Saturday, November 19, 2016

An older woman priest and a young male priest go into a bar: A eulogy for the Revd Betty Garrett

The Revd Betty Garrett died earlier this week.

Betty was a mentor to me as a young priest. She was never my Rural Dean nor my Archdeacon, but that meant that she was someone I could talk to outside my "chain of command." She came down from Moosomin to Carnduff and metaphorically held my hand as I presided at my first funeral - as it happened, the funeral of her childhood friend. She came up from Whitewood to Esterhazy to baptize my children so that I could participate in the rite as a parent. In her time at Whitewood, I stopped more than once for coffee and encouragement.

But my favourite Betty Garrett story happened when I went to the hospital in Brandon to visit her husband, Bob, in the hospital. As Bob drifted off to sleep, Betty and I decided to go for coffee.

All the best stories begin with, "Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

And it did.

Finding no coffee shop open near the hospital, we decided to go to the pub and have a beer. A white haired older lady (who I realize would have been no more than a year or two older than I am today) and a young priest in a clerical collar. You couldn't tell to look at her that Betty was a priest, but it makes for a better story.

We sat ourselves down at a table near the back of the bar. The waitress seemed a bit taken aback; a respectable looking older woman and a young priest. But we ordered our beer, and in due course, the waitress brought it.

It was only as we got towards the end of our glass - that point when you have to decide whether to order another or not - that the situation became clear.

The DJ announced the next dancer.

And the young woman came out on stage . . .

Betty and I looked at the stage, looked at each other, and decided that it was time to leave.

Of all the older priests who supervised, mentored or helped to form me, Betty was the only one who ever took me to a strip club - if only by accident.

Rest in Peace, Betty.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reflecting on General Synod 2016

UPDATE - It turns out that one clerical vote had been misallocated as a lay vote. As a result, the amendment to the marriage canon has PASSED first reading. If passed again at General Synod 2019, equal marriage will be affirmed within the Anglican Cburch of Canada effective January 2020. That said, I leave the post below intact, reflecting reality as we then thought it to be. I note that some of the Bishops who intended to push ahead with equal marriage immediately in the face of the defeat at indicating they will not change their decision in light of the corrected result. More on that in due course.
____

After too long a silence, I have concluded that Simple Massing Priest is the appropriate place for me to offer some reflections on yesterday's vote at General Synod. In case anyone missed it, a proposed amendment to the Canons of the Anglican Church of Canada to allow for the marriage of same sex couples narrowly failed - by a single vote in the House of the Clergy.

Appropriately, there is a high bar for changes to doctrine. In this particular case, the motion required a two thirds majority in each of the three Houses - the Bishops, the Clergy and the Laity. The Laity passed the motion with more than 72% voting in favour. Despite earlier concerns that the motion would fail in the House of Bishops, it actually had in excess of 68% - though pending numbers that may also be a one vote margin. Although well over two thirds of the members of General Synod approved of the motion, it failed because it only garnered 66.23% among the Clergy.

In some respects, it might be easier to handle the results had the rejection been more substantial, or had it been the Bishops as had been feared. With clear majorities across the board, and even though the rules were scrupulously followed, the result feels illegitimate.

I felt gutted as I read the result. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain of my LGBTQTS sisters and brothers. While much of the debate, from both sides, was measured and heartfelt, there were also many disturbing and overtly homophobic comments - to the point that the Bishop of Edmonton felt it necessary to explicitly challenge and reject the language of "abomination." I gather that some of those on the conservative side were themselves distressed by the intemperate language, and the realization that some of the opposition to the resolution was rooted, not in thoughtful reservation but in rampant homophobia.

Complicating all this is the advice from the Chancellor of General Synod that the canon as it stands - unamended - does not actually prohibit the solemnization of marriage between two persons of the same sex. And so, ironically, by defeating the motion to amend the Marriage Canon, the opponents of equal marriage may actually have defeated themselves.

Had the motion passed, I expect most Dioceses, most Bishops and most Clergy would have shown restraint for the next three years, awaiting final approval of the canonical change. Instead, several Bishops have already announced that they will authorize Clergy in their Dioceses to solemnize same sex marriages, and several more have indicated they will initiate processes within their Dioceses to the same end. It is likely that, by the end of 2016, a majority of Anglican Dioceses in Canada representing 75 - 80 percent of the Anglicans in Canada will be offering the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to couples, regardless of sexuality, who otherwise meet the legal and canonical requirements.

