Question Q.  What is Lent?  What is important to know going into it?  Should I be giving something up? The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for “Spring,” which is a helpful starting place when considering what Lent is, what Lent is not, and what we might consider in the next few weeks before Lent begins.  In its most basic definition, the season of Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) which precede the celebration of Easter.  Modelled on the story of Jesus spending 40 Days in the wilderness following his baptism and before beginning his public ministry, this block of time is preparation for entering into the mystery of Easter.   One of the most well-known ways of observing Lent has been through the adoption of a particular discipline, or ‘giving something up.’  Chocolate, caffeine and meat are popular items to forego during this season.  It can sometimes then be assumed that Lent allows us to make visible the ways in which good Christians are willing to suffer for their faith.    When we consider Lent as Spring, however, the viewpoint changes.  Lent is a time of renewal and regeneration.  Rather than a time in which we do something to please God, instead, Lent becomes another one of God’s gifts to us – an invitation to claim some space, or create some space, to focus on the things which (or The One who) truly gives us life.  The wisdom of the ages tells us that there are many powerful and creative ways of entering into this space.  Some examples: –Almsgiving – it is easy to spend money mindlessly, to consume food that is bad for us, entertainment that numbs us, to buy things that we don’t need.  Commit yourself to giving a certain amount of extra money away during Lent – to the church, to a cause you believe in, to someone in need, to St. John’s Refugee Sponsorship, to the Water Project – and then spend the smaller amount of money you have left with mindfulness and gratitude. –Service – our lives become cluttered with obligations, appointments, chaos and stress.  Make a choice to do something for others during Lent, to take on a project or service that is over and above what you normally do.  What do you need to let go of in order to do this?  How does this project give you life and energy? –Worship & Education – Lent began in the church as a season of catechism – that is teaching.  It was a time in which Christians made a particular point of learning and growing in their faith, of making time for both spiritual and mental renewal, for nourishing the brain and the soul.  You can join us for our Tuesday book study at 7:00 here at St John’s.  We will share together some refreshments and will be studying the boo The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew.  If you don’t attend church regularly, try doing so during Lent.  –Consumer Choice – rather than giving something up, try changing your consumption habits to more clearly reflect your values and beliefs.  Buy locally.  Eat food that was produced in a 100 mile radius.  Or commit to fair-trade coffee and chocolate. –Giving Something Up – Giving up meat or dessert, caffeine or alcohol, is still a viable Lenten option, just be clear about why you’re doing it.  If it’s because you want to lose weight, or because you think you should do something, it’s probably not the right choice.  If foregoing a luxury moves you to be more compassionate for those who have less, or if you simply want to create enough of a break in your regular patterns of consumption so that you can once again appreciate the blessings of this life, then go for it.   Lent begins Wednesday, March 1st, with Ash Wednesday.  Consider how you want to observe Lent 2017.  These questions may help you in your decision-making:  Where does my life feel out of kilter?  Where do I feel lost or hurting?  What do I most want/need to receive from God right now?  What questions are most persistent in my faith life?   With this in mind, give careful, prayerful consideration to where and how you might create the space or practices in which to bring these needs, hopes, and questions before God over the course of these 40 Days.

Good Afternoon family of St John’s

Advent III – Rejoice!

Lord Jesus Christ, who chose at Bethlehem to meet us, Make us ready to lose and leave all that makes us proud and sufficient. Let our knees bend to you, Our hearts cradle you, Our lips sing you songs of love. Amen.

Good afternoon to the family of St. John’s,

This past Sunday was another wonderful day in the life of our church! Advent III is commonly called “Gaudete” Sunday: Rejoice! We light our third Advent Candle, the Candle of Joy, and we turn our hearts toward the coming arrival of the baby in Bethlehem — the one who shows us the way to reclaiming human joy, joy for all of humankind. At our 10:30 am service, we began by lighting our Advent candles concluding with the candle of Joy. It was then the children of St. John’s who took over and helped us reflect on the gift of JOY through their Christmas Pageant. It was a wonderful message, and the children did a fantastic job of presenting it. We are grateful to each of them for their hard work and generosity. We are grateful to their caregivers for helping them to make this commitment. And we are grateful to all our Sunday School helpers for their incredible leadership. After their presentation the children were off to have a special celebration and even painted some cookies to enjoy! How were they Howard?

