If he had his way, the Rev. Canon Chris VanBuskirk would rather you not be reading a story about him receiving the City of Moncton’s highest honour — the Order of Moncton.
“I’m really embarrassed by it,” he said when reached for comment. “There are so many other people doing good things. It’s humbling and embarrassing and I don’t want to talk about it, really.”
Anyone can nominate a citizen, and Chris, rector of the Parish of Moncton, is at a loss as to who was behind it.
“I don’t know how it came about,” he said. “But I think if it in some way glorifies God and is helpful to people in need, draws attention to them, then OK.”
Chris is quick to note he is simply the leader of a large group of people he calls giants.
“I call our volunteers giants,” he said. “They’re always there. I work with great people, thanks be to God. They come in every morning. It’s pretty incredible what they do.
“I’m just the point person. I have a great congregation and a great team.”
That team includes secretary Esther Mah, deacon the Rev. Norm Dupuis, custodian Angie Lapointe and community outreach worker Justin Melanson. Chris includes his wife, Carolyn as part of the supporting group. The Rev. Rick Cunningham, a new deacon, arrived in early September to join the team.
The downtown church is known for its daily breakfasts, laundry and shower ministry, and for opening its doors as a temporary emergency shelter last winter.
This award is in stark contrast to public comments made about St. George’s Anglican Church a couple of years ago when Chris and Norm allowed 20 homeless people to camp in the church yard.
That act of generosity led to a scathing story in the Times –Transcript newspaper where a local entrepreneur called for $1,000 fines for churches and other social agencies that allow the homeless to camp downtown. This person called St. George’s “a nuisance” for allowing the tents to be pitched in the church yard.
Chris will receive the Order of Moncton at a ceremony later in October.
The Order of Moncton, from the City of Moncton website
The Order of Moncton is the City’s highest honour to recognize those who have contributed to bettering the community. It recognizes individuals who have made a positive difference in the lives of citizens. To be recognized, these individuals must have made an outstanding contribution to the social, cultural or economic well-being of the city. Every year, a total of three individuals are selected.
Chris’s bio, from the City of Moncton website
In the words of the late Tommy Douglas: “The only test of our character that matters, is how we look after the least fortunate among us.”
Clearly, the Rev. Canon Chris VanBuskirk is a man of true character. In his role as the leader of Saint George’s Anglican Church in Moncton he has led an almost overwhelming array of initiatives aimed at those Monctonians that need it most.
Affectionately known as Father Chris by his parishioners, he began the practice of serving Sunday dinners to those in need more than two decades ago. In the spring of 2021, he began a six day per week breakfast program; the church now serves more than 1,000 meals per month and offers shower and laundry services to those who need them. In addition to this he has provided counsel, fresh clothing and financial assistance as needed.
In the winter of 2022, an Emergency Warming Centre for more than 50 individuals was established at the church when capacity at other shelters was reached. Father Chris led a group of volunteers along with the team from ReConnect to provide a 7-day-a-week space until alternate services could be provided.
In his role at Saint George’s, he has facilitated gatherings of dozens of church representatives from across the City, meeting monthly with local non-profit organizations to ensure all are up to date and educated on the latest issues and concerns affecting the community’s most vulnerable people.
Father Chris provides training at Tantramar Seniors’ College on the subject of social and human rights with a goal to improve understanding of systems in place in communities on these matters. He also spends many hours each week in support of seniors through visitation at community nursing homes and seniors’ residences as well as assisting patients and their families at the Moncton and Georges Dumont Hospitals.
In addition to all of these initiatives, Father VanBuskirk has the rank of major, serving as a military chaplain overseeing all of New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador’s Primary Reserves. In 2018, he spent six months deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.
Carolyn and the Rev. Canon Chris VanBuskirk are shown in this file photo. McKnight photo