Matt Gardner

Yukon bishop’s ministry of presence brings him back to parish life

Yukon bishop’s ministry of presence brings him back to parish life 

Bishop Larry Robertson (left) joins a craft-making session during a Lenten event at the Church of the Northern Apostles in Whitehorse, Yukon, where he currently serves as rector. Submitted photo

By Matt Gardner

Making crafts with children is not the first activity one typically thinks of when considering Episcopal ministry. But for Bishop Larry Robertson, it’s all part of the job in his new role as rector of the Church of the Northern Apostles in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Since last summer, Bishop Robertson has been serving a hybrid role as both parish rector and diocesan bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Yukon. The move is part of an effort to meet the ministry needs of the community with limited resources in a diocese that has just three stipendiary priests. The bishop and the diocesan executive have developed a new ministry of presence, calling the bishop to engage in parish ministry for a three-year period. This will be in addition to Bishop Robertson’s Episcopal ministry.

On March 24 at the Church of the Northern Apostles in Whitehorse, Yukon, a Lenten event was held to prepare for Easter. Participants—including elders and young people—gathered for teaching and children’s ministry, a longtime focus for Robertson since before his ordination to the priesthood. Approximately 18 people attended the event, which also included a potluck, craft-making, and learning new songs for Easter.

Crafts consisted of making butterflies out of tissue paper and cellophane, as well as creating family prayer beads, which the bishop saw as a helpful way to teach children to pray.

“This is the first time we’ve had [the Lenten event], to see how it went, and it went very, very well … I thought it was a good time,” Robertson said.

“I [felt] rather awkward, because I just started [at the parish]—I haven’t been in a parish in … almost 15 years I guess, now,” he laughed. “So I’m sort of re-learning again, and the parish is just beginning to gel together.”

Officially, Bishop Robertson is only present at the parish half-time. Lay leaders and other community members support outreach, lead Bible studies, and produce bulletins and schedules for daily readers.

Along with his focus on Anglicans already attending the parish, Bishop Robertson is mindful of new outreach opportunities. He noted that construction is currently underway on a new Whitehorse suburb known as Whistle Bend, located just south of the parish.

“We’ve been very blessed with a congregation that wants to grow … We’re going to have to look at how we reach out to this whole new sort of subdivision which is just opening up,” he said. “They’re talking about 8,000-10,000 people being in there in the next few years … We have to be prepared and be ready for them.”

While the idea of a bishop taking on a parish role may be relatively new, it reflects the unique conditions that many bishops face in some northern dioceses, where parishes are often remote and isolated from each other and stipendiary clergy are a rare commodity.

“Our work compared to southern city bishops is different,” Robertson said. “Our ministries are different. I find we’re much more pastoral in the sense of hands-on [activity]. Many of our parishes don’t have clergy, and so we find ourselves doing services. We find ourselves doing AGMs. I did the AGM for St. Christopher’s [Anglican Church] in Haines Junction this year, simply because there’s no minister there now this year.”

Though he has received queries from other bishops asking about his ministry of presence and the experience of taking on a parish, there is as of yet no sign that other dioceses are considering similar proposals.

With the experiment still only in its first year, the diocese will need time to evaluate the program and decide on how it plans to proceed after the conclusion of Bishop Robertson’s three-year parish tenure.

For now, the bishop is content to enjoy the experience of returning to ministry to a parish community.

“It’s refreshing,” he said. “Oftentimes [bishops] don’t get a chance to be there, and to be with children and to be with parish things. These are the sort of happy, joyful times in a parish where you see them gathering and growing together, and for me, that’s exciting … I’m enjoying it tremendously.”

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Find a Church website offers handy reference for Anglicans, Lutherans


A collaboration between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Find a Church website allows users to instantly find the closest Anglican or Lutheran church in their area.

By Matt Gardner

Locating an Anglican or Lutheran church anywhere in Canada is quicker and easier than ever thanks to a convenient new website.

A joint venture between the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), uses a simple interface to help users instantly find a church near them or in an area where they plan on travelling.

Web manager Brian Bukowski, who played the leading role for the Anglican church in developing the new site, said the idea evolved out of talks with ELCIC communications director Trina Gallop Blank.

While the ACC had long floated the idea of a church locator for Anglicans, the ELCIC had its own church-finding website which was then in need of redevelopment.

“She and I had a conversation and there it became clear that we were both looking for a solution,” Bukowski said.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, bishop of the Synod of Alberta and the Territories and a member of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission (JALC), praised the joint website as a “great and visible sign” of the full communion partnership between the two churches.

“The fact that you can search for Anglican and Lutheran congregations at the same time opens up a whole breath of possibilities,” Kochendorfer said.

He noted that someone looking for an ACC congregation in an area not served by an Anglican church can, “in a very Full Communion way,” locate a Lutheran church in the same area, and vice versa.

