Monday, September 29, 2014

A Great Weekend By A Great Lake


Kay and I took Appa the Volksbison, our ’85 VW Vanagaon camper, down to Lake Erie this past weekend.    On the plus side, I had recently discovered that our camper’s onboard fridge was actually functional.   I had ordered a kit to convert the space to extra shelving and storage, but had been procrastinating about taking the fridge out and junking it.   However, on our last outing, I was startled to discover that some of the items stored in the fridge space were cold to the touch!   Evidently I had it set so that it ran off the battery while the van was in motion, and I realized that the fridge was working.   A little tinkering with it this summer, and some YouTube research, taught me how to run it off an external power cord while parked, to get it properly chilled, and then how to get the pilot lit so that it could run on propane once we reached our destination.   This meant that we had all the VW’s original systems working:  the propane stove, the fridge, and the water tan/sink/tap.   Excited, we searched for a destination and settled on Wheatley Provincial Park, down on Lake Erie.  Wheatley is not far from Point Pelee, which is the southernmost point in Canada, on a latitude with Northern California.

We made it.  Appa is old and slow and somewhat prone to overheating, so I kept a close eye on the temperature gauge, but we made it there and back without much incident.  We were blessed with a perfect early fall weekend and a campsite by the water.

If you peer into the side door, you’ll see Kay celebrating our arrival.


Walkway to the beachfront along Lake Erie.



 Some of the park’s many denizens.  We got up before sunrise on Saturday morning and were treated to the unforgettable sight of stars reflected on the water.    I wish I could have captured that in a photo, but some things are best saved for memories.  I may never see starlight reflected on water again, but I’ll never forget the sight.




I tried going for my morning run along this beach.   It wasn’t my fastest run.   In fact, it was like one of those dreams when you’re trying to run away from monsters but caught in quicksand.


 Church by the lake.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

With The Royal Highland Fusiliers Of Canada

My friend Padre Neil is away this month at the Canadian Forces Leadership School in St. Jean, QC, getting the official training and qualifications to set the seal on his pre-existing awesomeness as a padre.   Unfortunately his absence left his reserve unit, the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, in a bit of a lurch, as they wanted him to offer a prayer and blessing at their parade this past Saturday.   I was happy to fill in.

The RHFC are one of the many colourful Reserve regiments of Canada’s Army.  As you can see below, their ceremonial dress uniform is a Highland variation of the less glamorous, plain green DEU (Distinctive Environmental Uniform) worn by most Regular Force army units. I felt quite plain standing next to them.  The Fusiliers have a proud history, with their roots in the various militia regiments formed in the Waterloo Region of SW Ontario since the mid 1800s.  In World War 1, a rather confusing period in the lineage of Canadian regiments, the RHFC’s ancestors  included the 108th Battalion CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force), the 111th CEF, and the 29th Waterloo Regiment, Highland Light Infantry of Canada (HLI). During World War Two the HLI earned a distinguished reputation in places such as Normandy and Holland, and claimed to be the only Canadian regiment never to have given up a prisoner or man missing, or to have yielded its ground to the enemy.  In 1965 the HLI was amalgamated with another local militia regiment, the Highland Fusiliers of Canada, thus becoming the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada.   Many members of the RHFC deployed to Afghanistan in the last decade as augments to Reg Force regiments, and so the RHFC will soon receive a new Battle Honour, Afghanistan, for its colours.



It was a perfect day for a parade.  September has been cool and wet, but the sun came out on cue.  In this photo, the Colour Guards stand before the Commanding Officer,  preparing to lay the colours on the regimental drums during a short parade at the cenotaph in Cambridge.   The Pipe Sergeant Major is standing on the cenotaph.   My role in the service was to offer this short prayer, and since I couldn’t find a specific prayer for the RHFC,  I adapted from the Regimental Collect of the British Army’s Royal Highland Fusiliers, which are allied to Canada’s RHFC.  Padre Neil, your homework is to see if there is in fact a proper prayer for yur regiment, and if so, to make it more visible for future use.

Gracious and loving God, look with favour on the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada.   Keep us all mindful of their legacy of heroism, sacrifice, and service.  Abide with them, in all the places where they may be called to serve, and strengthen them to resist to the uttermost all assaults of evil.   To their leaders, give wisdom, and to all ranks, give valour.  Inspire them to serve in their day and generation so that they may worthily uphold the trust that has been handed down to them, and give them we pray your continued blessing.  Amen.

