Michaelmas, 2013: Pilar Gonzalez Gatemen
Friday, September 27, 2013 at 10:44AM

(Photo: Brent Gateman)

‘God doesn’t call you because you are a priest. He makes you one,‘ says Rev. Pilar Gonzalez Gatemen.  “I am still growing into it.” The current rector of Christ Church, Fort Macleod, Alberta taught school for 16 years, and was one of those faithful parishioners who volunteers for job after job – teaching Sunday School, cooking Alpha dinners – with no thoughts of heading to seminary. She and husband, Brent, who owns a regional airline and flight school, were busy raising three little children. Jane Harris-Zsovan interviewed her about what drew her to the ministry and what excites her about it. 


TAP: Did you picture yourself becoming a priest when you were a child? 

PGG: No. Not even close. I was raised Roman Catholic, and I had no concept of women in a pastoral role.

TAP: What drew you to the Anglican Church?

PGG: Brent and I were church shopping. The Sunday we visited St. Augustine’s, Rev. Canon James Robinson greeted us. I said to Brent, “This might be the place we need to be. I see Jesus in that man’s eyes.” So, we stayed. We looked for Jesus, and we found him at St. Augustine’s. 

TAP: What drew you to the ministry?

PGG: I was happy with teaching for sixteen years, but the year Andreas was born, I felt an inner stirring, and I knew something was different. I couldn’t quite pin it down. I thought about getting a Master’s Degree, but going on instinct, I knew that wasn’t it, either.  At the same time I was more involved in church volunteering –Stephen ministry, Women’s Bible Study, Alpha – and getting more and more involved.  But it wasn’t an over-arching call. In fact, when the Reverend Amy Bunce, (then Honorary Assistant at St. Augustine’s) told me, “We need more women in ministry” I told her, “Good, go find them.”

TAP: But you began theological studies soon after that?

PGG: Amy kept saying “I really think you need to do this.” So I said, “Well, if I take one course, then will you leave me alone?” And by the time I was finished that distance ed course from Wycliffe College, I was hooked on taking courses, but still thinking I was called to education. I was not particularly attuned, but sometimes that can be helpful.

TAP: Why would not being attuned to your own calling be helpful?

PGG: The world is so noisy that sometimes we hear our own voice. When somebody says they have heard from God, I want to ask, “Have you stayed still long enough to hear the voice of God?” Discernment is not a short process. That’s why, in most dioceses, we put potential priests through a procedure to discern a calling. One mark of calling is somebody else recognizing it. 

TAP: You were an enthusiastic church volunteer – helping with everything from Alpha to Sunday School. Does that deepen your appreciation of what it takes to build a faith community?

PGG: Oh yes. I appreciate the time it takes to get from point A to B, whether that’s planning an event or changing music. There’s an old joke – if you want to move the piano to the other side of the church, move it an inch a week.

Because of my volunteer experience, I also know that people who come with gifts often also come with baggage. How do you manoeuvre through gifts and baggage? Either you see your parish as a field of daisies or as an ugly quagmire. Keep looking at your parishioners like daisies, and you can see the gifts.

TAP: How do you balance a young family with your ministry?

PGG: My kids are nine, twelve, and sixteen now, but Andreas, my youngest, was only five when I went to Wycliffe College in Toronto. I felt a mother’s guilt about being away from my children. But that time in Toronto built a bond between Brent and the kids that would probably never have happened if I hadn’t gone.

If you put God first, the rest falls into place. I start with prayer, and I try not to book too many appointments in one day.  And I keep track of my hours because you can easily rack up seventy hours a week in ministry. I may not get into the office until ten, but I may also work until midnight.  If I have spent the majority of my time on any given day just loving God’s people I have done my work well.

TAP: What was the best thing about teaching school? 

PGG: Innocent questions open doors, and the students end up teaching the teacher. There is a fluidity between students and their teacher that’s organic. When that’s happening, the act of teaching and learning is enthralling.

TAP: Were your friends and family surprised when you told them you were leaving teaching for ministry? 

PGG: Even my atheist brother-in-law was not surprised.

TAP: How did you arrive in Southern Alberta?