Our own Bishop is, for now, keeping his own counsel. He has indicated via a Facebook post that he will issue a pastoral letter later this week to be read in Churches this coming Sunday. I do not know what course he will chart, but I know that his first concern will be to acknowledge the hurt of those who feel rejected for who they are or for what they believe. I do not envy him as he begins to navigate a sea of canonical and pastoral chaos.

There will be time in due course to consider what might have been done differently. There will be time in due course to address the apparent split between two historically oppressed groups - Indigenous folk and Queer folk - who could as easily be allies as adversaries. There will be time in due course to determine next steps.

But today it is time to stand with those who have been wounded by an imperfect process, who feel rejected by their faith community, who have spent much of the last few days being talked about rather than talked with. With Paul (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10),
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

His Name Was Aylan - Today's sermon

I don't usually write sermons. I wrote this one. You can listen to the recording here.

Here is the text. Check against delivery.



Sermon Notes: His Name Was Aylan
The Venerable Malcolm French, SCP
St. James the Apostle Anglican Church, Regina SK
September 6, 2015


His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

None of us who saw that picture this past week will ever forget it: the little toddler, lying on the beach in that pose we’ve all seen – the exhausted toddler, sleeping where he fell, in his red t-shirt, his blue shorts, his little shoes.

But he wasn’t sleeping. He was dead, lying in the sand where the Mediterranean Sea had spat him up.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

One friend of mine, a cynical reporter in Saskatoon, tweeted: 
That little boy. I can’t unsee that little boy, 
and I tweeted back: 
I pray to God none of us can ever unsee that little boy.
The picture is too heartbreaking to look at, too important not to see.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

We couldn’t help but see, in his lifeless body, the heart-rending image of our own children, our own grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. There but for the grace of God . . .

For most of us, that was a notional construct, a hypothetical. But for us at St. James . . . it could have been Mimi; it could have been her cousins. This is real for us.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

His brother’s name was Galip. He was five.

I know how Oliver was so chuffed to be “a big bruvver.” I expect Galip was a proud big brother. And like Sullivan sometimes follows Oliver around like a little puppy, I expect Aylan followed his big brother too.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

What sort of hell must one be escaping for it to make sense to risk your life – to risk your family’s lives – to risk your children’s lives – on a flimsy raft on the open sea with not enough life jackets? One does not do this lightly. One has to be fleeing a special kind of hell.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

We’ve read how his father clung to them after the raft capsized, holding his wife and his sons with all his strength . . . until the strength of the next wave swept them to their deaths.

And now, their father has taken them all back – back to the hell they’d fled – to lay them in their graves, wanting nothing more than to lay down next to them and die.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

They wanted to come to Canada – a nation of immigrants and refugees. His aunt lives in Vancouver.

While the initial reports were incorrect that an application for Aylan and his family had been rejected, we do know that his aunt wanted to sponsor her brothers and their families. It was the application for her other brother’s family that had been rejected. But the rejection of that application deprived both families of hope.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

The media have been calling them migrants. The word disguises the fact that they are refugees, fleeing violence and persecution, from Syria, from Iraq, from parts of Africa. The word disguises the fact that they are human beings fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

The picture plays on our consciences. It has already become iconic – like the piercing blue eyes of the young Afghan girl staring out of the pages of National Geographic – like the picture of Kim Phúc, her clothes burned away, her flesh burning with napalm fleeing toward the camera.

How could this have happened? How? How?

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

In Deuteronomy, the children of Israel are told: 
You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Matthew tells us that Jesus and his family fled the wrath of Herod and were refugees in Egypt.

And later, Matthew assures us that we will be judged on whether we fed the hungry, whether we gave drink to the thirsty, whether we clothed the naked, and whether we welcomed the stranger.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

In today’s reading from James, the Lord’s big brother, we are told: 
For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

Nothing we can do now will restore Aylan to life – to this life. He rests now, with his mother and his brother and countless other Aylans, in the arms of a merciful God.

Your support for our Diocesan Refugee Fund can help one family. Your support for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund can help more families. You can ask the candidates who come to your door what they are prepared to do for refugees.

There are yet still more thousands of other Aylans. It is not too late for them.

His name was Aylan. He was three years old; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God.

Monday, June 8, 2015

What really happens October 20

Recently, Rabble columnist Duncan Cameron posted an article about the de facto Liberal - Conservative coalition that has been governing Canada since the 2006 federal election. The latter part of the article - outlining case after case of the Liberals supporting the Harper agenda - is actually pretty sound.

