The Anglican Parish of St. Peter, Winnipeg
Transfiguration Sunday, February 23, 2020

 

Today is that Sunday, when each year, I offer an annual report, reflecting on life at St. Peter’s during the past year and a glimpse into where God may be leading us throughout the next twelve months. Today this comes within the context of Transfiguration Sunday and I’m grateful for this as I think this event offers a helpful framework for this annual report.

In this story, Jesus has travelled up a mountain with three of his disciples (Peter, James, and his brother John), and while they are there (and eventually in the company of Moses and Elijah) he is transfigured: his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become a dazzling white. (This story, by the way, is so strange that many scholars now agree there must have been a truly historical event of this kind.)

Following the insights of New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, I simply want to highlight just a few particular points that I think help to inform my annual report:

  1. This event likely occurred on one of two elevated places, both of which offer a stunning view of Galilee, but at one level, more important than the exact location is the reminder that on one is concentrating on the view. They are, instead, focused on the revelation of Christ’s radiance in their midst. They are not susceptible to distractions.
  2. Also, through the telling of this story, it becomes abundantly clear that it is impossible to separate the radiance/glory of Jesus from the painful devastation of his crucifixion. If we’re going to meditate on one, we need to be mindful of the other as a sort of backdrop:
    1. Here, for instance, is Jesus, revealed in glory; there, on a hill outside Jerusalem, is Jesus, revealed in shame.
    2. Here, his clothes are shining white; there, they have been stripped off.
    3. Here, as the fulfillment of the long awaited Messiah, he is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, representing the law and the prophets; there, he is flanked by two criminals, representing Israel’s rebellion against God.
    4.  Here, a bright cloud overshadows the scene; there, darkness comes upon the land.
    5. Here, Peter blurts out how wonderful it all is; there he is hiding in shame after denying he even knows Jesus.
    6. Here, a voice from God himself declares that this is his wonderful son; there, a pagan soldier declares, in surprise, that this really was God’s son.

N.T. Wright says, “Learn to see the glory in the cross; learn to see the cross in the glory; and you will have begun to bring together the laughter and the tears of the God who hides in the cloud, the God who also is intimately present, the God who is to be known in the strange person of Jesus himself, not least when he tells us to take up the cross and follow him.”

So, that said, where during the past year have we experienced the cross of Christ, and where have we experienced his glory?

Well, of course, it is impossible for me to capture everything. It has been a year, full of challenges and opportunities; disappointments and extraordinary joys. So, the best I can do is highlight the experiences that have been at the forefront of our time, energy, and concern.

 

Electronic Sign

Just those words, I suspect, will generate some anxiety for our leadership team (wardens especially) who have faithfully and diligently helped in responding to this extremely challenging experience. Brief recap…

Spring 2018
A team of St. Peter’s leaders agreed to research the possibility of replacing our existing sign with an electronic one.

Fall 2018
After a carefully chosen short list of companies, the team established an agreement with a contractor and (as per customary practice) gave him a deposit to cover half of the final cost. Agreed installation date: December, 2018.

May 2019
After countless emails, delays, and meetings with this contractor, it became clear that he was not expecting to produce the sign as promised. So, one final time, our team met with him to terminate our agreement, and request that our deposit be returned no later than June 30, 2019.

June 2019
Funds were not returned.

July, August 2019
Small Claims process began, and judgement approved in August.

January 2020
Funds were received through our small claims collection procedure.

As you can imagine, this has been an extremely painful and agonizing process, particularly for the wardens, some of the members of the original team, and myself. Theological concerns were raised and worked through: How, for instance, is a litigious approach theologically faithful according to the teachings of our faith. This discussion – rooted in prayer - took place over time with the help of careful listening to one another for the purpose of understanding. At the end of the day, we all agreed that while we are called to forgive the contractor who was responsible for this unfulfilled agreement… while we are called to pray for him and his family… while we – ourselves – are called to search for love/peace in our response, it is at the same time important to take seriously the responsibility we have to each of you, who in good faith donate funds to help manage ministry and expenses at and through St. Peter’s.

These prayerful, careful, considerations informed our response to this painful situation. And equally important, our commitment to collaborative teamwork made it possible.

This is a transfiguration story. Those intimately involved in this deeply troubling situation experienced the pain of the cross: the sense of betrayal from one who had promised one thing and betrayed that agreement; the call to forgiveness; the extraordinary time that was poured into this long, drawn out process and its resolution. A dark cloud descended upon each of us responsible for working through this, but the day came when we recognized the radiance of Christ whose light shone through those very same leaders who continued to discern what was right, then put one step in front of the other. I would say that Christ’s light also shone through the small claims process along with those here who diligently worked through it.

We continue to work through the process of forgiveness. We continue to pray for the contractor whose promises were never fulfilled, and his family. We continue to give thanks for Jesus, who through his death on the cross stands in solidarity with us as we endure the hardships (sacrifices) of ministry and leadership (discipleship), and whose light always finds a way to shine through those dark and difficult times.

Again this situation had a particularly huge impact on the corporation. A commitment to faithfulness, integrity, and overall peace building has offered a vision of the radiance of Christ springing from the devastation of the cross.

 

Music

Last June, the news that our Director of Music Ministry was moving to the Cathedral prompted us carve out some time to intentionally discern where God is leading St. Peter’s in terms of our music ministry.

A discernment group was established, consisting of: Laurie Bellay, Janet Bouskill, Kate Dyck (Dorrian), Don Johnson, Erin-Brie Warwick, Lynda Wolf, with me serving as chair. After meetings with the team itself, the choir, worship planning team, corporation, vestry, and the wider parish, a direction for music ministry became clear. That is, to continue to build on our strengths, and at the same time, draw the circle wider in terms of diversity of musical expressions. (Soon after the parish meeting a summary was made available, and remains available upon request.)

