This week finds me in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador, a small community of about 300 persons. I came here on Monday following the Labrador Planning and Strategy Conference of clergy and lay delegates in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The gathering, led by the Archdeacon of Labrador, Nellie Thomas, was a busy time of sharing and planning and we were honored to have the National Indigenous Bishop, Mark MacDonald, with us. He now has his own episcopal chair at St. Andrew’s Church in Happy Valley to affirm his ministry among First Nations people in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador. At the conference I was also pleased to install and license my brother, Gerry, as the new Priest for the Parish of Southeast Labrador, based at Mary’s Harbour. It’s every younger brother’s dream to be the boss of his older brother and my dream has finally come true!
I flew to Rigolet at the far end of Lake Melville with its Priest, Julie Brace, on a Twin Otter aircraft, landing at the dirt airstrip in the early morning. Coming to this community brings back many memories for me as it was here (and in the rest of Labrador) that my ordained ministry began back in 1987. For a couple of years I was a visiting priest here, occasionally tying in my visits with trips to other places along the North Coast of Labrador like Makkovik, Hopedale and Nain where I could find a few Anglicans. Rigolet has changed a bit since my first time here with a few new homes and a new school but the people are as I remember: welcoming and warm. They are largely of Inuit descent although over the years others have come and stayed and married into the community. I very much enjoyed seeing some in their homes. Rev. Julie, Deacon Sarah Baikie, and I joined a group of pilgrims for a “prayer walk” along the Rigolet boardwalk (soon to be the longest in the world!) running from the town and far out around the bay. Along the way we stopped several times for prayer and at the end I blessed the town and my travelling companions. It was so good for me to see how closely Julie and Sarah interact with the people in what I can only describe as a deeply pastoral and relationship-based ministry. On my first night we held a Vestry Meeting with the leadership of the congregation in Sarah’s home. The main topic was about their worship space because the old church has seen better days and needs to be replaced. The church building is woven so tightly into the life of Rigolet that being without a place of worship is not an option.
Before worship that night I met with about a dozen young people interested in being Confirmed next year. Usually I meet with the Confirmation Candidates at the end of their program but this time we met at the beginning. Following a community meal in the school, I was “drummed” into the worship service. The drummers, appropriately clothed, sang and danced in the place of the Psalm and also led the Lord’s Prayer in Inuktitut. The whole service was inspired by resources from the Anglican Church of Canada for use in Indigenous communities. When I first came to Rigolet there was no traditional spirituality infusing the worship of the church and it is so good for me to see how it has been rediscovered. In my message that night I thanked everyone for their hospitality as we celebrated an early Thanksgiving together. I spoke of all my memories of Rigolet and how those memories shaped a young deacon and priest and now continue to shape a bishop. I showed them my episcopal ring that has symbols of both Newfoundland and Labrador on it with a Newfoundland codfish engraved on one side and a Labrador spruce twig on the other. At the end of the worship I was presented with a new pectoral cross … made from caribou horn!
With thousands of Newfoundlanders at one end of this vast diocese and thousands of Labradorians at the other, I feel like the most fortunate bishop in the Church somedays as I move back and forth between two very distinct lands and cultures with more than a few sub-cultures. Here I write directly to clergy and prospective clergy as I tell them that my prayer for Labrador is that God will stir a new heart or two to become priests in this place. There are over 30,000 identifiable members of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador (with probably another 30,000 who belong in other ways) and I believe there is no better place in the world today to be an Anglican Priest than Labrador. Call me and let me tell you why!
After the worship service I met with a local group from within the Anglican community (Rigolet is almost entirely Anglican) who informally call themselves “The Circle” and have been exploring their faith in traditional ways, incorporating the spirituality of their ancestors with the spirituality of Christianity. They are all members of the Anglican Church and we talked about their quest and I told them the Anglican Church affirms that journey and that we can travel together on that road. I reminded them that God was in Labrador long before the missionaries came and even if the missionaries brought a new story we call the Gospel, the people of Labrador already knew God in their own way. We prayed together at the end.
I have shared a few memories of Rigolet in this Moments of Grace, from my past and my recent, but I have not yet shared my most special memory connected with Rigolet. It didn’t actually happen in Rigolet but it is intimately tied to the place. My oldest son, Adam, was just a baby when I first started coming here. I was in Rigolet when he took his first steps and still remember Kathy calling to tell me. On one of my winter visits of about a week I arrived back home to Goose Bay clad in parka and boots after a week of travel. Adam was nearly two years old and he ran and danced when he saw me, carrying his ever-present bottle. I shed my boots in the porch and tossed my parka on the living room floor as I entered, picking him up in my arms along the way. I recall putting him down again as I headed into the kitchen with Kathy to get a cup of hot tea after a cold journey. When I came back Adam had lain down on my open parka, pulled it over him so that only his head was sticking out, drank the rest of his bottle, and drifted off to sleep.
That image of my son wrapped in the warm, safe and familiar embrace of his father’s parka remains for me an image of God’s love. Because I think that’s what God’s love is like. It’s warm and familiar, safe and comforting. In God’s embrace we are completed and it is there we find our deepest and truest rest.
And I will always thank Rigolet (and my son) for giving me that memory.