Saturday, April 16, 2016

Church #18. First Presbyterian Church.

Hello and welcome to another chilly Alberta spring morning! The church service started at 11 am , as I was walking through the shockingly quiet and uninhabited, downtown core. It was much more humid then normal, with the snow half-melted, and a homeless man on almost every block asking for change. I highly suggest walking down Jasper ave at 10:45 am on Sundays, as you can hear all the church bells ring!

All the large churches were ringing together in there different tunes and distances. From the Basilica on one end , all the way to McDougall United at the other. I am guessing this is one of the oldest churches in the city, considering it says it is founded in 1881,  and Alberta did not become an official province in Canada until 1905.

This was the front entry.

After taking my seat the church leader came to the front along with the choir. Announcements were made, and there was a performance by the choir fallowing the lighting of the Christ candle. The population of this service was roughly 90 people, majority were caucasian and seniors among some visible minorities. There are definitely children at this church (roughly 15 is what I could count). But in contrast to the majority of the congregation, almost all of the children were African-Canadians.

And then....a hand bell performance? In April? I am not sure about you, but I am very surprised to see a performance outside of the Christmas season. But regardless, I always enjoy listening to hand-bells. For those of you that do not know what hand-bells are, here is an example.

Next was children's time, so as per usual, all the munchkins ran to the front of the church to sit on the front row. The question of the day was "Who do you want to be like when you grow up?"  There were plenty of interesting replies: some of the kids wanted to be pilots, some doctors, and even scientist. One young man declared "I want to be a YouTuber!"

Then the church leader asked them what kind of super powers they would like to have. And as you can imagine that received a variety of colourful answers. Then the church leader asked why no one said they wanted to be like Jesus? And they wanted their power to be the ability to love people? Then a young girl raised her hand  and explained that she knew that, that was the answer he was looking for, but she refrained from speaking up because she didn't want to spoil his speech.

This resulted in roaring laughter throughout the congregation.

After leading them through a simple prayer, the children were excused, and went downstairs for Sunday school and then we got our sermon of the day. Today we heard the conversion of Paul:

* Paul got a name change after his conversion. His original name was Saul. 

Acts 9:1-19 NIV.

"9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength."

In the process of creating the "100 Churches 100 Sundays" blog, it has become inevitable that I would be encountering the same sermon more than once. I have definitely heard the conversion of Paul before at other churches. (ps. Mckernan Baptist Church 100% nailed this one with the speaker they brought in! Good job!)

We also heard;

ESV — John 21:1-19
* this was the third time that Christ appeared to the disciples after his resurrection.

" After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 this was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Jesus and Peter

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

The church leader today addressed what I felt to be a really pertinent question; "Why is there evil and suffering in the world?" 

The church leader explained that a lot of it has to do with people. "We get what we want by hurting others." He went on to give a scenario of two siblings fighting over a toy and how one child finds out that hinting the other child on the head is an effective way to get what they want. And then he highlighted the cycle of abuse, pointing out that "sometimes when we get hurt, we want to hurt others back!" He also noted that sometimes people hurt others because they want power. But what I found most intriguing was the last comment, that "Some people hurt other because they think they are right!" 

This really stuck a cord with me in light of the recent Ted Talk I watched entitled. " The Doubt Essential to Faith".

This speaker highlights the importance of doubt, in keeping us in check and how it is key to preventing the raise and terror of fundamentalist religions.

The Church leader echoed this exact same message when he said;
"I cant say this loudly enough.....- Being Right is a CURSE! " 

"...Suicide bombers think they are doing the will of God! And so did Saul! " 

He also went on to say "For as much as your hurt anyone, you hurt Jesus". And that that the proper Christian response to being hurt is to forgive, because we are all guilty of such things. I found this church leader interesting in how he was very clear and real about his position stating that he doesn't believe that God is "puppet master in the sky" or a God or wrath and damnation, but a God of love and redemption.  Here are a few more quotes for the day!

" Love all people, not just some people!" 
"...may the worst conflicts between nations be on the soccer fields and basketball courts!" 

So after the service ended, I was just getting up to take pictures, and I ended up making eye contact with a woman in her 60s, appearing to be a stereotypical Church lady, wearing a gold chain with not a cross, but an ankh.


