The Circle

Ontario: The Circle Prepares For Action

D’Arcy and Zena are laying plans for the opening of their circle, The Circle (in the Fergus-Elora area of Ontario).  Here’s the text of the news item they ran in their local paper on July 17:

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“Something Different” proposed by Elora duo

Two Elora residents are hoping residents want “to turn over a new leaf” when it comes to their Christian faith.

“The buds have arrived, leaves have sprouted and spring cleaning and gardening and summer plans are in the works.  Many of us hope that things might be different this year – we will see new places, meet new people, get out of our same old rut”, says Zena Attwood.  “I think that I need to get our of my same old rut by making some changes inside my head and how I act and what I believe – believe about other people, about how the world functions, and how God fits into all of this.  Do I really have to act this year the same way I did last year?”

Originally from England, over 40 years ago, she moved to Elora five years ago.  She, along with D’Arcy Luxton who retired to Elora from Hamilton, “are going to make a start on that by starting a new church group.  Not a new church, exactly, as there will be no church building  and the formal structures of church worship and parish life will be absent.”

Centre Wellington is already well supplied with these – all of which are working hard to serve their communities and bear witness to the Christian faith, the duo says.  Their group has much more modest ambitions.

“We will meet on Sundays, in rented premises, with the intention of serving those in our community who have no church home and are adrift”, Attwood says.  “We are members of the Anglican Network in Canada (www.anglicannetwork.ca), which means that we strive to present the Christian faith in its fullness.”

In the present culture, many people experience difficulty.  Many suffer from thwarted happiness or spiritual anguish.

“This is where we hope to be of service.  While we have many active churches in  Central Wellington, the Christian presence in the highways and bi-ways and along the hedges and at the edges of things is less evident.  This is also where we hope to serve,”  Attwood says.  “Our Canadian economy is not buoyant and we may face years of economic challenge and relentless austerity.  In such circumstances, we believe the need for small Christian groups meeting regularly, but of no fixed address, will increase.”

Attwood and Luxton are inviting everyone “to come and see.  We invite you to come with your queries about Christianity.  We would like to be of service.  The Christian religion is 2000 years old.  Our group is new.  You may like the idea of being part of something old that is brand new.  We do.”

Details of where and when will be published in the Fergus Elora News Express.  In the meantime, further info can be obtained by sending an email to cw.circle4u@gmail.com.
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News: Circles in the News!

The first ASF circle-in-process got a mention in the ANiC August 13 Newsletter!  Here it is:

“Planting in southern Ontario – Elora-Fergus area
Together D’Arcy Luxton and the Rev Zena Attwood wrote an article that was published in their local paper inviting people in the Fergus-Elora area of southern Ontario to join them on Sunday’s as they meet together. The article targeted those who have no church home, are feeling adrift, and are looking for a supportive fellowship. In the article they say, “We invite you to come with your queries about Christianity. We would like to be of service. The Christian religion is 2000 years old. Our group is new. You may like the idea of being part of something old that is brand new. We do.”

Way to go, D’Arcy and Zena!  We will be posting more about The Circle in Fergus-Elora as we get the info!

The Life Of Circles

“Circles” are what we call small groups of christians, meeting regularly, on Sunday, or at some other time, for worship, prayer, healing, discussion, teaching or bible study, and fellowship.  Of course, such “Circles” have been meeting since christian time began.  We call them “Circles” because we want to emphasize what we believe are their central characteristics –  informality, equality, intimacy and participation.

There are some rules for Circles which we think are important.  Rules that govern the structure of the Circle rather than its content.  Here they are:

