By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD
Starting a new job is always stressful.
Starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic, when you’re a parish priest, the church is physically closed and your faithful flock is locked down made it doubly so for the Rev. Molly Finlay, who took over as incumbent at St. John’s Norway Anglican church at Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road last year.
She visited the church just once before it was shut down for the second time last November.
“It’s certainly hard to enter a new community. As a leader, it was especially hard during a pandemic, when you can’t get to know people face to face. It’s also a very exciting time to enter into a community because you’re all in it together. We’re all in it together in real time,” Finlay said in a recent interview.
Her appointment is historic. She’s the first woman incumbent priest in the parish’s 171-year history.
Finlay brings unique work experience to her new role. She was formerly a TV reporter with Global News. Her communications expertise has been a blessing as the church went to on-line worship.
“I’m so glad the pandemic happened in 2020 and 2021, when we have modern technology, because one of the first things I did when I got here was to get us on Zoom,” she recalled.
Prior to that, the church was only offering dial-in services.
“Zoom really helped get to a new level of connection, because we were able to see each other and really feel connected,” she said.“It’s been a wonderful thing for us and so have the digital recordings of church.”
The church has actually grown during the pandemic, as people were able to check it out online.
“Now we have a beautiful livestream. People can kick the tires, take a peek in the church doors and experience the church without physically having to come into the place,” said Finlay.
One new parishioner told her she already felt connected to the church through the online service.
“She’s now part of the parish and feels so grateful to be part of a community of faith,” said Finlay.
People have been asking more questions about faith and religion during the pandemic than before. Even in casual conversations, people have opened up and told Finlay how the situation makes them feel lonelier or makes them feel they need to question their faith.
“I’ve had a lot of questions about what this life is all about,” she said.
People ask her what happens to them if they die, or if their loved ones die.They ask her how a good and loving God can allow something like this happen, when millions of people around the globe have died of COVID-19.
Finlay calls those the great questions of life.
“That’s the where the church is in her glory. The church is the place where we come together and ask those big questions about what life is all about together. And we figure some of it out and others we continue to grapple with. And that’s a wonderful thing. And that’s our tradition as Anglicans,” she said.
While the switch from TV reporter to priest may seem unusual, Finlay has been a person of faith all her life. Her uncle was the late Anglican archbishop, Terry Finlay.
“I grew up going to church with my family, but I had plenty of years when I didn’t go to church or went on a sporadic basis. Never in a million years did I ever think that I would end up doing this,” she said.
Finlay also worked for a premier at Queen’s Park before being ordained in 2017.
“I loved my job as a TV journalist and I loved being in politics,” she said.
“I have a saying that nothing is lost in God’s economy. It turned out that politics and communications are both very helpful when it comes to being part of the church – and in a larger sense, when it comes to politics.
“You have to love people to be in this job. You have to be curious about the stories of people’s lives. As a journalist, if you aren’t curious about people’s lives, then you’re missing the secret sauce. That’s what makes us want to tell other people’s stories.
“Being able to interpret the story of Jesus to the people is a key part of what we do here and storytelling is what I did as a reporter.”
Finlay has brought a whirlwind of on-line activity to St. John’s. Aside from the Zoom worship and a livestream of the Sunday morning service, the traditional Christmas pageant went online, as did a service of lessons and carols.
She even managed to arrange a visit from animals of the nativity to the church parking lot on Christmas Eve, which proved popular with the neighbours. Easter celebrations were all online, except for one eucharist that was held in the parking lot.
Finlay’s creativity is paying off. The church is flourishing and new members are joining.
While COVID-19 restrictions are loosening, the church has chosen to stay online until Sept. 12. When it opens, there will be a new youth minister who will focus on a teen program.
For more information, please visit http://stjohnsnorway.com for links to Zoom and online worship, or call the church at 416-691-4560.