Day 14

Ready to leave St. Clement’s in Dumfries
Well, Pilgrimage 2018 in the Archdeaconry of Woodstock is over, apart from my writing this blog. I am sitting at home in my office for the first time in nearly two weeks. The grass on my lawn has grown very long whilst I have been away and will need to be cut tomorrow. I am asking myself what are the main things I have learnt in these last few days?

Final midday prayers at St. Mark’s at Kings Landing Historical Settlement
Before I go there I want to mention that this morning we walked from the Church of St. Clement to the church at King’s Landing. We were able to say our final Midday Prayers in that old building, which is now a witness to our Christian heritage for all who visit the historical settlement. I must say thank you to those who made this possible at such short notice. In addition, thank you to everyone who has been involved in the Pilgrimage this year in any way. I greatly appreciate your ministry to Trevor and me.

During the last two weeks I have met many wonderful people who are committed to the extension of a Christian Anglican witness in the Woodstock area. I am grateful for the ministry which is being done there by so many. I know that it is very difficult and some feel that they are hanging on by their fingernails. What I can say is that God knows and as a result of my walk I have a greater understanding of the situation on the ground. I have few answers, but I will continue to think, pray and consult.

In addition to the position of Anglicanism in the region, I have been greatly impacted by the economic effect of change over the last 50 years. I am not going to reiterate what I said last night. I may be ignorant on this issue, but I do not hear much from the Provincial Government about rural regeneration. Again, as far as I am aware none of the churches have been asked to contribute to any ongoing discussions. In some cases, church members are the holders of the memory for parts of New Brunswick.

God does not leave us comfortless, but how do we comfort our brothers and sisters as they face major obstacles in their communities? Jesus’ love is for all and he seeks to bring wholeness to the broken. The Spirit empowers us for the work of ministry, which has to reach beyond maintenance to mission.

Next year the hope is to walk in the Archdeaconries of Kingston and the Kennebecasis and Saint John. Once again thank you for your support in this ministry.


Day 13

Things are beginning to wind down, Trevor and I are starting to look forward to tomorrow and our last walk, even though we are likely to get wet. Thus far we have travelled about 174 kms on foot. Thankfully neither of us is the worse for wear; hopefully the last lap to King’s Landing will not cause any trouble. We are now in St. Clement’s church in Prince William/Dumfries. Any who know it will be aware that it is very well appointed, a beautiful facility alongside the St. John River.

Today began at the Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi near Canterbury. It was a great walk but as we walked with Charles Bell, a man with significant local knowledge, a sense of sadness overwhelmed me. When passing along the road Charles pointed out where farmsteads used to be. Now they are merely clearings, perhaps with an old wellhead visible. We could also see flat areas of grass with new growth trees in them, these were former cow pastures. Then there was the derelict machinery and the great barns which had once been at the heart of productive farms, but today are slowly decaying. In addition to all this were the sites of the old lumber mills.

What I was observing was less than a skeleton of a former way of life in our province. It was more like bone fragments of an economic model which collapsed from the 1970s onwards for many and varied reasons. Its demise has left much of our countryside denuded of people, employment and even hope.

Peggy keeps showing up!
I have found myself asking what is the Church’s role in our present situation? There are at least two of the Marks of Mission which imply that we should be involved: challenging the unjust structures of society and caring for the creation. Is there a role for the Church as entrepreneurial catalyst in our rural communities? What might that even look like? Can we furnish micro-loans to people with ideas? I genuinely do not know, but there must be something we can do.

From Canterbury went moved on to Temperance Vale for midday prayers. We had a good crowd in attendance. We walked to Nackawic and paid a visit to the Town Hall. The parish here is saddened due to the recent death of one of their beloved older members, so we are grateful that they are still able to receive us.

This brings me back full circle to my first blog of this year. As you may recall I dedicated this year’s pilgrimage to the memory of Marshall Curtis, who was killed in an accident three weeks ago. The event was a great shock to me and to many. I have prayed for Carson and Liz (Marshall’s parents) daily as I have walked. I have also thought about Marshall and meaning. I have no great revelation which will ease anyone’s pain; what I know is God is to be trusted and God is love.


Day 12

There are many questions that we might like to ask God, but I think one of the most valid is, Why the Mosquito? Followed closely by, Why the Black fly? Both of these insects have been both numerous and voracious today, especially in the Canterbury area. I am told this is a particularly bad year. I hope it is for the people who live here, because to face this each spring and summer would be unbearable. Those who have taken up the recent fashion for eating insect-based food could have a feast.

