Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 1, 2004
Building community takes faith
Anglican bishop explains how Gos is always present no matter where we are
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
It's a tad hard to build a religious community when parishioners bring their own travelling coffee mugs, the meeting place is a high school cafeteria and sacramental objects are packed away in a box each week.
"You learn the place is not your own because you set up and take down every week," said Anglican Bishop Gordon Light as he told of his own Oakville, Ont., congregation's journey.
The keynote speaker for the 15th annual ecumenical mission Oct. 24-27 in Strathcona County, Light explained, "Everything is temporary. All of the holy things were kept in a box and a large pottery bowl was used for a font. A cafeteria table served as an altar."
People kept their vision
But the people maintained a vision of the type of community they wanted to be and prayed to become. It was a community where worship, outreach, evangelism and education were in the hands of the people, and not just the clergy.
Gathering weekly for 12 years in a cafeteria brought a sense of adventure, Light said, but also a sense of homelessness. The people asked, "Where do we belong?"
"It made for a sense of pilgrimage and at times the journey was wearying. Yet there was always excitement."
The congregation was informal and Light noticed that most people brought a travel mug of coffee that they drank during the sermon. He enjoyed the atmosphere because he thought the mug was an excellent symbol for a pilgrim on a journey.
When construction of a more permanent church was completed five years ago, the congregation gathered one last time in the school. Marriages and baptisms were recalled and Light said there were many tears shed. The people were proud of their pioneer church.
"This is like Israel leaving Babylon," Light said. "There were tears there. The people had grown there, coming into a whole new sense of who they were. They learned of a God that was not so tied to a specific place. It was not that they were unhappy to be going home, but they were leaving behind many aspects of who they were."
A church can be just a Bible, a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a towel, Light said. "These are signs of who we are in the life of Christ. They are things we can take with us wherever we go.
"God himself enters into our exile in the person of Jesus and becomes the voice that gives us hope in our own lives. The presence of God in human form makes possible grace and truth for everyone."
Singers in a Strange Land was this year's mission theme which again brought together members of nine congregations in the county, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and United churches.
Himself an accomplished singer and published songwriter, Light, from Kamloops, used passages from Isaiah (60:1-5) and John's Gospel (1:1-14) to illustrate the riches afforded those who gather in Christ during their darkest times.
"The passage is about Israel in its exile; in a strange land. Part of Isaiah is full of promise because the exiles are going to be returning to their land," Light said.
"Israel is on its way home to a barren, depopulated Jerusalem and the passage is the Word of God to the ruins of a devastated city, to be ready for when the people come home. When they returned, they had to rebuild it from the ground up. It is a word of hope."
Jerusalem will rise and shine again, and its heart will return, when the people return to live again. Jerusalem will be a radiant community of life.
"Building a community is not a given. There has to be intention."
Light was ordained a priest in Kamloops in 1969 and consecrated as bishop there just last May. His song writing has always been an integral part of his music ministry, expressing his innermost thoughts to the people he serves.
He is currently a member of Common Cup Company, a musical group including himself and three United Church clergy, whose hymnal music has been recorded and published across Canada and around the world. Light uses whatever royalties the group receives to further their music ministry.
Jim Tyerman is a lay reader at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Sherwood Park. He has become familiar with Light's ministry. Tyerman was appreciative that those who gathered during the mission were exposed to Light's music.
"Bishop Light is a hero of mine," he said. "We have known him for many years through the music group and we sing many of his hymns. And today, we see all the same faith."
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic parishioner Julia Hamlyn agreed the ecumenical mission is a way of gathering to strengthen a community under one God.
"I think we realize that although we are very different in our rituals and perhaps in the way we celebrate on personal levels, in our values and our relationship with our God, we are really very similar," she said. "It's nice to be able to communicate with each other."
"In our values and our relationship with our God, we are really very similar."
- Julia Hamlyn
A unique gathering
In an interview, Light said he was impressed with what the mission makes available. "A gathering like this is quite unique. Last night, I told the dean of our cathedral (in Kamloops) that there are nine churches and five different denominations involved in this. She was astonished," he said.
"I was involved ecumenically in a gathering of neighbourhood churches in Winnipeg while I was there, but it was more Anglican-United. What you have (in Sherwood Park and Strathcona County) is much wider. The worship here is wonderful."
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