Sunday, November 26, 2023

Seeing the King: A Homily for the Reign of Christ


Preached on Sunday, November 26, 2023, at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost: The Reign of Christ.

Readings - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46


Today in the life of the church  and in our church calendar is called the Feast of the Reign of Christ.  It’s a day that invites us to think of the authority of Jesus Christ over our lives, our church, and our world.   


“Reign of Christ”.  The word “reign” is a verb, meaning to exercise power and authority as a monarch.   As a noun, “reign” means the dates between when a monarch is crowned and, typically, when they die.  Thus, the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was from 1952 to 2022.


As Christians, a day called “The Reign of Christ” begs some questions.   Has Christ’s reign started, or will it begin on some future date when, as today’s gospel promises, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory” (Mt 25.31)?  


What will the reign of Christ look like?   What sort of authority will Jesus have as our king?   Do we even want Jesus to be a king, given that we have so many other ways of thinking about him, as friend, as brother, as radical or revolutionary.  There are many ways of thinking about Jesus, and not all of them align neatly with our human ideas about power and authority.


For us as 21st century Christians living in a democracy, we may have trouble conceiving of Christ as a king because terms like monarchy and reign are archaic and may even have negative connotations.  What does a monarch look like today?  How do we recognize one?    


It may be an odd question to those of you here today who are ardent royalists.  Of course we know what King Charles looks like, because he’s deeply familiar to us as a celebrity.  Tabloids, Netflix series, and the like have the British royals duly familiar to us, if not all deeply revered.   We recognize them as people, but how do we see their authority (such as remains) in a confusing and increasingly disordered world where postmodernity has made the idea of authority deeply suspect.


In the ancient world, kings and emperors were distant figures, and few of their subjects would have known them by sight.  Thus, coins were used symbols of authority, each bearing the likeness of the ruler and showing his power by a crowned or wreathed head.     Coins spoke of an earthly authority that Jesus never claimed.


You may remember how, when Jesus was asked about paying taxes, and asked for a coin, he pointed at the image of Caesar and said “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22.21).   Jesus cleverly implied that the emperor’s human authority had limits within and beneath the authority of God his Father.   


Likewise, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, Jesus points to a different reality and a different understanding of authority:  “My kingdom is not from this world”, Jesus says (Jn 18.33-38).  When Jesus is convicted and killed, his crown of thorns and the inscription on the cross, “The King of the Jews”, are mocking gestures of contempt, but perhaps they also show traces of fear, an awareness that there is an unworldly kingdom that will ultimately judge the kingdoms of this world.


And he will judge them, as our gospel reading promises:


32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25.32).  

Matthew’s does promise that Jesus will come again as king and judge, and in that respect, today’s gospel functions as a yellow highlighter, underscoring these words of the Creed:  “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead”.   Matthew imagines Jesus as a king returning in glory, surrounded by angels, in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic prophets like Daniel, so the glory is there in full view, but the underlying authority, the underlying values of the kingdom, are not obvious at first. 


Matthew imagines that on the day of judgement, even the righteous will be puzzled.  


Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” (Mt 25:37-39)


They are puzzled because Christ the King was with them all along.  He was the hungry and thirsty stranger, he was the cold person shivering in rags, he was the prisoner.    The king’s crown was his poverty, the king’s throne was the piece of cardboard on the pavement.  The King was there all along, and while nobody recognized him, the righteous were the ones who bothered to show love and care to him and to the least amongst them.


And if the King was there all along, when did the king’s reign begin?   The King’s reign began in service.   Earlier in Matthew, two disciples, James and John, want the best seats  in God’s kingdom, on either side of Jesus.   Don’t think that way, Jesus scolds them.   That’s gentile thinking, he says; their rulers lord it over them as tyrants.   Jesus says that his kingdom is built on service.


“whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:26-28).

The Reign of Christ begins in every action of love and charity.   Christ the King is seen in the faces of those whom we might otherwise pass by and ignore.   Christ the King is served at the tables of our Friendship Dinners and in the hot meals our Five Loaves team sends out the door.   Christ the King is served by those agencies who receive Faith Words funding, and my thanks to you for dedicating part of our recent Pub Night proceeds to Faith Works.

Today, as we prepare our hearts for Advent, we pause to understand better the King and Saviour whose coming we eagerly expect.  We recognize that our King’s authority is not always understood by the rulers of this world, and is sometimes feared by them, for that authority rests on love and willing service, values that tyranny and coercion will never overcome.    We know our King because he does not lord it over us.   Jesus calls us friends and invites us to follow him.  We wait for him, but we know that he is already here, in the ones we are called to serve, and in serving them, we help show Christ’s kingdom to the world.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Video of our Anglicanism 101 Series: Fr. Michael on Church History

 Here is the complete video of Fr. Michael's talk on church history from our Anglicanism 101 series.    

