Canterbury Foundation Stories

Canterbury’s New Chaplain Supporting Seniors in Health of Spirit

Posted: May 25, 2022

It’s a Thursday morning at Canterbury Manor. One by one, there is a steady stream of seniors heading into the dining room to take part in worship service. Some are pushing walkers, others are hand in hand. They follow each other in and find a comfy chair and wait for the service to start. There is music coming from the corner where pianist Joy Berg, from Christ Church, is straight and tall, and happily playing at the keys.

Greeting each resident with a, “Hello, how are you this morning?”, is the soft voice of Reverend Colleen Sanderson, Canterbury’s brand new Spiritual Care Chaplain.

While normally worship services would be held inside Canterbury’s on-site chapel, today, the Manor dining room will make due as the chapel is closed inside Canterbury Court due to COVID.

Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop those here in the independent living side of the building from prayer. Even more special is, Reverend Colleen will be offering for the first time in a long time, Holy Communion Service. It’s something the residents have missed and are delighted to be able to receive once again.

There are so many firsts and new faces inside Canterbury these days - including Reverend Colleen Sanderson, who has only been on the job at Canterbury Foundation for one month. But as soon as she heard there was a position at Canterbury, she knew this was the place she wanted to be.

“When I was first ordained - I was a curate at Christ Church and so I visited some of the parishioners that were here at that time. But I was always so struck by how welcoming the community here was and how it was a real feeling of home, and it was just different from any of the other long term care facilities I had been at in the city. And now being the Spiritual Care Chaplain here formally, I love that this is one big community and the residents really have a voice in how that plays out. It’s just so unique and really just draws me to the community here.”

Even from her youth, Reverend Colleen has always had a real calling to be an active member within the diocese. As a teen she participated in summer camps and youth ministry and had contemplated being ordained. But it was teaching that drew her interest first. She got an education degree and taught for many years in Beaver Lake and on the Driftpile Reserve and then later taught many years in Wetaskiwin. While she had a few good years teaching, she’d also had years where she struggled. It was then that she went to Spain where she did the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and carried with her the question, “Should I consider leaving teaching? Where is God calling me?”

“Not long after I had got on the Camino, I had gone to an ordination, and in the Anglican church when someone is ordained, they lie prostrate on the ground. We then pray for the Holy Spirit to come and there is a moment of absolute silence in the church. And I heard God’s voice very clearly tell me, ‘Someday that will be you.’ I turned around to see who was behind me and there was no one there.”

It was a few years later, the Bishop out of the blue called Rev. Colleen and asked her what it was she wanted to do about teaching. She shared the story of how she heard God’s voice and the Bishop agreed she should apply to seminary.

She spent 3 years in seminary in Toronto and in that time, while training to be a priest she worked in hospital, she did inter-ministry in many communities after that and eventually found herself with a rectorship at St. Michael & All Angels Anglican Church in Edmonton. As part of her position there she visits and does communion for residents in 6 other long-term care centres.

“I just really enjoy doing ministry with seniors and have been really concerned with seniors and the pandemic and all the things that have gone on inside a lot of long term care facilities across Canada. I think seniors have an amazing life story and a gift to bring to the community and we often shut them away in long term care centres. I think it’s really important that there is someone who can hear their life stories. So when I saw the position here at Canterbury, I thought I could be of help and of service to the residents and the staff in a really difficult time.”

Since arriving at Canterbury, Reverend Colleen has spent her time visiting with the seniors to make sure they have a visitor everyday, to make sure they know they aren’t alone. She’s been able to be there for a family, who lost their mother unexpectedly and has plans to implement a brand new & uniquely designed worship service inside the brand new and expanded Canterbury Lane, where residents receive memory and dementia care support unlike anything else offered in Edmonton. She also hopes she can support the staff who have worked tirelessly through COVID restrictions and give them training to better prepare families for end of life conversation and experiences.

“I would like to develop spiritual programs for the staff. For example, I am organizing a blessing of hands for all the staff. We use our hands to do ordinary tasks, and God takes the ordinary and through his blessings makes it extraordinary for those we serve.”

But more than anything Reverend Colleen just wants to be able to support Canterbury - its residents, families and staff, in the strong community it has already built.

“I love community. I think it is so important to have healthy community especially at this time in a resident’s life. I love journeying with people through the high moments and the low moments. From birth to death, it is just a privilege to be invited into that space to journey with people.”

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