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.


Day 4

Today was an unusual day in the history of the Bishop’s Pilgrimage, because there was no “pilgrimaging”. Due to the scheduling of Provincial Synod in two weeks, it was necessary to begin this year’s walk early. It meant that Diocesan Council had to be placed at this time. The result was that we gathered here at Camp Brookwood for a day long business meeting. We have met here several times over the years and it is always a joy to come.

This evening Trevor and I had the opportunity to walk some of the 25 acres which make up the camp. It is largely wooded with a beautiful stream running along one edge. The dappled sunlight coming through the trees made an enchanting setting for some brief muscle stretching to keep us in shape. Brookwood
is on multiple levels with a ball field on the lowest level and the cabins, chapel and cookhouse gathered around a fire pit and flagpole at a higher elevation. There is also a swimming pool, basketball court and a volleyball area.

Today our lunch was cooked by some of the board members from the camp, along with Trevor. They are very enthusiastic about this facility and spend many hours keeping things in good shape. The camp is slowly ramping up for the summer season. There are 35 campers registered thus far which is a little
ahead of the curve. The camp is small with about 28 spaces per week. It is ideal for children who might find a larger camp intimidating.

We may ask what is the value of camping ministry in this day and age? After Council, Trevor and I had a very important engagement at JC Sharkey’s bar and grill. There was an important soccer game, the European Cup Final, featuring Liverpool and Real Madrid. A table had been booked for us and when we arrived there was already a significant number of Madrid fans present. Two people from the parish came with us, but we were the only one’s rooting for Liverpool. Sadly, for us, due to two terrible goalkeeping errors and a world class overhead kick, Madrid won.

What does this adventure have to do with camping ministry? Our server asked who we were and what we were doing here. I explained that I am the Bishop of Fredericton and told her that we were staying at Camp Brookwood. Her eyes immediately lit up, “that was where I used to go when I was a kid”. She said. It held good memories for her and had planted some seeds.

During Council today we spoke about intentional discipleship. That is a complicated term for living as a Christian everyday. As I spoke with our server (I do know her name) I wondered what would draw her towards Jesus today? She was clearly affected by her experience at Camp when she was younger. It is this type of question we have to continue to ponder and act upon if we are to be more effective in our Gospel ministry.


Day 3

Our day began in Hartland with Morning Prayer. We have had a great time in the Parishes of Woodstock and Richmond; this afternoon we arrived in Florenceville-Bristol in the Parish of Wicklow, Wilmot, Peel and Aberdeen. For the next three nights we are staying at Camp Brookwood. It is great to be able to settle in one place for a few days, especially as there is a washer and dryer. This will be a great relief to those who meet us next week, though they do not know it yet!

Off for another day
The service in Hartland was based around reflections on the cross, it being Friday. That terrible tree is a place of suffering as well as hope, something I reflected upon all day. The suffering of Jesus comes out of the love of God for his creation. The beautiful handiwork of the Trinity has become distorted by the actions of humanity. The whole of the cosmos suffers because of this. It is pain which is taken into the heart of the Godhead and draws forth a love response.

On the trail, Trevor and Dawn stopped and began to look at something apparently lying at their feet. As we all moved closer we saw that they were looking at a chipmunk in the middle of the path. He was hardly moving. There was nothing obviously wrong with him, but he was clearly either very sick or desperately injured. There before me was an example of damaged creation. This small dying animal reminded me that every living thing groans in anticipation of the revelation of the children of God. It is then that they will be freed from the shackles of death and decay, just as humanity will be.

When we contemplate death, we are looking at our greatest enemy. We were not made for it, which is why we struggle so hard against it. Within all of us there is an echo of a life for which we were intended. A life without the limitations we face and resist. It is this hint of difference which makes us struggle to find meaning in the apparent chaos we so often find engulfing us.

This meaning is found in Christ. It is as if we are looking at the world through a kaleidoscope at a confused pattern, then Jesus turns the bottom and begins to make sense of it. He may only twist it slowly, but eventually we begin to see a thing of beauty emerge, despite the trials and tribulations which are part of the whole. These thoughts ran through my head as we walked along. I am not sure that I have a great deal of clarity around them, but sometimes all we can do is wrestle.

This evening in Florenceville-Bristol, Trevor and I had the privilege to visit the McCain Global Data Centre. It never ceases to amaze me that such a worldwide brand can be centred in such a small town in New Brunswick. Apparently, there are 20,000 people working for the company across the world, covering 60 or more countries.

Our day ended with a meal and Evening Prayer at the Church of the Good Shepherd. We finished as we began.


