On a Saturday morning in early June people from many parishes in the Edmonton diocese and beyond overcame geographic distance through video conferencing to welcome the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from her home in Ontario into their homes in rural Alberta.
At the invitation of Canon Chelsy Bouwman, rural ministry pastor, Archbishop Linda Nicholls shared her views on the opportunities and challenges of rural ministry in Canada during a Zoom gathering, offered by the Rural Ministry Initiative, on June 5.
Born in Calgary, where her father worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and raised in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Archbishop Nicholls has lived and served in rural and urban communities across Canada.
Her first parish as an Anglican priest was a two-point charge in an agricultural and recreational area about 50 kilometres north of Toronto on the edge of Lake Simcoe. As suffragan bishop in the Toronto diocese, she served an episcopal area of suburban, commuter communities along Lake Ontario and the 401 Hwy, and agricultural small towns. As Bishop of Huron in southwestern Ontario she served an area with large agricultural swaths and many small, struggling, rural congregations.
The call of God through Jesus Christ to us as disciples is not bounded by where we live, said Nicholls.
“We must seek to maintain an Anglican presence in rural communities because the Gospel is for everyone at the center of life, wherever that life is lived: in the rural parts of Canada, as much as in the center of cities. Those rural parts are essential for the wellbeing of the whole,” she said.
“The core of our faith is simple and clear. It is to be practiced anywhere, in every place, at any time. We are called to live our baptism in our context, our place; where we have been placed by God in ministry by our lives, by our vocation, by our geography. Whether we are in a crowded apartment building in downtown Vancouver or Toronto, or in an isolated fishing village of Newfoundland, or on a grain farm in the middle of Alberta, we are disciples first, by virtue of our baptism… We were created in love and call; maybe at birth through the faith of our family, maybe later in life through the faith of others, or maybe in a direct Damascus Road experience of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.”
We have a theological imperative first to share the good news of God’s love, she said. And “there is an imperative under our baptismal vows to respect the dignity of every human being, care for the land and love our neighbours: Anglican or not; Christian or not.” Caring for the whole community, “simply because we are God’s children,” characterises small communities. “It is a wonderful gift to the rest of the world and, especially, urban centers where, frankly, most people don’t know their neighbours any longer,” she said.
“I have been so deeply aware in this time of COVID lockdowns, that my wellbeing is absolutely dependent on those willing to do the hard work to make sure that I have food; that it can be put on shelves in a grocery store or even delivered to the door. We need the people living and working in agriculture, growing our food, tending the livestock, and caring for the recreational areas and nature preserves for the common good. And, most importantly, we recognise the prior right of those who were here before us on the land: First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, whose rights we are committed to protecting, under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and in our commitment to reconciliation.”
You can watch Archbishop Nicholls' talk below.