Water Project & Refugee Sponsorship at Christmas

You can give differently this year at Christmas: Give the gift of Water or Refuge to someone you love this year! How? –Make your donation to St. John’s Church. –Mark your memo line or envelope as “Water Project” to give toward clean water in the First Nations’ Community of Pikangikum. or Mark “Refugee Sponsorship” to give toward our Refugee Sponsorship Project. -Take a Gift Card from the table near the Christmas Tree. –Give the Gift Card to your loved one at Christmas (instead of a gift certificate, jewelry, neck tie, etc.) -Hang an icicle on the Giving Tree to give visibility to this act of Christmas Generosity!

Gift Giving at St. John’s:

Advent TreeLove Your Neighbour in the name of Jesus this Christmas, and bring your gifts to our Advent Tree. Each week’s gifts will be collected and then shared with community organizations at Christmas. Week III—Joy—toys Week IV—Food—non-perishable food items.

Christmas Services @ St. John’s

December 24th—5pm – Children’s Service with Eucharist and Carols, 7:30 pm & 10pm – Candlelight, Choir, Communion, Carols – what could be a better way to celebrate with friends and family the miracle of Christmas? December 25th – 10am – a simple Eucharistic celebration on Christmas morning in the Mewburn Chapel.

This Sunday we will have be having Lessons and Carols at the 10:30 service Question of the Week: Why is Advent so different in the church than in the holiday season in the rest of the world? I was amazed (and somewhat disheartened) to realize how much things have changed this year when I saw some children’s Advent calendars now have 31 chocolate squares to open. It’s no longer a count-down to Christmas Day, it is a countdown to the New Year. I also feel a small knot in the pit of my stomach when I skim through magazines this time of year and read that some celebrity or another is “crazy for Christmas”…. but what it means is that said-person is crazy for decorating, shopping, wrapping, and throwing parties. There is no reference to any of the story, the prayer, the hope, the invitation which is the actual purpose for Christmas. All of this makes our church Advent season feel delightfully weird. Perhaps more than any other time of the year, the church gives us a place of shelter and reflection which allows us to breathe and to absorb the richness of what is being offered to us. You might notice that blue is the colour of Advent. It is the blue of the morning sky, just before the first light of dawn. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation, a season in which we know that God’s light, God’s joy, God’s peace and promise and love is coming, is coming to touch our world and our lives. We take a step back from the frantic pace of life. We learn to watch and wait. At the beginning of our service through Advent, we light the Advent candles, lighting one more candle each successive week. Although this is probably a tradition with which you are familiar, it is still important to reflect on why we do this. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was actually born in December. Instead, the church chose December as the time to celebrate the feast of Jesus’ birth because it is the darkest time of the year. It is therefore the time in which remembering and enacting the in-breaking of God’s light is so fundamentally important. We see this impulse all around us, even in the secular world. The days get shorter, and people begin to light lights, to bring brightness and hope and colour into the gloom. In the church, we use candles so that our hearts and our prayers can focus on light as a reminder of this promise and hope. Traditionally the first candle is the candle of hope, the second the candle of peace, the third the candle of joy, and the fourth the candle of love. On Christmas eve, we light the centre candle, the Christ candle. These symbols and signs are coupled with ample opportunity for action and celebration that is truer to the Christmas Spirit that was first offered to us. Our Advent Giving Tree reminds us that this is a time of year to be particularly mindful of the needs of those who are hurting. Our Gift Giving at St. John’s invites us to give different sorts of presents at Christmas to those we love (and maybe to put different sorts of requests on our own Christmas lists too!)

-giving the gift of Clean Water or Refuge to some of our world’s most vulnerable people. Sunday at our 10:30am service, the hard work and talent of our youngest members in this community was shared with us in a special Pageant presentation – our children inviting us to a new perspective on the meaning, joy and miracle of Christmas. As we have and continue to worship and journey together through these Advent weeks, may we find God’s gifts, God’s word, God’s blessing, touching us in truly preparing for Christmas.

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Canon Val


Musings from Canon Val

Musings from Canon Val

As I sit here in my living room by the fireplace, sun streaming through the window, I find myself pondering the meaning of all the events that are taking place in the world.

As we come closer to the celebration of the birth of Jesus I wonder what you all are pondering in your hearts. We do know from scripture Mary “pondered all these things in her heart” when the angel announced to her she would have a child, the Prince of Peace.

