Mount Allison Chaplain John Perkin says he’ll miss his pastoral work and his teaching at the university, but after 27 years, he feels it’s time to move on.
“I was coming to the end of my Mt. A. time,” Perkin said today during a telephone interview.
“I turn 60 this month, so that’s kind of a milestone that one looks at as saying ‘OK, how much longer will I go?'”
Perkin says he began thinking about his future last fall when he was encouraged to apply for the position of pastor at First Baptist Church in Ottawa.
“Once I’d made the decision to apply and started the interview process, I kind of came to a decision in my own mind that whether or not I went to Ottawa, it seemed like a good time to wrap up 27 years at Mount Allison.”
Perkin was the successful candidate for the Ottawa job and plans to begin his ministry there this summer.
“Things are a little uncertain because of the pandemic in terms of when I will actually go to Ottawa,” he says. “Certainly if things are still in a lockdown state, I may begin a virtual or online ministry from here until it’s conducive to move there.”
First Baptist Church is a large, stone building in the heart of downtown Ottawa not far from the Parliament Buildings and the National War Memorial.
“It’s a significant church that’s had quite a history since shortly after Confederation,” Perkin says. “It’s been 142 years in the current building, although the church goes back 162 years as a congregation.”
He adds that in normal times, 100 to 150 people attend Sunday services, but the building can hold about three times that many.
The church derives its name, at least in part, from its history as the founding Baptist church in Ottawa, the first of several that came after it.
Mt. A connections
Perkin says he feels grateful for the connections he had with so many people during his years at Mount Allison as he helped students come to terms with issues related to identity, meaning and purpose.
“Arriving as chaplain in the early ’90s, I think I had the sense that I was going to be working very closely with that committed group of students involved in the chapel community and practising Christians, but it quickly became apparent that the role was much broader,” he says.
“I worked closely with Jewish students and Muslim students and Hindu students, and certainly worked with students of no faith commitment.”
He adds that the beauty and intimacy of the Mount Allison Chapel contributed to his pastoral work.
“It’ such a magnificent building,” Perkin says.
“It evokes such a sense of size and majesty and wonder, and I think that appeals to people whether or not they’re Christian or whether they’re in for worship. Having the chapel open daily gave people the opportunity to come in and sit and reflect in that space.”
Perkin says he will also miss teaching a wide range of religious studies courses, including one called The Apocalyptic Consciousness.
“That’s certainly been one of the most popular courses on campus — at times I had over 150 students in it,” he adds.
“With that course what I do is I look very much at contemporary culture and its fascination with things apocalyptic and its misunderstanding of that term,” he says, adding that students today don’t worry about the world ending in a nuclear apocalypse the way earlier generations did.
“The current generation of students, that’s not really a very real threat to them in comparison to the far more real threat of environmental or ecological collapse and climate change.”
Finally, Perkin notes that since he’s moving to a big city, he will no longer be seeing the many pheasants of Middle Sackville.
“I jokingly refer to the home as Pheasant Hollow in the old English tradition of naming a house rather than giving it a street address,” he says.
“About the last 10 years I’ve been feeding the pheasants during the winters and we see anywhere between 60 and 80 on a single day in the morning when I put the corn out. That number disappears in the spring, but they gather again in the winter,” he adds.
“I’ll miss seeing the pheasants.”