“Guidance from Beyond” – a Sermon by the Reverend Faun Harriman

Thanks to the Reverend Faun Harriman, Rector of St. Albans, Burnaby and regional dean of Royal City / South Burnaby Deanery for this sermon on Paul’s challenge to us to renew our minds. Faun’s words and experiences present a challenge to all of us.

-Steve Bailey, Deacon and Blogmaster, NW Anglican Blog

 

 

ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST YEAR A
Sunday, August 24, 2014
St. Albans, Burnaby BC
Romans 12:1- 4
“Guidance from Beyond”

Let us pray: Lord, breathe Your Spirit upon us at this time. Bless now the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts – give us an understanding of Your Holy Word and lead us in the way you want us to go. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Last week a family member by marriage took his own life. It had been a life of pain and unbelievable anguish since the senseless murder of a child over four years ago. Like so many others life had been spiralling out of control into a place of darkness and hopelessness from which there seemed to be no way out. A service was held last Friday. A few days later his brother and sister in law were at the apartment sorting through things and taking care of the paper work. While they were there something remarkable happened. All the papers were left on the desk but the original will was not among them. A will lying on the desk was not signed. His brother said out loud “I know you are here” and walking over to a box opened it and there was the original will. They would have never looked in that box. God is in the details. Coincidence maybe but I prefer to believe that God will make sure that all things work together for good for those who trust in him and we can always expect guidance from beyond.

Scripture always provides guidance from above and the letter to the church at Rome is no exception. In it Paul is distilling and working out the Good News of Jesus Christ to Christians he had never met but who were divided over the degree to which the Old Testament law should continue to guide believers. “ We see Paul the Jew wrestling with the implications of his own and his converts experience of grace and Paul the Christian wrestling with the implications of his Jewish heritage. “NLT James D.G. Dunn Romans.” These are authentic thoughts from someone who has nothing to gain and nothing to lose but whose life was one of complete service to Jesus Christ. Words that have lasted and are now part of his legacy. Powerful words coming from a place of true peace and within lay the essence, the inside of the mind and heart of Paul.

His life was manifesting itself from the inside out, he had become that which he professed, a worthy disciple of Jesus. Paul’s instructions to the Roman Christians and the faithful now are timeless. They can be compared to the words spoken by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. They are an inventory of a spiritual life that lived genuinely will be apparent on the outside of us. Paul writes to be full of love, hope, patience and zeal. To persevere in prayer, seek good, reject evil, live in harmony, never seek vengeance, bless those who persecute you, if your enemy is hungry feed them and do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. What an incredible stirring list, of course this is how we ought to behave. But what happens when we come up against the slings and arrows of our daily lives?

I have shared before that my challenge most often seems to come when I am behind the wheel. One morning this week after racing home to get ready for work I was stopped at the end of the driveway looking to make a left-hand turn. I eased out slowly attempting to see around large green garbage/recycling truck that was blocking the view in both directions. I could not see the driver but was hoping he could me while straining my neck trying to see if there was any traffic coming. I finally pulled out and got into the proper lane but I found myself saying out loud some not so kind words about the driver of the green truck. This not so nice stuff was accompanied by a hand signal. Immediately the Holy Spirit busted me and I was convicted of cursing those who persecuted me. I heard that still small voice telling me that I had just spoken badly about one of God’s beloved creatures. I know better I was reminded again of the number of times I am angry at other drivers and how often I curse them instead of offering them God’s blessing. That same afternoon another driver pulled out in front of me and just as I was about to curse them I stopped and blessed them instead.

I was given a grace filled moment enough spiritual manna for the day and the Holy Spirit continued working on changing the way I think, renewing my thoughts. It may seem like a small thing getting angry in traffic but in the spiritual realm nothing is too small. Paul writes “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” 12:2 Replacing anger with love, hating what is evil and holding fast to what is good. Knowing, trusting and believing God has a plan for our lives and He will deal with every bad attitude and character flaw so that we will be able to “… discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 12:2 The transformation of our character is the primary directive of God- this same God that is abiding in us so we can abide with Him.

