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Church group bakes 700 apple pies in memory of dear friend

A few people asked me if I would post the picture and comments from our Retirement Dinner.Here they are: First of all on behalf of Nancy and myself I want to thank the parish council for hosting this event. Nancy and I have been the beneficiaries of your incredible kindness in so many ways and we are deeply grateful. I am pleased that my mother Kathleen and her husband of nearly 50 years Bern are here representing my family. I have always told Mom that Bern will get an express ticket into heaven for taking us on as a family. I am also glad that Nancy’s brother Bob and his wife Hettie are here representing the outlaws as I affectionately call them, the Granters. In his excellent play, The Holdin ground, Ted Russell has one of the characters, Roman Catholic Bishop, Michael Fergus Shanahan quote the Roman Poet Horace: “ Caelum non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt”. You can take the boy out of the bay but you cannot take the bay out of the boy. I first encountered this play in 1978 in Martin Ware’s English class. I have never forgotten the sentiment. I have carried it with me everywhere that I have gone in the world. and it was an unconscious factor when I surprized myself and my wife and applied to be the Dean of the Cathedral here in Corner Brook about 5 and a half years ago. Returning to western Nl has awakened in me so many memories. When I have visited Mountainview, as I did yesterday, it is almost as if my past jumps out at me. Imagine, for example, my delight in having conversations with Jim Caines, who sold my grandfather my confirmation suit at Morris Gordon’s. There were also reminders of my less than saintly past. Seeing Max St Croix, a wonderful man, brought back memories of trying to get fake ids past him so we could buy liquor at the store in the Millbrook Mall when we were young university students here. He was never fooled. It has been good reconnecting with old friends like Percy Coffin and Stewart Payne and it has been a gift to have the opportunity to reconnect with Cox’s Cove and Greenspond where we both grew up. Richard Giles, the former Dean of Philadelphia, put into words what I believe about ministry and the priesthood. In his book, Here I Am, he wrote, “The work is not for the fainthearted, the lazy, or those constantly checking their allowance of time off. The priest is someone willing to work at the process of growing into what I am and to do so without anxiety or self-absorption. It is for those who are learning to be at peace with God and at peace with themselves. It is for those who remain absolutely fascinated by and therefore tirelessly interested in. other people, knowing that this fragile and funny stuff called human nature is the raw material of God’s ceaseless recreating.” To put it quite simply, I believe that being a priest means being willing to love people but it also means being willing to accept their love for you. I am grateful that this has been at the heart of who we have been for each other here at the Cathedral. And this wonderful relationship has allowed our community to prosper and grow. We have rediscovered that great Christian truth accentuated by St Francis that it is in giving that we receive. As I come to the end of my time among you, I am so grateful that our Cathedral is now at the centre of a ministry rooted in service. We are giving the kind of leadership in our Diocese and community that a Cathedral should give. There have been a multitude of improvements in the building: the construction of the elevator and annex, the commercialization of the kitchen. These things have not only improved our lives but they have allowed the Cathedral to be a better resource in the community. The improvements in the kitchen, for example, have made the Open Door possible. We have built alliances with other Anglican Churches and other organizations that support those in need, those with addictions, those suffering from mental health. We have made the Cathedral available to the arts and music community. This building is used every single day, sometimes with multiple groups. I was never so proud at any point in my ministry as when we made the decision and so quickly put into place the financial and personnel resources that enabled us, not just to welcome the Almaidani family into our community, but to give them a good start in their new country. I am glad that despite the fact that I have done nearly 2 funerals a month since I came here our congregation ceased to decline and began to grow again. I am so happy there are children here tonight, a wonderful reminder of our revitalized Sunday School. I am so proud of the ministry that all of you did in partnership with me: the visits to homes and institutions, the services, the music. I am glad that our financial bottom line has continued to improve but I am more proud that our outreach ministry inside this community and to our wider world through Primates and Sleeping Children Around the World has outpaced our internal growth. I am so grateful to all who have worked beside me: clergy and lay. I am thankful to all those who have given leadership in the Parish Council and the ACW and the Men’s Group. I am resisting naming names but I want to note a few, missing for different reasons tonight. Eileen was my confidante and Nancy and I miss her greatly. John was my collegue and I miss his camaraderie. And Sterling and Muriel have been incredible friends. We look forward to seeing them back among us soon. I want to thank Patti who grasped my approach to ministry very early and has supported it in so many ways. My wardens have been incredible. Dennis has been a wonderful, supportive counsel. And I live in awe of Katie’s energy. I want to say a final words about my photograph that was just hung in this hall. The first thing I want to say is that we all know that Graham Watton is a tough lawyer. I didn’t realize where he learned his skills until Katie took on the task of getting my photograph ready. She asked for a photo and I gave her one of me dressed in my naval uniform, a beautiful coloured picture. She rejected it outright so I gave her another 5 to choose from: all rejected. You just saw one of them. Finally, we settled on this picture inspired by one taken at Imogene’s baptism. You will see I am wearing the Dean’s cope, purchased during my time here in memory of Alma Chapman, a former organist, but clearly visible on the stole is the maltese cross of a military chaplain. Let me end with the story of that stole. It was given to me by a military chaplain who had served in Rwanda. In Rwanda this chaplain saw horrific things and most of the killing that happened in Rwanda happened in churches. Among those killed was the first owner of this stole, a Rwandan priest who died in his church, trying to protect his congregation. His wife gave the stole to the chaplain who gave it to me because his PTSD leaves him unable to go into a church or function as a pastor. What we do as priests, we do on the backs of martyrs. I have tried to never forget that. I have never taken for granted my wellness. Thank you again for your wonderful hospitality to Nancy and I. It will never be forgotten.

