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St. Andrew’s United Church

St Andrews United Church

St. Philippe Neri Roman Catholic Church

St. Philippe Neri Roman Catholic Church

Even little parks make a big difference

San Francisco even has a guide to making parklets.

Parklet in San Francisco

The city’s parklets guidebook [PDF], authored by Chasan and released in February, reads kind of revolutionary, at least so far as city infrastructure goes. With explicit goals of encouraging non-motorized transportation, eco-friendly design, and reshaping neighborhood interaction, these teeny parklets pack a big political punch.

“In terms of changing the dialog about what the public realm can be, I think it’s been really successful, both with the public and within the city bureaucracy itself,” says Chasan, who has headed up the program for two and a half years. “When you park your car on the street, you’re essentially privatizing a public space. So when you turn it into something for everyone, it becomes a very literal metaphor.”

Even when they take over that private parking spot, parklets still straddle an odd private-public line. Each one is sponsored and bankrolled by a local entity, most often a business, and can cost about $20,000-30,000 — a significant investment for what is truly a public space. Those parklets outside coffee shops and cafes may seem like an extension of the restaurant that ponied up that cash, but they’re really not. The city requires that parklets look and feel public and separate from the sponsoring business.

“Sometimes people get upset if they feel like the parklet feels private, like it doesn’t live up to the civic ideals of the program,” says Chasan. “Like ‘This is supposed to be for everybody and it doesn’t feel like it’s for everybody.’ They should get upset about that if that’s the case.”

One of my favourite places in Saskatoon was the deck at City Perk (I saw “was” because it is under construction) which was owned by City Perk but seemed like a town square in the heart of City Park.  Along the thinking, I am always surprised that more churches (who have parking and buildings that are under utilized) don’t do this in urban areas.  I have always thought that creating community amenities for the neighbourhood was a great idea whether you are a business or a non-profit.  Sadly too many of these spaces are created but behind a locked fence and the opportunity is lost.

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Column: Save church as gift to future

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

More than 100,000 churches and parishes across North America have closed their doors over the past decade. Entire denominations have disappeared or have had to merge to survive.

Despite being part of the Bible belt, Saskatoon, too, has been affected by the cultural shift away from Christianity, and we see in the decline the eventual closure of Third Avenue United Church.

The church been a part of the fabric of Saskatoon for almost a century. Its English Gothic architecture has been acclaimed since it was built. At the time, University of Saskatchewan president Walter Murray called the new building, “The first permanent home of religion in Saskatoon.”

Most churches have a life cycle. They are started, grow, mature and then die. With populations shifting to the suburbs, the lack of parking and the changing role of faith in our communities, many churches in downtown areas are struggling to survive.

There are very few examples of a local church being vibrant on its centennial, because many don’t make it that long. In most cases, tears are shed, stories told and the church is closed and sold. That money is invested in new churches and in projects the denomination see as desirable.

That is the path taken by the River Bend Presbytery. Selling the Third Avenue Church will give it the money to invest elsewhere.

The problem is that the loss of the downtown church would be a net loss to Saskatoon. This isn’t just another building. The Third Avenue United Church has legendary acoustical properties and rivals theatres across Canada as a great performance space.

Its capacity fills a niche in Saskatoon as it is larger than the Broadway and Roxy theatres, while at 1,100 seats, it’s smaller than TCU Place. It adds to the city without competing with other performance spaces.

The Third Avenue Centre, a non-profit group that wants to turn the church into a performing arts centre, has made a proposal to the congregation and the presbytery.

The congregation approved the proposal, but the presbytery disagreed and instructed church officials to send it back on to the market for other bids.

As other cities have taught us, when such facilities hit the open market, they can be lost to the community forever. Some communities have learned the lesson and are converting similar buildings to concert halls and performance spaces because of the value they offer a city.

The market for old cathedrals is traditionally soft.

Organizations can buy and convert them for far less than building a replacement.

Once the Third Avenue church is lost, we will never be able to replace it. There is a reason we don’t build facilities like it anymore: It’s too expensive. Its stonework alone would cost approximately $39 million to replace.

Councillor Darren Hill told The StarPhoenix, “I don’t think it’s the city’s position to get involved in the decision making of the presbytery. That is not our role. But if there is the opportunity to strengthen a bid or a proposal to protect the integrity of the church as a performing arts centre, that’s where we need to come in.”

