Sunday, April 9, 2017
I received some terrible news by e-mail this past Wednesday. The founder of the Boarding Homes Ministry, Reverend Rodger Hunter, passed away suddenly. He had been diagnosed with cancer late last year. But he said they had caught it early. With surgery and treatment he was optimistic he would be back on his feet in no time.
I first met Rodger in or around the year 2000. He had come to speak at our church about his ministry. Ours was just one of many that he visited in order to drum up interest of volunteer groups. After his sermon four of us - Richard, Debbie, Armin and I decided to form a team.
We were assigned a home, Carter Manor, at 103 Tyndall Avenue in the Dufferin and King area. The building was home to around three dozen residents (at the time) all with varying degrees of mental disabilities. We were to go in and interact with the residents, just talk with them and see how they were doing. Some didn't have many friends or family.
I don't know if any of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. But Rodger guided us through the first number of visits before letting us go on our own.
At first we were going every Sunday afternoon after church. That got to be a bit much so we switched to Sunday afternoons and, the following week, Monday evenings. By this time I believe we were down to only two of us visiting, Richard and myself. Eventually we gave up Monday evenings, just going every other Sunday afternoon.
Over the years volunteers came and left. Peter and Karen Tjon came for awhile. So did Steve Chong and later Mary Ko Bong. Mary was an elderly lady. She actually passed away at the ripe old age of 92. The circumstances were a bit tragic. Peter and Karen left our church for another. Steve and Richard got busy with married life. After awhile it was just me. That's when Rodger came back into the fold to join me.
Most of the time it was just us two. Later on he would get seminary students. It was sort of like a hands on ministry experience for them. They would join us for part of their school year. Our first student was Jamie. Then it might have been Kate, followed by Abbey, Emily and, most recently, Cathy (whose final visit was supposed to be two Sundays ago). I'm not sure if I missed anyone or not. For one or two years the school didn't send us any students for some reason. So that program started quite a long time ago.
Fast forward to last November (2017). The boarding homes volunteers received this e-mail:
Boarding Homes Teams
November 22, 2016
To all Boarding Homes volunteers,
Thank you for all your faithful service and fellowship you have with your homes. Your smile, kind words, and laughter will bring smiles to many residents this coming holiday season. For many of our friends in the homes, this may be the only gift they receive. Thank you.
Rodger and I write to you to share some sad news. Rev. Rodger Hunter has been diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma. The lump is in his chest, and as the cancer has been caught very early, we are confident that Rodger will make a full recovery. He will undergo surgery at some point in early December and then will work with his doctors to determine the best treatment for him going forward.
We covet your prayers for Rodger and know that he is in God’s loving hands.
Rodger will be taking some time off to concentrate on his health, starting early December, and as such will not be making regular visits to homes. We know that many of the teams are self-sufficient and can and will continue to visit your homes regularly. For the two homes that Rodger currently visits either by himself or with one team member, we are looking for volunteers to help ensure our ministry continues in these places. The visits occur on Wednesdays at 1 pm and Fridays at noon, every other week. If you can add a visit to your schedule, please let Rodger or I know.
While Rodger is away, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. As a Board, we will answer questions we can and help address issues.
Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. We will update you regularly on Rodger’s health, as news becomes available.
Rodger's last visit to Carter Manor was at Christmastime. We held our annual Christmas dinner where he bought Swiss Chalet dinners for all the residents. We had three special dinners a year - one at Easter, one at Thanksgiving (which also coincided with the the anniversary of our first visit), and one at Christmastime. In later years we also held an annual end of summer barbecue hosted by his friend, Maureen.
I traded a few e-mails with Rodger while he was away. In one he mentioned his surgery would be on January 14th. In a following one it seems like they changed the date to Friday, January 13th, followed by six weeks of "letting things heal back up."
On Saturday, February 18th he wrote:
Friends in Christ,
I trust things are well with you.
Just an update. I begin six weeks of radiation therapy on the 27th. I may be able to return to work on a limited basis during this treatment but I’ll just have to see where my energy level is.
I have appreciated the prayerful support from the boarding home communities.
Grace abound, Rodger
Then, last week, on Wednesday, April 5th we received the devastating news.
Dear Boarding Homes teams,
It is with great sadness and shock that I share the news that Rodger has lost his battle with cancer and passed away earlier this week. In his and my last correspondence just last week, he was as upbeat as only he can be and we were discussing the dates for the annual meeting.
I'm attaching the note from Rev. Will Ingram and will share details of any funeral arrangements as they come available.
Please remember his daughter in your prayers.
Please share this news with your fellow team members as I feel I may not have captured everyone's emails here.
... with this attachment:
It is with profound sadness that we share the news that the Rev. Rodger Hunter passed away yesterday morning at Sunnybrook Hospital. Rodger had been suffering with cancer for the past few months, but his death comes as a shock to all of us.
Rodger was a dedicated and committed servant of Jesus Christ and performed an amazing ministry with some of Toronto’s most marginalized people. For many years he was the Chaplain of Boarding Homes Ministry and conducted his ministry with tremendous compassion and prophetic vision.
Arrangements will be shared when they are available.
We know that this news will come as a surprise and shock to many of the members of our community. In your prayers today please give thanks for Rodger’s example, his witness and his life; and keep his daughter Christie and the many people whose lives he touched in your thoughts and prayers.
We live in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.
The news is hard to fathom - Disbelief, utter sadness and shock. So many emotions. 17 years, then gone in an instant. A gaping hole.
His compassion and devotion to the neglected was deep. He affected positive change to countless disaffected spirits. Those people, and many more, will miss him greatly. I will be one among them.
Cathy has graciously agreed to join me this Sunday to visit Carter Manor (even though the previous visit was supposed to be her last). I posted a message about Rodger's passing on Facebook, so word got out to the home. I'm not sure what we're going to do. Hopefully we'll be able to console one another and, perhaps, send prayers his way. I feel sort of lost.