Confirmation in Woodstock
Our day began at St. Luke’s, Woodstock, with Confirmation. It was a joyous service in which I was able to confirm Dalton. He was baptized last week and later in the summer he is going to the CLAY conference in Ontario. He, another young man, Adam, and the parishioners have been busily and successfully raising funds for the trip, which is great to see. I trust they will have a tremendous time.

After a fine lunch we set out on the trail from St. Luke’s to Christ Church, Lower Woodstock. There was a good number of us and Murdoch the dog. It was a relatively short walk in a reasonable temperature and it ended our pilgrimage in that part of the diocese. We said our farewells and headed to Canterbury where we worshipped, ate and walked.

It was inspiring to read about the ministry of Mr. Hartin, the first rector of the parish. He was described as a pioneer along with other pioneers who established the community here. Hartin was both a schoolteacher and cleric. He established both a church and a school in the community, as well as another church at Skiff Lake. His belief was that education was the way forward for people in the community and he was committed to that goal.

Having said that it is sad to see Canterbury today. As with many of our rural communities much of what was here has gone, along with the people. At the centre of the village there used to be two places which provided accommodation for travellers, a railway station and at least four stores. Today the only thing remaining is a store/garage/café, which sells everything from milk to plumbing supplies. We received a great welcome from the owner as we passed by. She had been told. that the Bishop was coming through. It was good to meet her and have the privilege of praying in the store.

Prayer has made a significant impact on me today. I have been asked to pray for several people who have matters they wish to see brought before God. We too easily forget the importance and the power of prayer. We need to be imaginative in creating ways to enable people to more easily ask for and receive prayer as they need it in their lives. When I was in parish ministry I was often stopped in the street and asked for prayer. How do we make this more obvious?

Tomorrow we head for Temperance Vale and Prince William. The Pilgrimage for this year is drawing to an end. I wonder what lies in store for us in the next 2 days?


Day 11

Morning Prayer at St. Paul’s, Kirkland
Another day has passed on our pilgrimage. Thankfully the weather cooled for our walks. We drove from Richmond Corner to Kirkland and were met at the church by a group of parishioners, who joined us for Morning Prayer and a short walk to the Presbyterian church. Then we got into the car and drove to Benton, where we had midday prayers and lunch before setting out on a 10 km hike to the Maliseet Trail. We were met at the entrance to the Falls walk by others from Woodstock and walked through the woods together. Then it was back to Woodstock for a wonderful supper and Evening Prayer at Christ Church, Lower Woodstock.

Hays Falls
The Falls at the end of the Maliseet Trail are high and often have a large volume of water passing over them. Today the recent dry weather meant that this was not the case, but it is easy to imagine how spectacular things would be were the stream in full spate. One thing I would note is that once again the mosquitoes and black flies were in evidence around the Falls, but it was worth the effort to see them.

I was impressed again today by the dedication of a few people to maintaining their church buildings. There are three churches in the parish of Canterbury and we visit the final one tomorrow; for Holy Communion. It is strange how knowledge and reality sometimes come together to challenge. Canon Jim Irvine provides Eucharistic ministry in the area, alternating between the church buildings. It is tremendous that he and many other retired clergy undertake this ministry. That is the knowledge, but the reality is that when Jim cannot come then there is no service. This raises many questions, which have to be considered.


At St. Mary the Virgin, Benton
The church in Benton is a true resurrection story. In 1980 the building was completely gutted by fire. The parishioners were told that it was beyond salvaging. Local tradesmen worked hard to restore the structure and it stands to this day as a monument to their dedication.

On the Maliseet Trail
The visit to the Falls was poignant because of a story I was told when we were standing at the bottom looking up. A few years ago, some young people were camping at the top of the Falls and three of them fell to their deaths. It was a great tragedy. It made me think about how the beauty of God’s creation can be juxtaposed with such a terrible thing, yet the presence of God is within both.

Evening Prayer at Christ Church, Lower Woodstock
Finally, we look forward to tomorrow. In the morning it is Confirmation at St. Luke’s, then a walk to Christ Church Afterwards we hit the Canterbury Trail to celebrate Holy Communion there in the evening.


Day 10

Morning Prayer in Bairdsville

What a day. I have to say that this was probably the hardest walking day, but perhaps the most fascinating. This morning we prayed in Bairdsville and then headed south for Jacksons Falls.

