By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
The view from the dome car as the train left Churchill, kept changing as the tracks went through the tundra of the sub-arctic landscape, the boreal forest of Northern Manitoba, skirting through the prairies of Saskatchewan until the urban structures of Winnipeg appeared on the horizon. The vastness, diversity and rugged beauty of a small part of our great country appeared right outside the windows of the train during a two day and two-night journey.
In response to the kind invitation of Bishop Cliff of the Diocese of Brandon, my wife, Carolyn and I spent Thanksgiving Sunday with the Parish Family of St Paul’s Church, in Churchill. The prime options offered to us were Polar Bear Season or Northern Lights Season. Even the guarantee of seeing the Aurora Borealis in February was not persuasive when linked with the reality of minus (fill in the number here!) Celsius!
On Thanksgiving Sunday, the Parish Family gathered for a service of Baptism and Eucharist. Carolyn played the organ, the congregation sang with enthusiasm, the one year old smiled as he was baptized and the experience of worship in that setting has become indelibly etched into my life and memory.
As a part of our time in Churchill, we attended a presentation given at the Parks Canada office regarding polar bear safety. The reality of living in that community is that, especially during Polar Bear Season, personal safety becomes a top priority.
Walking through the community, alone, is not really an option. Being mindful of your surroundings heightens sensitivity to the point that in the early evening, even a white propane tank, peaking out from behind a structure, may take on a bear like quality!
I was reminded of the words from St Peter’s first Epistle, ”Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary… prowls around, looking for someone to devour.“ (1 Peter 5:8-9) After having spoken to a young woman who had survived a polar bear attack, it was clear that the local saying “The only good polar bear is a distant polar bear“ had a great deal of merit.
In that setting, the faithful witness of the congregation of St Paul’s has been a cornerstone of community life. Families deal with the reality that, prior to a government subsidy of $2.78, a five-pound bag of russet potatoes costs $10.57! (Check your own grocery store for some comparison shopping). The Parish Family at St Paul’s offers a ministry where local people may have access to clothing at a low cost and where some clothing is sent to more remote communities further North.
Over his years as our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz often spoke of the Anglican Church of Canada as our “Beloved Church“. The truth of that statement has been made very real to me during 2019 as I have been able to experience ministry in different parts of the Diocese of Huron, (Kitchener, Windsor, Stratford, Tobermory), the Diocese of Quebec, (Caucona) and the Diocese of Brandon (Churchill). It is a bit of a culture shock to worship at St. Paul’s, Churchill and fourteen days later be present in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London for Huron’s Episcopal election! Each building is undergoing physical repairs, but the scale and cost generates a significant and similar challenge to both congregations.
What does this all have to do with our observance of Christmas? Everything.
From my perspective from the back pew these days, it is my observation that too often as congregations grapple with the question of survival, that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The privileges that are ours as members of the Diocesan Family of Huron are significant. Sharing ministry in this part of the Anglican Church of Canada is an experience that others may envy. Do we look at our context of ministry as being a place where the glass is filled rather than looking at the gap remaining between the top of the contents and the brim of the glass? Have we placed ourselves into a situation where we are never satisfied with what we have and are always wanting more?
An essential element of the Christmas experience is that we are given the opportunity to be aware of the fact that God loves us so much that we have been gifted with an individual who is the personification of Divine Love. There is an awesome beauty wrapped up in that divine gift which transforms every facet of our lives, no matter where we live, no matter where we offer ministry.
How silently, how silently
the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him still,
the dear Christ enters in.
(O Little Town of Bethlehem – verse 3)
I suggest that this Christmas Season you pause and reflect on what you have in your life. Rather than the accumulation of a pile of “stuff” under the tree, let your generosity be expressed by gifts given to those whose life is lived in a far more precarious situation than your own.
As you live the gift of each new day, may the experience of that day, wherever it may be, be the gift that you cherish and the memory that you hold dear.
May the observance of the Christmas Season of 2019, be a special time of blessing for us all.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry,
but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron.