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Lent, 2013: Robert Hardwick

The Rev. Rob Hardwick, Bp.-Elect of Qu’Appelle, recently spoke with Sharon Dewey Hetke. Hardwick was trained as a machinist building artillery weapons and later served with the Nottinghamshire Constabulary. He converted at age 26, became a priest in the Church of England and then was called to Canada. He will be consecrated in Regina on March 2nd.

TAP: What prompted you to come to Canada to serve as a priest?

RH: The Lord did. It was a strong calling, around Christmas 2000, to go to Canada. My wife is actually Canadian; she’d lived in England for 23 years.  A part of the difficulty in testing a call is: Is it something that you want to do for your own reasons, or is it something of God? So through prayer and through different things people were sharing, and different events, it was a clear call that we should come to Canada.  And we found ourselves arriving, just after 9/11, coming sight unseen to a parish that said they didn’t think they could afford a full-time priest in a diocese that was threatened with bankruptcy. It was an interesting time.

TAP: Let’s go back. Can you tell me about your conversion to Christianity?

RH: My wife and I were going through difficult times, marriage-wise; she was suffering from post-natal depression. After your probationary years, you have to serve in the cell blocks for a few years to get that experience. And lots of people had said it had changed me. I swore a lot; I began to think of everyone as a criminal. So I was in a pretty bad place. Shortly after coming out of the cells, the Police Inspector said to me “The Pope’s visiting, the police in Coventry would like some reinforcements” – there had been threats to the Pope’s life, he’d been shot at in Europe – so I was asked to volunteer. For all the wrong reasons, I said “yes”: it would be an overnight stay, overtime pay, there’d be a chance to have some drinks and cards with the guys.  So I probably had an hour and a half sleep that night, it was May 1992.  At 4:00 in the morning I remember marching out to the field, Coventry airfield – that’s where the Pope was visiting – and something like 10,000 people all stood up and applauded. That was the first time in 3 1/2 years that I actually felt appreciated as a police officer. Normally people are questioning your father’s identity, or they’re throwing things at you, so that was a little bit strange.  And then they all started singing; they sang for hours. And they seemed to have such joy; obviously there were huge expectations with Pope John Paul coming. It turned out to be a beautiful May day: the sunshine, everyone was dressed up in bright colours, there were flags, banners….The Pope arrived at 10:00 and our task was to guard the helicopter so that no one put a bomb on it. So we were right there and I couldn’t get over the beauty, I couldn’t get over the music, the liturgy, the happiness.  These people seemed to have something I didn’t have.  And I was questioning through the day: “What is it?”  The Pope left around 3:00 and around 6:00 we were told to stand to attention and get ready to march off the field.  And three nuns came walking by and one of them put her hands together as though in prayer, walked up to me and said “I shall pray for you.”  “Why would a nun want to pray for me?” was going around in my mind. It was amazing. 

TAP: What happened when you left the airfield?

RH: So I went home, talked to Lorraine, and said, “Well, should we go to church?”  She said that back in Canada she’d been Roman Catholic and didn’t really want to go back.  So that was short-lived and I started to think: “Well can a police officer be a Christian?” Turning the cheek…working on Sundays…maybe not. And that very week we had a card come through the door: the Anglican church was having a stewardship campaign and they wanted to invite people for a free meal and an opportunity to share the vision that they have for their church and what they can do in the community.  So I said, “Lorraine, at least we’ll be able to check and see if these people are like the ones I met in Coventry, and it’s a free meal…”  So we went. And sure enough, they too had something about them that I didn’t have. The next day we phoned the priest and he came straight around; it was quite a surprise! I thought I’d have to wait two weeks to see him.  Now having been in ministry for years, I know opportunities like that don’t come ‘round very often.  He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the army reserves, a “man’s man”, well able to answer my questions through the initial stages. 

TAP: Did you join his church?

RH: I remember walking up the pathway for the first time to the door that was closed, thinking “Do we knock?” “Can we just grab the handle and open it?” Real insight into how some people must feel when they come to church for the first time. We started to go to church, we had two boys, aged one and three, and it wasn’t easy, but it was just something in the services that kept me going.  And then I came across a little prayer in the church magazine which seemed to say all the things that I wanted to say but didn’t have the vocabulary for. It was a prayer I memorized every day on the way to work and the way home. It’s a long prayer, but the gist of it is: “Open to me O Lord, Open to me all that thou art. Come make my heart thy dwelling place, a place of peace, a place of rest, a place where strivings themselves shall cease, a place where thou dost reign, crowned King, Redeemer, the Lamb that was slain…” It’s all about asking God to come into your life. It was September of that year that the prayer was answered. It’s been an amazing journey since. 

TAP: So on this journey, you now find yourself as Bishop-Elect--I understand that the Diocese of Qu’Appelle over the last few years has been in a kind of transition as well?

RH: Well there’s a real need to become more missional in what we do. Churches are beginning to see that: we have a “Mission Action Plan” as a diocese which clearly lays out our emphases, where we should put our money and resources. The mission is that every Anglican be rooted in Scripture and prayer, regular in worship, outreaching in compassion and ready to share their faith.

TAP: Do you sense a change in the mood of the diocese?

RH:  I sense a change. It’s going to take quite some time. Because when your DNA has been a certain way, when your whole process of being church has been primarily about maintenance, it’s hard to step out and do mission once again. But Bishop Greg [Kerr-Wilson], for example, instead of going to take a confirmation service, having a potluck and then coming back, we tried to spend time in parishes that need extra help, we’d spend three days there. Over three days, you get an insight into what’s really going on.

TAP: It suggests to me that even in the bishop’s office, it’s a matter of moving from a maintenance mode to a mission mode, pouring yourself into the local congregations.

RH: It’s modelling, you need to be a model for the church.  We’re setting up the Qu’Appelle School for Mission and Ministry, and we were praying “What has God resourced for us?” We have 18 people here who can teach up to M.Div. level, for example. Why have we been resourced with that? So we’ve been having people that come in regularly, five weekends a year, and there’s a summer school. 

TAP: Are there any differences you find striking between the Church of England as you knew it in your parishes there and the Anglican Church of Canada?

RH: In England, you get a broader band; here the labels tend to be “conservative” or “liberal.” It’s very different in England: a lot of it has to do with liturgy rather than what your understandings are of the Scriptural doctrines – a lot more focus might be on whether you celebrate on the north end or whether you have candles on the altar table. I was also surprised at the lack of mission when I came to Canada, although it’s changing now. I tried to understand why this might be. It may have come from calling people to come here just to “be with the flock,” it became a more pastoral chaplaincy model. I’m not sure, I still haven’t fully understand why that might be the case.

TAP: Do you think that maybe we’re a bit behind in the sense that we’re just now realizing that the writing is on the wall in terms of the decline of the Church if we don’t change our approach – and maybe in England they’ve known that a bit longer?

RH: There seems to be a ten-year gap. For example, in theological colleges in England you’ve had Pioneer Ministries & Fresh Expressions tracks for a few years.  We’re only just now offering similar tracks for ministry training in some of our theological seminaries such as Wycliffe and Trinity – so we’re catching up and in my opinion are on the right track. And with the Qu’Appelle School for Mission and Ministry, courses are now designed around the people coming into the course: what their development needs are and how their educational package might meet their needs and the needs of the church.

TAP: Are you hopeful for the future of Anglicanism in Canada?

RH: I am because there’s been huge change already. I came away from last General Synod with a sense of optimism. After 2004, I came away quite upset by General Synod. And I think that what we’re seeing in the Diocese here gives me great hope: we’re seeing people coming from a variety of different denominations, into Anglicanism.

TAP: Is there some special relationship between your diocese and Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan?

RH: Yes, which is exciting. As part of the Qu’Appelle school for Mission and Ministry, we’re linking up with Briercrest and are now having an Anglican Studies component there. We also have an Anglican chaplain there. 

TAP: You’ve drawn clergy from Briercrest – are these converts to Anglicanism?

RH: I wouldn’t use the word “convert” but they are from a different denomination and have been attracted into Anglicanism and fully embrace it now. So increasingly we’re seeing people from Pentecostal, Baptist, Roman Catholic backgrounds being attracted to the church here.

TAP:  It’s such a fluid thing: we’re in this time of controversy, but this influx could certainly change the face of our Church.

RH: God is doing some amazing things, and I don’t think we’ve opened our eyes fully to all that he’s doing.

TAP: Do you hope that some of those new “imported clergy” and the more missional focus will perhaps put some of the theological controversies in the background a bit?  What will your focus be on as bishop?

RH: The focus always has to be on Jesus. To be clear on what I’m stating, and to model what I believe and how I live my life. Problems come when you say one thing, but you’re modelling something different. And to be careful in the diocese that what is said, what is shared, is what I believe. And if that’s in conflict with the rest of the Church, or the direction that the National Church is going, well, we’re going to have those conflicts.  Even in the time of Paul and Peter and Barnabas, it’s part of who we are: in one sense fallen, in one sense redeemed. But in those conflicts, I believe that God can work, the Good News can be known and shared. It’s going to be difficult, I know that. I can’t imagine anyone going straight from the parish life to the episcopate. The last three years of working with [Bp.] Greg [as Assistant to the Bishop and Executive Archdeacon] have been immensely helpful. I certainly haven’t gone into this with any thoughts of grandeur…it’s with eyes wide open...I believe I’ve been called to the Anglican Church in Canada, and I’m going to give my best for the Lord in the context of that call.    TAP

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