PGG: I came to Alberta from BC to go university. After graduation, I got a teaching job here in Southern Alberta.

TAP: Fort Macleod is a small town with a large aboriginal population.  Does that bring additional challenges for your church?

PGG: In a rural parish it’s easy to say, “We’re just a little church.” We may convince ourselves of our own limitations, instead of God’s potential to work in us. We may miss inherent hopefulness in the Gospel.  Of course, we can’t do it without Jesus, but we can do ‘infinitely more than we can ask or imagine’ through Christ Jesus.

One reason we don’t have a lot of Aboriginal folks in our church is due to the painful memory of residential schools. There has also been a rise in the return to the practices of native spirituality.  But our biggest challenge is also our biggest hope.

TAP: How does Christ Church Anglican reach beyond its walls?

PGG: Recently I began simply making soup once a week. I never intended for it to become a large project, but I wanted to build a relationship with the needy who come to my door and it seems a meal is a good way to have a conversation. Almost as soon as I put the posters up around town folks in the parish began to offer to make soup, bring buns, and help serve. It has become a ministry without my even having to ask because people in this parish are willing to do God’s work.

Our Youth Group runs the Pancake Supper every year. With the proceeds they have adopted and support a child from the Compassion Canada program. They have also run a Halloween party for the kids in town.  

The men’s group recently held a supper. They raised enough money to donate $500 to help one of our teens attend a youth conference this year and gave $1000 to an orphanage in South America. 

ACW raises funds to support Ecumenical Campus Ministry, which supports the Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge Chaplaincy program. They also support a child in the Compassion Canada project.

Parish Council recently donated to the Fort Macleod Handibus Society, which provides transportation for the disabled, after it lost funding. 

TAP: How can Anglicans evangelize and rebuild in rural areas?

PGG: Some people think you can just add programs, but there is no perfect formula. It’s about transformation. We can’t forget that everyone is looking for a saviour. They are looking for a place where they are valued, loved and appreciated unconditionally. That place, that person, is Jesus.

TAP: What would you like to see God do in the Anglican Church of Canada?

PGG: Revive Us.

TAP: What do you like best about your work? 

PGG: Watching people engage in the Gospel, not just show up on Sunday. It’s lovely when you see faith go from heart to your head.

TAP: How has your life changed in the past eight years?

PGG: I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I appreciate everything.

TAP: Who were your teachers and heroes in the faith?  

PGG: I could put out famous names, C.S. Lewis or Tolstoy, for example, but there are lots of amazing people that will never get published in a book – regular people, who are no less influential, but we haven’t lifted them up. The kind of people that bring people to faith; those are the heroes of the faith. 

My husband is a hero. He has no hint of unbelief, and he’s the one that bolsters my faith. He has more patience than Job, and determination. I think of all those times that his business could have crashed; but it didn’t because he wouldn’t let it. 

But the real hero of our faith is Jesus. He’s the one that brings us all to faith.

TAP: How has Brent adapted to being the pastor’s husband?

PGG: There is no set role for a rector’s husband. So he’s been able to carve out his own role. He started the Men’s Bible study in our church.    

TAP: What role did your home church at the time, St. Augustine’s, have in supporting your decision to enter seminary in Toronto and your family while you were in ministry?

PGG: Our home church was very encouraging. Rev. Robinson entrusted me with the women’s group.  Rev. Andrew Horne, the assistant rector, spent hours talking theology with me. Other were praying, supporting my family while I was away, and even bringing them meals.

TAP: Why did you make the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage?

PGG: First, curiosity. I was born in Canada, but I’m connected to Spain. Everybody in my family, except my sisters, lives there. Second, people I enjoyed being with were going. And the El Camino is a microcosm of our lives. You walk with some people. You briefly meet or pass others. Some you only know in the early part of your journey. Some you meet toward the end of it. You get scarred and blistered, but when you walk into the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela it is like walking into heaven. There is beauty upon beauty, and suddenly you see the people from the beginning, middle and end of your journey there, all of them rejoicing.    TAP

Article originally appeared on The Anglican Planet (http://anglicanplanet.net/).
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