On October 22, 2017, The 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Bishop Melissa Skelton visited the oldest church building (1859) in the diocese, now located since at 21299 River Road in Maple Ridge since 1983. The community that calls that building home is a faithful and active one that have been rejuvenated of late under the ordained leadership of Interim-Priest-in-Charge, the Reverend Georgina Harris.
During Reverend Harris's tenure the community have met together twice in intensive workshop environments to discuss, pray and seek guidance as they move forward in their mission and ministry. The focus in the preceding months has been to assemble a Parish Profile to accompany a posting that will hopefully attract candidates for the position of Vicar of the Maple Ridge parish. With the profile recently completed the job posting was prepared by the Bishop's Office, posted in mid-October and sent all around the Anglican Communion.
The Eucharist at 10am was well attended with many members of the parish and friends filling the pews of the 158 year old nave. Rev. Harris greeted the congregation prior to the Opening Hymn and asked for a show of hands from those that were relieved that the sun was out and shining.
Bishop Skelton preached and presided. She also offered a compelling Children's Talk, blessed the Pascal and Advent candles, and the beautiful new signs constructed of Red Cedar. Bishop Skelton facilitated an open parish meeting after lunch, and following that event attended a meeting with parish leadership.
In her Children’s Talk, Bishop Skelton asked the younger members of the parish, "What's your image of God? What do you think God looks like?" There were a number of suggestions about images of God; from a man with a long white beard and white robes to God as light, evanescent and/or blinding. Bishop Skelton referred to Moses’ desire to know what God looks like outlined in the Old Testament reading that morning, Exodus 33: 12-23. As the talk neared its conclusion, the Bishop produced a vanity mirror and asked the children to look in the mirror. She said that we see the human face of God in the person of Jesus Christ, but we also "see in ourselves...the Living God."
Bishop Skelton took the Gospel for her text, Matthew 22: 15-22. In this famous story where Jesus is asked about paying taxes to a foreign conqueror he turns the questions back on the inquirers. Bishop Skelton prefaced her message by pointing out that in the Gospels, Jesus is asked 186 questions but he asks 307. Bishop Skelton suggested to the congregation that the focus here is on the questions and that we ask questions of ourselves. She said that Jesus doesn’t supply simple straight forward answers in his teaching and that we need to come to terms with the fact that “simple questions and simple answers are not the life that Jesus has given us” but by asking the questions we come to the knowledge that IT all belongs to God. The choices we make belong to God, even the bad things, the hard decisions, the conflicts, “these too come from God.”
During the blessing of the new signs, Bishop Skelton was joined by St. John’s parishioner, Casey Wright. Casey is well known around the lower mainland and beyond as a tireless volunteer for Children's Hospital, cancer research and other fundraising organizations that involve sourcing revenue to treat young people with catastrophic illnesses. Still in his mid-teens, Casey is also an Honorary Staff Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A rank he has held now for a number of years.
After the blessing it was off to the parish hall for lunch. Louise Charette, Beth Scott and warden, Rosemary Stasiuk led the team of chefs that prepared three entrees (sweet and sour stew, butter chicken and savory meatballs) with rice, bread and salad for the community. Warden Stasiuk did not take her seat at the Head Table with Bishop Skelton and the parish officers until everyone was served.
Following the meal, Bishop Skelton led a discussion with parishioners when she answered any and all questions, and made notes from the discussion on newsprint flipchart paper. When the open parish meeting had concluded and the majority of those gathered departed to continue their Sunday activities, Bishop Skelton then met with the officers of the parish.
This is a transition time for the Parish of St. John, Maple Ridge, but it also a time of anticipation and excitement as they wait to find out what God has planned for the faith community that worships in the oldest church building in the diocese. Please keep them in your prayers as the next phase in the life of St. John’s begins.