St Albans Church

When Time Stands Still (A Christmas Letter)

Christmas 2014

Dear Friends,

The waiting is almost over!  I remember as a child I had this visceral sense of what it meantmidnight-clock to wait for Christmas.  The anticipation, the expectation, the excitement, it was a whole body experience that literally had us bouncing up and down by the time Christmas morning actually arrived.  Now as a grown-up, that pre-Christmas time that we call Advent has changed somewhat.  So many things to do before the end of the calendar year!  So many errands to run before the guests arrive!  As a child the challenge was to get through the waiting.  As an adult my challenge is to make space for Christmas.

This fall we had a series called ‘Engaging the Questions’ at our St. Al’s@5 service.  Last night was our final question and it was this:  'Does God still show up in our world?'  It’s a question that makes all the difference.  Depending on how one answers, Christmas is either a great time of remembrance or a time of great anticipation.  And as often happens, that first question led to a second:  when God shows up, will you notice?

One of the things that gets in the way of noticing is that for many of us, time just seems to run faster and faster.  That’s one of the reasons we’ve been trying to slow things down a bit in Advent.  In fact, not only do we try to slow things down, but, at least in our Sunday worship in Advent, time runs backwards.  We start out with the end times, an anticipation of the future return of Christ.  Then we move back in time to John the Baptist, and then back even further to Mary and her encounter with Gabriel. 

At Christmas, with the birth of the child, time will start to move forward again.  But the hope is that just before time resumes its forward march, it will stop, if only for a moment.  It may be that moment just before we light the candles at our Christmas Eve Candlelight service.  It may be that moment when everyone is seated at table just before the meal begins.  But whenever and wherever it is that time stops for you this Christmas, I hope that in that space where the present touches the eternal, you will know that God is with us, now and always.

May God bless you with a wonderful and holy Christmas.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Mark +

Christmas at St. Albans:

Dec 24 Christmas Eve, 5pm:  The Christmas Story and Eucharist (suitable for children)

Dec 24 Christmas Eve, 9pm:  Candlelight Eucharist

Dec 25 Christmas Morning, 10am:  Eucharist and Carols

Dec 28 First Sunday of Christmas, 10am (no 5pm service)

Jan 4 Epiphany, 10am and 5pm

Let The Buzz Begin! (Fall 2014)

September is all about beginnings. Whether it’s moving to a new city, starting a new job, beginning a new school term, or preparing for a busy Fall program in your parish. The notion of beginnings is everywhere; especially on our university campuses, as students from across Canada descend upon our city for the start of a new semester.

But, with all these beginnings also comes an ending. What I often encounter through my work on university campuses are students who tell me: “I used to go to church when I was a teenager. But, once I got to university I became disinterested in it.” Statistics show that more than two-thirds of young adults who attend church for at least a year in high school will stop attending for at least a year between the ages of 18-22. So what’s our role, as churches in helping students stay connected to their faith as they transition into university?

In the midst of the increasing dissatisfaction religion among millennials is an emerging culture of Christian ecumenism, focused on hospitality. Churches of all denominations are working together and changing the way church happens for university students.

Last year, a group of 20 churches in the Sandy Hill neighborhood and a host of uOttawa campus clubs launched a pilot project called: The uOttawa Church Crawl. The goal of the Crawl was simple; introduce students to Christian communities in their neighborhood. In it’s first year the Church Crawl saw resounding support from churches, clubs, and the university community. The Church Crawl offered students an alternative to the wild parties and pub-crawls typically associated with 101 week at uOttawa.

This year the Church Crawl is back by very popular demand. On September 6, more than 100 students will embark on a scavenger hunt around campus and the neighborhood, where they will encounter over 20 different church communities. In just one year, the Church Crawl has become an integral part of student life at uOttawa. I believe the event’s success can be attributed, in part, to it’s ecumenical nature. We’re not telling students where to go or what to think. We’re just letting them know we are here for them.

“The Church Crawl doesn’t just provide options for churches, but helps you find people who are either willing to help you take the steps you need to take, or they’re in the same shoes as you.” – uOttawa student, Samuel Chan

Our Diocese is a pioneer of another vibrant ecumenical ministry for students called The Open Table, a monthly meal for students that is provided by churches of many denominations. The goal is not to get more people in the pews, though that often happens. The Open Table provides a place for students to build community with one another over a home cooked meal. It’s showing God’s love in a practical way. This year The Open Table returns on the last Sunday of every month (September – March) at it’s new location, St. Albans/Centre 454. If you are not already connected with The Open Table, please consider becoming a partner congregation.

At St. Albans, we’re gearing up to welcome a core population of students back to our community with our annual “Welcome Back BBQ” on September 7. It’s like a big family reunion and an event that our community looks forward to every year. Friends re-unite after a summer away, and many more new friends join our community for the first time. I believe this year has the potential to be an incredible year for student ministry. I'm excited to see God working on campuses across the city and I'm honoured that St. Albans has the opportunity to be a part of it.

