From the Bishop: Baptism with fire

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Luke 3:16c

These were the words of the zealous prophet John, the Baptist. He was also the one who greeted the large crowd that had gathered to hear him with this “diplomatic” invitation: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

When he was questioned by those present whether he might be the Messiah, he told them, “Oh, I only immerse and saturate you in water. But the Messiah (Jesus) will immerse and saturate you in the Holy Spirit and fire!”

In a sense he was saying, “You think this is challenging? You ain’t seen nothing yet! Wait until Jesus the Messiah comes to you!”

The Holy Spirit is called “the Comforter”, a word derived from the Latin fortis (strong). The Holy Spirit is given to the Christian community to strengthen and empower us to be Christ’s people and do Christ’s work.

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Early in June we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on what would become the Body of Christ. At every baptism (and confirmation) we celebrate and witness the pouring out of the love and power of the Holy Spirit. I think it is unfortunate that in older English usage the Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Comforter”. At that time, the word comfort did not conjure up images of down-filled blankets or lazy-boy recliners. The word “comfort” is derived from the Latin fortis (strong) and the verb means “to strengthen”. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to the Christian community to help empower us to be Christ’s people and do Christ’s work. Yes, the Spirit is the love of God in action – but sometimes that love moves us toward places and relationships that are well outside our “comfort zone”. In western Christianity, the dove is often employed as a symbol of the Holy Spirit because of the comparison being made to the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at his baptism, as recorded in the Gospels. But even doves are dynamic birds capable of moving quickly, stirring the air around them, and filling it with sound.

The Spirit is the love of God in action – but sometimes that love moves us toward places and relationships that are well outside our “comfort zone”.

We are witnessing the active work of the Holy Spirit in particular ways right now in our diocese. Here are a couple of examples:

Amalgamation of St. Barnabas, St. Francis parishes

For five years several parishes in the northern part of Winnipeg and the Red River valley north of the city have been conscientiously exploring the possibility and potential of coming together to share in ministry and mission. Some moved in other directions, others joined in along the way and eventually, for the past three years, St. Anne, St. Barnabas and St. Martin-in-the-Fields parishes worked at taking steps to become one parish.

At the end of the summer of 2013, St. Martin-in-the-Fields and St. Anne discerned that this was the faithful step to take and together formed the new Parish of St. Francis on Jan. 1, 2014. However, the majority of the members of St. Barnabas could not confirm this direction and did not join the other two parishes.

As St. Barnabas wrestled with the uncertainty of that decision and of its future, a wider circle of discernment was put in place (Diocesan Commission) and with their guidance and the ratification of their work by the Bishop and Diocesan Council, the following actions were determined:

  • St. Barnabas would amalgamate with St. Francis on June 1, 2014.
  • The St. Barnabas building on McPhillips Street would be retained by St. Francis as a Ministry Centre for at least three years in order to continue the important ministries to the local neighbourhood.
  • Separate worship services at the McPhillips Street location would end, and all would worship together at the site chosen by St. Francis parish.

Is this end result comfortable? Not at all. Will it strengthen the ministry? Definitely!

The Diocesan Commission worked hard at seeking God’s wisdom and discerning and implementing what they believed the Holy Spirit was moving us to become.
Is this end result “comfortable”? Not at all. Will it strengthen the ministry and mission of the Church in the northern parts of Winnipeg? Definitely!

The Creation of Rupert’s Land Media

Early in 2014, Terence Moore announced his intention to retire as editor of the Rupert’s Land News, effective after the May issue of the paper. At this time, on behalf of the Rupert’s Land News Advisory Group, I want to offer our deep and heartfelt thanks to Terence for serving in this capacity for seven years and helping our diocesan family to share its life and ministry.

Through his loving and conscientious service (having worked in professional print media for many years) he helped to build community across the diocese, to bring the needs of our communities (local and global) to our attention, and to celebrate the work of God’s Spirit in and through us.

With the eventual phasing out of the traditional print edition of the Rupert’s Land News, many of us (including me!) will have to make some major adjustments to our reading habits. Will it strengthen the ministry and mission of our Church? Absolutely!

In March the Advisory Group began to explore some possible names to take on the editorship of the RLN. However, one of those persons, The Reverend Allison Chubb, came forward with a much larger and more comprehensive proposal. As I stated in my April letter to the clergy: “It is a little like going out to shop for a replacement of the forced-air furnace in your house, and coming home having invested in a geo-thermal, heat pump, integrated heating and cooling system for your home!”

Working with professional web and media consultant, Bram Ryan (saint benedict’s table), Allison will be spearheading the launching of Rupert’s Land Media – an integrated, online media system which will include the online edition of the Rupert’s Land News as well as a basic media website, coordinated email, Facebook and Twitter and other interactive platforms, to consolidate communication with and within our churches.

Just as the Holy Spirit empowered and “re-deployed” Jesus’ disciples, so RL Media will empower and re-deploy the way in which we receive and, more importantly, express information, thoughts, feelings and ideas with each other and particularly with those around us in our communities. Will the end result be “comfortable?” With the eventual phasing out of the traditional print edition of the Rupert’s Land News, many of us (including me!) will have to make some major adjustments to our reading habits. It won’t be entirely comfortable at all. Will it strengthen the ministry and mission of our Church in southern Manitoba and beyond? Absolutely!

Trust the push and pull of the Spirit.

Just as the Spirit given at that Pentecost in the first century caused some “discomfort” in the lives of the disciples and their communities, so too does the powerful action of the Holy Spirit “unsettle” Christ’s disciples in the twenty-first century. And just as the disciples were able to trust the push and pull of the Spirit because they knew it was the same God-in-action they had known in Jesus, so too, can we twenty-first century disciples trust these actions of the Spirit in and through us. For the Spirit of God always acts to bring about the loving and grace-filled work of God in all of us – all the time!

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