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Archive for December, 2009

Hi everyone:

As I write this, we are nearing the end of 2009. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, and with it comes the start of 2010. Many people also consider this to be the start of a new decade, especially if you think of the first decade of the 21st century as running from January 1 2000 to December 31 2009. That’s not me, I think the millennium began January 1 2001. So to me, the decade still has one more year to run. I could go on, but that’s for another time.

Today, I am inspired to write about where Christianity may be heading in years to come. My motivation is partly because we are now celebrating Christmas, which for Christians such as myself is the birthday of Jesus Christ. It’s not just one day of the year – it’s really a season. Remember the “Twelve Days of Christmas”? It’s not just a funny song about partridges in a pear tree, turtle doves, lords-a-leaping or drummers drumming. For Christians, the Christmas season lasts from sundown on Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which commemorates the visit of the 3 Wise Men from the East to the infant Jesus.  If you want to know the story behind the song, have a look at: http://www.gregcbrown.com/twelvedays.html

A second inspiration that has caused me to write is the ongoing struggle within global Anglicanism that I have written about at other times on this blog – most especially my recent 2 parter in which I proposed a solution for global Anglicanism. To be more specific, I believe we are tearing ourselves apart over issues such as homosexuality, how we should interpret the Bible and other matters. It’s a big deal to people within the Church, but as I have noted before on my blog, I think the whole thing, in the end, is rather silly because all we are doing is contributing to the death of Anglicanism in North America.  So let’s examine this more closely, and in doing so, let me offer a couple of points to show why I feel this way. And why I think the 21st century Church as a whole will be very different from the one we know today.

Let’s start with declining attendance, not just in Anglican churches but in other so-called mainline denominations such as Lutherans, Presbyterians and even Roman Catholicism. This has been a problem for many years now – perhaps dating back to the 1950’s and even further. It seems that with increasing frequency, we hear figures from the Anglican Church of Canada, as well as its American counterpart (the Episcopal Church) showing that fewer people are attending Sunday services and/or getting involved in other ways in their local churches. I am in my mid-50’s and the Church today is definitely not what it was in my childhood years.

I can cite my own parish as an example. In 2010, I will mark 30 years as a member of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Mississauga. And even though I now live in Hamilton (about 50 KM west of Mississauga), I still maintain a connection there, and still consider it to be my home church. Yes, I only go about once a month or so (subject to the Sundays when I serve as part of our Lay Readers ministry team) , but it’s still home and it’s where I think God wants me to worship Him. There’s a lot of me within that place and over the years I have been involved in many areas of our parish life – too numerous to mention here. But it is still my spiritual home and no matter what happens or wherever God may take me in future, somehow I think it always will be.

Since I am writing this blog entry during the Christmas season, let’s talk about how our celebration of the Season has changed and evolved over these past 30 years. When I first came to St. Luke’s, we had an early service at 7:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve that attracted maybe 40 or 50 people. But the “real” service for us back then was at 11:00 p.m. when we had a Prayer Book service sung to Merbecke chant that would easily attract 200 people each year.

As an aside, for those reading this who are not Anglicans, the Prayer Book refers to the Book of Common Prayer – which was compiled by Thomas Cranmer, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury during the 16th century English Reformation. Among its many features was taking the many religious services of the medieval period and placing them in one central source. In addition, the services were translated from Latin into English, thus making them more accessible to everyone – thus the Book of COMMON Prayer. Merbecke refers to the chant, or music, that accompanies the Prayer Book service of Holy Communion, written by John Merbecke, a contemporary of Cranmer. Both are still used in many churches today, over 500 years after its debut. As an aside, here are links to a couple of videos of portions of the Prayer Book service using the Merbecke setting, first the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Glory Be To God on High), followed by an organ instrumental of Merbecke’s setting for the Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God).

