An English Winter

Ruth and I are now home from spending two weeks in England. The purpose of our time there was a mixture of pleasure and work. The story began when I received word from the Primate's office last autumn inviting me to attend the international Conference for New Bishops that is hosted every year by the staff of Canterbury Cathedral. The problem was that the course was to begin on the very day of our 25th wedding anniversary. When I announced to Ruth that I had good news (that I had been invited to the conference) and some bad news (that it was to begin on the day), she announced that that was not bad news because she would come with me. Of course she was not allowed to attend the conference but we soon decided to smash our piggy banks and go a few days ahead of the conference and "celebrate" with an English winter holiday.

From January 25th to 31st Ruth and I enjoyed the hospitality of the staff at St. Matthew's House, Westminster, in the very heart of London. From there we visited around the city and made side trips. One venture was to Oxford where we toured parts of the university and the Cathedral and enjoyed "high tea" in the hotel made famous by the "Inspector Morse" TV series. I had always wanted to see the original Holman Hunt painting of "Christ knocking at the door" which hangs in Oxford's Keeble College Chapel. Alas, it had been removed as a new organ was being installed…drat!!! The next day we went up to York to enjoy a tour of the great Minster and then to attend Evensong.

The highlight of our trip was a journey to Bath and out to the tiny bedroom community of "Corston". We were met at All Saints Church by the Vicar, Fr. Richard Hall, who graciously agreed to conduct a short service for the Renewal of Marriage Vows. Of course, it had been Ruth's idea to do that and I was happy to agree, thinking that it would be a nice little moment. I must admit to becoming quite emotional …indeed, the Bishop even shed a wee tear!!!. Fr. Hall was so enthusiastic and pastoral in his time with us that the occasion became the definite highlight of our visit.. It was also an added touch to actually go to the village of our family name. Interestingly there is nothing in the history of the church or the village as to the origins of the name and the Vicar commented that we were the only Corstons he had ever met.

We returned to downtown Bath and enjoyed an afternoon of touring the city and then attending a beautiful Evensong at the great Bath Abbey, sung by an all girl's choir. We sat behind a group of boys who were obvious from some other school choir because they were not only making eye-contact with the girls but singing along with them! Bath is famous as the site of ancient Roman baths…but enjoying them on the day we were there was the last thing on our minds…it had to be the coldest day in England!!!

On Sunday in London we found our way to the east end, so badly destroyed in the bombings during the war. It was there that we attended the morning Eucharist at All Saints Church, Poplar, not far from the famous Canary Warf complex. The 17th century building was the ancestral church of Ruth's family and where her father was a choir boy. On the morning we attended the heat was off and the building was cold, but the congregation was warm and welcoming. It was marvelous…4 clergy and lots of incense!!!  Afterwards were were invited to the hall for "tea and bisquits". Later that afternoon, we made our way back to Westminster Abbey for the Sunday Evensong.

Of course, we also enjoyed doing some shopping, browsing and enjoying the Dickenish streets of the cities as well as the fine English pubs. One afternoon we even became visitors at Parliament and enjoyed the discussions in the House of Commons. I enjoyed everything about being in England…except the cold…far colder than even -30C in Canada, believe me!!! 

It was a great way to celebrate our 25th anniversary, even though many of our friends can't understand why we wouldn't go to  warmer country and sit on a beach!!! Frankly that's just not us. Twenty-five years has flown by from that winter day in Trinity Church Saint John, NB, when we stood before Archbishop Harold Nutter, surrounded by family and friends and made our vows "for better, for worse".  Like many marriages, ours has involved many ups and downs, changes and moves across the country in our love of the Church, some tears but a lot more laughs and best of all, the raising of two very fine sons. God is good!

Ruth headed back home on January 31st and I continued on the Canetrbury…the subject of my next blog.

Laus Deo!

        

       With Fr. Hall at Corston   

   

               At Bath   

 

   All Saints Church, Poplar

A Little Different Christmas

I write this morning almost at the mid-point in January, 2011, already. The time has flown by and today I leave my Sudbury home following a great post-Christmas break, to head back to Timmins. As I look back over the Christmas we have just celebrated, I recognize that for me it has been a little different this year.

The week before Christmas was busy with work at the Synod office as we tried to get as much done before the holidays as we could accomplish. With the new financial cut-backs we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Suzy, our receptionist and communications officer. We will surely miss her. One by one the staff departed for their personal holiday activities and the office was closed.

