Yesterday I spoke at the ACW regional meeting at St. Paul and St. Thomas parish in Cardston. Well, the church is actually on the Blood reserve on the edge of town. Driving back yesterday I thought about what I had said in my talk. I spoke about the picture of the church in the Book of Acts and how the wealthy sold property to care for the poor of the community. My main point was that the church is a family and in passing said that in families some members don't eat steak while others eat hamburger.
Nice idea but as I was driving home I realized that in our church some of us are eating steak while others are eating worse than hamburger. Some of our parishes have beautiful buildings, resident clergy, and resources for music and children's programmes. Many of our rural parishes and especially our aboriginal parishes struggle without regular clergy, have old buildings they can't afford to maintain, and have few resources.
Worldly economic theory says that these parishes should close, that their members are few, that they aren't self-supporting or anything like self-supporting, and that the resources of the church would be better spent on building or expanding churches in the booming suburbs of our cities or their satellite communities. But what of the people in these communities?
I have spoken to people working in our rural communities, people aware of the rural crisis, the closing of post offices, schools and community centres. They speak of the pain in many rural communities as people lose family farms, as they see their children leave the community never to return except for a visit. I was preaching in one small church where there are about 20 people on a Sunday morning but where the church is used almost every day by community groups who couldn't afford to meet anywhere else. I spoke with one young woman after the service about the future of this little church. Where will these people go if the church closes their doors she asked. Good question.
And what about our reserves. There are four reserves in our diocese, each with a long history of Anglican presence, each still with functioning Anglican parishes. Yet we have one full time priest to serve these four communities. And these are hurting communities. They need help, they need support, they need the church.
This isn't just an Anglican problem. As a chaplain for four denominations I get to visit many of the churches in South Alberta and I know it is a problem for other denominations as well. So what are we going to do? Are we going to continue to eat steak while our brothers and sisters struggle to put something, anything on the table?