Over time, however, that trend has reversed itself. To the point where now I think the “real” Christmas Eve service at St. Luke’s is the early one, held this year at 7:30 p.m.. In fact, we no longer have the late service on Christmas Eve because through the years attendance gradually died out. Some of you may ask why this is so, and I doubt if there is one definite answer to the question. And if you ask my fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s, I’m sure you will get many answers. I think there were several reasons why the late service eventually died out, one of which may have been in the late 1990’s when Rev. Larry O’Connor (who served as our pastor from 1981 until his retirement in 2005) moved it up to 10:00 p.m. thinking that an earlier start time would attract more people.

A second reason was that our “traditional” choir faded away through the years, which meant that we could no longer lead the Merbecke chants. Although there were a number of parishioners (including myself) who knew the Merbecke chants, there weren’t enough of us to continue doing so. We still used the Prayer Book on Christmas Eve, but without the choir leading us in worship the service lost much of its attraction.

So over time that service died out, and in 2008 we decided to end it completely. At St. Luke’s we now have only one Christmas Eve service, as well as a “said” Prayer Book one on Christmas morning. For those who may be wondering, this past Thursday evening (Dec. 24), we had about 190 people at our 7:30 Christmas Eve service. Whether this “one service on Christmas Eve” policy at St. Luke’s will continue in future years, of course, is anyone’s guess.

But the demise of the late service on Christmas Eve is not the only example of declining attendance as well as other changes we have encountered during my 30 years at St. Luke’s. Even with the arrival of our current pastor (The Rev. Ric Miller) in October 2006, our overall attendance the rest of the year has declined from the past as well. There are many factors one could discuss that have contributed to this – among them is that we are an aging parish.  Our average parish demographic is in its 50’s and without a major influx of younger parishioners over the next few years, that demographic will only get older as time goes by.

The Mississauga neighbourhood where St. Luke’s is located (Orchard Heights) has also changed dramatically in recent years as older families have moved out and new ones moved in who are either non-Christians, or who may have a Christian affiliation, but not the interest in attending a church like ours that they see as rather conservative in nature, and part of a mainline denomination that they don’t belong to or relate to. It also reflects that Mississauga, like many of the suburbs of Toronto, has become increasingly multicultural in recent years. These demographic and related changes to the local community are challenges not just for us at St. Luke’s, but also for the other Christian churches in our community.

Another factor in the evolution of the 21st century church and whether Anglicanism has a future, is the fact that along with mainline Christianity in general we don’t have the influence in society that we once did. Now some of you may tell me this is a good thing. After all, it used to be that in order to get anywhere, you had to belong to the “right” church, or be seen with the “right” people. If you wanted to move up the “social” ladder – and especially if you wanted to advance your career to the next level, where you went to church was a key factor.

In addition to what I just talked about in the above paragraph, I also refer to how bishops and other church leaders once influenced policies that played important roles in how society functioned and in particular shaped many of the laws passed by governments everywhere, especially in areas such as ethics and morality. It wasn’t long ago that when not just Anglican bishops but other Church leaders from all the major demoniations had decided policy on a certain issue, society immediately complied. Today, I think it’s just the opposite. I’ll wager that the vast majority of society doesn’t give a [fill in the blank] what the Church thinks about anything. And those numbers are growing. Society looks at Anglicans fighting over homosexuality and other divisive issues and they just laugh at us – and then dismiss us into oblivion. They just don’t care what we think or what we decide. As I noted in my earlier articles here about the future of Anglicanism, eventually one side or the other will win the “battle”. But in the end, no one will win because no one will care anymore.

There’s another factor here that also is worth discussing. As much as we may not want to admit it, I also think the future of 21st century Christianity is moving away from the mainline churches such as Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians and other Christian groupings I noted earlier. Instead, I think the future lies with so-called “non-denominational” churches – those affiliated with Pentecostal, Charismatic or similar entities as well as the megachurches and others that do not have the formal structures,whether in terms of liturgy or church leadership that other Christians do. Perhaps mirroring society as a whole, they pride themselves on not being like Anglicans or similar churches which they consider old-fashioned, out of touch, and not relating to the role of religion and spirituality in today’s society.

Here’s one example. As I do every Christmas, I leave my apartment here in Hamilton, and spend much of the Holiday season visiting my family at my parents home in the Clarkson area of Mississauga. And earlier this week, as part of our Christmas observances, we spent some time talking about this very subject, and where 21st century Christianity may be going.