I departed Timmins for Foleyet and Chapleau to provide Christmas srrvices. The trip started out badly when I realized as I reached the edge of the city traffic that I had forgotten my wallet and needed to go all the way back to Bishopstope to retrieve it. Thankfully I was early leaving so had the time. On the drive to Foleyet I encountered some light, freezing rain, but made the trip in good time. The rain created some beautiful Christmas-card scenes on the surrounding trees.

The little church at Foleyet was filled for the 4 pm Christmas service. St. John's had been my first parish some 35 year ago so it was great fun to see some old friends in the congregation, now with grandchildren. We even had an organist so enjoyed singing the carols and ended the celebration with everyone holding a candle and signing "Silent Night"

I was worried for the drive on to Chapleau as it was now dark. The highway was good though, actually wet, and I encountered no more freezing rain. Just outside town however I encountered fog and as I entered town, with the shops now closed and literally no one present on the main street, it was a surreal experience driving in the heavy fog. Certainly not what one would expect on Christmas Eve in a northern community!

Chapleau is my home community and the large St. John's Church has struggled in recent years to keep its doors open. What a wonderful surprise it was that the old church was filled by the time the celebration began. The full church unnnerved the Layreader somewhat as she confessed her nervousness. I assured her that I was far more nervous than she was because I reconized so many friends of my youth who came out to meet the Bishop, with grandchildren in tow! Christmas at home was a wonderful celebration, even with the canned music!! I had not been in my home church for Christmas since 1974. It was good to see family and friends come out and to renew old acquaintenances.

My son, Andrew, met me in Chapleau and we overnighted at my sister's beautiful home outside town on Borden Lake, which was so beautifully decorated for the celebration. Before getting back on the road Christmas morning it was a treat to share the grandcildren's excitement under the tree.

   

Christmas morning, Borden Lake, Chapleau

By 8 am Andrew & I headed off for our Sudbury home, travelling through some beautful bush, coloured with God's own frosty paintbrush. Our own Christmas began as we were welcomed by Ruth and Stephen, Grandma and Bert and a very excited dog at the door of our home at noon. Gifts were opened, brunch was served and a brief time to rest before our traditional Christmas dinner with family and friends.

Christmas dinner at home

A few days of break for me were taken with other family events. We enjoyed family visiting from Ottawa and London and were overjoyed to meet the newest member of the family, Liam Lochlan, born just a few days before Christmas.

Me & my great nephew Liam

New Year's Eve saw us all back in Timmins for the "Bishop's Levee" at Bishopstope. It was the first one in 30 years and the crowd was small, but it was a delight to  welcome friends to herald the new year. We are indebted to the volunteers who provided the goodies and good-naturedly poured the tea and coffee. Thanks too for all the gifts received. The next day I was priviledge to officiate at Schumacher and South Porcupine's celebration of the "Naming of Jesus" .

Bishop Eddie Marsh serving tea at the Levee

The first week of this new year has been spent at home in Sudbury, getting a bit of a break before what appears to be a busy winter schedule. Not much time was spet resting, however, as the week included 2 teleconference calls and no less that 80 e-mails to answer and numerous phone calls. It was actually a very good experience working out of what is now my Sudbury office, which I intend to do for at least a couple of days each week, when not travelling in the further reaches of the Diocese. It works quite well.

Me & Anne Germond, Rector of Sudbury's Church of the Ascension.

Our Christmas celebrations ended with the honour of presenting the story of the Diocese at Sudbury's Church of the Ascension on Sunday, January 9th in what I am calling my "first deputation experience". The congregation was wonderful in their welcome and their generosity. Thanks so much. Then Sunday night we hosted a dinner party with good friends, including no less that an half dozen young adults and former Servers.

The decorations are down and almost all put away. It was a little different Christmas this year but still filled with the joy of of the season. I hope and pray the blessings of the season carry you throughout 2011.

Into the New Year

I have not used my new blog page since it was made available to me, partly because of my own timidity with all things technological, and partly because it's been a busy few months. But, today, after the Christmas rush is over and I am home for a few quiet days with my family, it's a good time to begin.

It's hard to believe that it will soon be 6 months since becoming Bishop of Moosonee. It's been a very steep learning curve, with lots of challenges and loads of experiences. As I come to the 6-month point (on the Feast of the Epiphany), I am pleased to say that I have visited almost all of the parishes of the Diocese in my wish to be introduced and to learned the Diocese first-hand. It turned out to be a pretty mammoth undertaking, forgetting that I might have had other things I needed to do, but I have appreciated it all. I am indebted to the clergy and people of the Diocese for their warmth and enthusiasm in welcoming me into your midst.

