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By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn (dayspring) from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Luke 1:78-79 (NRSV)

The seeds of a new, hardy variety of ministry engineered to withstand environmental threats to flourish over future generations, have been sown in the east-central region of the Edmonton diocese.

Dayspring Ministry is a new shared ministry of St. Saviour’s, Vermilion; St. Thomas, Wainwright and St Mary’s, Edgerton, that is being led by one full-time priest and several lay leaders from the three parishes.

The origin of Dayspring Ministry is rooted in a conversation Bishop Stephen London had with the Ven. Rachael Parker, whom he collated as the diocese’s first Archdeacon for Rural Ministry at the 68th Synod in October. He asked Parker to discern with him about a new model for ministry to ensure the continuation of ministry in areas served by part-time priests or no priests at all.

“I reached out to the places I had served before (dioceses of NS and PEI, Toronto and Huron), where they were doing hybrid ministry,” says Parker, who has lived in Wainwright since 2020 when her husband LCdr. the Rev. Robert Parker was posted to a chaplaincy at CFB Wainwright.

She prayed and dreamed about what the new shared ministry could be and “by late spring of 2022, we began pulling things together conversationally about what it would look like for the three parishes to form a group to work in relationship with one another,” she says.

Ordained a deacon and priest in the Diocese of Huron in 1999, Parker had been serving as rector of St. Thomas, Wainwright and St. Mary’s, Edgerton. Since arriving in Wainwright, the Parkers had also been taking turns celebrating the eucharist once a month at St. Saviour’s in Vermilion which had been without a priest since its rector’s retirement in November 2021.

The Dayspring name, from “The Benedictus” (Luke 1:78), came to Parker one morning in prayer: “the dayspring from on high hath visited us… I half-jokingly thought to myself, well we’re far enough east we actually see the sunrise a couple of seconds before Edmonton does.”

She says the ministry’s nontraditional moniker is intentional to, hopefully, avoid the denominational tag that can be a barrier for people. However, the three congregations will retain their Anglican names as three “campuses,” of Dayspring Ministry.

The opportunity to serve in communities of varying size, in four dioceses, where she chaired a rural ministries committee and helped lead a rural ministries symposium, has enabled Parker to envision new possibilities for ministry.

“In my first placement, I had two churches in one parish, instead of two different parishes. I think of Dayspring as one big parish with three congregations. It may not be canonically correct, but it’s the way we’re living it on the ground.”

The difference between Dayspring and the past model of ministry which placed one priest in charge of multiple rural parishes, is in the approach, she says. “We are not going at this as merely a fiscally responsible means of keeping the doors open,” she says.

Under the new arrangement, the cost of priestly ministry is divided between the congregations with St. Thomas and St. Saviour’s each covering 40 per cent, and St. Mary’s covering 20 per cent.

“A gift of being part of a ministry team is that we are no longer in that place of thinking ‘will we be able to keep the doors open four or five years from now?’ Being able to share costs means that fiscally we are in good shape.”

The cost-sharing proportions are not in direct correlation to Parker’s presence in a congregation.

“Sometimes, depending on what’s happening in the life of the congregation, I may be needed more by one parish than the others,” says the full-time rector of three congregations. “We try to make sure they all see me at some point during the week even though I can’t be in each parish every Sunday.”

The congregations follow a schedule which enables Parker to participate in the regular, ongoing pattern of worship in each church at least twice a month.

Pastorally, Parker says she will need to be cognizant of where she is needed the most. “I don’t have kids of my own, but I imagine it’s a bit like loving each of your children equally, even though one child needs you more than another.”

The Dayspring congregations worked together to come up with a schedule that balances the needs of all three churches. “I like to plan ahead so we have a liturgical schedule through Reign of Christ 2023,” says Parker. “But I tell people it’s written in sand. At any point, it can change.”

At the moment Edgerton and Wainwright have priestly ministry on the first and third Sundays of the month and lay-led liturgies on the second fourth Sundays. Correspondingly, Vermilion has lay-led liturgies on the first and third Sundays and priestly ministry on the second and fourth Sundays.

As Dayspring gets off the ground, Parker is walking alongside the congregations by helping them prepare for Sunday worship. She produces the weekly bulletins, which include the same announcements and prayers, so everyone is one the same page, and sermons based on the five principles of Finding Our Way – the Edmonton diocese’s strategic path forward. The sermons are delivered by either Parker or a lay reader with an interest in developing their gift for preaching. Congregations can also watch Parker’s “Gospel on the Go” YouTube videos which she has been recording since the start of the COVID pandemic as part of the Church at Home with Rachael series.

Empowering lay members to lead (see the Finding Our Way principle a “Calling for All,”) is the foundation of the team ministry model. Parker is still getting used to this reality. “I love what I do, and I really love the people. But I am aware that I can’t be in three places at once. If it’s not sacramental, I need to be able to say, ‘go for it and keep me in the loop.’”

In terms of ideas for ministry, Parker says her mantra is, “why not? and epic fail. If something has the potential to lead to a good thing, then I say ‘go for it.’ If it really doesn’t work, ‘let’s make it an epic fail,’ so we can look back and say, ‘this is a story we’re gonna want to tell.’ Every idea has at least one thing that goes well, and that’s what we’re called to build on.”

Parker believes wholeheartedly that interdependent ministry is the way forward. “As the priest, I’m the only one who can do the sacramental stuff, but that does not mean I’m the only one who can do other things. And, indeed, there are things I should let go and help others do,” she says. “Not every lay reader is a great preacher and not every preacher is a lay reader. But there are some people in our congregations who, with encouragement and support, can break open and share the gospel in ways people can hear.”

When the Dayspring team has had time to work out some of the logistics of team ministry, Parker intends to further utilise the resources of the diocese, such as tapping into the knowledge of archdeacons. She envisions inviting Richard King, Archdeacon for Mission and Discipleship, to talk about lay leadership and equipping the saints; or Travis Enright, Archdeacon for Reconciliation and Decolonization, to talk about what it means to be in relationship, and to be neighbours from different contexts.

“We are perfectly poised for furthering our relationship with Church of the Nativity, Frog Lake and Fred Matthews, lay reader-in-charge,” she says.

Furthermore, Parker prays and dreams of each of the parishes finding their own niche in their surrounding communities. “How we come in as a Dayspring people to chip in with the groups already out there doing good work will look different in Edgerton than in Vermilion, and in Wainwright.”

It is the dawning of a new day for cooperative ministry in the Edmonton diocese and, as Parker says, “the possibilities are endless.” She looks forward to continuing to find ways to pray together and play together.

“I think that’s the way families are built. I don’t know what a family boardgame night looks like for Dayspring, but we’re going to have fun finding out.”