When time next permits I'll post Rev. Sharon's talk from the same series on How We Worship.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Good Words: Brother David on Honesty in Prayer

Good words in this meditation by Brother David Vryhof (Society of St. John the Evangelist) about how we can be honest with God in our prayer lives, because God knows us better than we may know ourselves:

"The Triune God sees and knows everything about us, even what we keep hidden from others.  When we realize that God sees it all and still loves us with an unwavering lovewe can risk being honest in our prayer.  God does not want to hear from us lovely platitudes or empty promises or carefully crafted words; in prayer God desires our honestyGenuine prayer is always truthful and real.  We can pray the truth about ourselves because God is trustworthy and faithful.  Because of this, we can bring to God the whole of our lives, not just our ‘spiritual selves.’  As we say in our community’s Rule of Life:

The life of prayer calls for the courage to bring into our communion with Christ the fullness of our humanity and the concrete realities of our daily existence, which he redeemed by his incarnation…. We are to bring him our sufferings and poverty, our passion and sexuality, our fears and resistances, our desires and our dreams, our losses and grief.  We must spread before him our cares about the world and its people, our friends and families, our enemies and those from whom we are estranged.  Our successes and our failures, our gifts and shortcomings are equally the stuff of our prayer…

                                       (The Rule of the Society of St John the Evangelist, chapter 22, page 45)  


Brother David’s complete message and an audio recording of it may be found here.


Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Coin of the Realm of the Kingdom of Heaven: A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 19 November, 2023, the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost.  Readings for this Sunday: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

There’s an old, slightly archaic English phrase called The Coin of the Realm.   This phrase means the legal currency of a state, or more generally just means something like “the genuine article”.

Recently the Canadian mint unveiled a facsimile of the new dollar coin, bearing the image of our new king, Charles III.  As is custom, the head of the new king faces left, whereas his mother Queen Elizabeth looked to the right on coins, the difference signifying the end of one reign and the start of the second.

I recall when the loonies and toonies were first introduced in the 1980s, and how my American friends were fascinated with them, not only as the idea of a dollar coin was strange, but also that the coin had the Queen’s head on one side!   Strange to Americans at the time, perhaps, but for us, we adopted the loonie and toonie as coins of the ream, even if their weight was hard on our trouser pockets!

Coins of course figure prominently in today’s parable, usually called The Parable of the Talents.  In this story, Jesus describes three servants whose master entrusts them with considerable sums of money,  talents, in the expectation that they will increase his wealth during the master’s absence.  The parable ends with rewards for two the servants, but has scary imagery of punishment for the third servant who does nothing to increase the wealth given to him, and merely buries it for safekeeping.

Biblical scholars agree that the sums of money given out by the master were ridiculously large, fortunes even by today’s standards.  A talent in the ancient world was often a unit of measurement, the weight of many gold or silver coins, so the third slave probably dug a pretty deep hole to bury a LOT of coins.   However, since we know that parables are stories offering insights into the value system of God, I think we can safely say that the parable is not really about money or about investment strategies.

Jesus often begins his parables with the phrase “the kingdom of God is like” and then uses a powerful figure - a master, a king, and landowner - to represent God, while the servants, slaves, or employees in the parables represent us, God’s people.  At the end of these parables the master holds the servants accountable.  Those who have done well are rewarded, and those who have acted selfishly are punished, and for the wicked servants the parables often end with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

So, if the parables are about the kingdom of heaven and how it works, and if we want to understand and learn from the parable of the talents, then a useful question might be,  what do the talents represent in this parable?  Or, to put it another way, what is the coin of the realm of heaven?

There are abundant places in Matthew’s gospel alone where we could find answers to these questions, and many of them we have visited recently during this church year.   Two weeks ago, on All Saints Sunday, we heard the Beatitudes, from the Sermon of the Mount, and Jesus’ list of those who are blessed (Mt 5:3-12):

  • Those who aren’t full of themselves, the humble and meek
  • Those who want to see justice and goodness done in the world
  • Those who work for peace and reconciliation
  • Those who are merciful

In showing God’s love and regard for these sorts of people, Jesus reveals that the coin of the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven are the things that make that kingdom manifest in the world: peace, love, a fierce desire for justice, generosity of spirit, and perhaps above all, mercy.

Jesus teaches these qualities in many parables, like the king who forgives his servant an impossibly large debt, and then becomes angry when that same servant will not forgive the minor debt that another servant owes him (Mt 18:21-35).  In another he compares the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard owner who pays everyone the same, regardless of hours worked, because it is his right to be generous (Mt 20:1-16).  

