Whitehorse bishop pitches for priests

  • September 26, 2011

Bishop Gary Gordon has a one-time, can't-miss, double-your-money-back-guaranteed deal for the priests of the nation.

"You want an opportunity to pray? You want an opportunity to connect with God in the vastness of His creation? An opportunity to actually know every single parishioner and have coffee with them, all the time?" begins Gordon's sales pitch to priests in southern Canada.

He has just the spot for them — his Whitehorse diocese in the Yukon.

Priests in the north get to actually read books, reflect on their work and take a second look at their homilies.

Priests who believe the key to an authentic experience of the Church is small, closely knit communities who know and care about one another flourish in the north, said Gordon.

"The small, basic Christian community? Everybody seems to think that's the way to go and we got it. That's all we got. If you want to do more than just talk about it, come on up," he said.

Fr. Matthew George, the new pastor at St. Ann's in Watson Lake, Yukon Territories, backs up the bishop's pitch. Six weeks into a two year-commitment, George finds the bishop is a man of his word.

"My prayer life is better. I'm a calmer person," George told The Catholic Register. "I'm looking out my window here at the Liard River across the road. It's tranquil. For all the huge challenges of the north, it's so much more peaceful. It's a place where you can work on yourself as a priest."

That kind of calm is essential for priests trying to live out their vocation, said Gordon.

"Our whole raison d'etre is to communicate the mystery of God and the love of the Lord and the mercy of Jesus Christ," he said. "You have to be in a listening mode to know what that's all about. You have to be in communion with the Lord."

Life and ministry in a small community boils down to the essentials for George.

"For me, it's so liberating," he said. "The other concerns of the Church — how conservative you are, how traditional, how progressive — all that is so ridiculous. Nobody talks about that here. It's not life or death. The Church here is life or death. All the rest is window dressing."

Just like everybody else, priests in urban Canada have trouble disconnecting from all the technology and the constant demands that go with it, said George.

"There's a lot of guys who are their Blackberries," he said.

With no cell coverage outside of town, spending his time with small groups and individuals in George's new life involves a very different relationship with modern technology.

"I don't need microphones (for Sunday preaching). There are priests who are probably tired of struggling with microphones," he said.

The bishop is the first to say the north isn't for everyone.

"Not everybody can manage in every place," said Gordon. "The reality is now that the bulk of our vocations are coming from urban realities in Canada, or urban realities outside of Canada. Urban people are so profoundly urban they cannot handle the rural."

In the old days kids who grew up on farms made ideal priests for mission work in the small villages and towns of the north.

"They had a sense of survival, a sense of living on the land, a sense of nature," said Gordon. "They weren't terrified by the rural."

Gordon once had a priest up from southern California who thought he wanted nothing better than missionary work in the north. He lasted four months.

"He couldn't stand silence. He couldn't stand not being in a frenetic mode of Orange County activity."

But the idea that most young priests are unfamiliar with rural ways and relative isolation doesn't discourage Gordon.

"You have the odd urban kid, like myself, who can't stand the urban and has always been trying to get out of it," he said. "I'm looking for them."

George believes his two-year stint can be followed by other priests willing to make a similar commitment.

"I'm trying to find a high-spirited, weak-minded priest who will follow me," he joked.

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