To my chaplain friends, there is a useful resource on Collects of the British Army here.   Someone should compile a similar list for the Canadian Army.   


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Plug For The Great War Blog

I discovered this blog the other day, and I recommend it.  Each day covers a different aspect of World War One.   It’s well written and researched, and worth the time of anybody interested in this period.

This image from today’s post explores the links between the Edwardian ethos of masculine values, amateur athletics, muscular Christianity and recruiting.


Monday, September 8, 2014

A Good Day At Church

Kay and I took church with us to Rockwood Conservation Area this weekend.

The traffic on the way to church was light and there was lots of parking.

 We decided we would sit right in front of the altar rather than as far back in the church as humanly possible.  

Safely home thanks to Appa the Volksbison.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Military Picture Of The Week


This picture comes from the Foreign Policy website’s Photos of the Week feature and shows Afghan National Army personnel praying at a graduation ceremony at the ANA Training Centre in Kabul on 24 August.  These are the faces of the army that NATO members, including friends of mine, have been labouring to train and guide for the last few years.  They face a difficult future, with a government still paralyzed by deadlock after a recent national election that shows the country’s ethnic fault lines and distrust, and an undefeated Taliban insurgency.  Good luck to them.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Slogan For The Sign: A Sermon For Sunday, August 31st

Preached at St. Columba’s Anglican Church, Waterloo, Ontario, The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost.

Readings:  Exodus 3:1-15, Psalm 105:1-6,23-26; Romans 12:9-21;  Matthew 16: 21-28

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 16:24)


Pity the person who gets told by God to do something.  Often in the Bible, when God gets ahold of someone and says “do this”, they don’t want to and maybe that’s because God’s plans often don’t sound like a lot of fun.  Take Moses in our first reading.  God says “I’ve got this great plan to get you and your people out of slavery in Egypt and settle you in this amazing place.”  Moses says “Who, me?” and then  “What if it doesn’t work?”  In our gospel reading, Jesus tells Peter and his disciples about his plan to go to Jerusalem, and they don’t like it very much.  Jesus says to Peter and company, and this is my rather loose translation, “I have to go to Jerusalem to die so that I can rise again, and you know what?  That’s kind of like what you have to do to be my followers. “   Matthew doesn’t tell us how the disciples react to this, but they’re probably confused and alarmed.   I suspect we are too, every time we hear this passage about taking up crosses, and denying ourselves, and dying so that we can live.   It doesn’t sound like a good deal.  It doesn’t seem like a great invitation to come and try the Christian faith.   But today I want to suggest that these words are crucial to our life and our mission as God’s church.


First, let me tell you a small story about church advertising and biblical slogans.


Before the Canadian Forces sent me to Waterloo to go back to school, my last job was at an army base out west, where I ran the small base chapel.    The chapel had a very old and outdated sign, and one day Base Engineering told me they were replacing it, and what did I want on the new sign?  


My first thought was that I would like the sign to include a scripture verse, something welcoming and inspiring.   I wanted something that would reach out to the many soldiers and families who normally avoided the chapel like the plague.    I wanted something that would speak to soldiers who came to the base for training, fired and far from the homes and families.


What verse do you think I chose?   I’ll give you a hint.   It was from Matthew’s gospel, but it wasn’t anything from today’s reading.   Today’s ideas of self-denial and taking up a cross to follow Jesus might mean something to believers who have a wider context of the Christian faith to put them in.  Perhaps they might mean something.  I’ll come back to that in a minute.  But the idea of attracting the stranger with a church sign that said “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”?  I don’t think so.


The verse I did chose was from Jesus words at the end Matthew 11:


 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)

Anglicans of a certain vintage will remember that this verse forms part of the so-called Comfortable Words, found in the old Prayer Book service of Holy Communion.   These verses focus on the love and forgiveness of God and on the spiritual refreshment that we will find in the eucharist.

That verse seemed like an excellent invitation to come to chapel, so we went with it and in due course it appeared, in both official languages (this being the CF, after all) on the new sign.   I don’t know if the sign made the difference, but every now and then, as the chapel was usually unlocked, I would find a soldier quietly sitting in a pew, lost in thought or prayer.   These occasional visitors seemed to associate the chapel with a place of comfort and spiritual rest from their troubles, and I’m glad they did.

