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From Our Bishops

Bishop’s Opinion: October 2015

I’m proud of the work we’re doing

By Bishop Philip Poole

Headshot of Bishop Philip Poole.

It was the last. Twice a week, on schedule, a horse drawn wagon made its way up Charlotte Street, then home to the rectory of All Saints to deliver milk. Every other milk route in town was operated by trucks, but this was the last horse drawn milk wagon in Peterborough. My sister and I – my brother had yet to make his appearance in the world – would often greet the kind milkman by the curb in front of 460. My sister loved horses and the milkman, from time to time, would offer her a penny with the words, “Save this up and one day you might have a horse of your own.”

Milk came in the old-style metal containers or the somewhat newer glass version. It was placed in a small exterior unlocked cupboard, common to houses of the era, which also enclosed an envelope for payment. Milk did not have a long shelf life in those days and just writing this article brings back the terrible taste of sour milk – fortunately not something I have endured in the past few decades. That milk wagon was the last.

The mail was also hand-delivered to each home by the postman twice a day. Those were the days when I waited not so patiently (sadly, still a trait I have from my childhood!) for the mailman to deliver the black and white photos of NHL hockey players sent to me in exchange for the bottle collars on cans of Bee Hive corn syrup. Of course, part of the thrill for a young person then was receiving a letter in the mail with your own name on it. I am certain we never consumed all the corn syrup my parents purchased so that I might collect those photos.

Well, times have changed. Bottled milk is no longer delivered to our doors and, for most, mail is not either. But we still have milk and we still receive mail.

The church in those days was very different from what it is today. It was the center of social life for many in our town. My friends joined me in the 65-voice men and boys choir that practiced Tuesday and Thursday nights and sang Morning Prayer and Evensong most Sundays at All Saints. The Diocese of Toronto was not yet the primarily Eucharistic community it is today. Those same friends also were members of the All Saints Cub Pack and played both church league hockey and church league softball for All Saints. Not much that we did socially, aside from piano lessons, took place outside the church.

Sunday sports for children were banned during the “Divine hour of worship,” the Lord’s Prayer opened the school day, and one drugstore and one gas station opened in rota on Sunday. Sunday was a quiet day; there was a different feel to it. It did not have the busy, frenetic pace that Sundays have today.

The church is no longer the social centre of many communities and certainly not the social center for youth.

Some look back to those days with great nostalgia, longing for “the good old days,” which in fact were formerly known as “these trying times.” This was post-war Canada. Many lived a transient life seeking work. Men would show up at the rectory door looking for an always offered sandwich or drink of milk. Affluence was not so obvious and certainly nowhere near reflective of the overall wealth of our society today.

Archbishop Johnson is fond of reading the diaries of former Bishops of Toronto. He will read aloud a description of a church that was facing declining attendance, whose level of stewardship was not what it could be, that was not attracting youth, that could not find capable Sunday school leaders, that was resistant to change. Listening, you could believe that the passage was written last month, but it was actually written at the turn of the 19th century!

You would have to be from another planet not to be aware that being church today in our anti-institutional, anti-religion, secular and humanistic society is flat-out hard work. It is not easy to be church today, if indeed it ever was.

Like the milk company and the post office in Peterborough, the church today is seeking to reimagine itself, reclaim its missional ministry, seeking to try out new things in an effort to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in this society and to better serve the marginalized. We are making progress. Horse drawn milk wagons and milk trucks no longer exist, and milk is not delivered to homes anymore, but milk still exists.

Change is underway as we seek to adapt to our new circumstances. Going forward, our buildings may not look the same, our liturgies and music may change, parishes may amalgamate, parishes may close – but faithful Christians will continue to do the hard work of being church in a society longing for Good News. That’s what disciples of Jesus do, and that’s what they have always done.

I am proud of the work we are doing together throughout our diocese. We are making a difference for good in the name of Jesus Christ as the church of each era is called to do, and for that I say thanks be to God. The journey ahead may not always be smooth, but it is a journey worth taking.

(End note: in a few days from now you will be asked to vote. Do not fall prey to the apathetic temptation not to vote. Make your voice and your vote count.)