Lenten project or shallow well. We will be tracking donations on a “well” posted in the Upper room. 

March 2, 2023

About six weeks ago I wrote an email about the different responses we might have to something or someone perceived to be different from us or from our existing belief system, as a way of beginning the conversation about what it might mean to be an affirming congregation, specifically when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identification. Often we use the acronym LGBTQ2+ which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and 2 Spirited (a newer addition recognizing the Indigenous expression), which encompasses a wide range of ways that people may identify when it comes to sexuality and gender. At the time I asked you to reflect on a few related questions; “As you look at this continuum of possible responses, where do you see yourself? Where do you see Trinity? What questions are raised for you and in you as you reflect?” I also said there would be an opportunity later to submit questions and comments as we continue this conversation. 

I have been asked to define an affirming congregation. One of the challenges, at least in our diocese and I believe in the Anglican Church of Canada, is that we do not have a standard definition of “affirming” when it comes to congregations and we do not have a standardized process for claiming this label as a congregation. As a reminder, the dictionary definition says that to affirm, is to offer emotional support or encouragement, to attribute a heightened sense of value, as in valuing someone and their experience, which is slightly more than accepting, which is to believe or come to recognize something as valid or normal. 

For me, being an affirming church would mean being a place where we have respect and dignity for all people, which is part of our baptism, including those within the LGBTQ2+ community. While it should be a given, for now we need to be intentional about it so that it becomes second nature. Being an affirming congregation means that we declare ourselves a safe space for those that have often been the recipients of inappropriate comments or actions. Churches have not in the past been safe places for those in this community, so being intentional and public about our desire to be a safe space is also important. Another aspect of being respectful of others that has come to the forefront more recently, is using the appropriate and chosen pronouns. As we come to realize that some people do not identify as male or female, but what is often referred to as non-binary, which means that he and she are not appropriate. In my experience, many of those who identify as non-binary choose “they and them”, but I have friends who have chosen other pronouns. This is one of the reasons that I have started including my chosen pronouns, she/her, in my email signature and zoom name, not that many would assume otherwise, but it invites people to think about their own and when appropriate, ask others what their preferred pronouns are. It is also why I have slightly changed the wording of some of the eucharistic prayers to reflect a larger spectrum than male and female, or sons and daughters. This is something that many, including myself, are still growing in our understanding and practice of, but part of being affirming is also an openness to learning and growing in our understanding of one another.  

Being an affirming congregation also means dealing with those instances when something inappropriate is said or done. It will happen, often without malice or intent, but it still needs to be addressed rather than excused or ignored. As with other aspects of community life, we hold one another accountable, so that when we see or hear inappropriate behaviours or comments, we address them. I believe that the process Jesus articulates in Matthew 18 for when “someone sins against you” is a model for most issues, with gradual escalation only as necessary. It begins with addressing the concerns personally and privately, then with a few others to talk it through, and only then with the wider church community. 

These are my initial thoughts on what it might mean to be an affirming congregation. What does it mean for you?  Also what questions does this raise for you? I know that some people would prefer anonymity in answering these questions, so to that end, I have placed an “Affirming Comments and Questions” box in the Upper Room, so that you can write down and submit comments and questions. If you feel more comfortable, you can also email me, which is often better than talking to me on a Sunday morning when I tend to have multiple things in my mind and am prone to forgetting what has been said or asked. Or I’m happy to set up a one-on-one conversation. These comments and questions will be part of the next stage of our conversation. As I have said before, there will be a broad range of responses to this topic, so I ask you to respect those who may hold differing opinions from you, or who think this process is going too slow or too fast. Let’s practice respect for one another if we want to be a place of respect and safety for others. 

February 17, 2023

I was joking with colleagues recently that February is a deceptively busy month in the church. We all expect January to be busy as we begin a new year and turn our attention to all of the things we relegated to, “that can wait until after Christmas.” We are now more than half way through February and church life has not slowed down, which is exciting in many ways. 

February is busy, partially because it ends with our Annual Vestry meeting, as we look back on the year past and look to the year to come. You should have received or will shortly receive our annual vestry booklet. I want to encourage you to read the reports offered by myself, the wardens and the various ministries of Trinity. These are a testament to the breadthof ministry that we are involved with, some of which happens quietly behind the scenes and are only highlighted at our annual meeting. We are also now trying to highlight one ministry a month in our “Ministry Moments” in part to raise awareness of what we do and in part because most ministries need more people to assist with those ministries. The vestry booklet also has the financial reports from the previous year and the budget for the coming year. This year, there is also a Narrative Budget that is intended to present the budget in another way, an alternative to the line-item budget that is just numbers. Our narrative budget expands on where and how our money is spent. As you will note, while we are in a fairlystable financial situation, we did end 2022 with a deficit and are proposing a deficit budget for 2023, drawing on our reserves. I appreciate the fact that the narrative budget breaks down the deficit into how much that is per identifiable giver (envelope and PAR), demonstrating how just a small increase can help to turn this trend around and move us out of a deficit position. The other important discussion at our vestry meeting is the annual Social Justice and Advocacy Motion, which this year focuses on social assistance rates in Ontario. The motion and some background information were in the News from the Pews and is also in the Vestry Booklet. The diocese has also created a video addressing some of the questions raised by this motion, which you can find here. These annual motions from the diocese provide us with ways in which we can live out our baptismal promises. In this case, seeking to serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Please read and plan to attend our Annual Vestry meeting, either in person or on Zoom following the worship service. 

