SHEGUIANDAH – The search for a new United Church minister to lead the flock of the Little Current and Sheguiandah United Churches ended in the late winter following former Pastor Paul Allard’s moving on to a new church in Alberta last year.
This spring, the church welcomed Rev. Whitney Bruno, husband Rob and daughter Selena to the fold. The family has settled into their new life on Manitoulin, and Canada, having moved here from Columbus, Ohio—no easy feat during a global pandemic.
Rev. Bruno had been ministering on a part-time basis to a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Columbus since 2012. The church was central to the family’s lives, she tells The Expositor, noting that this was the church she and Rob were married in, the church that welcomed baby Selena, and the church that helped the family cope with the loss of their daughter Persephone. However, for myriad reasons, the couple knew they wanted to emigrate and Canada was on their list, as was New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Ideally the family says they would have chosen to visit the countries of their choosing before making a final choice, but then COVID hit.
“Canada was still accepting visas for essential services, which pastors are,” Rev. Bruno explains. As another bonus, the United Church of Christ and United Church of Canada recognize each other’s ministerial credentials as the churches’ doctrines are closely related. In fact. Rev. Bruno was the first-ever minister to go through the process, which involved testing, a whole lot of Zoom interviews and learning the history of Canada’s largest protestant denomination.
“The theology is almost exactly the same,” she shares. Both churches are “sexuality affirming, concerned for the environment, embrace new theology and welcome inclusive language for God.” In other words, they check all the right boxes.
“I started contacting churches,” Rev. Bruno shares. “We were thinking of somewhere in Ontario or BC,” in particular places that were more likely to have a fighting chance when it came to climate change.
Rev. Bruno said she did not know that Little Current/Sheguiandah Pastoral Charge was looking for a new full-time minister, and they reached out to her in response to her resume which had been posted on the United Church of Canada’s website and to which the Pastoral Search Committee of the Little Current Pastoral Charge decided was well worth following up. She admitted to being hesitant at first; she had only ever worked part-time since daughter Selena—who will be going into Grade 1 at Little Current Public School this fall—was born.
In her profile, she stated that she wanted to be in a place that would allow her and her family to have backyard chickens. The Little Current hiring committee told her she could do just that on Manitoulin.
“I learned of the first Pride (Manitoulin) parade here and the church’s involvement, which is huge for me,” she explains. “The more I learned, the more I got excited.”
Once she accepted the position, it took a full seven months before the family was able to cross the border. Looking for a house and securing a mortgage is hard enough with an international border between you, but add in COVID-19 and things get really difficult.
The couple viewed homes through videochats in the dead of winter and they finally settled on a home in Sheguiandah with plenty of acreage and room for their potential chickens, plus dogs and cats.
When the family moved to Manitoulin, as ‘settlers’ under the Immigration Act—not quite residents and not quite visitors—they were already fully vaccinated, but of course had to adhere to the two-week quarantine which, fortunately, they were able to accomplish in the home they had purchased. During that time, the Little Current United Church had an unexpected visit from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to make sure Rev. Bruno and the family weren’t there and that they were doing as they were supposed to.
The family says they are settling in well. Rev. Bruno got right to work with the business of ministering to her congregation, at first by Facebook Live and now with in-person services that continue to be streamed online, as well as joining KAIROS Manitoulin and Pride Manitoulin. Selena has joined the day camp at the Centennial Museum of Sheguiandah and Rob is working as a full-time dad and supportive husband. Mr. Bruno says he’s worked since the age of eight, and that this is the first time he finds himself unemployed, but hopes to change that soon. He has a BA in sociology and has worked for telecommunications companies for the past number of years. Right now, though, he’s enjoying his first summer on Manitoulin as it comes.
“We don’t have family here, and that’s hard,” the reverend admits.
In Columbus, Rev. Bruno was active in the Black Lives Matter movement and since she’s moved to Manitoulin, and especially at this time in history, she is learning everything she can about the history of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, even hosting Manitoulin’s first vigil to mark the finding of 215 unmarked graves in BC. “I felt that this was the spirit moving me, and I launched right in,” she explains.
On the day of the interview, the Cleveland Indians announced that it would henceforward be known as the Cleveland Guardians. The couple was happy with the name change of one of their home state’s MLB teams and explained to Selena the significance when she queried their excitement at the news.
The couple admits that despite the many hardships that came with the pandemic, especially in the United States, COVID-19 actually dealt them a few good cards.
Rev. Bruno has high hopes for her congregation moving forward.
“I hope that we continue the way we’re going with a hybrid model of online and physical services that will give (parishioners) the flexibility to stay connected from wherever they are,” she says.
“I see the church continuing to be a location that’s a community gathering spot,” Rev. Bruno continues. “The church is in flux right now. I believe the church we know will continue, but I see churches becoming spiritual groups that support non-profits, maybe in the same building.”
But for now, the family is excited about this new chapter in their lives and is looking forward to becoming a part of the Manitoulin community.
Services for the Little Current United Church are held each Sunday at 10 am both in-person or by tuning into United Church of Little Current on Facebook or by visiting their website www.littlecurrent-sheguiandah-unitedchurch.org where Sunday services are archived for anyone to view.