Aileen Urquhart – 2022 Companion of the Centre

Aileen Urquhart – 2022 Companion of the Centre

On April 3, 2022 the Centre for Christian Studies recognized Aileen Urquhart with the Companion of the Centre Award.

Interim Principal Ken DeLisle introduced Aileen at the Annual Service of Celebration:

Lover of nature, scientist, educator, mentor, justice seeker, unassuming servant, artist, writer, creative liturgist and storyteller, a joyous and wise guide, a diaconal model.  These are just a few of the accolades sponsors and supporters used to describe Aileen.

Aileen was born and grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. Her parents were nominally members of the Church of Scotland but this did not play a significant role in Aileen’s early life.  Her spiritual life developed through her love of nature and a growing appreciation and awe for the beauty of creation.  

Her belief in God was sparked in high school through an interest in science which provided more and more experiences and encounters that filled her with a sense of wonder that defied any other explanation. Her interested in science also led her into a career in research and teaching in plant science.

Aileen’s first encounter with the United Church of Canada came in Winnipeg.  Living in the inner city she had become aware of the many pressing justice issues that abounded in the community and she discovered in Young United Church, a congregation that was not only concerned about justice but was willing to act on their concerns by becoming partners with a local Anglican parish to establish West Broadway Community Ministry.  

When her contract in biology at the University of Manitoba ended Aileen applied for a job as coordinator of the Community Ministry and so her journey into ministry began.  

Slowly she discovered that the work she loved – outreach, education, community development, pastoral care, social justice, and advocacy were all expressions of diaconal ministry. This in turn led to enrollment in the Western Field Based Diaconal Ministry Training Program and finally to commissioning as a Diaconal Minister in 1994.

Aileen spent many years in ministry with the Indigenous church, as minister of the United Church in Fisher River Cree Nation for 5 years, as Co-director of the Sandy Saulteaux Resource Centre for 2 years and then after retiring, in multiple stints as acting Personnel Minister for All Native Circle Conference.  

Indigenous colleagues expressed appreciation for her positive energy, respectful approach, non-judgemental style, advocacy for the Indigenous church and her long-standing commitment to right relations. She held worship in informal worship circles, encouraged respectful dialogue amongst community members, supported traditional ceremonies, encouraged Indigenous leadership, and provided a model for diaconal ministry and “doing church differently”. 

A non-Indigenous colleague working in a First Nations community wrote that although she had many mentors to teach her about Indigenous history and ministries within the United Church, it was Aileen who showed her how to be white in that space. “Through modelling, laughter, listening, patience, grace, humility, curiosity, (and the) slow building of relationships…Aileen demonstrated and guided me.” 

Aileen is a writer, a storyteller, and an artist. Through videos of Godly Play, she brings biblical stories to life in a creative and accessible way appreciated by all ages.  Through published stories of the people she met on the streets of inner city Winnipeg, she raises their voices and honours their struggles and gifts.  Through her art she connects spirituality and social justice, creativity, and wisdom.  

In her retirement she continues in volunteer ministry with her home congregation in Sioux Lookout, Ont. supporting various collaborative and community ministries and in the wider church actively and creatively addressing issues of racism, colonialization, and poverty.  

Aileen stands in a prophetic tradition of diaconal graduates and is an inspiration to us all. She has been a friend and volunteer with CCS for many years, offering insightful and innovative leadership in a variety of activities and programs and generously sharing her time and wisdom in “imagining church differently”.  She will bring grace and generosity of spirit to the role of Companion!  

And so, it is my great delight and honour to present this dear friend as our very worthy 2022 Companion of the Centre for Christian Studies!

The day before the Annual Service, Aileen was a guest speaker at an online event on Prophetic Diakonia, where she was interviewed by Ken on the links in her experience between social justice and Diaconal Ministry.