Saturday, August 28, 2010


The image above is of St. Paul's Church in Lewisport, NL (Thanks to Noel Loveys at This is the location where, in my 13th or 14th year, two significant events took place. The first is that it was here where I first attempted to drive a standard vehicle. The second is that this is the place where I first experienced what I have come to recognize as God's call on my life to be an ordained priest. The first experience is easy to describe - it was a terrifying and absolute failure. (I can still hear the shrieking). The second is much more elusive. However, I am finding that as I live out my calling certain aspects of it are becoming more clear to me. I'm including this in my blog because lately I have been feeling unfulfilled and listless. I'll get to why in a moment. For now, I feel that if we as a church are not feeling an excitement about our vocation it may be because we are not living it.

I experienced my discontent while I was on vacation. I had one really great week in St. John's, but my other two weeks were less than I had hoped. All my friends were working. I had no where to go and nothing to do. Before too long I was feeling rather depressed. I began to fret about going "back to work" when all of a sudden the thought of continuing my ministry in the South End gave me a real sense of peace. I became excited and more focused than I had been in days. I could not wait for my vacation to be over. All of a sudden my feeling of restlessness and apathy began to wain - I had a purpose again.

That day, which happened to be a Thursday, I prayed using the order of prayer in "Celebrating Common Prayer - The Pocket Edition." God spoke powerfully to me through the Old Testament Canticle from Isaiah 42:5-8a. Check this out:
Thus says God, who created the heavens,
Who fashioned the earth and all who dwells in it;

Who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it,

"I am the Lord and I have called you in righteousness
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

"I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind..."

The first part of this canticle is establishing who God really is - He has rightful authority and is in charge over all the earth. This is not a distant authority but a close relationship as is shown by God's provision of our very breath. This speaks to me of the freedom we have to walk intimately with God, to serve him through others, to make mistakes and even fail for God has given us grace to do even that. (Unlike failing at driving a standard, there will be no cause for shrieking - for God's grace is sufficient for us even in our failings).

The part that really jumped out at me was God's calling to walk in an upright manner before him. With his call comes his support. The purpose is to be his covenant to the people - Just as he promised Abraham - we are to be a blessing to the nations. How? By being light that people may see.

Now, I am not one to dump on vacations. I usually love vacations! But this experience brought to light a couple of things for me. First, I am hungry for community. While I was on vacation, and for the last several months, I have missed having a faith community to be a part of. I've taken steps to correct that this week. I've even selected a church to be a part of. That means I will have a community to worship with, to care for and be cared for by and to partner in mission with. Second, I have come to question churches that lack vitality, focus and action. Have they taken a vacation from their vocation? There is only one way to get it back. Together, let us allow God to lead us by the hand to be the blessing he has called us to be. This will require time to prayerfully discern God's will for us in our various contexts. It will mean reclaiming our vocation.

Practically speaking my vocation has been less than what it should be. I have limited my calling to something I do. I have defined my calling as my profession. The problem with this is that God does not want to reign in my professional life - he wants all of me. The same is true for His Church. Church is more then Sunday worship or mid-week programmes. Church is the family of God, present in the world as witnesses to the light. For me that light is expressed most fully in peace. (This is not a sleepy feeling - but is rather one of fulfillment, abundance, and excitement). My prayer is that Christ's Church may embrace God's calling fully that we may truly be a blessing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Well, June came and went with no blogs. Sorry about that. I was gone for three of the four weeks. I went to a Silent Retreat at the Villa Madonna, Clergy College in Fredericton and Boys Adventure Week at Camp Medley. I experienced different but vital aspects of community at each of these events.

Perhaps the biggest stretch for me was finding community at a silent retreat with 30 or so other people. How can one find community when you can't look at others let alone talk to them? After a couple of days I found that is was possible. Community was experienced in our common attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. With this revelation, practices like casting my gaze to the floor when passing by another ceased being cold for me and turned into a reverent awareness of the other. I felt like I was bowing to acknowledge my sister or brother as we passed each other in the hall. This community was formed by the awareness that we were on a common journey together. It was very rich.

