Ministry training that flows in the Nass River valley

Nass River Bridge Photo: Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD, Wikimedia CommonsThe clear, salmon-rich waters of the Nass River cut through snow-peaked northern British Columbia, drawing people and animals to feed on its gifts. So significant are these waters’ ability to nourish and sustain that they were named for Indigenous words meaning ‘food depot’ or ‘top lip’ and ‘bottom lip’. Thousands of years after its first feeding of people, the Nass River valley again is a vital source of sustenance. This time, however, the faithful of the Diocese of Caledonia are finding in the valley food for the spirit to fuel a journey of transformation and renewal.

Like so many other pockets of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Diocese of Caledonia faces distinct challenges in growing Eucharistic communities and carrying out its ministries. The parishes of the diocese are peppered across rugged terrain and have difficulty attracting and supporting full-time stipendiary clergy. The ministry context here also has a unique blending of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Anglican communities as it partially overlays the traditional lands of the Nisga’a First Nation.

These broad challenges were given a particular voice when Rev. Gary Davis of Holy Trinity in Aiyansh approached Diocese of Caledonia Bishop William Anderson for some support. The retirement of some clergy and other factors left Davis as the only full-time priest in the Nass River valley. He was struggling to meet the needs of the communities there, including offering Nisga’a liturgies.

Bishop Anderson understood and responded to the hunger for more training and education in his diocese. His first step was adapting a lay reader training course for Caledonia, which would end up serving as the first module in a larger program aimed at meeting ministry needs in the Nass River valley and beyond.

A small group of faithful Anglicans eagerly signed up for the opportunity and in late 2013 became the first cohort in an emerging theological training program. Perhaps by no coincidence at all, the first group all came from service professions requiring keen pastoral skills. The experiences as schoolteachers, nurses, and administrators primed them with many of the tools required for parish ministry.

A grant from Council of the North is seeding the early years of this initiative, and covers administration and travel costs. With the short-term viability of the project secured, the diocese went on to create modules on basic preaching skills, how to study and read the bible, and so on. Archdeacon Ernest Buchanan, who administers the program, says they started with foundational courses to make sure all students had the basic training they needed to move on to more advanced topics and ministry practices.

The diocese has secured permission from Trinity School for Ministry to adapt some of its extension ministry modules for the Canadian context. This includes adding more history from the Anglican Church of Canada and understanding the unique place of the Nisga’a First Nation in the life of the church in Nass Valley. Over the course of three years, students will also have modules on biblical scholarship, history, theology, ethics, church administration, and more. Of equal importance is the cohort’s hands-on experience in parish ministry and ongoing group discussion about leadership, mission, and growing vibrant Eucharistic communities.

The immediate goal of this training and education initiative is to build up the community of lay readers in the diocese. This foundational training can be put to service in support of parish ministry right away or it might also serve as a good basis if any participant feels called to seminary study and ordination to the Holy Orders.

The diocese is blessed with trained and talented educators, including Buchanan who has taught at a seminary in Mexico City and has a passion for vocational training. The Rev. Luke Anker of Christ Church in Kitimat has an incredible appetite for biblical scholarship and shares this with the students. Even Bishop Anderson will take on the role of professor and teach liturgics when time comes for that module.

The nascent initiative is characterized by the flexibility and resourcefulness that defines ministry across Council of the North. Buchanan says that while the modules do have a schedule, all involved attentive to the need to “flow with community life.” He laughs, “There are going to be interminable interruptions, because life has interminable interruptions.”

Even in these early days, Buchanan sees much hope in his midst. He is witness to a deepening commitment among the students who gather at Aiyansh for their modules. They are seriously engaged in the future of the church and want to understand their role in bringing about the flourishing of God’s will in the here and now. “Hey, this is a vocation toward which God is calling us,” Buchanan hears his students say, “and we have to take it seriously.”

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