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2017 – Reflecting Upon a Year in Ministry

Monday, December 11, 2017

It was more than a year ago that I got a call from the Bishop’s executive secretary: “Would you go to St. Mary’s in Charleswood and preside and preach at their Sunday Eucharist?

I agreed, and found myself in front of a middle-sized congregation whose members were in a state of shock.  Their Rector had resigned suddenly and without warning.  The first Sunday after the resignation, the Bishop himself had to preside at Sunday worship.  Now it was me.

An interesting feature of that first Sunday, for me, was seeing a group of people in the pews that I knew very well: the whole clan of descendents of a woman named Sheila Gunderson, had come to St. Mary’s to have a public celebration of her eightieth birthday.  I have known most of this clan since they were teens.  So, it was a happy chance that this old friend of theirs would be presiding in their mother’s church, on the day of her birthday celebration.

But the parish needed some stability.  Various clergy would show up, week after week, to preside at worship – I myself came once or twice – but they wanted to have somebody permanent, while they looked around for a new, full-time parish priest.  The Bishop met me for coffee, and put it to me: “Would you be their every-Sunday person for a couple of months during their search?  Basically ‘half-time’ – just Sunday worship, pastoral emergencies, funerals, and the like.”  I felt the finger of God upon me, and said “yes.”

Well, that was January 2017, and I’m still there.  Despite notices sent out to the whole Canadian Church, nobody suitable applied for the longest while.  So I just kind of settled in... becoming more and more fond of the people; more and more immersed in their day-to-day life as a congregation. 

I won’t be there much longer, though.  Finally, a new priest has been found; the Rev’d John Giroux will begin mid-January, 2018.

So I will once more be “retired,” a year and six weeks after that first sermon in November 2016.

But here’s an interesting thing:  halfway through this year at St. Mary’s, Sheila Gunderson, whose eightieth birthday was being celebrated on the day of my first visit, was diagnosed with a brain tumour.  She died a month ago, shortly after her eighty-first birthday.  Thus, almost a year to the day after my first Sunday in the parish, the church once more filled with her extended family, and I presided and preached... at her funeral.

I had the privilege, when she was well, of attending church meetings chaired by this capable senior, then, after her diagnosis, of sitting at her hospital bedside, several times, up to her last day on earth – and I marvelled at the faith and serenity she showed, to the very end.  At times I wonder if it was specifically for her – or for what I might learn from her – that I was called to this ministry in this parish, at this time, since her birthday and her death have so closely bracketed my time there.

But of course this year has had much more to it, than the end-of-life journey taken by that one child of God.  There was a wedding, and a little boy to be baptized, and several more funerals – which might tell you something about the state of the Anglican Church as a whole: lots of funerals and only the occasional wedding or baptism!

Is the church that I love dying?  As I get closer to my last day at St. Mary’s, I wonder, with deep sorrow, whether in thirty years there will be any Anglicans at all in Canada?  Indeed, will there be any Christians?  Since 1991 the number of Canadians reporting “No religious affiliation” on the census, grew from 12% of our nation’s population to 24% in 2011.1  Yes, six years ago, a quarter of the Canadian population professed “no religion.” And that number has almost certainly grown exponentially since then.

I’m thinking about these things as my last Sunday in St. Mary’s gets closer.  But for now, I serve, I reflect on the faith that was delivered to the saints of old, I preach, and I love the people of God who worship week by week in the parish named for Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

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1  To put this figure in perspective, over the same period, the number of Muslims grew from less than 1% of Canadians in 1991, to a little over 3% in 2011 – numerically a remarkable increase, mostly due to immigration, but still only a tiny fraction of the Canadian population.

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