It was easy to find community at Clergy College. All of us were partners in ministry. We were there to learn and get filled up, (this could be taken literally - the food was delicious and plentiful,) with knowledge and fellowship. There I found I had a common understanding with others, and a common need to rest, study and enjoy each others company.

And then there was the boys adventure week. We began as strangers. 4 Campers in their mid-teens, 3 Priests and 2 other Leaders. We did not have community at first, but community happened through shared experience. We shared our stories. Together we experienced things like stalking the lantern, canoeing during a down pour, suffering through my snoring... (I guess I missed out on that particular experience), and sharing adventures up and down the Saint John River all the while trying to figure out what it means to be a man of God. I feel closer to these guys now than I did at the first of the week because of the time spent.

I've been doing a lot of reflection in the past few months and even years about the need for the church to be a true expression of authentic community. Too often I believe we have been distracted by our agendas (to fill the coffers and the pew) and methods (you name the programs that, like fads, have come and gone over the past 20 years). This need for community came to a head for me while reading a book by George E. Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity can reach the West...Again. This book stressed how actions speak louder than words, that Christianity is caught more than taught, and that the most powerful tool for evangelism is Christian hospitality. Hunter painted a beautiful picture of the the Church as the Gathered Community. How do we move from buildings and programs to this kind of understanding of ourselves - and not just by knowing it but by living it?

How about a two pronged approach to share Christian community with those living and working places like the South End? The first is simply to eat with others once a week. The goal here would be to have fellowship with other Christians while inviting our neighbours, co-workers and people we meet on the street to eat with us. The aim here is simply to bless them through hospitality and to get to know them. Just picture it: half a dozen groups meeting weekly sharing the love of Jesus naturally with relative strangers around a dinner table. The only organization required is to know where and when the group is meeting and who is bringing what to eat. Simple, right? Who knows, maybe we could even organize larger community parties two or three times a year just to get the word out and celebrate this kind of community.

The second prong is to introduce people to the faith by way of a Christian Life Community (CLC) - or something like it. CLC's are small groups that approach the Bible and its members in very personal ways. I have nothing against Bible Studies - its because of a Bible Study on Romans that I am a committed follower of Jesus today. However, I find that sometimes Bible studies are intimidating to seekers, and they allow people to hide behind arguments and opinions so that real connection between people is difficult. In a CLC hiding is more difficult. Here's an example of an outline of a CLC:
  1. People gather and share how they are coming (Ex. I am coming frustrated and weary; expectant, hopeful, blah).
  2. There is a time to centre - either music is played or there is silence
  3. Scripture is read, followed by silence and the same passage is read again
  4. People are asked how the Music and/or the Passage spoke to them (This is done in order, and passing is always an option).
  5. After a time of silence people are invited to share how God spoke to them through other members in the group.
  6. Break
  7. Teaching (On prayer methods, Aspects of God, Bible, etc)
  8. Discussion

In my experience CLC sessions last between 1 and 2 hours. The merit to this approach for me is that it dispels the notion that you need to have a degree from a Bible College in order to participate. It also address pertinent questions that the Ven. David Edwards asked recently in regards to mission: "How accessible is God?" and "Can we provide a space for people to access God?" One of the basic understandings of our faith is that God wants to be known by us. Through these meals and small groups I think we can create the space for that to happen.

God is calling us into deeper community. We were created for it. It is when we gather together, like at my silent retreat, that we can discern our common journey through the highs and lows of life. It is through this awareness that we can discover common needs: namely to belong and to be loved - Just like my experience with Clergy College. And finally after we have invested the time the sense of community will deepen through the time invested and the experiences shared - just like Boys Adventure Week.

