To be rector of a parish for over twenty years is truly a remarkable achievement in ministry. To be the ordained leader of shared ministry for that length of time offers a unique opportunity and a unique perspective. The Reverend Charles Balfour, now the retired rector of St. John the Divine, Maple Ridge and retired regional dean of the deanery of Golden Ears has experienced this opportunity in ministry.
It is rare these days for an incumbent to remain in any parish, but particularly in a small parish for more than twenty years. A lengthy incumbency implies consistency but for Charles that consistency has always been within the context of transition for he has seen the community, change, develop, shift, increase and contract. He has baptized new believers and the newly born, and been in their lives to see them grow to maturity in mind, body and spirit. He has been there for the St. John’s faith community as their pastor to see them through good times and bad, happy times and sad.
Sunday, December 27, 2015, was the last liturgy that Charles would preside over as rector of the parish and it was a fitting farewell. Within the larger structure of A Festival of 9 Lessons and Carols for Christmas there was a baptism, and the Eucharist. This was a perfect combination for Charles who is a musician, an evangelical at heart and an Anglican priest who understands that the Eucharist is at the heart of our denomination’s worship tradition.
Prior to the procession, Charles stood at the chancel entrance and offered a brief overview of the liturgy that was to follow. He said that it was great to have people return to the church that morning who were members of the parish when he began.
Following the procession and the singing of O Come All Ye Faithful, the Service of Holy Baptism began and Brandon was baptized and welcomed into the Body of Christ. The baptism was followed by the Service of Lessons and Carols which concluded with the rector reading the Ninth Lesson, John 1: 1-14. Following the reading, Charles somewhat apologetically looked out over his community and informed them that he was going to speak with them for a few minutes and “that they weren’t going to get rid of him that easily.”
He began by saying that “it’s been a real pleasure…and a privilege to baptize Brandon on the last Sunday (of his incumbency).” He paused, looked out over the congregation, looked at Brandon and his family and said “this is what it’s all about.”
Charles continued on to preach an extemperaneous sermon, brief and heartfelt. “St. John is the Apostle of love…we need more love.” He urged his community not to expect perfection from each other, not to expect that they will always agree but to love each other and spread that love beyond the walls of St. John the Divine, Maple Ridge.
The church building, the oldest in the diocese at 156 years now situated in its current location since 1983 is in a perfect place beside the Maple Ridge Hospital to continue to offer a “special sense of God”, a place for prayer and reflection and a home for “a relevant ministry” of pastoral care. He reminded those present of the charity founded to support the ministry of the diocese’s oldest church, The Friends of St. John.
He admitted that as a Wycliffe Seminary graduate that he is a bit of an evangelical and his tone of voice became emotional as he asked the question “How bad does it have to get before people realize they need God in their lives and a saviour, a saviour in the person of Jesus Christ?...Don’t be afraid to be proud of your faith…be proud of your Christian citizenship.”
After the homily Charles celebrated the Eucharist for the final time as rector and when the Prayer after Communion had been offered, parish administrator, Gail Lefèvre came up to the chancel entrance and read the following letter dated December 21, 2015 from Bishop Skelton offering her congratulations, support and prayers to Charles and the faith community of St. John the Divine for the years of shared ministry together.
Dear Charles and the People of St. John the Divine:
I wanted to send my greetings to you all as you celebrate Charles’s time at St. John the Divine and to wish you all my best as Charles retires and as St. John’s enters an interim time.
Charles, you have been a gift to St. John’s in your faithfulness and your dedication to the parish and its people. I know you will be deeply missed by all! People of St. John’s, I know that you will need time to adjust to life without Charles, and so I will be praying for you as you wish Charles the best in this next phase of his life.
I have very much enjoyed the time I have had with both you, Charles, and the people of St. John’s. Please know that I will be thinking of you all on the 27th.
Prior to the Blessing, Charles affirmed for the congregation that there will be a time of interim ministry at St. John’s as it is assumed it “may take more than five minutes” to get over him and he then introduced the Reverend Fr. Paul Illical, long time rector of St. Michael’s, Surrey, now retired but very active in interim and Sunday supply ministry. Father Paul was present at the worship and will be the Sunday supply priest at St. John's for January 2016.
Please keep Charles and the people of St. John the Divine, Maple Ridge in your thoughts and prayers as they move forward in their journeys of faith and ministry.