We are free to make our path into the possibilities we see before us

Faraid Head in County Sutherland, Scotland
By on October 1, 2022

After the Lambeth Conference ended in early August, I travelled up to Edinburgh for a vacation in the County of Sutherland in northwest Scotland. The cooler weather, freshening sea-breeze, rugged mountains, and varied coastline were a welcome relief from the thick, hot air and parched earth of southeastern England (and the unrelenting schedule and complexities of Lambeth).

Sutherland is a sparsely populated part of Scotland, and as you travel north the roads get more and more narrow and twisty, with only a single lane in many places. To allow vehicles to travel in both directions, there are “passing places” carved into the landscape wherever possible. The passing ritual is very methodical and social: if you see a vehicle coming your way, whoever can pull over first does so, and hearty waves of “thank you” are exchanged as the vehicles pass by. Humans are generally observant of these courtesies, but sheep largely ignore them and wait until collision is imminent before frantically bolting out of the way. 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, well over 5,000 families in Sutherland were summarily evicted from their homes and farmland by wealthy landowners who wanted to use the land for sheep farming, which was much more profitable than having tenants (profit over people). This brutal practice became known as the “Highland Clearances” and led to many emigrations to Canada, America, and Australia. Many other people were resettled along the craggy coast, in tiny crofts (subsistence farms), or to work in the fishing industry. Sudden, rapid, unwelcome change, in any event.

As we approach our Synod in late October, we will be making major decisions about the life and ministry of our diocesan church, which will lead to significant changes. Unlike the poor, vulnerable tenants of Sutherland who were at the mercy of overlords, we, as the people, clergy, and bishop of the Diocese of Ottawa have worked hard together to listen, respond, shape, revise, and propose what we feel God is calling us to do at this time. 

We have been attentive to one another and to the Holy Spirit as we drafted three proposals which are intended to strengthen, nurture, and inspire our parish ministries in every part of our diocese—rural areas, villages, towns, and cities. The proposals are saying we feel called and prepared to address urgent questions that face us and to creatively use our collective resources to give new shape to our parish ministries so they can thrive. We are ready to step away from being changed to guiding change, so we can share the Gospel of love from a place of strength and hope.

The photograph accompanying this column was taken in Sutherland on Faraid Head, by the Kyle of Durness, facing due North. To the left is the foreboding headland of Cape Wrath, and on the far side of the channel is the wide, open North Sea. The tide has just gone out, leaving the bright sand untrammeled—inviting you forward to make your own path into the vista ahead of you. It is a place that breathes possibilities and opens your spirit of hope and adventure.

I believe we are in such a place as we look to the future of our beloved diocesan church. In the three proposals coming before our Synod, God has opened up a new vista for us, and we are utterly free to make our path into the possibilities we see before us.


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