But here’s the paradox.   Church should be a place of shelter and comfort and rest, but it has to be more than that.   t should also be a place where we are made to feel uncomfortable.  Not physically uncomfortable, but challenged, pushed out of our comfort sone and complacency. If we think of our faith as the solution to our troubles, as the refuge we seek when the world is too much to bear, then how do we accept the Jesus who seems to want to add to our troubles?   How do we respond to the call of a Saviour who says “deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me” and how do we square that call with the same Saviour who we want to see as the solution to our problems?

Peter also seems to have that problem in our gospel reading.   Why does he get so upset when Jesus says that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed?  No no! he says. “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you”.  Peter sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour sent by God, but he doesn’t understand how Jesus can do any good as Saviour if he gets himself killed.  Peter is probably still thinking of the Saviour as a conqueror who can free God’s people from Rome, just as Moses saved them from Egypt.  He hears Jesus’ prediction, and I think it sounds to him like a prediction of defeat.

But here’s what Peter misses.   Jesus not only predicts his death, but he also predicts his resurrection.  Jesus says that “he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Now we are still relatively early in Matthew when Jesus says this, and the disciples really don’t get it until after the resurrection, but we, the church, we who understand Easter, we should get it. 

 What we as the church should understand is that Jesus has already gone to the worst place possible, to suffering and death, and come out the other side, and he did it for us.  We may not understand how the cross and the empty tomb happened, exactly, but we know that through his death and resurrection Jesus has shown us that God responds to our suffering.   So we know the end of the story, and it’s a happy ending.    But that still leaves us to make sense of the “take up your cross and follow me” bit.  How do we do that?

One thing I read on this subject that was helpful was the suggestion that Jesus is speaking to us as the church rather than as individuals.   Think about who Jesus is speaking to … Peter.  In last Sunday’s gospel, from Matthew 16, Jesus called Peter “the rock … on which I will build my church” (Mt 16:18), and he promises that the church will endure every assault:  “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”.   It’s not that the church will not be tested.  Jesus never promises that church will escape hardship, but he does promise that the church will not be defeated, because the church is anchored in God’s promise and power, which we see in the resurrection.  

So if Jesus is speaking to Peter as the church, which means that Jesus is speaking to us, he does have some things to say about the church’s role in the world.   I want to suggest that Jesus challenges the church to take risks, to go beyond itself, to act for others rather than its own interests.   It’s a challenge, but it’s also a promise, because Jesus says that in self-sacrificial giving, the church will find life.  Let me give you two quick examples of what I mean.

First, if you read the latest Anglican Journal, you read about the hospital in Gaza that is supported by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem.   This hospital has been providing medical care and shelter to the people of Gaza since the latest war with Israel began.  I don’t think the staff there care if their patients are Anglican, or Christian, or Muslim.  The hospital has been working through the bombs and explosions, it’s been damaged, and now it needs help.  Working there isn’t a job got anyone.  You’d need medical skills, and language skills, and extraordinary courage and compassion, to work there.  But supporting the hospital, through the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, is something that every one of us can do as parishioners, as Anglicans, and as followers of Jesus.  What would it be like if we worried about helping these sorts of partners in our communion as much as we worried about our own parish bills and projects?

My second example has to do with the recent stories in the local paper about churches in Kitchener and Waterloo that have regretfully stopped their long involvement with the Out of the Cold program.  For various reasons, they are no longer able to contribute, but their announcements has sparked a new debate in KW about how our communities respond to needs around us.  When I was in parish ministry in the Ilderton area, some of my people participated in a similar program in London.  it was hard work, it took time and it took money, but I never saw anything else in my four years there do so much to give my parishioners purpose and meaning and a sense of being active followers of Jesus.    Kay and I have only been with you for a year now, but our sense is that a similar spirit of caring and ministry is here at St. Columba’s, and as Julia said recently, this coming year may be a time when God shows us some new phase in our ministry.

So, we come back to taking up crosses and following Jesus.  If we think of that call simply as personal hardship that we need to inflict on ourselves because, well, that’s what Christians do, we’re not supposed to have any fun, then it will be a terrible and unattractive idea.  But, if we think of ourselves as the church, built on the rock of God’s promise to Peter, guaranteed its survival by the resurrection of Jesus through the limitless power of God the Father, then what burden do we have to fear?   If we enter into the call today in the right spirit, we’ll find that the cross is an easy thing.  We’ll trade the heavy burdens of our selfish cares for the cross and find rest and new life and purpose, and that’s a good message to put on any church sign.


