The Anglican Parish of St. Peter, Winnipeg
Second Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2021


While we are minimizing the number of lectionary readings as long as we’re worshiping online, I do read all four each week and there are times when an otherwise overlooked reading requires attention. This morning, there are two: (1) our first, from the Book of Genesis, which speaks of God’s call to Abraham, and (2) Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he offers a reflection on the importance of Abraham within the story of our faith. Paul Says:

He (Abraham) did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4)

Abraham serves as a pioneer of faith. He spent his life believing in and trusting God when facing otherwise impossible challenges. He believed God was giving him a land, although he could never conquer or own it. He believed God was making him the father of a nation, although he and his wife were old and childless. (The NRSV translation says Abraham’s body was as good as dead… As is often the case, Paul’s strength may not be found in his diplomacy!) And even when he had a son, Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, if that was what God was calling him to do.

Elsewhere in the Book of Genesis we discover that God identified Abraham’s faith as righteousness. It wasn’t a righteousness achieved by keeping God’s law. God’s law wasn’t known until the time of Moses. It wasn’t a righteousness through being circumcised, or offering Isaac – because both of those experiences were still in the future. It wasn’t a righteousness based on Abraham’s perfect choices – his mistakes are recorded for all to read. Abraham wasn’t perfect, but he had faith.

Paul says this is exactly the kind of faith we must have in Christ. We trust that God will do what God has promised - which is far beyond our own ability to achieve. It is believers who are Abraham’s spiritual descendants.

So, the founder of our faith, Abraham, believed and trusted in God to always be creating something new, particularly when the circumstances seemed impossible. As I was preparing to write this annual report, it seemed clear to me that this reminder of Abraham’s faith needed to provide a back drop for our reflection on St. Peter’s worship, ministry, and mission during this past year. Because, one year ago, the whole world entered into a time of crisis. Likely motivated by climate change, a pandemic began to sweep through our global village, making it necessary for people to become isolated in their homes, small businesses and many others to suffer economic collapse, front line workers to risk their lives so that essential needs may be met, and for many, the onset of profound loneliness, anxiety, and depression…

It could be said, and some will say that this defines the past year. But not completely. The story of our faith takes us deeper, reminding us that God is with us always. Indeed, this God we worship has been reminding us constantly that He is with us, watching over us, and even in the midst of all this – through us – creating something new. While – through our lectionary readings over this past year, for example - this message of comfort and hope has been a constant, we’ve also been receiving messages of encouragement and expectation… to carry on with worship, ministry, and mission.
This God relies on us to keep moving forward in our faith (mostly, for now, from our own homes in order to maximize our safety as well as the safety of others). This same God continues to rely on us to be that message – that light - of comfort, encouragement and hope for others.

And, following in the footsteps of Abraham despite the seemingly overwhelming obstacles, St. Peter’s has said, and continues to say, ‘yes’ to this call.

In preparation for this AGM I’ve had the great pleasure of sharing 19 conversations with parish leaders, to explore with them their particular ministries over the past year. (I am grateful to all those who took the time to speak with me, as well as those who share ministries with them.) During these conversations I was reminded repeatedly that St. Peter’s has said ‘yes’ to God’s call faithfully and effectively.

Filled with the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, disciples here at St. Peter’s have consistently reached out to respond to the needs of those within this parish family as well as those in our communities, and beyond. People here have quickly and effectively adapted their ministries according to rapidly changing regulations. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to have a look at these conversations, where you will discover (perhaps rediscover) a wide circle of leadership, who together with their ministry teams are committed to saying ‘yes’ to God’s call.

Throughout the month of March during refreshment time after worship each week, St. Peter’s will be highlighting all the ministries that occur in and through this parish, as well as possibly new, or renewed, ministries that may be emerging. Throughout all this, if you recognize any ministries (already established or perhaps yet to be considered) that tweak your interest, a parish ministry discernment group is in the process of being established, and they will help you unleash your passions in ministry. The thriving church is one that discerns and unleashes gifts for ministry, rather than simply looking for warm bodies to fill the gaps.

