Despite early skepticism, occasional bad weather, and a cat photo-bombing the Easter vigil, Anglican Churches in Cambridge have learned that even when things don’t go as expected, they can build a strong relationship
by Cheryl Highmore
In September 2011 at Waterloo deanery council, Archdeacon Peter Townshend asked for volunteers from each of the five Anglican churches in Cambridge — St. James, St. John’s, St. Luke’s, St. Thomas the Apostle, and Trinity — to form a joint community outreach group.
The group’s first meeting was filled with enthusiasm and overflowing with possible projects. However, as we spoke to people in the congregations, we realized choosing a project that everyone could buy into was not going to be easy. Each church had grown independently and many skeptics said co-operation would never happen.
But we had come together in faith and in faith we decided to take a different approach. It would take more time and effort, but we decided to learn about each other and build fellowship, friendship, and understanding. Then we would see how we could work together.
Representatives from the five churches meet monthly to exchange information on what we are doing and post important events on each others’ websites, bulletins, and Facebook pages. We come together as equal partners, in honest conversation, fostering understanding of each others’ abilities and problems. We discuss what is possible for us to accomplish together.
We are mindful of each others’ traditions and the good works in which each congregation is engaged. We appreciate how hard each congregation works. We are aware of financial needs and limitations.
We chose the motto “Each unique but one in faith” to represent this coming together. Our logo is a cross composed of five pieces representing the churches.
Each church has its own history, has developed to accommodate the people in its community and has found creative ways to use its members’ talents to work. We honour each one.
The first ACIC joint event was at Easter 2012, hosting a free movie night for the congregations. There was a small turnout but it was a start.
We also organized an around-the-clock Easter vigil, with each church taking over in rotation; again there was a small response, but it was there.
After each event the ACIC group reviewed what went well and how we could do better. We still do this at each meeting.
We decided to hold a joint picnic in September 2012. Groups in each church came forward to donate what was needed: barbecue food, refreshments, generators and entertainment. It was supported and encouraged by the clergy. The people came, the sun shone, volunteers cooked and musicians led a singsong. For many it was the first time they had met and talked with someone from one of the other churches.
It was such as success that all five parish councils voted to provide annual funding for ACIC events.
Our community outreach projects have also been successful. In December 2012, a team participated in the local Out of the Cold walkathon to help the homeless in Cambridge. Over three years, we have collected more than $3,800.
We also collected hundreds of sweaters for the Sweaters for Syria campaign run by the local Lutheran church in 2013.
In 2013 and 2014, we built a float for the Cambridge Christmas parade. One church found a sponsor of a flatbed truck and a driver; others made costumes and decorated the float; members of several men’s groups built it; one church loaned its premises to assemble the float and provided food and refreshment to the volunteers. We had young and old from all five churches on the float.
Our churches came together again for a Lenten project in 2015 for the prisoners at the Grand Valley Institution for Women. Young mothers in the prison can videotape themselves reading a storybook to their children. The video and book are sent to the child to comfort and strengthen bonds during separation. ACIC asked the congregations to donate new children’s books for the program and we were able to provide nearly 400 books.
Our clergy have been part of our team since the beginning. They support and participate in events and, most importantly, they talk and work with each other for all our benefit.
In 2015, all five congregations gathered at St. John’s to observe a beautiful Holy Saturday service of first light. It was a powerfully moving service as we renewed our baptismal vows, prayed and sang our praise to the risen Lord. It will now be an annual service held at each church in rotation.
In June 2015, we had planned a outdoor worship service followed by our fourth ACIC picnic in a city park — one family in faith, open, visible and welcoming within the broader community. However, last-minute weather conditions forced us inside at St. James.
The service was jointly planned and led by our clergy team. With great enthusiasm, they involved the congregation in acting out the parable of the sower and the congregation responded with equal enthusiasm and joy. It was an extraordinary experience as we shared prayers, bread and wine, and praise and thanks to God. Nearly 200 people then enjoyed the picnic in the parish hall with music and entertainment. Despite the weather, it turned out to be a fantastic, Spirit-filled day.
We pray we will continue to have this bridge among our churches. By working together on projects, we introduce members to each other. We encourage the leaders to call on one another if they need help. Where several churches may want to set up a program but individually do not have enough people or resources, we encourage them to work together.
Has everything we tried worked as we thought? No. Do we believe it is worth the time and effort? Yes!
At one of our recent events, a church member who was skeptical early on said she had sat at a table with people from all five churches for the first time and then, smiling, said, “It felt good to break bread together”.
We have learned that the five churches, clergy and laity, can work together to build a good foundation for the future.
We pray we will continue to dialogue and share, help each other and be a presence of our faith and for our faith in our community.
Cheryl Highmore is a member of Trinity, Cambridge.