By Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle
Only a few days after the episcopal election in Huron, a friend posted a picture of a “Purple Bishop Tree” she encountered among the Christmas Trees at Canadian Tire. While I have no interest in debating the liturgical appropriateness of purple trees or Christmas decorations in October, I do find the conflation of these moments poignant. In fact, might I be so bold as to suggest that an episcopal election is somewhat like an Advent journey and so the purple bishop tree is a meaningful metaphor for this moment in the life of our diocese.
Consider the process involved in electing a bishop. We began with candidates who shared a bit of their stories. They looked back at what has been and looked forward at what could be. Their biographies, answers to questions and videos parallel the readings throughout the Advent season which point backward and forward offering stories and promises, weaving the Spirit throughout.
Then we gathered expectantly as a family of faith, praying that our journey was pregnant with the Holy Spirit. Like Mary and Joseph, like the shepherds and magi, we hoped that the choices we made were inspired by something beyond ourselves each time we cast our votes. In the end, we greeted the one who will become the 14th Bishop of Huron.
As we welcome Bishop-elect Todd Townshend into this new role, we remain hopeful that the gifts he brings will lead us in meaningful ways in the years to come. Like the wonder and grace of Christmas, this moment is ripe with an already and not yet feeling. Yes, there will be things that change, simply because we have a new bishop who brings a new perspective and invites us in his own way to look at and live out the Marks of Mission. At the same time, the ways we have encountered Christ in our midst for months, years and perhaps even decades will continue.
Throughout our diocese there are powerful examples of God at work through the living Church – in food banks, meal programs, clothing cupboards, street ministries, quilting and sewing groups, tutoring programs, pollination gardens, tree planting, truth and reconciliation efforts, advocacy groups and more. The people of Huron meet Jesus in the faces of friend and stranger who remind us of the value and grace of loving our neighbour. The Holy Spirit will continue to find ways to call us into these relationships as long as we continue to listen for that still small voice. These are signs of the Kingdom of God made manifest through our efforts already.
The challenge to continue to discern God’s prodding for every church and every parishioner is a reminder that we are not yet living in that kingdom. We need these moments when we are reminded that God continues to make things new. We need Christmas celebrations when we meet Jesus in the manger and recognize the hope that this birth brings millennia later. And we need moments of renewal such as when someone new takes the helm.
So, in a way, this year we get to enter Advent with a purple Bishop tree – our new Bishop-elect who brings the kind of hope for a new beginning that we are promised in the Advent journey. May we use this opportunity to listen deeply for the Holy Spirit beyond election day to see where we are being called as people of faith to serve God in this world, at this time.
Aside: For those who need proof that the “Purple Bishop Tree” is real, you can find the details here: https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/noma-pre-lit-bishop-christmas-tree-purple-6-5-ft-1517192p.html
Rev. Chris Brouillard-Coyle is the Social and Ecological Justice Huron chair.