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From BC to UK

by Michael Ford last modified 22 Oct, 2021 04:13 PM

Our parish priests come from a variety of backgrounds, and a number of them will join us from outside the Diocese. One priest will be joining us from British Columbia, western Canada, early next year.

The Revd David Chillman is currently based in the city of Nanaimo, on the eastern side of Vancouver Island, across the water from Vancouver. 

David says: 

“Moving from the West Coast of Canada to the South Coast of England may seem a rather extreme relocation, although my wife and I made the reverse move just over seven and a half years ago, so we have been in this position before and know a little of what to expect, such as getting to our new country and then waiting a couple of months for our furniture to catch up with us. 

“I was ordained in Winchester Cathedral in 1995 and spent some 19 years in ministry in Winchester, Wakefield and Guildford dioceses. In 2014, we had the wonderful opportunity to take up a post in the Diocese of British Columbia, on Vancouver Island.  

“Until early 2021, I was the Rector of St Philip by-the-Sea Church in Lantzville, which is a small community just to the north of Nanaimo (the second largest city on Vancouver Island). During our time on the Island, we have loved the scenery and the people, and we will miss both very much. However, after 18 months of the pandemic, it became clearer to us that we really wanted to be closer to our families in the UK and so we started to think about various possibilities. It had always been our intention to move back to the UK sometime after I retired but we realised that we had an opportunity to do that a little earlier than expected. 

“Almost by chance, I stumbled across the advert for the post of House-for-Duty Associate Priest in the Lulworth churches. This is an area that we have always loved and so the chance to actually live and minister there was too good to dismiss. I had a week to fill out all the forms and get my application in, so I had to move pretty quickly.  

“Now that the move is definitely happening, we have a lot to do here in Nanaimo, where we live. We have a house to sell and international removals to arrange, as well as disposing of a whole heap of items that we cannot bring with us, such as all our Canadian electrical equipment. So far, though, everything has gone smoothly and once the house is sold, it will be full steam ahead. 

“Having ministered in the UK and in Canada, I have been able to see some of the differences and similarities between the two Anglican provinces. What I have especially appreciated in the Diocese of BC is how the clergy of the diocese work together and support one another. I have made some great friends and I have always known that my clergy colleagues were there whenever I needed support or encouragement. Each year, until the pandemic hit, we had an annual clergy conference which lasted three days, where the chance to be together and develop friendships was as important as the ‘official’ timetable. 

“One huge difference that I noticed soon after arriving on Vancouver Island was that because most of the parishes are physically distant from one another and from the Diocesan offices in Victoria (on the southern tip of the island), there is a much greater sense of parishes being semi-autonomous congregations. The idea of being a family of churches and of being actively involved in the life of the diocese can sometimes be missing. In addition, because so many of our parishes are in communities where there aren’t many (if any) other churches, our congregations tend to be more mixed than in the UK, with people from a wide diversity of denominational backgrounds. 

“Like the UK, the Diocese of BC is trying to face the challenge of declining church attendance, especially among the younger generations. There are a lot of congregations where the majority of people are retired. Young families and young people are often hard to find in the churches. I wish I could say that Canada has found an answer to this challenge, but we haven’t. 

“Here on Vancouver Island, there are a lot of people who have moved here after retirement. The climate is, on the whole, much easier than most of mainland Canada; the winters are nowhere near as harsh, and the summers are usually not so intensely hot. The Island has therefore become a destination for people who want to get away from winters where the temperature can be as low as -40C.  

“Each year more and more people move to the Island from places like Winnipeg, Calgary or Toronto. We also have a steady stream of ‘snowbirds’ – those people who live on the mainland most of the year but spend their winters on the Island. As a result, we have a lot of people in our churches who have two ‘home churches’. 

“One issue that is very important for churches in Canada at the moment is that of reconciliation with First Nations peoples. Over the past few years, we have spent a lot of time coming to grips with the realities of how First Nations peoples were treated by settlers and especially by the churches. The horrors of the Residential Schools system are now fairly well-known even in the UK, but it is hard sometimes to appreciate that these institutions were still running in the 1990s – I know many First Nations people who are Residential Schools survivors, and their stories of their experiences are horrifying. That the Anglican Church played such a key role in Residential Schools is an ongoing cause for shame and repentance. 

“One thing that we have had to come to grips with is that true reconciliation and healing is not going to happen overnight; that it will probably take decades of hard work before we can really say that reconciliation has happened. The recent revelations about the thousands of unmarked graves on Residential Schools sites have simply reopened many old wounds and the likelihood is that this will continue as more sites are examined and as attention turns to the old ‘Indian Hospitals’ where it is believed by many First Nations that yet more unmarked graves will be found. As Anglicans, we have to address the fact that such things were done in our name not only across Canada but also in such places as Australia and New Zealand. 

“One thing that I had to get used to here that I never thought about in the UK was preparation for earthquakes. Vancouver Island sits very close to a major geological fault (the Cascadia Fault) and so there are hundreds of small earthquakes each year. Usually, these are so small that they are never noticed. The problem, though, is that we are just about due for ‘The Big One’ – which the local name for a seriously major earthquake (probably over 8.0 in magnitude).  

“Geologists tell us that such major quakes happen in this area about every 300-500 years. The last one was in 1700, so you can do the maths! They take earthquake preparation very seriously here. Everyone is supposed to have an emergency kit (including food, emergency blankets and tents and so on) in case the Big One happens and our houses cannot be lived in. 

“Overall, we are excited about moving to West Lulworth and being able to live and minister in such a great part of the UK and we are delighted to be nearer our families, but we will also be very sad to leave behind great friends on Vancouver Island and will miss some of the natural beauty that is all around us here.” 

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