And after another parable, Jesus teaches that “the kingdom of God will be  … given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21.43).  That last teaching reminds us that Jesus is a teacher who expects results, who wants his disciples to learn and then do what he has shown them.

So what if the talents in today’s parable are the coins of the realm of the kingdom of heaven - generosity, justice, mercy, and love - the very things that we receive from God?   And what if the duty of the servants is to invest them in a world that needs more generosity, mercy, and love?  In other words, to take the gifts that God has given us and pay them forward?

The third servant in the parable is punished because he won’t do anything with what he’s given, which begs the question, what good is love if no one is loved?  What good is justice if no one receives it?  What good is mercy if no one is shown mercy?   How can justice, love and mercy do good if they are buried in the ground?

Let me finish with a few words on the ending of the parable, all the scary stuff about outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Should the third servant have been afraid of the master?   No, not if he had understood what he had been given as a gift rather than as a menacing burden.  Likewise, it does us no good to hear this parable and then conclude that we should be afraid of God.

Jesus has chosen us to be workers in the vineyard, partners in the kingdom of heaven and friends of God.   As always, he asks us to follow him, and in return he promises us that he will return to restore God’s kingdom, at which time there will be judgement.  Those who have shown mercy, love and justice will be rewarded, and those who chose not to will not have a place in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 25.32-46).

The kingdom of heaven rests on the foundation of God’s justice.   We trust that goodness, light, and right will be upheld on the last day, and we especially need that assurance in these dark and uncertain times.  But we need not fear that justice.  In our second lesson, we heard St Paul remind us that we need not fear God’s anger: “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 These 5.4).

Soon we begin the season of Advent.  The days will grow even shorter and colder.  Our scripture readings through Advent will speak of the coming of the king from his long journey.   We will light candles, we will keep watch and be ready like good servants, and we will await our king with joy and expectation.  And in the meantime, we will use the gifts we have been given - love, justice, and mercy - for the sake of the world God loves, because love, justice and mercy are the coins of God’s realm.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Guest Homily: The Rev. Canon Gordon Mintz on Remembrance Day Sunday

The Rev. Canon Gordon Mintz is a retired Canadian Forces Chaplain and part of our clergy team at All Saints, Collingwood and our Regional Ministry of South Georgian Bay.    Here is the text of the sermon he preached here at All Saints for us last Sunday.


The texts read for this Sunday:  Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13


Today we gather in a world rife with conflict in the Holy Land, Ukraine and many other places and yet in the midst of this trial, tribulation and angst - part of what we do today is remember and give thanks. We do not glorify war or the human lusts for power and prestige that that are often behind oppressive conflicts. But we do commemorate the selfless commitment and dedication shown by the soldiers – Canadian daughters and sons who fought so bravely at places like Afghanistan, Korea, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge.  As Christian this is so much more than an act of remembrance.  Our scriptures today invite us to delve into a belief that shapes us, a gratitude that molds us and a faith that re-members us, that reconstitutes us, and forms us as Christ-followers.


This has echoes of our great remembrance in the Eucharist. When we remember the sacrifice of Christ and what He did for us, we partake in its deep meaning and the real and life-giving presence of Christ in which our faith is re-membered, re-appropriated, and entered into fully shaping us, our belief and therefore our choices and behaviours psychology tells us.   Eucharist means giving thanks. When we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors and air women and men we fully partake in the gift they have given us - the freedom they fought for that we are the beneficiaries of.  That belief, that faith, was their driving motivation.


Belief is so important. Psychologists know that Belief informs and shapes behavior – you will likely have heard that phrase that “perception is reality”. Of course, this kind of relativism is not a truism. It is true that while our internal perception does not define external reality, one’s perception can become one’s reality. This fact makes theology and faith even more important in shaping our worldview and especially what is ultimate reality and we see this theme in our scriptures this morning.  What we believe about the world and ourselves and the meaning of it all is the framework from which we choose how to behave and our emotional responses to the journey before us. 


This perception and reality tension was perfectly illustrated for me by a young airman I was deployed with on Op Unified Protector. This was the UN mission to protect the Libyans from the violence being perpetrated by Gaddafi. It was James’ job to go out and paint the bombs dropped in combat on the nose of the fighter jets which is a long-standing tradition. He was so enthused for this task at the beginning of the deployment, but remarked one day, “Padre, this is not as fun anymore”. The reality of the destruction and collateral damage changed his perception even in what was seen as a just cause. It yielded a great opportunity to have a significant conversation about values and purpose and what motivated him. 


