After 10 years, the annual Schomberg Country Run has expanded beyond the boundaries of this southern Ontario town and spread across Canada. And, in a curious way, it’s because of COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit and the lockdown came, the organizers knew they couldn’t have everyone run the same route at the same time, so they opted for a virtual run. That meant anyone could participate anywhere. With people participating or supporting the run from as far away as Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and British Columbia, the virtual run became a surprising success.
“In some ways, it has eliminated a lot of logistical issues and because it’s virtual, we’ve had people participating or supporting all over the place,” says Bishop George Elliott, interim priest-in-charge of the Parish of Lloydtown, which organizes the run each year. “It’s kind of opened it up in a nice way.”
With 108 participants, many of whom were whole families registering as one participant, the run exceeded its participation from 2019.
The annual run was started 10 years ago by the then-incumbent of the Parish of Lloydtown, the Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth, who died this past June from cancer.
At the diocese’s 2018 Synod, the Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth spoke about how she started the run to engage the Schomberg community and invite newcomers to their church. At the time, less than one per cent of the town attended church. So, if they’re not going to church, she asked herself, what are they doing instead? And how can the church engage with them in activities they are already doing?
“What do people do religiously in our town?” she asked at the time. “We thought about it and came to the conclusion that running is something that people in Schomberg do religiously.”
In the first nine years, the run raised over $50,000, which was shared between Pikangikum First Nation, an Ojibwe First Nation located in Northern Ontario, and the Parish of Lloydtown. When they started the run in 2010, Pikangikum had the highest suicide rate in the world, and the same population as Schomberg.
“She was absolutely horrified at Pikangikum First Nation possibly being the suicide capital of the world,” Carol Ann Trabert, who has helped organize the run for 10 years, says. “The water was so bad, you couldn’t even bathe in it.”
One way to support the First Nation was to help it address its infrastructure needs. The funds raised by the run, along with additional funds from the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, supported it to secure an improved water source and run safe water to houses on the reserve.
The commitment to supporting Indigenous communities to access safe water and address environmental issues came from the Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth seeing these as central to her ministry.
“She was a person who cared for all people. That’s what called her to ministry in the first place,” Geoff Peat, another long-time run organizer, says.
Before she died, she asked that the run organizers raise funds for the Toronto Urban Native Ministry.
“She said ‘Don’t stop the run. Give everything to them,’” Ms. Trabert says.
The organizing committee wanted to fulfill her wish and honour her legacy. In recognition of her immense contribution, this year’s run was in commemoration of the Rev. Sheilagh Ashworth and her commitment to Indigenous issues and reconciliation. All the proceeds went towards supporting Toronto Urban Native Ministry.
“She was the original inspiration and we wanted her to be part of the 10th anniversary,” Mr. Peat says.
The organizers raised $20,000, which will be matched by FaithWorks for a total donation of $40,000 to the Toronto Urban Native Ministry.