Essential Traditional Folk Songs #3: Chris Wood sings ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’

This song exists in at least two main versions: ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ and ‘Cold Blow and the Rainy Night’. I first heard it in the second version; it was recorded by Planxty on their 1974 album ‘Cold Blow and the Rainy Night’ with a rather different tune. But here Chris Wood sings it in what I think of as a more traditionally English version.

Chris introduces this as a song about young love but of course it is actually one of the many traditional folk songs in which the man has his way with the woman and then leaves her to deal with the consequences. As usual, Mainly Norfolk has a good summary of the recording history of the various versions of this song. As Malcolm Douglas at Mudcat Cafépoints out, the song as we now know it is more of a compilation of verses from various traditional sources, rather than a traditional song in its own right.

Chris Wood’s website is here.

For those who might be interested, I created my own version of this song and wrote a new tune for it; you can hear it on my CD ‘Folk Songs and Renovations‘. Listen to the whole track on Bandcamp here.

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Essential Traditional Folk Songs #2: Maddy Prior sings ‘Dives and Lazarus’

Maddy Prior is a legend on the English folk music scene, having been the lead singer of ‘Steeleye Span’ and then gone on to front several bands of her own as well as undertaking numerous solo projects. Her website is here. I believe the musicians are Benji Kirkpatrick and Giles Lewin.

Dives and Lazarus is an old folk ballad based on the biblical parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. As usual, ‘Mainly Norfolk‘ has a good summary of the song’s recording history in England. Two nineteenth-century versions of the text are given in Child’s ‘The English and Scottish Popular Ballads’, but Child also notes possible earlier versions dating back as far as 1557. The tune is a well-known one and is often sung in Ireland to a song called ‘The Star of the County Down’.

There are other excellent renditions of this song, including this much quieter and more reflective version from Martin Simpson’s 2001 CD ‘The Bramble Briar’. This live version by Nic Jones is very poor recording quality but is also quite valuable – the tune is slightly different from the Prior and Simpson versions. The Young Tradition recorded a very fine unaccompanied version on their 1965 album ‘The Young Tradition'; it can be found here. Note their use of the name ‘Diverus’ rather than ‘Dives’, which is also well known in the tradition.

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Essential Traditional Folk Songs #1: Jean Ritchie sings ‘Barb’ry Allen’

There are many, many versions of this song, with many different tunes. Samuel Pepys knew it and referred to it in his diary in 1666 as ‘the little Scottish song Barbara Allen’. There is a good summary of its recording history and some interesting background at Mainly Norfolk.

Jean Ritchie of course sings an Appalachian version. For information about her, see the Wikipedia article here. She is currently 91 and has been known to leave comments on the Mudcat Café website. I see her as perhaps the greatest living Appalachian folk singer.

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Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 32

Link back to Chapter 31

This is the first draft of a work of fiction; it will probably be revised in the not-too-distant future. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.


Some time in the winter or early spring of 1994, Kelly and I came to the gradual realization that, without any real intent on our part, our lives had become extremely busy.

My job, of course, had always been busy. I know a lot of people find that hard to believe; they hear that teachers get two months off in the summer, along with two weeks at Christmas and a week around Easter, and, like my father, they rack their brains to think of any other profession that gets that much holiday time. And they look at the number of teaching hours in a day – in my case, from nine o’clock in the morning to three fifteen in the afternoon, with forty-five minutes for lunch and some extra-curricular work after classes – and they think that our working day looks pretty short.

I had this conversation with my brother once, during our holiday in England in the summer of 1990. He and his family were over visiting us at Mum and Dad’s house on a Saturday afternoon, and he was ribbing me gently about how short my working day was compared to the sort of hours he put in as a lawyer. I was in a belligerent mood that day – it wasn’t very long after I’d had the same conversation with my father – and so, instead of letting it go as I usually did, I said, “How long do you think it takes me to mark my kids’ assignments, Rick?”

“Oh, a couple of hours, I expect”.

“You think? Your math isn’t very good, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, let’s start with a number; how many students do you think I teach in a week?”

“I’ve got no idea, bro”.

“Amazing; you’re making assumptions about how short my work week is, and you don’t really know the most basic thing about my work: how many clients I have”.

“There’s no need to get touchy about it”.

“Let’s just say I’ve heard this line of argument a few too many times, and every now and again I decide not to take it lying down; today you drew the short straw, I guess. So, for your information, I teach about a hundred and fifty students a week. Also, for your information, I give each of them at least one assignment a week, which I then have to read and mark. How long do you think it would take me to mark their assignments?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Tom – ten minutes each?”

“You’re being generous; I wish I had time to take ten minutes with each of their assignments. If I gave them each ten minutes, that would be twenty-five hours of marking per week. No, some take longer than others, but I average about four minutes per assignment; that means ten hours a week in marking. That’s one of my extra-classroom commitments. Then there’s lesson preparation, including chasing up any visual aids or movies or stuff like that, and standing in line for the use of our photocopier. Add to that one-on-one tutoring with kids who need a little extra help, also conferences with parents, staff meetings, special events like Christmas concerts, school plays – did I mention that I run the drama department as well, and we try to put on a good play at least once a year?”

“Alright, you’ve made your point”.

“I haven’t quite finished making my point. I know I don’t work the sort of hours lawyers work, but then, I don’t make the sort of money lawyers make, either. But I do know that I leave for school at 7.45 every morning, and I get home at about 5.15. I also know that on two or three evenings during the week I put in about two hours of work at home after supper, and on Sunday afternoons I put in another four hours. So I’m not quite the lazy bum that you and Dad seem to think I am”.

“I was only joking, Tom”, he said.

“Don’t”, I replied; “I’m tired of the joke”.


I went into teaching with my eyes wide open; when I first mentioned to Owen’s dad that I was thinking about it, he said, “Don’t do it unless you’re prepared to work long hours”. When I asked him what sort of hours he was talking about, he described for me pretty much the sort of working week that I later outlined for my brother. “If you’re single”, he said to me, “You’ll have time for an absorbing hobby. If you get married and have a family, you won’t; you’ll have time to be a teacher, and to be a husband and father – that’s all”.

“But you spend lots of time with your children”, I replied.

“I do”, he said, “and then I get up every morning at five and put in two hours of schoolwork before the rest of the family gets going. Also, my wife has never worked outside the home, so she’s always done the lion’s share of the housework, and she’s been happy to fit our life together around my schedule. That gets a bit more difficult when you’ve got to fit another career in as well”.

My problem, of course, was that I already had an absorbing hobby – music – which was one of the things that had attracted Kelly to me in the first place. And, of course, she had a career of her own, one that consumed a lot of emotional energy, because she wasn’t the sort of nurse who turned off her feelings and just went through the motions of caring for people, especially when she was working at the Special Care Home. Most of the old people who came to live there were already known to her, because she was a long-time resident of Meadowvale herself. When they got sick – and, sooner or later, died – they weren’t just patients to her; they were people she knew and cared for. A death at the Special Care Home, for Kelly, meant at least one evening at home fighting back the tears; Emma and I learned to expect that, and to be gentle with her when she was going through it. As Emma said to me years later, “That’s what made Mom such a great nurse – it wasn’t just a job for her. She really cared for people”.

“You saw how hard that made it for her sometimes, didn’t you?” I replied.

“Yeah, I did”.

“Is that what you’re going to do?” I asked, knowing the answer before the words even left my mouth.

She looked at me steadily for a moment, and then nodded her head; “I learned from the best”, she said quietly.

I felt the lump in my throat, and I smiled and whispered, “You sure did”.


In the early years of our marriage, Kelly and I were able to ignore the reality of our busy schedules. For the first fourteen months, it was just the two of us; yes, we were both working full time, but I wasn’t gigging with Ellie, and we had no young child to care for. After Emma was born Kelly went on maternity leave, and before her leave was over she was diagnosed with cancer, which absorbed our full attention for the next nine months. During that time, of course, she didn’t work outside the home, and she continued to stay home until Emma was nearly two; she went back to work part-time in September 1987, but didn’t return to full-time until four years later. During that period of our lives Ellie and I had gotten involved in playing live music in Saskatoon and closer to home; also, Kelly and I had started attending the Wednesday night study group at the church, and before too long we had taken on the young people as well.

It was only gradually that we came to realize how little time we actually had for ourselves. Each morning I would get up at six-thirty, get dressed and go for a half hour walk. When I got home I would make tea, take a cup to each of my girls to wake them up, and make breakfast for everyone. Sally would arrive at our door at about seven-forty, and Kelly and I would head off to work five minutes later; I dropped Kelly off at the special care home and then drove myself to the high school. I would have liked to have walked to work – it was only a fifteen minute walk – but I didn’t want to get out of bed at six-fifteen instead of six thirty, and I needed to be at school by eight to be ready for my classes to start at nine. Sally sat with Emma for an hour after Kelly and I left, before driving her over to the elementary school in time for the morning bell at 8.55; later, she would meet her after school and take her back to her place until Kelly and I picked her up on our way home just after five o’clock.

Once I was at school in the morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee from the staff room, stuck my head around Will’s door to say hello, and then went straight to my classroom, where I spent the next fifty minutes in preparation work or marking, unless there was an early morning meeting, or a conference with a student or a parent. The first bell rang at eight fifty-five, my home room class came for registration, and at nine o’clock the teaching day started. Each period was fifty-five minutes long, with a five minute break in between them, except for double periods, of which I had several. I taught all the senior high English Language Arts classes – grades ten to twelve – as well as a couple of senior high journalism classes, and the drama program for the whole school. Two other teachers shared the junior high ELA classes, and by 1992 I was in overall charge of the English Language Arts department at our school, which gave me some administrative responsibilities as well. I had joked with Don Robinson about not being a good administrator, and I was well aware of my limitations in that area, but the fact was that I was the most experienced English teacher in the school, and thus the logical choice to be in charge of the department. “And”, Will said to me, “it also gives you the right to decide who teaches each class; I know you want to keep those senior high classes”.

“True enough”, I replied.

“Well, you’ve earned them”, he said quietly, “and you teach them well”.

My days were full, and for the most part I enjoyed them. Every year I had some students who persistently challenged my authority, and some students who needed extra attention just to keep up with the minimum requirements of the classes. But also, every year I had some students who absolutely loved English and made my classes a joy to teach, and many of them remained my friends after they graduated (and, in most cases, moved away from Meadowvale). Also, as time went by and I got a little older, I found more and more students coming to talk to me about personal issues. We had a counselling consultant on staff at our school, and there was also an unspoken understanding that Don Robinson was available if people needed a listening ear, but I gradually came to realize that students will decide who they’re going to trust, and when they place that trust in you, you have to take it seriously.

As time went by, I gradually learned to enjoy this role, which I saw as fitting into the grey area between ordinary helpfulness and professional counselling, but at first it was something of a surprise to me. I mentioned this to Kelly one evening, and she smiled at me and said, “You honestly didn’t expect it?”

“Not really, although when I think about it, I don’t know why”.

“Didn’t you have someone you went to talk to when you were in school – a teacher or a counsellor or someone like that?”

“Not really. I looked up to Owen’s dad, of course, and we talked about books a lot. And now and again when I was visiting at their place, he and I had some good general conversations about life. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t really have anyone who I approached in a counselling capacity – any adult, that is. Owen and I talked about stuff, of course, but that’s different”.

“No school counsellor at Wallingford School?”

“Not that I remember. Of course, I might not have noticed; I did tend to move in my own little world in those days!”

She came over to where I was standing by the sink, put her arm in mine, and said, “Well, my spies tell me you’re a very good person to talk to”.

“You have spies, do you?”

“Of course”, she replied with a mischievous grin; “I like to know what my husband’s up to!”


At the end of the working day, when we arrived home with Emma, Kelly would head straight for the stereo system to put on some music from the loud and lively end of her record collection. She enjoyed a number of classic rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, Queen, or the Steve Miller band, and she was also fond of some more recent artists, especially Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, Huey Lewis, and Bruce Springsteen, but her favourite bands for late-afternoon listening were the Police (including Sting’s more recent solo albums) and Dire Straits. This was not the sort of music that I was naturally inclined to be interested in, but over the years of listening to it while we were in the process of getting ready for supper I became quite fond of some of it, especially Dire Straits. Even today, when I hear a Dire Straits or Mark Knopfler song on the radio, it takes me straight back to those days, when one of us would be playing or reading with Emma in the living room while the other one got our supper ready.

We got better at the supper preparation business as time went by, planning our meals carefully so that we could re-use leftovers and cut down on the time it took to get the food on the table. We both enjoyed cooking, and we both enjoyed each other’s cooking, which made things a little easier for us. We usually had supper on the table by about six, and we both liked lingering for a while after the meal was over, making a pot of tea and talking about what our individual days at work had been like. If Emma was in the mood for staying at the table, the talk tended to focus on her, but if not, and if she wanted to go off and do something by herself, we tended to sit a little longer and talk more between the two of us.