In the Old Testament God was carried around in the Ark of Covenant, a portable tabernacle that the children of Israel moved through the wilderness. You and I are like portable tabernacles, we move from place to place and God makes his home on the inside of us. There is still the outer court, a holy place, and a most holy place. Joyce Meyers describes it as “the outer court is our body, the holy place is our soul and the most holy place is our spirit. When we examine our inner lives we are looking at holy ground where the Spirit of God makes his home.” When we praise, worship and honour God in our inner self then our insides become right and the outside will follow.

Paul’s heartfelt words of guidance from beyond can become something we can achieve without having to fret or stress about. We can genuinely love, we can bless those that curse us and we can be patient and persevere in prayer because we are living our inner holy life on the outside. It is effortless because we have been crucified in Christ and it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.

When I am swimming lap after lap I use that time to repeat Scripture and one of my favourite is from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When I want to pack in it, cut short my workout I just keep on renewing my mind that is it is Christ who strengthens me and I can do anything. Even after I am finished I can still hear those words, it is Jesus who gives me power and I belong to him. The good news is we do not have wait until we are facing a terminal disease or incapacitated we can make a choice to liv our one and only life in God’s power and presence. We do not need to be so concerned about what is happening in our circumstances when our priority is what is happening in our hearts, in our inner court, our holy of holies. God is interested in changing us; to become what he has in mind for us so that we become more like Christ in our thoughts, our attitudes and our words and deeds.

The transforming of our thought life is a process, learning to follow Jesus faithfully, intentionally and joyfully. Like any change, any renewal, any transformation it means commitment. As Harold Percy writes on the handout you have today “Ten Commitments You can make to help your Church Thrive” love your church but love Jesus more. But following Jesus faithfully involves participation in the life of the Christian community, the church. It important to keep these two in the right order. So let us make the commitment to attend, to welcome, to create a positive atmosphere, to grow, to serve, to pray, to give generously, to be open to change, to dream and to invite. We can change the world we can replace anger with love, fear with hope and despair with optimism. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us and let us give thanks to the only wise God though Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever. (Romans 16:27)

Let us pray: Lord we pray today that we will hear your Word and grasp it. That it will takes root in or hearts and bear much fruit. Lord you desire truth in our inner being we pray Lord that you will give us wisdom in our innermost hearts. For we are persuaded beyond a doubt that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending nor things to come nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen

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“In Praise of Mixed Religion” by William H. Harrison: Valuable Insights into Faith and Culture

As an educator, I found Chapter 9, “The Last Taboo: Education about Religion” of In Praise of Mixed Religion worth the price of admission into William Harrison’s insightful journey that explores the inter-relationships among the constantly changing dynamics of individual faith, cultural realities and the ways in which religions work.

Harrison is right in his articulation of the need for education about religion as a basic human right and necessity. Current cultural views that take the ‘pretend religion is not there’ approach are dead ends: “A syncretistic world requires that we know something about what religion is, about the nature of our own religious heritages, and about other religious traditions” (p. 207). This statement is a good expression of my rationale for developing and teaching a course in comparative religions at the secondary school level, and helping others to design similar courses. Unfortunately, we were voices in the wilderness, but Harrison gives occasion for new hope. This chapter should be read and digested by every school trustee, curriculum committee and parent group in the country. It’s all to obvious: “We need to know about the complex world in which we live. We need the information that will make possible the basic decisions of our lives. Religious education is a necessity, not merely an option” (p.226).