  1. Have an anchor.  Because Circles are informal and have minimal structure, they are prone to wander off course and develop eccentricities that are not true to the vital centre of the christian faith.  And so, a very firm theological anchor is needed.  In our case, that is the Anglican Network in Canada, and more particularly, the modern re-statement of Anglican faith called the Jerusalem Declaration.  It is here we take our stand.
  2. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it.  Be wary of submitting too readily to habits or customs or forms of worship that do not meet the present needs of people.  Against all of these, the needs of people come first.  Jesus responded to immediate need immediately.  We would like to try to do the same.  Thus, if a personal need arises in the midst of a liturgy, we will interrupt the liturgy and deal with the need.  And if a stranger approaches our Circle, we will stop what we are doing and welcome the stranger, and spend whatever time is necessary to make that stranger feel at home.  If we cannot do these things in Circles, what are Circles for?
  3. If you don’t need it, don’t get it.  We are wary of accumulating things.  Even good things.  Things distract us from people.  Likewise, we are keen on avoiding any administrative or bureaucratic responsibility that does not serve immediate needs.
  4. Self-supporting from Day One.  We must expect no financial support from outside the Circle and must meet such expenses as we have ourselves.  The probable future of our societies is one of financial austerity and straightened circumstances.  Christian churches will feel the pinch.  We must avoid being a burden to them.
  5. Permanence is not the objective:  effectiveness is.  Whether a Circles lasts 30 days, 30 weeks or 30 years is not the point:  serving the immediate need is.  Often  the need is to serve as a rendez-vous and gathering place for Anglicans and others of a conservative christian faith.  Such Circles may evolve into small churches of a traditional character.  Others may fill a temporary need until members find a more permanent church home.  Others may be formed to take advantage of an opportunity for evangelism.  Others because a particular place or space requires a christian presence.

Groucho Marx is said to have said, “I have principles.  If you don’t like them, I have others.”  We offer these rules of the road in somewhat that spirit – that is they represent our best thinking at present.  There may be more to say.  Or less.
But here is where we start.

Take 3: A Recap on the MOU

Or “Things to know about ‘Forms’.”

Our first attempt at submitting a signed MOU (Memorandum of Understanding between the soon-to-be-project and the ANiC diocese, see 16 January Take 2) was not successful.  There was a very simple reason for it – so ‘Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest.’

In our attempt to do much by ourselves and not create work for other folk, we found the MOU form on the ANiC website.  When I phoned the ANiC office to confirm just which lines we would be deleting as not applicable at this time, and so initialing, I was aware of a vague dissonance in the conversation.  Since I was anticipating a very straightforward conversation concerning a document about which I had some familiarity, I did not have a copy of the MOU in front of me.  It was not until later I realised the reason for the dissonance:  we were having a conversation about 2 different MOU’s.

A new MOU had been created in the Fall of 2012, and was not placed on the website.  We were using an old one, and the ANiC office were wondering why we were deleting, for one thing, great and important theological statements, to which we were to assent.

The moral of the story is:  When using forms of any kind, especially those to start up a project, do please obtain them directly from the ANiC office.  It is much faster and less work to do things correctly the first time!  As we all know.  And in these days of e-mails and attachments, a response requires less time and cost.

I sometimes get the feeling that all these small details have nothing to do with the great spiritual task we have been set by the Lord.  But that is wrong thinking.  The Fathers of the Church were beset by small details, as were the spiritual thinkers and doers of the Reformation and the twentieth century.  The parable of the talents:  be faithful in small things.  If there are no details and order, chaos can result.

So, we await the return of our “moo.”

Take 2: Institutional Roadblocks (or “What Doesn’t Work”)

The “moo” doesn’t work!  The MOU or Memorandum of Understanding.  It’s the contract/covenant (if you will) between the aspiring project and ANiC, which spells out what relationships and potential actions are to be undertaken by the project, and what happens at an end-point:  either the dissolution of the project or the movement of the project into a plant.  There’s nothing wrong with it for a group who are starting up a Project with the hope and intention to move through the Three-P process, culminating in a Parish.  And certainly, for a tiny group of 2 or 3 whose intention is to move that way forward, the “moo” works wonderfully.  But we are choosing to put institutional requirements to one side in order to concentrate fully on ministering to arrivals at our door.  Instead of the no more than 35% of assets (personnel, finances, time, energy etc.) that a parish spends on administrative endeavours, we are choosing to pare that to less than 10%.

There are ‘pro’s and con’s’ to this MOU.  We are part of ANiC and if we wish to reap the benefits of belonging then we need a relationship with ANiC and for a start-up project of any kind, that relationship is realised in the MOU.  So, we have a local finance officer to handle bill payments and income, but he (in our case ‘he’) is only a middle person between the recipient/donor on one side and ANiC on the other (as is the case for any project).  ANiC handles all the more intricate niceties usually bequeathed to a parish treasurer.  That’s a nice ‘pro’!

