On August 6th, 2020, Bishop Michael Hawkins, and the Reverend Jordan Draper took six summer students on a road trip through northern Saskatchewan to visit Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Stanley Mission. Departing from the Synod Office at eight in the morning, the team set out in two vehicles heading north.
The first stop on our tour was to take in a fantastic vista along the highway where an individual could see the vast size of Montreal Lake against the horizon. It was a breathtaking view, and particularly humbling to see for this author. Taking in the beauty and scope of creation helps individuals gain some perspective on their place in the world. The next stop on the trip was a quick visit to St. Michael & All Angels Anglican Church in Weyakwin. Bishop Hawkins gave a quick tour of the Church and Cemetery, followed by a quick wild blueberry picking session. Our mid-day stop was in La Ronge. After a quick tour of the town, the team made a stop at Robertson's Trading Post, where we encountered the most amazing variety of products available. The parts of the shop that stood out most involved the beautiful local craftsmanship on display. The beaded moccasins' artistry, the professional quality of the taxidermized animals, and the sweet, smoky smell of the hides all combined in an incredible feast for the senses.
Having concluded our visit to Robertson's, we visited All Saints Anglican Church, where we received a tour of the Church and Hall by Tom Sanderson. He shared some of the stories associated with the Church in La Ronge, and his involvement with the Church. It turns out he is a lay reader responsible for maintaining the Church, Hall and Rectory in La Ronge. It was quite a treat to get to visit with someone so involved with the Church and to gain their perspective. Our next stop took us to the Otter River Rapids. When we arrived, the Churchill River was at its highest level it had ever been in forty years! Stepping out of the car, the first thing you notice is the incredible roar of the river. It speeds past under the bridge, approaching the pedestrian walkway. The crash becomes louder until the only way to hear each other is by shouting. Looking at the river, one gains a new respect for the power of nature. The speed at which it flows past, the sound of the water breaking and crashing against the rocks, and the sight of the rapids you can not help but marvel at the combined beauty and ferocity of creation. When we had all finished admiring the rapids' strength, we began our final leg to Stanley Mission.
Finally, we reached our goal, after a total of five hours of travel, stops and visits we had made it to Stanley Mission. The water level had risen significantly this year, and as such much of the beach had flooded. Undeterred Bishop Hawkins contacted the Reverend Richard Custer. The latter sent a boat across from the Church site to ferry our crew across. The lake was sparkling under the bright summer sun, and the natural beauty of the islands stood out and made this space feel like a paradise. Our ferryman told us some of the local histories. As it turns out, the settlement moved from one side of the river to the other. The island directly across from the Church was a mass grave during a smallpox epidemic that swept through Stanley Mission many years ago.
Upon arriving at Holy Trinity Church, we made our way up the stairs and into the Church proper. Entering such a historic building was near overwhelming. The interior of the Church feels so spartan yet warm and inviting at the same time. Everything in this Church has a purpose. Nothing ever feels extravagant. It becomes clear to even a first-time visitor that this Church is well-loved by its congregation and that they are happy to make do with what they have. The level of love, detail, and craftsmanship that went into the construction of this Church becomes apparent as soon as an individual looks towards the Church's ceiling. Along the perimeter of the walls, runs the most astounding diamond pattern, that would be invisible to anyone unless you looked up. The stained glasswork is breathtaking. While there, it felt though the sun was shining in all the windows, creating vibrant and beautiful displays everywhere in the Church. The beadwork displayed in the parament was stunning. After taking a quick tour of the Church and reading about its history, we met Reverend Richard Custer. He is an amazingly talented and humble man. He is the priest for four communities as well as the priest and organist for Holy Trinity. That afternoon, he spent his time assisting some workers in the construction of more fences for the beautiful cemetery associated with the Church. After our introduction, Father Custer led us in the Lord's Prayer and sang Amazing Grace and The Doxology in Cree. It was very moving and humbling to participate in this worship in such a historic building using the language of those who built, maintain, and still utilize the Church to this day.
After the worship came to an end, we could explore the Church and cemetery on our own, which allowed for many instances of quiet reflection, introspection, and prayer. We learned that the cemetery is still in use to this day by those in the community. Seeing as it was a hot day after we had finished our self guided tours, we went down by the dock to cool our feet and even go for a quick swim. Then as soon as it began, our time at Holy Trinity came to an end. We were ferried back across the lake, loaded into our vehicles, and started the trip back home.
This excursion was a profoundly moving experience for me. Being able to behold the beauty and power of creation, and the strength, resiliency, creativity, and talent of humanity on our way to Stanley Mission was incredible. Yet seeing those two combine in such an amazing and gorgeous way, as represented in Holy Trinity Church, was the highlight of the trip. Upon entering the Church and seeing the beauty inside, I was moved to tears, discovering its history. The work and cooperation that has gone into maintaining it made that experience all the more potent. I feel that something Bishop Hawkins said summed it up the best. While we were in the Church, he spoke of how many faiths perform pilgrimages to holy sites to reaffirm and strengthen their faith. He then went and called our journey to Holy Trinity, a pilgrimage of a sort as well that was something that stuck with me. If I am honest, it did feel like a pilgrimage. I left Prince Albert one way, excited but unsure of what to expect. I returned from Holy Trinity Church in Stanley Mission, feeling stronger in my faith than ever before. The pilgrimage to Holy Trinity in Stanley Mission is one I hope to undertake again someday.