As part of the discussion, my parents told me about The Meeting House, which is exactly the type of church I mentioned – the type which I think will be the “norm” in tomorrow’s Church. Although it is based in Oakville, The Meeting House also holds services in downtown Toronto, Brampton and other locations across southern Ontario. They bill themselves as “a church for people who aren’t into church”. I have a few friends who go there and my parents have visited their Oakville location a couple of times.

On Christmas Eve, their Oakville location didn’t just have one service that attracted about 200 people, as we did at St. Luke’s. Instead, they had 4 services last Thursday, and each one attracted something like 2,000 people. And The Meeting House is growing and opening new locations all the time.

I’ll bet that Reg Bibby and other “sociologists” could weigh in on this (and probably have on many occasions!), but I think places like The Meeting House are where the Church is heading in the future. Those of us who prefer more “traditional” church settings and worship forms may find the MH a bit unsettling (if not harsher than that) and not anything like our vision of Christianity, but I think we must be realistic here, and understand that this form of Christianity is attracting more and more people. And in many cases this is happening at the expense of church structures like those used by Anglicans and other mainline branches of Christianity, which is becoming increasingly irrelevant to a growing number of North Americans.

And it’s not just here in southern Ontario. There are churches like The Meeting House all across North America. For another example here in the Toronto region, we have Catch the Fire Toronto, which until earlier this year was known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, a church that may be best known to many as the location where the spiritual renewal movement many call the “Toronto Blessing” began several years back, along with the “Partners in Harvest” network of churches affiliated with them. If you want to learn more about churches and related organizations such as TACF, The Meeting House or Partners in Harvest, use the links I cited above, or have a look at:

http://www.themeetinghouse.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Meeting_House

http://www.partnersinharvest.org/

I could go on, but will stop here. In summation, however, that’s why I have been saying many times that in the end it really doesn’t matter what Anglicanism says or does with respect to homosexuality and other issues. Because we are just fading away into oblivion, to be replaced by models of Christian expression such as I have described here. I’d almost bet that 100 years from now, Anglicanism and other mainline churches may no longer exist. Will anyone notice? Will anyone care? I can’t answer that, but our children and grandchildren will be able to.

Thanks for reading this blog entry. To my fellow Christians, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, as well as a prosperous, holy and blessed 2010.

See you all again soon 🙂

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Hello everyone:

What follows here is the original text of my 2009 Christmas message. But when you’re finished, please read my POSTSCRIPT for an update on what has happened since that time. I think you’ll be glad you did. Now, as I first wrote this on December 22 2009 is my original message:

It’s been a while since my last blog entry – I think one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2010 will be to write more often. But we’re not quite there yet, so here’s what just might be my final submission for 2009. Many people like to send out special Christmas messages to family and friends – with content that usually highlights what they have been up to since last year. So you hear about things like their trip to Scotland last July. Or their daughter’s wedding back in May. Sometimes you hear about plans for the year ahead. Such as their son’s upcoming graduation from university next spring. Or the plans for their next trip to some exotic destination half a world away that they hope to complete during the coming year.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think such messages are a great idea and a terrific way to keep in touch with others. And if you’re one of those people who enjoys doing that – keep on going. If you want to share that type of message with me, either via e-mail or “traditional” mail, feel free to do so. I always enjoy reading them.

But that’s not me, and it’s not the type of message I would send out to others. Maybe it’s because I’m a single guy living alone, or because I am a very private person and don’t always feel comfortable talking about my life, but I am not the kind of person to write messages outlining what I did during the past year or what I hope to do in the year ahead. Instead, I hope you don’t mind if my 2009 Christmas message is about Christmas itself. Some thoughts from my heart about what it means to me, what each of you as a family member or as a friend means to me, and why I always enjoy this time of year. And if you’re a total stranger, we’ve never met in person yet, or maybe you only know me online, especially from reading these blog entries, you’re invited to keep reading. You may not understand or relate to what I want to share with those closest to me in my life, but I hope you’ll enjoy the ride as well as my words. OK – enough prologue, let’s get started!