While Hill is calling on the city to intervene, an even better solution would be for Saskatoon’s corporate and philanthropic community to step up and invest in the next century of performing arts in Saskatoon. It would be a timeless investment in both the arts and in Saskatoon as a whole.

Looking at similar and older cathedrals across Eastern Canada, the United States and Europe, there are countless generations of use left in the Third Avenue building if we are willing to invest in it before it is too late.

Saskatoon would not be alone in doing this. Several cities across Canada have stepped in to transform old churches into performance spaces. Some have allowed the congregation to continue to meet in the space – a solution that would work well here.

As builders and trustees of Third Avenue United Church for a century, it makes sense to give congregation members a home as it moves into its next phase of life as a building.

The congregation got us this far. Now it’s up to us as a city to step up and figure out what’s next. We had the vision to add a world-class art gallery downtown.

Now we need to figure out where a world-class concert hall fits in. This opportunity presents itself only once and, if we seize it, the result will be enjoyed by generations to come.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

What does the name Francis mean for the modern church

It appears to be a good first step

So why Bergoglio? He is a first-generation Argentinian, of Italian descent, who has been in Italy and involved in the governance of the Church for many years. He must have excellent relations with his fellow cardinals. He can simultaneously serve as a symbol for Catholicism in the global south and assuage any concerns of the Italian cardinals that they are losing control over the papacy with a third consecutive non-Italian pope. He is relatively old, but now that Benedict has set an example of voluntary retirement, Pope Francis can choose to follow his predecessor’s path as needed. Whatever one thinks of Benedict’s reign as Pope, part of his legacy will be that he enabled his successors to resign without drama.

Second, the choice of name reveals much about a new pope’s state of mind as he steps out onto the balcony to address the world as pontifex. He chose his name, his spokesman revealed, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the great saints in Catholic history. Francis was the son of a cloth merchant who became a kind of living saint during his lifetime. He preached and practiced radical poverty, founded a new way of living a life in the church, embraced the presence of God in all living things, and left behind a vibrant (if sometimes divided) order named after him. These friars of St. Francis took vows and lived by a set of rules that Francis drew up, but were supposed to travel and preach to all. Cardinal Bergoglio embodied a kind of exemplary simplicity in his own life, riding the bus instead of in a limousine, living in a simple apartment instead of a palace, and cooking for himself. While this is a far cry from Francis’ poverty, Bergoglio never lived as a grand prince of the Church. A pope named after St. Francis of Assisi might well focus on questions of social justice, poverty, and personal piety, as well as environmental justice.

But Bergoglio is a Jesuit, and one of the two most important saints in Jesuit history was also named Francis. St. Francis Xavier was a missionary and evangelist. He personally travelled to South and East Asia and died in 1552 just off the coast of China. By taking the same name as Francis Xavier, the epitome of the Catholic global evangelist, the new pope suggests he is ready to push the Vatican from a Eurocentric to a global position.

It is impossible to think that a Jesuit, now Pope Francis, wasn’t thinking of his famous predecessor in the Jesuit Order when he chose his name. Catholic theology embraces the idea that multiple, even contradictory, principles can co-exist within the same object. Jesus can be both God and Man. The Host can be both body and bread. Pope Francis can draw inspiration from both Saints Francis as he enters this new phase of his life. Perhaps even more importantly, he can nod to his Jesuit tradition, while taking as his inspiration both the universality and the message of reform from St. Francis of Assisi. It’s a savvy and meaningful decision.

Standing in the gap

I don’t know how you respond to that tweet.  Mark is a court worker in Edmonton and posts things like this all of the time.  Most of them are heartbreaking and they happen in all cities, not just Edmonton.  The solution to many of the issues is money.  Money so that a 17 year old mom and 3 week old baby don’t have to sleep in a ravine.   Money for bug spray, money for food, money for clothes.  Where does that money come from?  In an ideal Canadian world, the government would provide it.  In reality they don’t. 

I have long wonder why 25-30 churches can’t come together and donate $1000 each annually for a fund that is administrated by them for purposes like this.  Allow workers like Mark to access a part of it 24 hours a day (emergencies don’t always happen during office hours), provide financial accountability, and report back to the churches on how the money was spent.  It wouldn’t be that hard to do and it would allow churches to stand in the gap when everything else fails.    $25,000 a year to spend on situations where there is no other support would make a massive difference.  It would be hard to say no to some of the requests and you would need both strong and flexible boundaries but if done right, it could make an incredible difference for both the recipients and the funding groups.

