So far, diocese of Qu’Appelle Bishop Rob Hardwick has cycled 4,148 km, braving both scorching and freezing temperatures. He has passed through 13 dioceses, five provinces and three ecclesiastical provinces. He has given 15 newspaper, two TV and two radio interviews, and attended 40 church services, prayer and public gatherings.
He’s not slowing down.
Hardwick set out May 19 on his journey from Victoria, B.C., to St. John’s, Nfld., by bicycle. During this trip, which will take up much of his four-month sabbatical, he hopes to raise $800,000 to support Indigenous ministries within the Anglican Church of Canada and $1.2 million for evangelism and mission work in the diocese of Qu’Appelle, including funding a medical centre in its companion diocese of Muyinga, Burundi.
Reached on a “rest day” in Ottawa, Hardwick mused on the journey that grew out of a vision of raising money for the Anglican Healing Fund.
Hardwick says the bike ride is partly “an act of penance” for him as the bishop of a diocese where the longest-running residential school in Canada operated. “It’s not been asked for, but I just feel it’s an offering—that in some way, the pain of the journey, the efforts of the journey, will bring about greater unity, healing and reconciliation.”
Gordon’s School in Punnichy, Sask., was shut down in 1996, the last residential school in the country to close. The diocese of Qu’Appelle ran the school from 1886 to 1946.
For Hardwick, among the most powerful experiences of his ride was its very beginning: at Mile Zero in Victoria, when members of the Songhees First Nation welcomed him to the land. “Songhees First Nation had the highest number of residential school students in Canada, and here they were, welcoming and embracing and being so gracious to a bishop [whose diocese] had the longest-running residential school in Canada,” he says.
2018 marks both the 10-year anniversary of the government of Canada’s official apology for the Indian residential school system and 25 years since former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada Michael Peers delivered the Anglican Church of Canada’s apology for residential schools—anniversaries that Hardwick says “feed into this ride.”
Hardwick says the conversations about reconciliation that he has had have been encouraging. “There are signs across Canada of a great willingness to journey. If there is a hesitancy, it’s in not knowing how to make the first steps, and when, and what it might look like.”
Riding on roads and highways with very little hard shoulder, Hardwick says he found himself trying to balance on the white line at the edge of the road. “When you’re looking at your front wheel, it’s very hard to keep on the white line,” he says. “Yet, when you’re looking to the distance on the white line, it’s very easy to keep on the line.”
He sees it as a metaphor for the journey to healing and reconciliation. “I think as a church we need a focal point on this journey to unity, healing and reconciliation, which is further along, almost a vision point—something to aim for, that we could aim for together. That way, it will keep us on track.”
Hardwick’s ride has not been without setbacks, from difficult weather to finding out that back home, his house had been flooded by a burst kitchen pipe. But it was a car accident near Sault Ste. Marie June 22 that almost brought the journey to a halt.
His wife, Lorraine, who has been travelling with him in a vehicle pulling a camper trailer, had just met with him for a stretch break. After he pedalled off, she drove over a hill and the trailer began to sway uncontrollably. “It took Lorraine all the way across to the other side of the road and into the rock face,” says Hardwick.
The trailer overturned, and both the car and trailer were totalled. Lorraine, miraculously, emerged unscathed. “Just a little bruised,” says Hardwick.
The couple talked it over and decided the accident would not stop them. “We both came to the conclusion that we have to keep going. The journey’s so important.”
They will continue the remainder of the way using a rented vehicle. Though they can no longer camp in their trailer, Hardwick says he has been overwhelmed with community support; about 20 people have offered to billet them for the night.
“It’s an amazing church we have, and it’s an amazing land,” he says.
Hardwick says he has loved meeting people from across Canada and seeing the country. When asked about highlights of his trip, he fondly recalls an antelope in the mountains of B.C. that “jogged alongside” him for almost a quarter of a mile as he rode.
The remainder of his journey in late July, will be “all new territory” for the bishop, who has never travelled east of Quebec. For him, it represents his prayer for the church, “that we be enabled to go into new territory together as a people, and not to be scared that it may not be what we’re used to.”
Biking has led him to further contemplations of church unity. If the spokes on a bicycle’s wheel aren’t even, and in correct tension, he says, the wheel begins to wobble. “What we’ve had as a church is a wobbly wheel, in terms of our relationships with different groups—you know, evangelical to liberal, with discussions of the marriage canon, through to our relationships with First Nations. It’s been a very wobbly wheel. You couldn’t make a journey across Canada with a wobbly wheel like that. As a church, the spokes on either side, the opposites, need to be equally tensioned, need to pull their weight, in order for the wheel to be true and to be able then to journey on.”