There was a limit to the amount of time I could give to this, though; as I had said to my brother, for two or three nights a week, I needed to put in a couple of hours of marking or preparation time. Generally speaking, Kelly learned to expect this on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes Mondays as well. On those nights, I would spend an hour or so with Emma while Kelly cleared up from supper or puttered around doing odd jobs; sometimes she came and joined us and the three of us had family time together. If the weather was good Emma usually liked to be outside, and since Kelly and I enjoyed this too, that tended to be our default choice from April to October. But by eight o’clock, I was usually down in the basement at my desk, and I would work clear through until ten. By that time I was tired and ready for bed; Kelly was more of a night owl, and sometimes she liked to stay up later than me, but we made a habit of praying together at around ten while I was still awake. By ten-thirty I was invariably in bed; Kelly was usually with me, although sometimes she read for another hour by the dim light of her bedside lamp. Fortunately, the light didn’t usually keep me awake.

On Wednesdays, of course, this schedule varied, because we liked to go to the study group at the church. Gradually it had become the custom for Beth to eat with us on Wednesdays, and this was something we both looked forward to. Sometimes she and Kelly worked on supper together, or sometimes she brought a guitar over with her and she and I played some songs while Kelly got supper ready; Emma loved music and was always happy to listen while Beth and I were playing. When Beth turned sixteen, in April of 1994, her parents bought her a Seagull folk guitar, a lovely three-quarter size instrument with a solid cedar top, and she gradually got into the habit of bringing it over with her on Wednesday nights, because Emma was starting to get interested in playing music.

Emma had been picking up my old Martin from time to time and trying to play it, but of course she didn’t know any chords, even though I saw her sometimes trying to stretch her eight-year old fingers across the fretboard to form them. But one Wednesday evening in the Fall of 1994 Beth and I were playing a few tunes together before supper; we were sitting in the living room, and when we finished ‘John Barleycorn’ Emma came over, sat down on the couch beside me, and said, “Will you teach me to play guitar, Daddy, like you taught Beth?”

“Of course I will”, I replied with a smile; “We can start any time you like”.

“But I think your guitar’s still too big for me”, she said.

Beth smiled at her. “Come sit over here, Em”, she said, “and try my guitar; it’s a little smaller. It’s still big for you, but you might be able to get your hands around it”.

So Emma went and sat with her, and Beth put her guitar on her lap. She was right; even though it was still too big for my eight-year old daughter, it was a much better fit than my Martin. I watched as Beth crouched down in front of Emma and showed her how to form the G and C chords with her hands, moving the fingers for her until they were holding down the right strings. Emma got frustrated a couple of times, but Beth was patient with her and encouraged her, and after a few minutes Kelly came into the living room and stood with her hand on my shoulder, watching spellbound with me as our daughter took her first faltering steps as a guitarist.

Later that night, when I drove Beth home after Kelly and I returned from the study, I said, “You were amazing tonight, teaching Emma those chords; you were so patient with her”.

“She’s been curious for quite a while”, she replied; “I’m actually surprised it’s taken her this long to ask you”.

“I’m going to have to do something”, I said; “That Seagull of yours is a better fit for her than my Martin, but it’s still a bit too big for her”.

“Aren’t there some child sized guitars you can get?”

“Yes, I think there are. I’ll talk to Kelly; I’ll have to see if we can get one for her”.

“She does have a birthday coming up”.

I grinned at her; “Yes, she does”, I replied.


I resolutely refused to do any schoolwork on Friday nights and Saturdays; I guarded those days jealously. Usually I was pretty tired Friday nights, so Kelly and I fell into the habit of having what we jokingly referred to as ‘in-house dates’. We took a little longer to fix supper, making something a little more elaborate than our usual weekday fare, and we often had wine with the meal as well, something we tended not to do during the week. We would clear up and wash the dishes together, and then we would play or read or do other things with Emma until it was time for her to go to bed. After that, we would take the bottle of wine and curl up on the couch to watch a movie. There were times, more often than I care to remember, when I would fall asleep before the movie ended, and Kelly would wake me up gently while the closing credits were rolling and ask me if I wouldn’t be a little more comfortable sleeping in bed. Sometimes, however, I wouldn’t be so tired, and then we would tiptoe down the hallway to our bedroom, close the door, and make love together, taking care to be quiet for fear of waking up our little girl in the next room.

Those were good nights. In the early years of our marriage, after Kelly had recovered from her cancer and before she went back to work full time, we had made love much more frequently, but as we got into our thirties and our working lives got busier, we found ourselves going from weekend to weekend without much in the way of sex at all. I think we were both a little sad about this; Kelly’s early-onset menopause had given us some challenges for a while, but gradually we had found ways to compensate for it, and we had both come to look forward to our times of making love together. But the truth was that with both of us working full time, especially in a demanding job like mine, we were just too busy, and too tired, and we didn’t really know what to do about it.


My musical hobby didn’t help the situation. Since Darren had joined Ellie and me, our gigging had gotten a lot busier; he was young and enthusiastic, and, of course, he was single. I’m sure he would have been happy to go down to Saskatoon every weekend, for three evenings if he could get away with it, taking advantage of every possible opportunity to play open stages and gigs of our own. And there was no doubt that he added a huge amount of energy to our band; his mandolin and banjo playing was bright and rhythmic, and he knew a lot of songs that really  augmented our repertoire. Ellie clearly loved playing with him, and before long the two of them were writing songs together – songs, of course, that they were eager to try out in live performance.

When the band was going down to play in Saskatoon on a Saturday night, we usually got together for a couple of hours late Saturday morning to practice, which, of course, was prime family time for the Masefields and the Reimers; the trouble was, there was just no other time that we could do it. By the Fall of 1994 we were going down to the city twice a month, once to an open stage and once to play a gig of our own; by then there were several coffee shops that were happy to have us play for a couple of hours on a Saturday night, and we were also getting to know other bluegrass players in the city, which gave us even more opportunities for playing. I drew the line at twice a month, but I knew in my heart that even that was too often. The trouble was, I was having fun; even though bluegrass wasn’t my native musical language, I loved the energy and electricity of being up on stage with Ellie and Darren.

Gigging in Saskatoon meant driving down late in the afternoon, having supper in the city, setting up our sound gear and playing from 7.30 to 10.00 or 8.00 to 10.30, and then clearing up and driving home. We usually found that we were getting into Meadowvale around 12.30, or later if the roads were bad and we had to drive more slowly. When Ellie and I had first started playing together, Kelly and Joe had sometimes taken it in turns to babysit for each other so that one of them could come down and listen to our music, but gradually, over the years, they had stopped doing that. Kelly, being a night owl, was usually still awake when I got home, and sometimes she would make me a mug of hot chocolate and sit and talk with me for a few minutes, but she was keen to get to bed in order to be up for church on Sunday mornings, and usually, by the time I got home, I was pretty tired anyway.

On Saturdays when I wasn’t gigging, we would shop and clean the house, do outings with Emma, visit with family members, and do all the other things that had once filled our lives when weekends were quieter and Kelly wasn’t working full time. If the weather was good we would often go up to Myers Lake and walk or canoe, or go snowshoeing in the winter. Or we might go up to Hugo and Millie’s and ride the horses; Emma had become quite an enthusiastic little rider, and I knew that Kelly often took her out there on Saturdays when I was busy with music.

Occasionally we would share a supper with Glenn and Karla and their family. In the summer of 1994 Karla gave birth to a baby boy, and to my surprise they named him Thomas. Becca, who was visiting with us at the time, immediately started calling him ‘Tommy’, and the name stuck. Glenn was forty-five when his son was born, and Karla was thirty-nine, and a couple of months later, on one of the rare occasions when I was able to make time to go for coffee with Glenn, he confirmed to me that with Molly and Tommy their family was now complete. “I don’t want to be going to my kids’ hockey games in my wheelchair!” he said with a grin.


Sundays, of course, we went to church, although on some Sunday mornings I was pretty sleepy after getting home late. Church was slightly less comfortable for us than it had been at one time; there was a small but influential group who had not gotten over the fact that Kelly and I had been supportive of Donny and Alan, and that we had even been known to have them over for coffee or a meal at our house from time to time. There had been occasional conversations on the subject at our Sunday night youth gatherings; we had been careful to follow Rob’s suggestion, clearly setting out the case for the various views, and then encouraging the kids to ask questions and share their opinions. Never at any time had we attempted to persuade them to adopt a particular viewpoint, but of course there were people in the church who could not believe that.

Chief among that group was John Redekopp. John was a local businessman and a lifelong resident of Meadowvale; he was now the moderator of our church and he had a lot of influence. The funny thing was that I actually liked John a lot; he had a quirky sense of humour and a fine bass singing voice, and on Sundays he usually sat a couple of rows back from Kelly and Emma and me. Sometimes when Emma was little she would turn and look at him while he was singing the deep bass notes in one of the hymns, and he would wink at her and make her laugh. He was a good reader, too, and Rob often asked him to read the scripture passage, which he did with obvious love and reverence. From time to time on Sundays we would have a discussion after church based on Rob’s sermon, and I always enjoyed John’s insights and the questions he would ask.

However, it was plain to see that John was troubled by the revelation of Donny’s homosexuality and the fact that some of us were not as sure as he was that Donny needed to repent, leave Alan, return to church and settle down with a nice girl. There were others who shared that opinion with him, including his wife Edna, John Janzen’s uncle Peter, and George and Elizabeth Penner. They were not confrontational, but I noticed that after church on Sundays they tended to group together, and they didn’t have much to say to people who disagreed with them.

Occasionally John would come over and ask me how ‘the youth group’ was going; I would patiently explain to him every time that it wasn’t actually a youth group, just a few kids who liked coming over to our house to drink hot chocolate and discuss their questions with us and each other, and he would smile and say, “Yes, of course, I understand that; what sort of questions do you talk about with them?” And I would reply in a general sort of way, telling him they tended to be questions about how following Jesus connected with ordinary daily life, and I would resolutely ignore his hints about going into more detail; the last thing either Kelly or I wanted was for the kids to get the idea that we were breaking confidentiality and talking about their discussions with members of the wider church community.

Thankfully, tension and suspicion were not the whole story of our church life. I still enjoyed the Sunday services and found the sermons as thoughtful and challenging as ever. It had never been the Mennonite tradition to rely exclusively on the pastor for sermons; Rob did about two thirds of the preaching, but two or three others took their turn as well, and lately Joe had been one of that group, which I particularly appreciated. I enjoyed leading music with Will and Ellie, although we didn’t get as much time for practising as I would have liked. I enjoyed sitting with Kelly and Emma, with Joe and Ellie and their kids beside us, and across the aisle John and Ruth and their family sitting with Rachel and Beth. Our church seemed to be growing slightly; our Sunday attendance hovered around a hundred and fifty, with a good number of younger families with small children. A significant number of people were involved in Habitat for Humanity in Saskatoon; John Janzen was the one who had gotten people interested in this, and he was still spreading the word and encouraging people to go down and volunteer on the building sites, or find other ways to help out. Kelly and I continued to spend a week every summer working alongside John and Ruth on Habitat builds, and lately John had even talked his father-in-law Mike Robinson into joining in.

On Sundays after church we would often have lunch with Will and Sally, then go home and take it easy for a while. Sometimes I would take a nap, or I might call my mother or Becca in England, or Owen and Lorraine. In the summer of 1994 Lorraine gave birth to another child, Katherine Anne, who we all called ‘Katie’. When I asked Owen how long he was going to keep us waiting before they brought her for a visit, he chuckled and said, “You’re getting confused about the natural order of things, mate; it’s your turn to come to visit us. You haven’t been here for four years, and we were there two summers ago”.

Becca also was dropping hints, and from time to time she would be more direct about it. “Is it going to be six years between your visits again?” she asked me on the phone one day. “You know I love Meadowvale and I’ll always come over to see you, Tommy, but it’s been a long time since Mum’s seen her granddaughter”.

She could always come and see us”, I replied.

“Now don’t start that again; you know that it’s difficult for Mum”.

“Well, it’s not exactly easy to visit at that house either, walking on eggshells all the time and waiting for Dad to get all bent out of shape about something”.

“Tommy, you should stop making excuses and just come”, she said.

“And you should stop bossing your big brother around, small one”.

“Way to change the subject, big brother!”

Kelly raised the issue with me one night. “Why don’t you want to go back?” she asked; “It’s been four years since your mom has seen Emma”.

I shook my head slowly; “Well, there’s the obvious issue of Dad”, I replied. “I still can’t find a way to get past all that with him. But it’s not just that”.

“What is it, then?”

