By Sue Careless
Three years ago as he sat working at his desk in Whitehorse, the Archbishop of British Columbia and Yukon could see through his window people on the streets “coming and going, busy with life and business in the downtown area. My thoughts and my heart’s desire longed to see a gospel ministry out there where the people were.”
But provincial and diocesan matters and all the paperwork they entailed prevailed. Now retired, the Rt. Rev. Terrence Owen Buckle has the time to reach out in a ministry called Street Hope Whitehorse.
The aim “is to reach out to people, ‘the up and out’ as well as ‘the down and out’ in a Holy Spirit-enabled ministry of love and care.” He and his fellow team members chat with folk in the northern capital, merchants in the stores, and business leaders in the community, on the sidewalks and wherever people hang out informally, like donut shops and fast-food chains.
“Since I’ve retired, I’ve given more thought and prayer to it and I really see a need of just going out and befriending people with acts of kindness and compassion,” Archbishop Buckle told the Whitehorse Star.
“We’re simply being there, and we can point people in right directions and help them where we can,” he said. “I just hope that in this whole approach to this kind of outreach ministry that people will sense the presence of God in their life and know the hope that our Lord gives and find the strength and help that they need to live out their lives.”
Buckle refers to the popular Canadian coffee shop Tim Hortons as “St. Timothy’s” and it is often there and in the local A&W that he and other team members will spend their Tuesday and Thursday afternoons as a “gentle witness, nothing pushy,” often just sitting and chatting with other customers.
A team member who sees someone sitting alone will simply ask, “Mind if I join you?” and then listen to the customer while sharing coffee.
What has surprised Buckle the most is “how easy it is to be friendly and how readily people respond. We always think evangelism is intimidating and difficult, but if you are there with real love in your heart it’s not hard to start a conversation, especially if you focus on the other person and not yourself.”
Buckle has also been amazed at the number of people who are not interested in church yet want to talk about spiritual things. And out of such relationships grow opportunities to discuss health and social problems, and the chance to ask if the person would welcome a prayer.
None of the clergy wear their clerical collars but the team is considering wearing a small identifying button. “We pray our presence will be known,” Buckle said.
The Church of the Northern Apostles and Christ Church Cathedral work in partnership with Threshold Ministries (formerly The Church Army in Canada). While the outreach team had been preparing for several months, the street ministry was launched mid-January with a service of blessing at the cathedral.
The team includes Sean Murphy, Dean of the cathedral; Canon David Pritchard, a retired priest “who works as if he wasn’t”; Barbara Quilty of Christ Church Cathedral; Alf Carver of the Church of the Northern Apostles; and Drew Campbell from Yukon Bible Fellowship. Myrielle Cooper, a Roman Catholic and nurse counselor, is an associate member.
Last fall the five who first formed the team concentrated on becoming a “community of compassion” by eating, sharing, and praying together.
On Tuesday mornings the volunteers meet for prayer and Bible study in the rectory. Then they go out in the afternoons when more townsfolk are out and about.
On Thursdays the team holds a simple Bible reflection among themselves in the A&W, where other patrons might listen in and are always welcome to join in. Afterwards the team attends Holy Communion at the cathedral, followed by lunch. Then they are off (usually individually) chatting on the streets or visiting coffee shops and food courts.
Street Hope Whitehorse does not distribute clothing or food, but is happy to refer needy folk to agencies that do. “A lot of good is already happening in this community,” Buckle said. “We don’t need to replicate anything.”
Team members invite people to supper. “We see a community of compassion emerging,” Buckle said.
The Well is a monthly gathering over the dinner table for Street Hope contacts. Held in the cathedral hall, the vision for the ministry of The Well comes from St. John’s gospel account of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at a well: “One woman encountered Jesus and then went and told her whole town about him.”
It was also a case in which she ministered to Jesus, when he asked her for some water. Buckle tries to find ways those who come to The Well can also minister, even if it is something as simple as being asked to slice the meat for supper.
The Whitehorse team is still “learning and discerning” and is supported by a larger prayer team, which includes Bishop Buckle’s wife, Blanche.
The Buckles met as children in Sunday school in Simcoe, Ontario, near Lake Erie, one of the warmer regions of Canada. In 1962 Buckle was commissioned as a Church Army evangelist. After some study of theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto, he was happy to be posted in 1966 as a Church Army Captain to Holman on Victoria Island in the icy waters of the high Arctic. Blanche joined him shortly after the birth of their first child. Buckle studied Inuktitut and was ordained in 1972. In those days clergy packed not only a Bible and prayer book but also a rudimentary dental kit to help locals with dental emergencies.
The Buckles have now lived happily north of the 60th parallel for 47 years in such remote places as Cambridge Bay, Fort Simpson on the Mackenzie River, Inuvik, and Yellowknife. For two years Buckle was Bishop Suffragan of the Arctic.
Like many northern clergy who have moved from warmer climes, Buckle was glad to retire in the North. Three of the Buckles’ four children still live in the north and four of their grandchildren call it home as well.
Of the 36,000 people who live in the Yukon, the vast majority — 23,000 — live in the territorial capital of Whitehorse. Thirty percent are from First Nations. Fourteen different First Nations tribes live in the Yukon.
Because tourism is a major industry of Yukon, Buckle hopes the outreach ministry might extend to tourists this summer.
During the winter solstice on Dec. 21, the sun does not appear until ten in the morning in Whitehorse, and sets about 3 p.m. But on the longest day, June 21, the sun never really sets. There are almost 24 hours of sunlight and an explosion of life for a few short months.
Street Hope Whitehorse wants to offer some steady spiritual light year round, in a gentle, non-threatening way.