Harrison calls for nothing less than an “Intellectual Transformation”, the title of the book’s final chapter. That transformation involves our understanding and acceptance of syncretism as a human phenomenon at work, not only in religion, but in our very humanity itself. A Syncretistic approach recognizes that faith systems constantly change under the influence of one another and that we can consciously use these processes to enhance the Reign of God among us. Writes Harrison, “…the notion of syncretism is not merely a tool for interpreting the world. Instead, it is a call to action. I have adopted an “advocacy” view of syncretism because it is a call to change the world. I am asking us to recognize the complex syncretisms that we compose, in addition to those that others create and follow. This way of thinking about the world means that the “other” is less other  and more of a conversation partner. We can begin to think in terms of what others have to offer us and what we have to offer them. This removes some of the win/lose-us/them dynamic from religious conversation” (p. 233).

It’s a challenge worth embracing. I brought, with great enthusiasm, a copy of Harrison’s book to a recent meeting of the diocesan Ecumenical and Multi-Faith Unit. It’s become recommended reading and I know that there are already parish and diocesan groups who have taken it on as a study focus. Each chapter analyses different aspects of syncretism as a human phenomenon and explores when syncretism is positive or negative. This analysis leads Harrison to an advocacy for what he calls “critical openness”, a much needed entity in a world which often operates on the basis of superficial thinking on a wide range of human issues.

In Praise of Mixed Religion: The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World is published by McGill-Queens University Press and was financially supported by funds from the University of British Columbia. Rev. Dr. Bill Harrison is an Anglican priest who was, until recently, the principal of the Kootenay School of Ministry in Kelowna. He will take up a position as the Director of Mission and Ministry for the Diocese of Huron on September 1, 2014. He will implement the diocese’s strategic plan and begin work around alternate models for ministry.

The book is dedicated to the Rev. Keith Gilbert, priest in the Diocese of New Westminster who has most recently served at St. Laurence. It’s nice to see a scholar of Harrison’s depth acknowledging his past mentors.

Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. Your comments and submissions are most welcome. As Harrison points out, the life is in the conversation. 

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Anglicans Celebrate being a Part of the Metro Vancouver Alliance

Anglicans in the Diocese of New Westminster were blessed by having Bishop Melissa stand with other faith, union, and community leaders at the Founding Assembly of the Metro Vancouver Alliance in February. We are well on our way as a part of this growing voice for social and human justice.

The first Annual General Meeting of Metro Alliance members was held at Vancouver Community College on Thursday, June 5. Several Anglicans active in the organization were there to give reports and to vote on behalf of their Anglican constituencies. I was there to represent St. Laurence, Coquitlam, a registered member of the MVA. Other Anglicans who play key roles in MVA at the present time include (but are not limited to) Patricia McSherry, Margaret Marquardt and Andrew Wilhelm Boyle.

As the Annual Report states, “Members of Metro Vancouver Alliance are institutions: congregations, labor unions, educational bodies, non-profits, and neighbourhood organizations that share a concern for the well-being of their community.” Faith groups represented include Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Anglican, Baptists, Presbyterians, members of the Jewish community, KAIROS, Longhouse Council of Native Ministry,and the United Church of Canada. We’re hoping to broaden that base. Individual Anglican parishes that are members of Metro Alliance include St. Catherines, St. Clements, St. James, St. Laurence, and St. Thomas, in addition to the diocesan Eco-Justice Unit and the North Shore Social Justice Working Group (Anglican and Lutheran).

These faith groups partner with a number of labour unions and their locals, community groups, and sponsoring organizations.

Over the past year, Metro Vancouver Alliance has completed a listening campaign involving conversations with hundreds of people in its member organizations, carried out a discernment exercise to choose the issues that will form MVA’s public agenda (Poverty, Housing, Transit, Social Isolation), and held the Founding Assembly attended by 650 people with senior political faith and community leaders in attendance.

In addition, MVA has carried out leadership and listening training for community leaders from over 100 institutions, established four Research Action Teams for the four identified areas of action, put plans in place to hold an ‘Election Accountability Assembly’ in October 2014, prior to municipal elections, and built a governance structure and financial base to sustain and support the organization.

Lead Organizer Deborah Littman came to MVA from London Citizens in the UK, a thriving broad-based community organization. Winetta Lee, Project Co-ordinator, has worked primarily with the Catholic Matters Project. She helped to develop a Catholic Social Teaching training package for young adults and co-ordinated a number of key MVA events. She completed her contract in August of last year.

