The familiar

It’s basically a nine and a half hour flight from Heathrow to Vancouver and they are eight hours behind us, so arriving here meant that Monday turned into a 32 hour day! But surprisingly adrenalin helped a lot and it certainly didn’t feel like that.  Arriving at the hotel and looking out from the 22nd floor on which our room is located was tremendous.  The lights shining from the tall buildings all around us was wonderful.  At that stage we could see nothing of the harbour and the hills beyond – that would be the treat on the first full day.

The view from the bedroom


As I probably said this is my first time in Canada.  I’ve been to the States on many occasions, but only ever to the east coast and principally around New York and Philadelphia and so this felt both familiar and yet completely new.  Vancouver is a lot quieter than either of those cities and smaller too of course.  The people we have so far met have been amazingly polite, staggeringly polite.  Not that people in the States aren’t but this feels some how different and certainly different from home.

Yet there is so much that is familiar – the HP Sauce in the restaurant for breakfast of course but also in lots of other ways as well.  One of the purposes behind coming here on sabbatical was not to have a Canadian holiday (though I can’t deny that it has elements of that) but also, and more importantly, to make some connections.  On the first day that was what we were able to do.

A hint of Indiana Jones


So after walking along the waterfront and seeing the planes taking off and landing on the water of the harbour (something I thought only existed for real in Indiana Jones’ films) and seeing something of Gastown, the oldest part of this very young city, I was able to meet up with a very old friend, Fr Kevin Hunt.  Kevin is over here as an interim priest at the church of St James.  We don’t have many of those posts at the moment in the CofE but they are interesting opportunities for ministry.  That post was designed to be for a year to 18 months and by all accounts has been great for him.  Walking to the church took me back into something more familiar from my time in New Jersey – there were a great many more street homeless than, in my innocence, I thought I was going to encounter, thrift stores and obvious drug dealing going on.  It felt so much more edgy than a few blocks down the road where regeneration has already begun to change the community.

The church of St James is what you might describe as concrete gothic, a kind of holy picture house in design, standing at a street corner.  Inside its restrained catholic but atmospheric and with a real beauty and dignity to it.  It was good to be able to catch up with Kevin and the see the place where he is now ministering.

St James’ Vancouver


From there we headed to the Cathedral which happens to be, very conveniently, just across the road from the hotel we are staying in.  The shock was, when we arrived, to see the whole cathedral covered in scaffolding.  A huge project is nearing completion – re-roofing the whole building, the construction of a bell tower with a ring of 4 bells (that should please the local hotel residents) and a new kitchen from which outreach work with the street homeless can take place.  It was lovely to go through the scaffolding and into the cathedral which has been wonderfully reordered.  There is the most beautiful work with fabric that the Dean’s husband is working on with a group of volunteers.  But the person we met was Dr Ellen Clark-King, the Cathedral Vicar and, by coincidence, the sister of the Bishop of Croydon, Bishop Jonathan.

Ellen in the lovely cathedral


I had heard a lot about Ellen and was delighted to see her name mentioned in the book about the CofE that I had been reading on holiday ‘That was the Church that was’.  Ellen has been at the Cathedral for 11 years and so has seen the inclusive and vibrant life of the place continue and develop.  That is something that I want to learn a bit more about.  Their strap line ‘Open doors; open hearts; open minds’ is inspirational and yet familiar.

That word ‘familiar’ has something to do with the family feel of things and that is partly what I am experiencing, a familiar feel with the ministry at Southwark Cathedral. I hope discovering new in the familiar will be something that happens whilst I journey through this vast, polite and beautiful country.

give me an open heart,
an open mind,
and, to our church,
doors open to all.