After arriving at St. Mark’s Church we visited Andy and Louise Bell’s farm to see how potatoes are washed and processed for market. I had the opportunity to participate in the process; I do not think I am likely to be taken on anytime soon. It was very interesting to learn how the crop is stored through the year.

Then it was on to Bell Forest, a piece of protected woodland, managed by the Meduxnekeag River Association, with a tremendous bio diversity. There are plants and trees there which are not found anywhere else in New Brunswick. There is a careful plan to both protect them and to encourage their growth.
In addition, school parties visit regularly so that the students can discover these important things for themselves. George, who led us through, was in effect a walking encyclopaedia of the flora and fauna in the area.

Midday prayers at St. Mark, Jackson Falls

Then it was back to St. Mark’s for lunch and midday prayers. It is another little gem of a church building with tremendous wooden panelling and a fine graveyard. Great care and love are clearly lavished on the building. Once again there is a sense that this is important to the community; those who attend and those who do not.

After lunch we began our walk to Richmond Corner. The first half was extremely hot and there were long hills en route. The roads had heated up so much that the tar was melting and if we stood too long, there was a danger of becoming stuck. It was a great relief that two drinks stations had been set up along the way in peoples’ homes. They made all the difference. Thankfully after a while the clouds began to gather and things cooled.

This evening we consecrated the church of St. John, Richmond Corner. What a great event it was. The folks there were very excited about the evening and the story of how it came to be is one of faith and perseverance. God has blessed the congregation and their challenge is how they continue to be a blessing in their community.

The consecration of the building is a sign and symbol of hope in the region. The truth is that God is working in the lives of people who are unaware of this reality. The question I posed this evening is how do we, as God’s people, become effective interpreters of God’s action?


Day 9

Morning Prayer at Trinity, Perth-Andover
It has possibly been the hottest day we have walked on in the 4 pilgrimages so far. This afternoon it was 30c with a humidex of 36c. I am grateful that we only walked about 15kms rather than the 26 of yesterday. Had we had to do so I am not sure we would have made it. The route followed the old Trans-Canada Highway from Perth-Andover to Bairdsville. It is 10 years since the new highway was opened and it is easy to see and hear about the economic impact on the area. We passed two former motels on the way.

At either end of the walk people from the churches walked with us. Today we were also joined for the whole journey by Cathy Laskey, Cheryl Jacobs and Bob LeBlanc. Despite the heat the kilometers passed fairly quickly as we chatted along the road and met new people. I also personally met many black flies and mosquitoes, so I am pretty itchy this evening.

Arriving at St. George’s, Bairdsville
When we arrived in Bairdsville we passed the home of Ray and Carol Andersen, where we are staying and travelled on to St. George’s Church, which is a gem. It is one of the earliest churches consecrated by Bishop Medley in 1847. It was renovated in 1911 with a chancel being added and beautiful woodwork lining the walls and the ceiling. Entering the building from the heat of the day led to a cool refreshing sensation for us all.

We then walked back to the Andersen’s for a beautiful supper with people from the community. I had been told that Carol’s sticky buns are the best. I have to say I was not disappointed. Afterwards we returned to the church for a service, with others joining us from elsewhere in the Archdeaconry.

Last night I expressed my sense of frustration with regard to how we sustain our Christian, Anglican presence in this region. Throughout the walk today I have been returning to the subject in my prayers and thoughts. This evening I was given an insight into a way forward. It is not profound or rocket science, neither is it the whole picture, but it has to do with faithfulness.

Not faithfulness to buildings but faithfulness to presence. Knowing that Jesus is the reason why we gather and that he is profoundly and personally interested in us and others. It is these nodes of faithfulness which need to be encouraged and nurtured in order that God’s love can be known in a community.

The next question to wrestle with is how are such gatherings supported and encouraged? It may be that we have to look to our forebears for clues. The early clergy and lay leaders often travelled the rivers in order to provide ministry to the disparate communities on their banks. What does that look like today? I do not really know. It may mean that we have to have different expectations of ministry.

St. George, Bairdsville
Tomorrow we travel to Jackson’s Falls and thence to Richmond Corner. I am not sure as to the distance we are to walk. In the evening we consecrate St. John’s, Richmond Corner. It is the first building to be consecrated in our Diocese since 2004. It will be a signal event.