So... Anyone free for dinner?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Prayer Action

When I tell people that I do a lot of prayer walking throughout the South End I usually get one of two responses. The first is the look of scandal and sometimes even horror. As images of soap boxes and exorcisms race through peoples' minds all they can get out is, "You do what?" I guess they would not see such things as beneficial for an outreach ministry. I tend to agree.

The second response is that of simple confusion. Many people are not familiar with prayer walking. So I thought I would describe last Friday when I went for a prayer walk with my friend John.

I met John at the Bucks at about 9:30 Friday morning. Sometimes John and I will catch up there but on this day we went straight out to the Lower South End. Though we at times walk with no clear direction, this time would be different. Based on several experiences that I had over that past week or so I hoped to pray over specific areas.

We walked past the Booth Centre and sat by the big Celtic Cross at the end of Prince William St. We prayed for the workers and children at the South End Day Care. We prayed as we felt led: that the children would be safe and healthy, and that God would provide for the day to day running of the day care.

Before we moved on, John reminded me that we should pray for our walk. I couldn't believe that I forgot this important first step. So we prayed that God would go before us; that the Lord would show us when and how to pray; that we would be open and responsive to anyone we met. Then we thanked God that we could minister in this way.

From there John and I went to Rainbow Park. We prayed that God would bless the young families that use the park. We prayed that the funding for the park would come soon. As we were praying by the Community Garden, envisioning how it could be a focal point for the community I was given an idea. "John, do you have a Frisbee?"

John and I had been praying for some time how we could break into this community. We wondered, "Could it be so simple as a game of Frisbee?" Just think about it: two or three people getting together in the park with nothing other than a Frisbee and cooler full of pop. Most people love Frisbee, and this may be just one way that we could get to know some of the locals. Who knows someday we may even throw in a Pizza at the Park and have a meal with soon-to-be-friends. The excitement we felt with this idea shows for me that this is Spirit led. So, I can't wait for our first try at Frisbee Fellowship.

Following this John and I prayed for the Saint John the Baptist RC Church. We prayed that they would be unified behind a common mission to see the Kingdom extend into the surrounding neighbourhood.

And that was a day. It took about an hour and it was incredibly uplifting.

Now I understand that Prayer Walking is not the most enjoyable activity in the winter but thankfully Spring is hear. If anyone would like to join me in this quiet but exciting ministry please let me know. I'm always up for a stroll.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What do you do every day, anyways?

People often ask me what I do on a typical day in my ministry in the South End. I’m not always sure what to say, as I have not yet had a typical day. So, I’ll describe what today was like, and then add some tidbits at the end.

My day began with Morning Prayer at 8:00 am. I have a prayer corner set up in my apartment by a window that looks over the South and Eastern sections of the South End Peninsula. I feel a strong burden to pray for the people here. My prayer focuses especially on the elementary school, the Tannery Building that is now being erected, the Vineyard and St. John’s the Baptist Church and the Retirement home. I can see them all clearly from my little prayer corner.

Following my prayer time I walked up to Stone Church to check on a few things for youth group and to touch base with the gang in the office.

At 11:30 I was at the school with dozens of hyper elementary school students to walk them to St. John the Baptist Church for the Chicken Noodle Club. This was my third Chicken Noodle Club experience. It is proving to be exhilarating. I look forward to it every week.

I then walked back to Brunswick Square to meet with a local priest to discuss the prospect of shared ministry in the South End. I find such meetings daunting at times, but confident that God’s plans are perfect, and His will will be done.

Following this, I met briefly with David to discuss my progress thus far and to consider future activities - (people to contact, ways to enter more fully into the community, etc.) I then prepared for youth group which was held from 7-9 pm. Tonight, after we caught up with the youth, Sarah Ranson and I took them to the Lower South end to pray.

On other days, such as Fridays, I usually go to Germain St. Baptist to help with the Teen Lunch Program. There are other days when I speak at various groups to spread awareness of my ministry and the needs I discover in the South End and to request prayer and other forms of support such as partnership in ministry. The rest of my time is typically spent walking and praying through the South End, preparing sermons, setting up meetings with Christian leaders and others involved in the issues affecting those in the South End and working on the Diocesan Committees I am involved with.