One of the best known songs of the Holiday Season is: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. Written in 1963 by Eddie Pola and George Wyle, the song was first recorded by Andy Williams on his Christmas album released later that year. Since then, performers representing a variety of musical styles such as Johnny Mathis, Garth Brooks, Harry Connick Jr., and Barry Manilow have also made the song their own. And as I write this message to all of you, the song’s title has once again come true. To be more precise, it is now less than one week until Christmas makes its annual visit. So before I get too far into this message, let me take this opportunity to wish all of you, your families, friends and other important people in your life, a Merry Christmas and best wishes for 2010. 

In offering these greetings, however, I am also very mindful that some of you receiving this message do not celebrate Christmas for religious, cultural or other reasons. If that’s you, then I hope you will accept my warmest good wishes for this time of year – especially as we prepare to end one calendar year and begin another. Learning more about cultures, beliefs and traditions beyond our own makes us all better people, and can hopefully lead to a better world. Each of you has allowed me to do this, and I am grateful. In particular, I extend special greetings to my Jewish friends who recently celebrated Chanukah. Perhaps as the Biblical account of Christmas describes, one day we can truly have “Peace on earth, goodwill to all people.” 

In spite of what I wrote at the beginning of this message, I hope you won’t mind if I do get a little personal for a moment and offer a special prayer request for my nephew Ben, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia. If you have some kind of “spirituality” in your life, no matter what religion or belief system you practice, please say some prayers for him and ask that God (or other deity or Higher Power that you believe in), will remove this disease from Ben, and that this will allow him to live as full and meaningful a life as possible. Ben is only 7 years old, and kids like him should not have to face such a terrible ordeal at such a young age. My heart aches for him and I trust that God will heal him and restore Ben to full health. I also hope you will pray for his parents (my stepsister Shirley and her partner Andrew) as well as Ben’s two sisters (my nieces Ally and Teagan). They too need our love and support. Feel free to share this with anyone you wish, and I will offer updates as I get more news. Thanks in advance for your prayers and support. 

I have tried to circulate this prayer request via several online methods, so for those of you who have found this message via sources other than e-mail (such as LinkedIn, my blog, the Gaither Community, or the link from the Christmas section of my Web site), I can send you a copy of the PDF describing my nephew’s situation upon request. Thanks to all of you as well for praying for Ben and his family. Feel free to e-mail me: greg.brown@sympatico.ca or if you are on LinkedIn, Facebook or similar social networking site, send me a message through their internal messaging system and I will respond as soon as possible.

By the way, if you’d like to connect with me on LI and have me join your network, I would be pleased to consider your invitation. I do ask, however, not to send me the generic LinkedIn invitation. Instead, customize it and tell me why you want me to join your network. Tell me how I can help you, and how you in turn can help me. If you do all that, there’s a pretty good chance that I will accept your invitation. If you want to do that, or if you’d just like to look at my Profile and in that way see what I have been up to, you can find me at:

My LinkedIn Profile Page 

For those not familiar with the Gaither Community, it is part of the Gaither Music Ministry, which in turn is the online home of Bill and Gloria Gaither. The Gaithers have been part of the American gospel music scene for many years, and in addition to their own ministry, they are also well known for both the Gaither Vocal Band, and the many “Homecoming”gospel music videos and recordings. If you want to learn more, go to: The Gaither Community

And if you decide to become a Gaither Community member using the link I just posted above, feel free to invite me to join your “Friends” list. But as I often do when I write, I am digressing. Oops, sorry about that – back to my message, and thanks so much for keeping Ben and my entire family in your prayers at this time. I will keep you all posted as more news comes in about him.

As the Holiday season continues and we prepare to say goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010, to those of you reading this who have a part in my life as a family member or friend, I want to especially thank each and every one of you for your love, support and friendship. As some of you may know, life has not been the best for me due to my personal struggles with issues such as self confidence, social anxieties, depression, financial difficulties and related matters that have prevented me from living life to its fullest. In spite of all this, I continue my journey of personal discovery and self-examination, with the goal of making every day just a little better than the one before it. I hope I am succeeding as the journey continues, but since we all tend to be our own worst critics, I will let all of you be the judge. 

