Author Archive

This Troublesome Priest, This Uppity Woman

Posted on: February 8th, 2019 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Atheist United Church minister, the Reverend Gretta Vosper, is in the news again.

The Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada (UCC) has issued a joint statement with Vosper and her congregation at West Hill United Church in Scarborough, that they “have settled all outstanding issues between them”. Gretta is now free, after a three-and-a-half-year controversy, to resume her ordained ministry in her congregation.

The joint statement was short on details but, in interviews, Gretta stands by her atheism, indeed, insists on it. In contrast, the national office of the UCC responded to the joint statement by asserting the church’s belief in God, “a God most fully revealed to us as Christians in and through Jesus Christ”.

As members of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, we distinguish ourselves from Gretta in that we joyfully proclaim our experience of God. We know God not as a person, but as the “Ground of Being”. Nevertheless, we affirm Gretta’s obvious sincerity and worthwhile ministry.

The United Church’s dilemma with Gretta has been played out in the public arena through the media. However, more quietly, some Anglican congregations today are troubled by theological and liturgical differences.

Some Christians stumble when reciting the Creed, while others insist on its centrality to faith and worship. Some long for contemporary language in liturgy, while others love ancient rites. Some like a lot of music in worship, while others prefer silence. Some Christians lean proudly on dogmatic theological language and ideas; others, meanwhile, question traditional expressions of faith and actively seek new language to articulate their experience of the divine.

There is something empty of soul in angry exchanges over theological abstractions. There is something beautiful in welcoming strangers, angels unawares.

So, how can we all live together in peace? How can we cooperate for the common good? Well, just by doing it, by wanting to do it. By agreeing to disagree and then worshipping and working together for justice and peace.

Why do we need to get along? Because people outside church looking in are puzzled by our disputes, while all people within the church — even atheists — need to feel welcome and included. Shying away from such discussions does not resolve them.

Once challenged for his perspective, the late Marcus Borg responded that Christians could spend a lot of time talking about their theological differences, but it would be more worthwhile to emphasize what they have in common. The central commonality is that we are followers of Jesus, commanded by the Lord to love our neighbours and even our enemies.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan taught that there is no limit to the love of God and, consequently, there should be no limitation to our loving. Anyone in need of compassion is our neighbour and deserves our care and support.

Christianity is transformational, personally changing our hearts and politically changing our society. The current emphasis in the Diocese of Niagara on personal faith formation and the missional church provides the means for such transformation.

Following Jesus is the way we live together in peace. Jesus’ mandate as outlined in Matthew 25 will guide us in the joint pursuit of social justice. Working for the common good will supersede all our theological and liturgical differences. As Bishop Susan has recently reminded us, we are all in this together.

When we are gathered together as a community at the table of our Lord, our theological differences become less important than the mystery of blessed bread and wine.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser
originally published in The Niagara Anglican, February 2019.

A Quiz for a New Season

Posted on: October 8th, 2018 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

What’s new these days? We go about saying that Niagara is one of the most advanced dioceses in the country. Really? Well, if so, how do we explain these new ideas to our families and friends in laity-land?

First off, determine your priest’s theological bent by checking out the office bookshelves. Do the authors include such as John Spong, Marcus Borg, Mary Jo Leddy, John Dominic Crossan, Tom Harper, Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler-Bass, Rob Bell, Gretta Vosper?

Ask to borrow a few books. Do so and you will have found your way into exhilarating new concepts. If you are surprised by what you read, book an hour with your priest who will, one hopes, welcome your curiosity.

Be aware, however, that many priests are leery about teaching laity how liberal theology works. Are priests afraid to rock the boat, to upset parishioners in the pews, to lose their jobs?

Preserving the beauty and sanctity of traditional liturgy guarantees that a priest is delivering the real goods. Some priests intimidate lay people, suggesting that years of study are necessary to take part in theological discourse.

On the other hand, we have been blessed of late in Niagara with priests who encourage the discovery of new perspectives. In the past few years, Bishop Michael recommended Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, Desmond Tutu’s In God’s Hands and Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk for our Lenten study.

What kinds of books will Bishop Susan recommend? What is she reading? Niagara has a new Bishop for a new season.

Do you feel a need to tune up your theological expertise? Let’s do it. Mark your responses as you move through the following quiz. By answering a question easily, you will indicate familiarity with the terminology.