Make sure to visit us at:
uOttawa 101 Week - September 2-4
uOttawa Church Crawl - September 6
Welcome Back BBQ - September 7
St. Al's @ 5 BBQ - September 14
The Open Table - September 28

Zack Ingles
Youth/Young Adult Minister
St. Albans Church

Visionaries and Dreamers (Pentecost 2014)

Visionaries and Dreamers 

Each year at Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Spirit.  In Acts 2.1-21 which many of us will read on Sunday, we hear about the first Pentecost, the gift of the Spirit to the disciples gathered in a house in Jerusalem, a crazy, confusing event that is described in terms of violent wind and fire, the sound of many languages and a bewildered and awestruck crowd.  An amazed voice from the crowd calls out, “What does all this mean?”

And Peter steps forward, squashes the rumours of drunkenness, and instead reaches back to the words of the prophet Joel to explain what all this means.  What’s happening, Peter tells them, is what God said would happen:

God declares “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and the young shall see visions and your old shall dream dreams.”

God wants us to be visionaries and dreamers.  He sends his Spirit upon us to inspire us to see visions and to dream dreams.

Are you a dreamer?  Are you a visionary?  That’s what God wants for you.

What are your dreams?  Do you ever share them with anyone?  Do you believe in them?

It’s not easy being a dreamer.  There are a lot of critics out there who are all too ready to, as they say, give us a little dose of reality.

At one time I was a big fan of the TV series Glee, and I remember the first episode of Glee that I ever watched.  Glee is the story of the “New Directions” Glee Club which has been started at the local high school by the Spanish Teacher, Will Schuester.  The club is filled with aspiring singers, actors and dancers who meet to practice their songs with the encouragement of Mr. Schuester.  The kids are dreamers; Will is their Advocate.  Not only does he teach them, but he supports, inspires and encourages them as they pursue their dreams of performing and entertaining. 

However on that particular episode there was a guest character called Bryan Ryan, played by Neil Patrick Harris, who is an auditor sent in from the school board.  His job is to cut funding for unnecessary programs, and the New Directions glee club is on his list.  And so he goes to the club and he speaks to the students.  He asks them to write their dream down on a piece of paper.  Then, one by one he goes up to each kid, picks up the piece of paper with their dream written on it, crushes it and throws it into the garbage.  “Your dreams will never come true,” he tells them.  Get over it.  You’ll never make it as singers and actors.  The odds are stacked against you.  Stop fooling yourselves. 

Bryan Ryan is the critic.  He’s the one who crushes dreams.  And it’s Will who has to pick up the pieces of those broken dreams and once more encourage the students to believe in themselves.  Will is the Advocate, the one who stands by your side and encourages you and your dreams.

There are a lot of Bryan Ryan’s in this world.  But God isn’t one of them.  God isn’t one of them for one very simple reason:  because God is a dreamer too.

God has a dream for us and for all of creation.  God dreams of justice.  God dreams of peace.  God dreams of healing and forgiveness. God dreams that all of humanity will be a family, that we’ll all be children in God’s family.   And he sends us his Spirit so that we can share in and help realize his dream.

Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop in South Africa, well known for his struggle in overcoming apartheid, has written a book called God Has a Dream:  A Vision of Hope for Our Time.  And in it he writes the following:

“I have a dream,” God says.  “Please help me to realize it.  It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing.  I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.’ . . .  In God’s family there are no outsiders.  All are insiders.  Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu – all belong.”

How do you respond to God’s dream?  It’s easy to be a critic like Bryan Ryan.  “Peace?” the critic snears.  Not going to happen.  Look at the wars and conflict, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Ukraine, in Sudan.  “Justice?”  Not in my lifetime.  The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  “Compassion?  More like indifference, everyone cocooned in their own houses looking after themselves first.  Is that how you respond to God’s dream?

Or are you an Advocate like Will Schuester, one who stands by God’s side, supporting and encouraging the dream, helping to realize that dream in our world today.  God wants us to respond to his dream by becoming dreamers ourselves, dreaming our own dreams of goodness and justice, of love and laughter, of joy and compassion.  And if we do dream, and if we do see visions of a better world and if we proclaim these and live them out, we too may face the critics.  But God promises to send us an Advocate, one who will stand by our side, shoulder to shoulder with us, encouraging and inspiring and teaching and empowering.  God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon them and the young will see visions and the old shall dream dreams.”

The followers of Jesus gathered in that house in Jerusalem had a dream.  They dreamed that they would proclaim the good news of God’s love for us throughout the entire world, that they would tell the story of Jesus life and death and resurrection to all the nations of the earth.  It was a big, bold, audacious dream.  You can imagine what the critics would have said.  “You’re crazy!” they would have told them.  “You’re just peasants from Galilee who’ve never even left the country.  How are you going to tell the whole world about what God has done, when you can’t even speak their languages.” 

The critics think that they’re being realists. 

