This spring, Bishop Stephen London inducted the Rev. Madeleine Urion as rector of St. George’s by the U of A in Edmonton. The service, which eventually took place on March 20, 2022, was greatly delayed by pandemic restrictions. Urion had been appointed to St. George’s as interim priest-in-charge in December 2019, and then as rector in June 2020. The parish worked with Bishop Steve to “change things up” from the usual induction service, which is written for a priest and parish who are new to one another.
For Urion, original prayers - written by parishioners in the presence of Indigenous elder Russell Auger, “who came to pray and lead us in a smudge” - were profound.
She was “also really humbled by how the symbols of ministry were presented in ways that reflected the personal stories and contexts of people who worship at St. George's.” For example, a woman who works in Public Health presented water as a sign of baptism. “She talked about the importance of water for our collective wellbeing. She was born in India and presented rose water along with water from the North Saskatchewan River to represent how we are a church that reflects a global and local context, full of personal stories about how faith is lived out.”
Urion described the morning of the service as a gift. “It was a beautiful experience of being able to witness our common humanity; that we are pilgrims in faith together, and that Jesus dwells at the center of who we are as individuals with unique stories, sufferings, joys, and as a community united in a common faith.”
The family presenting “the healing oils for our common ministry of healing, is a family currently accessing the Cross Cancer Institute for treatment,” she said. “They presented the oils in a vase made from a tree in their yard back home in North Carolina. We also gathered around the altar for this part of the service.”
Coming together in this unique service was especially meaningful given the challenges St. George’s has encountered since Urion came to the parish.
“In some ways, my time with St. George's has been largely one of responding to crisis,” she says. “A week after I arrived, the Ukraine [International] Airlines' flight crashed, which directly and personally impacted the staff and families of the childcare program running out of our parish hall. We then lost a long-time parishioner. The parish really came together for the funeral to celebrate his life and honour the bereaved family.” Then, “about two-and-a-half months after I had arrived as the interim,” the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Together, the parish has wrestled with questions, like: ‘where is God amid suffering right now? How do we acknowledge the gravity of what's happening in a tense world while being a people of hope and thanksgiving?’
“We quickly realised that social cohesion within the congregation is a way to ground ourselves in finding the answers to these questions together. The result has been a Zoom service that embraces awkwardness, and tested the patience of many, and yet, also provides a way for us to get to know one another. We also had many online conversations over Zoom, at weekly gatherings and educational events, about fraught, intensely personal issues taking place in the world about recent social and political movements. We've had to be compassionate and openhearted, and hold each other's stories, fragilities and learning edges with respect and kindness.”
The values of community and inclusion have “shaped St. George’s way forward,” says Urion. “Our Sunday morning worship is a mash-up of online participation where those in the church can see and hear folks at home and vice versa. Those who may not otherwise be able to participate in worship feel included. Sunday mornings are now also international events, as friends in England and Austria regularly tune in to worship. During a service this spring, families tuning in from Lagos, Nigeria will be able to help lead worship and offer prayers. I'm excited and grateful to be a part of it all.”