So…this just happened.
I was sworn in as a Canadian Citizen, along with my wife. We applied for citizenship on July 4th (4th of July) 2020; we were sworn in on May 5th (Cinco de Mayo), 2022. In between this time was July 1st (Canada Day) and a citizenship test. Our journey to citizenship was a North American experience.
It was a long, long road. Citizenship is never, ever, ever easy on this side of the planet. We came in 2005 under a “Religious Work Visa” and renewed it every year until we became a Permanent Resident in 2014.
The Permanent Residency status process was like a Canadian Ninja Obstacle course. It required an extremely complicated application that, if filled out incorrectly, would mean the government would keep your large sum of application fees (in the thousands) and you could try again. Once the application was accepted, we had to do police checks on all of the countries we lived in; a costly and intensive medical exam; and an 8-hour English language test (despite the fact that I am a published fiction author and have, one time in my life, taught 8th Grade English). After all of that, we paid for another series of fees and got our Permanent Resident Card (that had to be renewed every 5 years, go figure).
After being a Permanent Resident for a period, we could apply for citizenship. The test was on-line, 20 questions, and specific to the life and responsibilities of a Canadian Citizen. We passed the test and then waited for a few months for everything to be processed.
When asked why I wanted to be a citizen, my “go to” joke was: “I became a citizen because I no longer want to deal with the government.” The reality bite of this is that we spent more energy and money dealing with CIC (Canadian Immigration Centre) than the responsibilities of taking care of the land.
But this joke answer is incomplete. Citizenship, for me, is much deep, much more sacred, and contains a lot more meaning than just a joke. There’s more of the Mission of God to my oath than just a paper or status earned.
I am a Canadian; this is my home, the land God has called me to. I have been called to be a blessing to others and to the world.
Back in 2005, I was adopted by a small town in Northern Alberta: High Prairie. Before that time, I was a youth pastor in Southern California. The mega-church scene in Southern California, back in 2005, was wildly competitive and there was no way I could become anything other than a youth pastor. From a website that matched candidates with churches, the small town in High Prairie found me and called, on a Thursday night, to see if I was willing to let my name stand to be their next pastor; I answered, “Why not?”
This was huge for them because there were a lot of candidates, back in 2005, who wouldn’t consider a posting in a town of 3, 500 people four hours north of Edmonton. For me, why not?
Looking back, this was a grace. Our plan was to come and pastor for 3 years, get experience, and then return to California. God had other plans.
High Prairie was described as a place where “you cry when you get there and you cry when you leave.” Another friend of mine once put up the joke right before church on our power point, “High Prairie: Where it’s always Winter and Never Christmas”. My friend, when he put up this joke, couldn’t continue getting ready for worship because the joke made him feel too sad until he took it down and never made the C.S. Lewis allusion again.
Small, farm town that was on the way to the oil sands. And the 3 years became 9 years, a pure joy every year I was there. The people adopted me and put up with the Californian learning how to be a Canadian.
On summer when Canada Day was on a Sunday, we decided to do a joint church service with the charismatic churches, our Baptist Church, and the Anglican church in the parking lot of our town’s supermarket. Our podium was on the bed of a truck along with our band. I started the service with about 80 people sitting in the lot and I was the only pastor there.
“Welcome,” I said and an older woman from the Catholic church cleared her through.
“Pastor,” she grumbled. “Aren’t you going to lead us in the National Anthem?”
The band wasn’t present yet and I was by myself. Always wanting to please the audience, I shrugged and said, “Let’s stand and sing.”
I sang, through the loudspeaker, “O Canada”. I am so glad, a week before, my wife randomly encouraged to learn this song. But as an immigrant and with just a Visa, I led the small town in the National Anthem.
There’s nothing more Canadian than this.
A year later-in the same parking lot for a festival-I performed with a singing group “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers. Like Stuart Maclean, I always felt this song should be the national anthem and not the one decided by the federal government.
That right to fuss over a federal detail…there’s nothing more Canadian than this.
I learned, as an American, that Canadians will bring you in if you work hard, listen lots, and never use the un-Canadian parts of you as leverage for entitlement, privilege, and power. This is difficult for many Americans who come and want to talk about how their country “is the only place in the world that_________”. The moment I would ever get close to that kind of American Exceptionalism, doors would shut and things would tighten; the more I listened, enjoyed, asked questions, and worked hard the more Canada snuck into me, adopting me into the land.
