John Bowen is Wycliffe College’s Professor of Evangelism and director of the Institute for Evangelism. The following is his reflection on his recent trip to the clergy conference in the Diocese of Moosonee.
I don’t know who you think are the heroes of the church today. I recently spoke at the clergy conference of the Diocese of Moosonee, and for my money those people are the forgotten heroes of the church.
For a start, the Diocese stretches 1,000 kilometres from east to west, and 1,000 kilometres from north to south. It is difficult for those of us from urban areas to begin to imagine what this means. My eyes opened very wide when one priest told me he had drive thirteen hours to be at the conference. Then I met up with one Wycliffe grad—Elizabeth Sipos—who is the priest in Mistissini, a Cree community on the eastern edge of the diocese, with a population of something over 3,000. Her mentor and nearest colleague is four hours drive away.
The challenges of this area are not only distance and isolation, however. Many of these communities are poor; some are in decline. Clergy have too many funerals to do—not least those of young people who have died by suicide.
In spite of all this, the spirit of the conference was one of joy and camaraderie. There was much joking around the meal tables. The worship was delightfully informal but reverent. Engagement in Bible study was serious and practical. The Lord’s Prayer was said in several languages. The a capella singing was wonderful.
Speakers often say, “It is a privilege to be with you today.” But when I said it to this group, it was more than politeness. I felt it. It is easy for those of us in Canada’s comfortable south to forget about the folks of “the north.” But they are there, they are faithful and they are joyful, even in great difficulty. They deserve our deep respect—and our prayers.