Fernie’s own Reverend Canon Andrea Brennan is now the Regional Dean of East Kootenay for the Anglican Church,
It’s mostly an administrative role, so she isn’t taking on any congregations beyond her already combined ministry of Christ Church Anglican and Knox United (both in Fernie), but it’s another step in a 15-year career as a minister.
“I provide spiritual and emotional support to the ministers and congregations in the region,” she said of her new role, which she was appointed to on June 1.
“Three or four times a year we have a regional meeting … and it’s to make sure that folks are feeling okay, and that they’re coping well with the ever-changing landscape of what it is to be in ministry.”
Of the six parishes within East Kootenay, another two are like hers – shared ministries made up of Anglican and United churches, meaning she can offer words of advice coming from experience, having become a minister for Knox United in 2019.
“It’s really exciting to have two other colleagues that are in a similar situation to what I am.”
Brennan has been ordained for 15 years, and of those 15 she’s spent six in Fernie at Christ Church Anglican, and three heading the shared ministry. “All very wonderful moves,” she said, adding that the new position was another step.
“I’m excited and terrified all at the same time, I haven’t done anything like this before.”
Brennan’s style as a minister is famously straight-forward, and even “blunt” (her word), and she said that her approach could have been a part of the reason she was selected.
“When the Bishop asked if I would accept the appointment she said ‘I like that you tell us how you feel, I like that you say it in a way that is plainly understood”.
That straight-forward approach will help with her new role, which provides support and back-up to other parishes in the region, and plays a role in the organisation of the Anglican Church within British Columbia.
Brennan said that she had hope for the future of the church within Canada and locally, despite decades of falling numbers. The combined ministry here in Fernie tells some of that story, but according to Brennan revealed a way forward through the pandemic.
“COVID really was one of the best things that has happened to our shared ministry, because it forced us to come together,” said Brennan. The shared ministry now has one online service, and in-person service switches back and forth between the two churches.
Brennan said that the pandemic had also helped elderly parishioners adopt, and even embrace new technology, such as a parishioner in her 80s that Brennan helped get connected, and then who began teaching others how to use zoom, Facebook and other online tools.
“It was amazing to see this woman who not only leaned into it, but embraced it and taught other people.
“Watching that happen, and seeing the two congregations come together and realise we had so much more in common than what separates us has made it really good.”
Brennan said that the experience she had in Fernie had been replicated among the congregations of her colleagues.
“The ones that have embraced technology and figured out a way to use zoom or YouTube or Facebook live have done really well in not only retaining their congregation, but also in bringing in new congregants.
“Our numbers increased by a third when we start offering online worship.”
Brennan said she had congregates joining from around B.C. and Alberta, to beyond in Montana, Florida and Texas, and as far as the UK.
“It’s not that they come once and we don’t see them again – they consider themselves part of the family.”
The shift from online-only to being able to have in-person services generated some anxiety for attendance, but Brennan said that the technology adopted during the pandemic was here to stay.
“Because our congregation is so vastly dispersed, there was never a question of do we continue our virtual worship – of course we do. We don’t want to lose the folks that have joined the family.”
There were a few kinks to iron out – both to do with a shared ministry and incorporating technology to allow for online worship – but Brennan said they were taking it in their stride.
“I’m much more hopeful for the future of the church than I was three years ago – strangely enough because of a global pandemic that made us dare to believe in something new.”
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