Sunday, January 5, 2020 marked the end of an era at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Edmonton. After 20 years of faithful service, St. John’s rector the Rev. Don Aellen retired from his post. In honour of the occasion, St. John’s combined its usual three Sunday morning services into one. Three hundred-and-sixty people attended to say farewell. Both the junior and senior choirs participated in leading worship, two children of the parish Stephanie Okolo and Soren Hendricks read the scriptures and incoming rector the Ven. Richard King preached the sermon.
A key part of the service was a piece of liturgy titled ‘The Ending of a Pastoral Relationship.’ It included a statement by Rev. Don that:
On the first day of July, 1999, I was inducted by Bishop Victoria Matthews as rector of St. John the Evangelist. I have, with God’s help and to the best of my abilities, exercised this trust, accepting its privileges and responsibilities. After prayer and careful consideration, it now seems to me that I should leave this charge, and I publicly state that my tenure as rector of St. John the Evangelist ends this day.
Archdeacon Richard then asked the congregation, “Do you, the people of St. John the Evangelist, recognise and accept the conclusion of this pastoral relationship?” to which they responded, “We do.”
The reason for this liturgy was to provide an opportunity for rector and parish to say a clear and intentional ‘good-bye;’ to mark an important point in the journey of St. John’s.
Rev. Don then shared some of his reflections on a 20-year ministry. Being an avid hunter and having worked as a parks warden before entering ministry, he joked that the biggest difference between the two lines of work is that a priest can’t “shoot his problems.” On the more serious side, he shared what the love and support of the congregation has meant to him and his wife Carolyn over the years; how St. John’s has been “a place of discovery and intense spiritual growth, learning to live relying on the grace of Christ and the church.” Where words failed, two scriptures summed up his feelings: 2 Corinthians 4:1 "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God..." and 2 Corinthians 3:2 "You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts..."
Wardens Toby Ramsden and Catherine Rostron offered reflections on behalf of the parish and Delia Kariwo sang a blessing.
No parish event is complete without lots of great food! So all who could stay enjoyed a lunch together, followed by a program in which more members and former members of the congregation had the chance to share stories and make tributes to their outgoing priest. Even the previous St. John’s rector, the Rev. Canon Dr. Barry Parker, was able to participate via recorded message from his home in Toronto.
Rev. Don and Carolyn responded to this moving send-off in a written message for the church newsletter:
We both feel undone—but in the best possible way: your being present in such numbers; by your love for us so unreservedly expressed; your heartfelt thanksgivings for the life we shared; and by the munificent generosity of the communal gifts you gave us. What you did and spoke Sunday was a synopsis and confirmation of the richness of our over 20 years of doing life in Christ with you. And why you have been, and will remain so dear to us.
As incoming rector, Archdeacon Richard found it to be “a profoundly meaningful day and a privilege to be there; an honouring of Don and Carolyn’s ministry and an acknowledgement of the need we all have to say a proper ‘farewell’ and to grieve the losses we feel before we can truly embrace whatever it is that Jesus has for us next. I echo the words of one parishioner who said the whole event was like calling the past, present and future together in one moment; a true blessing.”