by Andru McCracken with files from Jeff Jewett

Kim McNaughton is the new homegrown student minister at the Anglican United Churches in McBride and Valemount. /JEFF JEWETT

When Dunster’s Kim McNaughton sat her family down to announce what she called her ‘huge decision,’ her family was deadpan.

It came as no surprise to her family that she would undertake years of rigorous training to become a diaconal minister in the United Church. McNaughton herself was the only one out of the loop.

“It was completely shocking to me,” said McNaughton.

It wasn’t obvious from her early life. Sunday services didn’t resonate with McNaughton.

“I never ever thought about being a minister,” she said.

Later in life, spiritual practices like yoga and circle dancing resonated.

According to wikipedia: “Circle dance is an ancient tradition common to many cultures for marking special occasions, rituals, strengthening community and encouraging togetherness. The dance can also be enjoyed as an uplifting group experience or as part of a meditation.”

“At about age 50 I was still trying to figure out what I was doing,” said McNaughton, “Like what am I going to do when I grow up?”

She said that in the midst of a classic midlife crisis she realized spirituality was her passion.

“Then the question was how do I make it what I am about, not extracurricular,” she said, and realized she would undertake the work required to wear the mantle of the minister.

She is attending her third year at the Centre of Christian Studies in Winnipeg operated by the United Anglican Church. It’s an experiential program that isn’t focussed on the classic academic route to a masters in divinity.

“It focuses on what the United Church calls Diaconal Ministry,” she said. “The role is working in the community. Deacons are the people in the Christian faith who take care of orphans and widows.”

She said the focus is on social justice and less about preaching.

“It is about being concerned with what is out in the community, not within the walls of the church,” she said.

McNaughton struggled with choosing the ‘right’ faith for years.

“Then I came to my senses. There are many many ways to the holy, to the source of life,” she said.

She said conversing with an Imam from a mosque in Prince George confirmed her belief that spiritual practices have a common aim.

“We travel parallel paths to being good to each other and the planet,” she said. “I spent time trying to figure out how to practice my faith to honour my own background and honour other traditions.”

Despite declining church attendance, McNaughton believes that people are as interested in spirituality as ever.

“I believe that we have a spiritual aspect to ourselves. Spiritual wellness is as important as physical wellness and mental wellness,” she said.

“I didn’t know if I would have a job in the church. That was difficult. It costs a lot of money to go to school but I just kept hearing this is the right place for me.”

I am being trained in a good way to walk with people and serve people. It might not be in a church.”

She has about three years of her education left. She said she is taking it slow in order to spend time as a new grandmother.

Now she has been appointed a student minister with the Anglican United Church in Valemount and McBride.

McNaughton regularly attends circle dancing. She said moving in prayer makes more sense for her.

“[I found] in Circle dance when we move our bodies I could put my whole self into prayer, not just my mind or through the words we say.”

“I don’t like the hierarchy speaking from the pulpit,” she said.

McNaughton said that she feels immense gratitude to the community for supporting her growth.

“It makes a lot of sense that a local person be raised up to serve here, because we have had trouble bringing in priests and ministers. They have struggled with the rural lifestyle and isolation,” she said.

“I felt loved, supported and accepted and grateful that my faith has brought me to this place of love and service to others,” she said.