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church

Cymric United Church

Cymric United Church

The Gospel According to Your Own Best Interests

Two friends in Todd Littleton and Bill Kinnon take on THE Gospel Coalition.

First from Todd

What problematizes the Lifeway/SBC sponsorship and support is C.J Mahaney. Mahaney is also a co-founder of the event. Others have noted the curious timing of his re-instatement. The suggestion is that it came so he could participate in this event. An inside investigation into his admittedly poor leadership ethics did not prompt a change in leadership. For others this raises questions about an independent investigation report that may be released.

That Mahaney admitted to behavior that would get most of us removed from the pastorate does not rise to the level where the SBC entity has an ethical position to preserve. Bill Kinnon is aghast at the developments – not Lifeway. Even a member of the SGM network is flummoxed. But, the sorts of practices Mahaney acknowledged were, and who knows if they remain, normal fair in the pragmatic antics pre- and post- CR in the SBC. It is very difficult the pot calling the kettle black. And, since Mohler defended Mahaney when the story broke it would be hard now, I guess, to suggest either Mahaney withdraw participation until the independent investigation is complete or that the SBC /Lifeway would rescind its support, sponsorship, and participation. But wait, what about Baptist autonomy. We do have our trump cards, even when ethics are in question.

The point is not about the “togetherness” of a group of Christians for the Gospel. I am for a much wider vision for “togethering” for the Gospel. I have no issue with Mahaney personally. I am as frail and prone to hubris as the next pastor. What interests me is the way decisions are framed. Lifeway rightly positions itself against abortion – it is an ethical position. But, so is leadership ethics. On the one hand we defend the “not yet born.” What about those lives littering the byways of this world suffering at the hands of powerful religious leaders? Are they less valuable? Surely Ed Stetzer has written something about the reasons there are “de-churched” people in our Country. Clergy abuse fits that bill.

Now from Bill Kinnon

This video of Mahaney with his three T4G co-founders made me sick to my stomach, when I viewed it this morning. These men should be ashamed of themselves. But they apparently don’t know what “shame” means… or “research” for that matter. When the CJ-Stepping-Down scandal first erupted last summer they chose to believe Mahaney over the hundreds hurt by his ministry. Isn’t that typical for the celebrity-driven church.

So back to Carson and Keller. Perhaps they can help me with my confusion; if a poor understanding of Trinitarian theology and the preaching of prosperity are cause for concern (and I don’t disagree that they are), should not one be concerned about a significant leader in your movement who uses blackmail to get his own way. (Trust me, there are many, many more reasons to question Mahaney’s fitness for church leadership, but this one will suffice for the moment.)

The fellows of TGC and T4G are more than willing to call out anyone they believe to be doing harm to their understanding of The Gospel.

Except, it would seem, if it’s one of their co-council members. (And I haven’t even mentioned a certain West Coast church leader, also on said council… well, not in this post, anyway.)

So you have a church leader engaged in large spread emotional abuse and blackmail and that is okay as long as he has the right friends and has enough influence and pull.  A pastor I know had huge integrity issues with money and how he dealt with people yet friends would tell me, “he has the gift of evangelism” or “the church keeps on growing”.   It happens all over yet of all of the places it should never happen is in the church.  The church is supposed to demand better yet it rarely does.  That is what saddens me.

Kinnon on things he is rather tired of

I don’t post a lot on theology and the church anymore but if you are wondering what I am thinking on any topic, head to Bill Kinnon’s blog.  Bill just posted on things he is rather tired of and he has posted what I have been thinking of but have been too disgusted to write about.

I just spent the last hour working on a post called Power, Authority and Control. And I just don’t have the energy to finish it. As you might imagine, it references the recent nonsense from John Piper on Christianity being masculine, more Mark Driscoll than I care to think about and the latest missive from 9Marks on church discipline — as if it’s a line from Hotel California, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

The post references the upcoming T4G conference where the recently reinstated CJ Mahaney, he of blackmailing-his-church-cofounder-fame, will share the platform with men who will teach young males about the importance of exerting proper control of their sheep. If there was truth in advertising, or a at least Christian advertising, the conference would be called Men Together for the Patriarchal Gospel.