It is hard for us to imagine what Mary, all those years ago, was going through as a young woman, unmarried yet with child having to leave her home and family and travel with the man, Joseph, who had agreed to marry her. It must have been a very frightening time for both Mary and Joseph as they made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to arrive and find out there was no room for them! A family… on the move…challenges…a baby on the way…no home…where were they to go…who would help them? How would they survive? What lay ahead for them?

How many people in our world today find themselves in this position? How many children have never even known a home outside of a refugee camp, how many children haven’t had the opportunity to attend school? How many parents fight to feed their children on a daily basis? How many parents have to take their children and flee from their homes to try to keep them safe? How many children have witnessed unthinkable atrocities? Do we sometimes forget that the Holy Child was once a refugee, his parents having to take him and flee to save his life from the wrath of King Herod? I am sure they didn’t want to leave their homeland, all that they had come to know and love, however they could see no other choice if they wanted their child to live. And so they became refugees…

Here at St John’s we are in the process of exploring how we can help sponsor a refugee family. We, along with Holy Trinity Chippewa and Christ Church Niagara Falls have already started conversation about a joint campaign to raise funds that will help us do just that. Anyone at St John’s who wishes to make a donation to this mission can do it by putting your donation on the plate or bringing it into the office…just please make sure to mark your donation “refugee sponsorship fund” so it can be tracked. It can be a time consuming project, however I am told, it is also very rewarding. We will keep you posted on the process and how we are to proceed as we get everything in order.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you, I have called you by name; you are mine. -Isaiah 43:1

Blessings…Canon Val



Information evening for Italy trip…

Change of date for information night at St John’s. If you are interested in a trip to Italy from May 9-23 2016 come and join us for an information evening at St John the Evangelist Church 3428 Portage Rd. Niagara Falls starting at 6:30 – 7:30 on November the 23rd…. Our travel agent will be here with us to answer questions and to take registrations. Please call the church office to let us know you are coming. 905-354-1227

Thanksgiving 2015

As we approach Thanksgiving Weekend I would like to invite you to our Celebration of Thanksgiving on the 11th of October when we will be celebrating God’s blessings in our personal lives as well as in the life of our community of St John’s.

I confess that I have mixed emotions each year as this special holiday approaches. There are feelings of delight in the gifts of the land – in the beautiful, fresh squash and apples and potatoes and carrots that are graciously given by God and brought in by farmers and workers. There is joy in those familiar hymns that announce our Creator’s blessing:
For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God; for the gifts to every nation, thanks be to God; for the ploughing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping, future’s needs in earth’s safe-keeping, thanks be to God.
On the other hand, however, there are feelings of regret over the world’s indifference to the land and to the rhythm of the seasons. The smell and feel of rich soil is for most of us only a distant memory. The produce in our grocery stores flies across continents and time zones in defiance of the earth’s rhythms. Our turkeys are never a family bird, tended and fed and then brought to table as an answer to careful and loving labour. In other words our delight in the harvest is often, today, merely delight at a distance.
I don’t highlight these mixed emotions, these tensions, in order to find a quick fix, but simply to remind us how things are. And, perhaps, to ignite a longing for a simpler way of life that would bring us, body and soul, closer to God’s creation – recognizing, as Norman Wirzba has said, that “the more we appreciate and engage creation in its depth and variety, the greater, and the more spontaneous and natural, will be our gratitude and praise.”
As those who walk in the way of the ancient Hebrew people, and who walk in the way of the risen Christ, Thanksgiving pushes our thinking beyond creation and harvest. It moves us, through a general attitude of thankfulness, to giving. The hymn-writer, again, gets it right:
In the just reward of labour, God’s will is done; in the help we give our neighbour, God’s will is done; in our world-wide task of caring for the hungry and despairing, in the harvests we are sharing, God’s will be done.