I hope this sheds some light on what I am doing from day to day. I would appreciate your prayers for me and for the people of the Lower South End. It is my sincere desire that together we would recognize and receive God’s wonderful love more fully.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chicken Noodle Soup Anyone?

This past Wednesday I went to help out at the Chicken Noodle Club with Donnie Snook and the team. This is something that I hope to be a part of regularly from now on. Not only are people needed for this vital ministry, but it is also a good way of getting to know some of the local people in the Lower South End.

I was warned several times that this club was rambunctious and that it may be overwhelming for a newcomer. So slamming back some chocolate courage I headed down to the local elementary school to walk the children from there to the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

When I went into the school I was directed to the second level where the children were already lining up. Everyone had a partner. "Two by two in a straight line" was shouted a number of times during our... spirited walk. I was given two partners, a girl on my right and a boy on my left. Introductions were made by them beginning with a loud, "Who are you!" When I told them my name was Paul, I was in. "Are you coming to the after school program too?"

I learned a number of things on my first day with the Chicken Noodle Club. The first really surprised me. My walking buddy informed me that I had a "squeaky voice like South Park." Who knew? Another thing I learned was the heartbreaking truth that these children are starved for attention. They crave affection, and there is a particular need for father figures. There were a number of times the lessons from PRISM (Prevention and Response Involving Sexual Misconduct) flashed into my head. Repeated requests to be picked up, or to sit on my knee made me very uncomfortable. In truth, holding hands took me out of my comfort zone. It took me some time to reflect on this and to I realize that this is a very public ministry. So, while care is always needed to ensure the safety of our children, it is a safe environment.

The third thing I learned was that more people are needed for this ministry. When it was time to walk back to the school, four children came and wanted to be my walking buddy. Four. We need more hands. It does not take a lot. I was amazed at how quickly the time went. In talking with Donnie, I discovered that people could come on their lunch hour. A person could go for lunch early, say from 10:30-11:30 to help set up. Or come from 11:30-12:30 to converse with the children, walk them to and from the church, help maintain some order, and share the love that Jesus has for each one of these boys and girls. Another option would be to come from 12:30-1:30 to help clean up following lunch. Many hands make light work. In this case many hands could make a profound difference in a young person's life.

It is now Tuesday and I find myself looking forward to tomorrow's lunch. I want to hear how everybody's week was and what they did on their Easter weekend. It will be great to get to know these young people more and more as the weeks go on. Please pray for the children who attend the Chicken Noodle Club, and for Donnie and the team as well. And perhaps you could consider how God could use you to make the lives of these children a little better.

For more information about the Chicken Noodle Club visit this web address:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who? Will Determine What? and How?

Well, I apologize for not keeping up with my blog. A week-long break followed by a wicked sinus cold and a busy schedule has kept me away from my laptop.