So here are some of the things that I’m tired of:

1) People who deny that they believe that patriarchy is a first-order issue, but then do everything in their power to make it such.

2) The people who insist that they have the answers for the church simply because of the size of their audience. Would they please spend some time in 20th century history. Assuming they are literate, that study should defeat the argument for them.

3) The supposedly Christian publishers who promote anything as long as they think there’s a market for it — I’m getting more convinced every day that I should only read Christian writings from authors who’d been dead for at least 40 years.

4) Celebrity-Driven Conferences that could fill almost every waking moment, if one were so inclined, but in the end have limited to no impact – other than on the bank accounts of attendees.

I like his fourth point because he is both right and I think church leaders actually use conferences as an escape from their own problems.   Like I have said before, I have never understood why one profession (which really isn’t that difficult) needs to go to so many conferences.

This and that

  • The ongoing water problems at The Lighthouse continue.  Today as they were working on the sprinkler system, a line broke under pressure and flooded out the dining room.  In case you are counting, that’s three floods now.  Later in the day as Marcel and I were talking the fire alarms went off again and we both went sprinting up the building looking for a fire or water line break.  Luckily they were just working on the system but by the end of the day we all had enough.  The flood in the dining room was intense but the residents came down and got the dry-vacs and mops out and we had the water cleaned up in a short amount of time.  It took longer to dry but it was contained.  I am pretty sure Gardiner Dam is a little lower because of it but it has been cleaned up.
  • Pastor Russ Wilson and Cornerstone Mennonite Church have been taking seriously their calling to make a difference amongst “the least of these” and he has written a couple of blog posts worth reading about what the church is starting to do and different ways to tackle the problem.  In case you don’t click over to this site, read this sobering quote, “Dr. Cory Neudorf who is our city’s Chief Medical Health Officer has told our staff that he is aware of girls as young as 9 who have been diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases here in our city.”  Yeah.
  • Thanks to everyone who helped get the word out about The Lighthouse on Twitter  (@thelighthousesk).  DeeAnn and I tend to post from there a couple of times a week and while I am biased, it is worth a follow.  For those of you luddites still on Facebook, The Lighthouse has a new URL, facebook.com/TheLighthouseSK and apparently it is a big deal if you “like” us or something like that.  For those of you who are angry I just called you a Luddite, the haters are going to hate…  We are on Google+ but the lack of a API means that it is really hard to post to there.  Even Google’s Feedburner doesn’t allow social posting to Google+ yet.  When it does, we’ll post there as well.

The Lighthouse on FacebookThe Lighthouse on Twitter

  • In case you are wondering how dogs think (and I know you were), here’s how.  They can learn up to 200 words, can count, and unlike wolves, can figure out intent.
  • Had fun taking some former co-workers for a tour and hearing what they thought of The Lighthouse today.  Good to see them and get their feedback.  Both were impressed at the changes to the dorms which is a good thing.  The women are moving into a terrific new women’s shelter later this month and the men are moving into the women’s shelter which is an upgrade for both of them.  No it isn’t housing but it’s better than being outside and from those dorms there is a pathway towards housing.  I’d post some photos of the upgraded space but everytime I have my camera, the room is locked (it’s still under construction).

Submission to physical abuse?

I know many of you are John Piper fan boys but this is appalling. Piper is telling women to "submit" to abuse for a season and then go to the church. Really? What about an abuse shelter? What about pressing criminal charges? What about leaving him? Abuse can never be tolerated.

Piper talks about abuse being sin and the answer is in the church.  Of course it is sin but violence against women and children (and anyone) is illegal and the answer is first to get the women to safety and then the courts.  Yes the church is a part of the solution as it can be in any restorative process but there are laws in this land that say that no one needs to tolerate physical violence and abuse, not even for a “season” as Piper suggests.

The idea that this needs to be done in the context of the church and community is wrong.  If I hit Wendy or abuse my kids, I have crossed a line that as a society we say that we won’t tolerate, it’s why there are laws that prohibit family violence.  The actions of the abuser have taken the consequences out of the realm and authority of the church and into the realm of the police and judges.  This isn’t an issue of submission, this is a criminal issue now.