We were sitting up in bed, having just finished our prayer and Bible reading time, and I put my hand on hers and said, “Honestly, Kelly, I get so tired through the year, and by the time summer rolls around I’m just exhausted. I really look forward to our restful summers here; I like the times when you’re still at work and I get to spend the whole day doing things with Emma, and then I like the times when we go on our trips to the mountains and Waskesiu and the Edmonton Folk Festival and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and I like our weeks with Becca and the way she’s become such a part of the Meadowvale community. We’ve got a nice, restful summer routine, without much in the way of emotional drama. Going to England, on the other hand, always involves tension and melodrama sooner or later; I enjoy visiting with Mum and Becca and Owen and Lorraine, but overall, I find the whole thing so draining”.

She laid her head on my shoulder then; for a moment she didn’t reply, and when she finally spoke, I was surprised to hear the emotion in her voice. “Oh, Tom”, she said; “I know exactly how you feel. All year long I look forward to the summer, when we can slow down and do things together as a family. You’ve no idea how much I look forward to it”. She lifted her head and looked at me, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “Everything we do in the winter is good, and we enjoy it, but I sometimes feel like the weeks flash by so fast, and we hardly get to talk to each other at all. I’m so glad when summer comes”.

I lifted my hand and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Are you okay?” I asked; “I didn’t realize you were upset”.

She shook her head; “Not upset”, she replied. “Maybe a little sad sometimes”.

“Sad about what?”

“Well, I married you because I loved you, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you”.

“That’s why I married you, too”.

“But sometimes in the winter I feel like we’re not spending our lives together; I feel like we eat together and sleep together, and occasionally if we’re feeling energetic enough we make love together, but there are huge blocks of time when we hardly connect at all”.

“Well, we both have jobs, and mine is very busy”.

“I know, and of course, I went into that with my eyes wide open; I knew from growing up in a teacher’s house how busy a teacher’s life can be. But I miss you sometimes, Tom”. I saw another tear running down her face, and she whispered, “I miss you a lot, actually”.

“Is there anything I can do to make things better?” I asked.

“I know you can’t do anything about your working hours, and sometimes I’m amazed at how much time you do manage to get free from that. But maybe at some point we can have a conversation about the rest of our schedule”.

“Alright”, I agreed; “Let’s do that”.


Sunday evenings were one part of our schedule that we all enjoyed. Beth usually let us know by Friday night if the kids were planning on coming over; if they weren’t, I would call Joe, and our two families would get together for supper, either at their place or ours. By the summer of 1994 Jake was nine, Emma was eight, and Jenna was seven. All five members of ‘The Pack’, including Steve and Krista’s children Mike and Rachel, were close to each other, but it was natural that Jake, Emma and Jenna would be closer, as they all lived in Meadowvale, went to school together, and saw each other many times during the week. Jake had always been the acknowledged leader of the Pack, and Emma in particular looked up to him and followed his lead in almost everything; he was also the most outgoing of the three, while Jenna and Emma tended to be quieter and more reserved. But they were never at a loss to find things to do together; Joe and Ellie and their kids would arrive at our place, and immediately the three children would gather and go to Emma’s room, or go downstairs, or outside into the back yard. Sometimes we got them all together with us for family board games and things, but at other times we let them run and do what they wanted to do while the four of us sat at the table, drank coffee, and talked: long, deep, satisfying conversation. By now Ellie was almost as close a friend to me as Joe, and there was very little that the four of us would not say to each other.

By the summer of 1994 Joe and Shauna had another vet working for them at the clinic, and Karla Pickering was job sharing with another administrator, who would be moving to full-time while Karla stayed home for the next year with Tommy. “We’ll miss her”, Joe said to me, “but she’s trained Marissa well. I’m glad they’re job sharing; it takes the stress out of Karla’s life a little, and it makes it easier for us when she’s away”.

“Sometimes I wish I could find someone to job share with”, Kelly said wistfully.

“Yeah?” Joe looked at his sister’s face for a minute, and then said, “Are you getting stressed too?”

“Just busy, like everyone else”, she replied, glancing at me with a guilty look on her face. “One of these days Tom and I are going to have a conversation about our schedule”.


On Sundays when the kids were coming around, Kelly would bake cookies in the afternoon while I was working on my school prep for the week. We would have a light supper – often a thick vegetable soup and biscuits – and then when the kids arrived we would make hot chocolate, go into the living room, and talk. The core group had not changed, but the kids had gotten older of course; Beth had turned sixteen in April 1994, and her friends Katie Thiessen and Jenny Ratzlaff were the same age, with Jenny’s brother Ricky, Megan Neufeld and Dan Rempel a year older. In June, after a couple of years of thinking and praying about it, Beth and Megan had been baptized together, and I knew that Jenny and Katie were close to making that decision as well. Dan liked to joke that he was the ‘resident pagan’ in the group, although I knew him well enough by now to know that there was still a spark of faith deep down in him. Nonetheless, he was the one who raised the hard questions and pushed us when he thought we were giving pat answers, and he was the one who kept his emotional cards closest to his chest.

Emma would usually sit with us for the first half of the evening, unless we thought that the issue we were talking about was a little too grown up for her, in which case I would excuse myself and take her off downstairs for a while until it was time for her to go to bed. Emma didn’t like those times at all; she liked the kids in the group and enjoyed the fact that they came to her house, and of course she was especially close to Beth, who would occasionally spell me out with her. At first Kelly and I had felt a little awkward about having Emma there with the group, but gradually we came to realize that this was part of our witness to them, and in fact, years later, Jenny Ratzlaff said to me, “When I became a mom myself, I knew I wanted to be the same kind of mom as Kelly. She showed us the way, you know – in all kinds of ways, including mothering”. And then she grinned and said, “We knew she was mothering us too, of course!”

“Yeah”, I replied; “She knew you guys weren’t really her kids, but she enjoyed spoiling you and then sending you home so your parents could deal with the consequences”.

“A little like grandparents, eh?”

“Yeah – that was the way her dad described it, anyway”.

The kids would sit with us until about nine or nine-fifteen, and then their parents would come and collect them. Kelly and I would give them hugs – except for Dan, that is; he would accept a hug from Kelly, but a handshake from me was as far as he would go – and then we would stand at the door and watch them as they got into the cars and drove off, or, in Beth’s case, walked the fifteen minutes back to her home. When they were all gone we would go back inside, wash up the dishes and tidy up the living room, talk about how the evening had gone, and then usually head toward our own bedroom for an early night, knowing that the week ahead was going to be as busy as the one that had just passed.


From time to time, in the early Fall of 1994, Kelly would remind me that we needed to sit down and have a conversation about our schedule, and I would agree with her and apologize for putting it off. “When we get an hour we can call our own, some night after Emma’s gone to bed, let’s make a point of doing it”, I said. But, of course, that never happened; two or three nights a week after Emma had gone to bed I was hard at work on marking and lesson preparation, and Wednesday nights we had the study group, and some Friday nights we had singarounds, and two Saturdays a month Ellie and Darren and I were gigging again, and Sunday nights we had supper with Joe and Ellie and the family or had the kids over to our place, and so things went on as usual, at the same old insane pace.

Eventually Kelly gave up reminding me, but of course she resented the fact that I had not kept my promise to talk about our schedule, and for the first time since the dark days of 1986, she began to withdraw from me. She was not unkind or inconsiderate, and with other people she was as warm and friendly as ever, but gradually I noticed that she was less inclined to have the sort of open and honest conversations we had always enjoyed, even when she was desperately ill. Later on, of course, I realized what had been going on; she had given up and accepted the fact that I was not prepared to do anything about the insane pace of my life. We still ate and slept and prayed together, and we even had enjoyable conversations from time to time, but there was a sadness in her now, and she would not let me anywhere near it.


Leanne Collins had been teaching at our school for just over a year now, and she and I had become good friends, a friendship based on past acquaintance with her and her grandparents, and cemented by enjoyable conversations in the staff room and a lot of mutual respect for each other as teachers. She was still living at her grandparents’ farm about eight miles north of town; Wilf and Mabel were doing a little better health-wise, although I knew that Wilf was in a lot of pain from arthritis, but they were very happy to have Leanne with them. “Of course, she’s good company for me and Mabel”, Wilf said to me one day when I bumped into him in the Co-op, “but she’s a big help for me with the farm chores, too. I’d forgotten what a good little farmer she is; she’s more use around that place than any of my sons ever were”.

Neither Kelly nor I ever heard a word of complaint from Leanne, but between ourselves, we sometimes speculated about what sort of life she had. “She’s twenty-seven years old”, Kelly said to me one day, “but she spends all her free time helping Wilf and Mabel. I don’t think she’s had a date since she moved here, and I’m sure she doesn’t have much of a social life. I mean, I know how busy you are preparing for classes and marking and so on; she does all that, and works as an unpaid farm hand for Wilf, too. It’s not much of a life for a girl her age”.

I had asked Leanne once where she found the time to do as much work as she did around the farm; she gave me a rueful grin and said, “I teach, I farm, I sleep”. She and I had talked about the subject a few times since then, and she had admitted to me that she was probably enabling Wilf and Mabel to stay longer on the old farm than they should have done. “Grandpa’s seventy-four now”, she said, “and he’s in a lot of pain from arthritis, and Grandma’s getting very forgetful. It’s not that we never talk about them giving up the farm, but I have to be tactful, Tom; Grandpa’s poured his whole life into that place, and none of his sons was even remotely interested in carrying on after him. I can’t even begin to imagine how that must feel”.

“I know”, I replied; “I sometimes think about that, too. His generation are connected to the land in a way that our generation never will be; when your grandpa and grandma were kids, literally everything they ate was grown or raised on the soil they could see outside their windows”.

“I know. They’re still pretty self-sufficient, but it’s not as extreme as it was years ago”.


One of the things I remembered about Leanne from when she was one of my students was that she liked live theatre. She had been in pretty well every play we had put on – and we tried to do at least one, and sometimes two, every year – from 1982, when I arrived in Meadowvale, to her graduation in June of 1985. During her first year as a teacher she had not been involved in the drama department, but early in September of 1994 I asked her if she would like to help out with our Christmas play – we were planning to put on an adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – and to my delight, she agreed.

We started work in earnest toward the middle of November; I produced the play and ran the rehearsals, and Leanne helped me coach the actors as well as organizing the costumes and makeup. She got her grandmother involved in making some of the costumes too, something that Mabel enjoyed, and from time to time I drove out to their place on the weekend to consult with Leanne and see how things were coming along. At least once a week we had an after-school rehearsal which went on quite late, and so on that day Kelly would drive me to work in the morning, take our car to the Special Care Home, and pick Emma up and drive her home after work, while Leanne would give me a ride home in her truck at about 5.45 when we had finished cleaning up after the rehearsals.

From time to time, on those drives home, she would talk to me about her struggles with her grandparents. Now that the snow had returned Wilf was in a lot more pain with his arthritis, and Mabel was getting even more forgetful. “I guess I’m going to have to accept the fact that it’s dementia”, she said to me one day as she pulled the truck into the driveway behind my house.

“Is she safe to be home by herself when Wilf’s out doing farm chores?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Tom; I wish I knew. And I wish the rest of the family were closer. Auntie Brenda’s good; she calls every day, and she comes up to visit once a month. But of course, she and Uncle Dennis are living in Estevan, and that’s a long way. And as for Uncle Jim and Uncle Wally, we hardly hear from them at all”.

She pulled up behind our car, put the transmission in neutral, and said, “To be honest, I think we’ve gotten past the point where Grandma and Grandpa can move into a place of their own in town. Especially Grandma; I think she’s going to need someone to keep a close eye on her all the time, and I don’t think Grandpa can do that”.

“So you think they’ll need to move into the Special Care Home?”

“I suspect they will. But of course, they aren’t going to like that”.

“I guess not. It’s going to be tough for you, too”.

She nodded; “Yes, it is”.

“How old were you when you first went to live with them?”

“I was ten. Mom and Dad broke up, and neither of them really wanted to look after me, so Grandma and Grandpa told me to come and live with them, and for the first time ever, I discovered what a stable home life was like”.

“You must love them a lot”.

She looked at me for a moment, and then she said, “I really do; I’ll be grateful to them for the rest of my life”.


The following week we had another after-school rehearsal; the play was coming together nicely now, and the students were starting to get a feel for their parts. They left at about five -thirty, and Leanne and I worked together for a few minutes to clean up my classroom, where we had been having the rehearsal.

“Have you guys decided yet whether you’re going to England for Christmas?” she asked me.

“We have, actually; we’re leaving the day after school finishes”.

“This will be the first time you’ve been home for Christmas since you moved here, right?”

I grinned at her; “What do I have to do to convince you that this is my home?”

“Right – I should know that by now! Let me reword the question: this will be the first time you’ve been back to England for Christmas since you moved here, right?”