The evolution of the website, he added, further reflected that communal spirit.

“The Lutherans have had a Find a Congregation online resource for quite some time now,” Kochendorfer said. “It was great that the ELCIC site could provide the starting point for the new joint Find a Church resource.

“By working collaboratively between the two national offices, my understanding is they were able to streamline the process and provide enhancements to the resource that would mutually benefit the wider Anglican and Lutheran communities.”

With the domain donated from the Anglican diocese of Ontario, the new site was built from scratch to meet modern web standards, accessible on phone, tablet and desktop alike.

The landing page features a search box in which users can type an address, postal code or the name of a church, with the option of bringing up Anglican churches, Lutheran churches or both.

Search results will pull up a list of churches with each entry containing a street address, mailing address, contact information and map. Users who wish to narrow their results can also use the Advanced Search option, which allows them to search by province, diocese, synod or by using keywords.

An additional feature, Find a Person, is currently available only for the ELCIC, but may be expanded in what Bukowski refers to as “Phase 2” of the website rollout.

To ensure information is accurate and up-to date, users may contact the web manager at any time to request changes and offer feedback—with the latter helping to further develop the site as new features are added.

“We know that as it’s being used, people will use it in new and interesting and creative ways and have ideas to improve it,” Bukowski said.

“We’ll find weaknesses to it and we’re very much open to hear what people think, both in the positive and what could be changed to make it improved, because we see it as a living site.”

Visit the Find a Church website.

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B.C. bishop plans Sacred Journey for repentance and reconciliation

Bishop Logan McMenamie (left) trains for his 480-km walk across Vancouver Island, referred to as a Sacred Journey, which is set to begin on March 6. Submitted photo


By Matt Gardner

When he became bishop of the Anglican diocese of British Columbia almost two years ago, one of the first charges Bishop Logan McMenamie gave to his diocese was to determine how it could work to de-colonize the church by looking at its colonial history and its relationships with Indigenous peoples.
At the 2014 diocesan synod, Bishop McMenamie spoke about the idea of “re-entering” the land, which had occurred to him but had yet to take concrete shape. Consulting with Indigenous elders in the following months and years, the bishop began to learn about the concept of the vision quest, inspiring him to make his own journey “to take some time with the Creator.”
A major part of the vision quest is removing oneself from worldly goods, which Bishop McMenamie felt to be particularly appropriate for Lent. Perhaps even more significant was its focus on repentance—a need felt deeply across the Anglican Church of Canada as it strives for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, following a colonial past symbolized by the Doctrine of Discovery and the church’s role in the residential school system.
“We came as if we were bringing God here,” Bishop McMenamie said. “But the Creator was already here—in the land, in the sea, in the sky, in the teachings, in the language, in the traditions of the First People.”
In an act of repentance for himself and all Anglicans in his diocese, the bishop will be making a Sacred Journey starting on March 6, walking across Vancouver Island from Albert Bay to Victoria to symbolically leave the land and re-enter it in a new spirit rooted in right relationships and the discovery of God in Indigenous teachings. He has invited others in the diocese to get involved by joining him on the walk, learning a First Nations language, or reading a planned Lenten Bible study.
Along with guidance from some local First Nations, Bishop McMenamie found biblical inspiration for his 480-km journey, which is expected to last until March 27. He recalled the crossing of the Israelites over the River Jordan in the Old Testament, and the subsequent baptism of Jesus as the one chosen to lead the re-entry of a morally purified Israel into the Holy Land.
“Israel entered the land as conquerors,” he said. “And I really believe that what John the Baptist was doing was, if you want, a vision quest … taking the people out of the land so they could enter into a new relationship with the land and the peoples who were there.”
The spirit of reconciliation
Key to the proper unfolding of the Sacred Journey will be following the proper protocols as the bishop seeks to enter First Nations land. In preparation, he has been actively consulting with elders, one of whom is his friend and mentor Alex Nelson, a member of the Musgamagw-Dzawada’enuxw First Nation of Kingcome Village.
As a child, Nelson attended the Anglican-run St. Michael’s Indian Residential School beginning at age seven in Alert Bay. He established a relationship with Christ Church Cathedral in 2010, when the cathedral and its then-rector McMenamie helped raise funds for Kingcome after it experienced severe flooding. Later Bishop McMenamie invited Nelson and his family to his consecration ceremony as bishop.
“When he talked about the re-entering and in the spirit of reconciliation, I caught on right away … It’s one of those undefined moments where you just know it’s good and right,” Nelson said.
The elder quickly offered his resources to help with protocol, drawing on his relationships with major leaders of First Nations on Vancouver Island, including chiefs and tribal councils, to help the bishop seek permission to enter their territory. Nelson also plans to walk with Bishop McMenamie during parts of the journey.
Meanwhile, the bishop turned to a member of the congregation at Christ Church Cathedral, retired volunteer Wayne Stewart, to serve as trip project manager and help tackle logistical challenges.
With only two months of preparation time, Stewart has been busy on a number of fronts, organizing transport, accommodations and food and opening communications with different First Nations.
Simplicity and humility
Throughout the journey—during which Bishop McMenamie will walk a maximum of 30 km per day—volunteers in shifts will drive a rented motor home to accompany the bishop, who will sleep in motels and billets when possible and in the motor home on secluded forestry roads when no other options are available.
Along the way, the bishop will connect with First Nations communities and participate in Anglican church services. In Victoria, he plans to appear at a First Nations soccer tournament and the Tent City that has sprung up in front of Christ Church Cathedral. But not seeking attention, his trip is guided by two central principles: simplicity and humility.
“There will be no triumphal entries into any of the communities,” Stewart said. “That’s not what this is about.”
In the leadup to his journey, Bishop McMenamie has been avidly training, walking greater distances each day.
He stressed that the Sacred Journey is not an end, but merely another step in a much longer journey towards reconciliation, suggesting that the next step might be responding to the Calls to Action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The bishop invited Anglicans across Canada to pray for those on the journey and consider how they might promote reconciliation in their own communities.
“The spiritual and cultural challenges of this journey will end,” he said, “at the day [we can] be a different people and a different church.”