I am your brother…. 

Earlier this month my wife Nancy and I attended the Writer’s Festival in Woody Point, NL. We are there almost every year and we love it. There is just no better opportunity to listen to and even in engage in conversation with some of the most prolific and brilliant writers of our age. This year there was the opportunity to meet and interact with Annie Proulx, Lynden McIntyre and poet extraordinaire Dennis Lee. To say nothing of the opportunity to listen to the irrepressible Mary Walsh, NL’s most potent comedian. And there is music.

 On Saturday morning there is the opportunity to do the Walk in the Wild. It cost nothing and is a gorgeous hike on the Lomond Trail in beautiful Gros Morne National Park. At various intervals along the way the crowd stops and an author speaks or reads and a musician plays and sings. I love this part and was looking forward to the reading by Lisa Moore and the stories from Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron McLean. It was the music that provided the grace moment though. Tim Baker, the lead vocalist for Hey Rosetta was the featured guest and one of the songs he performed was the The Red Song. In his introduction to the song Baker told us that the dreamer Joseph in the middle lyrics was in fact the Joseph of Genesis chapters 36-50 and he did a great job of summarizing Joseph’s story to the crowd gathered. I always marvel at the power of these Old Testament stories to inform and empower. 

The story of Joseph is one of those recurring themes in popular culture. In the late sixties, the Country and Western Artist Dolly Parton used the story to write what she still calls her favourite song, The Coat of Many Colours. In the early seventies Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated to produce the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat. This musical made it to Broadway in the eighties and it remains a very popular show. Later in the day I was able to share a table with Tim Baker at a Des Walsh poetry reading. The picture above is from that event. I initiated a conversation with him about the story of Joseph and told him I was a priest. I also told him that remarkably in the past few weeks and in the week of the Writer’s Festival the Old Testament readings in the Common Lectionary were the story of Joseph.

 I am going to resist telling you the story in this blog, instead encouraging you to read it for yourself. Suffice to say though the story is about family rivalry and the power of forgiveness. It is also about God’s ability to do good even in the midst of human evil and selfishness. This is a message that our world desperately needs. 

 It is also a political story about two nations, who were traditional enemies, discovering the value of working cooperatively to their mutual benefit. This is a message that Donald Trump desperately needs to hear. The past week has clearly revealed that putting America First and pulling out of the Paris Accord is in fact putting America in peril. Further our global economy is so intertwined that any attempt to solicit advantage for one nation will lead to needless suffering for all.

 In Genesis 45:6, the powerful Egyptian Overlord, Zaphenathpaneah says to a family of Israelite refugees: I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. Do not grieve, do not reproach yourselves for having sold me. God sent me before you to preserve life. We are all brothers and sisters. This fragile Earth, our Island home, needs us to work collaboratively.

        The things I learned from Sgt Rock and Easy Company 

When I was a child I loved comic books. I was not a big fan of those Marvel or DC superheroes. Rather I preferred the old westerns, The Lone Ranger, Billy the Kid and The Apache Kid. I also liked the war comics and particularly enjoyed Sergeant Rock and Easy Company.