As I look back over these first few months, there are numerous highlights. Among them include my visit to the parish of Kashechewan on James Bay's west coast…two days after my consecration. Kash, as it is locally known, has not had a resident priest for 6 years, following the devastating spring flooding the community experienced. In the two floods within 18 months, we lost our church building and rectory through resulting mold buildup. The building is now a warehouse for the Band Council. In turn the Council has provided us with two empty utility trailers, which make up a temporary church building. My first visit was busy with a Gospel Jamboree to welcome me, then a celebration of Baptism when 21 children were brought forward…one of then born on the day of my consecration 3 days earlier…whew!. On Sunday morning we gathered in the school gym for Confirmation, when 22 young people were presented. That was followed by a huge feast with 250 people present.

                                                               

 My first Confirmees at Kashechewan

 

Before leaving the community leaders of the church there asked me to find them a new Minister. I am so pleased that as I compose this page, a new priest has been found and will be heading to Kash within the next week. Halleulia!!!

A couple of weeks later Ruth joined me for our first trip into the Quebec portion of the Diocese and the drive to Waswanipi and Mistissini. We arrived at Waswanipi on a late Friday afternoon to be greeting by a gathering congregation preparing a welcoming feast…complete with five large barbeques on the lawn and a table weighed down with food…traditional and otherwise!  Upon arrival the congregation presented the Bishop with a gift. Laughter reigned when he opened it to discover three pieces of bannock and a large jar of peanut butter…the result of my response to a question asked by a parish member at the consecration as to what my favourite native food was!!!

We had a full weekend with a trip to Mistissini where another 25 young people were confirmed and an adult was baptised…followed by a community feast.

                                                                    

Confirmation at St. John's Church Mistissini

 

Then on the same Sunday, a quick drive back to Waswanipi for yet another feast and an evening Confirmation for 6 young people…and more food! It brought to mind, the advice from one of my brother bishops to be careful with the feasts. He had gained 50 lbs in his first year as Bishop of his Diocese!

Among the other highlights of these months has been my visit to our largest parish at Chisasibi. I was joined by the Archbishop, Colin Johnson and the Diocesan Administrator, Edna Murdy. The trip was to meet with the Church Board at St. Philips, who have wanted to make some changes to our ministry there that has resulted in some concern both inside and outside the community. My grandmother, Lydia Swanson, was born in Chisasibi, so it becamse a most poignant visit.  Our visit was a busy one, but a good one that also included a visit to the old village site in the middle of the La Grande River. Chisasibi has a 4000 population and our church there is served by 5 priests and 2 deaons, all locally raised and non-stipendary.

                                                                        

 With the Archbshop at the old St. Philip's Church, Fort George Island, the old village site in the La Grande River

 

In the fall I spent a week in the other east James Bay coast communities, the largest being Wemindji. The week began with a weekend meeting of the Diocesan Indigenous Council that saw some thirty representatives of the First Nations parishs participate. The Sunday service incuded another large confirmation class of 25 young people in a packed church, that had just recently been enlarged to seat twice it's previous capacity. One huge highlight in Wemindji was being able to be with the Rev. Samuel Hughboy, now 94 years old, with whom I had been ordained in 1975. Sam is a highly respected priest and community elder.

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Wemindji Confirmation 

 

The latter part of the year has been spent travelling across the southern half of this vast Diocese, from Geraldton to Kirkland Lake to Chapleau. The fall weather turned to winter quickly in  the Diocese and I ended up travelling through literal white-outs over three different weekends. Sadly at Nakina I deconsecrated old St. George's Church, once the headquarters of the western end missions, but the next weekend I consecrated a small chapel, actually a former 2 bedroom bungalow, that has been given to us at Constance Lake First Nation. It's called St. Stephen's Chapel.

During these first few months, it's been uplifting to ordain two new priests and to induct two clergy into new ministries. We look forward to welcoming other new clergy into the Diocese in the months ahead.

                                                                                                        

Induction at St. Peter's Church, Kirkland Lake December 5th

 

My final services were two wonderful Christmas celebrations at Foleyet, which was my first parish in 1975 and Chapleau, which is my home parish. Both saw full churches and many old friends and family. It was a most uplifting conclusion to my first travels.

The Diocese of Moosonee is going through numerous changes and the year ahead will see more. Some will be difficult. As we go into the year ahead, I pray that I will be mindful that this is the Lord's Church and we are His stewards. As well, I am mindful that this is "the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes".

A happy new year to you and your family.

Bishop Tom