What I wish to emphasize here, though, and what I’d like you to pay special attention to as you read or re-read these conversations, is the realization that each ministry (along with each person engaged in ministry) is intimately linked – one to another. Together, you are the organic body of Christ. One member can only function fully when it is functioning interdependently with others. This, my friends, is the definition of collaboration. Communication + Cooperation = Collaboration.

What is fascinating to me, is that even in the midst of this lockdown, at a time when we are physically apart, it has become clear that ministries have remained linked. As we have moved into this model of collaboration, this emerging awareness of the interdependence of all ministries has been the greatest shift – perhaps the greatest gift - of all.

Typically, as it turns out, in the vast majority of churches, committees have functioned as silos; that is, “an isolated grouping or department that functions apart from others especially in a way seen as hindering communication and cooperation. (Merriam Webster)

Ministries as silos 01

I am realizing now, that this structure has held the church back from living into its full potential, because, once again: Communication + Cooperation = Collaboration.

Since 2016 St. Peter’s has been diligently shifting this toward a model of ministry interdependence. This means that whatever is being planned in worship, ministry and mission, there is intentionality around what other ministries this may affect and enrich, and how this endeavour might be enriched by others. (Example: Christian Education Event. Facilitators may wish to speak with our Director of Music Ministry to discern and plan some music to reinforce the theme. Particularly if this event has been advertised throughout the diocesan and/or local community or beyond, facilitators will speak with the hospitality team who will establish a strategy to welcome folks and ensure that they are made to feel at home. If the subject matter for this educational opportunity has something to do with mission, of course, Outreach Ministry Team, ideally, would be consulted. This method of collaboration might also include our parish administrator, finance chair (if money is involved) incumbent and altar guild if worship is to be included, etc. etc. etc.) All this requires a commitment from leaders to see their ministry in partnership with – intimately united with - others.

Since this is such a significant shift, we are far from perfect in moving into this model. Any one of us can think of occasions when we missed the mark. However, I do believe that – overall – this work toward true collaboration has produced great fruit, particularly during this past year.

This commitment to being together, worshiping, working, sharing ministry and mission together has proven to be – with God at the centre – the glue that has held you together, the glue that has made it possible for worship, ministry and mission to continue despite the obstacles and challenges over this past year. Indeed, this goal toward uniting your God-given gifts for ministry has flourished.

Ministries in collaboration 01

So, St. Peter’s, you have proven that – with God’s help - you have the capacity to say ‘yes’ to God’s love, comfort, and call, particularly during challenging times. And, beyond May 16th, I know you will continue to answer this call. You continue to be faithful in worship, courageous in ministry, and you are currently growing exponentially in your call to mission.

Of course, there are challenges to be addressed as you prepare to move forward. (These are identified in the Parish Profile which your Transition Team has been preparing over the past year and completed a couple of months ago.) I believe that God will give you the resources and the wisdom to address these challenges as you live into the future.

It has been my pleasure to serve as your Incumbent over the past almost 11 years, and I am grateful for those of you with whom this ministry has been shared. This past year, in particular, I am grateful to our two wardens Marcus and David who have both gone above and beyond any ‘ordinary’ expectations; I’m grateful to Shelagh, who, since last March, has had to rethink and adapt accordingly most of what she does; and David Fraser… whose presence here amongst us is greatly appreciated and highly valued, and the finesse with which he has embraced this ministry in the midst of such extraordinary times is, well… remarkable.
In addition to this tiny few, I am grateful to EVERYONE involved in worship, ministry and mission at St. Peter’s. The circle is wide, and I encourage you to continue to draw it wider still.

Indeed, it has been an honour and a privilege to serve as your Incumbent, and will continue to be for the next 11 weeks, but remember: these are YOUR ministries to which God is calling you. Your extremely competent selection team (canonical committee) will work diligently to discern who God is calling to serve as your new Incumbent as you continue to evolve and to grow.

I am confident that – with God’s help and well discerned choices in leadership and ministry, you will continue to unite your gifts in worship, ministry, and mission long after May 16th. Amen. May it be so…

The Rev. Canon Donna G. Joy