After 22 years, priest returns to Newfoundland parish

The Rev. Betty Harbin and diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador bishop Geoff Peddle. Photo: André Forget
The Rev. Betty Harbin and diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador bishop Geoff Peddle. Photo: André Forget
Published January 20, 2015

[For more photos, click here.]

The parish of Torbay/Pouch Cove in the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador celebrated the installation of a new priest yesterday in the person of the Rev. Betty Harbin, but it turns out that the new priest isn’t that new, after all.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Harbin, who has just moved back to the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador from the diocese of Central Newfoundland, where she served in the parish of Gambo. Harbin did a parish placement at St. Nicholas while studying at Queen’s 22 years ago.

A lot has changed since then. “Torbay has grown by leaps and bounds,” she said. “There are more young families…It’s the second-fastest growing community in Newfoundland…and the challenge here is to connect with those young families.”

The small wooden church, perched on a steep hillside overlooking Torbay Bight, serves a community of 7,397. While the place has been home to a small settlement since the 17th century, it has recently seen rapid population growth—17.8 per cent between 2006 and 2011—as it has become a popular bedroom community to nearby St. John’s.

When asked if she had a plan for how best to reach out to this new demographic, Harbin said that building a team would have to come first. “It’s not something I do on my own,” she said. “I need to give some leadership so they will take ownership, so they will do the inviting and be a welcoming church.”

It is a challenge faced by several parishes in the diocese. Many Newfoundlanders have for generations been baptized, married and buried in the same church, and in a place where religious identity is so often deeply rooted in a particular parish, those who have been uprooted or who have uprooted themselves can be difficult to reach.

The bishop of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, Geoff Peddle, acknowledged these difficulties in his sermon at the celebration service, and encouraged Harbin to respond by being gracious and open. “Where there is human need, the spirit of the law is always more important than the letter,” he said. “If we are to err, let us err on the side of compassion for those in need.”

In addition to St. Nicholas in Torbay, the parish of Torbay/Pouch Cove includes All Saints Church in Pouch Cove. Harbin will work with Queen’s College provost the Rev. Alex Faseruk, who is being brought in as assistant priest, to ensure that both churches have a service every Sunday.

“We were in Queen’s together 25 years ago, so we’re kind of on the same page,” Harbin said, smiling.




  • André Forget

    André Forget was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2014 to 2017.

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