Making crafts with children is not the first activity one typically thinks of when considering Episcopal ministry. But for Bishop Larry Robertson, it’s all part of the job in his new role as rector of the Church of the Northern Apostles in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Since last summer, Bishop Robertson has been serving a hybrid role as both parish rector and diocesan bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Yukon. The move is part of an effort to meet the ministry needs of the community with limited resources in a diocese that has just three stipendiary priests. The bishop and the diocesan executive have developed a new ministry of presence, calling the bishop to engage in parish ministry for a three-year period. This will be in addition to Bishop Robertson’s Episcopal ministry.
On March 24 at the Church of the Northern Apostles in Whitehorse, Yukon, a Lenten event was held to prepare for Easter. Participants—including elders and young people—gathered for teaching and children’s ministry, a longtime focus for Robertson since before his ordination to the priesthood. Approximately 18 people attended the event, which also included a potluck, craft-making, and learning new songs for Easter.
Crafts consisted of making butterflies out of tissue paper and cellophane, as well as creating family prayer beads, which the bishop saw as a helpful way to teach children to pray.
“This is the first time we’ve had [the Lenten event], to see how it went, and it went very, very well … I thought it was a good time,” Robertson said.
“I [felt] rather awkward, because I just started [at the parish]—I haven’t been in a parish in … almost 15 years I guess, now,” he laughed. “So I’m sort of re-learning again, and the parish is just beginning to gel together.”
Officially, Bishop Robertson is only present at the parish half-time. Lay leaders and other community members support outreach, lead Bible studies, and produce bulletins and schedules for daily readers.
Along with his focus on Anglicans already attending the parish, Bishop Robertson is mindful of new outreach opportunities. He noted that construction is currently underway on a new Whitehorse suburb known as Whistle Bend, located just south of the parish.
“We’ve been very blessed with a congregation that wants to grow … We’re going to have to look at how we reach out to this whole new sort of subdivision which is just opening up,” he said. “They’re talking about 8,000-10,000 people being in there in the next few years … We have to be prepared and be ready for them.”
While the idea of a bishop taking on a parish role may be relatively new, it reflects the unique conditions that many bishops face in some northern dioceses, where parishes are often remote and isolated from each other and stipendiary clergy are a rare commodity.
“Our work compared to southern city bishops is different,” Robertson said. “Our ministries are different. I find we’re much more pastoral in the sense of hands-on [activity]. Many of our parishes don’t have clergy, and so we find ourselves doing services. We find ourselves doing AGMs. I did the AGM for St. Christopher’s [Anglican Church] in Haines Junction this year, simply because there’s no minister there now this year.”
Though he has received queries from other bishops asking about his ministry of presence and the experience of taking on a parish, there is as of yet no sign that other dioceses are considering similar proposals.
With the experiment still only in its first year, the diocese will need time to evaluate the program and decide on how it plans to proceed after the conclusion of Bishop Robertson’s three-year parish tenure.
For now, the bishop is content to enjoy the experience of returning to ministry to a parish community.
“It’s refreshing,” he said. “Oftentimes [bishops] don’t get a chance to be there, and to be with children and to be with parish things. These are the sort of happy, joyful times in a parish where you see them gathering and growing together, and for me, that’s exciting … I’m enjoying it tremendously.”
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