What did our veterans believe they were fighting for?  That was clear – they fought as gift for us - a gift of a free world.  They were inspired by the firm belief that God was calling them to stand against tyrannical forces to give us a better future.  Some would say it is and was all such a waste.  Unfortunately, to see Afghanistan return to many of its previous ways reinjures our soldiers who fought and were affected by that way and seems to negate the sacrifice of our soldiers. This is exactly what our scripture from Wisdom refers to in verse 2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster.

However, we are reminded that though it was a great sacrifice it was not at all a waste  

1 - But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. And verse 9 continues Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect. 


This is the belief that shapes us and the gratitude that re-members us and reorients us to divine things and ultimate realties.  Matthew reminds us that we will hear of wars and rumours of wars; (6:24) and exhorts us saying see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place. Wars, famines and earthquakes will all happen and are called the beginning of the birth pangs (v.8). We can hear the sense of expectancy, something new coming, a divine purpose unfolding.


Our opening hymn picked up on this theme as well with its imagery of another country, another ultimate reality, and did you notice its notable properties - her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering; and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, and her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace (opening Hymn – I Vow to Thee, My Country, words: Cecil Spring)


The psalm (116) also echoes this theme of belief that shapes us:

3 The snares of death encompassed me;

   the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

   I suffered distress and anguish. 

And here we have the hinge of belief where this passage turns

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:

   ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’ 

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,

   my eyes from tears,

   my feet from stumbling.


The fruit of belief couldn’t be clearer. Continuing our tour of this theme in this morning’s readings, we jump to 1 Peter where Paul talks of the fruit of belief as the outcome of your faith:

8 Although you have not seen[b] him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


The re-membering and shaping function of faith and gratitude is explicit and is ours to grab hold of as the fruit of faithful yearning for Christ, for truth, for justice and for peace. 

Finally, our gospel highlights the same redemptive theme of belief being the key to our salvation and changing of our worldview and eternal circumstance.

John 6.40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”


The reality is we live in a broken world that can be painful and even violent. But our spiritual resilience, like that of our soldiers, is buttressed by having our perception informed by the reality, the fact, that God is still on the throne. There is a Divine purpose unfolding no matter how chaotic our world looks. Perhaps most importantly, you and I are invited and even called to be instruments and participants in God’s plan of salvation and victory. We don’t need an army to do that – we need the fortress of a faithful heart. 


God’s ultimate promise for us is that God will dwell with us – Immanuel – God with us. There will be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. We will get out of our cycles of violence and war because all of that both has been, and will be, gathered up in Christ the Prince of Peace. Right remembering is about more than setting aside a day in a year to remind ourselves of the historical facts. Remembering rightly is about what we believe and how we live and in the light of the gifts of sacrifice at Vimy, Passchendaele, Juno Beach and so many others.  And even more importantly, remembering is about appropriating anew the victory Christ won for us against sin and oppression.  Because that my brothers and sisters is the foundation of the redemption and purpose laid out in our scriptures this morning.  That is the “so what" of this remembering. It is so much more than a poppy worn in gratitude and remembrance. It is a thanksgiving that shapes us and draws us back into God’s plan and purpose for a world where swords are beaten into ploughshares and tyranny and oppression are forever defeated. But this is a costly victory. Many have given their lives for it including our Lord and Saviour. 

We will remember them! Amen.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Homily For All Souls

Preached last Thursday, Nov 2, 2023 at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.

Readings:   Wisdom 3.1-9, Psalm 116:1-8; 1 Pet 1:3-9; John 6:37-40



Tonight we join with other Anglican churches who are rediscovering the deep meaning of All Souls.


I say rediscovered because this service was not part of our Reformed heritage.  The early Reformers saw prayers for the dead as being unnecessary and wrong, in part because of the absolute grace of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ by whom the dead are also promised resurrection, but also because in the late middle ages the Roman Catholic Church had monetized prayers for the dead as a way of getting them out of Purgatory.


We as Anglicans have never believed in Purgatory and we have never believed that the dead need our prayers.


So why has this service in returned?   


In part because we as North Americans have increasingly turned away from the reality of dead.    Few of us have laid out and washed a loved one’s body.    Many families ask for celebrations of life rather than funerals, which is a well meaning denial of the reality of death.


As Christians, the reality of death is built into our faith in the form of the cross.   Nothing can be more real than death if we look to the cross on Good Friday.    Acknowledging the reality of death gives us permission to mourn as we should, to shed real tears, and feel sorry for ourselves, something that a celebration does not really permit.


But we also know that our faith only asks us to mourn for a while.  If Christ is not raised, as Paul says in First Corinthians, then we are to be pitied (1 Cor 15.19).   


The resurrection assures us that the dead we mourn are safe in the care and love of Christ, and promises us that they, and we, will have life again.