But God’s reality is bigger.  And God poured out his Spirit on those dreamers and they proclaimed the Good News and people from all the nations gathered in Jerusalem heard them, each in their native language.  God wants us to dream, to share in his dream, to help realize his dream for all creation and he empowers us with his Spirit so that we can make it happen.

And we need to do that in our own time and in our own place, because our dreams are needed here and now.  Sometimes we wonder whether the Spirit is still active in our midst today.  We don’t always experience the violent wind and the tongues of fire of that first Pentecost.  But

in nudges and whispers,

like a seed growing,

like wind, invisible, refreshing and transformative,

like water, cleansing, renewing, powerful,

Unpredictably, Uncontrollably,

Praying: for us, with us, in us, through us.*

God’s Spirit is at work, our Advocate, the one at our side, active in the world today. 

God will send his Spirit upon you and you will dream dreams and see visions and share in the realization of God’s dream for all creation.




* excerpt from a poem by Amy Julia Becker. 

Life Giving Encounters. An Easter Letter

Lent, 2014

Dear Friends,

The season of Lent is coming to an end, and so is one of the longest winters that we’ve had in Ottawa in recent years. The days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer, and signs of new life are starting to appear all around us as the snow recedes. For Christians, the season of Lent is meant to get us ready to receive new life, and in particular the new life that we experience in the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. And so perhaps it’s a good time to think a bit about just what it is that we experience as life-giving in our own lives. What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning, what gives you energy, what moves you?

In our Sunday readings for this season of Lent from the Gospel of John, we have heard the stories of four different encounters with Jesus. Nicodemus (3:1-17), the Samaritan woman (4:5-42), the blind man (9:1-41) and Martha (11:1-45) all encounter Jesus and enter into conversation with him. And for all but one of them, this encounter, this conversation, is life-giving. Unfortunately for Nicodemus, as soon as he loses control of the discussion, he drops out of the dialogue. But the others persist. They stay engaged. They ask their questions, they allow their points of view to change as a result of their interaction with Jesus. They develop a healthy, active, dynamic relationship. And that relationship is life-giving.

These stories of encounters are meant to prepare us for our encounter with Jesus. Perhaps you’ll meet him on Easter morning, perhaps it will be some other time. Perhaps you’ll encounter Jesus in prayer or worship, perhaps in the form of a stranger, or perhaps through someone you know well. But whenever and however that encounter happens, embrace it. Stay engaged. Ask your questions. Be open to what the other has to say. Be open to changing what you have to say. And perhaps you too will experience new life, the new life that I look forward to celebrating with you on Easter morning.

May you and your family be blessed by God in every way possible this Easter. Please join us for Holy Week at St. Albans, for which the schedule can be found below.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Mark Whittall

Incumbent, St. Albans Church


St. Albans Church Holy Week Schedule

April 13th Palm Sunday 10am & 5pm

April 14th Monday in Holy Week. Tenebrae 6pm

April 17th Maundy Thursday 7.30pm

April 18th Good Friday 11am

April 20th Easter Sunday 10am & 5pm

A Lenten Discipline

male image notTen days ago at St. Albans we had a visioning exercise as part of our annual meeting.  One of the suggestions made during our visioning was that we should be a bit more intentional about the use of inclusive language. Now thanks to the vagaries of the lunar calendar, it just so happened this year that our annual meeting was followed almost immediately by Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent.  Lent is traditionally a time of spiritual practice or discipline which prepares us for Easter.  Often this takes the form of 'giving something up' for Lent.  So I thought, well why not, and after talking with a few people on our ministry team, we decided that at St. Albans we would indeed give something up for Lent.  We would give up using masculine imagery and language for God.  Or to put it in a more positive way, we would intentionally use feminine imagery and language for this 40 day plus Sundays period in our worship together.

And so we set to work adapting our prayers and songs to either remove the masculine language or to replace it with feminine language.  I sent out an email letting people know that this would be one of our Lenten disciplines.  I put a post out on social media.  And the response was overwhelming.

You see, it appears that we have unresolved issues concerning the feminine in the language and life of the church.

The vast majority of the responses and reactions were from women who loved (or liked!) the idea. But the responses from men were a mixed bag, some enthusiastic, some critical, and a couple that simply said "seriously?" and "what do you mean?"

I look at this very much as a spiritual discipline.  It is a way of being intentional about our naming of God in a way that will be different for many of us during this season of Lent.  Our intent is not to make judgements about the appropriateness of images like 'Father' nor about the use of male pronouns.  Rather my hope is that through this practice we will experience something new, and learn something about ourselves and about our relationship with God.  

I don't want to prejudge how that experience will turn out.  It may be that some of us will say at the end of 40 days, 'no big deal'.  It may be that some of us will have experienced God in a new and wonderful way.  It may be that some of us, men in particular, will have a better understanding of what women have experienced for years when God is imagined and spoken of in the language of the other gender.

Whatever your Lenten discipline is this year, may God bless you in this holy season, and may you experience her in new and wonderful ways.

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