Anglican Alliance launches Freedom Year, a global focus on anti-slavery initiatives

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The Anglican Alliance, which helps coordinate Anglican churches and agencies to work for a world free of poverty and injustice, has launched Freedom Year, a year-long focus on anti-slavery initiatives.

“Human trafficking is a grave crime against humanity,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reminds us.”It is a form of modern-day slavery and a profound violation of the intrinsic dignity of human beings. This outrage should concern each one of us, because what affects one part of humanity affects us all.

“If we are to combat this evil then we must work together to prevent the crime, support the survivors and prosecute the criminals. The knowledge that churches have of their local communities puts them on the frontline in this campaign.”

It happens abroad we know, and even in many communities close to home. We must pray for change, learn more about human trafficking and modern slavery in the world today, and take action to end it.

A Freedom Year booklet, available here, contains monthly themes and activities to “help us to take action, and encourage us join the fight against human trafficking and modern slavery, both locally and globally,” the Alliance says.

A revelation on the word ‘mass’ (whether you use it or not): we’re all to be missionaries

By Bill Gliddon, St. George’s Church organist and choirmaster

Do you know the origins of the word ‘mass’, as in the service celebrating the Eucharist, or Holy Communion?

The mass is the central worship service of mainline Christianity, and the word used in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and quite often in the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

It derives from the very early days of Christian worship, when the priest ended the service by declaring, in Latin, “Ite, missa, est”, which, when translated into English, basically means: “Go, you are sent out”. So in a real sense, ‘mass’ means ‘mission’.

At the conclusion of a worship service in which we pray, hear God’s word, sing praises and receive the ‘life-giving sacrament’ ordained by Jesus at the Last Supper, we are sent back out into the everyday world to be ‘missionaries’!

The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

The beginnings of answers for a yearning young woman

Dynamic young Sonya Flatman has been an important part of the St. George’s community since a toddler. She just spent a life-changing summer at Circle Square Ranch in Arden, Ontario and shares her experiences with us here. Sonya went into a four-week Leadership in Training program to become closer to God, she explains, not knowing exactly how that might happen.  We can all learn from her longings for more, and her discoveries on the myriad ways God moves and speaks.

By Sonya Flatman

Staff members at the ranch are amazing people, and so connected to God. I wanted what they had; I was jealous of how holy they were and how they seemed to always have Jesus with them.

Two weeks into the Leadership in Training program, I finally felt I came close to Jesus. I would go on walks after worship and would feel as though God was at my right, Jesus at my left, and the Holy Spirit all around me. Now feeling confident in my relationship with Jesus, I decided to begin praying about what God wanted me to be after I graduate from high school. 

A few days into praying about my future career, I felt God abandon me. I would pray for the Holy Spirit to be around me and comfort me, and I would feel nothing.

My frustration increased since around the time I felt Jesus leave me, some awesome stuff started happening at the ranch. Friends of mine began speaking in tongues, and miracles of healing were occurring. All of these wonders made me even more frustrated.  I felt annoyed that God was healing and talking to people in a secret language, and yet I couldn’t even feel His presence.  

One night at worship, the frustration built in me so intensely that, after everyone left, I burst into tears. I cried out to Jesus, asking why he had abandoned me. I’m not a big crier, and haven’t balled that hard in three years, so it was an emotional night. Before going to bed, I opened my Bible and asked God in a sassy voice, “If You don’t talk to me through my soul, well, please talk to me through Your Word!”

I then opened to the title page of Zechariah, and over the next few days, read through the entire book. Two verses really stood out to me: 

Therefore, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:  Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.’ Don’t be like your ancestors who would not listen or pay attention when the earlier prophets said to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Turn from your evil ways, and stop all your evil practices.’ (Zechariah 1:3-4, NLT)

 I realized that I had to cut out all of the wrongness in my life and turn completely to Jesus. I prayed forgiveness for all the grudges I had held, and deleted music from my phone that I didn’t believe was good, among other things. I started reading my Bible a lot more, trying to find verses that stood out to me, and hoping that God would speak to me more through His Word.

After about a week, I was searching for a verse for one of my campers, when God hit me with the right hook.  John 5:39 popped right off the page: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” I sort of laughed when I read the verse, feeling that God was giving back the sass I’d given Him just a week ago. I realized I’d been reading the Bible religiously, yet not praying about what I read.

I continued to read, but not as much, and began to pray more often. During the last week of camp, at worship on Wednesday night, I got down on my knees and prayed , asking God to reveal Himself to me. I saw visions in my head, but wasn’t sure if they were from Jesus or my own imagination. I prayed, but received no answer.

The next night, on my knees again, I asked God if the images were from Him.  I said I knew He wouldn’t answer until the right time, but I prayed anyway. A phrase came into my head: “I am preparing you for something great.” Shocked, I asked God to repeat the phrase if it was truly from Him. It thumped in my chest, and I knew it was from Jesus.

For the second time that summer, I wept … but now with tears of pure joy. I had never felt such peace and happiness in my life. I now knew the wonder of God, and the joy I felt could only come from Jesus. I decided right then that I wanted to give my whole life to Christ, and walk in his footsteps.

