"The Spirit will not relent in the pursuit of abundant life. My greatest hope is that leaders…will rise up in response to the times."

Primary Media
Matthew Fillier
Published On: December 10, 2015
  • Where: Fall River, Nova Scotia
  • Current ministry: Congregational
  • Years in ministry: 6 years

How and when did you know you were called to ministry?

I think the Spirit was always calling, I just tuned her out. I come from a family of ministers, so being the church has always been a part of my life and honestly, I’ve always felt a close relationship with God. Having said that, when I was growing up, the last thing I wanted to do was actually be a minister. As a preacher’s kid, lots of my well-meaning sisters and brothers in Christ pinched a cheek and said “someday you’ll be a minister too!” But seriously, think about it—during career day, how many clergy come to talk to students about the merits of ministry as a vocation? Zip.

With both my dad, brother, and later my sister in law involved in ministry, I think I doubted I had anything more to contribute. I guess I wondered, “What can I do?”  For years, especially in the early part of my university education, I set my sights on becoming a social/cultural anthropologist—that was the future I could see for myself. I worked hard and had my career trajectory all planned out but the Holy Spirit had something else in mind. The Spirit doesn’t yield easily!

My university years were very formative for the path I would eventually take. A number of close friends and mentors could see could see I was being called to care for people in a way that wouldn’t solely be fulfilled by an academic career. I think the more I heard their voices, the more I began to relent to the Spirit who had been nudging all along.

I started to realize that I had put off a very particular conversation with God for way too long. I began to consider that I did have something I was called to share in being the church with God’s people—and that gift was the ministry of word, sacrament, and pastoral care. It took a year of praying and soul searching, but in the end and with the support of my family, my partner to be, and St. James United Church (St. John’s NL), I became an inquirer in The United Church of Canada.

Why did you pursue ministry in The United Church of Canada?

I guess in my case, that’s obvious, but maybe not. I grew up in a very ecumenical context and had friends who were urging me to consider how other denominations could help fulfill my call to ministry.

At the end of the day, I’ve always been United. While I hold a deep and abiding respect for all faith traditions, and the particular ways in which our sisters and brothers live out their call to ministry in other denominations, The United Church of Canada has always been the visible and outward expression of the faith I try to witness in Jesus Christ.

Our commitment to social justice and equality, as a church of many colours where everyone can safely live and discover the gospel, has forever shaped my spiritual life. Simply put, The United Church of Canada is a part of me. I don’t know what I would do without it. This is the expression of church I have been called to serve in Christ’s name.

What has been the greatest part of entering ministry?

It’s been twofold: grace and the chance to make a difference in community.

Grace because people from all walks of life and experience extend an incredible privilege to those they ordain to ministry. I’ve been blessed by walking with people through landscapes of utter and complete devastation and through amazing moments of joy and celebration in our life together in Christ. I marvel not only at creation, but at the people who are God’s creation – in the struggles and joys we get to witness and share through the ministry of the Gospel.

Ministry is also the chance to help an entire community mobilize as a common body with a purpose to change the world in ways both small and large. When I think of some of the ways churches are boldly and passionately living out the gospel, I am overwhelmed at the opportunity we have as sisters and brothers in Christ. The time to make a difference is now!

What has been your biggest challenge in ministry?

Doubt. Doubt from the senior and lay leadership of my church that we’ll be around for another generation. Doubt that we have enough funds to pay for the intuitional construction of a church that has become terribly top heavy and unsustainable. Doubt that today’s post-Christendom church has the wherewithal to renew itself, both spiritually and theologically, for the incredibly diverse and challenging landscape we now see before us. I’m tired of it to be honest. At 32 years of age, it’s the dominant story my church has told me over and over again in so many ways.

This challenge is also inspiring even if it’s inevitable that we’re being swept up in the midst of tides of great change—the whole world is. I believe in the evolution of the body, that though some parts will die, others will not only survive but thrive in the midst of change that will yield horizons of possibility and life which we cannot foresee. Thanks for being a voice of hope, Bruce Sanguin!

The Spirit will not relent in the pursuit of abundant life. My greatest hope is that leaders, both individually and communally, will rise up in response to the times that are changing before us.

If someone said they wanted to be a minister, what would you tell them?

Just do it. Affirmation is essential, as the mere idea of a calling from God is fairly suspicious in our increasingly secular society. We have to create a safe and affirming space for those faithful conversations to happen in honesty and joy. I would encourage them to really consider the beautiful tension between what “I want” and “what is God calling me to do?” Sorting that out is the beginning of a very incredible life together. The Spirit has given us many gifts, and they may take us on one of many paths in the ministry our United Church affirms and celebrates. Unless you have the courage and take the time to knock, who knows what the answer will be?

Other comments about your ministry and vocation.

I love this church. I remain passionate and convinced about the ministry we share in Jesus’ name. I see opportunities for local congregation’s to catch more of the Spirit’s fire than ever before because so much is on the table like it has never been. We’re rediscovering who we are as sisters and brothers of Christ and what it means to share, live, and witness that faith in our world. The times may be a-changin’—but they’ve never been more ripe for people to consider a call to ministry.

I also really want to thank my internship site, Trinity United Church (Lively ON) and the Atlantic School of Theology for shaping my call so that I can do what I do for the rest of my life. I remain in great debt to St. James United Church for raising me, for First United Church (Louisbourg NS) for teaching me as my first pastoral charge, and to Waverley Pastoral Charge for reminding me every day of how God is still calling us every day.