1. What do “interfaith” and “ecumenical” have in common?
2. What’s the significance of the Jewish refusal to name Yahweh?
3. What are some differences between the Eucharists beginning on pages 185 and 230 in the BAS (Book of Alternative Services)?
4. What is the main limitation of the Revised Common Lectionary?
5. Why do many Christians have difficulty saying the Nicene Creed?
6. Do people in your congregation who resist change threaten you with eternal damnation? How does this jive with your sense of worshipping a loving God?
7. How many Commandments did Moses give the Israelites? How many did Jesus give his disciples?
8. What is the difference between a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of the Bible?
9. “Don’t mix politics and religion.” Did Jesus follow that advice?
10. Are the following also acts of worship? “Donating to good causes.” “Taking a child to an art gallery.” “Speaking truth to power.” “Pursuing justice.”

The point is lots of modern theological approaches have been around seminaries for decades, and the average layperson knows nothing about them. Why is that? Do lay people not want to hear new ideas?

There are many spiritual blogs offered free, e.g. by Diana Butler Bass and Richard Rohr. There is a long list at this website:

There must be frustration on both sides of the theological divide. But surely, laity and clergy can explore questions of faith together in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.

The Reverend Canon Dawn Davis, Faith Formation Coordinator for the Niagara Diocese, has introduced a new spiritual study program, Revive: Equipping Lay Leaders to be Spiritual Leaders. Whether it’s Alpha or Living the Questions, small group discussions can offer worthwhile opportunities for mutual support and growth.

Bonus Question: How did you respond to Bishop Curry’s sermon at the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle?

published by The Niagara Anglican Newspaper | October 8, 2018 at 5:56 pm |

Categories: Reading, Theology | URL:

We Would See Jesus

Posted on: September 16th, 2018 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

On a group tour of Israel with Dr. Judy Paulsen, Professor of Evangelism at Wycliffe College, we discovered the sheer numbers of pilgrims and tourists which overwhelm the venerated places of Jesus’ birth and death. Spiritual reflection at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is virtually impossible with the press of crowds.

What did we expect by being there? Does the star embedded in the floor really mark the place of Jesus’ birth? Jesus was more likely born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem. We were amazed at pilgrims kneeling to kiss the stone where Jesus’ body supposedly lay. The Via Delorosa winds along crowded market streets—the route could have been elsewhere.

In any case, to worship such places, even to call the land holy, invites a kind of idolatry, because the Creator “blessed all that he had made.” All of creation is sacred.

Still, we found it meaningful to gain a sense of Jesus’ movements during his last week. The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane have remained in the same place for 2,000 years, we think. According to our guide, Dr. Steven Notley, Professor of New Testament on the New York City campus of Nyack College, thousands would have camped out in those hills around Jerusalem at Passover. Judas’ kiss would have indicated Jesus’ campsite to the Romans.

Pilate’s quarters and Herod’s palace were near neighbours. Jesus was easily shunted back and forth—a hurried trial, torture and crucifixion, all done before dawn. The temple authorities wanted this troublemaker gone before the common folk awoke. Recent excavation of the home of a high priest demonstrates the fabulous wealth of collaborators with Rome. Tax collectors and Pharisees had a vested interest in the status quo.

Still drawn to come closer, we walked on what Notley claimed was millenia-old pavement outside the old Eastern Gate. This moment felt authentic as he explained how Jesus and his disciples would have crossed it every time they entered and left Jerusalem.

The Temple Mount itself was a revelation. Jews pray at the Western Wall to be near the Holy of Holies. Muslims believe God brought Mohammed from Mecca to this place. Christians have no specific interest in the Mount—one less player in centuries-old conflicts.

We learned the strategic importance of the river valleys crisscrossing the excellent agricultural soil, providing as well easy travel along the trade routes joining Egypt to the East, hence the reason for battles among warring tribes.

The tour made vivid historical and scriptural connections. At Shiloh, the Israelites placed the Ark of the Covenant under a tent and worshipped there for centuries. Confident God was on their side, they carried the Ark into battle against the Philistines, but lost both. Centuries later Jeremiah incorporated this calamity into his prophecy against the corruption of the temple in Jerusalem: “Remember Shiloh!” Jesus then echoed Jeremiah in his challenge to the temple authorities: “You have made of my house a den of robbers.”

At sunrise on our first morning, we climbed the Roman rampart to Masada. The view was magnificent from this important place in Jewish history. When the thousand zealots saw that the Romans would enter the fortress on the morrow, all but a handful, left to tell the tale, committed suicide.

