Looking at the year gone by, looking ahead

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unday March 13 marks our annual open meeting, and so we thought it made some sense to post the following reflections online. These four reflections offer something of a look at the past year’s life and ministry at saint benedict’s table, but even more importantly they anticipate the challenges and opportunities of the coming year.

I. A reflection from Jamie Howison, priest and pastor to saint benedict’s table

I am writing this over the first couple of days back from my two-month sabbatical study leave, which means that my starting point will be very different from that of other years. A big part of the reason for taking a sabbatical is to create the distance and breathing space necessary for seeing things from a new or different perspective, so that re-engagement can be made with a renewed vision. In my case, it has also provided time to do some thinking and discernment around my own strengths and liabilities, both personally and pastorally.  I’ve had the opportunity to reflect fairly deeply around questions of what it is that is life-giving in my ministry, and what is either simply draining or even counter-productive. And here I’m not writing narrowly about what “works” for me personally, but also about what “works” for the life of our church community. To frame this as a question, in the unfolding adventure that is saint benedict’s table, what shape does my priestly ministry most need to take so that together we can be more deeply formed as disciples; as a people on the way?

You see, we’ve done some pretty serious moving and growing (numerically and otherwise) over the eight years since our very first informal gatherings. That first Sunday evening back in 2003 when a group of just nine of us met together for a simple sharing of communion can seem a long way away from what now happens on a Sunday night, even though some things have held very steady. We initiated those original gatherings with a sense that the richest resources for the Christian life often come from the deepest wells, and that to draw on the tradition in new and occasionally unconventional ways might be an exciting and engaging way forward in the formation of a worshipping community. And even then, it was really all based on a biblical picture of what it is that a church community is to be about: “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42). This is a picture of Christian communal life as one of sharing in prayer, communion, teaching and theology (which literally means “speech about God”), and the stuff of life. And significantly, it incorporates the social, spiritual, emotional and intellectual. It is what we should still be all about.

Over our first year and a half of Sunday evening gatherings, our numbers increased gradually to the point where there were generally fifty or sixty of us on any given week, and so in the fall of 2004 we took the step of becoming a congregation of the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land. While that marked a big jump from a little gathering of nine people, even with fifty, sixty or a hundred people, chances were that you still had a pretty good sense of who shared those pews with you. And from a pastoral point of view, those numbers made it pretty simple to keep track of who everyone was and what might be going on in their lives. It also meant that pretty much everything that happened flowed through me, as the “go-to guy.” The congregational development and church dynamics people will tell you that such a pattern is sustainable (barely…) until a church reaches numbers of a hundred and fifty, at which point it begins to get really stretched and stressed. Yet in some ways we’re still functioning according to that model, even though our Sunday attendance is well over that “tipping point” of a hundred and fifty.

That’s not to say that I am the doing all the work; not by any means. From very early on Larry Campbell has been providing incredible service as the anchor of our music, and since last summer we’ve also been able to offer Gord Johnson a small stipend in recognition of his time and gifts as an architect of our worship life. Over the last few years we’ve also been able to bring John Berard on board as a part-time staff person, and have greatly benefited from the invaluable volunteer service Audrey Krushel provides as the keeper of our various lists and schedules. Add to this Bram Ryan’s work on our website and media development, Helen Manfield’s willingness to step in on the Sundays when I am away, the input of the wardens and members of the “Kitchen Table,” the music leaders and all of those worship volunteers, and you begin to realize just how many people are giving of their time and considerable gifts.

Yet still, an awful lot of what we do as a church flows through me. In part this is because it was the pattern that was set at the beginning of things, and in part because it seems to make sense that I’d have the “big picture” perspective on things. But it is also partly of my own making, in that one of my liabilities is to keep stacking things on my own plate because that is what I’ve always done. And while I’m not bad organizationally, I can easily get side-tracked into thinking that I must be involved in everything.

For me part of the challenge is that there are so many exciting possibilities before us that it is hard not to just jump in. The real risk is that some people begin to get lost in the shuffle, a few get seriously overworked, and many aren’t even aware of all the areas in which they could get involved. It is time to change that.

For the coming year I/we need to take a serious look at how things are structured and shared, and how we can best set people free to use their gifts in the life of our community. And of course, that needs to happen in a way that is life-giving and creative for all involved. I think the first stage in this will be to step back and look at the way responsibilities are shared in our actual staffing configuration, but closely related will be explorations around how we broaden our participation from the wider group that calls saint benedict’s table their church home. Several times when I was visiting with other church communities during my sabbatical, I thought, “we could do something like this in our context.”  And we could. Further, there are some incredibly exciting developments underway in the area of our online presence—including an innovative approach to an online songbook—but that can’t really be put fully in gear until the vision is more widely shared.

So here is the challenge. We need to be open to the incredible possibilities, yet also maintain our sense of being rooted in the essentials of what it means to be disciples together. When the call goes out to be involved—either in the small things we need to do to keep things ticking along, or in some of those bigger and more exploratory things—don’t be afraid to jump on board and be a part of the shared adventure.

And none of can forget that a part of this adventure is to learn how to do Sabbath—to make breathing spaces in life, to “hear the silence,” to be still and know that God is God. You learn important lessons and hear important words in those spaces.

May God grant us the grace to be the people we were created to be.

Jamie Howison

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II. Larry Campbell – Music Coordinator

We have continued to provide the music for the worship on various occasions. Certainly the obvious place is Sunday evening. We are pleased to be able to provide music for the 4pm liturgy every second week. It’s like the early days of saint benedict’s table, and all the kids running around freely is a blessing. We have provided music for our yearly (at this point anyway) house group liturgies. Our two retreats call for different approaches to leading worship and they both have their characteristics. The silent retreat is simple and focused while the family retreat is more lively with several other musicians helping out.  saint benedict’s table has been asked by various chapels and situations to provide worship music as well.

