Whether our roots are in our First Nations, in the immigrants who came to explore and farm this land or in both, everyone in Saskatchewan has some direct connection to the land and to a particular part of it. In Saskatchewan we are all rural, even those who live in our cities have their roots in the country and the thousands who return to farms and reserves, lakes and bush over the summer season are a testament to these rural roots.
It can be so frustrating trying to set any kind of a meeting date in our Diocese because even those who have no connection to farming will say, ‘you cannot meet then, that’s seeding” or harvest, or hunting, or fishing or ice fishing or trapping. I once joked that Spring for many of our folks is that unfortunate interval between curling and golf, but for many it is the break between ice fishing and boat fishing. The seasons of the year are not some artificial thing for us; they are the seasons of blueberries or moose hunting, of barley harvest or trapping, of ice roads or mosquitoes. We are now, we hope, in the season of harvest and this is an important time in the Church to give thanks for the provision of our daily bread and to be recalled to the good and faithful stewardship of God’s creation and the generous sharing of his gifts, especially with the poor and hungry.
This is also a season for Rural Pride. We need to recall in the Church the rural roots of our congregations. Our country and reserve churches have served as “farm teams” for our urban and suburban congregations over the last sixty years and the growth of many city churches has been a part of rural depopulation and migration to our cities. Too often we look on our rural congregations as small, outdated, and unsustainable, without recognizing how much of the real life and worship and work of the Church has been grounded there. While new ways need to be found for Christians in rural areas and in small and remote reserves to gather for teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers, we have in our history wonderful examples of people’s commitment to live out their faith in ways that never matched models from cities and elsewhere.
Instead of feeling like second class citizens in a culture that is predominantly and arrogantly urban, western and white, we should thank God for the gifts which we enjoy in our rural environments. I grew up in a city but until I moved to Prince Albert, I had spent all my time in ordained ministry in rural congregations. I remember adjusting to and then looking forward to the faint but sweet smell of manure carried forward to the altar by farmers in those rural congregations just as I now recognize with appreciation the rich and woody scent of hides worn by our elders as they come to communion. The land, and our connection with it, is always there.
One of the gifts of serving as Bishop is the opportunity to travel in the quiet, open and breathtaking spaces of Northern Saskatchewan. Whether it is a field of canola in full bloom, the taste of wild blueberries or a sighting of a bear, every trip confirms my faith in the goodness of God our Creator. There are more atheists in the city and the assumption is that they are more intelligent, more sophisticated than poor rural folk. It might be instead that they have become disconnected, uprooted, from their natural connection to creation and to the Creator of all. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD (Ps. 19.1 and Ps. 33.5). Those who get a clear view of the skies and their hands in the dirt know this best.
We should thank God for our connectedness to this good land, for its fields and hills, lakes and streams, rocks and woods. Rural people often have the gift of being grounded, connected to the ground and our First Nations hold out the virtue of humility which comes from the word humus for earth. When I think of the people of Northern Saskatchewan, those two words come to mind, rooted and grounded. Paul uses those same two words to describe our fundamental and undeniable relationship to the love of God in Jesus Christ. He prays that we might be ‘rooted and grounded in love.’ Let us thank God for our roots in his good creation but above all for our spiritual roots in his love.
By The Right Reverend Michael Hawkins, Bishop Diocese of Saskatchewan