February is also Black History Month. I realize that this year, I had not written a reflection on this topic. There is an event this Sunday, February 19 from 2 – 4 pm, at the Bradford Library. Created by Making Change Simcoe County, this interactive event features live steel pan music, a make your own steel pan craft and an overview of Black History from a local Canadian perspective. Admission is FREE! Registration is encouraged. Simcoe County Museum is offering free virtual lectures throughout the month as well, for more information or to register. As a diocese and as a parish we have committed to anti-racism and anti-bias initiatives, and that begins with raising our own awareness. The more we understand history, the more we are able to address the legacy of that history.

February is a busy month, but we still have almost half of the month to go, so let us make the most of it as we prepare for our annual vestry meeting and as we mark Black History Month. 

February 2, 2023

The season of Lent will begin on Ash Wednesday, in just under three weeks on February 22. Each year as Lent approaches I like to take the opportunity to remind us about the season, why it is important in our spiritual journeys and some suggestions for ways that we might observe it. So some of this may sound familiar, but I hope it is helpful. Lent is the season between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, which immediately precedes Easter, and is 40 days not including Sundays. Early in the Church’s history, Easter became the primary time when baptisms were celebrated, a sign of choosing a new way of life and becoming a follower or disciple of Jesus. As such it is a serious commitment that should not be taken lightly.

This was especially true when that decision could have life or death implications. Preparation was and is important. Baptism preparation could last as long as two years, during which the candidates were instructed in the faith and Christian life, and Lent became that final intensive preparation. In time, just as the newly baptized were welcomed into the Church, those who had for various reasons been ex-communicated or cut off from the Church would also be received back at Easter, as a sign of their repentance, so it was also a season of preparation for them. Gradually over time this focus on the Christian life and the need for repentance was extended to the whole church as they would join in, reaffirming their baptismal promises at Easter.

As I said, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which as part of the service in the Book of Alternative Services, recaptures the call to preparation with the “Invitation to observe a Holy Lent.” Which says, “I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.” This provides a framework for what we might do, how we might mark the season of Lent, individually and together. It begins with self-examination, which we can undertake in the weeks leading up to Lent, in preparation for Lent. Self-examination is taking stock of our spiritual lives and how we are living out our faith, with questions like, “how is my prayer life, my reading and studying scripture? Are there things impeding me in my relationship with God that I need to change (repent = changing direction)? Are there things I need to give up, fast from in order to make room for God? How am I sharing my resources with those in need (almsgiving = giving to those in need)? These questions can help us to reflect on our spiritual journey and perhaps point us to how we might observe a Holy Lent.

With this in mind let me offer a few considerations, particularly for prayer, reading scripture and study. (There will be an almsgiving project, an outreach focus for Lent, that will be announced closer to Lent)

Prayer: Two years ago for Lent I started Wednesday Morning Prayer from the Rectory on Facebook, fully intending that it would be a seasonal offering. We were all worshiping from home at the time and so I invited people into my home for prayer. Now two years later it has become a part of the regular worship life of Trinity and something we offer to the wider community. It doesn’t matter if you join me live or later, as the service remains available afterwards, and others often watch and comment throughout the day or even next few days. If Prayer is one of your objectives this Lent, consider joining us live or afterward. You could also borrow a prayer book and pray the services of Morning or Evening Prayer on your own, you can find the daily readings on the Anglican Church of Canada webpage.

Reading Scripture and Study: I put these two together, because reading the bible on its own can be confusing and can leave us with more questions. Simply reading is a good start, but reflecting on what you read is important too. There are several options when it comes to reading scripture. You might choose to read through an entire book of the bible. It can be helpful in understanding scripture to read it through and think as you read, rather than the little pieces we hear on a Sunday morning among all the other things we hear. I have in the past read the Acts of the Apostles, various letters in the New Testament, and some of the prophets like Amos and Hosea. If a reading plan would be more helpful, there are numerous websites that offer daily reading plans, like Bible Gateway, or American Bible Society, to name a few. A study bible with notes can be helpful if reading on your own.

As I said reading scripture and study can go hand in hand, and this year our Lenten study will be a bible study of the gospels for the coming Sunday (details under Tuesday Study Group). Study can also be reading and reflecting on a book, whether about faith or an issue of justice to gain a better understanding. I have in the past read books about racism, and reconciliation. A couple of suggestions, first, if learning more about the Anglican faith and tradition appeals to you, “To Love and Serve: Anglican Beliefs and Practices” an update of an Episcopal book that is now specific to the Canadian context (available from the Anglican Church of Canada e-store). Second, an option I am considering is a book by Kate Bowler which is being released February 14th “Bless the Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days” for which Kate has created a Lenten reflection guide “Bless this Lent”. I am happy to point you to other books if you have a specific interest or theme you’d like to explore.

These are just a few suggestions to consider as you think about Lent and how you want to observe it this year. Now is the time to think about how you want to use this season that it may be holy and life-giving for you, drawing you closer to God and preparing you to reaffirm your commitment to following Jesus at Easter.