Regardless of whether you are a family member, a longtime friend, or perhaps someone that I have just come to know during 2009, each one of you is a very special part of my life and a true blessing.

To help elaborate on what each of you mean to me, some of you reading this message may know a song by the popular American country music group “Alabama” called “Angels Among Us”.

I’m not sure if the group meant it to be a Christmas song or not, but it is often heard on the radio during this time of year – it’s also available as part of some Christmas music compilations – such as “Christmas’ Greatest Hits – volume 1”, a collection that includes a wide variety of well known Christmas tunes, ranging from Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas”, to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”, as well as more traditional favourites such as Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas”, the Harry Simeone Chorale’s “Little Drummer Boy” or Bing Crosby’s timeless classic “White Christmas”.

“Angels Among Us” is a very powerful and poignant song, and I find it almost impossible not to cry whenever I hear it. It’s difficult to explain why it does this to me, I just know that it does. It’s a very special song, and if you’re not familiar with it and would like to know more, here’s a couple of Web sites that will help you – including a video of Alabama performing the song. Perhaps once you’ve heard it and/or read the lyrics you’ll see why it means so much to me:

Angels Among Us – a video performance from You Tube
Angels Among Us – the Lyrics to the song from Cowboylyrics.com

I can appreciate that for those of you who aren’t country music fans, or if you may prefer a more “traditional” image of angels than what Alabama sings about, perhaps you can better identify with Clarence, the angel who helps George Bailey in Frank Capra’s classic 1946 movie: “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  Just as with Alabama’s song, I always get very emotional whenever I watch this movie. Especially when it is shown on television at this time of year (makes sense, because it is set during the Christmas season), or if I watch it on video here at home (I’m fortunate to have a terrific collection of movies on video – and this is one of them).

I suppose some of the reason I get so emotional is because I can relate on a very personal level to George Bailey, the movie’s main character portrayed so well by the legendary Jimmy Stewart. His struggles with life such as his bouts of depression, especially wondering if the world would have been better off had he not lived at all, are very much like mine. And like George, through the years I have wondered if there’s a “Clarence” out there somewhere who will help me get through life and help me find the answers to life’s many questions.

And yet, I think the answer to that question comes in what I am about to say here. No matter which of these two “angel” images you identify with, I believe that in your own special way each of you as a family member or a friend is an angel in disguise and I am honoured, humbled and richly blessed to know you. To paraphrase the chorus of “Angels Among Us”, I know that: “… you have been sent down to me from somewhere up above. You’ve come to me in my darkest hours to show me how to live. You’ve taught me how to give, and guided me with the light of love”. Or to bring my second “angel” image from “It’s A Wonderful Life” into all this, you have been that “Clarence” that I have so often searched for and longed for. Maybe I haven’t always noticed that, but it’s true.

I also hope that it works both ways. Just as each of you have enriched me and made me a better person, I hope that in some small way I have been those same things to you as well. I hope that I have been an angel for you, and someone you have been able to count on, someone who can help you when times have been rough for you.

As we prepare for 2010’s arrival, I can’t thank you enough for your love, friendship, support and encouragement. And in keeping with what I just wrote above, let me know how I can help you during the coming year, and I will do my very best to honour your request. If I can’t do so directly, I will be delighted to point you in the right direction. I know that I am not always the best at helping others, or being there for them in their dark times. I know there have been times when I have fallen short. When I haven’t helped someone as I should, as indeed we all should. And I do apologize for that, especially if I did that to you. Perhaps we’re all guilty of falling short, and of not doing enough to help each other – and maybe it’s just part of being human beings. So my New Year’s Resolution, not just for 2010 but in all the years to come, is to do a better job of helping others. I know that with God’s help I can make it happen.

