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Care, respect, and love come with a big smile: Ven. Megan Collings-Moore (centre)

By Chuck Erion

I spoke to Ven. Megan Collings-Moore five days after she announced that she would retire from the chaplaincy of Renison University College as of Sept 1st, 2021. Since that announcement, she’s been overwhelmed by scores of phone calls and emails from former students, both to congratulate and to thank her for how she had helped them.

I asked what had triggered her decision. She reviewed a timeline starting 17 years ago when her husband suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident. He was off work – as software manager for the medical imaging clinic at Western University –for two years. The accident jolted them both with the limits of their mortality and time together, that life comes without guarantees, and that early retirement would allow more time together. Her husband retired in December though he continues with an imaging business he started with a few colleagues at Western. He is 57 and Megan is 55.

As she explained to Renison’s president, Dr. Wendy Fletcher, it feels right to bring her 15-year chaplaincy to a close and time her departure with the planned reopening of the residences and classrooms in September. Megan will continue as Archdeacon of Waterloo Deanery and hopes to find part-time work that builds on the problem-solving skills that she has evolved both as chaplain and as Archdeacon. “I feel I’m being called away from Renison but let’s see what God has in mind. I have at least seven months to figure this out.”

Looking back over her fifteen years, Megan is grateful for being able to walk alongside so many students in their formation to adulthood. Grateful too for the St Bede’s Chapel community. “I came from having around 150 in Sunday worship at Church of the Epiphany in Woodstock, to just twelve at St Bede’s, but God is active in each person’s life. The intimacy of a small group allows for times of quiet. They each have voices. I received as much as I gave.”

Megan shared several highlights. Like the time when, at a Fermented Faith (discussion group held in an off-campus pub) event where a stranger picked up the food and drinks tab for 20 students. The period when Rt. Rev. Saulo de Barros, former Bishop of Amazonia, lived in residence while taking English lessons and dropped into the ministry centre without his clerical collar, to practice his language with students. And, getting invited to perform the wedding of two grad students, one at the Perimeter Institute, the other at the Quantum Computing Institute. She eagerly agreed, only to be told that the wedding would be in California. “And we’ll fly you and your husband there. My dad’s a four-star General!”  It was a lovely weekend.

“As a former student and colleague at Renison, I saw first hand the care, respect, and love Megan showed for all people who walked into the Ministry Centre at Renison. Whether it was chatting with someone who was asking the ‘big questions’ or sitting with someone in crisis, her ability to truly listen, to provide sage advice, and to fully recognize the other as a beloved child of God was so valued by the community and, undoubtedly, saved lives.”
Brendon Bedford, Diocese of Huron postulant and former Alumni Officer and student at Renison University College

Megan will miss her close relationship with Marilyn Malton, director of Renison’s Institute of Ministry, whose office adjoins Megan’s in the Ministry Centre.  It was her vision of a ‘front porch ministry’ that Megan latched onto. She credits Marilyn’s deep faithfulness, quiet leadership, storytelling and social work background, for the success of RIM in training lay people in the context of a church college. She and Marilyn also share a love of hiking. The ministry centre has built strong support for all Renison students but especially those with some form of disability. In fact, about 75% of those using the centre have a physical, learning or emotional disability. “We know the importance of community,” said Megan.

We talked about her role as Archdeacon in her support of Waterloo Deanery’s clergy during the pandemic. She hosts a weekly drop-in via Zoom, as well as the monthly Clericus meetings. She echoed Victor’s reflections on the past ten months. “We clergy were all trained to use non-verbal clues to sense emotions beyond what is said. We’ve had to learn how to empathize without those cues, on the phone or on Facetime, etc.” The drop-ins provide a safe space to name how hard all of this (pastoral counselling, online services without congregations) is, and to give each other permission to not do everything.

Looking ahead to churches reopening and wondering what the New Normal will look like: we speculated about how new practices of contemplation, e.g., Holy Saviour’s Virtual Vespers, may continue “in the Green Zone.” Megan’s father was an Anglican priest and her mother grew up in a Quaker family. “Praying and listening in silence together is powerful, whether online or in person. I hope that continues.”

Megan leaves big hiking boots to fill at Renison. She looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, one here and three in Ottawa. We are blessed that she is continuing as Archdeacon and can’t wait to see what other forms of part-time ministry she grows in to.

Chuck Erion is editor of a weekly newsletter for Holy Saviour Church in Waterloo, where the interview was first published.