Between the Church and Community: St. George’s Transcona Parish Profile

An interview with Deb Buxton and the Rev. Wilson Akinwale. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

 

RLN: Could you tell me when St. George’s was founded?

Deb: The parish was established in 1911 where the first service was held in a community hall. Transcona was a growing community with the opening of the CNR main shops. St. Georges built their first church on Kern Dr. As the congregation grew and needed more space- they entered into a short-term rental with Blessed Sacrament Catholic parish and this relationship lasted 30+ years. St. Georges chose to be on their own again and purchased the current building at 321 Pandora Ave East. This building had some renovations done to meet our needs, stained glass windows added and parts of the original building grace our sanctuary today.

 

RLN: What communities does St. George’s serve?

Deb: Our church is the most easterly Anglican church in the city of Winnipeg, and the only one in Transcona. We serve Transcona, and some of the surrounding areas east of Winnipeg, including Dugald and Anola. Many in the parish are families with a connection to past generations of St. George’s and most of our congregants still live in our catchment area.

Wilson: When I feel a bit overwhelmed [parishioners] know, they just have that sense of understanding and intuition. [They ask] “is everything ok?” That gives me a sense of joy because to me that is a good signal that people are not only thinking about the church and the community but looking after the welfare of their own priest. If you have people like that in the community, it makes you want to come to church, it makes you want to be part of who they are and what they’re doing. I also love the evangelical/contemporary Anglican mode of worship; it puts me in a place of free faith expression.

Deb: The church has gone through its share of trials and tribulations. Previous priests had to deal with strong personalities, different styles of worship. I think many churches go through that. But we’ve come into our own in the last 10 years, we know who we are now.

I was almost apologizing to the bishop once that we weren’t traditional enough. Then one morning he showed up unannounced and joined the congregation in a morning prayer worship being led by lay leaders. Afterwards, he said: “You’re rich in tradition”. He reassured us we are doing well. We don’t get excited when people make mistakes. We’re just happy to be there. We don’t care what you’re dressed in, or if you show up late and the kids are loud. It just matters that we’re together.

As we journeyed through the pandemic with virtual services, Zoom AGMs, and Vestry meetings, we realized just how important being together, worshipping and working together in person was in our lives. The joy, love and belonging wasn’t quite the same on Zoom. We have felt even more connected and treasure each moment more than ever.

Wilson: If Jesus was looking for perfect people, we wouldn’t be in church. He’s looking for people that are not perfect, that are vulnerable, that need support and understanding. That’s why we say, “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD) when we feel we make mistakes. We laugh over it and just move on. We need to love people the way they are, regardless of if they make mistakes or not, if they are vulnerable or not [because we are all vulnerable and sometimes we find ourselves where we feel inadequate the reason we are human and not perfect]. We need to love people and appreciate who they are including their identities, their orientation, their background, their sexual orientation, their culture, and their ethnicity and the language they speak. That’s the beauty of Jesus welcoming and loving people the way they are.

 

RLN: What does worship look like at St. George’s?

Deb: We follow the Book of Alternative Services, but we found people having difficulty following the service (especially guests) So we created service booklets. There’s one for every season of the church and it has what [parishioners] need to simply follow the service. We have a mix of traditional and contemporary music and it’s a guitar service.

Wilson: [Contemporary worship] helps somebody like me leading the worship introduce something new. We should not be rigid, because God is a dynamic God. And as priest and pastor here I see these amazing people of God very dynamic, initiative-taking and formidable in the way they worship God because they are not like, “we need to follow things this way, although we still uphold Anglican tradition” And It enables everybody to be free, and to enjoy the service.

 

RLN: What kind of connections to the community outside of the church building do you have?

Deb: COVID impacted everything, and we’ve been cautiously starting again. We resumed our monthly service at Park Manor Care Home. Some of our past parishioners live there. We host two 30 minutes services (one per floor) and have about 25 residents attending. Last week, Wilson spoke a little bit about Black history. The residents were so interested in what Wilson had to say, and how he delivered it. It was a nice connection.

Our other area of community work is with the Plessis Family Resource Center and the Transcona Food Banks. The Plessis Resource Center runs 2 food banks, a community cupboard and many programs that support its community. We have a group of women who go to the Resource Center once a week and prepare lunches and meals ahead. There are about 50 kids – sometimes as high as 70 – who come there for break- fast and lunch every day, and then they go to school. We also collect groceries for the breakfasts and lunches being prepared. At Christmas we helped create over 100 breakfast hampers that went home with each child who is supported by the resource center to help during the Christmas break when the schools and resource center is closed.

Wilson: The traditional way of looking at the role of the deacons in our church is that they stand in the doorway between the world and the church. So for us here, that is the role of St. George’s in this community, we stand in that doorway between the church and our community in Transcona.

 

RLN: Could you tell me about your recent Black history service?

Wilson: We included some elements of an art exhibition, bringing different art from across Africa and a “talking drum” to let people see it and to display it and to beat the drum. Because food is part of culture, we worked with a Winnipeg Nigerian restaurant and presented a light lunch with traditional foods for the parish members and guests following the service. Our families from Uganda and from Nigeria were able to put on our traditional native dresses and to showcase that as part of the day. There was no sermon, there was just a presentation based on the theme for the year which is Black Excellence: A Heritage to Celebrate; A Future to Build.

 

RLN: How would you describe St. George’s to a stranger?

Deb: St. George’s as a Transcona parish has a small-town feel to it. Everyone knows everyone and cares. When there’s somebody new in the church, everybody approaches them to welcome them, to show them how we do things, sometimes somebody sits with them so that they can follow the service and not feel awkward. At coffee, like they’re almost inundated with people. It’s a sense of welcoming that you don’t see everywhere.

Wilson: I am so pleased to see a structure at St. George’s that is working, including open doors always welcoming people. One of the things I want to mention about this is that we have a monthly men’s breakfast where I’m the youngest, I always look forward to this to look for wisdom, listen for understanding among seniors and older men in our congregation, and to get some insights about many that I might want to take in, and want  to process for myself in order to diligently handle and deal with situations, church dynamics and other people in the community.

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