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By 10 a.m. the tables in the hall at St. George’s in Bathurst are all set. The parish men have their aprons and gloves on, and they’re slicing baguettes to make appetizers. There is a buzz to the place.

By 11:45, the hall is getting loud and busy, and it’s almost full of ladies with ties to Anglicanism. They’ve been invited to lunch by the rector, the Rev. Christoper Tapera, in an effort to bring people back to church.

“Most have a connection to St. George’s,” said Christopher, adding the parish printed invitations and used parish rolls and lists to find and invite women they have not seen in awhile.

Christopher welcomes the 66 women, says grace, and for the next 90 minutes, makes a point to visit with just about everyone in the room.

“I’m trying to bring them back,” he said, adding a lot of people stopped coming during the pandemic and have not returned to church.

As the meal winds down, warden Myrna Good-Hollett thanks everyone for coming.

“Thank you to Christopher. This was his baby!” she says. “And thanks to the team. They’ve been wonderful and a lot of fun.”

The luncheon is a big success, with everyone gushing over the hospitality and fellowship, the meal of Filipino dishes from Lucia's Cuisine, the wine and carrot cake, and the take-home leftovers. 

The question of whether some will restart their church-going habit has yet to be answered.

But Christopher understands that the personal touch goes a long way. He leaves the administrative chores to his wardens so he can focus more on the pastoral side of ministry.

Earlier this year, he hosted Archbishop David Edwards for two days, and for a good portion of that time, the two did home visits, something common in Zimbabwe where he became a priest. 

The visitation has already borne fruit. One woman who had stopped attending has been coming faithfully since that visit.

Last fall, Christopher came up with the ladies’ luncheon plan. He outlined it to the warden, then the vestry, then the congregation, with everyone in agreement. 

The men offered to manage the event. Christopher offered to pay for the catered meal. And the April 20 luncheon was the culmination of those plans. 

The decision to focus on women first was deliberate.

“My belief is that if you want the church to succeed, you should put women out front,” said Christopher. “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.”

But a ladies’ luncheon is not a stand-alone plan. Christopher has a whole year of events planned. 

“In June we’re having grandparents and grandchildren,” he said, adding there will be bouncy castles, a barbecue, a talent show and games.

In September, he’s planning a men’s gathering, “out in the woods,” he said, adding two parishioners have camps to host it.

Lastly, he plans an open house day at St. George’s, so everyone, including youths, can drop in for refreshments, games, music and a better understanding of what goes on here. 

St. George’s is not unique in having a congregation where most are retired. While a Sunday morning sees about 35 people in a church built long ago for many more than that, what the parishioners do have is spare time to devote to events, and a love of their church keeps them active in it. 

“When you understand them, you love them, you care for them,” said Christopher. “In return, they do wonderful things for you — feed you, care for you, they love you.

“I love these people. They are so good. I have been a priest for 35 years and this is my best parish.”

Nevertheless, his parish is shrinking. In the three years Christopher has been here, four new families have joined, but he’s conducted 73 funerals.

“It’s a specialized ministry for us,” he said. “Everyone wants their funeral done at St. George’s.”

He credits memorial donations and bequests with keeping the parish operational financially, though he wishes people would donate while they’re still alive so they can see how their money is spent. Still, he’s not complaining about the funerals and the income. 

“It’s amazing how God does things for us,” he said. “God has called me for a special ministry here.”

It’s certainly not what he expected when he came to Canada, first to Fort McMurray, Alberta, and now Bathurst. 

“I’m sure there was culture shock for him,” said Myrna. “He’d never had a congregation of seniors before. He told us in Fort McMurray he’d done one funeral.

“He’s very social. He finds us very relaxed. In Alberta, everyone was working and had no time. He loves that we have time.”

Fellow warden Edith Clouston is hoping her rector’s efforts will bear fruit.

“I’m trying to be hopeful,” said Edith. “I want to believe we’ll struggle through, as we did during the pandemic in the 1920s, two world wars and the Great Depression. I’m looking forward to surviving.

“I know there are children we have not reached. My hope is with the dinners we can reach those children.”

1.  Ralph Duguay serves up a Filipino dish of chicken in mushroom sauce, catered by Lucia's Cuisine.
2.  The Rev. Christopher Tapera, left, chats with guests before lunch.
3.  Bob Comeau, left, and Eugene Gallagher, right, ready to serve the appetizer course at the ladies' luncheon on April 20.
4. George MacGillivray with a tray of hot food, with Max Glover behind him, as the men prepare to serve lunch.

McKnight photos



Way to go Christopher and everyone who made this happen. I'm sure there will be some positive results and maybe, prayerfully some young people come to take the place of those St. George's has lost. I will, as always, keep St.George's in my prayers. God is definitely working on this as well. All my best to everyone

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