There were moments in High Prairie where I wondered how I got there or what I was doing. Like the time I was on horseback, riding across the prairies on a farm because the farmer-a friend and congregant-was looking for a wild pig harassing his cattle. Or the time I was running through the town’s park, and, on the other side of the river’s ravine, I saw a bear swatting at a telephone poll. Or the time one of my daughter’s came home from kindergarten with a sore on her tongue because her friends all decided to lick a frozen fence post.
Canada, for those first 9 years, didn’t really care where I came from; it’s what I could give, surrender to, and improve upon. And Canada, through the small town of High Prairie, was patient with me as I made lots of mistakes, got things wrong, failed, tried, succeeded, failed, and tried again.
Canada, it seems, is for newcomers who don’t mind trying new things. This is when Canada is at its best and its brightest: when the Land says to the immigrant, “Giver!”
At the tail end of the Religious Worker Visa program, we applied for the PR status and I moved from High Prairie to Edmonton, Alberta’s capitol city. I went from a very happy Baptist pastor to entering into a very problematic Evangelical church. It was at this church, I was forced to sound out a lot of my ideas and dreams for the church. Pain, if anything, is a good teacher and does force the issue.
While I was with a good friend of mine, I was talking about how a church should bless a community and a community bless a church. I kept banging my head, it seemed, with my current job with building bridges with the community and the church not wanting to ever cross those bridges.
My friend first quipped, “How Canadian!” And then, without being funny, he pronounced, “How Anglican of you.” This interchange led me to leave the Evangelical world and enter into the Anglican Priesthood.
I remember my first, awkward meeting with the Bishop of Edmonton. I explained my struggles and dreams, ending with the question, “Is there room for me in Anglicanism?”
“Of course, there is,” she said and we worked on how I could be adopted into the Anglican family. A few years later, I was a priest of a church plant and a chaplain with the Mustard Seed: both places willing for me to work hard, bless the land, and try new things. And now, I work with an Igorot congregation that has adopted me as their “Padi”. I am blessed to have them as they bless me in the name of the Lord. The blessing and the adoption keeps spinning here in Canada.
During the pandemic, we decided to become citizens after living in Canada for 15 years.
My American friends would muse over social media: “You left the US because of Trump, right?”
No. Leaving the US for Canada was much the same as my departure from Evangelicalism into Anglicanism. I never felt like I was leaving an awful, stinking, sinking ship for a beautiful, new, and freshly painted one. Rather, God wanted me to change boats and the boat I came to adopted me. I love American and loved being an American; I loved being an Evangelical but can’t wait for the next day ahead that I can be an Anglican Priest. And, by the way, there are holes in BOTH boats.
But I am asked by God and Country to love Canada, flaws and all. And that’s okay. I mean, how can you seek to bless someone/something if you don’t love them/that thing first?
The Oath ceremony was quick and slow. It was on Zoom, with most of our time proving our identity and then the ceremony.
When it was over, it felt like we crossed a marathon finish line. Working with Immigration has always stressed me out, so this experience brought out all of my administrative ghosts. But then…we were citizens. Just like that.
What do we expect from Canada? What privileges, rights, freedoms are owed to us by the Land? These are the questions we’ve heard many people seek during this time of lockdown, COVID, and post-pandemic. Sure, these are good questions…but incomplete. We’ve seen truckers wave Canadian flags, but wasn’t for patriotism. Instead, it was these incomplete questions, “How do I get what I want? How do not do what I don’t want to do?”
Rather, what does Canada expect from us? How do we join with the Land in becoming a blessing? What is our responsibility, sacrifice, and hard work we must sow into the Land?
This line of questions is borrowed from Dr. Viktor Frankl: what is expected from us? And this, I feel, are more the kinds of questions God will answer for us as we work with Him to bless those around us. For being a citizen-oath, land, duty, responsibility- this is the guiding idea
How do we bless those in our Canada? By starters, we adopt more folks to become Canadian. There’s a theme in my time here is that there has always been a group of people who have expressed radical hospitality towards me. This needs to continue…to be a blessing. But then what?
I guess I’ll be spending a lifetime answering this question. In the meantime, it’s good to be home!
Genesis 12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.[a]