Day 8

It is always good to follow local advice. It turned out that part of the route we planned to walk today was potentially dangerous, therefore we went a different way. This meant a few extra kilometers were added to our total. In all we walked 26 kms today, which has made it the longest so far. Still no more ill effects with my foot, though Trevor was feeling the arch of his foot towards the end of the trail.

Showing up for Morning Prayer in Licford
Once again, we were blessed with good weather and beautiful views over the Tobique and St. John Rivers. The sun shone strongly this afternoon, so everyone was left somewhat tanned. We arrived in Perth-Andover and someone kindly bought us an ice cream. I think it was the best I have ever tasted. Trevor missed out due to his Weight Watchers regime.

Morning Prayer at St. Helen’s, Licford
It was tremendous to see a great turn out of people at St. Helen’s Church in Licford this morning and a similar number in Perth-Andover this evening. Having spent some time in this parish during their time between ministers, when I was Parish Development Officer, it has been good to renew some old acquaintances. We were treated to a fine feast at supper this evening. We ate our first fiddleheads of the journey.

As I walk through this part of the Diocese it makes me reflect upon rural ministry. We have a spine of small towns running through the centre of the Archdeaconry from Edmundston to Woodstock. Spreading out from there are churches in smaller communities such as those we visited yesterday in New Denmark and Limestone Siding. In truth the majority of parishes in this region feel under strain, financially, numerically and demographically.

I am very concerned about ministry in our rural areas, not just in this Archdeaconry, but across our province. We have so many examples of small Christian communities doing creative things in their areas to help others. Rural people matter to God, but the problem is that our existing ways of doing things do not seem sustainable. I have to be very honest and say that I am having great difficulty thinking outside the current box in these regions, but I know that God has a response.

Arriving at Trinity, Perth-Andover
The question I face is that as Bishop, if the right ideas come along, am I able to hear them? I have a very traditional mindset when it comes to ministry. I therefore think according to traditional ways of resolving issues. The consequence is new ideas do not permeate. This is the conclusion I have reached during these last few days as I have walked these trails. It is my prayer that God will give me and others the grace to see into the future.

Tomorrow we head to Bairdsville. It is not as long a walk, but the forecast temperature is 30c. Please pray for us as we walk.


Day 7

Breakfast at St. John the Baptist in Edmundston
Today was another good day. As some of you may recall last night I mentioned that I had hurt my foot. The good news is that after icing it and making adjustments to my footwear, a short walk around Grand Falls this morning eased it considerably and we were not delayed at all. After lunch we walked from St. Paul’s, Limestone Siding, to St. Ansgar’s in New Denmark. It was a beautiful walk. The sun shone, there was a gentle breeze and we were able to move along quite quickly.

Heading off from St. Paul in Limestone Siding
We had our first lung bursting stretch of the pilgrimage today. We began our walk by the St. John River, but New Denmark is high above the water, about 150 metres. The only way to get up is to climb. We decided to take the shortest, but steepest route, Lucy’s Gulch. It is an asphalt road but requires a great deal of breath to complete it; the good news is we made it.

This morning in Grand Falls the water was rushing through the dam. It was not as fierce as it had been about three weeks ago, but still pretty spectacular. As we walked around the Falls we came upon a a stone memorial with a poem written on all four sides. It was dedicated to those who worked on the second bridge across the river in the 1920s. It was a fascinating account of human hubris. The writer was certain, the building of this great structure showed the ability of people to control and defeat nature.

As the 20th century passed it became more and more obvious that human ability, though capable of wonderful things, is not able to exercise the control it once thought. The optimism of the 19th century, which dissipated over the following 100 years has left us with many scientific and technological advances, but very little in the way of meaning and security.

The killing of God in western culture went alongside the promotion of human greatness. Once this was found to have feet of clay, what then? We are left with all manner of questions about the point of ourselves and the usefulness of the things we do. To many of us they seem to be random and without meaning. There is no overarching story into which they fit.

Walking through the natural world today it was possible to see God pointing towards himself. Despite what some might argue there is a sense of unity in the natural world which points to something that is not random, but which has a unity. It can be suggested that at the surface level there is a great diversity, yet in essence there is a unity of purpose which lies below. For example, much of nature exists to sustain life in all its various forms.

Tomorrow we leave here early in the morning to go to Licford to say our morning prayers. Then along the rail bed to Perth-Andover. It will be one of our longer walks, so we are hoping for good weather.


