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Dear Friends in Valhalla Parish—

This past weekend, a number of us from the parish attended a regional Pentecost service in Nelson at St. Saviour's. Bishop Lynne was our preacher, reflecting on the movement of the Holy Spirit amongst the earliest disciples in Jerusalem, which is the same Spirit who moves amongst us today. She pointed us back—as she often does—to the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion and to our Baptismal Covenant. She pointed us to this covenant, this set of promises that provide us with the vision for and direction of the ministry with which we are all entrusted through baptism. 

Over my twenty-or-so years in the Anglican Church, I have heard countless reflections on the importance of "empowering the laity." At first it sounds good. And yet, after hearing it a hundred times without any concrete action, it starts to sound like the kind of jargon you throw around in a system that wants to hold on to power, while verbally acknowledging that lay people play some sort of role in the church too.

I may get in trouble for this, but I think it's worth saying for the sake of conversation: 

One of the things that I think is often missing, something that ought to go alongside "empowering the laity," is "divesting of clericalism."

What do I mean here? Is this about allowing lay people to do all the things that priests do? Not at all. Clergy are ordained to vital and important ministry in our midst. I want in no way to diminish this. I am so very grateful for the ministry of priests in my life, and so honoured to work alongside the Rev. Marian Craft and the Rev. John Ruder in this parish. I guess what I'm saying is that for the church to thrive, the ministry of the whole people of God, together, is vital. 

As Christians, we are all members of Christ's body. From the very beginning, we have been created in and for love. From the beginning, we have been invited to embrace our ministry in the world and church, and this is a ministry in which all share.

For this to happen, we need to look at our common life and find the places where lay people might step forward and the places where clergy might step back to make this shared common life vibrant. 

Why reflect on these things, in this moment, and in a parish without a priest offering day-to-day leadership?

At our West Kootenay regional gathering on Friday, I found myself in conversation with Chris D'Arcy and Lorraine Deans. We were gathered in our parish group, speaking about the strengths of our parish and what God might be calling us into. It was a wonderful conversation that gave us opportunity to reflect on the many gifts of the St. Stephen's and St. David's communities. 

Towards the end of the conversation, dwelling in the many gifts we had listed, I shared with them, "I don't always know whether what I'm doing—and what we're doing together—is best serving the needs of the community for this time." It was a searching statement that welled up within me. It was nothing I planned, but it bore witness to the truth of our shared ministry in this disorienting time.

It seems important, not just in the immediate term, but in the longer term too, that this Valhalla Parish community is served by regular priestly ministry. In addition to this, it also seems important that we lay people continue to embrace the ministry we were invited into and entrusted with at our baptism:

  • To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • To resist evil and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • To proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ
  • To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as yourself
  • To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation and respect, sustain, and renew the life of the earth

Silence filled the room. Quiet, reflective silence. 

It was a moment of resonance. It was awkward. It was vulnerable. It was, I think, an important moment for each of us present. What came from that moment was an admission that as a community,  we need to come together more frequently, to pray earnestly, and listen for God's invitation into an as-yet-unknown future. 

It was important to pause and acknowledge that as the circumstances around us change, and as the people of God in Valhalla Parish change, God will regularly call us to self-examination. This is one of those times. Where are we going, and how will we get there? O Lord, Hear our Prayer. 

We won't get anywhere if God's not a the centre. We won't get anywhere if we're not in it together. We won't get anywhere if we don't serve according to our ability. We won't get anywhere if we aren't willing to step aside—even when it's hard—to let other people lead in areas we have been leading for some time. Sometimes leadership isn't about being up front. Sometimes it's about learning when to step back, and giving ourselves permission to do so even when we don't know who will step forward.

You know, and I know too, that I am not your priest. I am a leader in this community, and I am grateful to serve in your midst as a pastor and facilitator and preacher and worship leader. Even so, there are probably ways in which the ministries of this parish might be better shared amongst us. I don't want to stand in the way of ministries waiting to be born. 

Having arrived here in a pandemic, I am still learning about this parish's pre-pandemic patterns as we return once again to in-person worship. But what I've been wondering about lately is how, having my arrival in the midst of pandemic—when the majority of services were online and required particular technical skills—has shaped our relationship with one another. 

More than that, I wonder what it is that we're looking for. We don't always know if what we're doing is best serving the needs of the Valhalla Parish community—and the wider community—at this time.  And this requires prayerful discernment. 

My desire is that we get honest about these things. We need to be honest about what's working, what's not,  and how we might move forward together.

How might we, as a community, more faithfully listen for God's call? How might we, as a community, share labour, so that we might tend to one anothers' needs? How might we, as a community, relate to other parishes in our region, that we may enter into the joy of knowing that we are siblings in Christ with folks in Castlegar, Fruitvale, Kaslo, Nelson, New Denver, Salmo, and Trail too? This was a question that came up at our regional gathering last week, and one that seems vital to carry forward.

There are good conversations ahead. They are conversations for all of us. And they ought, I think, be conversations bathed in prayer. In the days ahead, I invite your prayers.

I invite your prayers for our parish's discernment. For our shared ministry. That we might listen for God's invitation, and that we might share in this ministry together. That we, through the ministry of our baptism, may continue to bear witness to God's enduring love for this time and for evermore. 

Every Blessing, 

Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Valhalla Parish Missioner