I have been reflecting on my preaching lately. As many of you know, part of my role as the South End Area Vicar is to visit parishes in the area in order to preach and share what I am experiencing and learning from my time in the South End. You see, I overheard a few comments from folks expressing surprise that I preached from the biblical text for the Sunday. I am not certain, but I suspect this surprise came from the people who expected to hear me present an explanation of my role in the South End, describe the needs I am discovering there and then outline the roles that that particular parish could play in the future to address those needs. While I hope to address each of these topics, I can be no means begin there and expect a positive result.
Before we can begin looking at any mission we must be exposed to the reality of God. This occurs through solid biblical preaching. In the Bible the Church is described as being, among other things, the Body of Christ, Sons of God (i.e. Adopted heirs to the Kingdom of God), and as Ambassadors for Christ. This reality must be our starting point. It is from understanding who we are that we can determine what we are about and how we are to express that. In other words, when we know we are to live like Jesus, we will find what needs there are in society and how to address those needs in godly ways.
A few years ago I met up with a clergy friend of mine at a conference in Toronto. I was surprised when he said, "Paul, I know how to save the Anglican Church of Canada." I listened to him skeptically as he laid out the different "factions" in the ACC. He described how we are trying to convince each other to adopt very divergent points of view. "The solution," he exclaimed, "is to draw everybody back to their roots! We are Anglican, so lets meet there in the middle, celebrate what makes us Anglican, and move on from there!" I must admit, I am still skeptical, but what he said made some sense. In fact our Primate Fred said much the same in his visit to our Diocese a year or so ago. He told us we need to reclaim our identity as Anglicans and celebrate that. Fair enough. We have a lot to celebrate, if we do not focus solely on our sad divisions.
What does this have to do with my sermons? Simply this: before we can even begin to see what must be done in the South End and how our parishes can accomplish whatever that is, we need to be grounded in Whose we are. A friend of mine says, "Before we can tackle this or that issue, we need to paint the kingdom." This is our starting point. This is what will inspire us when the going gets tough. When we see the Kingdom Characteristics that Jesus proclaimed in word and deed in the Bible, we can identify the things that grieve the heart of Christ now. It is not enough for us to identify the symptoms of these things, we must get at the cause - which is the various powers at work in and through damaged human hearts.
When we begin with Scripture we align our hearts with the heart of Jesus. From there, we will find the direction, encouragement, and humility that are essential for Kingdom People on the move. These will describe how we are to address the needs. Take away our foundation and we will focus on the issues alone, then we will find a sense of hopelessness, frustration and anger at the brokenness of the world.
I look forward to preaching at the various Anglican Churches in Saint John. I am amazed at how similar we are, and at the same time how unique each community is. When I do come please pray that my preaching will be faithful to the Bible so that we can see clearly who we are called to be, what needs we are called to address and know how we are to address them - empowered by the Spirit of Christ.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Making our Mark

While living in Toronto I heard a very memorable sermon at the Church of the Resurrection. During the sermon my rector showed us some PowerPoint slides. He explained that what looked like pictures of simple graffiti to most of us were actually turf markers for gangs. These markers signified that particular areas were claimed by particular groups for dealing drugs and other activities. After flipping through several slides, he asked us these questions: "Where are our markings in this parish? How do we show to the community around our Church that we have claimed this area for Christ? What does that even look like?"

I was reminded of that sermon when came upon a Celtic Cross during a walk this past week. It is located on the corner between Water St. and Prince William St. My initial thought was, how beautiful it was and how it could serve as a natural meeting point for people to come together to pray. As I went closer I read the inscription and learned that this cross is a replica of the cross located on Partridge Island that was erected in memory of the 2000 or so Irish emigrants who came to New Brunswick and died. Being of Irish descent, I was disappointed- but for a different reason altogether. Instead of being a symbol of God's perfect and unending love - this cross was just a reminder of death. Such a mark just won't cut it; neither will graffiti for that matter.

So what kind of markings will adequately and effectively express the presence and love of God in the South End? I'm reminded of the four attributes of the kingdom described in N.T. Wright's Simply Christian. They are, if memory serves, Justice, Spirituality, Relationship and Beauty. These are the hallmarks of God's Kingdom. These are the ways we are called to leave our mark.

I've learned of some really exciting things that are happening or have happened in the South End. One of these is the Food Club operating out of Centenary-Queen Square United Church. This is a system that will allow people to order inexpensive Fresh Produce once a month. Members place their order at the beginning of the month and it arrives in the third week of the month, allowing people with a limited income to enjoy fresh produce.

Another church in the area has hosted community parties in Queen Square. These parties bring lots of people together for food, games, live entertainment and even bouncing castles for the children. These parties provide the means for starting relationships between the church and the community as well as encouraging a more closely connected neighbourhood. According to a survey done by Vibrant Communities, South End residents recognize these kinds of community events as vital for the health of the community. We could use more of these.