Until then, our prayers for the dead are an acknowledgement of our loss, but they are also an acknowledgement of our love and our hope.   What is prayer really but the expression of love and hope? 


And that hope is buttressed by the yesterday, the Feast of All Saints, and our belief that the dead join in the great communion of saints where they join with God and the Lamb in love and prayer for us.   


So,  when we pray for the dead, we say, in effect, I love you, I miss you, I’m glad you’re safe, I’ll see you again.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

A Quick Tour of Anglican Church History for Our Parish Anglicanism 101 Series


The notes and illustrations on this page are meant to be prompts to me for Anglicanism 101 series in our Regional Ministry.  If you find this page, I hope it’s helpful to you and I’ll try and build this page out a bit and flew out the references as time permits.  MP+

Why Church History?

Rowan Williams, Why Study The Past?

“To engage with the Church’s past is to see something of the Church’s future.”


Church and Continuity

How far back should we go in studying the Anglican Church?

“We have always been here” (Stephen Neill, Anglicanism).  When you go into an old Anglican church in Britain or Ireland, you realize that our worship and church come out of a long continuity, that we have been gathering in these places worshipping together before we were Anglicans.    In other words, our the church didn’t start with the Reformation, as some Protestants believe.


St Mary’s, Limerick, Ireland

York Cathedral, York, England

But what of Canada?   What of the churches built here, like Prince of Peace (50ish years old) or St Margaret’s Barrie (30ish)

Do we see these churches as new, in that they are newer churches in a newer country, or as old churches, in that they come out of a centuries old tradition?   And where is tradition anyway in our life as a church and is it important?  And are there some unique aspects of our life together as Canadian Anglicans?  We’ll come back to that.

So Let’s Talk About The Reformation, Where Some Say it all Started

Was it just about Henry VIII and his wives?

To Be Sure it was about politics - that’s covered in the late Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, beginning with Wolf Hall


The Reformation was a real fight about superpower politics, about English independence from Europe (specifically the Catholic church - it was the first Brexit) and it was about land and money.

John Houghton, Dominican (d 1535), one of the the First (Catholic Martyrs of the Reformation), the most famous of which was Sir Thomas More, the Man for All Seasons.  There were martyrs on both sides.

But the Reformation was also a fight over theology.  It was about who could read and translate the Bible (eg, John Tyndale (d 1536), and it was about how Salvation worked (grace vs works) and the perceived monetization of grace by the Roman Catholic church.   It was driven by the writings of rebellious theologians from Europe, specifically Martin Luther


German Dominican Friar Johann Tetzel selling indulgences (pardons from Purgatory).

When Henry VIII asserts the independence of the English church, his key church supporter is Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury (which explains why Canterbury is the centre of the Church of England and was, until recently, the spiritual centre of the Anglican Communion)

Key Beliefs of the English Reformers

An English language book of common prayer that all the laity could use and pray with (hence the word common), which was rooted in the Roman tradition of worship but adapted both in the times of prayer (morning and evening prayer, Communion, compline)

An emphasis on theology of grace, hence the Prayer of Humble Access from the BCP:

WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, So to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood, And that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.

An emphasis on doctrine (the sermons provided for English clergy, the Thirty Nine Articles of Faith)

A suspicion of the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation and Real Presence, a tendency towards the idea that the Communion was a memorial rather than a sacrament.  Leftover bread was to be eaten by the priest for lunch, it wasn’t to be revered and paraded around.

Reformation, Counter Reformation, Compromise

However, after the death of Henry VIII, the reign of Catholic Queen Mary (a bad time for Cranmer and his associates) and the reign of the Protestant(ish) Queen Elizabeth, a sort of compromise evolved.As Elizabeth said, the Crown did not want to “make windows into men’s souls”, a certain amount of belief, eg, about what happened at Communion) was private.  

Thus there is a sort of compromise in the Words of Administration in our Prayer Books. 

THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

And the Minister that delivers the Cup shall likewise say:

THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.



The Church in Upper Canada

The Anglican Church came to Canada as it did to the rest of the Empire, through commerce (whaling, fishing, the Hudson’s Bay Company) and through the military (army and navy garrisons).  This is true in Upper Canada (Ontario) where the English presence and the Anglican church were centred on Kingston and York.  Much of the work of the church on the ground was sponsored by missionary societies such as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel which paid for clergy, books, and buildings.


Bishop John Strachan

Bishop John Strachan was a key leader in the early Anglican Church in Upper Canada.  He was determined that the Anglican Church receive a monopoly (establishment).  He argued that a strong Church would help keep American influence at pay (he was worried about American Methodist clergy travelling back and forth over the border).  The government never really said yes for several reasons:

1) Precedent with French Quebec, which had been left free to be Roman Catholic

2) The trend in England was towards religious freedom and toleration

3) Many Canadian settlers and their provincial representatives were non-Anglican (eg Scots Presbyterians)

Nevertheless, the Anglican Church received considerable favours from the government including land and (the clergy reserves) and a near monopoly on its clergy being the only officials who could marry people.