Unfortunately, just about everything Cameron has to say in the first part of the column about the Canadian electoral system and how Prime Ministers are chosen and unseated is simply wrong. In fairness, every one of Cameron's mistakes represents the confusion held by most Canadians. But most Canadians don't pretend to be part of the punditocracy.

Let's just review the inaccuracies.
  • Without a majority winner, the party that elects the most members of Parliament will be asked to form a government. This is patently false. We have a very clear - and actually relatively famous - precedent that says exactly the opposite. In the 1925 election, the party that won the largest number of seats was the Conservative Party under former Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, which won 116 seats. The Liberal Party, under incumbent Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, won only 101 seats, with the remaining 28 seats going mostly to the Progressive Party as well as some Labour and Independent MPs. Incumbent Prime Minister King, as was his right, chose to present himself to the House of Commons, where he successfully won confidence and governed for several months.  
  • A prime minister whose government is defeated in the House of Commons ceases to be prime minster. The Governor General is no longer obliged to follow his counsel. Again, patently false. There is always a prime minister. Indeed, one of the Governor General's most important responsibilities is to ensure that there is always a prime minister. Even in the case of a change of government after an election, the former prime minister and cabinet normally remain in place (albeit on a caretaker basis). That's why, for example, Jim Prentice's smiling visage kept turning up on the Government of Alberta website until after Rachel Notley and her cabinet were sworn in. And the last time in Canada that a Governor General did not follow the advice of a prime minister was, you guessed it, when the King government fell in 1926. Governor General Byng refused to listen to the advice of Prime Minister King to call an election, and instead invited Conservative leader Meighen to form a government - which promptly fell after a few days. King's subsequent election victory - running on the constitutional issue of the Governor General's interference - was seen as a rebuke for the misuse of the royal prerogative.
The King Byng Thing pretty clearly established that, except in very rare and as yet largely undefined extreme circumstances, the Governor General (or Lieutenant Governor) is obliged to follow the advice of the incumbent prime minister. That, I suspect, is the basis on which Governor General Jean granted Harper his prorogation in 2008. Vice regals, properly, act only on advice from a first minister. 

The precise application of the principles arising from the King Byng Thing are still a little dicey. When it was clear, in 1985, that Conservative Premier Frank Miller was going to lose the confidence of the Ontario Provincial Parliament very soon after the election, Lieutenant Governor Aird was able to call on Liberal leader David Peterson to form a government. Unlike the King ministry of 1925 - 26, which had held confidence for several months, Miller had not actually won confidence on any substantial vote since the election.

By the same token, in the Nova Scotia election of 1998, which resulted in the incumbent Liberals and the surging NDP each winning 19 seats (with the Conservatives at 14), it was understood that the Liberal leader had the right to seek confidence first. This was due solely to the fact that Russell MacLellan was the incumbent premier. Had the government failed to attain (or very quickly lost) confidence, NDP leader Robert Chisholm would have his chance to try. But since the Liberals managed to retain confidence for more than a year, the Lieutenant Governor followed the premier's advice to call an election in 1999.

There is one modern case where a vice regal person is rumoured to have threatened the use of the royal prerogative without advice. As the Saskatchewan legislature neared the end of its electoral life in 1991, Premier Grant Devine was tardy in advising Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Fedoruk to issue the writ for an election. It isn't clear how he proposed to continue as premier with no legislature, but a handful of fanciful arguments were being floated. As the deadline approached, conventional wisdom has it, Lieutenant Governor Fedoruk did not threaten to call the election herself, without advice. In keeping with an interpretation of the King Byng precedent, her apparent threat was to dismiss Devine as premier and to call on a new premier (whoever that might be) to issue her the necessary advice.

None of these (except the last) are obscure precedents, yet somehow there are far too many clueless pundits who keep getting it wrong.

So here's the real skinny.

On the morning of October 20, 2015, regardless of what happened the day before, Stephen Harper will still be Prime Minister of Canada. The Governor General, while having perhaps a little more flexibility that usual, will still have a general obligation to accept his prime minister's advice.

If the Conservatives win a majority of seats in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Harper will carry on as before. If the New Democrats or the Liberals win a majority of seats, presumably Mr. Harper will submit his resignation to Governor General Johnston. His last piece of advice will be to invite Mr. Mulcair or Mr. Trudeau to form a government. Having accepted that advice, the Governor General will normally ask Mr. Harper to carry on as Prime Minister on a caretaker basis until the new ministry is sworn in.

But if no party wins a majority of seats, all bets are off. Yes, much of the pundit class will have declared a Conservative or New Democrat or Liberal minority government, but none of that is actually true. What will actually happen is that Stephen Harper will make a calculation.

