By Rev. Lisa Poultney
As Bishop Linda said at Synod, “very quickly we learn that church is about relationships.”
This year the Diocese of Huron has been intentional in growing its relationship with the Diocese of Amazonia and creating a new relationship with the Diocese of Brandon.
The Diocese of Brandon is a natural partner as Bishop William Cliff is Huron native son. Bishop William took up the episcopacy of Brandon in January 2016 and has found his life changed in ways he could not have imagined. His diocese is 177,000 square miles ranging from the southern border of Manitoba, up its western side to the Nunavut. A seven hour drive to attend a confirmation is a short trip! And London restaurant, Barakat will not deliver his beloved shawarma to Brandon.
The Diocese of Brandon has been changed too. As the Very Reverend Don Bernhardt, dean of the St, Matthew’s Cathedral in Brandon noted, before the bishop came, he was keeping his head down in his parish in the southwestern corner of the diocese. The future of the diocese was uncertain, if not bleak. They were arguably dying.
Don, only ordained 13 years ago, was one of the most senior stipendary priest in the diocese. With Bishop Cliff, came new ideas, questions about the status quo and a challenge to “we’ve never done that before” as a usual response to change. Don soon found himself appointed Dean of the diocesan cathedral. Other people have been made licensed lay leaders, ordained as deacons and still others are being raised up for non-stipendary priesthood to provide lay and ordained leadership.
The already strong relationships that Bishop Cliff had with Huron’s people manifested from the beginning. Many people in Huron responded to Bishop William’s request for assistance with the “pots and pans” as he said. Huron sent vestments, purificators, books, etc. to the northern parishes in the Diocese of Brandon; many items from churches that closed here have found new life in northern Manitoba. With the new bishop and the relationships he has brought from Huron, the Dean has said there is new hope and determination in Brandon.
Brandon has benefitted Huron, by showing us a devotion to Jesus and a strength of faith that is sometimes hard to find in our southern culture. Wabwoden Church with the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the altar, St. Alban’s in Easterville with “This is the Gate of Heaven; This is the House of God” over the front door, confirmation services that regularly have twenty children – all of these are signs of a commitment of faith that churches in this diocese might envy. I myself have been privileged and honoured to be engaged with the creative work of reporting the Good News of life in Brandon as the editor of the diocesan paper, the Mustard Seed.
When Bishop Linda asked Brandon to come to our synod, she specifically asked them to participate in an indaba conversation.
Indaba is a Zulu word describing a journey of slow discussion on controversial matters with the aim of furthering community life, not just solving an issue. Continuing Indaba is a distinctive Anglican contribution to conflict transformation and reconciliation. It is biblical, contextual and effective. And it is hard. But it is also rewarding.
As the Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese of Brandon, Karen Webb Johnston said, she has made real friends through the indaba process with Huron, not simply acquaintances. Dr. Bill Acres of Huron College, one of the Huron participants said of the experience, “it was a profound”. Healing begins between two people, two groups, two dioceses building relationships rooted in the presence of Christ.
Brandon and Huron are truly embracing that we are One Body, and One Spirit. As Rev. Flora Young, a Cree deacon in Brandon and one of the authors of a dictionary of the “N” dialect of Swampy Cree (a five year project!) taught Bishop William, and he then taught us – Me & You Kiss a Cow, or in transliterated Cree – mino kisikaw – It’s a good day!
(Photos: Davor Milicevic)