“Right – first time in thirteen years I’ll have had Christmas at my parents’ place, and the first time Kelly and Emma will ever have been away from the Reimers for Christmas”.

“That’ll be different”.

“Yeah, but we need to do it; it’s been four and a half years since we were there, and Becca’s getting annoyed with me”.

“Well, she does come every year”.

“Yes, she does, and she loves Emma like crazy”.

“They’ll be glad to see each other, then”.

“I think so”.

“What about Kelly; does she like it over there?”

“She gets on well with my mum and Becca, but I’m not really sure this year whether she’s looking forward to it or not”.

She glanced at me with a slight frown on her face. “Is she okay?” she asked.

I shrugged as I moved a couple of desks back into place. “We’re just busy, that’s all”.

“You have a lot on your plate”.

“Yeah, and I’m not always very smart about my schedule. Sometimes that causes trouble”.

I saw the concern on her face, and something else as well, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “Trouble?” she asked.

“You know what, I’m probably making something out of nothing. We’re a bit frayed around the edges right now, but I expect we’ll be fine in the long run”.

She hesitated, and then came across to where I was standing, put her hand on my arm, and looked up at me. “Are you okay, Tom?” she asked softly.

I looked at her for a moment without speaking. Leanne had grown into a beautiful young woman, with long dark hair and deep brown eyes, and it was impossible to mistake the message that those eyes were giving me as she stood there, her fingers still touching my arm. I was startled, suddenly realizing that something had been going on in front of me for some time now without me really noticing it. I caught the intoxicating scent of danger, and for one brief moment I was tempted, but then I caught myself, and I was suddenly terrified of what I had almost done.

I backed away slightly, so that she was no longer touching me. “I’m okay”, I said; “Every marriage goes through stress from time to time, and Kelly and I are no exception, but we’ll be okay”.

I saw in her eyes that she understood what I was telling her. For a moment she hesitated, and I could see that she was embarrassed, but I knew that I could not allow myself the luxury of feeling sympathy for her. I turned away, pushed the last of the desks into place, and then spoke with my back still turned to her. “You know, it looks like a nice winter evening out there”, I said; “I think I’ll walk home tonight”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’ll see you tomorrow, Leanne”.

For a moment there was silence between us, until I turned and saw that she was still looking at me. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again, standing as still as a statue. And then she did something I wasn’t expecting, something that dramatically increased the respect I already felt for her; she said, “Tom, I just did something really stupid. I know it, and I’m sorry. You’ve been such a good friend to me, and now I’ve destroyed all that”.

For a moment I didn’t reply. I realized that I was not angry with her, but I was furious with myself; I knew that somehow, without intending it, I must have given her the impression that this sort of an advance would be welcome to me. I shook my head; “You haven’t destroyed it”, I said, “but I may need to pull back for a while”.

“I understand. Again, it’s my fault; I’m very sorry”.

I nodded; “Apology accepted”.

“Are you going to tell Kelly?”

I didn’t hesitate. “I have to, Leanne; you must see that”.

It was her turn to nod; “Of course”. She paused, and then she spoke in a small voice, “She’s going to hate me, isn’t she?”

“She’ll be angry, for sure”.

She swallowed, and I saw the tears brimming in her eyes. “I think I’d better go”, she said.

“That would be good”.


I knew that Kelly had noticed how quiet I was during supper, and for the hour or so afterwards, while we were clearing up and doing things with Emma. I also saw that she was surprised that I didn’t go down to my den in the basement for my customary two hours of work. “Aren’t you doing schoolwork tonight?” she asked.

I shook my head. “There’s a promise I made to you that I need to keep”, I replied.

She looked at me for a moment, and I saw in her eyes that she understood immediately what I meant. “Okay”, she said; “I’ll make some peppermint tea after Emma goes to bed”.


She sat at the kitchen table with me, not saying a word while I described what had passed between Leanne and me earlier that evening. When I was finished, she was quiet for a few minutes, and then she said, “Have you told me everything?”

“Yes”.

“You know, in a strange sort of way, I’m not really surprised. I had a feeling she was attracted to you”.

I stared at her; “How did you pick that up?”

“I’m a woman; we know these things”.

“But you never said anything to me”.

“What would have been the point? For all I knew, you might have welcomed her advances”.

What?”

She looked at me steadily. “Tom, you’ve been quietly pulling back from me for a year now”, she said.

I shook my head; “Kelly, I swear…”

“Don’t swear to what you know isn’t true. How long has it been since I told you I wanted to have a conversation about our schedules?”

“I don’t know, a couple of months, maybe?”

“Three months, actually. For three months you haven’t been able to make time for it, although you’ve had plenty of time to practice music with Ellie and Darren, and drive down to Saskatoon for gigs and open stages, and put in extra hours at school rehearsing for the Christmas play”.

“I know; I’m really torn, Kelly”.

Torn?” she exclaimed, and I saw the sudden flash of anger in her eyes; “Why are you torn? What’s to be torn about?”

“You know I love you”, I said.

“I thought I did”, she replied, “but I guess I’ve known all along that if there was ever anything I had to fear, it wasn’t another woman; it was your music”.

“But Kelly, you encouraged me to start gigging with Ellie”.

“Yes”, she admitted; “I did, but I didn’t realize at the time how much of your life it was going to swallow up”.

“Well, that’s fair”, I replied; “I know that since Darren joined the band, we’ve been going down to the city a lot more often than we should”.

She got up from the table, went over to the kitchen sink and stared out of the window into the dark of the night. For a few minutes there was silence in the room, but I could hear the pounding of my heart in my ears, and I was mentally kicking myself, and asking myself how I could have been so stupid as to let things get to this point.

Eventually she turned and looked at me, her face expressionless. “So what do you want to do?” she asked stonily.

“I want to do whatever it takes, Kelly”, I replied. “I’ve been an absolute idiot to allow things to get to this point. If there’s something I can do to start us moving down the right path again, I want to do it”.

“Do you?”

“Yes”.

She looked at me for a moment, then came back over to the table and sat down beside me. “The thing is, Tom”, she said, “there’s not a damn thing either of us does that we don’t enjoy, but we just don’t have room in our lives to fit it all in”.

I looked down at the table; “I know”, I whispered.

“So it just comes down to choices; what are we willing to give up? I know what I’m going to do; I’m going to ask if I can job-share at work, so I can go down to half time. I love my work, and I love the people there, but I just don’t have time to love you and Emma and the Sunday night kids and everyone else in my life, and do most of the housework around here, and work full time too. I know it will mean taking a hit financially, but I also know I have to do it. Is that okay with you?”

I nodded; “Yes, it is. We can tighten our belts; we’ve done it before”.

“Over to you”, she said, looking at me steadily; “What are you willing to give up?”

“Playing music in Saskatoon”, I replied. “Like you said about your work, I know I love it, but it’s just too far away to be possible on a regular basis. We’ll still do singarounds here, and maybe I’ll do the occasional summer fair if Ellie and Darren still want to play with me, but I’m done with the band”.

She hesitated, and then reached out and put her hand on mine. “Are you sure?” she asked.

“I am. I nearly lost you once, Kelly; I’d have to be really stupid to do it again by putting anything else ahead of our marriage and our family”.

“What about Leanne?”

“I liked having Leanne as a friend; I admire her as a person, she’s a great teacher, and she really puts herself out to look after Wilf and Mabel. But tonight, I realized how totally blind I’ve been to what’s going on. I’m not angry with her, but I’m furious with myself for letting something like this happen. I broke the privacy of our marriage tonight; I absolutely should not have said anything to her that gave her the impression that you and I were having problems. I’m really sorry, Kelly”.

She nodded, her hand still touching mine, and then she said, “I need you to pull back from your friendship with her for a while. I know you have to work with her, and I know you need her help to put the play on. But I need you to shut her out of your circle of close friends, at least for now. I think I have the right to ask that”.

“You do; I already knew I had to do that”.

“Promise me”.

“I promise you, Kelly, that I will shut her out. And I’ll talk to Ellie and Darren tomorrow”.

She nodded; “I don’t think Ellie will be surprised”.

“No?”

“I have a confession to make; you’re not the only one who’s broken the privacy of our marriage”.

“You’ve been talking to Joe?”

“I have”.

“I’m not surprised; why wouldn’t you? He’s your best friend”.

She shook her head. “No, my dearest husband”, she whispered, “You’re my best friend. At least, you have been, and I’m hopeful now that you will be again”.

“That’s what I want”.

She leaned forward, put her hand on my cheek, closed her eyes and kissed me on the lips. “I love you, Tom”, she said.

“I love you, too”.

“Would you just hold me for a minute?”

I leaned forward on my chair and put my arms around her; “I’ll hold you for as long as you want”, I said.


I asked Darren to meet us over at Joe and Ellie’s place the following night; I had already asked Ellie on the phone if we could get together and talk about the future of our band. For a moment she didn’t reply, and then she said, “I know what this is about, Tom”.

“You’ve already had this conversation with Joe?”

“I have”.

“Are we okay?”

“We are”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “We’ve been living in a fantasy, but it’s time for the fantasy to end”.

“Yes, I’m afraid it is. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it”.

“Me too”.

We sat in Joe and Ellie’s living room while the kids watched The Lion King in the basement. Ellie had made a pot of decaf coffee; she handed around the mugs, and then she broke the news to Darren. “Tom and I have to pull out of this musical partnership, Darren”, she said; “We’ve both realized over the past few days that we’ve been doing serious damage to our families by being away so much”.

“It’s not that we haven’t enjoyed it”, I added, “and it’s not that we haven’t enjoyed having you play with us”.

He nodded slowly; “Actually, I’ve been expecting this”, he said.

“You have?” Ellie replied.

“Yeah. I knew in my heart that it wasn’t sustainable. And to be honest, it wasn’t really what I had in mind when I came here, either”.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I didn’t move to Meadowvale so that I could spend time in Saskatoon; I came here because I wanted to live in a small town and get in touch with my roots”.

“So you’re okay with this?”

“I am, Tom. And I have to apologize for kicking up the pace the way I did. We can still get together and play music from time to time, right?”

I looked at Kelly, and she nodded; “Singarounds, jams, even the occasional summer fair”, she said to Darren. “I’m just tired of spending so many Saturday nights as a music widow in my own home”.

“Understood. And again, my apologies”.

“Let’s all chalk one up to experience”, Joe said quietly, putting his hand on Ellie’s. “Darren, you’ve taken this one like a real gentleman. On behalf of my sister and me, thank you”.

“No”, Darren replied, “Thank you – for being honest, and for helping me see what’s important. This has been a good lesson for me”.

“It’s been a good lesson for all of us”, Ellie said.


“I need to talk to Leanne”, I said to Kelly that night, as we were lying in bed together, holding each other.

“Yeah, you do”, she replied.

“I’d thought I could just give her the cold shoulder and assume she would get the message, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t think that’s the Christian way”.

“No, I think you’re right”.

“You’re okay with me having it out with her?”

“I am”. She was quiet for a moment, and then she kissed me and said, “Tom, the other night I said some really unkind things to you, about you welcoming Leanne’s advances, and about you pulling back from me. I shouldn’t have said those things. I was just scared – scared that I was losing you, and maybe just a little bit scared that you might secretly have been wishing that you had taken her up on what she was offering”.

“I understand, and it’s not your fault. I’m the one who messed things up, and I realize it’s going to take time for me to build it up again so that you feel secure”.

“You’re okay with that?”

“I wish it wasn’t necessary, but I know it’s the way it has to be”.

“Thank you”, she whispered.

I kissed her forehead and tightened my arms around her.


I sent Leanne an email asking her to stop by my classroom the next day at about ten to five, if she was free. I was marking Grade 12 essays when she came in; she pulled up a chair, sat down across my desk from me, and said, “Hi, Tom”.

“Hi”.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, I did”.

“I guess you talked to Kelly, eh?”

“I did. I thought at first that I should just do my best to avoid you and give you the cold shoulder, but it didn’t take me long to realize that wasn’t a good idea. We have to work together, and anyway, it’s not the right way to go about it”.

“I appreciate that”.

We were both quiet for a moment, avoiding each other’s gaze; I had been thinking all day about what exactly I should say to her, but now that the moment had arrived, I found that foresight had failed and I was still searching for the right words. Eventually I said, “Well, as I said the other night, I’m going to have to pull back from our friendship for a while”.

“I understand; I’m not surprised that Kelly was angry”.

I looked at her for a moment, and then I said, “You must understand that I’m not going to tell you anything about the things Kelly and I discussed”.

“Of course”. She looked away toward the windows, and again there was an awkward silence, until she said, “Do you want me to stop working on the play with you?”

“No, of course not. I don’t want to embarrass you in front of the staff and students, and I don’t want to do anything that would cause awkward questions to be asked”.