There are six basic scenarios at this point. Two scenarios have the Conservatives with the largest number of seats (with either the New Democrats or the Liberals in second). Two scenarios have the Conservatives in third (with either the New Democrats or the Liberals in first). 

I frankly presume that, if the Mr. Harper's Conservatives have the largest number of seats, he will advise the Governor General that he intends to seek the confidence of the House of Commons. I think Mr. Harper's chances are pretty good, especially if the Liberals are the third party. For the Liberals, the humiliation of supporting the Harper Conservatives would be less daunting than the prospect of installing an NDP ministry under Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair.

Equally, I presume that if the Harper Conservatives are in third, the prime minister will advise calling on the leader of the largest party. He could mischievously recommend something different, although that creates an interesting dilemma for the Governor General about whether to accept the advice.

Where it gets really interesting is if the Conservatives are second. Again, if the Conservatives are second to the Liberals, I see little point in Mr. Harper trying to play King to David Johnston's Byng. But if they are second to the New Democrats, I suspect he will try to win confidence anyway. While I think his chances of pulling it off are not quite so good as if he's got the largest number of seats, I still think there's a better than even chance the Liberals would vote him confidence.

Frankly, if the Conservatives are first or second in seats in a minority Parliament, it behooves Mr. Harper to seek confidence regardless. It costs him nothing to try, no matter the scenario, and there is a better than even chance of success he can win the support of the Liberal Party to retain power. After all, as Duncan Cameron has observed, we've had a Liberal - Conservative governing partnership for almost a decade anyway.

I hope the punditocracy will exercise a little restraint - and a little constitutionality - on the evening of October 19. But I doubt they actually will. There is rampant ignorance about how our political system actually works, even among the political class.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Searching for the Christ Child

 A Simple Massing Priest tradition since 2007.
The title isn't quite so allegorical as you think. We actually spent about ten minutes before the Christmas Eve service desperately seeking the Baby Jesus for the main creche at the parish where I serve as interim priest. 
It is actually a very interesting creche, set up inside the altar itself. A simple wooden chevron suggests the stable, while the remaining figures stand on black satin.
It was already in place on Sunday last. Actually in the Sunday before last as we compromised the calendar in the interest of the children's pageant. But Sunday last the creche had only its minimalist roof, one ox and one ass. Mary and Joseph were not far away - standing on the altar pavement - but they hadn't arrived yet. The shepherds weren't there yet either, out tending their sheep on the edge of the pulpit. And the magi were in the middle of the aisle at the back of the church, still some ways away.
 
Tonight, Mary and Joseph, and after some panicked moments, the Baby Jesus, were all installed in their places. The shepherds were "summoned to his stable" during the gradual hymn. And the magi were now half way up the aisle - accompanied by a helpful "Mind the Camels" sign prepared by my good wife. 
It was a good celebration in a community which seems increasingly hopeful and future oriented. And generally united. There is no parish on earth that doesn't have some divisions and tensions. But this little parish seem quite determined to be a family together. 
We found Jesus tonight at St. James - literally, allegorically and eucharistically. We all came to the same table, together. That is where we belong in worship - at the same table, together.

This year there was some added adventure when the little girl designated to put the Baby Jesus in the manger made shy, but we got it done.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Endorsement

Saskatchewan New Democrats have begun nominating candidates for the next provincial election. Members in the Regina Douglas Park constituency will be choosing their new candidate and next Member of the Legislature tomorrow night.

There are two very good people running for the nomination. I count both of them as my friends.

And the problem for parties nominating candidates or electing leaders is that members are often confronted with having to choose between friends.

Stephen Moore is a professor at the University of Regina, a former federal candidate in Regina Wascana and was the Chief of Staff to former leader Dwain Lingenfelter.

Nicole Sarauer is a lawyer, and the Programs Director for Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan and a Trustee with Regina Roman Catholic Separate Schools.

Either one would make a good candidate.

But in my estimation, Nicole would make the better candidate.



Nicole is bright, compelling, outgoing and brings a track record of electoral success. She represents the renewal the Saskatchewan NDP needs. She represents the voice of a new generation of activists and citizens.

I hate having to choose between friends, but in this case, the choice isn't hard.

Nicole Sarauer represents our best chance of taking back Regina Douglas Park. She and other young, dynamic candidates like her, are the key to rebuilding a Saskatchewan NDP that can contend for power.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Preemptive Escalation and the Use of Telephones

Last week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suspended two Liberal MPs (including his Ethics Critic) from the Liberal Caucus based on allegations of sexual harassment against two female New Democrat MPs. At first, it appeared Trudeau had acted responsibly and decisively to address a serious problem.