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Research project shines light on Beothuk-Anglican relations – Part I

The Spirit of the Beothuk
By Matt Gardner

Alongside the legacy of cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of Canada, embodied in the residential school system, is the tragic history of what some scholars consider to be a case of full-fledged genocide. The Beothuk, the Indigenous people of Newfoundland, were declared extinct in 1829 following the death of their last known living member, Shanawdithit. The annihilation of a people due to starvation, disease, violence and competition for resources, and the loss of virtually their entire culture, followed centuries of encroachment by European settlers.

In 1819, an armed band of men journeyed into central Newfoundland seeking a Beothuk group accused of stealing their property. During the resulting skirmish, several Beothuk people were killed, including Nonosabasut, the man believed to be the chief of the tribe.

His wife, Demasduit, was captured and brought to the town of Twillingate. There she was put in the care of the Rev. John Leigh, an Anglican priest and missionary who in 1816 had become the area’s first resident clergyman and who voiced concerns about the treatment of the Beothuk.

Demasduit lived with Leigh for a subsequent period, during which they constructed a vocabulary of approximately 180 Beothuk words, translating them into English as an aid to communication with the Beothuk, particularly for missionary work. That vocabulary forms the base of much of the surviving knowledge regarding the language and culture of the Beothuk.

2016 marks the 200th anniversary of Leigh’s arrival on the island, while 2019 is the 200th anniversary of Demasduit’s capture. Researching the story in advance of the former anniversary, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Mercer, rector of the Parish of Twillingate, found the historical accounts raised more questions than answers.

“It’s sort of like one line in history—she was put in his care,” Mercer noted. “Nothing really about why.”

Mercer’s interest in answering these and other questions eventually grew into a full-scale research project. Taking place over three years from 2016 to 2019, the project brings together a group of scholars from Newfoundland and the United Kingdom to look at the relationship between Demasduit and Leigh—and by extension, the broader interaction between the Beothuk and Anglican tradition.

“A story we struggle with”

For Mercer, the extinction of the Beothuk people is a topic that remains fully relevant today. As a theologian, she seeks to understand that history in terms of reconciliation and how to strive for justice centuries after the destruction of an entire people.

“I think it’s still a story we struggle with … We’re reconciling ourselves with a piece of history and with a story that sometimes people are uncomfortable with,” Mercer said. “But I do still think it’s an important piece of work that we really have to work through.

“It’s a part of our identity and our history … So many of the attitudes that were dominant in the culture of the time enabled the situation in which the Beothuk became extinct … Work that’s being done across our national church has the potential to bring healing to our historical understanding and to ourselves in many ways.”

One of the first people Mercer reached out to was colleague Dr. Suzanne Owen, senior lecturer in theology and religious studies at Leeds Trinity University and the University of Chester, UK, who first learned about the Beothuk while doing field work with the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland for her PhD.

In Owen’s view, the questions raised by Leigh and Demasduit’s brief mentions in historical texts (“How did Leigh get involved in the incident? Did Anglicans have a theological interest in the Beothuk?”) posed a unique opportunity for insight into early church-Indigenous relations from a religious and theological perspective—one which could uncover untold aspects of the Beothuk story.

“Most academics researching the subject do so from historical or cultural perspectives,” Owen said.

Another scholar involved in the project is Dr. Hans Rollmann, religious studies professor at Memorial University. A former professor of Mercer’s at Memorial University and Queen’s College, St. John’s, as well as a colleague when they both taught at the latter for a number of years, Rollmann encouraged Mercer’s efforts to learn more about Leigh.

Visit the Anglican Church of Canada website next week for the conclusion of this story.