We Carry On

Red Lake Shared Ministry

When many people think of a church, they think of people on a Sunday morning and a full-time priest leading worship. Yet for over 60 percent of the congregations in Rupert’s Land, that isn’t the reality. I asked some people from some of these churches what difference it makes in worship when there is no full-time priest in the parish.
A retired priest travels to All Saints’, Whytewold from Winnipeg twice a month to lead Holy Eucharist. On the other Sundays, Lay Readers lead Morning Prayer services, including preparing and preaching the sermon. The Lay Readers have learned to adapt some services in the Book of Alternative Services that assume a priest will be present, like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, so that they can lead. “All Saints just seems to adapt to changing preachers and circumstances!” says Lay Reader Lois Graham. Lois also notes that the Morning Prayer service in the Book of Alternative Service leaves a fair bit of room for customization. A previous priest had developed a Service of the Word for use at All Saints’ and at St. Bartholomew’s, Winnipeg Beach (their neighbouring parish), but today “we now do our ‘own’ service from the BAS.”
Dianne Pertoci of the Red Lake Shared United Church/Anglican Ministry agrees about a congregation learning to adapt. “Not having a full-time priest or minister has made the congregation members very receptive to the different leaders and appreciative of their efforts,” she says. In Red Lake, a team of parishioners, both United Church and Anglican, has come together to organize and lead worship. The congregation uses the United Church worship resource “Gathering” as a guide for prayers, readings, and hymns alongside the Anglican Morning Worship format (with no communion) for most Sundays.
Three members of the parish take turns preaching, and the congregation invites a local pastor from Grace Community Church to preach once a month. On alternating months, United Church Minister Judy McEwan travels from Dryden to lead services and Archdeacon James Dugan makes the more-than-three-hour trip from Kenora to lead the congregation in Holy Communion. “It is very noticeable that our service on the Sunday that Jim Dugan visits is more elevated – prayers seem to mean more and the whole service seems more special. And I have heard from other Anglicans that they miss not having communion at least once a month.”
At St. Matthew’s in Winnipeg, the Rev. Gwen McAllister serves as part-time incumbent. She presides at Holy Communion most Sundays (although a retired or visiting priest will preside once a month), but the congregation is also “experimenting with a service that is in the same form as the Communion liturgy, but has a renewal of Baptismal vows and a blessing with water in place of Communion. This service could be used on rare occasions and allow our deacon to ‘preside,’ even when no priest is present.” Because Gwen is not full-time, she often invites others to preach, both members of the parish and guests from outside. “One of the gifts of this is that we hear different voices and theologies and, frankly, different favourite phrases, and that expands the parish’s theology and understanding of God and our faith tradition.”

St. John’s, Pilot Mound

The Parishes of Pembina Hills are five churches lead by a Ministry Support Team using the Local Collaborative Ministry model. The Team is comprised of locally-raised and trained lay people and priests, who together lead the ministry of the churches as volunteers. The priests take turns leading worship and preaching at the churches in Pembina Hills, and some of the lay leaders preach as well. Deacon Mona Blackburn from St. John’s, Pilot Mound notes that each priest has a different approach “and we go along with each one. We are very appreciative of having our clergy and the time they give. We are all volunteers.”
So not having a paid, full-time priest means that congregations hear different voices, both ordained and lay, leading worship and preaching. It also often means that the form of liturgy needs to be flexible to account for the needs of the particular congregation. These can be advantages, but there are drawbacks, too.
“We miss having a full-time priest because that gives us a sense of continuity,” notes Joan Merton, a Lay Reader at St. Michael’s in Victoria Beach, where they have been without an incumbent for some time. St. Michael’s is currently led in worship by a combination of visiting priests providing sacramental ministry, and Morning Prayer is led by Lay Readers.
Deacon Cathie Clow leads Morning Prayer and preaches once a month at St. Helen’s, Fairford. The Rev. Steven Martin from the Diocese of Brandon also visits once a month to lead Holy Eucharist. “The lack of having a full-time priest has given the impression that the services are not important,” says Cathie. “The same with only having two services per month. The younger people stay away because they are not getting their ‘spirituality,’ so [they] attend the Pentecostal church, which does have services every Sunday.”
Still, in a tradition that has often been seen as too clergy-focused, churches without full-time priests bear witness to a different way of being the Body of Christ in worship.

St. Michael’s, Victoria Beach

Diane Pertoci in Red Lake says, “The time spent together and worshipping together is valued by everyone present. We leave church on Sunday with a message and a ‘feel good’ outlook.” Joan Merton reminds us, “We just carry on at St. Michael Victoria Beach; we do our best with the talents God has given us!” Gwen McAllister suggests that “it feels like a group effort to ‘make church’ every Sunday. It’s a positive and empowering feeling; we don’t need to be perfect, only flexible and open. Sunday mornings are literal practice living our theology.” With a variety of preachers and styles, Cathie Clow notes, “you never know what you are going to get, but, no matter – one does get the Good News of God.”
And, as Lois Graham notes, “The people come. We worship. We share together. We carry on with God as our guide, strength, and wisdom, for he is the reason we come and worship each Sunday and continue on as his disciples.”
That is the shared theme from all of these churches. With the advantages and disadvantages to not having a full-time priest to lead them in worship week by week, these communities of disciples have learned to be flexible with liturgy. Regardless of who might be standing at the front of the church, they gather for worship, to hear God’s word proclaimed, and to celebrate the sacraments (when and how they can). They are the Body of Christ in their communities, gathered for worship and the work of God’s mission, and they know it.
Heather McCance is a priest who serves as Diocesan Ministry Developer for Rupert’s Land. When she’s not working, she might be at the gym, curled up with a good novel, or leading the 13th Winnipeg Brownies.

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