Now considering all, this kind of threw me back. Because I know people that wear ankhs, and they are very strong pagans, that quite frankly would never step foot in a church for fear of catching on fire. ( *but please note, that is only the ones I know.)  Not to say that is always the case, after some research I have discovered that this symbol actually is considered to be acceptable by some Coptic Christians, but overall it is a largely pagan symbol.

Link- New World Encyclopedia/Ankh

 Now as for the building, I do suggest you check this place out! Especially when you get into some of the side room, and back halls, you really get a feel of some of the "castle-like" old world architecture. The bathroom in the basement is definitely an interesting sight to behold. Picture time!

I know I have used this video clip before, but considering that this is the "First Presbyterian Church", I simply can't help myself. Yes I am doing this. 

Ps. I know that you may have noticed that I marked this Church as #18. I did this after conducting a careful re-count, and discovering that I made an unintended jump from #17 to #19.  technically this Church should be #61. Thank you for your understanding.

Have a good week everyone!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Church #61. St. Agnes Cathloic Parish.

Welcome to Easter Saturday Night!

Yes, it is 9:30 pm and Church is now starting!

As I have been venturing on my quest I have heard rumors of this "Easter Saturday night service" So I decided to check it out! But they weren't exactly easy to find.

After some research I discovered that the "Easter Vigil" is only celebrated by the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and certain types of Orthodox churches. And to top that all off, a lot of those churches don't often have a Easter Vigil service offered!

So after waiting on a few e-mails....I eventually ended up here.

I could see the crowd entering, I also noticed a large amount of men in suits. For a moment I was concerned that I might be under-dressed, but that was not the case in the end. I didn't get a full count, but I am sure there must have been around 200 people in attendance. I also noticed that people generally dressed in dark colours, vs the bright pastels common to the "Easter Sunday" service.  All ages, family groupings and ethnicities were present. Many people came in family groups, some as couples, some came as singles, and some even came as groups of friends! Ushers distributed candle sticks as well all sat in the dimly lit church, awaiting instruction. Eventually the priest came to the front and announced that we were all to proceed outside to the front lawn where they would be blessing the fire and lighting the candle.

As me and the crowd were slowly moving towards the front door, I noticed a short man in a suit standing in the corner, watching the crowd go by. For a moment there I thought I was having a "celebrity encounter". Because this guy looked almost exactly like Patrick Stewart.


Yes, THAT Patrick Stewart.

Beside this all being an interesting coincidence, I bring this man to your attention for an important reason. Sir. Patrick Stewart is not only a long time running British actor, this man is also an activist! I first came to realize this when I came across this quote;

“People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, - See more at:
People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, Actor - See more at:
People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, Actor - See more at:
"People won't listen to you or take you seriously unless you're an old white man, and since I'm an old white man I'm going to use that to help the people who need it!" 

Upon further reading I discovered that Sir Patrick Stewart, grew up with a mentally-scarred father (traumatized by WWII) , who repeatedly abused his mother throughout his childhood. This deeply effected Patrick, and drove him to take a stand to protect his mother at all costs.

In 2009 an article was published in The Guardian about his experiences in an article entitled The legacy of Domestic Violence . Since then he has become a strong partner for Amnesty International.
He is also joined a UK based group called Refuge specializing in the protection of women.

This man is a Starship Captain and a real-life freedom fighter??!!
All I have to say to this is:

And here's to you!  
Where were we again? The front lawn of the church! Right!

So in the middle of the lawn on a raised platform a small fire was already burning in one of those bowl shaped fire pits that you can buy at Canadian Tire. The congregation gathered around best they could (despite the serious lack of room). The priest and the clergy then went about blessing the fire, blessing a very large candle, lighting it and putting these little red stickers on it, which I did not get a close up view of until the end.


We then proceeded back inside the dark church and then sat in the church, (lit almost exclusively by that one candle) and waited. This waiting involved Church members coming up and reading different pieces of scripture. This alternated with performances from the worship band. I wasn't watching my clock too closely, but I am sure this lasted over an hour. I was thankful for my extra large mocha with a shot of espresso (which I sat and drunk shamelessly in the pews). I am sure I would have fallen asleep otherwise.

P.S. I don't necessarily advise this Church service to people with narcolepsy.