Why So Many Kinds of Anglican Churches?

St Thomas, Huron Street, Toronto

St Paul’s, Middleport (nar Brantford)

To understand the somewhat bewildering variety of styles of Anglican church (both in architecture and liturgy), we need to briefly understand the terms High Church and Low Church.  Originally the two terms had to do with politics;  High Church thought authority came from the top down (through bishops) and Low Church thought authority came from the bottom up.

Once synods and elections of bishops became the norm, the terms High and Low Church eventually transferred to styles of doing church.

If you went to church in Upper Canada in the 1850s, it would have looked much like Anglican worship anywhere for the last 300 years.  The clergyman in a cassock, surplice, preaching scarf and hood, stationing himself at the north end of the altar.  In part the justifications for this were scriptural:

 we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens - Hebrews 8:1;

he sat down at the right hand of God - Hebrews 10:12;

Thou sittest at the right hand of God - Te Deum.

And also there was a desire that the priest’s actions be seen by the communicants.  Also, the priest with his back to the people was seen as too Catholic or Papist.

Typical services on Sunday would have been Mattins, the Litany, Ante Communion, with a long sermon, all lasting 2 plus hours.  Communion would have been infrequent.  This style was sometimes called “High and Dry”.

Many older dioceses in Canada were first established by clergy from the Church of Ireland, which tended to be much more conservative and “lower” than some.

Eventually the Ritual or Communion Movement changed much church practice.  Coloured vestments, frequent communion, incense, and other liturgical practices  were introduced in some parishes, which caused much controversy, anxiety, lawsuits, and riots.  

Cartoon from British magazine Punch making fun of ritualist clergy.

“If a clergyman took the ‘north-end’ at the Celebration of the Holy Communion h was a ‘Low Churchman’; if he took the eastward position he was a ‘High Churchman’.  If he spoke of the ‘Altar’ he was ‘High’; if he spoke of the ‘Table’, or the ‘Holy Table’, he was ‘Low’.  If he wore collard stoles he was very ‘High’; if he wore a black scarf or stole he was ‘Low’.  If he had a cross on the Altar, he was decidedly ‘High’;  if a cross was on the hangings, the book markers or the stole, he was ‘High’ (Hayes, Anglicans in Canada, 129).

Today these debates are largely lost in time, and most Anglican churches look the same, though there are some exceptions (All Saints Collingwood does things a little more “High” than some in our dealer).  It depends what seminary the clergy went to, what their personal practices are, what the local tradition of the parish is.  Most Anglican churches are happily Middle of the Road.

Other Canadian Changes

Election of Primates, loss of authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, reflects an overall trend in the Anglican Communion.  As the colonies of the British Empire became independent, their Anglican churches developed their own systems of independent governance and often changed their names, so the Anglican Church in Kenya for example is simply called “The Church of Kenya”, the name “Anglican” being dropped.

Likewise Primates of national Anglican churches had their own authority within their churches, which is why, whereas Rome can tell the Catholic Church what to do and believe, there is no one authority in Anglicanism.

Other Changes:

Ordination of Women

Rev Florence Li Tim Oi, ordained May 1941 Hong Kong


Changes in Liturgy (introduction of the Book of Alternative Services, 1980s)

Ecumenical Talks with United and Lutheran Churches

Debates Over Gender, Same-Sex Marriage (during this debate, the term “experience” is often added to the traditional Anglican triad of “Scripture, Reason, Tradition” 

Decline of the Church and Predictions of “Extinction” by 2040s


Indigenous Christians and Reconciliation

Most of us know the story of the Doctrine of Discovery, the Residential Schools, and the church’s complicity in the government practice of assimilation.

Fewer of us know that there are still many indigenous Canadians who identify as Christians and as Anglicans.

In the 2011 National Household Survey of Statistics Canada, of 1,400,685 persons who self-identified as Aboriginal in private households, 889,315 (63%) identified as Christian. Of these, over 500,000 identified as Roman Catholic, and about 130,000 identified as Anglican.

Some of their stores give us hope and remind us of the importance of indigenous voices in our church.

Tobasanakwut Kinew was an Anishnable elder, respected academic, and spiritual leader.  He was born on a trapline in northern Canada and was a survivor of a Roman Catholic Residential School.  He was involved in the process that led to the Catholic Church’s apology to Canadian indigenous peoples for their treatment in the schools.