James Infante has interned with MVA over the past year, playing a large role in the organization and execution of the Founding Assembly. James is also a UBC student ambassador, involved with the Filipino Students Association.

MVA has a very active Board and Leaders’ Group which holds one-to-one meetings with leaders of faith, community, education and labour organizations. The major goal of such meetings is to identify where leaders and institutions share common interests which could be best advanced by being part of a broad-based community organization.

When members of your parish have an opportunity to attend a leadership institute or other form of training, it will be well worth your while. We have an excellent opportunity for effective network development between Anglicans and a host of other organizations and for helping to develop servant leadership in our community.

Have a look at the MVA website to find out more. http://iafnw.org/canada/metrovancouveralliance

 

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. 

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Worth a Read: God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

While his theology of atonement and his gender identifications of God could use some tune-up, Matthew Vines, a young Christian gay man who has successfully weathered a challenging personal struggle with his own sexuality, has done Christians an admirable service in this easy to digest, yet challenging reading of Scripture presented from his Evangelical point of view.

In his comment on the book, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts writes – and it’s hard to say it better – “Matthew Vines lives at an intersection of identities: a committed, theologically conservative Christian, who also happens to be an out gay man. In offering both a scholarly and profoundly personal reconciliation of a duality often depicted as hopelessly at odds, he performs a public service that is valiant, hopeful, and long overdue. He points the way forward for all those still stranded at the intersection.”

Amen. And I wish, of course, that Vines was Anglican instead of Presbyterian, but that’s rather provincial of me, I know!

The subtitle of the book is “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships”.  And it is a moving and thoughtful case, worthy of our serious study as we turn to the Scriptures to witness a strong reading of Biblical texts that considered in context do not condemn same-sex relationships, but are rather reflective of very real and often ignored cultural contexts that existed when the Biblical texts were written.

Vines presents the reader with an in-depth look at Biblical versus traditional notions of celibacy as a chosen life style, explicates the “Sin of  Sodom” for what it essentially was, invites us to reconsider the use of the word rendered in English “abominations” in Leviticus, points us toward a comprehensive view of Paul’s views expressed in Romans 1 by putting them in the context of Hellenistic thinking of the time, places gay people in the context of humanity being created in God’s own image, and argues that there is a reasonable Biblical argument for marriage equality. A tall order, indeed.

Vines puts forth thesis after thesis based on principles of Biblical interpretation while weaving in his own moving personal story. As Mark Achtemeier, Presbyterian theologian  and author of his own book on same-sex marriage, remarks — “Matthew Vines brings within reach of non-specialists the rich store of scholarly work on what Scripture does and does not say about same-sex relationships. Coupled with his poignant descriptions of the damage done by traditional exclusionary interpretations, his book is an essential resource for all who seek to find their bearings in the current debate over the Bible’s teachings for gay people.”

I’m certainly not giving anything away by quoting from Vines’ last chapter. This statement challenges all of us: “As we seek to discern right from wrong, we have no better guide than God’s character as revealed in Scripture. Based on our discussion in this chapter, same-sex orientation is in keeping with God’s relational, covenant-keeping character. That means we should understand it as a created characteristic — not as a distortion caused by the fall. By branding same-sex orientation broken, we are wrongly rejecting a good part of God’s creation. And with awful consequences we are tarnishing the image of God….”

Have a read. You won’t regret it.

Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. Convergent Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60142-516-4

 

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. If you’ve read any good books lately that shed light on important issues in contemporary Christianity, why not share a review on NW Anglican Blog? And a happy and Holy Spirit filled Pentecost to all!

