ST. ANTHONY, N.L. – Rev. Gary Jones, 74, has come out of a six-year retirement to end St. Anthony’s search for a United Church minister.
After arriving in St. Anthony with his wife Christine, Jones assumed his role at the church on May 1.
He will minister at both St. Anthony and St. Anthony Bight.
The Ontario native was first introduced to Newfoundland during a two-week vacation in September last year. During his stay, he quickly developed an admiration for the people and its culture.
As part of their tour of the province, Jones and his wife, visited the Great Northern Peninsula, staying two nights on Quirpon Island.
On their first anniversary, on Sept. 10, 2017, they visited St. Anthony to attend church.
Their visit to the town was brief, about two and a half hours, but it had a lasting impact on the couple.
During the service, Jones first garnered the attention of the congregation with a hymn request.
“I asked for a particular hymn and when that section of the service was over, the woman asked me to introduce myself,” he told The Northern Pen. “I stood and said I was a retired minister from Ontario. I sat down and right away a woman turned around and said, ‘We need someone.’”
After the service, they met with people and were given a tour of the church.
“One fellow, he put his hand behind my back, shook my hand and said, ‘You apply’,” Jones recalled, laughing.
He says when you visit an unfamiliar place, you don’t know how you’ll be received by the people.
But the United Church congregation was incredibly welcoming.
“It was Newfoundland hospitality cranked up a couple notches,” said Jones.
The couple were also impressed by the “robustness” of the congregation, the look of the building and the strength of the United Church Women (UCW) – the latter of which he feels is a good index of a church’s health.
Like most churches nowadays, there’s a struggle to attract younger families. But, even though the congregation is aging, Jones nevertheless feels a strong enthusiasm amongst them.
Upon returning home to Ontario, he applied for the position.
His application was approved, and he arrived in St. Anthony this spring.
Upon arrival, Jones says they reconnected with the people they met during their initial visit.
“It was rather pleasant,” he commented.
Thus far, the Jones’ are enjoying the region’s hiking trails, the rugged beauty of the landscape and, after living in the Greater Toronto Area, even the isolation.
“I’ve felt my shoulders lighten a bit,” Jones joked.
Leadership style and views
The minister feels his “non-authoritative, collaborative” leadership style and his skillset befit the needs of the St. Anthony congregation.
“I’ll sit down and work out with them with what they want to see in terms of worship, in terms of community outreach, in terms of music, in terms of programs,” he said. “So, I don’t come along and drop these on them from above but, rather, work along with them.”
Jones believes his background in sociology and social work will lend well to facilitating this type of collaborative process.
“I think I have a sense of organization and culture that will help me perceive what’s going on in the congregation and the community,” he said.
In efforts towards collaboration, Jones has started a Bible study group and hopes to start up a reading group.
Through the group, they would look at social justice and environmental issues – topics of particular concern to Jones – in the world and specific to the area.
He describes his view of Christianity as “progressive” and says, in the United Church, they take an open approach to scriptural interpretation.
Therefore, they see the Bible as sacred poetry and life narratives.
This perspective stands in contrast to more literal interpretations of scripture.
In the United Church, Jones says a minister undertakes three different roles – as prophet, priest and a pastor.
A priest engages in spiritual worship, does baptism, funerals and the Sunday morning service.
The pastor, meanwhile, engages directly with the community, making visits to people around town, for instance.
Lastly, Jones says, the prophet is the individual who stands up and points out the injustices of the day.
This is how his duties are divided.
As a retired supply minister, Jones has signed a year-long commitment to the St. Anthony and St. Anthony Bight churches.
What the future holds beyond that, is up in the air.
For now, he says the plan is to give them a steady ministry.
“I think we’ll just ‘do church’,” he said.
A short biography
Gary Jones grew up in Dunnville, Ontario, a small town south of Hamilton.
As a young man, he moved to Hamilton to work in the steel mills but decided at the age of 25 that wasn’t the life for him.
He then attended McMaster University in Hamilton, where he says he “fell in love” with sociology.
“It was 1968, the hippies were around, sociologists were studying all this and it seemed interesting,” he said.
He moved on to York University in Toronto where he completed a master’s degree in sociology.
Jones put his education to use in a number of social work positions over the years, eventually landing a job with the federal government as a sociologist studying the environment.
After Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government assumed power in the 1980s, cuts came to environmental research and Jones lost his job.
After working some part-time jobs, his wife at the time went into lay ministry and they ended up in a small church in rural Ontario.
Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and succumbed to the illness.
During his bereavement, Jones went to the United Church minister for councilling. He told Jones he belonged in the ministry.
He took the advice to heart and in the fall of 1994, he was off to Emmanuel College in Toronto.
After four years of study, he was ordained as a minister in 1998.
Jones ministered in southern Ontario for 14 years before retiring.
He later met Christine and re-married in 2016. They settled in Lion’s Head, Ontario on the Bruce Peninsula.
As fate would have it, a year later they ended up on the Great Northern Peninsula.