Eganville – It is a time of transition at St. John the Evangelist Church with Rev. Claire Bramma beginning her ministerial career there and Canon John Wilker-Blakley bringing his to a conclusion of one chapter as he enters retirement.
While Rev. Bramma will be at the church for the next two years as a part of the clergy team of Parish of the Valley, with responsibilities also in Killaloe at the Church of the Ascension and Tramore at St. John’s, as well at other churches in the Valley as needed, Canon Wilker-Blakley is helping out in the transition for the rest of the year.
“I retired in May last year, so I am now semi-retired,” he said with a smile. “I will retire again at Christmas.”
However, Eganville will soon be his home, as he and his wife, Wendy, settle into life in the area and build a home on the Bonnechere River.
“We bought property 12 years ago on Crooked Rapids Road,” he noted.
Following the retirement of Rev. Susan Clifford, the canon started working at St. John’s in mid-March. He was joined by Rev. Bramma this summer and she is settling in quite happily to the church, the other churches in her charge and the community.
As in the Anglican tradition, Rev. Bramma was ordained first into the Diaconate and will then be ordained into the priesthood. While Deacons can’t celebrate communion, they do other functions, and she will be sharing in the preaching. Her title at St. John’s is assistant curate.
The church is part of the Parish of the Valley, which is made up of 12 congregations and 14 buildings, and an area parish of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. A shared clergy team was appointed to the parish in 2018. Continuing in this model, both Rev. Bramma and Canon Wilker-Blakley are part of the clergy team in the county.
“It is a new model,” he explained. “So, if a call comes in, anyone can respond.”
Although Rev. Bramma is beginning her ministerial journey, her faith journey has taken her through a longer time of discernment of her call in ministry and she has had a very fulfilling career as an engineer with the Canadian military.
She described her early years as being in a loving home in Whitby where her family gave her the chance to pursue many different interests.
“I became a Christian at age 15 and began attending a Baptist church with some friends from high school,” she said.
Drawn to adventure and to serving Canada, she left home at age 18 to join the Canadian Armed Forces and attend a “university with a difference” (the Royal Military College in Kingston). She graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil) and a Master’s of Science (Geomatics), then served as an army engineer officer in various locations around Canada and overseas, including deployments to Haiti and Afghanistan.
“During these years I was active in a variety of different denominations and military chapels,” she said. “In 2010, while serving at an engineer regiment in Valcartier, Quebec, I began to sense a call to the Anglican Church of Canada as well as to consider the military Chaplaincy.
“The nudging of the Holy Spirit persisted through life’s adventures and in 2018 while posted to Ottawa and as an active parishioner at St. Matthews in the Glebe, I entered a time of discernment concerning a call to vocational ministry,” she said. “By God’s grace, mentors came into my path and doors were opened.”
Rev. Bramma noted that eight-year process was not wasted time.
“God is gracious wherever you are at in your life,” she said. “God does not waste any level of faith.”
Although she has been involved with other faith traditions in Christianity, it was the Anglican church where she envisioned herself as a minister.
“It is the three pillars of faith, tradition and reason,” she said.
The liturgy and the rhythm of common worship, as well as the historical aspects of the faith appeal to her, she said. The Anglican church has also been ordaining women since the 1970s, she noted.
She became a postulant for ordination in 2019 and began Seminary at Trinity College in Toronto (part-time), while continuing work as an army staff officer. In 2020 she was accepted into the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS) training program and became a full-time student which enabled her to complete her Masters of Divinity this summer. Now, she is the experiential phase of the Chaplaincy training which involves her two-year ministry appointment. She was ordained as transitional Deacon on April 23 (Saturday in Easter Week) at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.
While some might feel being an engineer and a priest are two divergent life choices, Rev. Bramma pointed out engineering is all about teamwork.
“There is community engagement,” she said. “You need people to come together.”
Since the church operates on an appointment system, not a call system, Rev. Bramma was appointed to Eganville and the Parish of the Valley. She noted there was a conversation and a mutual agreement this was the right place to begin her ministry. Although Garrison Petawawa is a large military base, she had never been stationed there or lived in the Ottawa Valley before.
“Coming to the Ottawa Valley is a new adventure for me, as I learn about village life and rural rhythms,” she said. “As assistant curate I hope to bring an optimistic and compassionate spirit, as well as gain experience in pastoral care, liturgy, and incarnational ministry.”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the church are still being felt as she begins her ministry, and she is cognizant of the impact this has had on the church and congregation.
“In any kind of crisis people question the meaning of life,” she noted.
There is also still a hesitancy for some to come back to gatherings, including church.
“We think of ourselves as a refuge, but we could not gather in COVID,” Canon Wilker-Blakley agreed.
Instead, a phone calling ministry began and people wrote cards to help with the isolation.
Rev. Bramma has enjoyed settling into Eganville and is looking forward to getting involved in the community.
“I’m discovering as a jogger there are lots of hills around here,” she laughed.
In her spare time, she likes to be in creation, whether it is jogging, cycling, kayaking or cross-country skiing.
“My first kayak on the Bonnechere I saw a colony of painted turtles,” she recalled.
Other interests include playing the guitar, gardening, and fostering rescue cats.
Deacon Bramma said she looks forward to getting to know the people of the Parish of the Valley and to join with them in being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader