When God settles the waters

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“In the midst of elation and disappointment and celebration and dejection, how will we know that God is indeed with us?” Photo: Lightpoet/Shutterstock

Before moving to Canada, I lived in Rochester, New York, where I worshipped at a Lutheran-Episcopal church plant. The congregation, which sat in a circle, began every service with a simple chant from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” The chant served as a reminder, before the start of worship, that God was in the building: whatever our worries and trials from the previous week, God would be there to hear and hold them. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah.

This promise resurfaces in the gospels, when Jesus and the disciples encounter a violent storm while sailing across the Sea of Galilee. The disciples enter a state of panic, but Christ remains comfortably asleep at the stern. Fear overcoming the disciples, they wake Jesus and point out their imminent demise. Jesus stills the sea by command. “Peace! Be still!”, he says, before asking the disciples why they are so fearful and faithless. They are left in shock. “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41).

All of us are accustomed to hearing that our church is experiencing substantial, sometimes overwhelming changes. Among these: shrinking budgets, increasing inclusivity, efforts to shift the church away from colonial structures, declines in attendance, procedures to increase environmental sustainability and significant questions around how best to reach an incredibly diverse population of Anglicans spread across Canada. Whether one praises such changes, laments them or both depends upon personal theology, politics and perceptions. But regardless of our appraisal of these changes, the waves are rolling in. You can see and feel the tension these changes can create: on social media, in print and at coffee hour. I see it in my inbox.

Carol W. Campbell of Bow Island, Alberta, wrote that Anglican newspapers are “the only way I can keep in touch with my church.” Mary Rimmer of Fredericton, N.B, wrote the Journal to express her concerns about the possible end of print mailing and potential changes to independence. “Take away the editorial independence so that the Journal becomes part of a larger ‘communication strategy,’… and both my support and my readership will end,” she wrote. Mary and Carol aren’t alone. Even though I only recently joined the Anglican Journal, I’ve already read a number of letters expressing concern about the changes General Synod will consider (for details, see “CoGS passes Anglican Journal changes,” page 9). Other readers have shared their hope that the Journal will cease printing, citing environmental and stewardship concerns. Some are tired of the Journal publishing bad news and welcome a different structure. The opinions are diverse. Similar letters arrive regarding same-sex marriage, ecclesial governance models, and other controversies. As Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says, “Our church is changing.”

Your letters are read and appreciated, as are your concerns about the Journal. Members of the Anglican Journal Coordinating Committee and the Communication and Information Resources Coordinating Committee are aware of them and wish, from my perspective, to ensure that no members of the Anglican community become isolated following any changes. Likewise, they have expressed a keen interest that the Journal continue to publish analytical and thoughtful stories about the church. To use the journalist’s parlance, I see them asking the Journal to be neither “watchdog” (independent overseer) nor “lapdog” (official and doting voice). Rather, I believe the hope is that the Journal will be to the Anglican Church of Canada that friend of yours who reminds you of your good qualities, points out your faults and delivers news you may not want to hear—in a way that helps you hear it.

After the calming of the storm, the disciples witnessed some of Christ’s greatest miracles. On the other side of this present storm—when God and time have calmed the waters—what will we see? In the midst of elation and disappointment and celebration and dejection, how will we know that God is indeed with us? Hearing us and holding us?

I answer these questions with prayer. And I bid yours: please keep the Anglican Journal and its staff in your prayers while the publication strives to live into this call and to navigate the changes that lie ahead.

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Matthew Townsend
Matthew Townsend has worked in editorial, journalistic, and web development roles with a variety of organizations, including the The Living Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, NY, and the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. He is a member of Episcopal Communicators and has consulted with a variety of ecumenical organizations, including Atlantic School of Theology, the Presbyterian Endowment Network, and the Associated Church Press.

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