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ML: You were born in Sacramento, California. How and where did you end up in Canada?
WR: I moved to Canada in 1969, with a group friends who, like me, loved the great outdoors. We settled in the far north of British Columbia. We found a spot on the map, Germansen Landing, on the Omineca River where we built a log house, about as far away from civilisation as was possible then. It was beautiful there, I loved the life of wood fires and snowshoe transportation, but after three years I moved away to find work in the big city, Vancouver.
ML: Why did you make the decision to become a Canadian citizen?
WR: I felt really at home in Canada from the very beginning and quickly grew to love the country. In 1975, I crossed the country on a 10-speed Peugeot bicycle and ended up settling in Quebec City where I worked to learn French, eventually completing my undergraduate degree at Université Laval. As soon as it was legally possible, I applied for Canadian citizenship, which, at the time, involved a short meeting with a Canadian Citizenship Judge who asked me a few questions like, “Can you name the Prime Minster of Canada?” The answer was easy, Pierre Trudeau was then in his third of four terms at the helm of the nation.
ML: Do you consider yourself Canadian or American?
WR: Well, I am American by birth. My family is well rooted in the country. However, that said, I really do consider myself first and foremost a Canadian. I hold both passports, but I almost always travel as a Canadian. My social base and my political sympathies are planted firmly on Canadian soil, and I look forward to going home to Canada when I retire, this coming summer.
ML: You were brought up Catholic and attended Mass until age 18. How did you become involved in the Anglican Church?
WR: Like many in my generation, I walked away from the Church I had known as a child and stayed away for many years. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I felt the need to re-establish my links to the Church. Thanks to a friend, I discovered the Anglican tradition. I loved the focus on Scripture and the progressive outlook of Anglicanism, but it was the music and ceremony at the church I attended that really won me over. The congregational singing, from the rich Anglican hymnbook, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced in the Catholic tradition.
ML: You arrived at Saint Paul’s Monte-Carlo in 2008. How did you hear about this position, and what were the challenges when you arrived?
WR: A former classmate of mine in Toronto had taken a posting in the Algarve, and thanks to him, I learned about the opening in Monte-Carlo. When I arrived in January 2008, I found a faithful and hospitable community and church members who went out of their way to make me feel welcome and at home. There certainly were challenges, the Chaplain or Vicar has a somewhat formal relationship with the community. I am always a bit surprised when people apologise for a swear word or for not attending church. Leaving my network of friends behind in Canada was harder than I expected, and building new friendships here took time, but in due course these and other challenges faded and I came to enjoy very positive and constructive relationships in my life and work in Monaco. I am particularly grateful for dedication and generosity of the lay leaders of our church who make my job so much easier.
ML: Nearly a decade on, tell us about Saint Paul’s congregation and events (and elevator!)?
WR: Saint Paul’s has a well-merited reputation as a welcoming and happy place. Children are always at home at Saint Paul’s and we have an active Sunday Club with a delightful and loving new Sunday Club teacher, Mirella Favory. The annual Blessing of the Animals is one of our most popular celebrations, and dogs are regular members of our Sunday congregation.
We’re gearing up now for our annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner (February 28 from 6-8 pm), organised by the Sunday Club families with donations going to support Emily and Ben Rolfe in their project to run the “Marathon des Sables” raising money for diabetes research. We have a new Charitable Donations Committee that oversees the collection and distribution of donations for charity outside of Saint Paul’s averaging something close to €100,000 in any given year from our community.
In 2014, thanks to a motion from Mrs Helen Tugman at our annual meeting, the church council focused efforts on installing a lift (elevator) to make access to our parish hall and library easier for seniors and the disabled. The funding is pretty much in place and the project is advancing slowly but steadily with the new lift ready for service by Christmas this year.
We have a strong music tradition at Saint Paul’s, thanks to the leadership of Gottfried Kappen, our organist, Patricia Cerrone, choir secretary, and Drew Hopkins, lead chorister. Our Lay Readers (lay ministers), Mary de Vachon and Frank Megginson, make a huge contribution to the quality of ministry at Saint Paul’s, particularly in the preaching ministry on Sunday mornings.
Saint Paul’s really seems to be thriving, and largely because of this, I decided in October 2016 that the timing is right for me to accept the inevitable, to retire and make way for the next generation of ordained leadership at Saint Paul’s Church.
ML: Would you say spirituality has in place in Monaco?
WR: Of course, it does! Human beings are spiritual creatures. We all need some sense of a spiritual dimension that reaches beyond the glitter and bling. For instance, there’s a strong branch of Alcoholics Anonymous in Monaco, there are meetings at Saint Paul’s, and the success of this powerful programme is based on belief in a higher power, one that can get us through even the toughest challenges of life. Indeed, it is always very moving for me to note the sense of spiritual fulfilment and blessing our people seem to draw from Sunday worship. But spirituality is not an end in itself. We sometimes talk about the down-and-out church, Divine Grace comes down from on high, and it is up to us to channel this out in loving care for our families, our community and our world.
ML: What do you appreciate about Monaco?
WR: Monaco really is a great place to live! At the top of the list, I’d have to put Prince Albert and his family. I became convinced about the value of monarchy when I moved to Canada in 1969, and the Prince and his family here set a truly noble standard in their commitment to the Principality, its people, and the issues confronting our world. I also appreciate the quality of ecumenical relations here. I am honoured to count Archbishop Bernard Barsi and many members of the ecumenical community as friends.
There’s a lot to do here: I’ve become a big fan of local sports and, along with friends, hold season tickets for AS Monaco FC and ASM Roca Basketball. The annual ATP 1000 tennis tournament is my favourite time of the year, and I love the Grand Prix. Cultural life is also very rich: opera, symphony, and ballet in Monaco are of world class quality and remarkably affordable. Best of all, the sea, the coastline, the mountains – and the weather! – all work to make Monaco a wonderful place for actively enjoying the great outdoors.
ML: Do you socialise with other Canadians in Monaco?
WR: I’ve been an active member of the Canadian Club de Monaco since my arrival here in 2008. Betty Calder was the one who introduced me to the club and I have enjoyed our annual Canada Day party, July 1st each year, and Canadian Thanksgiving in early October, most especially. Our new President, France Shapiro is absolutely amazing. She has been working very hard, along with the leadership team of the Canadian Club, organising several major events to make this year’s celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, in Monaco, something we will all enjoy and remember for years to come.
ML: What does being Canadian mean to you?
WR: Many things. It means being part of a great social project where health care and social services are considered basic rights. It means a vision of country and community that has room to spare, with a national policy of deliberate kindness and inclusion. It means a way of talking, a softer, gentler accent in English and a colourful and robust version of spoken French.
Canada is known for its dramatic weather, winter storms and freezing temperatures that make just getting to work an extreme sport. I’ve been privileged to enjoy 10 winters now on the Riviera, and believe me, I am thankful for these, but I find myself counting the days until my retirement in July of this year, when I will move back to Quebec, make a home for myself in rural Canada among some of my oldest friends, and pick up life again in my country of adoption, Canada, the “true north strong and free”.
Article first published February 27, 2017.
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