Based on all this, the Director of Music Ministry position description was re-worked, the position advertised, and as has already been announced, David Fraser was offered and has accepted the position, beginning August 1st. Plans are underway to establish a schedule to see us through until David’s arrival.

Once again: a transfiguration story. In a relatively short space of time, with God’s help, we have moved from the cloud of confusion and unknowing, to the radiance of clarity and vision along with a concrete plan in place to move us forward.

Meanwhile, I know I speak on behalf of St. Peter’s in expressing gratitude to the choir for sticking with and supporting a very different kind of a year. Also, thank you to Lorie Bergen for her abiding presence through all this, and for sharing her musical talents with us.

 

Food Bank

Some of you may recall that last year’s AGM included a proposal to open up a food bank at St. Peter’s in conjunction with Winnipeg Harvest. This proposal offered further indication that our outreach ministry team is diligently and faithfully looking to the future; always exploring new possibilities as they come along. This was explored fully by those who proposed this idea along with parish leadership, and after a good process, the sign-up sheets indicated that current commitments in and through St. Peter’s precluded this option at this time.

This too, is a type of transfiguration story. The pain here is the disappointment some of us felt when this decision was made. The radiance rising from this disappointment, is in some way found in the ever growing collaborative model where a wide range of collaboration and consultation is honoured as such proposals are discerned and decided upon.

Part of the ongoing journey to the cross here, is the realization that so many people in this community go to bed hungry. There are ways in which we catch a glimpse of the radiance of Christ shining through this reality here at St. Peter’s… such as our ongoing support of St. Matthew’s Maryland. Going forward, we are called to remain focused on ways in which we can realistically further this particular ministry.

 

Various Other Ministries That Continue to Make a Difference

In addition to these particular areas of focus over the past year, there are countless ongoing Transfiguration stories that continue to unfold at St. Peter’s:

On the one hand, like most other mainline churches at this moment in history, we live with the reality of church decline. We journey to the cross each time we suffer the loss of a dearly beloved parishioner. And while the dark cloud that hovers with each and every loss continues to be felt, we also begin to recognize in a new way the presence of God through those who have recently discovered the light of Christ in this place; those who are warmly welcomed into our midst; those who catch a thirst for experiencing the light of this presence. This includes new connections we’ve made with people drawn from things like our annual Emerging Artists event, along with events such as Maundy Thursday and fall suppers.

Ongoing worship (all those who serve in liturgical ministries, those who serve behind the scenes, and those who come and share worship over time), Christian education for all ages (those who organize and facilitate sessions as well as those who choose to attend), outreach ministries, parish caring ministries, stewardship… all this and so much more requires journeying toward the cross with our disappointments, losses, challenges, and discovering the glory/radiance of the crucified Christ where new discoveries and insights are often found.
One concrete example is our upcoming Lenten study, “Making Sense of Scripture.” Sessions such as these are often recognized as a Transfiguration experience. As people delve into such opportunities for learning, they begin to journey toward the cross where they leave behind notions that have been embedded in perceptions throughout the course of a lifetime. For example, notions that knowledge of Scripture is reserved for ‘professionals’ (scholars and clergy). As these lifelong notions are put to rest, the radiance/glory of Christ becomes increasingly clear and visible as people’s faith comes to life.

 

Going Forward

In addition to numerous ongoing ministries, one thing, in particular, unfolding as we speak, is a switch in pastor’s roles. Together we have discerned that Shelagh Balfour, who was ordained a deacon early last year, is called to shift her attention to the outreach ministry team. She will primarily serve as a theological advisor to this team. This, of course, creates an opening for the pastor of Christian Education, and since this is also one of Rod Sprange’s passions, he now feels called to serve in this capacity. This, of course, creates an opening for pastor of Stewardship. Some ideas to fill this are currently percolating, and if you have any ideas we would be happy to consider your input.

With a growing sense of the urgency regarding the climate crisis, there is a renewed awareness that the time may have come to reinstate a creation care ministry group here at St. Peter’s. This too, is a work in progress.

The electronic sign: Having journeyed to the cross over this for an extended period of time, we will be proposing within the next couple of months that we return to this project. With God’s help, the glory of Christ will shine through the completion of this project!

Finally, a particular focus that will begin immediately after our AGM this coming Friday evening, is the work of a Transition Team.

As you are aware, my retirement has been announced, effective June 30th, 2021. In consultation with parish leadership (corporation, pastors, and honorary assistant), we recommended to the bishop a model that allows the transition work to be done, independent of me but while I am still here. If everything goes according to plan, your new incumbent should be in place shortly after I officially retire. If you haven’t already, please sign up to attend the AGM this coming Friday evening, 6:00 (dinner included) during which time the details of this plan will be revealed.

As I reflect on St. Peter’s life and ministry during this past year and envision a way forward, I am reminded of numerous faithful disciples who generously share time, talents, and treasures which make vitality here so palpable. In terms of commitment, time, and generosity, much is sacrificed along the way, and it is through these sacrifices that the radiance/glory of the risen Christ is made visible. Leaders such as wardens, pastors, and our honorary assistant make sacrifices through which the glory of Jesus is made visible over and over again. And, of course, countless others share – generously - in leadership positions and numerous ministries.

The church’s mandate is to recognize the power, love, beauty, and light within Jesus, and listen for it in his voice – particularly as he tells us to take up the cross and follow him. The same light that shone through the transfiguration of Jesus is to shine through each of us as individuals, and collectively as disciples of Christ in and through St. Peter’s. In the words of our Baptismal liturgy: Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. This light has shone through St. Peter’s for 63 years, it has shone throughout this past year, and I am confident that it will continue to discover fresh ways to shine as you move into the future.

The Rev. Canon Donna G. Joy