From Dio to the Kootenays—ministry in a pandemic

The Rev. Nick Pang (M.Div. 2013) is the incumbent of St. Saviour’s, Penticton, British Columbia in the Diocese of Kootenay where he also serves as Refugee Sponsorship Coordinator. We caught up with him to ask about his ministry in the midst of a pandemic and also how his time at Dio laid the groundwork for his current work.

Tell us about your current ministry. What’s your church like? What’s the community like? What has the ministry of the church been like during the pandemic?

Ministry in 2020 is weird. There’s no denying it. The presentation and method of it is totally different from what we went into this year expecting, and yet I think some of the core principles still hold. People need to find hope in the proclamation of a Gospel that transcends time and space and whatever crisis may be ongoing at any given point. My council really stepped up early on in the pandemic. By the end of March our parish leadership was making 140 phone calls every single week. We took a pilgrimage around the Anglican communion together for the first six weeks and then started hosting our own pre-recorded services on YouTube. We anticipate continuing those through the Winter. Since that began our lay participation (readers and intercessors and soloists) has more than doubled. We also recently came into a rather substantial bequest and are just finalizing a distribution proposal that targets the bulk of it towards our three ministry areas (Worship, Grow, Love) and towards building up stronger relationships with community partners. Although things are far from perfect, especially in this wild year, it’s a great blessing to be part of a progressive and forward thinking parish community.

Tell us about how you came to Dio. Why did you pick Dio in particular for theological study?

When considering seminaries I ended up in a bit of a toss up. On the one hand I thought that the specific areas of training I was looking for might be better found elsewhere, but I also loved the Dio community as well as the Diocese of Montreal. I think part of me knew even then that I wouldn’t be in Montreal forever and the deciding factor, in the end, was that I wanted to be able to say that I’d be raised up in a particular tradition and school, that of Montreal. Looking back on that now, I do believe that was the right decision. The Diocese of Montreal and Dio gave me the incredible privilege of learning what it means to minister professionally in a world whose assumptions about the church very rarely mirror our own self-understanding. I think that gave me a stronger sense of what the church can be, in addition to what it is.

What do you remember about your time at Dio? What are some particular memories that you have of your time here?

Primarily I remember the sense of family I found in the community life in the college. Especially in light of Dio being a non-residential school, I think the bonds we formed were pretty incredible. I, for one, loved 7:30am Friday Eucharist! I also appreciated that the size of the college allowed me to explore different leadership opportunities and to grapple with my understanding of my vocation early on. Montreal has the added blessing of being awash in deep thinkers, which is something I miss now that my life is no longer in the Dio bubble.

What did you learn while at Dio that you find is really helpful to you in ministry now? What do you wish you had learned while here that you are realizing now you didn’t?

One of the most fundamental lessons I remember having drilled home in preaching classes was that basic homiletical and pastoral question: Where is God in this? Keeping that question at the forefront of my ministry (or at least trying to!) has given me some much needed perspective in everything from liturgical planning to community organizing. One thing I wish I’d had more time to talk about and think through in seminary is how to care for and nurture my own prayer life. It was one thing being in a city with strong support networks of other clergy and lay leaders who could take turns leading prayer. It’s another being in small rural communities and having to craft those opportunities yourself.

You’re on the young end of the age range for active clergy. When you look ahead to your ministry and the shape of the church, what do you see? What do you think the church will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years? What excites you about this? 

I currently serve in a diocese where I would guess only about 4 parishes are viable beyond fifteen years. In some ways I see the future of the current expressions of the church as primarily urban. I’m not sure what the future holds for the church in rural Canada. I suspect that it won’t be parochial. The number of half-joking conversations I’ve had with young people both inside and outside of the church recently about setting up a commune in some far-flung beautiful location has me wondering about the future of intentional communities. After all, the flight to the desert is a strong part of our Christian heritage. I don’t expect to hold a salaried position for ever, and that both terrifies and excites me. I’m not sure what else I would do for gainful employment, but the idea of priestly ministry being relegated to its core principles and existing in a community with a strong, vibrant, and truly collaborative leadership structure is a vision of the church that fills me with joy. I don’t know if the current church can be transformed into that. Not without some significant death. But in some places the light of Easter morning seems to be just over the horizon. For that I’m tremendously thankful to God.