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The Holy Spirit in the Spotlight: Sweeney and Tickle’s “The Age of the Spirit”

Subtitled “How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy Is Shaping the Church”, Phyllis Tickle’s latest book in her “Great Emergence” series presents an engaging historical and cultural look at the theologies of God The Holy Spirit that have emerged over the centuries. That The Age of the Spirit, co-authored with scholar Jon M Sweeney, is a must-read, is reflected in its encouragingly fresh historical perspectives and the hope it generates for emerging 21st century Christianity.

Tickle and Sweeney open the book with a useful summary of a now familiar analysis of the great upheavals that take place in the Christian world about every 500 years: The Great Transformation (the beginning of the Christian Era), The Great Decline and Fall around 500 AD, the Great Schism (1000 AD), the Great Reformation (1500 AD) and  The Great Emergence which we are now witnessing as we debate questions surrounding “authority” in the midst of cultural upheaval. “Welcome to our tumultuous times” (p. 14).

Sweeney and Ticke clearly lay out the ingredients of ‘our tumultuous times’ and go on to explore them specifically throughout the book:

1. We live in an era when people in vast numbers are “more spiritual than religious” and the Church generally has not learned how to deal with that;

2. What role does the mystery of the Trinity play, and how can we make that mystery relevant to our emerging cultural milieu?

3. What is the significance of Pentecostalism being the fastest growing expression of Christianity?

4. How do we determine the role of the Holy Spirit in determining Christian authority and authenticity?

5. Why is the Holy Spirit as an integral manifestation of the Trinitarian revelation of God so significant in our current period of upheaval?

In this context, Sweeney and Tickle remind us that “what matters is not whether, as individual believers, we are Emergence Christians or traditional Christians. What matters is that we have arrived at the point in our conversation where we are to begin tracing the strange story of how, as a people of faith, we Christians have envisioned, engaged, and all too often even tried to engineer the Holy Spirit over the millennia.” And that’s what they set out to do with much success.

Challenging us to re-think such diverse Christian phenomena and personalities as the rise of Islam, Joachim of Fiore (12th century CE), Methodism and the Holiness Movement, Charles Parnham, William Seymour and the Azuza Street Revival (1906) down to Brian McLaren and Harvey Cox, The Age of the Spirit challenges us to think in new ways about what’s going on around us as Christian faith heads into a new era of realignment and diverse expression that can stand as a Gospel challenge and witness to our “spiritual, but not religious” societal reality.

At 80 years of Age, Phyllis Tickle stated at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver in January that she still has at least a couple of books in her. God grant that it be so. As an Anglican Christian and lay theologian, she is, thankfully, not afraid of offending our inherited theology. As she stated in her Denver talk, which can only be described as spell-binding, God’s presentation of God’s self to us can only match our developed ability to receive it. We’re ready for the next iteration, she states. God the Spirit is coming in power to fulfil our knowledge of the Father and the Son. Needless to say, she received a prolonged standing ovation. It was one of those great moments that gives us hope as Christians, that God is yet moving among us to do new things.

Phyllis Tickle with Jon M Sweeney, The Age of the Spirit” How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-8010-1480-2

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. He is currently writing a series reporting on the Christianity 21 gathering held in Denver in January.

 

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Diocesan Winter Youth Retreat – Hope for Today’s Church

There’s nothing like a group of dedicated, enthusiastic Christian teens to bathe the heart with hope for today’s multi-variant expressions of Christian faith. Such was our diocesan youth retreat at Sorrento – a mid-winter snowy adventure full of holy fire.

A community came together from around the province  and a few from beyond (forty on a bus from Vancouver) – to embrace the reality of being loved by God and to accept the challenge to serve Jesus in the world.

Worship was contemporary in flavour – meaningful and engaging. Workshops and activities covered a wide range of interests from expressing faith through art, to some interesting kinds of spiritual practices to learning how to deal with bullying in Biblical and restorative ways following the example of Jesus. As Trivia Night quizmasters, Phil Colvin, Cameron Gutjahr and Alex Starr were at their usual best. I still don’t know if there really is a movie called “Sharktopus”, but the video question itself was engaging, to say the least!