The MOU also requires us to be connected with an ANiC parish and for us that is only for prayer support. Our chosen parish is about an 85 minute drive from where we will have our Sunday worship meeting, so a close proximity is not a necessity.  But where we are going to meet in Centre Wellington requires us to have certain insurance coverage in place, and that can be an expensive proposition, especially if it courses directly through the ANiC insurer;  it reduces by about 2/3rds if it can be accomplished through the supporting parish insurance.  The National Director, John MacDonald, is the go-to person for advice on this.

However, we found that we were walking perilously close to signing our names to a document that, for us, was blatantly untrue.  We had no plans to have wardens or to move into becoming a parish.  So, not wishing to perjure ourselves, we created our own ‘personalised’ MOU.

The document that ANiC uses was passed by the ANiC council, and so carries a certain legal weight, and we were to use that document instead of our newly created one.  Following e-mail and telephone communications with John MacDonald, where our state of ‘potential perjury’ was spelled out, all parties agreed that consciences would be salved and legalities would be saved if the two lines relating to moving through the Three-P process were initialed with a note stating it is not relevant at this time. The wardens and other issues were deemed to be there in the MOU ‘if the project needs them’, as opposed to being definitively needed in situ.

We signed and initialed the MOU and, at time of this writing, it is presently in the Canada Post system.

No doubt we will find other roadblocks in our path, but once we had settled the MOU ‘issue’, as well as our Name, our minds have now turned to where the rubber hits the road.  Literally.  How do we do what we want to do, or, in my former nursing terminology – how do we ‘ground’ the ideas in our heads into action on the ground?  What does Evangelism look like in ‘our’ neck-o’-the-woods?

Take 1: The Orphan Circle Forms

We are orphans – just the two of us (unless there are others of which we know not) – living in the Centre Wellington area north of Guelph/Waterloo in Ontario.  And in the 4 years since we met at the ANiC synod in St. Catharines, where our opening conversation was “We can do something about that, can’t we?” referring to Archbishop Duncan’s call to plant 1,000 churches, we have attempted to ‘get something going’ in Centre Wellington.

In the local area there are like-minded Anglicans in the ACoC, some quite disturbed by its trajectory, who are not willing to leave their local congregations, partly because they have not ‘felt called to leave’ but largely because the congregations haven’t done anything to rock the local boat.  There are also some ANiC members who live far from their congregation who see ANiC’s church planting strategy as somewhat complex and energy draining.

So we remain the two of us – attending local and not so local (orthodox leaning) churches of other denominational stripes.  Myself, I sometimes travel to an ANiC church 75 minutes south and, for the last 16 months, as an ANiC licensed priest, have taken a monthly service at an ANiC project 95 minutes north.  My ‘partner-in-crime’ (as I call him, he’s a retired lawyer), attends Anglican/Episcopal churches when outside the local area.

Wishing to flounder no more, we decided to start a ‘trimmed-down’ project as an evangelistic endeavour (all ANiC congregations/projects have that as their mandate), without much of the ‘institutional accoutrements’ of a regular start-up project.  (Darcy has expressed this idea clearly in his own blog, ANiC Goes To War).

So trimmed down were we that we felt the need to receive Episcopal blessing, and having sent Bishop Charlie 3 documents we visited him on the Eve of All Saints 2012.  Our idea to have no wardens, very minimal costs, no commitment to the Three-P process i.e. a moving from project to plant to parish (without saying that might not happen), but with a commitment to be of service to those who choose to walk through our doors even to the point of disturbing whatever slimmed-down liturgy with which we are occupied (see the attached “CW ANiC Proposal“), that idea was met with genuine approval.

Bishop Charlie asked if he could do anything to help and all we asked for was his permission to go ahead, which he enthusiastically gave.  He smiled when he said it wouldn’t help if he visited, with which we agreed and then I said, “and when you do come, come in civvies and come unannounced!”

In the interests of full disclosure I should add, perhaps the ease of acceptance of our proposals by Bishop Charlie had 3 assets:

  1. We are in an area with 3 major centres and nary an ANiC church in sight, and an area that has been on Bishop Charlie’s heart for some time.
  2. I have personally known Bishop Charlie for some years, at least since that catastrophic ACoC General Synod in St. Catharines in 2004.
  3. My ‘partner-in-crime’ has known Bishop Charlie for even longer, as Bishop Charlie knew his Episcopal father.

The purpose of writing this Blog is to document our risings and downfalls, and to encourage other tiny groups of orphans (even a ‘twin’ like us) to start something where they are.