Monthly Archives: January 2012

Church 20 – St. John Vianney

Yesterday I visited the third and final Catholic church in Barrie.   Liturgically it was very similar to the others, of course, although I did notice that unlike the other churches, as St. John Vianney they give both bread and  wine at communion.

I also finally had the chance to sit down with a priest after the service and talk a bit about the church.  This is the first chance I’ve had to talk to an ‘official’ representative of the catholic church.

I have a lot of questions I’d love to ask the entire Catholic hierarchy, not least ‘how can we patch up the appalling mess that we all made during the Reformation, and while we’re at it, the Great Schism as well, and get on with this whole Kingdom of God business?’

However, my time was limited.  So I stuck to my usual questions: “why are you here,” and “what is God doing in the city?”  And I got probably the most comprehensive answers I’ve yet heard.

The priest talked to me about the church being a place where people are both drawn in to worship God, and then inspired to go outwards and serve the poor and the needy.  God, he said, works through people, and he calls each of us to serve others.

Within the formal structure of the Catholic Church in Barrie, there are various organisations such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Women’s League that provide specific opportunities for individuals to serve the poor and demonstrate Christ’s love.   And St. John Vianney tries to pool its resources with the other churches in the city to more effectively have an impact on society.

All this I deeply respect, of course.  But I still find the lack of communion between Catholics and other denominations deeply troubling.   In answer to my inquiries the priest told me that yes, I really did have to pick one side of the fence or the other.  If you want to take communion in a Catholic church then you have to first take Catholic baptism, and having done so you would not be allowed to share in the Eucharist at another church.

As I’ve said before, I’m a passionate believer in open communion.  I don’t want to have to pick sides in a fight that happened centuries before I was born. I want to be able to eat, pray, and worship alongside my brothers and sisters from across the Christian spectrum.  And it saddens me that there are still ecclesiastical rules that forbid me from doing this.

I will say that I felt listened to and respected as I talked about this yesterday.  We may struggle with a great deal of historical baggage, but I am grateful every time I encounter someone who shares my desire to bridge the gaps that divide us.




Church 19 – ‘M’

Yes, today we visited a church who’s name is a single letter.  Because that’s pretty hard to search for in Google, here is their website!.

‘M’ was quite a contrast from last week’s Catholic service.  Instead of large, structured and formal, this morning’s service had an almost improvised feel.  ‘M’ is a new community, and so I suspect that at the moment there is no such thing as a typical gathering.    This morning was billed as ‘Bring It’ Sunday, a chance for all members to share a song, a thought, a poem, a reading, or a painting.

Personally, I love this kind of interactive environment.  ‘M’ meets at the Creative Space in downtown Barrie, which is an ideal venue for getting a bunch of folks together in a circle to drink coffee, share ideas, listen, talk, and learn.

In some ways, this feels very contemporary, but the idea of group-led worship is nothing new.  The Brethren movement has been doing this kind of thing for more than a century.  Following Paul’s suggestions in 1 Corinthians 14:26, a typical Brethren service, although centered around communion, sets aside a generous chunk of time for anyone present to share with the group a thought, a prayer or a song.

The difference between this kind of church service and a more formally structured one is, perhaps, like the difference between going to a classical concert and taking part in a drumming circle.  The former may be more polished, more predictable, and perhaps ‘safer’.  The latter may be more chaotic, but is definitely more participatory.  Everyone plays a part, and when done well, everyone listens to and responds to each person’s contribution.

‘M’ is still figuring out what it wants to be, I think.  But, if you’re the kind of person who prefers dialog to lecture, or improvisation to formality, then I’d recommend that you pay them a visit.


Church 18 – St. Mary’s Catholic Church

This visit was slightly different as we had been invited to St. Mary’s to attend the baptism of a friend’s child.

While I am very familiar with a large range of Protestant denominations, Catholicism is still a bit of a mystery to me.  However, it’s one that I am determined to come to grips with.  St. Mary’s is one of three catholic churches in Barrie, and there were probably around 350 people in attendance at the service we were at, the second of the day.   Barrie has a large Catholic population, as well as a number of Catholic schools and social agencies.

So, I can’t really say that I’m getting to know the churches in Barrie unless I understand this denomination.  However, so far I haven’t got very far. I’d love to have the opportunity to sit down with a priest or well-informed layperson and get to hear what Catholicism in Barrie is all about.  And because my passion is for reconciliation and cooperation, I’d love to hear stories about how the Catholic churches in Barrie are working with others to impact the city.

So, the service.  St. Mary’s has a large, bright, airy sanctuary, with the light and sight lines all focused on the central altar.

Coming from an Anglican background, the liturgy itself was very familiar.  We sung hymns, listened to readings from the Old and New Testament and from the Gospel, and heard a short homily.  This was very well delivered, and was a meditation on the question that Jesus asks the first disciples – what are you looking for?

Communion at a Catholic church is still something I’m getting used to.  For one thing, it still hurts to be relegated to the role of an observer at what should be a shared meal.  I’m a passionate believer in Open Communion; a priest I know invites all present to share the bread and wine with the phrase ‘We welcome you because God welcomes you.’   I love this approach, because it replaces endless theological wrangling over who should and shouldn’t be allowed to participate in a sacrament with a simple recognition of God’s grace and invitation to community.