“Thank you”. She hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Are you going to say anything to Will?”

“No”.

I could see that she was surprised; “You’re not?” she said.

“No”.

“I appreciate that, Tom”.

“No need. As I said, I don’t want to embarrass you”.

“Thank you. And once again, I’m really sorry”.

“And as I said the other night, apology accepted”.

“Is there anything else?”

“No”.

She got to her feet. “Okay; I’d best be going, then”. She turned and walked toward the door, but then she stopped and turned around again. “Please tell Kelly that I’m sorry”, she said in a small voice; “I hope some day she can forgive me”.

“I’ll tell her”, I replied.

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After a Sad Day in Ottawa: Reflections by Willard Metzger

Will Metzger at Mennonite Church Canada offers these thoughts in response to yesterday’s events on Parliament Hill:

After a Sad Day in Ottawa

Like many Canadians I find myself in a place of sadness following the senseless violence in our capital city. I resonate with the voices that lament the sense of loss for our peaceful context. I share the anxiety of how this act of violence might result in our day to day affairs being weighted with new forms of fear through heightened security measures. 

I feel sad. I feel a loss. 

I mourn that the life of another can be disregarded so easily – and an innocent father is gunned down. 

I mourn that the rhetoric of revenge is seen as the best way to re-establish a sense of calm and confidence. 

I mourn that religion has become so tainted that the Loving Creator can be grossly misrepresented by acts of violence. 

I mourn that our global family is divided by systems of defence and self interest rather than a common commitment of seeking the good for all.  

I pray for mercy. I pray for healing. I pray for peace. I pray that the good in all of us may triumph over the tendency for evil in each of us.

I don’t want people to die having to defend me. I don’t want people to die trying to get the public’s attention. I don’t want people to die seeing each other as enemies. Surely as a global family we can find new and better ways of working for the common good of the earth and all its inhabitants. 

I will mourn for awhile. My prayers will feel heavy for awhile. My heart will ache for awhile. 

May the light of God’s love blind hatred and revenge and give us all a vision for the dawn of a new day filled with the power of a love for all our neighbours. 

A prayer in response to the events on Wednesday, Oct. 22

Ottawa, Ontario

-adapted from a prayer received from Ottawa Mennonite Church

Our God,

We call you Light of the world, but today we feel the weight of night.

We call you Wisdom, but today we have so many unanswered questions.

We call you Prince of Peace, but today we feel surrounded by violence.

We call on you in our fear, our disbelief, our sadness, and our helplessness.

Hear our cries.

Hold us as we remember the sounds, images, and experiences of Wednesday.

Hold the families of all those killed and injured in our capital city.

Hold families around the world who experience violence and instability.

Remind us to hold each other as we gather in our homes, schools and workplaces in the coming days.

May we seek your wisdom as we try to respond to the questions of our children, which echo our own questions. Why do people kill each other? 

We are people shaped by your story of peace. May our responses to the events in our capital city be formed and informed by this identity.  

May we seek your light as we find our way through the dark. 

In your mercy, Lord, hear our prayers.

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Conversion and Growth (a sermon for October 19th on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

Today we start a series of New Testament readings from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, which was written to a group of people who had only been Christians for a very short time – perhaps only months. Paul and Silas arrived in the city of Thessalonica in about 50 A.D.; they came there from Philippi, where they’d been thrown in jail because of their missionary activity. But they were stubborn, so they set right about spreading the gospel again. They found a Jewish synagogue, and for three successive Sabbath days they went there and shared the good news of Jesus with both Jews and Gentiles; they pointed to the Old Testament texts that suggested that the Messiah had to die and rise again, and they said, “It’s talking about Jesus of Nazareth; he’s the Messiah”.

Some people believed them – a few Jews, and many, many more Greeks – and so a little church was formed. But the Jewish leaders got jealous and formed a mob; they tried to find Paul and Silas, and when they couldn’t, they found Jason, who had been hosting them, and they took him and a few other Christians before the city council. ‘These guys are breaking the emperor’s laws!’ they said; ‘They’re saying there’s another king, called Jesus!’ So the other Christians quickly sent Paul and Silas away for safety, and the young church had to face a time of persecution without the help of their founding missionaries.

We know that Paul was worried about his new converts and he tried to get news about how they were doing. Eventually he took the risk of sending his young assistant Timothy back to see how they were doing. When Timothy returned, Paul was overjoyed to find that all was well, although the new church did have a few questions they wanted to ask him. So right away, Paul sat down to write them a letter, one of the first letters he ever wrote, and that’s the letter we read from this morning.

It can be hard for us to connect with this letter, for two reasons. First, the people Paul was writing to had a definite ‘darkness to light’ conversion experience. Most of them had been worshipers of idols, but when they heard the message Paul preached, they left their false gods behind and turned to the one true God who had been revealed to them in Jesus. They would have agreed with John Newton’s words: ‘I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see’. But many of us haven’t had this sort of experience. We’re followers of Jesus, but we came to it much more gradually; perhaps we’d even say we’ve been following him our whole life long.

Secondly, their church was very different from ours. Paul uses the Greek word ‘ekklesia’, which we translate ‘church’, but which actually meant a gathering, or even a town hall meeting. Their church had only been in existence for a very short time – probably less than a month – when Paul had to leave it behind. There were probably only a few of them, and I expect they met in the round in someone’s living room. They had no organization, no priests, no access to any written scriptures, no liturgies or anything like that. All they had was faith in the one true God, commitment to his Son Jesus Christ, a real experience of the Holy Spirit, and a shared memory of the things Paul had taught them by word and example. And you know what? That was enough; the whole world, Paul said – slight exaggeration, perhaps – was telling the story of their conversion.

What can we learn from them today? I suggest two things. First, we can learn what a Christian conversion might look like, and second, we can learn what Christian growth looks like.

First, what does a Christian conversion look like? The classic description of Christian conversion is the one I already quoted: ‘I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see’. John Newton, who wrote these words, had been a godless sailor and slave trader, but he had a gradual conversion experience which started when he went through a horrendous storm at sea, and eventually he came to faith in Christ and commitment to him. He would have identified strongly with the metaphor Jesus used of a ‘new birth’; that would have been a good way of describing what he had experienced.

For many of us in our church today, perhaps, our experience was not so clear cut. Some of us have had moments of epiphany when it seems like our eyes have been opened to new truth about Jesus. Some of us can identify decisive moments in our Christian journey, others perhaps can’t. So does the story of the Thessalonians have anything to say to us? Yes, it does.

Try to imagine what their conversion was like. Their city was full of temples to the Greek and Roman gods – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Ares and the rest. Every civic event would begin with a sacrifice to the gods. Almost all the meat sold in the marketplaces would have come from animals that had been offered in sacrifice in the temples. The trade guilds held their meetings in the temples and started with worship of the gods. Even farmers planting fields went to the temples to pray that the gods would grant them fertility; not to have done that would have been as nonsensical to them as refusing to buy crop insurance would be to farmers today.

To them all this worship of idols seemed good and right and true. To be asked leave all this behind would be as if a preacher today told us we had to give up our cars, computers, and cell phones. Most of us would have a hard time imagining how we were going to live our lives without those things.

So what happened to these Thessalonians? Look with me at verses 9-10:

For the people of those regions report about us the kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

This was their conversion story: they turned away from false gods, and put their faith in a true and living God who had been revealed to them in Jesus.

Now you may not think it, but today we are surrounded by false gods. All of them are calling to us, demanding that we trust them, give them our loyalty, and make sacrifices to them. There’s the false god of money and possessions, which often demands that we sacrifice our time and our relationships so that we can have all that it offers. Closely related to it is another false god called ‘success’. A third false god is called ‘nationalism’, and sometimes it asks us to sacrifice our lives and the lives of our enemies to its thirst for blood.

For some of us, the desire to be liked and respected by others is a kind of false god. Maybe we feel insecure inside; maybe we’re not sure who we really are. But if we can just get others to like us and approve of us, we think that ache inside will go away. So we bend ourselves into pretzel shapes, sacrificing our true selves as we try to be what others want us to be. But it never works. False gods never can deliver on their promises, because they aren’t real.

We Christians believe that there is one true God, who one who created the universe and everything in it. But we also believe that he came to live among us as one of us in Jesus. We believe that Jesus is our most accurate picture of what the one true God is like. So conversion is a process of turning from false gods to the one true God, and giving our allegiance to his anointed king, Jesus the Messiah.

The Thessalonians made that decision at their conversion, but they probably had to keep on making it. Every day when they walked through the marketplace the voices of the false gods would be calling them back. And it’s the same for us today. Think of the false god of materialism. It has its priests – the advertisers who spend their lives trying to make us discontented so we’ll buy more stuff. “If you just buy this”, they say, “You’ll be happy; you’ll finally find what you’re looking for”. And so you and I need a daily process of conversion – turning away from the lies the false gods tell us, and turning back to Jesus and the Father he has revealed to us.

What are my favourite false gods? What are yours? John Newton’s friend William Cowper wrote a hymn about them once; one of the verses goes like this:

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne
And worship only thee.

So this passage shows us first of all what conversion looks like: a continual process of turning away from the lies of false gods, and putting our trust in God our Creator, the God Jesus has revealed to us. Secondly, it shows us what Christian growth looks like. Look at verses 2-3 with me:

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s first hearers were probably largely illiterate, and Paul knew that he’d probably be moving on pretty quickly to start new churches in different cities. We can see in some places in his letters that he was pretty good at developing little summaries to help new Christians remember the important things about their Christian faith, and one of those summaries was this little triad of ‘faith, hope, and love’. We’re probably most familiar with it from 1 Corinthians 13:13: ‘And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love’. We find it here in a different order: ‘your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’. These new Christians were like newly-planted trees; they needed to grow, but grow in what? In these three cardinal virtues: faith, love, and hope.

First comes faith. To Paul, this means believing the promises of God and trusting the God who made the promises. Paul liked to tell the story of old Abraham in the book of Genesis; he was a wrinkled old man and his wife was long past child bearing age, but God promised him descendents, and Abraham believed him, and God credited it to him as righteousness. But this faith wasn’t just a feeling ; God commanded Abraham to leave his home in Haran and go to the land of Canaan, and Abraham obeyed and went.

Likewise in the New Testament, we can think of Jesus walking on the water, holding out his hand to Peter and saying ‘Come’. The feeling of faith wasn’t enough; Peter had to take the step out of the boat, risking a soaking! Or we think of the four men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus; it says ‘Jesus saw their faith’, but what he actually saw was the action that their faith prompted.

True faith always leads to action; it leads to a changed life. A few months ago my cardiologist said to me, “Mr. Chesterton, you can get off these blood pressure and cholesterol pills in a couple of years if you want; it’s all to do with getting serious about diet and exercise”. I believed her, too, but belief wasn’t enough; I had to put into practice the things that she said. Those changes were the evidence of my faith in her. And I guess that when it came to the Thessalonians, the evidence of their faith was that they didn’t go to idol temples to offer sacrifices any more.

What is the evidence of my faith in Jesus? What’s the evidence of your faith in Jesus? If we were on trial for our faith, would there be enough evidence to convict us? And how can we grow in our ‘work of faith’? What’s the cutting edge, for you and for me?

Faith comes first, but the next thing Paul mentions is love. Faith is directed toward God and Christ, but love is directed toward others. The Greek word for love that Paul uses is ‘agapé’, so he’s not talking about feeling love for someone; he’s talking about a way of life in which we do what’s best for others, whether we like them or not, whether we feel like it or not. It’s what Jesus is doing when he washes his disciples’ feet, or when he gives his life on the cross for us.

It’s an active virtue; Paul talks about our ‘labour of love’. In the early church, it sometimes meant sharing their possessions with each other, rich members helping poor members so that all were equal. This is the love that brings neighbours together to build barns for each other; it takes people into hospitals and jails to visit the sick and the prisoners. It took Mother Teresa to the streets of Calcutta to care for lepers; it takes other people to work in AIDS clinics or to cook meals for church members who are sick. All of this is serving others in the name of Christ.

In his first letter John says, ‘Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action’ (1 John 3:18). People today are tired of empty words; they want to see actions. What is our labour of love? What’s mine, and what’s yours? What are we doing to actively love others? How can we grow in this?

Faith is directed toward God and Christ; love is directed toward other people. Hope is the third thing, and it’s directed toward the future. In the Creed we say, ‘Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead’, and in the Lord’s Prayer we pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven’. In other words, we know that there’s still something lacking in our experience of God’s plan in our lives; even though we know and follow Jesus, there is still a lot of evil in the world, and in us as well. Those early Thessalonian Christians experienced that; they’d only been followers of Jesus for a few weeks, and they were being persecuted already! What kept them going through that? Paul pointed to their ‘steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’.

