History, stories and hopes for the future shared
On September 11, St. Peter, Comox marked its 130th anniversary with a full weekend of activities, including a guided walking tour of Comox’s history, a Blessings Boutique where others’ surplus became treasures and a picnic provided by local business the Church Street Taphouse, which also renamed its house ale in honour of the occasion to “For Pete’s Sake.”
Bishop Anna attended the events on Saturday. She took part in the morning guided history walk. After which Sulin Milne, incumbent at St. Peter, had a surprise for the Bishop: a 1927 Chrysler to transport them back to the church in time for Bishop Anna to ring the church’s bell 130 times. Unfortunately, the Chrysler broke down on the way and they had to find alternative, less glamorous transportation. The Bishop may have been a bit late for the bell ringing, but the bells would have been heard across Comox.
In the afternoon, there was a “Celebration of Remembrance and Hope” held in the church garden, during which Bishop Anna acknowledged the church’s historic indifference towards Indigenous people.
Neil Crouch, a parishioner at St. Peter, Comox, also spoke to this topic and recalled prayer meetings held at the church in the 1980s. “Anyone who had native heritage was required, suggested, nudged to give up any hint of that spirituality so they could fully experience Christianity. There is so much to be forgiven. None of us who have settler roots can imagine not knowing what became of our children when they were taken away.”
He said that Julianne Kasmer, formerly a street minister for the United Church, advised settler descendants to “be involved in conversations that are safe, honest, without outrage or shame and without the rush to fix that we as the powerful and privileged like to jump to. This is not a problem to be solved but an ongoing part of our lives to be lived.”
Ingrid Joy Braathen, a member of the parish with strong Indigenous roots, read an untitled poem written by Abigail Echo-hawk in honour of the missing children.
When they buried the children
What they didn’t know
They were lovingly embraced
By the land
Held and cradled in a mother’s heart
The trees wept for them, with the wind
they sang mourning songs their mothers
didn’t know to sing
Mother Earth held them
until they could be found.
Now our voices hear the mourning songs
with the trees. the wind. light sacred fire
Ensure they are never forgotten as we sing
Parishioners then took turns sharing memories from their time at St. Peter. Many spoke about their first encounters with the church. Brad and Jan Minton joined St. Peter in the fall of 1979. They were new in town and were looking for a place to have their sons baptized. “We encountered this group of people who weren’t like any we’d met before — excited about God, talking about Jesus as a real person and moving powerfully in the power of Holy Spirit.”
Many parishioners also spoke about the ways in which the church community had supported them during difficult times. When Joan Holmes’s son was struggling with addiction, she told her church family what was happening.
“Several years later,” Joan said, “it was Thanksgiving Sunday, and the Old Testament reading was from Habakkuk 3 verses 17-19: ‘Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail yet… I will rejoice in the Lord.’ At that very moment I knew this was a word from God to me. Dark as things were, that was not to be the final word. God had his ‘YET’.” Joan thanked her “praying friends” for “a wonderful homecoming with our prodigal son who has come home to us and our family.”
Alison Knowles spoke of coming to the church at a time of personal crisis: “I have asked people over the years why they walked into the door at St Peter’s and why they stayed. It is amazing how often the answer is that they were searching and when they walked into St Peter’s they were home. For me it was back during a very difficult time for my family. I had a deep desire for a place to kneel and hand over to a higher power. I wasn’t Christian but people accepted me where I was.”
Bishop Anna pointed out that “all of the parishioner’s stories were about each other, about people, about God working through you. Covid has helped the church remember that the church is not a building. It is people. I get the feeling that you in St Peter’s know that. We don’t go to church; we are church.”
Sulin Milne spoke of the present as a time of “shifting sands” but pointed to the fact that, despite the uncertain times we find ourselves in, “We do know the way to our future. We do know the way because we know Him who is the way and the truth and the life.”
The celebrations continued on Sunday, September 12 with more history walks, picnics and another round of bell ringing. But as Bishop Anna pointed out: “today we celebrate 130 years, but what we really do is to faithfully commit ourselves to walking into the next months, the next years, the next decade, the next century as faithful servants, knowing that the one God of all time and all space, will be present and faithful to us no matter what joys and what struggles come.”