On Saturday, June 20, 2020, Stephen Black and Amanda Ruston were ordained by Archbishop Melissa Skelton to the diaconate as transitional deacons on the track to being priested in the Anglican Church of Canada at a later date. Also ordained to the diaconate that day was Leah Skuro, who being raised up by her parish of All Saints’, South Burnaby, and completing a ministry internship at Holy Trinity, Cathedral has begun her ordained ministry as a deacon in God’s Church.
The newly ordained Reverends Black and Ruston are well known in their parish communities of Christ Church Cathedral and St. Andrew’s, Langley, however diocesan communications thought that folks might be interested to learn some more about these two clergy as they continue on their journey to the priesthood in the Diocese of New Westminster.
Many thanks to Stephen and Amanda for taking the time to answer the following questions:
1. In 50 words or less please describe how you came to faith?
Amanda: I grew up in the Anglican church: my mum, sister and I went to St. Dunstan’s Aldergrove and that’s where I was baptized (by Bishop Douglas Hambidge). Despite falling away from the church for a time in my adulthood, it was that foundation that held me while I was gone, allowed me to sustain a strong faith and relationship with God, and which eventually drew me back, where I am grateful I ended up: the parish of St Andrew's.
Steve: I found God (or better, God “found” me) roughly forty years ago while living on the street following The Grateful Dead. I was given a Bible while hitchhiking to San Francisco, and I had religious experiences reading it (and still do…).
2. Was there a particular moment or experience that signaled that you were being called to ordained ministry, or was it a gradual development?
Amanda: Some time after I had been serving at St. Andrew's (in a variety of roles), the deacon (and my now dear friend) – Rev. Helen Lingham – asked me to discern for the diaconate. I was surprised and a bit reluctant but after some time of prayer and discernment, I agreed. About halfway through my parish discernment process, it became clear to me and my discernment team (separately) that I was in fact called to the priesthood. So it was both: the moment I was asked by Helen, and the gradual awakening to the true name God has given me.
Steve: It was a gradual experience – a long winding road, if you will. I sought ordination in 2001, but ended up following a more academic route at that time, and in recent years have come back to a sense of calling to ordination.
3. How would you describe the discernment process, what surprised you, what challenged you?
Amanda: The biggest surprise and delight was how much and how quickly it changed and transformed me. Part of that is being open to transformation, of course, but my experience has been that when you are truly open to it, God works wonders within you.
Steve: The process was well explained when I first voiced an interest, so I wouldn’t say there were any real surprises. The main challenge for me is simply the time involved. I understand the value of a slow and careful process, but I am eager to get on with things.
4. Describe your theological education? Do you think it has prepared you for ministry?
Amanda: I am only partway through my MDiv degree, but what I have learned so far has been invaluable; I have benefitted greatly from a combination of academic and pastoral education that has been a great foundation for practical ministry so far. That said, I think my life experience has been equally as important. Life teaches you things that a formal education never can, and every experience is relevant and weaves itself into your ministry. I have also had a fairly lengthy career as a graphic designer, and I am a visual artist – this aspect of my being greatly influences my theological conceptualization, my understanding and contemplation of the mystery of God, and my delight in the beauty of Anglican worship.
Steve: I have fond memories of my theological education. Good times! I believe my time at theological colleges and seminaries has provided a great deal of important experience and insight from which to draw. For the most part I feel prepared for ministry.
5. Although it’s very early days, how would you describe your ministry style? Are there any individuals who have inspired, supported, guided you in your journey?
Amanda: There are SO many people that have supported, inspired and guided me along the way! No one can do this alone – it absolutely takes a community of support and prayer, and I am so grateful for every single person who has prayed for me, and supported me in a variety of ways. I’m not sure I am able to identify my ministry style – maybe someone else could; I think I might be too close to the subject. I can say I am super passionate and energetic, and that in ministry, I am most passionate about helping people deepen their relationship with Christ. Some of my favourite ways to do this are preaching, teaching, and liturgy. I also LOVE a good juicy theological discussion!!
Steve: I hope my ministry style will be one of humour and holiness. There are too many people who have inspired me to mention them all. However, when I think of ministry style, my mind intuitively moves to the example set by Peter Elliott (retired Rector of Christ Church Cathedral and Dean of the Diocese of New Westminster, 1994-2019), who has a wonderful blend of “lightness” and seriousness. He is a wonderful leader who makes me want to do better, but who also does not lead me to being overly worried about making mistakes along the way.
6. Which passage from scripture best illustrates your call to ministry?
Amanda: It changes every day, which I think is exciting. This week it has been Isaiah 6:8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Steve: I have just finished reading the book of Ruth, and I think it nicely illustrates how God works within the very ordinary and “normal.” While I have experienced much that is wondrous in my life, but it is “God in the normal” that best illustrates my call to ministry.
7. How do you see your ministry developing over the next five years?
Amanda: I am finishing up the summer at St. Andrew's, and then will be placed somewhere else in the fall. I need to finish my degree, so I will be serving and studying simultaneously. I am hoping to learn more about running a parish, and will be serving in my new placement; I imagine potentially preaching, pastoral care, liturgical participation, Christian formation, etc. I am drawn to parish ministry, so that is where I ultimately see myself, but I’m sure that God has surprises in store – that is part of the fun!
Steve: There is no substitute for experience on the ground. I have trouble imagining what awaits me five years down the road, but I know that along the way I will be stretched and challenged. I have many things I hope to do and to try, and if I am fortunate, maybe one or two of them will take flight.
8. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Amanda: Please continue to pray for me, and for my fellow ordinands – we cannot do this work without your love and support!
Steve: “Well, I ain't always right but I've never been wrong
Seldom turns out the way it does in a song
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right”
(From Scarlet Begonias, lyrics by Robert Hunter)