Studies of concentration camp inmates have shown that those who can hang onto their hope have a better chance of survival. We Christians are called to be people of stubborn hope, because we believe that if it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead, then nothing is too hard for him. We believe his promise of a better future, so when the present looks dark, we can still have joy in him. And so we don’t give up on people, because we know that God hasn’t finished with them yet.

Is this you? Is this me? Are we people of stubborn hope? And how can we grow more steadfast in our hope?

Let’s go around this one last time. First, the false gods are all around us, and they are tempting us all the time. Some of their lies are frankly incredible; I think of the cult of celebrity, which is nonsense when you think of how many celebrities are in rehab, or are jumping from relationship to relationship; why on earth do we want to be like them? And so our Christian life is a constant process of naming their lies for what they are, and then turning once again to the one true God who Jesus has revealed to us. What is your favourite idol? What is mine? How can we be steadfast in turning away from them and turning to Christ? How can we help one another to do this?

Second, our Christian life is about growing in faith, love, and hope: the faith that changes our lives, the love that shows itself in hard work to help others, and the stubborn hope that keeps us serving God and loving people, because we believe in God’s future. Which of these three characteristics are we strongest in? Which do we need to work on? How can our brothers and sisters in Christ pray for us and help us grow in faith, hope, and love? Let’s take a moment of silence to think about those questions, and then we’ll pray.

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Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 31

Link back to Chapter 30

This is the first draft of a work of fiction; it will probably be revised in the not-too-distant future. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.

 

“People are talking”, Will said to me.

He and I were sitting out on his back deck in the cool of a late August evening, drinking iced tea and watching Sally and Kelly picking raspberries with Emma in the garden patch at the back of the yard. Sally had called me mid-morning with the usual invitation; “Will’s barbecuing tonight”, she said, “and he says he needs you to help him finish off the three beers in the fridge!” So we had wandered over to their house late in the afternoon after Kelly got home from work; it had been a very hot day, and we were all dressed in shorts and tee-shirts, but now in the evening the mosquitos were coming out, and Sally had found long-sleeved shirts for the raspberry pickers to wear. There was a citronella candle burning on the deck, but Will and I still found ourselves swatting at the occasional mosquito.

“Talking about Donny, you mean?” I asked.

“Yeah – and Brenda and Gary, of course”. Brenda and her children had moved up to Meadowvale the week before, and for the time being they were staying out at Hugo and Millie’s farm while Brenda looked for work.

I sipped at my iced tea; “Small towns can be cruel sometimes”, I said.

“They don’t mean to be. Well, maybe they do when it comes to Donny”.

“I don’t imagine he’ll ever move back here”.

“I wouldn’t think so”.

I glanced across at him; “Were you talking about people in general, or a specific group of people?” I asked.

“Church people”.

I nodded; “I had heard something about that, but I’m not really connected to the older crowd, at least, not since your mum died”.

“It’s not just the older crowd. And I don’t think they’d talk to you about it; there’s a general feeling in the church that you and Kelly are supportive of Donny”.

I stared at him; “Are we dividing up over this, Will?” I asked.

“I sure hope not”.

“Me too. I’ve learned a lot about Christlikeness from the people in our church; I’d hate to think that was going to change after all these years”.

He sighed, and sat back a little in his chair. “They’re just people, Tom. They’ve been reading the Bible all their lives, and they’ve always thought this is wrong, and of course they don’t really understand it either, and they’re scared of it”.

For a moment I didn’t reply; I was watching Emma holding an empty ice-cream pail in her hand and dropping raspberries into it as she picked them. Eventually I said, “What do you think? You’ve never told me”.

“I think that I love my brother and I love my nephew”.

“I’ve never doubted that”.

“I’m not happy that people are getting all bent out of shape about this, but do I think it’s okay for Donny to be living with a gay partner? Probably not. I think the Bible’s pretty clear about it, and I don’t think I can find a way to wiggle out of it, although I sometimes wish I could”. He looked at me; “What about you? What do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think. I’m a relatively new Christian compared to you guys, and I wasn’t raised on all these Bible passages. When I was a boy in school we never heard about homosexuality, and when we did, it was all derogatory – I hope to God there weren’t any closeted gay kids in my class, because if there were, they would have heard some pretty nasty comments. At university it was a little different, but still, I think a lot of people were uncomfortable with it”.

“Did you and Owen talk about it when you were in university? You guys had all kinds of discussions”.

“Yeah, but not about that. Of course, in the past couple of months we’ve had conversations about it”.

“What does he think?”

“Well, he goes to a strong evangelical Anglican church; they take the Bible pretty much at face value, as far as I can tell. Not that I’m against the Bible; Kelly and I read it together every night, and we’ve both been doing some extra reading lately, too”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah”. I frowned; “This whole thing with Donny has made me realize that there’s a lot I don’t know about the Bible, even though I’ve read it all the way through two or three times since I became a Christian. So I’ve been doing a lot of reading in the Old Testament over the past few weeks. Rob’s lent me a couple of his commentaries; they’re pretty heavy going, but I’m getting a lot out of them. It’s slow reading, though. And Kelly’s been reading the Bible like crazy ever since the kids started coming round to our house on Sunday nights”.

“I’ll bet they raise some tough issues”.

“Sometimes they do, but it’s all good, Will; those kids are one of the best things that ever happened to Kelly and me”.

“I hear Dan really likes that group”.

“That’s what he says, and that really amazes me; he’s almost the last kid I would have thought would want to be part of anything like that. But he keeps on coming back, and he brings more questions with him every time”.

“Might be something to do with the fact that you two love those kids, and they all know it”, he replied.

“Well, I guess that’s true, Kelly especially”, I said, watching my wife with her hair tied back under her ball cap, her arms and legs brown from a summer spent outdoors, laughing with Emma as they picked raspberries together. I shook my head; “It’s still kind of amazing to me, the way that group just came at us out of left field, when we weren’t really looking for anything like that”.

“Kind of like an answer to prayer, though”.

I nodded; “It really is”.

“Kelly gets to be the clan mother”.

“Yeah, and it’s not like she’s trying to make herself believe that they’re really her kids or anything; she knows they’re not”.

“I know. It’s like being a grandparent”, he said with a grin; “You’ve got all this love inside you, and you get to pour it out on them and spoil them rotten, and then send them home again so their parents can deal with the consequences!”

We both laughed, and I said, “Yeah, I guess that’s true with that group, although Beth’s over at our place a lot more often than the others”.

“She’s a sweet kid”.

“She really is. I think if Don and Lynda put her up for sale, Kelly would pay top dollar for her”.

He laughed again; “I don’t think that’s going to happen. Much as Bethie loves you two, she’s pretty devoted to her mom and dad”.

“And her grandma”.

“Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? Rachel can be a little severe sometimes, but Bethie doesn’t seem to bring out that side of her”.

We were quiet for a moment, each thinking our own thoughts. I sipped at my iced tea, held the glass in my lap, and said, “Eleven years since I moved here, and I still get overwhelmed sometimes by the size of the family I married into”.

“Your dad’s family’s on the big side, too, isn’t it? Doesn’t he have three siblings”.

“Yeah, and they all have kids, so it’s not that I haven’t got cousins. But our families were never close; well, even my own brother and I aren’t very close! But here, Kelly’s close to aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins and so on, on both sides of the family; sometimes it feels like I’ve got at least twenty brothers and sisters in law!”

“You seem to enjoy it”.

“I do, to the point that when I go back to England it feels strange to be so isolated. I guess I’ve become a Reimer at heart”.

“Don’t tell Becca that”.

“She knows it; in fact, she’s the one that first pointed it out to me. Not that that means anything to her and me”.

“Yeah, you guys are kind of like Erika and Donny; they’ve always had that older sister and little brother thing going”.

“I thought about that earlier in the summer”. I frowned; “You know, it’s not that we’ve ever ignored Erika, but she and Kelly weren’t really close”.

“Not like with Brenda”.

“No, but over the past few weeks that’s changed. Kelly says it’s kind of like she’s seeing for the first time what an outstanding person Erika really is”.

“Erika never makes a fuss, but she always does what needs to be done. She’s been like that every since she was a kid”.

“Yeah, I can see that. She and Kelly have been spending a lot more time together since the family reunion. Not that Kelly’s neglecting Brenda or anything”.

“Does Brenda know what she’s going to do yet?”

“She’s been asking around at various businesses in town; she’s got a good head on her shoulders for that kind of thing. I think she’s been talking to Blaine at the Co-op, actually”.

“About the Deli?”

“I don’t know”.

“I sure hope she finds something”.

“She’s going to need an income; divorce doesn’t come cheap”.

“No”.

“Mind you, Glenn’s going to represent her and I’m sure he’s not charging her his full rate”.

“I don’t know if he ever does; that man’s too honest to be a rich lawyer”.

“Yeah”. I paused, and then said, “How are Hugo and Millie doing, Will?”

“It’s been a tough summer for them”.

“Yeah”.

He was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “When Hugo and I were growing up, I don’t think we knew a single divorced person. I’m sure there were unhappy marriages, but you never talked about that stuff; you kept it in the privacy of your own home. And, of course, we never heard about homosexuality, and we certainly didn’t know any gay or lesbian people, or at least, if we did we didn’t know they were gay or lesbian. Now, of course, times are changing, and Mennonites divorce a lot more often. Still, I sometimes wonder whether my brother feels like Job”.

“Charlie used to say, ‘Troubles come in tribes’”.

He laughed softly; “That’s right, he did say that. I miss that old geezer”.

“Me too”.

“But getting back to Hugo and Millie, it’s ten years this past May since Corey died, and I don’t think they’ve really ever gotten over that. And now, in short order, a marriage breakup, and a son who’s a gay man”. He looked across at me; “Hugo’s walking like he’s carrying a fifty pound weight on his shoulders”.

“I’ve noticed that”.

“Although”, he added, “I have to say, he and Millie are really glad Donny’s talking to them again. Much as they struggle with this homosexuality thing, they’re relieved to be in regular contact with him”.

“I can imagine”. I was quiet for a moment, and then I said, “It’s strange, isn’t it? Just a few verses from the Bible causing so much grief to people”.

“Some people would say it’s more than a few verses; it’s all the teaching about marriage and family too”.

“Yeah, I know; I’ve had this conversation with Rob”.

“You and Rob have talked about this?”

“Yes”.

“How did that go?”

“Okay, I think. He doesn’t want this to become a big issue, but he thinks it might be difficult to stop it. I find that curious, personally, given that Donny’s not even a member of our church”.

“No, but he used to be, and all his family are”.

“Guilt by association? That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is. Mennonites have their darker side, Tom. Have you ever heard of the ban, or shunning?”

“No”.

“I’m glad. It goes back to the sixteenth century; it was all part of the Anabaptist desire to have a church that really practiced holiness. Of course, discipleship and sin were always seen in community terms in our tradition; we’ve never really been into minding our own business, you know! The ban was something that happened when someone in a congregation fell into some notorious sin and refused to repent; they would be excommunicated, and the whole congregation would be told to avoid them and have no contact with them. In some traditions, that even included requiring the family members of the person to stay away from them”.

I stared at him; “That’s unbelievable”.

“Still, it’s based on passages in the gospels. ‘If he will not listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector’”.

“I suppose, but I still find it hard to believe that Jesus…”

“I know, and for the record, I agree with you. The point I’m making is that we Mennonites have always had our dark side; we’re flawed and imperfect human beings, like anyone else”.

“I guess I haven’t seen much of that since I’ve been going to the church”.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that”.

“So you’re asking me to cut them some slack?”

“Maybe”. He frowned thoughtfully; “The thing is, Tom, I know that Donny needs all the help he can get, and so does Erika. And I know that much as Hugo and Millie struggle with Donny being gay, it really hurts them when church members are talking about it behind their backs. So please don’t get the impression that I’m saying you and Kelly shouldn’t stand beside them on this; I’m not. Sally and I are standing beside them too, and we’d be disappointed if you weren’t with us”.

“We’re with you”, I said quietly.

“I know. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised if this gets messy, and if some hurtful things are said. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and that includes members of Meadowvale Mennonite Church. And it just might be that you and Kelly are about to get some practice in loving those who despitefully use you”.

“Point taken”, I replied.

“And maybe, just maybe, all of us are a little bit right and a little bit wrong on this issue, and we all need to be open to learning more – and, more importantly, to loving more”.

I looked at him for a moment, and then I said, “I don’t often say this, but you are a wise man, Will”.

“Now you’re giving me a big head”.

“No, I don’t think so”.

At that moment Emma ran up the steps to the deck, came over to me and showed me her ice cream pail, full to the brim. “Look how many I picked!” she said with a grin.

“Wow; there’s enough there for all of us!”