God hasn’t yet answered my prayer about what He wants me to do after high school, but I know that whatever happens is meant to happen, and that I am meant to jump at any opportunity that comes because God wants me to be there. I no longer have fear of my future, because I know that God will prepare me.

Circle Square Ranches operate across Canada, and are part of the Canadian InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s camping ministry.

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

                                                                                          Sonya, front row left, with her whole LEADERSHIP in TRAINING GROUP

The people on the front lines of EVERY world tragedy before the media, according to renowned journalist

by Brian Stewart

I'M NO THEOLOGIAN, forgive any blunders on that ground; but what has truly surprised me over many years is not the triumph of trends, which flicker and fade like shadows at summer twilight, but rather the survival of spiritual hunger. This spiritual hunger, and a religious 'force-field' that springs from it, is the human drive to serve, and to help others. It's so very much greater than I had imagined, and I've seen it blaze forth in places far darker, more threatening, than I could have imagined.

The surprise, I suppose, was my surprise. For this 'force' has been there, after all, from the very beginning of Christianity ­ and mysteriously, seems never to weaken nor grow weary. But I do wish to tell you something of what I have observed as a reporter, and [have] finally come to believe very deeply.

For years I've been struck by the rather blithe notion ­spread in many circles, including the media and taken up by a rather large section of our younger population, that organized, mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a musty, dimly-lit backwater of contemporary life, a fading force. Well, I'm here to tell you, from what I've seen from my 'ring-side seat' at events over decades, that there is nothing further from the truth.

Christianity in action

I've found there is no movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right 'on the front lines' of committed humanity today ­ and when I want to find that front, I follow their trail.

It is a vast front, stretching from the most impoverished reaches of the developing world to the hectic struggle to preserve caring values in our own towns and cities. I have never been able to reach these front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, ­ the primary light in the darkness, and so often the only light.

Now this is something the media and government officials rarely acknowledge, for religion confuses many ­ and anyway, we all like to blow our own horns. So front line efforts of Christianity do not usually produce headlines, and unfortunately this feeds the myth that the church just follows along, to do its modest bit.

Let me repeat, I've never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some church organization was not there long before me: ­ sturdy, remarkable souls, usually too kind to ask 'What took you so long?'

I don't slight any of the hard work done by other religions or those wonderful secular NGOs I've dealt with so much over the years. They work closely with church efforts, they are noble allies. But no, so often in desperate areas it is Christian groups there first, that labour heroically during the crisis and continue on long after all the media ­ and the visiting celebrities ­ have left.

Now I came to this admiring view slowly and reluctantly. At the start of my career, I'd largely abandoned religion ­ for I, too, regarded the church as a rather tiresome irrelevance. What ultimately persuaded me otherwise ­ and I took a lot of persuading ­ was the reality of Christianity's mission, physically and in spirit, before my very eyes. It wasn't the attraction of great moments of grandeur, ­ although I admit covering this pope [then Pope John Paul II] on six of his early trips abroad, including his first one to Mexico and then epic returns to Poland, certainly shook any assumptions I had of Christianity as a fading force.

No, the millions upon millions gathered was impressive; but I was more moved by quiet individual moments of character and courage that seem to be anchored to some deep core within Christianity.

Communism cracks

I remember a dim stairwell in Gdansk, Poland. As many of you remember, the first unbelievable crack in the mighty Communist empire, which had so often proclaimed triumph over religion, occurred in Poland in the early 1980s ­ when the Solidarity Movement, supported by the church, rose to challenge tyranny under the leadership of a most unlikely little shipyard electrician, Lech Walesa.

Later he'd win the Nobel Prize and become president of Poland; but when I met Walesa he was isolated, had been jailed, and his life was so often threatened I thought he was a dead man walking. We all assumed security forces were arranging one of those convenient 'accidents,' that really did happen in that frightening climate of oppression ­ just like the movies.

A few of us met him alone on this stairwell, as he slipped out to Mass. "Are you frightened?" one of us asked. He stopped, looked surprised at the thought, then answered in a voice of steel: "No, I am afraid of no one, and nothing ­ only God." And he walked out alone into the night.

It was a transcendent moment. Here in this dingy stairwell was the purest courage and conscience ­ backed by Christian faith that I suddenly realized no force of empire or terror could ever extinguish [full article here].

Former CBC TV journalist Brian Stewart covered many international crises as a foreign correspondent, reported from ten war zones, and has won countless awards. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. He gave this as a convocation address at Knox College, University of Toronto, in 2004. 

Finding and raising cane: The origins of the candy cane

Okay, so it's not a stupendous theological question, but still: Just where did candy canes come from? Like all 'traditions', various versions of the history behind the striped Christmas treats exist. Some wax theological, others more practical.
One on the side of practicality holds that in about 1670, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral grew frustrated by fidgety kids in his church's living Nativity. He had some white, sugar-candy sticks made to keep the youngsters quiet. The sticks were curved like shepherds' staffs in honour of the shepherds at the stable. The idea caught on, and candy sticks became common at living Nativities all over Europe.

In 1847, a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard put candy canes on his Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. The sweets gained popularity here, too, and around the turn of the century, they assumed their now familiar properties of red stripes and peppermint flavoring. Though these elements might have been added for symbolic purposes, there's scant solid evidence to confirm that theory.
(Read the whole story here.)