Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Homily preached at the funeral for Sister Merle Milligan, SSJD by The Right Reverend Linda Nicholls

Thursday, March 6, 2014
Funeral: Sr. Merle Milligan, SSJD
Homilist: Bishop Linda Nicholls

From the moment we draw our first breath in this world we are pushed pummelled, shaped and formed by the world around and within us, From the accidents of our birth -family, place & time to the social milieu & world events to the choices of ourselves and others we are formed and at time choose to be formed. Our first hymn today described that process so well…….

The Rt. Rev. Linda Nicholls
Great God, your love has called us here as we, by love, for love were made.
We come with self inflicted pains of broken trust and chosen wrong;
Half free, half-bound by inner chains, by social forces swept along
By powers and systems close confined; yet seeking hope for humankind……

Great God, in Christ you call our name and then receive us as your own
Not through some merit, right, or claim, but by your gracious love alone.

Great God, in Christ you set us free, your life to live, your joy to share,
Give us your Spirits liberty to turn from built and dull despair,
And offer all that faith can do while love is making all things new.

And it struck me as we sang it that it described the journey of life that Sr. Merle experienced. In midst of many forces - from the death of her mother at birth to her service in the Second World War to her choice to be formed as a disciple of Jesus through life in the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine - Sr. Merle sought to live faithfully relying on the love of God her creator.

We all do this resting on the certainty of the promises we have heard in scripture, particularly that in John 6. Everything the Father gives to me will come to me, and anyone who come to me I will never drive away I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life.

Sr. Merles early life - the death of her mother and subsequent shifts among families - were painful - but developed an independence and resiliency in her. Sr. Merle was a woman of strong opinions and not shy about sharing them! Her life choices were those of serving others - from military service as a young woman to her vocation as a nurse in Montreal and at St. Johns Convalescent Home. She was a woman of keen intelligence and abilities as an Administrator and Manager, as a Head Nurse at Montreal General Hospital for several units, as Assistant Administrator at St. Johns Convalescent Home and at the Home for the Aged and Cana Place.
I met Sr. Merle in her later years in retirement and marvelled at her constant interest in world affairs & history. She always knew what was on the front page of the newspaper!

Many have noted that although she often seemed serious she had a lovely smile and sense of humour. She and I shared a common delight - cats! Merle would light up with delight when discussing the vagaries of cat behaviour - and, of course, Sandy was the best! - despite my protestations that mine were. She would also light up when talking about her friendship with the Sonnenburgs, especially when the children came into their lives. She was so grateful to be part of their family. Her latter years were challenging - the residual effects of a case of shingles were frustrating and the losses of aging were not suffered gladly though in recent months she had demonstrated a reconciliation with her situation.

Merle took what life offered and sought to live as a faithful Christian, choosing to serve others and to serve God. She was, in my experience a very private woman about discussing her faith and life. I am not altogether sure what prompted her to come to SSJD - no doubt Gods call in all its mystery. Although private, she showed and lived it through her choices - not perfectly.She could on occasion be frustrating - but which of us is perfect.

So today we come to celebrate her life and commit her into the keeping of God her creator whose deep love and grace sustained her in the midst of the circumstances and situations that shaped her. This is a bittersweet moment. We do experience the grief of her loss from our midst physically yet, in light of the promises of God, know that she has been reunited with God and is home. We heard the affirmations of those promises through the gospel of John - the promise of eternal life. We heard it in 1 John in the passionate witness of the author and in the beautiful passage of Isaiah that paints a vision of the future banquet where death is swallowed up forever and closing affirmation: This is the Lord for whom we have waited; Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Today we thank God for the life of Sr. Merle and commit her into the hands of her Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier whose love guided her in the choices of her life. That same God invites us to follow faithfully through our lives. Thanks be to God.

Bishop Linda Nicholls was consecrated on February 2, 2008 and began her ministry as Area Bishop of Trent-Durham on February 15, 2008 .

Linda comes to Episcopal ministry with background as a teacher, parish priest and national staff member.   With university degrees in music and education she taught secondary school music and math for five years at Woodstock International Christian School in Mussoorie , India before exploring a call to ordained ministry.   Her theological education included studies at Ontario Theological Seminary and Wycliffe College before she was ordained deacon in November 1985 and priest in November 1986.   A curacy was served at St. Paul ’s L’Amoreaux Church, Scarborough followed by her appointment as incumbent of the Parish of Georgina (St. James’, Sutton and St. George’s , Sibbald Point).  The Parish of Georgina has the unusual honour of having had three incumbents in series who are all now bishops – Colin Johnson (Toronto), Victoria Matthews (Christ Church, New Zealand) and Linda Nicholls! 

In 1991 Linda became the incumbent of the Parish of Holy Trinity, Thornhill where she served until February 2005.   During her parish ministries Linda explored a variety of continuing education courses, including a Certificate in Spiritual Direction, and completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at the University ofToronto in 2002.   Other interests in ministry include a passion for community life, healing ministries and support of Parish Nursing.  From February 2005 to her consecration Linda served in the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada as the Coordinator for Dialogue for Ethics, Interfaith Relations and Congregational Development. 

In her ministry as a bishop Linda serves on the Doctrine & Worship Committee of the Diocese; Committee on Religious Orders of the National Church; and the Faith Worship and Ministry Committee for the Anglican Church of Canada.  Linda was appointed in 2011 by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).  

Music has been an abiding commitment for Linda and she relaxes by singing in a chamber choir or playing piano or flute. Wilderness canoe trips provide a summer hobby. She shares her home with a feline companion who is unimpressed with church pomp & circumstance and keeps her focused on daily maintenance requirements!