There are also some practical issues surrounding Catholic communion that I don’t understand yet.  Why do they only share the bread, and not the wine?  What is the purpose of the locked box to the right of the altar?  What is an ‘Adoration Chapel’, and how does it relate to communion?   Some churches take time to explain what they are doing to newcomers; at St. Mary’s, even during a baptismal service, it’s kind of assumed that you belong here and you know what is going on.

So, if you’re Catholic, and live in Barrie, please get in touch with me!  I’d love to have the chance to have some of these questions answered.

Church 17 – Essa Road Presbyterian Church

Once again I find myself leaving a church with slightly mixed feelings.

This morning I attended Essa Road Presbyterian Church.  This is a friendly congregation, with around 70 people in attendance.  The demographics are weighted towards the older end of the spectrum, but there were several kids and young families there too.

The structure of the service was very much like any other evangelical church: opening music, announcements, some hymn singing and a ‘talky bit’.

However today was also the ‘induction’ of several new elders, which gave me an interesting snapshot into the functioning of a Presbyterian church.

As I’ve noticed before, some churches find it important to be very precise in their understanding of church structure, and that is definitely the case here.  Clearly Presbyterians find church government a topic of high importance.  A significant amount of the service was given over to reviewing the structure of the Presbyterian church, the role of elders, and the way that the congregation is expected to treat them.

To be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable by some of this.  It was clearly stated that “God has ordained these elders” and that “Failure to submit to them is to rebel against God.” A distinction was made between congregants that are ‘teachable’ and submissive, and those that question authority.

I found myself wondering what an outsider would think of all this.   Would all this talk of authority and submission sound reassuring, or threatening?  A lot of the language used  deftly tied God’s authority with the Church’s authority.  I do find this a bit ironic coming from a Reformed church, which by definition rejects the authority that the Catholic church claims to derive from God.

One day I really hope that I have the opportunity to sit down with a catholic theologian, a reformed theologian, and possibly an umpire, and ask them both to explain to me why the structure and authority of their particular church is God given.

Having said all that, I had a very pleasant time after the service, meeting and chatting with folks from the church.  This is a welcoming congregation, and talking with the pastor afterwards I found a lot of support for the idea that the churches in Barrie should be complementing one another, rather than competing with each other.

One of the challenges that we will have to face as we work towards greater collaboration in the Church in Barrie will be addressing how we reconcile our deep convictions about ‘correct’ church structure and governance with our desire to bless and learn from our brothers and sisters in other denominations.



Who are the Peacemakers?

“Blessings on the peacemakers!  You’ll be called God’s children.”

I’ve been thinking recently about this statement of Jesus’.  “Blessings on the peacemakers.”

Jesus also said that some other folks were blessed, too.  The poor.  The hungry.  Those who mourn.  The pure in heart.  The meek.  The persecuted.

Some of these groups are easy to identify.  We could go for a stroll through downtown Barrie and meet the poor and hungry quite easily.  It wouldn’t take long, I’m sure, for us to find someone grieving.   And we’ve heard many stories of people being persecuted for standing up for what is right.

But peacemakers.  Who are they?  Where do they live?  What do they look like?

I’m  convinced  that reconciliation and peacemaking are essential elements of the mission of the church.  But I realise I know little about the practicalities of peacemaking.  Who should my role models be?  Who are the people that are actively bringing about reconciliation between groups in conflict?  Between Palestinian and Israeli, between rich and poor, between labour and management?  Between landlord and tenant, between conservative and liberal, between Catholic and Protestant? Between Pakistan and India, between Sunni and Shiite, between oil company and environmentalist?

Who are the people that stand in the gap, that refuse to accept the inevitability of conflict, that believe and hope and work towards just and equitable resolutions?

Who are the peacemakers?

What Would a Kingdomology Look Like?

A few weeks ago I had a fascinating conversation in a downtown coffee shop with a new acquaintance.  Among the many topics we covered was his conviction that the Bible presents one concrete, straightforward pattern for church structure and practice.

This got me thinking.   In theological circles we call the study of the Church ‘ecclesiology‘, from the Greek word for church, ekklēsiā.  In fact, theologians have all sorts of ‘ologies’.

  • Christology is ‘talking about Christ’.
  • Soteriology is ‘talking about salvation’
  • Pneumatology is ‘talking about the Holy Spirit
  • Eschatology is ‘talking about the culmination of history’

Interestingly enough, however, there doesn’t seem to be a word for ‘Kingdom-ology’, or the study of the kingdom of God.  I’ve never, ever heard the phrase ‘Basileology‘, which would be the logical term to use.

This seems to me a strange omission.  The word ‘church’ is mentioned twice in the gospels.  But the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’, or ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is used more than 80 times!  So why do theologians talk about the Church so much more than the Kingdom?

Am I missing something?  Is this actually a subject that’s taught at seminary?  Is there such a thing as ‘Introduction to Basileology’ or ‘Kingdom Studies 101’?  What would such a course look like?  What questions would it ask?  Which experts would we study?

In fact, while we’re asking these questions, what is the Kingdom of God?  And who is teaching and studying and talking about this question?