“That’s the plan”, Kelly replied, coming up the steps behind Emma; “We’re going to take them in and run them under the tap, and then serve up raspberries and ice cream. Think you can handle that?”

“If I’m pushed”, I replied with a smile.

She leaned over and kissed me gently on the forehead. “Big enough push?” she asked.

“Well…”

She bent and kissed me on the lips; “How about that?”

“Well…”

Will laughed; “Will you guys please get a room?” he said.

Kelly straightened and grinned at him; “What’s the matter, Dad – are you seriously trying to tell me that you and Mom never shared the occasional passionate embrace in front of your kids?”

“Oh yeah!” Sally exclaimed on her way through the door into the house. “Come on, let’s get these raspberries washed up!”

 

That September, Darren Peterson moved to Meadowvale. He had earned a good degree from Yale and spent a year teaching at a high school not far from New Haven, but he had always known that eventually he would want to move to a small town, and something about his visit to Meadowvale for his grandfather’s funeral had awakened in him a desire to explore his family roots in Saskatchewan. Also, as he said to me a few weeks later with a smile, he had never forgotten how much he enjoyed the singaround at our house.

Pat Bellamy, who had taught chemistry and biology at our school for over twenty years, had retired at the end of June and moved to Vancouver Island, where her husband had wanted to move ever since he retired as our bank manager two years before. “It’s not that Pat’s not a good teacher”, Don Robinson said to me once, “It’s just that she has an incredible talent for seeing the cloud that’s attached to every silver lining”. We had all contributed to a retirement gift for her, and some of us had prayed fervently that we might find someone to take her place who would make the science labs a more cheerful environment for learning.

Will had told me early in the summer that Darren had got the position, so I was not surprised to see him at the school on the first working day of the year. I had arrived a little earlier than usual and had stopped by Don Robinson’s room for a few minutes for a chat before heading into the staff room to get a cup of coffee. There were already a few teachers gathering there, and I noticed Darren immediately; he was sporting a new goatee, and his curly hair was cut a little shorter than I remembered. He gave me an easy smile when he saw me; we shook hands, and I said, “Somehow I wasn’t surprised to hear that you’d applied for Pat’s job”.

“No, I think I knew when I left after Grandpa’s funeral that I’d be back”.

“Just bio and chemistry, though – not music”.

“Well, I’ll see what I can do informally. I know there’s already a music teacher on staff, but I can always help out”.

“How are your mum and dad?”

He shrugged; “Okay, I guess”.

“Not too happy about your move?”

He shook his head; “We had some tense conversations”.

“Yeah?”

He looked down; “I guess this was never really in their plan for me”, he said quietly.

“So they had a plan for you?”

“Oh yeah”.

“Maybe it didn’t really involve being a high school teacher in the first place?” I said quietly.

“No, I think they’d have been happier if I’d got a master’s and a doctorate and joined them at Yale or some other Ivy League school”.

“And I imagine your mum has a hard time figuring out why you wanted to move back to the small town she spent so much time wanting to leave”.

He frowned, looked at me and said, “Tom, was my granddad really that bad?”

I thought for a moment, and then, choosing my words carefully, I said, “I think that everything your mum has ever told you about Charlie was probably true, but it wasn’t the whole story. He knew he’d failed her, and in his better moments he wished he could fix that, but when you’ve been digging yourself into the same rut for over half a century, sometimes it’s hard to get out of it”.

“You liked him, didn’t you?”

“I really did. I miss him a lot”.

“I wish I’d known him better; I kick myself now that I didn’t just take the initiative and come out here to visit him”.

“Darren, you made a real difference to the last few weeks of his life”.

“Did I?”

“Yes, you did. I wish you could have seen the look on his face when he showed us your letter and told us about talking to you on the phone. You’ve no idea how much it meant to him that you’d gotten back to him”.

He looked at me for a moment, and then he said, “Thank you, Tom”.

At that moment I saw another familiar face entering the staff room. “Let me introduce you to another old friend of mine”, I said as the newcomer came over to us. “This is Leanne Collins; she’s going to be our new senior high Math teacher”.

Leanne and Darren shook hands, and then she turned to me with a broad grin on her face and said, “I’m going to have a hard time not calling you ‘Mr. Masefield’!”

Leanne and I gave each other a warm hug, and then I said, “I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that you’d got the Math position; I’d always suspected that you’d come back here eventually”.

“You two have known each other for a while, then?” Darren asked.

“I’m from Meadowvale”, Leanne said; “Tom was my senior high English teacher”.

“Ah – have you been teaching somewhere else?”

“Yeah; after I got my degree I taught in North Battleford for four years, but I’ve wanted to come back here for a while. How about you; where are you from?”

“New Haven, Connecticut, but my mom was born right here; Charlie Blackie was my grandfather”.

“No kidding! I don’t think I knew Charlie had any kids”.

“My mom left Meadowvale years ago, and we weren’t back very often”.

“Are you staying at Wilf and Mabel’s?” I asked Leanne.

She nodded; “For now anyway; I was thinking of getting a house of my own, but they’re both slowing down a lot, and Grandma needs some help around the place”.

“Do you think they’ll be able to keep the farm much longer?”

“That’s the big question”, she replied; “Grandpa doesn’t want to discuss it at the moment, but of course, it can’t be put off forever. My Grandpa’s seventy-three”, she explained to Darren; “He’s been a farmer all his life, but his arthritis is really bad now, and he’s having a hard time keeping up with the place”.

“He doesn’t have any kids waiting to take it over?” Darren asked.

“Unfortunately no, so leaving would mean selling the place, which he’s reluctant to do”.

“Do your parents live around here?”

Leanne hesitated for the briefest of moments, and then said, “My dad died ten years ago; he and I were living with my grandparents at the time. My mom lives out in Alberta”.

“I’m sorry”, he replied awkwardly; “I really shouldn’t have…”

“Don’t worry about it”, she said; “My story’s no secret in this town”.

“I hear you’re renting Ron Ratzlaff’s place, Darren”, I said.

“Yeah, I am. Will’s been really kind to me; he found me that place to rent, and put a few pieces of furniture in it, although I’ve got some of my own too, of course”.

I grinned; “This sounds exactly like the story of my arrival in Meadowvale eleven years ago; I rented that place, too, and Will and Sally took me under their wing and helped me out”.

I noticed Don Robinson slipping into the room; “Staff meeting starts in five minutes, folks”, he said in a loud voice, “So grab your coffee and come on down”.

“Have you met our Vice-Principal yet?” I asked Darren.

“No, I don’t think I have”.

I waved Don over to where we were standing. “I call him the Heir Apparent”, I said with a grin; “Don, this is Darren Peterson, our new Chemistry and Biology teacher. Darren, Don Robinson, who teaches Social Studies and also moonlights as our Vice-Principal. He’s been here as long as the grass has grown and the rivers have run”.

“You’re getting a little long in the tooth yourself, Tom Masefield!” Don replied as he shook hands with Darren. “Good to meet you, Darren; you’re the Yale grad, right?”

“Yeah, that would be me. Do I dare ask why Tom calls you the ‘Heir Apparent’?”

“Because he’s the only one around here who thinks it’s a done deal that I’ll become the principal when Will retires”.

“Is Will retiring soon?”

“Well, he just turned sixty-two; in theory he could retire at any time, but he’s made it generally known that he plans to go on until he’s sixty-five. By which time there will be at least one other credible candidate around here, a guy from Oxford by the name of Masefield”.

I laughed; “I’m a lousy administrator and you know it, Don! Anyone who’d appoint me principal of this school would have to be more than a little crazy!”

“Ah, but things can change in three years, as I keep saying”. He turned to Leanne with a smile; “Well, here’s a familiar face!” he said.

“Nice to see you again, Don!” she replied; “Like I said to Tom, I’m going to have a hard time to remember not to call you ‘Mr. Robinson’!”

“Well, if I really was the Heir Apparent, I would of course encourage fear and trembling in my presence, but since I’m just the Social Studies teacher and part-time Vice-Principal, I’ll encourage you to call me ‘Don’!”

“I’ll try to remember that!”

“Okay, folks”, he said; “let’s grab our coffee and head on down”.

 

Years later, when she was a teenager, Emma had Darren Peterson as her biology and chemistry teacher. “The thing that makes him such a great teacher”, she said to me one day in her grade 12 year, “is that he really, really loves science. When you’re doing chemistry experiments in his class, it’s like he’s seeing the results for the first time, even though he’s probably seen them hundreds of times before. And when he’s explaining things to you in bio, he sounds like he was Charles Darwin on the voyage of the ‘Beagle’, you know, making all these amazing discoveries about how life works and then coming back to share them with the class!”

Emma knew by the time she was eleven or twelve that she wanted to be a nurse, like her mother, and at that age it was certainly Kelly’s influence that was attracting her to the idea, but I know that it was due to Darren’s excitement about his subject that she came to be fascinated with the human body and how it works, and that fascination stayed with her. When I asked her years later about Darren’s influence on her choice of careers, she nodded and said, “He was certainly one of the best teachers I had in high school. Well, after you, of course!”

“Are you sure he came after me? You did become a nurse, not a writer or a poet or an English teacher!”

“True enough, but you did succeed in making a guitarist out of me”.

I shook my head; “That was your initiative, not mine. You’d been watching me pretty closely since you were two or three, and you weren’t even nine years old when you first came to me and asked me to teach you to play”.
 “I remember that. That was when you bought me that kid-sized guitar”.

“You were pretty excited about that”.

“Yeah, I can still remember you helping me make the chord shapes with my hands. You and Beth”.

“She taught you quite a bit”.

“You were both good teachers, Dad”.

“You didn’t seem to need much teaching; you had a pretty good idea of what you wanted to play, and after a while, I just got out of the way”.

 

Darren’s arrival in Meadowvale introduced a new element into the music that Ellie and I were making. We had been playing together as a two-person band for five years now, and our repertoire was a good blend of Ellie’s bluegrass songs and my traditional English and Irish folk music. The two of us had both grown as musicians; we had come to appreciate and enjoy each other’s styles, Ellie had become much more confident as a singer – she had a beautiful singing voice – and she had begun to write songs of her own, which we were including in our repertoire. We had also become good friends, a friendship cemented on the car rides between Meadowvale and Saskatoon when we were going down to play at open stages or gigs. During the summer we usually played at several agricultural fairs and country gospel gatherings around our area, and we had become quite well known.

Ellie was very excited about Darren’s arrival in Meadowvale; she remembered his mandolin playing at the singaround at our house two summers ago, and a couple of Saturdays after school started the three of us got together at Joe and Ellie’s house to have a jam. Kelly and Joe watched the kids in various places in the house and the yard while Ellie and Darren and I sat together in the living room for a couple of hours, drinking coffee and playing songs together.

“You’ve got an amazing repertoire”, Ellie said to him when we were packing up the instruments. “How old did you say you were?”

He laughed; “Twenty-four”.

She smiled at me; “The same age you were when you moved here”.

“Yeah, and he’s living in my old house, too”.

We laughed, and she said, “Seriously, Darren, you’ve been playing mandolin and banjo for what, four years, now? Don’t tell me you tried to play bluegrass songs on the piano before that?”

“I did, actually”, he replied with a sheepish grin, “but they didn’t sound as good as my Bach or Mozart stuff, so I decided to buy a mandolin”.

“Pretty nice mandolin”.

“Yeah, I was lucky there. At the time my parents didn’t know it would lead me to the Appallachians and away from their master plan for my future, so they were happy to help me buy it”.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and then Kelly, who had slipped into the living room to listen to the last couple of songs we played, said, “Something else you and Tom have in common”.

“Oh?”

“Tom’s parents helped him buy that guitar he’s playing”.

“That’s right”, I replied; “I got it second hand from a guy I knew in a folk club in Oxford, but still it’s a Martin, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it if Mum and Dad hadn’t helped me with the money. Well, Mum mainly, although I suspect she extracted a little money from Dad to help”.

“Are you guys going to play together some more?” Kelly asked.

Darren looked at us hesitantly; “I don’t want to push my way into the thing you guys have going”, he said. “You’re an established act, and…”

Ellie and I looked at each other, and I saw in her face that she was excited by the thought. “Why don’t you join us for a couple of gigs and open stages”, I suggested to Darren, “and we’ll see how it goes?”

“Well, if you’re sure”.

“As I said, let’s give it a try”.

 

Kelly and I went out for a quiet supper for our ninth wedding anniversary in the middle of the week before Thanksgiving. True to form, Will and Sally invited Darren to join them for Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday night, “Unless you’re doing something with the Blackies, of course”, Will added.

Darren shook his head; “They’re still a little awkward around me. They don’t quite know what to do with the fact that I don’t drink”.

“Period?”

“Yeah, I’m a teetotaller”.

“That’s not something you hear very often”.