This event in 73CE marked the end of Israel until its new creation in 1948. All that time Jews prayed “Next year in Jerusalem.”

The tour taught us the lay of the land and we saw how scripture emerged from the contexts of the writers and their times.

–article originally published in The Niagara Anglican, September, 2018, p. 5.

Review of Bishop John Spong’s Unbelievable

Posted on: May 16th, 2018 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

I returned at the end of February from the Wycliffe tour of Israel to find Bishop John Spong’s latest book in the mail. Spong two years ago suffered a stroke which curtailed his weekly essay writing and his many speaking engagements, but he has finished what he says is his last book. I rather doubt it: just as this book is based on a series of his weekly essays from the last two years, so his publishers and literary executors will no doubt produce posthumous collections of his essays and his speeches. We will hear more from this modern day prophet for many years to come.

And prophet is what Spong is, for, in the Biblical tradition, he calls people to renew their connection to God. What he challenges are traditional explanations as he calls for new language to describe our 21st century understanding of the Divine, because, as his title suggests, traditional expressions of the Christian faith have become “unbelievable” to modern day minds. His book explores, as his subtitle says, “why neither ancient Creeds nor the Reformation can produce a living faith today.”

Spong posits twelve theses to encourage a new reformation, a new re-formation of our spiritual lives. He begins with the theistic image of God, replacing the vision of God as a Supreme Being with God as Being itself. That first thesis challenges many fundamentals of creedal faith. Without a judgmental god to appease, there is no need of “God’s great rescue plan” for mankind, no need to limit our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion as a sacrifice for the sins of all: “There can be no ‘substitutionary atonement’ in the Christianity of tomorrow.”

Excellent Biblical scholar that Spong is, he examines what the scriptures actually say about the crucifixion and the resurrection. Freed from reading the Gospel accounts literally, Spong discovers the spiritual enlightenment behind the New Testament writers’ Easter experiences.
Finally, Spong examines the outcomes for a living faith in the areas of ethics and prayer. The yardsticks for both are that which enhance “living, loving and being.”

Unbelievable is believably clear and concise. It reads easily but provocatively, calling for Christianity, or at least its contemporary expression, to change or die. Spong’s last book summarizes the clarion call of his career for a new Christianity for a new world.

By Rev. Dr. Wayne Fraser

Originally published in The Niagara Anglican, May issue, p. 2

Shaking Parkinson’s

Posted on: November 22nd, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

We are pleased to announce that Michael Terence Publishing, UK, will be publishing Eleanor’s fourth novel, Shaking Parkinson’s! We are tremendously excited. Thanks to Colin B. for suggesting that Eleanor submit her latest story to MTP.

The People’s Pope

Posted on: October 28th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

We happened on an intriguing and ultimately challenging film, available through Netflix as a 4-part mini-series. The 2015 Italian film, Chiamatemi Francesco, is about the life of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentine youth who liked playing soccer, reading and scholarship, who became a priest, a Bishop, a Cardinal, and ultimately Pope Francis.

The musical score will make you want to tango. Change the audio setting for an English version. Call me Francis focuses on the years of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ when the ruling military junta dealt with opposition through arrest, torture and murder. Thousands of people ‘disappeared’ under this oppression.

The character of Bergoglio faces a crisis of conscience during these violent years, as he is called to protect people and priests under his care while staying alive himself. To help two priests who have disappeared risked the ire of the junta, as well as his religious superiors. Not to help, to remain silent, risked the guilt of complicity.

This central conflict in the film’s portrayal of Bergoglio echoes that of Jesus against the religious and political oppressors of his time. Jesus knew that his words and actions would lead to arrest, torture and crucifixion, but the call of God’s kingdom led him to Jerusalem and confrontation with the authorities.

Actor Rodrigo de la Serna conveys the spiritual agony of this future Pope as he is forced to navigate between his calling as a priest and the realpolitik of Argentine society. At one moment, he celebrates Mass for the ruling general and dares to ask for the restoration of the disappeared, and, again by celebrating Mass, he helps the poor rescue their humble homes from destruction by developers and police.

The challenge for us, from the film as well as our Lord, is to follow the way of justice in our time. We are free in Canada to speak against injustice without fear of death squads. But are we too often silent, thereby complicit with the status quo that keeps so many oppressed and impoverished?

By taking the name Francis, the Pope aligns himself with the mystic of Assisi who lived for God’s Kingdom among the marginalized. Call me Francis dramatizes Jorge Bergoglio’s call to follow this same path. We hope the People’s Pope continues to develop his commitment to the wellbeing of all nature as well as all humanity.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published in the October 2017 issue of Niagara Anglican, p. 2.