Day 2

In theory today was the longest walk day, 22kms from Woodstock to Hartland, but what a beautiful walk. We followed the St. John River along a disused rail bed. Early this morning we saw two bald eagles swooping over the water. Then there was a female osprey protecting her nest. Later a woodpecker pounded away on a tree. All along the route there was evidence of beavers being highly industrious and finally a beautiful male gold finch flew in front of us and perched in a tree. It was, as many who walked with us noted, a privilege to be out in the beauty of God’s creation.

N. T. Wright, the leading Bible scholar and theologian, tells us that there are three essential aspects of the character of God revealed to us in scripture: beauty, peace and justice. Today as we travelled along it was hard to understand how people who are surrounded by such glorious vistas cannot see the hand of a creator lying behind it.

These three elements of the nature of God are intertwined and inter-reliant. To be immersed in the natural world can lead to peace. One can also argue that it is unjust that people are unable to access the beauty of nature easily. I was reminded of my time at Stone Church when we took a small group of adults from Uptown Saint John to Deer Island. As we sat around a campfire one evening a woman in her early forties said to me, “This is the furthest I have ever been from Saint John”.

Though many years have passed since those words were spoken to me, the impact is still great. How is it in anyway possible that someone can be unable to enjoy the beauty of creation for so long. It is not a coincidence that often when people who have suffered a great deal of difficulty in their lives are trying to heal, they are helped by entering deeply into creation.

Another important component of today was that we were able to catch up with old friends. Several of those who walked with us along the river have joined us during other pilgrimages. It was great to be able to catch up with folks, to hear about what has been happening in their worlds since last we met. Friendship and companionship are important parts of our existence. It is too easy to become isolated. God did not create us for that.

Finally, there were two major accomplishments today. We were joined by the most mature walker we have travelled with. Peggy joined us in Woodstock. I am too gallant to divulge a lady’s age, but I can assure you she holds the record. This evening we gathered in the Church of Holy Trinity, Hartland, to celebrate the confirmation of: Robert Foster, Ethan Goodwin, Vanessa Goodwin and Bonnie Sparks. Around fifty people were in attendance for a fine celebration.


Day 1 (2018)

This morning was a flurry of activity in Saint John trying to get ready for the pilgrimage. There were bags to pack, equipment to find, hair to be cut, lawns to mow, washing to finish, plants to plant and beds to make. This rush came to a screaming halt at 1.40pm, which was good because Trevor arrived 10 minutes later to pick me up. So much for calm and thoughtful preparation for an important time of spiritual reflection.

Arrived at St. Luke, Woodstock

We arrived in Woodstock about 2 hours later and were well entertained at supper. Then off to St. Luke’s for Evening Prayer. Around 40 people arrived from across several parishes. It was also good to meet up with Tony and Barb Richard who used to attend Stone Church and are now living in Woodstock. Our service was topped and tailed by two hymns from Saturday’s Royal Wedding and I think a good time was had by all.

Tomorrow we begin the pilgrimage proper with a long walk of about 22 kms to Hartland. The hope is that we will cross the covered bridge at about 4.30pm. We have about 7 hours to travel the distance, so with breaks that will be just over 3 kms per hour, a bit of a push.


My first fish, caught during the 2016 pilgrimage

Today I have been reflecting on the 2016 pilgrimage. During that adventure we met Carson, Liz and Marshall. They worship at Grey Rapids in the Parish of Derby and Blackville. At least one of them walked with us on each of the days we were there. Some of you may remember the photograph of me proudly displaying the striped bass which I caught on my fishing trip with Carson and his friend.

Ten days ago I received a phone call from Fr. Gerry Laskey asking that I call him. When I did so, he told me that 19 year old Marshall, had been killed in a traffic accident on the way to work. This was a great shock. Thankfully I was able to attend his funeral on Friday. Marshall was a fun loving young man and the attendance at the funeral was a great tribute to him and his family. There is clearly a great love for them in the community.

It is events like this which bring up many questions in one’s mind about the nature of God. There are no glib answers. The one thing we have to hold on to is that as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death the Good Shepherd is with us. This is not blind faith, it is faith which hopes for that which we cannot see. Without hope all is lost.

I am dedicating this year’s pilgrimage to Marshall’s memory. Please remember Carson, Liz and the rest of the family as they walk this hard path.


A Pilgrim Blessing

All-powerful God, you always show mercy toward those who you love and you are never far away for those who seek you. Be with your servants on this pilgrimage and guide their way in accord with your will. Be a companion for them along their journey, a guide at crossroads, strength in their weariness, defense before dangers, shelter on the way, shade against the heat, light in the darkness, a comforter in their discouragements, and firmness in their intentions, in order that, through your guidance, they might arrive unscathed at the end of their journey and, enriched with graces and virtues, they might return safely home; through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.