The Anglican Mission of St. Saviour’s, Wabamun seldom misses an opportunity to celebrate joy in the every day. But on Sunday, June 17, their coach's last day behind the bench, feelings were mixed.
“Thanks coach, Team Jesus is lucky to have your leadership and dedication,” read one of the many cards presented to the Rev. Coleen Lynch, who has led the parish since its inception four years ago.
“You have taught us well,” said Rector’s Warden Sue Burgess and People’s Warden Michelle Squance-Slade presenting Coleen with a framed picture and bouquet of flowers.
The mission of St. Saviour’s meets every Sunday for worship at the Wabamun Seniors’ Centre, but members of Team Jesus, sporting their bright blue t-shirts, have been a unifying presence in the village of 700 – many young families and retirees seeking an affordable lifestyle – in countless other ways.
In the parish office on Main Street, Coleen hosts “Come and Ask” – an informal Bible session; members have helped out at the thrift store, sung at the Seba Beach Market, participated in the annual highway clean-up, hosted annual events like a pie party at Pentecost and Benedict’s Breakfast, donated time and funds to the Wabamun School Breakfast Club program, and handed out water to parade participants and spectators during the Dragonfly Festival every June. And let us not forget Cowboy Church, a service offered each November for the Canadian Finals Rodeo and then again in June for the Dragonfly Festival. See y’all next Sunday at 11 am!
“Because of Coleen, we think of ourselves as a welcoming church,” says Sue. “She has taught us openness and lovingness.” Over the last four years, Sue and Coleen have become good friends. “She speaks a language we can all understand. Her sermons are relatable and fun. I don’t think there’s a soul in the parish who doesn’t love her.”
“Coleen has a gift for making scripture real for each one of us, no matter where we are in life,” says parish treasurer Wendy Wiles. “She is a real human being with everyday issues that she gives to God. She has helped me to see others’ point of view from a Christian perspective. I’ve always been a very black and white, linear thinking kind of gal, but now I’m taking lay reader courses and I just returned from a trip to Jerusalem.”
Michelle shared Matthew chapter 5, verse 16 from Jesus’ Beatitudes to illustrate the example Coleen through her “caring, giving and down-to-earth” nature has been for the parish: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
“Thank you from the depth of my heart for the tremendous privilege of serving with you,” said Coleen, who held back tears for most of the service. “I was simply the plough horse. Every single one of you has brought gifts to the Anglican Mission that is St. Saviour’s, Wabamun.”
Preparing to drive off in Rocky the mission truck for one more year of intentional ministry before hanging up her red cowboy hat and boots, Coleen left the congregation with three “bumper sticker” messages: Be faithful; welcome the stranger; take care of each other. “All that matters is our faithfulness to God. Just as it’s true I’ll end up where I need to be, it’s true for all of you and the Mission of St. Saviour’s.”
In April, 2014, Bishop Jane Alexander asked Coleen to help start a year-round church in Wabamun. The former parish, St. Saviour’s, had been closed in 1967 and the nearest Anglican church, St. Aidan and St. Hilda, Rexboro, operates seasonally from May until October.
When ordained a deacon in 1997 and then priest the next year by Bishop Victoria Matthews, Coleen served in several Edmonton parishes and founded the Women’s Reintegration Chaplaincy - a ministry to help women on parole fit back into society. However, while filling in at rural parishes, “my love and appreciation for rural ministry took root,” she has said.
“Since I left the world of corrections in 2008, I have served in Devon, Rexboro, Tofield and now my beloved Wabamun. The goodness and graciousness of the people and the beauty and the glory of the land had captured my heart.”
Coleen may be handing over the reins of St. Saviour’s to the next capable leader, but her pursuit of greater understanding concerning the challenges of rural communities, as well as opportunities for development and sustainability, remain a passion and priority. She is working toward completing a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree at St. Stephen's College through the University of Alberta.