In his book “The Reason You Walk”,  his son, Wab Kinew (now the new premier of Manitoba” wrote that “My father lived long enough to see an apology and now he has lived long enough to show forgiveness”.



 “My father lived long enough to see an apology and now he had lived long enough to show us forgiveness as well.” p. 246 


Other changes in the Anglican Church of Canada that show our church’s indigenous heritage:

Practice of “land acknowledgements"

Decisions reached by consensus (eg, talking circles) rather than by parliamentary style motions and votes

Educational initiatives: (Mapping Our Ground, Blanket Exercise)

Cultural practices such as smudging, sweat lodges becoming more familiar

Use of the term “settler"

Indigenous Archbishops

Indigenous Archbishop the Rt Rev. Chris Harper

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Ordinary Saints: A Homily for the Feast of All Saints

Ordinary Saints:  A Homily for The Feast of All Saints.  Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, Nov 5th.

Readings for All Saints:  Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12



What does it mean to be a saint?   Who can be a saint?    Today we celebrate our parish’s patronal or namesake festival, The Feast of All Saints, and while its calendar day is always 1 November, we use the readings and prayers for today because we as Anglicans always enjoy a good party.


All Saints, like its companion feast, All Souls, which we celebrated on November 2nd, invites us to remember that we keep good company.  Today, as we do every day of our lives, we live and move and have our being amidst those believers across the centuries that we call the saints.   


All of us, if we were pressed to define what it means to be a saint, might appeal to different strands of our Anglican tradition.    Some of us, comfortable with the Catholic heritage of our faith, might think of the saints spiritual superheroes in life and who now act as special conduits of grace, as friends and advocates who ask God’s mercy and favour on our behalf.   Others, schooled in our Church’ Reformed heritage, might simply say that the saints are especially notable Christians whose lives and stories provide us with models on which to fashion our own faith lives.  


The problem with both of these ways of thinking is that they tend to elevate the saints to, well, sainthood.   It’s difficult for us to relate saints to our daily lives, unless we’re searching for our keys and we invoke the help of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost items!


Rudyard Kipling, in his poem “Tommy”, wrote that “single men in barracks don’t grow into plaster saints”.   Kipling’s poem was written in defence of the rough, common soldiers who defended Britain.  However, his phrase “plaster saints” draws on the idea that saints are somehow remote, fragile, even irrelevant figures is unfortunate, as  I suspect that most of us could say that we have known a saint in our lives.  


I’m sure that each of you could name some particular person who was a role model of faith to you and whose memory you still cherish.   As Isaac Villegas notes, saints can simply be those “who’ve made possible our faith”,  who have shown us how to be disciples, and to whose faith we are still indebted.   


These saints are obscure.  They are not mentioned in books and they are not depicted on icons, but they live in our hearts and they accompany us. me there’s one particular person I come back to, someone who was a cherished part of my early teen years.


Father Wilbur was the priest in the small parish that my family attended in rural British Columbia.   He happened to follow a rector who was tall, handsome, and eloquent.  Fr. Wilbur was none of these things, but he was funny, kind, and generous with his time to the awkward and lonely boy that I was.   He let me spend many hours with his unruly family in the rectory, he taught me to be an altar server, and, thrill of thrills, and he allowed a thirteen year old to swing a metal orb full of flaming coals to produce thick clouds of incense.   Nothing could have been cooler!


Five years later I returned to that small town and met Fr. Wilbur in the last summer of his life.   He was still kind and he remembered me fondly, though he had trouble talking because of a sizeable and inoperable brain tumour.  I wish I could have promised him my prayers, but by then, after a year at university, I was foolish and arrogant and already cooling on religion.   I regret that I wasn’t more moved by his serenity and by the same, simple holiness that was his great gift as a priest.  Alas, I used him as an excuse to walk away from the church, reasoning, as only a callow youth can, that if God could treat Fr. Wilbur so poorly, then God wasn’t really worth knowing.


It took me many years to discover the truth of what the author of Hebrews says, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Her 12.1).    Fr Wilbur’s memory never really left me, and after my life had run aground in disastrous ways, I came to see his simple and generous heart for the gift that it truly was.  


I came to realize that God had never abandoned Wilbur.    It was I that had abandoned God, and yet I am convinced that Wilbur’s love and even his prayers from his place in the heavenly host pulled me through some dark places and times.   And since, in the twenty years I’ve been ordained, I’ve always tried to be as good a priest as Fr. Wilbur.


For me this example pulls together several strands in our thinking about sainthood.   A saint can be a role model and also be a conduit of grace, and perhaps the best saints of all are the ordinary ones.   Not all saints need be martyrs, nor do they have to embrace some austere and impoverished vocation.   We need these ordinary saints, for most of us are called to ordinary things; not all of us, to quote a beloved hymn, are called “to kiss the leper clean”.  