It then emerged that Trudeau and his people had not bothered to give the New Democrat Caucus or the two NDP MPs any advance warning of his intentions. At least one of the victims learned of Trudeau's actions from her Twitter feed.

It also came to be known that the two alleged victims had not wanted the matter to become public. The political careers and future prospects of two Liberal MPs have likely been ruined regardless of the eventual outcome, and, according to NDP sources, the two NDP MPs feel as though they have been victimized all over again.

National Post political correspondent Stephen Maher has provided perhaps the most balanced and neutral outline of the sequence of events.

Admittedly, Trudeau was in a difficult situation. Once the matter had been brought to his attention by one of the two NDP MPs, he could hardly ignore it. But did he really need to invoke the nuclear option? We don't know the details of the cases, of course, but Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert has reported that the two NDP MPs did not want the matter to become public at least in part because they did not want to ruin the careers of their two Liberal colleagues.

Most modern organizations have some sort of harassment policy in place. It is telling that the House of Commons does not. In virtually all of those policies, it directs that complaints and violations of the policy should be resolved at the lowest appropriate level. Depending on the nature of the offence, (possibly) the intention of the respondent and (in general) the attitude of the victim, not every act of harassment need be a firing offence. In some cases, a simple apology and a stern warning is sufficient. In other cases, more sanctions and possibly some sort of harassment prevention training may be required.

Globe and Mail columnist Leah McLaren described an incident of sexual harassment from early in her career. While the incident she describes unquestionably constitutes sexual harassment, she wasn't convinced the harasser deserved to have his career and reputation ruined.
... did I think he deserved to be frog-marched out of the building with his belongings in a cardboard box? That seemed a bit extreme.
It would appear that the NDP victims felt that publicly frog-marching the Liberal MPs out of caucus was too severe, that an educational and corrective approach was appropriate in their cases. But they were concerned that the hothouse atmosphere of Parliament Hill would escalate the matter significantly. They were sadly correct.

Trudeau and his handlers have a habit of throwing people under the bus if they become inconvenient. Martha Hall Findlay and Christine Innes have had their political careers ended (and in the latter case, her professional reputation soiled) by Liberal operatives because they were inconvenient to the leader's plans. I suppose it's oddly reassuring that he's prepared to throw male politicians under the bus, not just women.

By acting in a public way, without the consent and cooperation of the complainants, Trudeau has violated the central principles of effective harassment policies and processes. He has destroyed two careers, and he has disempowered two victims.

Part of the victim-blaming response from Trudeau apologists has been to say of the second NDP MP, "well, what did she expect?"

I don't know what she expected. But based on Hébert's column, I deduce that she expected the Liberal MP would get a stern talking to, perhaps some diversity training, maybe some internal sanctions. To say that she should have expected what happened is to argue (rather foolishly) that every incident of inappropriate behaviour is always a firing offence. In a world like that, very few of us would still have jobs.

I've been a victim of harassment in my working life - more than once. It wasn't sexual harassment, but it was certainly harassment. In the early 1990s, I had two superiors actively poisoning my workplace. One of the few mercies was that the two despised each other and so never managed to cooperate. My one attempt to make a formal complaint was sidelined by one of the harassers. For a period of several months, every time I arrived at that workplace I would head to the washroom to throw up. One of the worst aspects of that experience was the sense that I had no control. I was powerless. I felt as though I had no agency as events ran their course.

I don't know what it's like to be sexually harassed, but I can't imagine that sense of powerlessness is any less. I have no difficulty understanding why the two NDP MPs would feel like victims all over again. Trudeau denied them any say in the outcome, denied them any agency.

But the thing that completely mystifies me is this: is there no one in Justin Trudeau's office that knows how to operate a telephone?

I'm sure they have telephones in Ottawa, even on Parliament Hill.



It's not all that hard to operate one. Press a series of numbers and the telephone makes a sound signifying that another telephone elsewhere is alerting it's minder to an incoming communication.

How hard would it have been for Justin Trudeau or his minions to telephone two MPs from another party, to explain why he felt it necessary to escalate the matter beyond what even the victims felt was appropriate, to explain why he felt it was necessary to impose the escalated sanctions in a public way, and to advise when the matter would be announced?

He still would have been denying autonomy and agency to the victims, but at least they wouldn't have found out about it on Twitter.