Last year I wound up my time with St. Martin’s in the Fields Anglican Church teaching them about our approach to contemplative, repetitive worship music and shared many of our songs with them. This brought up a question for some of us about the permissions that we take for granted from our own writers. What should we be doing around presenting our music to the church at large? Is there some way of remuneration that we need to consider? These are some of the questions to which we are trying to find answers.  Is there a way of providing this music through a store front on our web site? Should we be publishing books of music? Work continues as we figure out some of the questions.

There was a concern about what would happen to the music at St Martin’s Church when my time was done, but during the summer our own Rachel Penner assumed the position of music leader there. She also plays with one of our worship teams about once a month.  We have been blessed over the years by the numbers and quality of musician that have stepped forward to participate on the worship music teams. Right now we have about twenty participants, with six very gifted musicians giving leadership to the eight different configurations of our worship team.

As a result of last year’s silent retreat we have been experimenting with chanting and adapting an evening liturgy for our Sunday night Eucharist. The musicians that have stepped up to work on this have been very committed meeting more often that the other groups in order to rehearse. The service they provided on Christmas Eve was a blessing.  They continue to be part of the cycle of scheduled music leadership.

One of our leaders recorded an album of songs, most of which have been used in our worships. Mike Koop is the first of our musicians to have an album dedicated to his own music (except for the seven song recording of Jenny’s songs that we had her record so that we had them on hand while she was headed to England). During the course of producing Mike’s very fine CD, we have learned a lot about how to do this kind of project and how it might apply to future recordings our musicians. Work continues on working out new protocols around projects of this sort.

We continue to learn how to do this job. We realize the value of relationship development with all the musicians and continue to pursue this. We have realized that our musicians want more intentional group input from their leader. Gord Johnson having come on board as our “Artist in Residence” has been very helpful in facilitating this. We look for more opportunities to pass on some teaching to our musicians around the theology of worship as well as some practical helps in leading music worship at saint benedict’s table.

Larry

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III. John Berard – Ministry Coordinator

The shape and focus of my involvement has been directed by three influences; events and projects, assisting Jamie as he directs, and leadership from the Wardens.

• projects have included such things as the coordination of the CD compilation project from the Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove among others, events have included such things as taking on more of the details for ideaExchange, Theology by the Glass and the occasional Theology in the Dark, and the garden project.  And while the summer was not the best for gardens we did have another year at the St. Benedicts Monastery with a committed group of gardeners from our community providing fresh garden produce as part of our ongoing support of Agape Table.  As more of these types of creative projects, events and opportunities materialize so does the need for bringing people together in the process and that will be an area of focus in the next year.

• assisting Jamie involves taking on any details and assignments as directed by him that would provide for more space for him to do what he does. It has also meant being a sounding board and collaborating with Jamie, the Wardens, the kitchen table folks and others in thinking about other expressions of ministry that might emerge (or are emerging) from who we are as a worshipping community.  In addition this year included other duties and the related meetings that are typical of and that come with a position such as this, as well as filling in as the contact person and being available during the weeks when Jamie is away.

• the Wardens have provided valuable leadership this year by evaluating the position and by providing an assessment and conversation about what adjustments need to be made and by providing positive challenge for the next year to eighteen months in terms of coordination and development of ministry initiatives and presence.

Of the many different things this position involves one thing stands out and anchors it – and that is the collaborative nature of this ministry and work and the back-and-forth that goes on between Jamie, Larry and Audrey (who keeps us all and many others on schedule), the Wardens and the folks of the kitchen table, and those people involved in making things happen in and around this community.  It is a significant reflection of who we are as a worshipping community and has been for me a very good experience serving in this capacity.

John Berard

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IV. Gord Johnson  – Artist-in-Residence

I am very grateful that the basic understanding of my role as Artist-in-Residence at saint benedict’s table, is primarily a call to “being”. This frees me up to focus on my interior life, and to work on my song writing craft. I see those disciplines as central to my formation, and necessary towards helping instill integrity to what it is I bring to the table. I have however, from the beginning of my discussions with Jamie about my role, expressed interest in continuing to shape our worship experience in ways other than merely leading twice a month.

By the time you read this, I will have met with a group of people who are involved in worship at saint benedict’s table. The purpose of the meeting was to, by way of orientation, assist those involved in song selection and song writing (The meeting was also opened up to others thought to have potential as future worship leaders at sbt.). Together, Larry and I presented ideas, provided resources, and shared personal experiences. It was hoped that our efforts would help facilitate those attending, in the planning, preparation, and implementation, of what it is they will be bringing on their perspective Sundays, during Lent.

In bringing together those responsible for leading worship at saint benedict’s table, my desire was to begin fostering an awareness of how one can more fully enter into the rhythm of liturgical life, and how one can incorporate what they’ve experienced, into what it is they have to offer.  My hope is that those involved in worship leading, will increasingly discover ways to weave together the uniqueness of their gifts, not only with the traditions arising out of our short history, but those of the larger historical church as well. I have a keen interest in being involved at this level, and would like to continue contributing in this capacity.

Finally, I am also looking forward to making further contributions (we just completed one song, “Gone, Gone is the Light”) to the saint benedict’s table worship music resource web site. I see this as a valuable vehicle in getting our music out there, and also hopefully bringing in revenue that can assist us all, in future artistic pursuits.

Gord

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