Hear me Rohr

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Many in the Diocese of Niagara may know Richard Rohr from his book Falling Upward, Bishop Michael’s 2014 selection as his Lenten book. However, you may not be aware that you can receive daily meditations in your email inbox from Rohr. We find these daily readings uplifting and inspiring.

Rohr is a Franciscan monk, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As our Diocesan website explains, “Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.” Rohr advocates the meditation tradition of Christianity, what he names the Perennial Tradition, for it is found across all religions.

Through contemplative silence, one enters the presence of Presence, one is able to hear the still small voice of God. Rohr explains, “In a silent posture of self-emptying, we let go of habitual thoughts and sensations and connect with an Inner Witness—God’s presence within—that gazes back at ourselves and out at reality with an Abiding Love.”

Without contemplative practice, Rohr asserts, religion becomes the “repetition of rote, wordy prayers, and attendance at social prayer.” Through regular periods of contemplation, one enjoys an experiential relationship with Divine Presence. True transformation, what John the Baptist called baptism “with fire and the spirit,” and Jesus termed rebirth “from above,” becomes a reality in each human heart and soul.

Without such personal transformation, we are left with defensive barriers against others unlike our own kind, and we focus on “externals and non-essentials.”

Rohr tells the story of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, one of the first in the 1950s and ‘60s to teach the contemplative practice lost over the centuries by the church. “Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks and was considered a rebel because ‘he told [them] that [they] were not contemplatives. [They] were just introverts saying prayers all day’ . . . You can imagine how well that was received.”

Rohr is “convinced that many, many young seekers left seminaries, ministry, religious orders, and convents basically because no one taught them how to pray!  Without a contemplative life, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community itself do not work or even make sense. And ministry becomes another way of running away or trying to find yourself instead of real service for others.”

The Christian contemplative tradition stretches back to the earliest church Fathers and Mothers who in the 4th century fled to the desert “so they could practice what they felt was authentic Christianity, unhindered by the priorities of the new imperial religion that was based largely on externals.”

Your public and your church library will have books on mysticism. Mystics teach us that prayer is not about what we say to God but what we receive from God, Love that enables us to move beyond judging and labeling, Love that enables us to love God, the human race and all of nature.

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you say?”

She replied, “Nothing; I listen.”

“What do you hear?” asked the reporter.

“Nothing. God listens,” she answered.

The daily meditations Rohr sends out through email seek to teach the contemplative tradition and offer thoughtful analysis of Biblical and Church teachings. It is not a new way of looking at Christianity, but a very old way of experiencing Christ. Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We highly recommend this daily food for thought, action and prayer.  Sign up for free at


By Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published at   p.4.



Visiting Churches: ‘He grows up, doesn’t he?’

Posted on: April 26th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

At the start of another church service where our role was to babysit while the parents were guest musicians, our four-year old granddaughter was somewhat distressed to be hearing, once again, “Once in Royal David’s City.” She rose from her seat at the “kids zone,” walked tentatively toward us and asked in a worried voice: “He grows up, doesn’t he?” We were amazed to be asked this by such a young child, but relieved that our one-word assurance was accepted so readily.

We all grow in wisdom and stature, don’t we? Asking questions is what we’re doing a lot of these days. Since last summer we have visited a number of churches from Niagara to Toronto, primarily Anglican, but also a couple of United Churches. We are not commissioned to be “the inspector,” as one person worriedly assumed. We are sincerely looking to see what’s out there and how others are worshipping. We’ve looked at services from small, early morning ones to big churches, from urban to rural, from regular Sunday services to weekday Taizé. Here’s some of what we found.

First, every church welcomed us warmly as we arrived and included us in exchanging the Peace. The most effective greeting for Eleanor, a relatively shy person, occurred when we arrived at a church and the warden on duty whisked Wayne away to the priest’s office to prepare for the service. Eleanor was “adopted” by another warden who asked her whether she wanted to sit near the front, the middle or the back. The warden escorted her to that pew and explained who was who, when to stand/sit/kneel and when to use green book, hymnal and bulletin. She remained by her side until she was settled at the coffee hour, coffee and cookie in hand, in conversation with others.

Most parishioners are truly proud of their church and its identity and areas of expertise, from liturgy to outreach. The priest is glad to welcome a fellow-priest. Worship in every church was done thoughtfully and prayerfully, effectively creating a spiritual atmosphere and experience.