Friday, August 29, 2014

"He Transformed The Hut Into A Cathedral": A Chaplain Hero Of The Korean War

My brother the Mad Colonel passed on this video about Chaplain Emil Kapaun, a Roman Catholic priest and US Army chaplain who gave his life to serve and inspire his fellow prisoners in a Chinese prison camp during the Cold War.   A real treat to hear a recording of his voice in this video.  Father Kapaun was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2013.[

Here’s an excerpt from the Medal of Honor citation, as posted on the US Army website here.

"Once inside the dismal prison camps, Kapaun risked his life by sneaking around the camp after dark, foraging for food, caring for the sick, and encouraging his fellow Soldiers to sustain their faith and their humanity. On at least one occasion, he was brutally punished for his disobedience, being forced to sit outside in subzero weather without any garments. When the Chinese instituted a mandatory re-education program, Kapaun patiently and politely rejected every theory put forth by the instructors. Later, Kapaun openly flouted his captors by conducting a sunrise service on Easter morning, 1951."

 It’s interesting how closely Kapaun’s story mirrors that of Padre John Foote, a Canadian Army chaplain captured at Dieppe in 1942.   Both men seemed to sense that the conditions of captivity called forth the greatest needs of soldiers for hope and spiritual comfort.   Foote was fortunate enough to come home, unlike Kapaun, but both are icons of service and corps pride to chaplains and padres today.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Anglican Haven In Florence

This piece appeared this week in the quarterly newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate (aka Canadian Forces Anglican Chaplains).  Since I edit the AMO newsletter, this publication is no great distinction.  

Worship is a big part of tourism for me.  I like the experience of the different, but also enjoy the sense that the Anglican Communion gives me a spiritual home wherever I go.  In this case, it was a gracious and historic Anglican expat church in Firenze (Florence), Italy, a city which may be my new favourite place in the world. MP+

The last edition of this Newsletter featured an account of Ann Bourke’s visit to Camposanto Teutonic, the chapel of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican.   I would like to suggest another destination for any readers fortunate enough to visit Italy, St. Mark’s (The English Church), Florence.   


The English were once the most prominent foreign community in Florence, and St. Mark’s is the city’s second oldest Anglican church, founded as part of the Anglo-Catholic movement of the 19th century.    Today it continues to serve the expatriate community and all English-speaking visitors to Florence.   St. Mark’s is part of a chaplaincy of the Church of England in Tuscany that includes two other churches in Siena and Bologna, and is also home to an Old Catholic congregation.  


The current chaplain is LCol. (retd.) William Lister, a former British Army padre.  I asked Father Lister how his ministry in Tuscany compared to his experience as a military chaplain.  He told me that “Florence has been an enormous blessing. It is not dissimilar to military chaplaincy in many ways - it is a discrete, ex-pat community - largely from Commonwealth countries and many with a military background. It is very much a 'chaplaincy'. We are a 'gathered community' joined by any and all English-speakers who find themselves in  Tuscany/Emilia Romana (including both tourists and students).”




The church is located within a palazzo dating from the 16th century.  From the street, St. Mark’s is not especially noteworthy, but the interior is calm and serene.  The artwork is quite lovely, and much of it, as Fr. Lister told me, was contributed by the first members of the congregation, many of them leading figures in the 19th century’s Pre-Raphaelite movement.  Today St. Mark’s maintains a strong liturgical tradition and is a centre of the local arts scene, particularly music, opera, and painting.  




St. Mark’s has a strong connection with the military, in that the interior contains two stone memorials commemorating members of the British Army who fell during operations to break the German Gothic Line during the Italian Campaign.   Many of these men are buried just outside Florence in the Commonwealth Cemetery at Girone, including over 30 Canadians.  Our own Padre Don Aitchison, chaplain to Toronto’s 48th Highlanders, tells me that he will likely be travelling to St. Mark’s later this year along with the 48th’s Honourary Colonel and other members to dedicate a memorial to the regiment’s fallen.   That dedication is planned for All Soul’s Day, and Padre Aitchison has promised an account of that trip for a subsequent AMO newsletter.


St. Mark’s maintains a number of apartments for short and long-term visitors, which would make an ideal base camp for a visit to Florence.  Details may be found on the church website.  St. Mark’s also features in Love and War, a new novel by the British author, Alex Preston, published by Faber.  Fr. Lister tells me that the novel’s hero is an Anglican priest and secret agent, which makes this sound like an irresistible read for the remainder of the summer, even if the Telegraph didn’t particularly like it..

