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By Very Rev. Kevin George

I love berries. Raspberries are my favourite - wild preferably. I fell in love with them at a very young age.

I was fortunate to grow up in Newfoundland where wild raspberries grow in abundance. I was also fortunate to have a dad who loved berry picking. All the more fortunate that I was only ten when he retired at sixty-five.

My father was never idle in retirement. He valued work above all else. He grew our vegetables, caught our fish, snared rabbits, and yes, he picked berries. He picked a lot of berries. He picked them all - Partridge berries, Blueberries, Bakeapples, and my favourite, Raspberries.

I was probably twelve or thirteen and it was a fine summer day. Dad was going raspberry picking. For whatever reason, I went along. I was not a good lad at picking berries. My lack of patience coupled with my love of the little red delights were not a recipe for successful foraging.

Nonetheless, dad was saddled with his adolescent son as he led the way “in-over-the-hill” behind Uncle Albert’s house.

We landed upon a small area of cutover woods. The raspberry plants were overloaded with bright red delicacies. I was excited. My father quickly filled his first container, and was on to filling his plastic water pitcher when he looked over to see me with barely the bottom of my ice cream tub covered. He quickly surveyed the situation and stopped to give me direction before I ruined every raspberry bush within reach.

He came over and took the bush that I had just pulled two berries from (one for my mouth, one for my container) before trampling it under foot. He lifted it up so I could see the abundance of berries still on the tree. “Kevin, you are always looking for the big and bright berries on the next bush. You need to finish the job on each bush before you move on. Mind the berries that are right in front of you. You are making a mess. You’ll never fill your container that way.”

For a couple of reasons, I have thought often about that counsel over the years working in the church, in my various roles as a priest, a rector, and now a dean.

First, my patience has not improved a whole lot from that moment picking berries in-over-the-hill. It remains a temptation to look to the next possibility, the next best hope, the next thing in the calendar, before making certain that I have tended to the work of discipleship that is right in front of me.

The second is more institutional. I have been in ordained ministry now for nearly twenty-seven years. In that time, I have witnessed more programs that were to save the church or right the ship than I can count. In each case these programs have come with real possibilities. But rather than do the heavy lifting and glean as much as we can from our work, we have sometimes excitedly, at other times reluctantly or in frustration, moved on to the next best-looking opportunity for renewal.

All the while, we trample under foot precious resource. We are finding our proverbial containers not filling up. In fact, to our dismay, they are getting empty as we consume that which we’ve already laboured for with not much to show for it.

Recalling that day with my dad, I still remember how proud I was when I finally filled that tub – and he was too. I hold this memory sacred. His advice was formative for me. Might we stay in the moments we have with one another rather than marching off to the next thing? Can the church, perhaps, lift high the tree to see the abundance of fruit yet to be harvested?

It’s hard work. It can be tedious and frustrating. But I have a hunch that we will realize that it is worth the effort for us to be faithful and tend to the work. I know that each time I have managed to slow down and tend to the work, the relationships in front of me, I experience that same sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that I felt that day in-over-the-hill with Dad.

Very Rev. Dr. Kevin George is Rector of St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and Dean of Huron.