Day 6

We pulled out of Camp Brookwood this morning after enjoying three nights there. It was great to spend this time amongst such quiet beauty. We as a Diocese owe a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Lockhart for his gift and to those who have continued the vision he had for the camp. Our next stop was Edmundston which is where we are now. As you might imagine we drove rather than walked.

Our first port of call was to have lunch with Msgr. Claude Champagne, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Edmundston and some of his staff. It was a great opportunity to spend a couple of hours getting to know each other and to talk about the similar issues both our Dioceses are facing. The Bishop is a missiologist by academic training, so we were able to share some ideas.

Fran Bedell had arranged a number of visits for us across the city. Our walk today was between the various sites. Firstly, we visited a former United Church which has been repurposed as an arts centre for the area. The congregation which meets in St. John’s and St. Paul’s in Edmundston is a combination of the former United Church members and Anglicans. It was the first time some of the folks had been back into their building. They were generally pleased with what they saw.

Then on to the women’s refuge. It was a great privilege to be allowed into the building. The love and care of the staff members for the families affected by domestic violence of all types was clear to see. I am glad to say that people from St. John’s and St. Paul’s volunteer regularly at the refuge. It is evident that they are making a difference.

Next, we visited a fairly ordinary looking store with a great story. Tanya met us at the door and told us about the ministry she leads from there. She and her team are concerned about suicide prevention. The front of the building sells jewellery and clothing all made by Tanya, to help fund her work. Once again people from the parish join with her to help others.

Our next visit was to the regional library. It is a building with another twist. It opened in the late 1960s as a post Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. By the 1980s it was decided to close it and eventually the City of Edmundston bought it to rehouse the library. It is a remarkable conversion. The outline of the worship space can still be seen and from the outside it definitely looks like a church building.

Our last destination was to the restored fort which overlooks the region. It was never used in anger and was restored as a tourist attraction in recent years. While we were there we were reminded of the different people groups in the area. First Nations, Francophones, Anglophones and more recent arrivals.

In a sense today’s walk was an acted parable for the times we live in. Church buildings repurposed for community use, yet still being a reminder of our Christian past and present. Alongside this were examples of vital community ministries and other good things supported by Christians for the good of all.

One last thing, it is ironic that on our shortest walk I have somehow damaged my right foot. I am treating it with ice at present and am praying all will be well in the morning.


Day 5

Today we celebrated Trinity Sunday in Glassville. There is always a sense with this season of the Church’s year that all the excitement has gone. We have dashed through Advent, Christmas, had a breather during Epiphany, then hurtled into Lent, Easter, Ascensiontide and finally to Pentecost. Now we have that huge expanse of green Sundays stretching out in front of us until we dive into Advent once again.

The Trinity lies at the centre of our faith and at least during the initial days of this time in our liturgical calendar we will do well to reflect upon it. With coming of Christ in human form and then his sending of the Holy Spirit. The thinkers of the early church began to see that the traditional idea of God, which had its roots in Judaism, needed to be enlarged. This new revelation of God could not be contained within the traditional framework or language.

These early thinkers looked at the words of scripture in the Old Testament and those of Jesus during his time on earth and began to discover a greater depth to God. One example are the words at the very beginning of the Bible (Genesis):

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. God said ‘Let there be…….’”.

The words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels were seen as giving clues. Jesus spoke of God as Father and claimed to be one with him. He also promised another Counsellor just like himself, the Holy Spirit (paraclete). The writer of John’s Gospel pushed things further by beginning his Gospel by making it sound like Genesis 1, but point out that the Word was in the beginning and linking this to Jesus (John 1).

Over time the Church began to see the complexity of God and explained this in terms of a Trinity. Not three independent gods, but three persons as one God functioning in harmony and bound together in mutual love. When the Father moves, the Son and the Spirit move and when the Son acts, the Father and the Spirit act and so on. Three persons undivided.

The important thing to appreciate is that at the heart of this complexity is an essence. The ground of God being is love. “God is love”. It is expressed by the members of the Trinity to each other, but it burst forth from the Godhead and fills creation. This love could be seen as an element which calls for a love response from all of creation. We as human beings through our minds and emotions are made for this action in order that we can be complete.

This response begins with a response to God’s most audacious act of love, Jesus, the Word made flesh, God incarnate. Yet there is more. Filled with God’s Spirit we move into the depths and heart of God, enfolded in his love and given his life for his glory in creation.