Archbishop John Privett spent some time in a “Dish with the Bish” session and had a significant and productive meeting with the executive of the BCYAYM (The British Columbia and Yukon Anglican Youth Movement). BCYAYM is a group on the move and its capable youth leadership structure is very serious about its mission.

Sorrento is a wonderful place – even in snowy -17c conditions.  The facilities are first rate and the food and staff are wonderful.  I hope every Anglican teen has an opportunity to attend and maybe even be part of the “crew” at Sorrento at some point.  What impressed me again is the importance of camping and retreat ministry for our young Anglicans. I discovered once again that a significant number don’t attend Sunday church regularly, but have built meaningful spiritual life and community around their summer and retreat experiences at places like Artaban and Sorrento. Enough said.

For Phil Colvin, this retreat formally ended his time as our diocesan youth coordinator as he moves into another position at the Synod Office. Phil was duly thanked for his excellent work during his time as youth coordinator and was presented with a beautiful tie to suit his more “formal” work atmosphere.

Many thanks to the dedicated youth leaders, speakers, worship leaders and father who came to support our Anglican youth and who helped make the weekend a memorable one for them.

Indeed – “Keep Calm and Love God”.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and a blogmaster at NW Anglican Blog. He was very blessed to be part of the “Keep Calm and Love God” Retreat.

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Christianity 21:Adventures on the Emergent Frontier – Part Three: Jonathan Merritt

“The God who created us is better than the God we created.” That’s Jonathan Merritt’s testimony to the Grace of God which enveloped  a young man struggling with what to do with Jesus.

Jonathan Merritt of the “Faith and Culture” blog of the RNS (Religion News Service) recalls his life as the son of a Baptist pastor who remembers when a day of emptiness came and he felt that “God and I were an old married couple”. He empathizes with the scores of young adults who have similar stories of emptiness as they feel increasingly alienated from inherited faith – particularly in an angry parent God.

In his seeking for a fresh encounter “with the God who is”, Merritt allowed the Grace of God to fall upon him and work in his life in ways he could not imagine. In his own experience, he recalls the Biblical account of Jacob’s dream, one of the most engaging accounts of deep human experience included in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Merritt points out that in coming to Jacob, God places no conditions on him – no moral obligations “other than a beating heart”. God loves Jacob and envelopes him because of who God is, not because of who Jacob – or any one of us – is. Like Jacob, we must eventually open our hearts and minds to the dream of God and open our hands to the holy in our midst. Jacob named his place of God-encounter “Bethel” – The House of God”. The Holy is all around us.

Merritt reminds us that Jacob did not immediately accept the grace poured out upon him, but tried to bargain with God. He simply cannot believe grace is real. That, says Merritt, is our story too. “The Lord is in that place, and I did not know it,” reflects Jacob.

So a question faces us that is reflected in Jacob’s experience: Could God and Jesus be better than we imagined? Can we see beyond the strictures of ‘institution’ to embrace a new vision of God’s constant unpredictability? Like Jacob we need to accept that the “Good News” shows up in the strangest ways in the strangest places; God never shows up the same way twice.

At Pentecost, “People spoke words they didn’t know they knew”. Are we called as 21st century Christians to do the same? Can we live into the fact that God comes when needed most, but is least expected? This time in which we live can be our Bethel and our Pentecost, Merritt reminds us. That’s quite the challenge.

Indeed, the God who created us is better than the God we created.

Merritt’s answer to the question, “what’s the one big idea for Christianity in the 21st century?” is simply that we need a renewed vision of who God in Jesus is and who we are as open recipients to God’s Grace and God’s constant unexpected surprises.

Next: Two “Big Ideas” for the Christian Future from Paul Rauchenbusch and Noel Castellanos. Paul is the grandson of well-known American Christian thinker Walter Rauchenbusch and Noel  is with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) founded by Rev. John Perkins, respected American civil rights advocate and community activist.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blog master at NW Anglican Blog. He recently attended the Christianity 21 gathering in Denver, Colorado.

 

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