The many ways we, here at St John’s, have been working to see God’s will be done have been at times scary and perhaps hard as well as exciting, inspiring and enriching. Just to remind you of some of the work we have undertaken since last December I thought it would be good to make a list. First and foremost on our list was to get our finances back on track, then to look at our endeavours at outreach…after looking at some of the programs we are already involved with like; Out of the Cold, St George’s Breakfast Program, Project Share, the Soup Truck, PWRDF, Bethlehem Housing, Water Walkers United, Niagara Support Services, and the Water Project we thought about how we could increase our visibility in the community thus came the birth of our Community BBQ. And what a time we had! It was a time of opening our minds, hearts, and arms as well as our doors to anyone who wished to come to join us. The Spirit is certainly alive and well in our midst and I am sure was felt by everyone at our first annual BBQ!!! The kids had a blast, the adults had as much fun, I am sure, and the people who came out to volunteer, it seemed to me, had the most fun of all. Thanks be to God for everyone who participated in ANY way. Like I said you are all stars!
We have been so blessed here at St John’s. We have amazing wardens in Karen James, Lil Booth, Gary Jenkinson and Pat Olson, we have Kim Martignago who keeps the office running, we have a very supportive Parish Council, we have incredible volunteers who help with everything from worship, working with and teaching our children, Val and our Choir who make a joyful noise unto the Lord, greeters, sides people, people who do flowers, cleaning, catering to funeral receptions, planning events, then working at those events, finances, making calls, changing the sign and all you who worship with us and support our community in many other ways to numerous to mention. Many hands make light work. If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities just give us a call. All are welcome! It is in giving that we receive.
Enclosed with this Thanksgiving letter, you will find a special offering envelope. As you give something extra this season, your gift will not only support our parish but will also support the work of St. John’s in the wider community as we proclaim God’s loving action in the world. Giving is not just a matter of finances; it is also a spiritual matter. Giving is an act of thanksgiving to God for the many blessings we each can name in our own lives, and in those blessings we celebrate together as the community of St John’s.
Yours in Christ
Canon Val

P.S. If you have had the opportunity to see our refreshed Russell Room please take a peek. A huge thank you to the donors who made it all possible.


A Choice Calling for Discipline – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey

When we look critically at the many thoughts and feelings that fill our minds and hearts, we may come to the horrifying discovery that we often choose death instead of life, curse instead of blessing. Jealousy, envy, anger, resentment, greed, lust, vindictiveness, revenge, hatred … they all float in that large reservoir of our inner life. Often we take them for granted and allow them to be there and do their destructive work.

But God asks us to choose life and to choose blessing. This choice requires an immense inner discipline. It requires a great attentiveness to the death-forces within us and a great commitment to let the forces of life come to dominate our thoughts and feelings. We cannot always do this alone; often we need a caring guide or a loving community to support us. But it is important that we both make the inner effort and seek the support we need from others to help us choose life.

– Henri J. M. Nouwen

Question of the week

Question of the Week: Q. How do you pick the readings for each Sunday?

I’m happy to say that I don’t. In the Anglican tradition, we get to share — with Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, some United, Methodist and Presbyterian churches — in a wonderful thing called The Lectionary. The Lectionary sets the readings Sunday by Sunday on a three year cycle. That means that every Sunday of the year, there is a reading from the Old Testament, a psalm, a New Testament passage, and a Gospel selection that are assigned. This Lectionary is ancient, dating back (at least in skeletal form) to the 4th century of the Christian church.

There are a number of things about the Lectionary that are incredibly beneficial to a worshipping community:

-Over the course of three years, we hear most of our New Testament and large portions of the Old Testament. Because of the three year cycle, if we are regular participants in worship, we will become familiar with our Scriptures over time, while still having enough variety that the readings can sound new and fresh to us when we do hear them. Right now, we are in Year B of the Lectionary. Year A focuses on the Gospel of Matthew, Year B on the Gospel of Mark (and to some extent, John), Year C on the Gospel of Luke.

-For a preacher, having a Starting Point is important. I can look up the readings for that Sunday and allow them, through the week, to do what Scripture is supposed to do for us, that is live. I can read the texts and listen through the week to the conversations, memories, current events that surround me, that interact with the texts, and out of that I can hope to capture something of where I hear the Spirit speaking to us in This Time and This Place.

-The Lectionary protects you from hearing only what the preacher thinks is important about the Bible or what the preacher likes to talk about. The preacher is asked to be responsive even to parts of the Bible that he/she might otherwise avoid, find uninspiring or challenging.

-The readings are reflective of the seasons of the church year, and therefore, they help us, along with all of the other symbols we use in the church, to appreciate the different emotions, flavours and themes that move through the year, to connect us to the passage of time and the natural seasons in God’s creation.

-Because on every Sunday, literally millions of people will listen to, and reflect on, the same readings, the Lectionary also connects us to the reality that we are part of a universal and global church, spanning time and space. So many of you name this reality as one of the more powerful parts of your experience of what it is to be an Anglican Christian.

Ultimately, I invite you to discover how The Lectionary is meaningful to you. Because you know that these readings were not selected by me in order to teach you something, you can instead open yourself to wondering how God is speaking to you Today, Here and Now, through the holy words of Scripture.

Canon Val