 Lots of my friends enjoyed Spider Man and Superman but in a strange kind of way I found them a little too superficial. Sometimes as I have grown into an adult and I remember myself as I child I have to concede that I was a strange little kid. For me the superhero comics presented life in a very nuanced way. There were heroes and there were villains. And if you were not on the side of the heroes then you were a villain.

 In a weird kind of way there was a more complex world being presented in the western and war comics of my age. Sgt Rock’s Easy Company had a black soldier, Jackie Johnson, in a time when the US Army was racially segregated. Little Sure Shot was an Apache Soldier. Four Eyes was an exceptional glasses-wearing sniper. The perfect hero for those of us who were often referred to by that name. The storyline was also grayer. For sure the Nazi history was demonized as it ought to have been but I also remember an episode where Rock cries when he realizes that the Nazis he was killing were in fact young boys.

 In the same way western comics presented Indigenous Americans far less one-dimensionally and far more favourable than even the news media was at that time. Informed readers like myself knew that The Billy the Kid comic was loosely based on the life of teen mass murderer, William H. Bonney, but the comic was an attempt to present a character with a likable personality and a strong moral code. It was in many ways a story of redemption and forgiveness. 

 Some days in the past few weeks I am left believing that I am living in a very bad comic book. We have leaders of countries threatening one another with nuclear war. Even dependable superpowers all of a sudden have leaders whose contributions to the conversation look like they might more properly belong in a dialogue bubble in a comic book: “Cesspools of evil” (Kim Jung Un) “ Fire and Fury” (Donald Trump). Once again in our world we have pear-shaped politicians ready to slaughter their young and destroy hard-earned peace in our world.

 The United States of America is a democracy and their President is legitimately chosen. Clearly, though, he needs a little tutoring from Sgt Rock and the Apache Kid. You do not fall into the trap of becoming what you claim to be fighting against.

 We Christians believe that peace is important. There are many reason for this but chief among them is that it was the gift that the resurrected Jesus first offered to the disciples. Clearly though he envisioned times like these. That is why Jesus said: I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

                         Canada and its 150th birthday

 I awoke this morning to the news that Indigenous protestors were being arrested in Ottawa. It appears that overnight they had erected a teepee and in their words were reoccupying Parliament Hill. In the midst of all the celebration around Canada’s 150th birthday the voices of our Indigenous people remind us that their history in this land is much longer. Further many of them feel that this experiment which is Canada has left them behind with disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, incarceration and youth suicide. Given these circumstances, is it appropriate to be hosting a celebration?

 I must admit that this is a more difficult question than I first realized. I could address this in many ways. First as a Newfoundlander and Labradorean my history in Canada is much shorter than 150 years. We have only been around for 68 of those 150 years. Many Canadians still do not know that for the Dominion of Newfoundland, July 1st was a day of mourning, remembering our horrific losses at the Battle of the Somme in Beaumont Hamel. We still spend our morning somberly remembering. Further, there is my heritage as a member of a family who are all part of the recently formed Qalipu band. Then there is my 4 years I spent in Haida Gwaii and my involvement with the Haida people that gave me such an appreciation of the challenges that Indigenous people have faced because of colonialism.

 I have to string that alongside my ancestors who came from England and Scotland and my 24 years that I served this country as a military chaplain. I have always been proud of how we were able to impact for good so many places in our world. I listen to some of our proudest Canadians, our recent immigrants, some of whom I am delighted to call friends. They have chosen this country and they love it, often because of the sanctuary it offers them. As one who has travelled broadly, my experience of Canada remains that it is still the best country on Earth.

 Having said all of that, I believe the approach to take on Canada Day is to celebrate what has been accomplished. I would include at the top of that list our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It permits all of us to be who we are and who we want to be. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there is still much work to be done and we must commit ourselves to working together to provide equal opportunities to all Canadians. Until the day that all of us equally enjoy the bounty of this country then none of us truly can. 

The writer to Ecclesiastes said, For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 Clearly, July 1, 2017 represents for some of us a time to celebrate and for others a time to protest. It truly is a time for some to weep and a time for others to laugh. For me it will be a time of thankfulness because I live in a country where I have the freedom to choose my response.

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