The first episcopal visit of 2022 began with Bishop John Stephens leaving his home on the west side of Vancouver early in the morning of January 9 to drive the 45 kilometres to St. Andrew’s, Langley to Celebrate the Eucharist with the members of that parish who gather onsite at 8am on a Sunday morning. Perhaps this doesn’t sound that remarkable, however, the Lower Mainland had been in the cold and snowy grip of winter for the previous two weeks with record breaking snowfalls and freezing temperatures. In many areas of the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley up to 25 centimetres had fallen just the day before on top of the numerous snowfalls that had taken place in the days and weeks before. Vancouverites don’t deal very well with winter driving and the late 2021, early 2022 Arctic air almost brought the city and environs to a standstill. But things changed overnight January 8 to January 9, the precipitation stopped, the temperature climbed a bit, the sun came out and the major thoroughfares were bare and wet or in some cases bare and bit slippery. Bishop John made it safely to his Parish of St. Andrew the Apostle for this the first visit there during his episcopacy.
The lay and clergy leaders of the parish had gathered for worship at 10am. During this current period of seemingly endless COVID-19 protocols and precautions, St. Andrew's does a hybrid worship consisting of a MEVO livestream through the Zoom platform with integrated PowerPoint order of service for both online and onsite participation. Cathy Barnes handles the onsite tech of sound and PowerPoint projection, and Stuart Allan handles the online tech chores. A 12 voice choir gathers, physically distanced (if not part of the same household) on the south side of the sanctuary and for this liturgy they made up a good portion of the congregation. Music in worship is led by the choir accompanied by parish musician, Jon Decolongon with the assistance of the vicar, the Reverend Andrew Halladay, a fine singer, and musician.
Prior to worship, the Reverend Halladay welcomed the online and onsite congregations, he welcomed the bishop to his Langley parish and announced that St. Andrew's and the neighbouring Parish of St. Dunstan's have combined to raise $2300 to donate to Lytton fire relief through the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). St. Andrew’s is also actively fundraising to replace the flooring, lighting and also, to paint the sanctuary. Deacon of the Word for the Eucharist was the Reverend Lorie Martin who is currently a student intern at St. Andrew’s serving as a transitional deacon as she continues her studies at VST. For the Season of Epiphany, the Reverend Lorie Martin has created prayer stations located around the St. Andrew's sanctuary. The prayer stations are a project of the Centre for Spiritual Renewal at St. Andrew's which is now in development following the model of the nearby Parish of St. Dunstan's. Although currently serving at St. Andrew’s, the Reverend Martin is the Associate Director of the Centre for Spiritual Renewal at St. Dunstan’s. St. Andrew’s deacon, the Reverend Helen Lingham served as Deacon of the Table and Bishop’s Chaplain.
For his sermon text, Bishop John took the Holy Day being celebrated, the Baptism of the Lord and the Gospel, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Before he dived into the Gospel story of John the baptizer and Jesus’s baptism he said:
It is great to be with you here at St. Andrew’s this morning. As this pandemic continues to play havoc with our plans, our fears, our priorities, it is great to find opportunities to focus on God walking with us through all that life throws our way. I am so grateful to your vicar, Andrew for his exceptional work here at St. Andrew’s but in many other places in the diocese and with the Sorrento Centre. I don’t need to tell you, I am sure, that Andrew has many gifts and talents as a priest, a pastor, a teacher, and a leader. I am so grateful for the ministries of your deacons Helen and Lorie both of whom have incredible talents and great abilities in being leaders and living the gospel of Christ. All three of these folks plus the many great lay leaders along with the great things taking place in the parish all paint a picture of a great future to which the Holy Spirit is calling you.
In his sermon he examined Jesus’s baptism and our baptisms, its importance in our faith lives. He said:
I don’t know if the same is true for you, but I don’t remember my own baptism. I was very young, about a month old. I have seen pictures from the day, but I have no memory of it taking place. In our Anglican tradition this is the same for many of us. But on this day of remembering the Baptism of Jesus, I am struck by how much my own baptism has formed and shaped and guided my life. That cross formed in the water on my forehead and the trinitarian words of in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, while no longer visible on the outside continue to shape my heart and soul. They affect decisions I make, prayers I offer, actions I take, the direction my life has taken in so many places and times. I am not perfect in how I live all that out but that cross on my forehead has never and will never leave me, ever. It brings me back to the true centre of life, it informs me, invites me, disturbs me, embraces me, names me as beloved.
Bishop John then went on to share this:
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the retried Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, carries his certificate of baptism in his prayer book wherever he goes. He recently described that it as old and yellowed. It is a bit frayed around the edges. He said that he must unfold and refold it very carefully lest it tear apart. He wrote this about it: “I treasure this piece of paper, for it reminds me of who I am, to whom I belong, and that my life’s labour is ‘to take hold of him who first took hold of me’ and to live by the principle that ‘only as a disciple can I lead, only as a learner can I teach.’” Those words of - you are my beloved have held and guided Archbishop Hiltz ever since that baptismal day.
The intercession was led by Heather Peart and the music in worship included an anthem sung by the choir, where they gathered in the centre of the sanctuary, physically distanced and masked but produced a very fine sound.
Following worship, the sun was shining brightly and the ice on the roads was melting as the Parish of St. Andrew’s and many others in the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley welcomed warmer temperatures and precipitation that wasn’t snow.