The readings that we heard were all over the board. There were readings from Genesis, the story of  Moses dividing the sea, and also the story of how God tested Abraham. The last one was the one that stood out to me. I have heard this piece of scripture spoken on before. This is what is being referred to:

ESV translation- Genesis 22:1-19

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 3So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boya will go over there and worship and come again to you.” 6And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
9When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”;b as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”c

15And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of hisd enemies, 18and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

I have heard other Church leaders comment on this scripture as being the most "gut-wrenching" part of the Bible to read. For the most part I would have to agree with them. One may  even suggest this is a very "un-God like" move, considering God is opposed to human sacrifices. Here is some further food for thought. 

I find it kind of heartwarming that God literally stepped in and provided the ram for them to sacrifice. I can't be 100% sure what that looked like. But I am sure they were doing a better job then this guy:


People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, Actor - See more at:
People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, Actor - See more at:
And then 11pm hit and everything changed. The lights went on in the church, bells started ringing, the draped the cross, the choir started singing, they pulled the purple sheet off the of virgin Mary statue and everything was ALIVE! A team of people even brought in large floral pieces made of Easter lilies and shoots of willow.

The priest gave an impressive sermon. I feel this man to be a very real, down to earth and forward kind of guy. After seeing how sleepy we were, he made the joke; "you can take a nap, but don't snore and disturb your neighbours."

In his sermon he stressed multiple times the profound importance of what happened when Christ rose from the grave. He made it quite clear that if Christ had not risen out of death "we would be wasting our time." And Christians would be a pitiful sight to behold.

Quote of the day: "No death! You do not win!" 

Apparently last week he gave a sermon detailing a full breakdown of the effects that the torture and crucifixion would have had on Jesus from a medically-understood perspective .

All I can say is...... this guy is good! 

“People won’t listen to you or take you seriously unless you’re an old white man, and since I’m an old white man I’m going to use that to help the people who need it.” —Patrick Stewart, - See more at:

But this night was not over.... not even close.

We still had baptisms to get through! Baptisms of two full grown men actually.
The "candidates for baptism" were asked to step forward and they had there families stand beside them for support. At some points their families laid hands on them to pray for them as they were blessed and took their vows. The actual baptism itself was done in a manner where which the person stood and leaned over a large glass bowl mounted on a wooden stand, and the priest scooped some of the water into a golden seashell and poured it over the crown of the persons head while making the symbol of the cross while doing it.

I truly think baptism is a beautiful thing! The room was filled with a feeling of joy and victory, as these two men became baptized (they later received white robes and another blessing form the priest).

It is just a shame how snot-nosed people can become about it! There are a lot of Christians out there that are very critical of other peoples baptisms. And personally it drives me nuts.... because in their eyes there is always something wrong.
If you are not baptized it is WRONG! If you were baptized as a baby it is WRONG, If you were baptized in a different church it is WRONG, if you were sprinkled instead of being fully dunked its WRONG!

I actually was having a conversation with a Church leader once and he asked if I was baptized, and I said yes. Then another lady standing near by cut in and demanded to know if I was "dunked" or not? I looked her in the eye and told her quite bluntly; "It doesn't matter!"

But thats my opinion anyhow....

But just when you think it is all over, there is more!..... (yes this was a damn-long night!)

The whole church renewed their baptisms, including me!... sort of.....(I actually had no idea that people could renew their baptisms!)

This process was not done by a matter of re-dunking per-say but a specific list of vows read out loud by the priest that the members of the church member's give "I do's" for as they progress. Here is a copy:

According to the paperwork I am baptized Catholic, back when I was a baby. So I guess I qualify?........

I am not gonna lie,  I value my baptism. But there are parts of the Catholic rhetoric that I can not, and will not be willing to conform to.

All things aside, it was a good service! Definitely a different experience!

  Then I noticed this...

WTF??? Why is Marry stepping on a Pike Fish???

.....Okay, so after researching this I discovered that it is supposed to be a snake......but it looks a whole lot like the a common like fish we have here in Alberta referred to as the Northern Pike Fish. And let me tell you, these thing are nasty!

Link-Why is the statue of Marry stepping on a snake?

 P.S. Yes..... I have a slight fishing hobby.

Happy Easter Everyone!