I have no idea why some of you believe in the submissive crap that guys like Piper keep preaching. I have listened on the phone to women being beaten by husbands and parents while they were trying to protect their children and have listened to friends tell me they thought they were going to die from the abuse they were enduring.  No one should ever deal with that ever. People knew that they were being abused (and yes they were in the church) and didn’t take a stand because they women were submissive.

That "doctrine" drives me crazy. It’s based on bad theology and a bad translation of the Hebrew.

The end of the line for Prairie Bible Institute?

Canada’s oldest fundamentalist Bible College finds itself in the middle of a sex abuse scandal.  As Jeremy Klazus reports in the Calgary Herald, instead of looking outward for a third party, it is trying to handle things internally.

Callaway, who did his master’s research on sex abuse in churches and recently completed a doctoral thesis on Prairie’s history, says the school had a "high authoritarian" atmosphere in which L.E., who died in 1984, spoke for God.

"You just didn’t question him, at least publicly," he said.

After L.E.’s death, the school slowly started relaxing rules (staff, for example, were allowed to have TVs in their homes).

Callaway says he’s not surprised but saddened by the allegations of abuse at Prairie. He was also not surprised when he heard that the board appointed a member to handle the matter, given the school’s history.

"I thought, ‘This is a chapter out of that same book – going to keep it internal, going to try to solve it in-house,’ " said Callaway.

The school has suffered from plummeting enrolment and internal strife over the past decade, but this year the numbers levelled out.

Mark Maxwell, who took over as president last year, has repeatedly said the school is taking a new direction toward openness and transparency.

"There’s this idea that the board is going to protect the image or the reputation of the school," said Maxwell. "No, that’s the way you destroy the school, actually, by trying to artificially protect its reputation. I think we can leave the reputation of the school with God."

Prairie’s willingness to publicly acknowledge the allegations would have been unheard of in years past.

The school put a news release about the matter on its website before the Herald broke the story on Saturday, more or less inviting media scrutiny.

"The move could backfire," said Callaway.

"It’s one of those situations where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, really."

I am not sure what to think.  I have several friends my age who were sexually and physically abused in churches across the country and the families and churches when they found out, kind of just ran the abuser out of town.  In rural areas there wasn’t the capacity to deal with a lot of the abuse.  When Wendy came out about her own sexual abuse, many women we know (and readers of this blog) reached out and said they went through the same thing.  You also have the residential school abuse.  Even noted lawyer and scholar Larry Lessig went through is own personal abuse.

If I was Prairie, I would bring in a third party, offer whatever help that they can offer, and cooperate in whatever way they can.  In many ways I would pay as little attention to my lawyers as possible and listen to some pastors and counsellors.  If victims want to sue, I doubt Prairie has the resources to survive and if you are going to go down, go down trying to do the right thing.  I feel for the victims.  Hopefully there is a process that can lead to peace and heading.

Sermon feedback

I don’t do a lot of public speaking anymore but when I did, I would have appreciated the kind of feedback that AKMA is proposing here.

Still, one wonders what would happen if sermons were regularly reviewed by a good critic (or by an itinerant representative of the diocese/synod/whatever), or if it were permissible to take preaching as a strong ingredient in such gross indicators as rise or fall in attendance. What if the church were obliged to be honest about the plain fact that some preachers are not as good at their craft as are others? And what if the church recognised that some of the most prominent characteristics in selecting for ordained ministry, and then also for determining appointments, are not co-implicated with preaching skills? What if, to be blunt, ‘preaching well’ is not the norm, but a noteworthy exception?

For Sale

The Crystal Cathedral

The Crystal Cathedral is for sale.  Seriously.  According to the L.A. Times

The Garden Grove church, which said it owed more than $50 million to creditors and vendors when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October, will file a reorganization plan with a Santa Ana court as soon as Friday.  The plan includes the sale of the 40-acre campus to a real estate investment group, alleviating financial pressure from a $36-million mortgage, Charles said.  The church has a guaranteed option of leasing the campus for 15 years. After four years, the church could buy back the core buildings, which include the 10,000-pane Crystal Cathedral, the 13-story Tower of Hope, the welcome center and the cemetery.

I am not too heart broken by the news.  Wendy and I took a tour of it a decade ago and it had already become a parody of itself then.  The highlight was a women’s washroom that cost a million dollars to build.  I know things like this are contextual but c’mon, a million dollars for a women’s washroom.  Yeah.

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