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Military Picture Of The Week


This image, courtesy of the UK MOD, is of 'Vera', a seventy year old aircraft and one of two surviving Avro Lancasters from World War Two, on her way to landing at RAF Conningsby.  Vera’s home is the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum just outside Hamilton, Ontario.  Vera is being teamed up with Thumper, the Lancaster from the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, for a series of events.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review: A Point Of Balance: The Weight And Measure Of Anglicanism

This book review appeared in the Summer edition of the quarterly journal (well, newsletter, really) of the Canadian Armed Forces Anglican Military Ordinariate , the body of Anglican chaplains in the CAF.   The newsletter is pretty rubbish and prints any old thing (I can say that, I’m the editor).  MP+




A Point of Balance: The Weight and Measure of Anglicanism

Ed. Martyn Percy and Robert Bork Slocum, Moorhouse, 2013




Anyone who has served with the RCAF will likely know the adage about the venerable Sea King helicopter, that it is not one aircraft but rather “several thousand parts flying in close formation”.  Much the same thing has been said about Anglicanism.   In one of the first in this collection of essays, Martyn Percy tells a story about the Anglican theologian Henry Scott Holland who, while watching a flock of starlings flying over Cuddeson College, “remarked how like the Anglican Church they were.   Nothing, it seemed, kept the flock together - and yet the birds moved as one, even though they were all apart and retained their individual identity” (20).


This slim book of essays, part of the Canterbury Studies in Anglicanism series, is accessible and challenging.  The book’s contributors are British and American clergy and faculty, and all of them ask essentially the same question, namely, what keeps the constituent parts of Anglicanism flying in close formation?  This question is especially urgent since, as Percy notes, much has changed in the century since Holland watched the starlings over Cuddesdon.  Today the “flock” of Anglicanism contains birds of more than one type.  “Evolution - through cultural and theological diversity - has meant that many Anglican provinces have evolved to ‘fit’ their contexts, and the ultimate diversity of the species clearly threatens its unity” (20).


An example of this diversity is found in A. Katherine Grieb’s essay on scripture.   She notes that scripture, long seen as the “glue” of Anglicanism, is read and understood differently throughout the Communion.   Ugandan Anglicans, who largely practise a very pentecostal version of Christianity, hear the bible within the African oral tradition as “a deposit of authoritative and ‘universally’ recognized African like sayings”  and through the filter of the African Eastern Revival (32).  Thus a text like Deuteronomy 28:22a,27-28 is heard by many as a description of AIDS as a divine punishment for sin.    There are thus profound hermeneutical differences separating Anglicans in Uganda and other African countries from their counterparts in the first world.   Hermeneutics as well as Uganda’s church history and post colonialism thus drive many Ugandan Anglican’s understanding of sexual ethics.  Grieb suggests that process of “scriptural reasoning”, first adopted by scholars of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, might be a way forward and away from further fracturing of the Communion along North/South lines.  The principles of scriptural reasoning include a respect for the sacredness of the other’s texts, a recognition of differences, and a shared sense of hospitality and “God’s purpose of peace among all” (40).


In a similar vein, Tom Hughson proposes a rethinking of mission as “receptive ecumenism” in which Anglican churches in the North find ways to listen to those churches in the South which hear the gospel amidst suffering rather than affluence, and thus act as bridge, helping a post-Christendom North to understand the South and to hear the gospel anew.  Other writers explore reconciliation as spirituality (Philip Sheldrake), and koinonia as a gift of the Spirit (Robert D. Hughes).  In a section on praxis, Simon Taylor reflects on the changing nature of the parish in the contemporary Church of England, and Paula Nesbitt offers hard data on clerical and lay ministry and suggestions on how ministry models might adapt to the needs of the contemporary church.


All of these essays are undergirded by a faith in what one scholar has called the “collective mind” of the church, and a belief that the Spirit “leads the Church into further penetration of the Truth” which will become apparent over time.  This process of leading is not rapid or easy, and the authors all recommend the virtues of patience, hospitality, and attentive listening to one another as our best resources and hope in this difficult and confusing time.  All the book’s contributors agree that our unity is desirable, indeed, commanded of us, and that no Anglican should say to another, “I have no need of you”.  In the words of Robert Runcie, as quoted by Percy, “Politeness, integrity, restraint, diplomacy, patience, a willingness to listen, and above all, not to be ill-mannered - these are the things that enable the Anglican Communion to cohere”. 

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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