A husband-and-wife ministry team at Holy Trinity Anglican Church is breaking new ground by drawing from Anglican, Moravian and Lutheran faith traditions to offer rich, engaging worship experiences.
During a celebration of new ministry on Sunday, December 3, the Rev. Rob Key was welcomed as deacon at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Edmonton by Bishop Stephen London, the Rev. Danielle Key, rector of Holy Trinity, the Rev. Erin Thomas, pastor of Trinity Lutheran, Edmonton; the Rev. Mark Guevarra, pastor of Edmonton Moravian, and other members of the local clergy and lay communities.
The Sunday before, the Keys, who were married on February 22, 2020, broke ground by leading a lovefeast service at Holy Trinity.
Originating from the Moravian faith tradition, a lovefeast is a service that begins with a prayer and is followed by music and the distribution of a simple meal. People are then encouraged to engage in spiritual conversations.
“This was the first lovefeast we’ve heard of being done in an Anglican church. Certainly, the first one at Holy Trinity and likely the first one in Canada,” says Rob.
Almost all Moravian churches in Canada are situated in Alberta, except one in Ontario. The Canadian district is one of three districts within the Northern Province.
For several weeks leading up to the lovefeast, the couple spent time familiarising people with what to expect.
“Not everyone is comfortable with change, and we didn’t want to throw people into a ‘welcome on Sunday, surprise! look what we’re doing’ situation,” says Danielle. “One of the congregation’s members said to Rob afterwards, ‘I Googled lovefeast and, I figured, I could do that.’”
In the Moravian church, a lovefeast is a separate service, often held after the main worship service, which may or may not include communion. However, Rob and Danielle decided that the Holy Trinity lovefeast would take place inside an Anglican communion service.
There were other differences, too. For instance, a traditional lovefeast service would not include formal scripture readings or even a sermon. But Rob did give a “short-for-me” sermon.
Six people helped Danielle and Rob distribute the food and drink. In Pennsylvania, where the Moravian seminary for the Northern Province is situated, churches traditionally serve coffee and Moravian Sugar Cake. But Rob and Danielle planned the service to be fully inclusive, opting instead to serve Brownies, and a gluten-free option, along with juice boxes to be enjoyed by people of all ages.
While our context determined the type of food we served, “we wanted everyone to share the same food,” says Danielle.
As they enjoyed their snack, people were encouraged to share about what brought them to Holy Trinity.
The idea of the lovefeast was to “show people that although Anglican and Moravian traditions are different, there’s a commonality in our beliefs and our practices,” says Rob.
About 97 people attended at the service (about 20 fewer people than average for Holy Trinity), and Danielle says, “nearly everyone was engaged,” and they received much positive feedback.
It is common practice for Holy Trinity to partner with its Full Communion neighbours. The Keys and the Rev. Erin Thomas, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, have served and hosted in each other’s churches, and Edmonton Moravian Church happily lent its serving trays to Holy Trinity for the lovefeast.
“Our churches share an openness to different expressions of faith and different ways of worship within each tradition,” says Rob. “The basic tenets of the Christian faith are the same.”
“There’s so much rich liturgy between the three traditions,” says Danielle who serves on the One Flock, One Shepherd Lutheran, Anglican Moravian (LAM) full communion working group of General Synod. “It would be heartbreaking to do all this work to create a full communion if no one wants to experiment. We all have beautiful liturgies, so let’s share them.”
Looking ahead, Danielle hopes “more people are comfortable reaching out and creating relationships with one another. When we do that, we can help each other with resources and support, ultimately making things so much easier.”
Rob is equally optimistic that while trying different things, “people will also feel comfortable saying when something doesn’t work.”
“At the lovefeast someone said, ‘That was interesting. It’s not my thing, but it’s interesting,’" says Danielle. “They were happy for the experience.”
The fact that “there’s not a lot, at least not at our local level, that’s forced downward, enables people (within the guardrails) to be fairly free in the expression of their faith,” says Rob, whose own faith journey has followed a winding path between denominations in Canada and the US.
After leading the youth at Holy Trinity under the Rev. Don Aellen, Rob moved away to attend seminary and while there was asked to fill a parental leave for the pastor of Edmonton Moravian Church. “Because of that experience, I explored the Moravian church and their history of mission appealed to me,” he says.
After completing additional training at seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he served as pastor of Good News Moravian church in Sherwood Park for four-plus years.
“I had not thought, at that time, I would ever serve vocationally within an Anglican church,” says Rob.
“My move back into vocational ministry is part of our love story. It’s only since Danielle and I have been together that we’ve thought and prayed about it, and we’re moving through this together.”
It was the potential to do ministry as part of a team, that drew Rob back in. “I didn’t necessarily want to be a solo pastor again. It can be pretty isolating.”
As partners in ministry, Danielle says, “We’ve always made a good team. We started leading the youth group together when I came to Holy Trinity, in 2018. This has felt like a natural progression. I know he jokes and says, ‘Now she’s my boss,’ but we’re teammates. Luckily a lot of my weaknesses are Rob’s strengths and vice versa. We balance each other pretty well. I hope other couples in our congregation find it encouraging to see we are both strong in our faith and aren’t afraid to show it.”
When Danielle and Rob began imagining what their team ministry could be, “we promised each other we would always keep communication open and be honest with each other, always keeping in mind what’s best for the congregation and the community,” she says.
Rob is quick to add that the couple does not always agree on everything. One of the strengths of their ministry is being able to bring their different perspectives to worship, Bible and book studies, and the marriage prep sessions they lead together for engaged couples.
“We read the book called Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women and it was funny because, even though we each consider ourselves a feminist, we have different understandings of what that term means. We spent the first half of the book arguing until we came to that realisation.”
“Oftentimes, our different view of things makes for a more wholesome conversation and, I think, it’s easier for other people to enter into that,” says Rob.
Looking ahead, Danielle and Rob hope to expand their ministry outreach even further into the surrounding community and the University of Alberta.
“We’ve been thrilled and blessed by the amount of community engagement we’ve been able to do here at Holy Trinity. We’ve been able to welcome, feed and get to know our neighbours, and just be a safe place that people can turn to. We keep casting our nets further to help in different ways. I think the real key to the future of the church is breaking outside of your doors on Sunday and doing more community engagement. I’m thrilled that Holy Trinity is receptive to trying new things with both of us. The old mentality of ‘we never used to do it that way’ is gone, and now it’s more of a ‘well, let’s try it. Why not?’’’
“My dream would be to live out God’s love not only with Holy Trinity, but also with other partners, however that looks,” says Rob. “For me, it’s about empowering the people of Holy Trinity to live out that love in everyday, practical ways.” Photos: Emily Key
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rob and Danielle were married in 2022. They were married on February 22, 2020.