“Well, it’s the way I was raised, I guess. I think Mom got put off years ago when Grandpa was still drinking, and she just had a real phobia around it, so we never had alcohol in the house. I tried it a few times when I was a teenager, of course, and I even got drunk with the guys once, but it never really did anything for me, so in the end I decided I was quite happy without it”.

“Fair enough”.

 

There was certainly no alcohol served with Thanksgiving dinner at Hugo and Millie’s house that year; Donny had spent September in a thirty-day treatment program, and in the ten days since he got out he had attended three or four A.A. meetings. Hugo and Millie had invited him to bring Alan up for Thanksgiving dinner; it would be the first time Alan had visited Meadowvale or met any of Donny’s family except for Erika, and Erika told us ahead of time that there was a certain amount of apprehension on both sides. “It’s a stretch for Mom and Dad, of course”, she said, “but they love Donny, and they’re really trying hard to understand him. And it’s a stretch for Donny and Alan, as a gay couple going out into the wilds of conservative rural Saskatchewan – conservative Mennonite rural Saskatchewan, that is”.

“How about you and John?” Kelly asked gently.

Erika shook her head; “Do you mind if we don’t go there, Kelly?”

“Of course not. Do you mind me asking, are Donny and Alan staying over?”

“No, they’re driving back to the city. There isn’t really room at Mom and Dad’s, with Brenda and the kids still being there, and…”

“And I expect it would be even more of a stretch for your mom and dad to give them a room, with a double bed”.

“Yeah, I think so”.

Kelly and I glanced at each other, and then I said, “You don’t talk about it specifically, Erika, but it’s obvious that it would be problematic for them to stay at your place too. Another time, let them know that they’re welcome to stay with us”.

“Are you sure?” she asked softly. “You know there might be trouble in the church if it gets around, right?”

“Not with everyone”, Kelly replied; “There are a few people who are getting bent out of shape about it, and some others who are struggling, and then there are people who think the law of love overrides all that”.

Erika was quiet for a moment, and then she stepped forward impulsively, kissed Kelly on the cheek, and gave her a hug. “I appreciate this”, she said, “but I want you to think very, very carefully about it. Tom, you’re involved in music ministry in the church, and the two of you do an amazing job with those young people, including my son. You need to think very carefully about whether you want to put all of that at risk. Donny and Alan aren’t asking for a place to stay; it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes to Saskatoon, and it’s no problem for them to drive home after a visit here. They know you’ve been supportive, and they appreciate it, but I don’t think they’d want you to be on the receiving end of any sort of nastiness as a result of something like this”.

“You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?” Kelly said.

“I honestly am. I’m the one in the church who’s most identified with Donny right now, and there have been things said – mainly behind my back, but a couple of times to my face. I don’t regret anything I’ve done, and I’m not about to leave the church over it, but it’s not a comfortable place to be. You two do a lot of good in our church, and I want to see it carry on”.

Kelly was quiet for a moment, and then she said, “Well, we’ll think about it, as you say. But meanwhile, do you think Donny and Alan would come up a little early on Sunday and come over for afternoon coffee with us?”

“I’m sure they’d love to do that. Shall I give you Donny’s email address?”

“That would be great”.

 

And so it was that Donny and Alan sat with us around our kitchen table on a rainy Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon; Erika came too, and she brought her two youngest children, eleven year old Katelynn and eight year old Dustin, who both disappeared in the general direction of Emma’s room as soon as they got in the door. We heard lots of laughter and the occasional bang or crash, but when Alan looked at me quizzically I said, “Experience would seem to indicate that if one of them gets hurt, one of the others will run out here pretty quickly and let us know about it, and if they don’t, it’s better to leave them to it!”

“Ah, right!” he replied with a grin; “The voice of the seasoned parent, I see!”

Alan was tall and thin, with longish blonde hair and glasses and a quiet demeanour. “It’s a pleasure to meet you”, he had said to Kelly and me when they first arrived; “I’ve heard so much about you”.

“All good, I hope?” I replied with a grin.

“Of course!”

We sat around the table drinking coffee for an hour; Kelly took the lead in asking questions, and as I watched her, I found myself reflecting that she had become much more gentle and tactful about it than she had been when we first met. We discovered that the two of them had gotten to know each other when Donny, or ‘Don’ as Alan called him, first came to work at the Sheaf, and things had slowly gone on from there.

“What about you two?” Alan asked us; “How did you meet?”

“Well, you know that I teach English at Meadowvale High School”, I said.

“Yeah, that’s what Don told me”.

“Well, Kelly’s Dad’s the principal, and he’s rather gregarious”.

Kelly laughed; “That’s putting it mildly!” she added.

“Anyway, he and his wife invited me over to their place for more meals than I can count when I first got here from England eleven years ago. One of those meals was Thanksgiving. Kelly was home from Jasper, where she was nursing at the time, so that’s when we met – October 10th 1982, eleven years ago yesterday”.

“Congratulations”, Alan said.

“Thank you”.

“You’ve gotten quite involved in the Mennonite church here, Don tells me”.

“Yeah, I have. I suppose you’d call me an adult convert”.

“That’s not very common, is it? These days the stories you hear are mostly about people leaving churches, and churches shutting down”.

I shrugged; “I’m not enough of a culture watcher to be able to comment on that. I wasn’t raised in a churchgoing family, but I had a very good friend from high school who was a Christian, and he and I had some good discussions in our school and university years. And then when I met Kelly, I discovered she was on a spiritual journey too”.

“Yeah, I’d left the church for a few years”, Kelly said, “mainly because of questions about science and faith, but I wasn’t finding life without God particularly satisfying; I was hungry for some sort of spiritual element to my life, I guess”.

“So we kind of made that journey together”, I said, “and it ended up with both of us getting baptized early in 1984”.

“Did you find that spiritual element?” Alan asked Kelly.

“Yeah, I did – or rather, I rediscovered it. I’d often had a sense of God’s presence in nature when I was younger, and I’d never really stopped believing in God”.

“It was a little different for me”, I said; “My dad’s an atheist, and he and I had a difficult relationship when I was in my teens and early twenties. Well, I suppose I should be honest and say that we still do. But I think that in my high school and university years, having conversations about Christianity with my best friend was an act of rebelliousness on my part!”

We all laughed, and then Kelly said, “Why do you ask, Alan?”

“Curiosity, I guess. I suppose I’d call myself ‘spiritual, but not religious’; I believe in God, but I’m a little vague about what I mean by that word, and I certainly wouldn’t claim to have ever had any sort of experience of God. Don, of course, was raised in church”.

“Although I haven’t been for quite a while”, Donny said. “People like us don’t exactly get the welcome mat put out for us when we try to go to church”.

“Have you actually been turned away?” Kelly asked softly.

“To be honest, I haven’t really tried; there’s so much noise made in Christian circles about homosexuality being an abomination that I really don’t feel like taking the risk. I have to admit that I miss it, though”.

“Yeah?” Kelly asked.

“Yeah; it’s nice to have a community that supports you in that kind of thing. Of course, when you start experiencing some dissonance between the community’s values and your own, that’s when it gets more complicated”.

 

A couple of weeks later I was talking with Rob Neufeld after our evening study group at the church, and the topic of Donny and Alan came up. A few people had already left to go home, and a couple of others were clearing up the room where we held the study; Rob and I were in the kitchen washing the dishes and the coffee pot.

“I hear Donny and Alan were in town”, he said to me.

“Yeah, they had Thanksgiving dinner at Hugo and Millie’s, and they were over to our place for coffee for an hour or so in the afternoon”.

“How was it?”

“It was good; Alan seems like a nice enough guy, and they were easy to talk to”. I was washing out the glass carafe of the coffee maker; I rinsed it off and put it on the drying rack, and said, “I don’t hear very much about what’s being said; is it causing trouble?”

“There are people who aren’t happy. John Rempel is definitely one of them, but he’s not really part of the congregation right now. Old Peter Janzen isn’t happy, and neither are George and Elizabeth Penner and John Redekopp”.

“John’s pretty influential in the church”.

“Yes, he is”.

“What exactly is bothering them, Rob? I mean, Donny’s not a member of the church, and all that’s happened so far is that Erika’s kept up her relationship with her brother, and he’s been visiting at Hugo and Millie’s, and once at our place. What are they worried about?”

“I guess they worry that our church is going to compromise its position that homosexual acts are sinful”.

“Is that our position?”

“Well, historically, that’s the view Mennonites have taken. I suspect that not everyone agrees with that, but nothing’s been changed, and if anyone tries to change it, I can’t see anything but trouble ahead. We’re not a tradition that handles diversity of opinion well, Tom; it’s the Achilles heel of the Anabaptist movement. So often we’ve made an idol out of the quest for the pure church, and of course, too often ‘the pure church’ becomes ‘the church that agrees with all my opinions on morality and ethics’”.

“But what exactly would constitute ‘compromising our position’? Being kind to people who are different from us?”

He dried the carafe with a towel and replaced it on the coffee maker. “I think some people would have issues with that, yes”, he replied. “They would point to scripture passages about avoiding every appearance of evil, and ‘come out from among them, and be ye separate’, and so on”.

“Are we talking about the ban, or shunning?”

He gave me an intense look; “You’ve been reading about Mennonite history, have you?”

“Will was telling me about it”.

“General Conference Mennonites haven’t practiced the ban, or shunning, for a long time. Still, there’s a cultural memory of it, but I don’t think anyone in our church has a taste for that sort of thing”.

“I’m glad to hear it”, I replied, dropping a handful of wet teaspoons into the drying tray.

He picked up one of the spoons and began to dry it. “Look, Tom”, he said, “I don’t want this to become an issue between you and me. When it comes to my view on homosexuality, I accept the traditional position that homosexual acts are sinful; that seems to me to be the plain meaning of the biblical texts, and I can’t find a way to wiggle around that. But I fully believe that there is such a thing as a homosexual orientation, and that there are people who live with that, through no choice of their own”.

“How do you square that with the idea that homosexual acts are sinful; is God just being mean to those people?”

“No, of course not, any more than he’s being mean to people who have congenital illnesses. This is a broken and imperfect world, and we can’t read God’s original creation intention out of what we see around us. But what I really want to say, Tom, is that I’m with you and Kelly in wanting to be welcoming and supportive of Donny and Alan, and personally, I think everything that you and Kelly and Erika have done – and Hugo and Millie, too – is right and good”.

“Thanks; I’m really glad to hear you say that”.

“But there is going to be trouble. I’m sure that sooner or later someone’s going to raise the issue of what you and Kelly are teaching in the youth group”.

“The youth group that’s not a youth group, you mean?”

“Yeah, I know where you’re going with that, and I take your point, but not everyone will see it that way”.

“I understand”.

“I just want you to know that I’m going to do everything in my power to hold this church together, while at the same time not compromising my own convictions on both sides of this subject. But it may not be possible for me to hold it together; I’m just one person, and in our Mennonite church polity I don’t have the power to dictate what’s going to happen about this”.

“Yeah, I understand”.

I was pouring out the dishwater now, and he was drying the last of the coffee cups. “Can I ask you something?” he said.

“Of course”.

“Where do you stand on this now?”

I ran some water into the sink, rinsing out the soapsuds. “I’m sitting firmly on the fence”, I said. “Like I said to Kelly and Erika when it first came up, I’ve read the Bible through two or three times since I became a Christian, and I know what it says about gay and lesbian sex. But I have questions, too; I don’t know if the writers knew that there are some people who are born that way, and I don’t get the sense from the texts that they were talking about committed monogamous relationships. And I also notice that the Bible writers don’t seem that interested in the subject; it doesn’t exactly come up very often. Much less often that lending money at interest, or caring for the poor and needy”.

“Point well taken, and I think I agree with you on that. How does Kelly feel?”

“I think she’s on the same page as me”.

“Forgive me for asking this, Tom – it’s going to seem like I’m prying my way into something that’s none of my business – but have you discussed this issue with the kids that come over to your place?”

“No; it hasn’t come up”.

“And if they raise it, what do you plan to say?”

“Well, as you know, we don’t tend to be in the habit of making pronouncements with that group; we have discussions, and of course Kelly and I share our own opinions, but they get discussed just like everyone else’s”.

“I’m sure they respect your opinions, though”.

“Yes, they do”. I frowned; “How do you want me to answer that question, Rob?”

“Well, I’m certainly not asking you to pretend you’re certain about something you’re not certain about, especially in a group that’s entirely your own, and has no official connection with our church”.

“But a lot of people see it as the church youth group – we know that”.

“They do. I guess I’d expect that if you were asked, you would state your own views, but I’d like it if you would also put the case for the church’s traditional view, and do it in a respectful way”.

I thought for a moment, and then I said, “That would mean that you would have to spend a little more time with me explaining the church’s traditional view”.

“I’m happy to do that, Tom”.

“Okay”.

Link to Chapter 32

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