Our primary observation is that, to many Anglican churches, “contemporary liturgy” means the Eucharistic service starting on page 185 in the BAS. Certainly it is more modern than that found on page 230, based as it is on the BCP. However, to be contemporary, of the 21st century, means to reflect that we live in a wholly different landscape with a different understanding of what’s happening in our world and in the universe than is reflected in either BAS or BCP.

Some churches, we discovered, offer, with the Bishop’s permission, liturgy created in the here and now, written by clergy and a worship team. They pray for guidance as they incorporate new ideas and language from a variety of sources, including the internet, rituals of other faiths and other wisdoms, both ecumenical and interfaith. No BAS or BCP in sight; the service is fully printed in a bulletin or flashed on a screen.

Nor is the pipe organ the dominant instrument. Churches use a variety of music—piano, keyboard, guitar, bands, hymns, gospel songs, and pop songs. Old words with new tunes and new words with old tunes take the place of familiar prayers and rituals. When it comes to changing ideas, expressing them in song seems the best vehicle.

Yes, He grows up and so do we. “Life-changing worship” is happening in a few churches exploring a “culture of innovation” in liturgy. Maybe what scared our granddaughter were the words, “Christian children all should be kind, obedient, good as he.”

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser

First published,  (p. 9)

Change or Atrophy—Today’s Choice

Posted on: January 27th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Having questioned the Creeds in the October issue of Niagara Anglican, we thought we would follow up with what we believe. We worship God who created all things, follow Jesus who is our teacher, healer and friend, and hear the Holy Spirit who communicates all we need to know and do.

There are many ways of understanding, worshipping and serving. Wherever we are on the theological spectrum, we all need the courage, theological understanding and common sense necessary to tackle the great and inevitable changes and challenges facing our religious institutions today.

The concept of Original Sin is the key to obsolete beliefs including propitiatory sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. Likewise, to blame afflicted people for their personal torments is presumptuous in the extreme. God did not create us evil and prone to diseases as punishment for our fallen state. Humanity is not fallen.

Original Sin is not a concept even mentioned in the Bible. Original Blessing, its opposite, is, yet we allow ourselves to be “guilted” about Jesus dying for our sins. Instead, we see the Bible’s claim that God created the human race, all other species, our habitats and “saw that they were very good.”

The God we worship and serve is not an old man living above the clouds. We can call ourselves “a-theists,” people who do not worship a human-like, a human-made God. Many who have left church have done so because of the traditional image of God. Non-theism for most of us still attending church, is uncharted territory, a new theological creation. Who or what do we worship?

We must start with a humble reading of the New Testament, with the brilliant hope, peace, joy and love put before us by Jesus. We experience God as an evolving Ground of Being, and the key word is evolution. Here’s where the most radical concept comes in: God is Love, is giving and receiving. God plunges into the breakdown of humanity’s connection to creation as Love in our loving.

We seek the wisdom and faith to explore our human understandings of God, for kindred spirits of other world religions, and for this fragile earth, our island home. We see the destruction of the ecosystems and the mass extinctions of fellow creatures as crimes against God and all creation. We believe in caring for all species of creatures and their habitats. We welcome interfaith peace and inclusive justice for all.

A new era of Christianity is here and now but many are afraid to acknowledge it. It is here in our ecumenical and interfaith worship. We must give up our fantasy that Christianity is superior to other religions. People of all faiths have in common an evolving experience of the Divine.

True worship does not care a whit for the forms of our rituals. God gives no one the right to be militant. Jesus commands us to love God, our neighbours and ourselves. Change is difficult, in anything we do. It seems especially challenging in matters of faith.

We must, however, change or atrophy. Instead of condoning all the fears, threats and guilt induced in the past, let us rejoice in the complexity, beauty and mystery of all creation. All people come from God, we are imitators of Emmanuel, and we are co-workers with the Holy Spirit.

For the beauty of the Earth,
sing oh sing today.
Of the sky and of our birth,
sing oh sing today.
Nature human and divine,
all around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
grateful hymns of praise.

–Paul Winter, Missa Gaia

First published,  (page 6)


The lost correspondence of Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway

Posted on: July 23rd, 2016 by Wayne Fraser 3 Comments

I just returned from attending the 17th Biennial International Hemingway conference, held this time in Chicago. I had the privilege of presenting the attached paper about the relationship between writer and critic Malcolm Cowley and Ernest Hemingway.  Hem_Cow presentation