The Ven. Rick Jones, former rector in Hamilton Mountain, with Mike Burpee, chair of the Diocesan Task Force on Physical Resources. A video of their conversation will be shown at archdeaconry meetings to be held this month and in early November. Niagara Anglican photo

With his open, gentle demeanor, pastoral approach and deep spirituality, Niagara Diocese Archdeacon 'Rick' Jones has led the people of Hamilton Mountain parishes through challenge and change to healthy new hope.

Asked how it began, Rick smiled: "God puts you in the right place at the right time, with the skills and people you need."

Born and raised a "cradle Anglican" in Vancouver, Rick had Anglican and Mennonite grandparents. He studied psychology at the University of BC before relocating in central Canada. After work along the way as a scuba-diving instructor, a stuccoer's helper, and a businessman he began studies for the priesthood at Trinity College, Toronto and was ordained a priest in 1988.

In 1999, employed at the Diocese of Niagara's Synod Office and in his second year of doctoral studies in Congregational Development at Seabury-Western University (Evanston, Illinois), Rick was approached by Niagara's then newly-minted Bishop, Ralph Spence: "I think we have a window of opportunity to do something in Hamilton Mountain. Are you interested?"

Hamilton Mountain, a suburban area of the city of Hamilton, is located south of the Niagara escarpment - a 100 meter cliff that bisects the city into upper and lower parts. It had six Anglican parishes, mostly established in the 1950s and 1960s.

With four of the six in interim situations, the bishop's invitation led to Rick's appointment as rector of St. Bartholomew's Church (part-time) and coordinator of the Hamilton Mountain Ministry: "It was a new title, a new job; it had never been done before."

Preaching at Rick's induction as Archdeacon of Mohawk, Bishop Spence said, "...Rick is going to be my herald. A herald's coming bodes change, so be prepared for change!"

Aware that "change" talk creates anxiety, "blaming behaviour" ("We're in this situation because...) and dependency ("Why doesn't the bishop tell us what to do? He's got a hit list!"), Rick knew that "it's not healthy for an organization not to be in control of its destiny."

He also understood clergy concerns: "Will I have a job? Will I be able to feed my family?"

Rick formed a support group "for the process and for me. (It was) very important to have a free flow of information, that clergy knew at all times what was going on and could communicate with the people. (It was) essential... really critical... to have all the clergy on board."

He committed to "open communication, to be upfront with everybody, and to give (to people and clergy) a high degree of ownership in whatever was going to happen. I wasn't going to write the report - the people were."

A demographic study had been recently done by a consultant. "It was difficult to hear her recommendation that there should only be three parishes where there were six," said Rick. Work then began with the parishioners involved - once the six parishes had a combined membership of over 2,000. Now it was down to 600.

"It took people over a year to recognize that we were a new church, to move beyond blaming and dependency to 'what can we do about it?'"

A gathering of people from every parish was instrumental. At a weekend planning conference over 300 people from the six parishes discussed "every area of church life" from administration to youth. That Sunday, all the congregations worshipped together with the bishop, and "...we presented our vision (drawn from) all the conversations... in a written statement of our long-term goal, to develop the Hamilton Mountain Ministry."

In June, 2000, St. Bartholomew's and St. Timothy's were disestablished, and the Church of the Resurrection created.

After a "real dialogue" about their future between the churches of the Holy Trinity and St. Augustine, amalgamation was rejected, but St. Augustine's voluntarily disestablished and a majority of the congregation moved to St. Michael's.

Rick appreciates that "St. Michael's made room in the church for important physical symbols St. Augustine's brought, especially their cross and font, but more importantly, they made room for people, for new ways of worshipping, their groups and so on."

"Not one time has anyone from St. Michael's said, 'You're sitting in my pew." Rather, the people from St. Augustine's heard: 'Before, this was a house to worship in; now, it's not just a house, but a parish home.'

The next experiment involved "yoking" Holy Trinity with "The Rez," the Church of the Resurrection, and hiring the Reverend Victoria Hedelius as "the pastoral person" at Holy Trinity and part of the team at both Churches.

A common administration was established, with one secretary, one telephone, common bulletins, and the three clergy rotating between the two churches. After two years, "while we had been able to share wonderful gifts of music, children's ministry and preaching," it was recognized that Holy Trinity would benefit by having "a consistent clergy presence."

Parishioners at the Church of the Resurrection in Hamilton Mountain, Diocese of Niagara. The church was formed five years ago by the amalgamation of two declining parishes and since then has doubled in membership, according to its former rector

Now, clergy meet regularly to discuss programs and mission opportunities, "and each place offers a unique contribution to ministry on Hamilton Mountain." At St. Michael's, a parish nurse provides support in health and spirituality issues "for all of us." At Holy Trinity, the Rev. Vicky Hedelius offers her "special training and passion for" children's ministry.

Hospital outreach and their new Spanish congregation are unique to St. Stephen's, and the Church of the Resurrection develops evangelism initiatives and new liturgies. The Team is guided by their motto: "Never do alone what you can better do with others, and never do something yourself that another could do better."

"We have one Alpha, one Via Media, one same-sex discussion group for everybody. People attend what they're interested in."

"Is there more we could do to develop a better team ministry?" he asks and answers himself: "Absolutely! We haven't begun to explore the potential of common administration, the financial and other benefits that might come from having one office... The next step needs to be regular meetings of lay leaders from all congregations." Until this year the rector of The Rez, Rick emphasizes a holistic approach. "We've always tried to create a new church culture, a new story... of rebirth and renewed energy to follow Jesus in loving, healing, equipping and sending disciples."

"Each of those four elements is thought of intentionally when anything new happens at the Resurrection... to equip people for Christian life and ministry."

This story, somewhat abridged, first appeared in the Niagara Anglican. It is reprinted by permission.