For those of us called to live ordinary lives, and to serve in ordinary ways, we need ordinary s4aints.   A simple priest in a small town, a greeter, a lay visitor, a hospice volunteer, a cancer patient who still takes part in the parish prayer group, these are all examples of saints who touch the lives of others and push them with graceful hands into the paths of righteousness.   We need ordinary saints to remind us that we too can be ordinary saints, for really, what is a saint but someone who has heard and answered Jesus question to each of us, will you follow me?


Rowan Williams has written that there are two people named in the Apostles’ Creed, Mary and Pilate.   Mary says yes to God, while Pilate says no.  As Isaac Villegas writes, most days “we wobble  from one figure to another”, but if on our best days we can say yes to God with Mary,  follow Mary’s example and say yes to God and because we do so, it is because we have been given the gift of sainthood.  


Sainthood is simply the grace that allows us to say yes to God and follow Christ.   Thus Saint Paul in the openings of his letters, always greets the hagioi, the holy ones or saints of the churches he addresses.   Paul is writing to ordinary Jesus followers, ordinary saints doing ordinary saint things, and sometimes falling short, but still saints because God in Christ has made them his holy people.


Ordinary saints doing ordinary saint things.   Recently we held an event called a Ministry Fair, where we showcased the various volunteer positions and jobs that make our parish so lively.    What are the qualifications for these positions?  Well, you have to be a saint,  which simply means all ministries, arises out of our response to God’s call, the yes we have given to Jesus as his followers.   Together, your ministries will be local, specific, ordinary, and yet terribly important to those whom they serve.  


So, are saints special avenues or sources of grace that bring us closer to God?  I would say yes.  Are saints also role models for our own discipleship?  Again, I would say, yes.   So. tonight we rejoice in the great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints, some great, and some known only to a few, who have shaped our lives and shown us God’s grace, love, and wisdom.   We give thanks for their life and witness, we entrust them to God’s love and care, and and we open ourselves to their influence in our lives.









Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Back to Narnia: Our Parish Book Study on Prince Caspian




Our project to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is now half way through.   Last Tuesday, about a dozen of us “Narnians” met to discuss the third book in the series,  Prince Caspian (PC).   We continue to be amazed and delighted at how these apparently simple children’s fantasies contain depths of meaning and offer insights into how we live our faith.


Written in 1950, PC is set one English year after the events described in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, but when the four Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund) are summoned back to Narnia, they find themselves in the ancient ruins of the castle, Cair Paravel, where they were once kings and queens.  Slowly, the children realize that during one English year, centuries have gone by in Narnian time (time travel and alternate worlds always fascinated Lewis).


During those centuries, catastrophe has again befallen Narnia.    The realm has been conquered by an evil king, Miraz,  and Aslan, the Talking Animals, and Old Narnia are now just legends spoken of in hushed tones.    Miraz’s nephew, Caspian, is told these legends by his nurse and then by his tutor, but learns that his uncle has forbidden any mention of them, for the tyrant Miraz and his people secretly fear the return of Aslan.


When Caspian flees his uncle’s castle, he discovers that the Old Narnians - dwarves, fauns, Talking Animals - are real and live in remote places where they yearn for freedom.    Caspian is proclaimed rightful king of Narnia, and with the help of the Pevenisie children (who realize they have been summoned back to Narnia to help Caspian), and with Aslan’s return, they defeat Miraz and bring freedom back to Narnia.


In our reading, we noted the fragility of Narnia (it was previously conquered by the White Witch in the first book) and the longing of the Old Narnians for the return of their rightful king, which is a very Christian theme.   Soon in the season of Advent we will once again wait expectantly for the king who will save us from captivity to sin and death.  


Likewise PC is about the importance of memory and the need to tell and retell the stories of who we really are and the hope we have in God’s son (whom Aslan often represents).   As Caspian’s tutor says, “my old heart has carried these secret memories for so long that it aches with them”.  At a time in our history where the Christian stories are falling into neglect, PC has much to teach us about the need to re-learn and keep telling these stories.


Our identity as Christians is likewise shared by the stories we hear and retell during our worship, stories of hope, of the goodness of our king, and of his coming again.     Our stories also tell us that we have great potential, that God wants us to be more than we are, in the way that the children of Narnia can become heroes, kings and queens.   Thus these simple stories can lead us to the truths at the centre of our faith.


Our next Narnia book study is on Wednesday, Nov 29, at 1:30 pm, when we discuss The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.   We’d love to welcome you to our company of “Narnians”.



Mad Padre

Mad Padre
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