Christmas is always a special time for Anglicans in Garden River, the Indigenous community about 20 kilometres east of Sault Ste. Marie. However, this year’s observance will take a new shape as the Diocese of Algoma distributes wood bundles for community members to enjoy in the safety of their own homes.
For many years, the members of St. John’s Anglican Church have looked forward to decorating their church and welcoming their Bishop to the Christmas Eve celebration. Recalling her past visits, The Most Rev. Anne Germond, Archbishop of Algoma, remarked, “The light of Christ draws the community in and there isn’t an empty seat as people of all ages fill the old wooden pews, sing carols, and hear the story of Jesus’ birth.”
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic the pews of St. John’s Church will be empty this Christmas Eve.
The Rev. Lana Grawbarger, Deacon-in-charge at St. John’s, in consultation with community elders and Archbishop Germond, determined the risk of gathering in such a small space was too high. There are a number of elderly persons in the parish who are not comfortable attending public gatherings at this time. In addition, the church is poorly ventilated, and under current protocols the worship space could only accommodate 20 people.
Archbishop Germond’s first thought was to offer a ‘drive-by’ Christmas service at different stations where members of the community could listen to the Nativity story at one location, be prayed with at the next, and receive Holy Communion at the third. Even this felt too risky to Rev. Grawbarger.
So, the Archbishop reached out to her spiritual advisor, Elder Willard Pine, Ogima Megizi (Leader of the Eagles), for his wisdom and counsel. He was quick to respond, believing the problem faced could become a blessing.
“People who want to celebrate Christmas will do it within their own family circles,” he said. “Each family will gather and do what they think is right. I can imagine everyone making a sacred fire and offering a food plate, tobacco, and prayers in celebration of the Christmas Spirit. A bundle of wood could be given to each household as a gift from the Diocese. This way we will be honouring our ancestors and the Spirit of Christmas while keeping our community safe.”
So, the Diocese of Algoma purchased 75 wood bundles for distribution to community members in time for Christmas Eve.
On the afternoon of Sunday, December 19, Archbishop Germond visited Elder Pine and his wife, Marie, to share in a time of prayer and blessing with the bundles. During their visit, Elder Pine honoured the Archbishop with an Indigenous name, Quuhyukoosa Odaemah, which means “Woman who walks with heart.”
Archbishop Germond hopes that next year will see the Anglican Church reopened for the celebration of Christmas. She adds, “We also hope the distribution of bundles of wood to bring light and warmth to peoples’ homes will become a new part of a long and cherished tradition.”