What are some other ways we could leave our mark in the South End? Perhaps through art and music fairs in which people could have access to instruments and art supplies? How can the Church work together to promote kingdom values rather than denominational ones?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Connection Points

Over the past few days I have been reflecting on two very different perspectives of ministry for the South End. The first focuses entirely on social issues and it stresses the need to advocate for the oppressed against dismissive powers (i.e. businesses and governments) that are failing to meet real needs. The second perspective stresses that for a community to change it must be the result of individual transformation. Poverty and injustice are problems of the heart. According to this perspective what is needed is transforming love through relationships.

I find myself tempted to focus solely on meeting social needs. The questions I ask people are socially based. My conversations are socially based. But, if I were to focus solely on these issues, why am I doing it in the name of Christ? Don't get me wrong, I know Jesus cares about justice, and the preservation of each person's dignity - but He addressed these issues through personal relationships. People realized their worth because Jesus valued them. Jesus' revolution was based on people not causes.

The danger of focusing solely on causes is that they will not carry you far. Rather they can lead to a lot of frustration. To lose the perspective that the best thing we can do for people is to love as Christ does is a fatal flaw. It makes any effort seem bland and lifeless.

On the other hand, I do believe that people's lives would be enriched by encountering Jesus. Christians are called to embody Christ's love and in so doing to be the living expression of Jesus' healing care. Advocacy for people's rights begins with intimacy. Intimacy with Jesus and intimacy with others. As I realized in a conversation with a local clergy person, such intimacy produces patience and hope as Jesus' transformative power is observed personally and in the lives of others.

As I think about this, I realize that I cannot be looking for a way to provide for a social need or cause only. Rather, I will view such causes and needs as connection points. These are ways of expressing God's love that will allow for a connection between the people I want to serve (and who will also serve me) and the Spirit of Christ Jesus. This may be a simple thing, but the difference between this and a sole focus on advocating for justice issues is profound.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ever Wonder how a French Explorer Ended up in the Centre of the Union Jack?

I wonder what Samuel de Champlain would say if he saw his statue in the middle of Queen Square, which just so happens to be laid out in the pattern of the Union Jack. Would an experienced explorer such as himself be surprised? Or, would his adventurous journeys cause him to accept this bizarre honour quietly? After all, what kind of exploration would it be if the destination was already determined?

I have been living in the South End of Saint John for one month now. Like any true explorer I’m not sure what my destination is exactly. (Sammy would be proud). My mandate has been to discover what is happening in the Lower South End (The area South of Duke St) in terms of justice issues and anti-poverty initiatives. My aim is to discover what needs are being met now by churches and other groups, and how the Church may participate by either supporting these initiatives or by addressing needs that have yet to be met. God-willing, by the end of 2010 I'll be able to identify the needs of the Lower South End and have a proposed vision and strategy to address this need.

So far, I have met with a number of clergy and other people and groups in the area who are working to make the South End a better place to live. It has been an eye-opening experience and a humbling one as well. In fact, I am hesitant to record my thoughts at this point as I am certain that a few months down the road I will look back at my first blogs and realize how little I knew.

So far, through various discussions, I have identified one main need. That of an emergency shelter. Such a shelter is important not only for when the temperature drops, but also for people who want to be treated at the methadone clinic. As I understand, such persons must have a residence in order to obtain treatment. The question is: how can we meet this need?

My hope is to record my thoughts and reflections weekly. I would highly value any feed back you could offer. One thing that I would like to have established by the Spring is set Prayer-Walk-Routes throughout the Lower South End. My hope is that Christians from all over the city will sign up and pray for the families, individuals, schools, businesses and churches throughout the area.

Well, these are my thoughts so far. Please keep me and all of the residents of the Lower South End in prayer. God bless you all.

Paul Ranson

- Lower South End Area Minister -