I thought I would read this message back to myself before I posted it here on my blog – if only to make sure that I have really said what I wanted to say. And in reading it, I noticed that I haven’t really talked much about Christmas means to me – something that I mentioned back at the beginning that I did want to share with all of you.

Funny thing is that in many ways I think that I may have covered it already in what I have written to this point. What Christmas means to me can be explained on two levels. First, as a Christian, I believe in my heart that Christmas is all about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s all about God coming into the world as a baby boy in that Bethlehem manger on that star-lit night so long ago. And how by taking on human form He guided us on the road to heaven and offered us the promise of eternal life. All we have to do is travel that road with Him. Accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour. It doesn’t mean that He is some sort of magic pill that will take all our problems away. But He does give us the means to cope with life and to know that a heavenly home awaits us when our earthly lives are done.

Second, on a far more personal level,I think that Christmas also means spending time with family and friends. Giving thanks for all of you and the roles each of you have played in my life – as I have tried to do throughout much of this message. Taking stock of my life not only as Christmas comes to us again, but also as one year ends and another is about to begin. I hope that in the limited space I have that I have conveyed that message to all of you. Thanks for being a part of my life, not just now at Christmas, but all year round.

I want to close this message with some words from a song by Sandi Patti. For those of you not familiar with her, she is an American gospel singer who has recorded many albums that have become well known to many people worldwide. A few years ago, I picked up a copy of her Christmas album entitled “The Gift Goes On”. While the entire recording is wonderful (and highly recommended for those of you wishing to add to your Christmas musical collection), one song in particular has always touched my heart. 

It’s called “Merry Christmas With Love”, and it’s the final song on the album. It’s a poignant and very powerful song about a woman who finds herself alone at Christmas. She gets to wondering about it all, until some carollers arrive at her door offering greetings that help her realize that she’s really not alone after all. Just as with “Angels Among Us”, the song brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it. Although I wasn’t able to locate a video of Sandi performing it, I was able to locate one that’s pretty close to the original. Or if you’d like to hear a slightly different arrangement of the song, as recorded by country music star Clay Aiken, that’s here too:

“Merry Christmas With Love – Sandi Patti Style
Merry Christmas With Love – as performed by Clay Aiken

The chorus of the song, which is in fact what these carollers sing to the woman, is as follows: 

“Merry Christmas to all who may dwell here. Merry Christmas if even just one. May the joy of the season surround you. Merry Christmas with love” 

Thanks for reading my 2009 Christmas message . Until we meet again, whether online or in person, I wish you all the best that life has to offer 🙂

 With much love, heartfelt thanks and warmest good wishes for today and every day – for 2010 and for all the years that follow. 

Greg

POSTSCRIPT:

It’s Christmas Eve 2010 now, and just as I have with some of my other blog entries from the past, I wanted to provide you with an update on what has happened since I first published the above entry one year ago (December 22 2009). First, thanks to all of you who commented on what I wrote back then. That was my first effort at using my blog as a place to post a Christmas message, and since the reaction was very positive, earlier this week I posted what I hope will become my blog’s second annual Message. You can read the 2010 edition at:

My 2010 Christmas message

Second, I mentioned my nephew Ben and his leukemia. I am delighted to announce that things have progressed much better than any of us could have hoped for. He spent much of the first half of 2010 in chemotherapy sessions at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. And as of this writing, the leukemia appears to be in remission. Or at least this is what the doctors there told Shirley and Andrew last June, and they in turn passed the news along to us. This does not mean that the story is over. Far from it. Ben’s situation is carefully monitored at all times. He continues to go for regular check-ups at CHEO as part of a special out-patient program. His immune system is still very low and he has to be careful if Ben is around others who are sick. Those are just 2 examples of his overall health situation.

But based on what has happened up to now, things appear very promising, to the point where if you saw Ben for the first time today you might never know that any of this had ever happened. In almost every way, he looks and acts very much like a typical 8 year old boy. In spite of this wonderful news, however, I ask you all to keep praying for Ben and that he will be able to live a normal, healthy life. So far, everything looks great – but let’s keep praying.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading this revised edition of my original 2009 message. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings to you all. And my best wishes for 2011!

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