The flying bishop

As he celebrates his 20th year as Country Guide columnist, Bishop Rodney Andrews remembers that he only ever wanted to be an Anglican priest. And a pilot. Photo: Dave Stobbe
As he celebrates his 20th year as Country Guide columnist, Bishop Rodney Andrews remembers that he only ever wanted to be an Anglican priest. And a pilot. Photo: Dave Stobbe
Published February 25, 2015

(Reprinted with permission from Country Guide magazine, October 2014, pp. 62-5.)

Rod Andrews knows what it is to be forever connected to a chunk of land and a way of life. There’s a special quality in his voice when he talks about the family farm, on Alberta’s Coal Trail between Delburne and Red Deer.

“It was a magic place. I loved to go there,” Andrews says of the days when his grandparents still lived on the home ground. “On holidays and long weekends my family gravitated to the farm and I would go there on my own for a couple of weeks in the summer. I’d have my own calf and that was where I learned to drive a tractor.”

Farmers faced their share of challenges then as they do now-some similar, some quite different-but there was a strong sense of community and co-operation. The rural telephone line was just one example. Everyone worked together to set up a line in the district, and then everyone was expected to take their turn to help repair it if, and more likely when, need be.

Rod remembers the phone going down and his grandmother, unable to phone her grocery order in to town, saying to the men, “Well, it’s raining today, you can’t hay; you can fix the phone.” The men would go out and get the lines going.

“But it had to be a rainy day activity,” Rod chuckles. “Today, if our Internet doesn’t work for half an hour it’s a crisis. Think of what happens when Blackberry has a blackout…”

Born in Red Deer and raised in the little town of Delburne, Alberta, Rod was ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1965 when he was 23. His first posting was to Lethbridge as the assistant priest. He loved his vocation, as he’d known he would, but he felt he lacked life experience. He’d gone directly from high school to seminary, and apart from one summer working on a survey crew, all of his summer jobs had been church related.

When it came to careers, he’d only ever wanted to be an Anglican priest. And, as you know by now, a pilot.

So, when his income tax refund was $550, the exact-same amount required to pay for flying lessons, he signed up and earned his private license at High River. And, as he’d hoped, he met many people outside the Church and began to make friends apart from Church association. Getting to know people from different backgrounds, and being in different circumstances and situations, enabled him to broaden his horizons and to learn from the experiences of others. It’s made him a better priest and a better person, he says.

Rod eventually attained his airline transport pilot’s license, and his own plane. He became a flight instructor and continues to teach to this day. In the Church, over the years, he’s served as rector, chaplain, archdeacon and Bishop of Saskatoon.

Today, retired from the Church, he’s the proud owner of a 1945 John Deere AR, identical to the one he learned to drive as a boy on his grandparents’ farm. When he’s not driving it at Saskatoon’s Pion-Era, the Borden Threshing Day and a few other events, he keeps it in his airplane hangar.

Rod took over the job of writing the Reflections column for the Country Guide 20 years ago, but his association with the magazine goes back sixty and more years to those long summer evenings on his grandparents’ farm when he would pore over the Guide’s ads for farm machinery and listen to his family talk about buying a new tractor. He wrote his first column in September 1994, and through 20 years and four editors, he’s never missed a deadline.

“Every now and then I go to garage sales and see somebody selling back issues of the Country Guide. I’ve collected a few,” Rod says. He’s also learned a bit about the history of the column.

Country Guide has been around since 1882 and has almost always had an inspirational column. Bishop Morse Goodman, who passed away on December 12, 1993, wrote it from 1961 to 1993. At that time the Reflections column was part of a Family Living section, which included recipes and articles on subjects such as canning and sewing.

Rod remembers Bishop Goodman, and remembers him jotting down notes on a sheet of foolscap at Church meetings, as he pondered an idea for his column. After Bishop Goodman passed away, Guide editor Colleen Armstrong reran some of his columns for a few months. That summer Rod contacted her and applied for the job. “I took the initiative,” he says. “I said this has been a good thing. I’m sure many people appreciate it. It seems to be an important part of the Country Guide.” She asked him to write a couple of sample columns, which he did, knowing that other writers were also on the short list. He was delighted when she called and offered him the job.

In writing the Reflections column. Rod’s goal is to focus on common human issues such as forgiveness and community and personal relationships. He often writes about the concerns of small churches. “Readers attend a variety of churches and many do not attend church at all,” he says. “I try to find themes that speak to real life for Country Guide readers. I also try to expand those themes by touching on global issues.”

Over the years he’s written about everything from the existence of God to volunteering, from a visit to China to cussing, from enemies to healing. He sometimes receives requests to copy his columns. He always says yes.

His editors have received the same request. One column, written over 10 years ago, was about gossip and the harm it does. An individual from a small town in Western Canada was moved to write to Rod’s editor about that particular column. He wanted permission to copy the article, and distribute it to every person in his town.

“Being able to write those monthly columns for Country Guide has been a tremendous experience,” Rod says. “As I travel about, I meet folk who seem to know me. People introduce me to other people almost as if I was their close friend…Maybe I’m writing something that’s touching a chord somewhere that someone can identify with.

“Religion and life need to be connected. I try to write about everyday events where that connection happens. I hope to deal with questions people are asking, and I hope my short articles validate their feelings.”


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