LITTLE CURRENT – Three years is a short time in which to make a major impact on the lives of people in the communities you serve, but for Little Current United Church (LCUC)’s outgoing pastor Paul Allard and wife Karen, that impact was on full display this past weekend when dozens of cars filled with well-wishers paraded past the church after their last Sunday service on the morning of May 31.

“I had no clue the parade was coming. It was an overwhelming testament to how gracious this community and our congregation is. It was very heartfelt and emotional,” said Pastor Allard. “The finality of it all is starting to sink in.”

“What a shock! I was flabbergasted. You have your suspicions something might happen on the last day but that just warmed my heart, oh my gosh,” said Ms. Allard. “And it’s been like that since we came here.”

The Allards are beginning to pack up their home for a move to Hardisty, in central Alberta. 

The LCUC church council had discussed the best way to honour their departing leaders and thank them for their three years of service. A parade was deemed a safe and effective way to convey their gratitude.

“Paul has meant a lot to us over his three years,” said church council chair Scott Mosher. “We’re going to miss them a lot but we wish them well.”

Several cars and vehicles of all kinds passed by the church following their final service and many dropped off gifts and cards.

This marks the end of their tenure serving the United churches of Little Current and Sheguiandah and the beginning of service out west.

Pastor Allard was in fact interviewed for the Hardisty pastorship before his interview in Little Current three years ago, and he was offered the Alberta job on the spot. He requested to complete the Little Current interview in the spirit of fairness but was drawn to Manitoulin’s charms and had to disappoint the western pastoral charge.

Although the Allards have been lovingly welcomed into the Island community, when the phone rang near the end of February it was an offer he could not refuse.

“I thought about it; this was an opportunity that might never come again, to be taken out there without any competition. Maybe it was meant to be,” said Pastor Allard. “Perhaps this is something I needed to broaden my horizons.”

His first contract was at St. Paul’s Church in Cochrane for four years, followed by Little Current. 

The things he will miss the most are the sense of community and his great congregation, said Pastor Allard, citing the warmth of Islanders as a major reason he chose this position—in addition to Manitoulin’s great landscapes.

He took had a major role in developing that connection—Pastor Allard was a member of the Little Current Lions Club, an active curler and the host of numerous events from craft fairs to musical events at the church. He will also be missed as chaplain of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 177 in Little Current.

Both called out the names of every person who drove past them in the parade, a testament to their deep care for their community.

“I like to include fun and humour in my services to get people engaged. I really like getting people participating and creating activities to enjoy beyond services to create community connections. That’s my calling, to build communities, work with others and make it a nicer place to be,” he said, adding that he hopes some of his events carry forward into the future.

Ms. Allard did not move to the Island with her husband in 2017 because she was still in the process of selling their home in Cochrane. When she came down to visit, organist Barb Cranston was conducting a choir practice and sang a hymn to welcome her in as part of the family. 

She said she would miss the grace and fellowship expressed by community members who would often drop off gifts and ensure there were items at pot lucks that aligned with their vegan lifestyle.

Ms. Allard said she was excited to experience the new surroundings, having never before been west of Winnipeg.

“I need to thank the people of Little Current for embracing us and for the opportunity to live here. It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Ms. Allard.

Highlights of Pastor Allard’s Island stint included the Bells of Peace initiative to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War, as well as the murder mystery events (for which he shaved his iconic mustache for only the second time in his life).

August 25, 2018 will always be an afternoon to remember—he officiated three weddings, offered the blessings at two banquets and attended the third’s reception, all at various locations on Eastern Manitoulin (and he still had to wake up to deliver a service the next morning).

“I need to thank those in the community that have worked with me, it’s been a privilege to know and work with everybody. I wish them well,” he said. “I can see why Manitoulin Island holds a special place in people’s hearts—I’m one of them.”

Marcel and Wendy Gauthier had a vibrant red heart on display to reflect some of the love the Allards poured into their community during their three-year stay on Manitoulin Island.

Alberta will bring the pastor new curling competition and the opportunity to deliver a faith component at a youth summer camp run by the pastoral charge.

The couple was presented with a painting of the swing bridge by Cliff Jewell, as well as numerous cards and small gifts from parishioners.

Gail Cronin is a lay worship leader and will be helping to lead services in the interim alongside others across Manitoulin. The Allards leave for Alberta on June 15.