I can not express enough how moved I was this past Sunday evening when our parish came together to celebrate my tenth anniversary of ordination and assignment to St. Nicholas.
Indeed there is so much to be thankful for. Whether it be for the amazing dinner, the kind words and gifts, let alone for the care and generosity for myself and family, I find myself being the most thankful for the fact that there are too many people to thank. This celebration and the last ten years, truly bear witness to the blessed love and generosity of this community as a whole and not anyone person or another.
In the same way that a head or a hand is useless without a body, and needs each other member to properly function, the priesthood can only be properly understood (and fulfilled) within a community; as each is dependent on the other. My ten years at St. Nicholas bears witness to this. I have brought very few people into our Church, compared to our faithful who have echoed the words of the Apostles “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46) with their friends and families, let alone spent as much time talking with those coming to our parish as our faithful. I have done very little work at “keeping the lights on”, or cleaning and maintaining our Church; let alone, conducting and singing with the splendour and beauty that is a mark of our services, in comparison to the faithful of our parish, who have laboured and laboured in their love of God. Indeed the last ten years bear witness to the life of our Church; a witness of our community as a family.
Although I had talked with the council leading up to my assignment, and had met many people in the community, when Matushka Taesia and myself came to visit and look for a place to live in Winnipeg, the first real first experience of this parish being a family, was when we showed up at our new home after driving for three days from Ottawa. I don’t know what I was expecting, but was surprised to find our new home clean and prepared for us (as best as it could because the landlord still had furniture and personal items all over the house). Yet this surprise turned into an outpouring of tears, when I opened the fridge and saw that it was fully stocked with food. This might have just been my exhaustion, or just feeling overwhelmed by a move across the country, but I think it was mainly because I was moved beyond words, by the acceptance and love of this parish for a “stranger”; demonstrated in even the little things of a clean house, and full fridge. Truly it was a “cup of cold water” offered in love (Mt. 10:42). This acceptance and love offered ten years ago has truly been the standard of this parish for the world around us; offered time and time again, to those who cross our threshold regardless of who they are, where they are from, or what they do.
Of course throughout these past 10 years, that generosity has far exceeded a clean house and full fridge, and that acceptance of me as a stranger, has grown into something more personal and touching; but that first impression of generosity has been always something I have held onto as being more precious than gold, if only because it was a witness of what this parish was and still is; a family, and even more. The Church and the Body of Christ.
Yet, as much as our parish bears witness to the love and work of our faithful, I truly think that the context for all of this stems from the work of our beloved Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne. The words of the Lord express this beautifully “ Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not laboured; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.”(Jn. 4:35-38)
The manifestation of our parish as a family, (something that we now “reap”) has everything to do with the work of Fr. Bob, and Matushka Dianne, who diligently labourd (“sowed”) with boundless love and generosity in their witness of the Lord’s saving love. Not only did they guide me pastorally as I learned how to serve as a priest, but they guided (and continue to guide) our community in attending to the “one thing needful” (Lk. 10:42) as a family and not anything else; that is sitting at the feet of our Lord in humility and thanksgiving. None of what we have today, would ever have been possible had it not been for their love and dedication to God and neighbour alike. I pray that neither I, nor our parish, ever forget their offering of love that opened the hearts of a community that accepted me and many others.
As we now look to the future and continue to be faithful to the witness offered by Fr. Bob and Matushka Dianne, and each other as Christians, we are promised something much more by the Lord. That glorious celebration we just had, will be something more glorious, as it will be a celebration that will stretch on for centuries to come; even into the Kingdom of Heaven! May the Lord bless that I can continue to be a part of this journey, with this my family in Christ!