The Rev. Mary Anne Miles lives a considerable distance from St. John’s Anglican Church in Shamattawa First Nation, the northern Manitoba parish in the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh where she serves as priest.
As a result, it was through a telephone call that she first learned about the blaze on April 18 that burned the community’s only Anglican church to the ground.
“I had a call that the church was burning,” Miles recalled. “I’m not really sure what the first person was who saw it.”
“It was very sad when I heard that it was burning, because I have everything in there and I lost everything through the fire,” she added. “All my registry books, whatever I do, my recordings for the services—I lost everything, even my licenses for being a reverend. I lost everything in that fire.”
According to an RCMP spokesperson, investigators traced the origins of the fire to a furnace within the church that had recently been malfunctioning.
In the wake of the destruction of St. John’s, Miles and her congregation responded with a fierce determination to rebuild their church.
“While the fire was on, I had thought to myself, whatever it takes—that I will do what I can do to help have the church [back] as soon as possible; that I can find ways to have the church rebuilt again,” Miles said.
An isolated community with an official population of 1,016, Shamattawa relies on winter and ice roads for taking in supplies, including any materials that would be necessary to rebuild St. John’s.
Mindful of the amount of time it would take for supplies to come in, Miles wished to begin efforts to rebuild as soon as possible. She spoke to local residents who helped set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $50,000. At the time of writing, the campaign had raised a total of $750.
At the same time, the parish has received a wave of support from various dioceses and ecclesiastical provinces of the Anglican Church of Canada. Among the first to respond was the Diocese of Central Newfoundland, which pledged to gift materials including Bibles, prayer books, a chalice, and paten. Bishop John Watton invited members of his diocese to pray and make a donation through their own local churches.
Shortly thereafter, the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land took up a collection at its provincial synod in early May, with all proceeds going to support the congregation of St. John’s. The synod ultimately raised almost $1,000.
Archbishop and Metropolitan Greg Kerr-Wilson called the offering “an expression of our solidarity and our love for our brothers and sisters” in Shamattawa First Nation, while noting that other churches had been stepping up to donate materials such as extra vestments.
“First and foremost, there’s the tragedy of losing the building, but there’s also of course the psychological trauma of losing their place of worship, which is very dear in many smaller communities especially,” Archbishop Kerr-Wilson said.
“There’s a real important place for the churches, and so understanding [those] signs of support and love from the rest of the church are really, I think, crucial for helping people move through the thing and begin to rebuild their life together as a church.”
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald described St. John’s as one of the Anglican Church of Canada’s most remote congregations. Through the ministry of Miles, he said, “St. John’s provides the primary pastoral and social care for a community that faces many challenges.”
“The response of the Anglican Church of Canada to their needs is an indication of our sensitivity to our fellow church members in a time of grave crisis and need,” Bishop MacDonald said.
“The response so far, especially the pledge of the Diocese of Central Newfoundland, is promising. We hope that many others will join them and that all of our churches will pray for this community in crisis.”
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