Oxford House Update

An update from Mary Sanderson…

Congratulations Elenor and thank you again to Velma and Irene for making the beautiful stoles! Read on for more info…

For the first time in the history of the United Church the National Indigenous Council will ordain a Cree woman. Elenor Thompson will be ordained in her home community of Oxford House this Sunday, September 19.

Bloor Street has had a long history with Oxford House. In the late 60’s John Thompson was a student at Emmanuel College and worshiped at Bloor Street. When he was ordained in 1971 he was settled in Oxford House, or as it is known by its Indigenous name, Bunibonibee–a remote Cree Community in Manitoba almost 1,000 km north of Winnipeg. Oxford House was originally a Hudson Bay fur trading post and now has a population of about 1,950 people. It is only accessible by air expect in the winter when there is a road.

John married a local Cree woman and has spent his whole ministry in Oxford House. Whenever John is in Toronto he comes to Bloor Street. Over the years, our congregation has found ways to support Oxford House–for example, our Advent Appeal has often featured Oxford House and several individual members support the community regularly. COVID-19  hit the community hard and several members had to be flown to Winnipeg for hospitalization. The community struggles economically–John told me this week that Oxford House is almost out of gas. If they have to fly gas in from Winnipeg the price will be $3 or $4 a litre. The community covers a large, sprawling area and John is dependent on his car for pastoral care. In the last years all other clergy have left Oxford House and ‘Father John’ (as he is known) serves the whole community.

Since Bloor Street established our canoe trip–Gibimishkaadimin–in 2017,  twelve young people from Oxford House have been part of our trips so we have a strong, continuing connection with their youth. During the pandemic (when we could not have a canoe trip) the central committee has kept in touch with the youth via zoom.  In December pizzas were delivered to the Gibimishkaadimin youth as a way of saying, “We are thinking of you. We haven’t forgotten you!”

John and Elenor have three sons–two living in Winnipeg with their families and the other in Oxford House; they have seven grandchildren Several years ago, Elenor began training for the United Church ministry. She attended The Sandy Saulteaux Centre, just outside Winnipeg that is especially designed to train indigenous ministers. With the pandemic, Elenor’s ordination had to be postponed but is finally happening September 19. The Rt. Reverend Stan McKay will be part of the service. While Elenor is not the first Cree person to be ordained, she is the first to be ordained by the National Indigenous Council.

Velma Davis and Irene Hunter have made two beautiful stoles for Elenor with indigenous symbols that were chosen by Elenor. The stoles were sent to her with the message, “Love and congratulations from your many friends at Bloor Street”. We hope to have photos of the stoles and a video of the service in the weeks to come.

Elenor has been settled in Gods Lake Narrows (population 85). It is south east of Oxford House and the nearest Cree community. It is only accessible by air and Elenor will probably only be able to visit the community every two months for several days. The Social Justice Committee hopes we can learn more about Gods Lake Narrows and find ways to support them as Elenor establishes her ministry there.

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