Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 8

Link back to Chapter 7



By the beginning of April most of the snow had gone from Meadowvale, and the days were warming up and stretching out, although the nights were still cold. By Easter Monday, April 4th, the weather was clear and bright for my first trip to Jasper. It was a long drive – around eleven hours in total – and I took Kelly’s advice and broke it up, staying overnight in Edmonton. “That way you’ll see the mountains in the daylight as you’re coming in”, she said to me; “If the weather’s good, that’s a sight you’ll never forget”. So I spent a night in Edmonton on Krista’s couch – she was in Meadowvale for the holidays, and she gave me her spare key – and I drove the final four hours up to Jasper the next day.

Over the past three months Kelly and I had continued to write to each other at least once a week, sharing some of our questions and thoughts about God and spirituality, about books we were reading and music we were enjoying, and generally continuing the process of getting to know each other better. Her letters were chattier than mine; she enjoyed telling me about her work colleagues, about her favourite cross country ski trails, about coffee shops in Jasper that she liked, and about little details of her daily life. I did that kind of thing from time to time in letters to Owen or my mother, but it wasn’t something that came naturally to me. However, I found myself enjoying the little stories and humorous details Kelly shared with me, and so I made an effort to do the same for her.

Gradually, as the weeks went by, we found ourselves calling each other more frequently, particularly if we got started on a provocative discussion in our letters and one of us felt the need to explore it further. I would be sitting at my desk in the evening working on some marking for the next day when the phone would ring at my elbow, and when I answered it she would say, “Hey, it’s me; is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s fine”, I would reply; “Will this be a long discussion?”

“Oh, probably!”

“Okay, can you ring me back in ten minutes after I’ve made myself a cup of tea?”

“For sure; I’ll do the same thing!”

And so as winter turned to spring, I gradually realized that I had made a new friend, even though we hadn’t seen very much of each other face to face. And as the Easter holidays drew closer, I slowly became aware of the fact that I was very much looking forward to seeing her again.



I was lucky on that trip: the good weather held, and I never forgot that first breathtaking flash of white mountain peaks on the far horizon as I travelled west on the main highway between Edson and Hinton. As I drove on, the mountains slowly came into view in all their majesty, with slopes of green sweeping up to snow-covered rocky peaks, and by the time I reached the national park boundary, about forty miles northeast of the Jasper town site, they were towering over me. There were signs on the winding road reminding motorists to drive slowly because of wildlife, and I saw a couple of elk and a few bighorn sheep before I finally reached the town site at about one o’clock in the afternoon.

Kelly lived on the west side of town, on the top floor of a three-storey apartment building with a wooded hillside rising steeply behind it. When I buzzed her apartment she came down to the parking lot to greet me, dressed in jeans and a thick Cowichan sweater against the cool mountain air; she gave me a warm hug and then stepped back, smiled at me and said, “Well? What do you think so far?”

“Stunning!” I replied.

“It’s really not bad, is it?”

“Not bad at all”.

“We had a little snow yesterday, but it’s mostly melted, as you can see. So what can I carry, the bag or the guitar case?”

“You take the bag, if you don’t mind?”

“A little protective of our guitar, are we?”

“Just a bit”.

Her apartment was small and simply furnished. There was a round dining table by the kitchen window, and in the living room a couch, an easy chair and a couple of bookshelves, with a stereo system against one of the walls and some family photographs on another. The spare bedroom was tiny, with just enough room for a single bed, a bedside table and a dresser, and a small built-in cupboard at one end. “I hope it won’t be too cramped for you”, she said apologetically; “I don’t often have company, so I didn’t bother to try for a bigger place”.

“I’ll be fine, thanks”.

As she had said, the view from her living room window was spectacular. “That’s Whistlers’ Mountain”, she said, pointing out a vast tree-clad slope towering over the town site, “and the white one behind it is Mount Edith Cavell. Then off to the left, if you lean forward a little, you can see Signal Mountain”.

“I suppose you’ve climbed them all, have you?”

“Not all of them; I’m not a real mountaineer. You need ropes and pitons to get to the top of Edith Cavell; that’s a little too much like hard work for me. I’ve been up the Edith Cavell Meadows trail – it goes up the ridge across from the mountain, you can see it to the left of the peak over there. But I’ve been up to the top of Whistlers’ a few times, and Signal Mountain too”.

“Why is it called ‘Whistlers’?”

“The first explorers through here gave it that name; they kept hearing whistling and didn’t know what it was. It’s actually the sound the marmots make; they’re all over the mountainsides around here. There’s a cable car that goes most of the way up to the top, but it’s not open for the season yet or I’d take you up there. It’s actually a bit of an awkward time for getting out on the trails”.

“How come?”

“Well, some of the trails are clear, but the ground’s still really wet and muddy, and some of them still have snow, but it’s soft and slushy – even snowshoeing would be hard work when the snow’s like that”. She grinned at me sheepishly; “Sorry – I should have made that a little clearer when I told you to come in the Easter holidays!”

“That’s fine; we can at least drive around and see some views, and maybe we can do a couple of walks, too”.

“Oh yeah, there are some walks close to town that have paved trails. And we could go down the Icefields Parkway to the Athabasca Glacier, although that’s a longer trip – about an hour and a half south of here. It’s well worth it, though; you can go right up to the toe of the glacier. The drive’s pretty spectacular; it follows the valley of the Athabasca River, so you’ve got mountain ranges on either side, with some amazing views. I might actually take you down part way this afternoon, if you like. We could go down to Athabasca Falls; it’s about twenty miles south of town”.

“So it’s a waterfall of some kind, is it?”

“Kind of. It’s actually a really deep and narrow canyon – just a few feet across – with the river at the bottom of it. It’s impossible for me to describe it; just take it from me that you should see it.”

“Well then, let’s do it”.

“Would you like a sandwich and a cup of tea before we go out?”

“That would be great; let me help you”.

“Everything’s ready; I had a pretty good idea of when you’d get here. I’ll just put the kettle on for a cup of tea”.



We ate a light lunch at the table by the window, and then she took me out in her truck, and we drove south of town about twenty miles to Athabasca Falls. As she had said, the road we were using followed the river valley, with high mountain ranges on either side, the deep green forests sweeping up the mountainsides to the grey rocky peaks, most of them still covered with snow that shone brilliant white in the afternoon sun.

When we got to the Falls we parked in a crowded parking lot and then followed a trail down to a series of bridges, footpaths and viewpoints. We stood on the first bridge with a dozen other tourists, looking down into the deep, narrow gorge where the Athabasca River thundered over the rocks far below. There was still plenty of ice down there, and I could see weird natural ice sculptures coating the rocks.

“You wouldn’t want to fall, would you?” I said.

“I guess not!”

We slowly made our way down beside the canyon, stopping at viewpoints from time to time to take in the scenery and, in my case, to take photographs. It was obviously a popular spot, and we were surrounded on the paths by tourists, some of them speaking languages that were strange to me. Despite the bright sunshine it was a cool afternoon, and I was glad of the wool sweater I was wearing under my spring jacket.

At the bottom of the canyon the river spread out wide again, flowing northward between tree-lined banks toward the town of Jasper; it was still mainly covered with ice, although there were wide open channels on each side. Kelly led me for a couple of hundred yards along the rocky shore, between the water and the trees; “Watch your step”, she said; “The rocks will be icy”. After a few minutes of walking we found a fallen tree trunk to sit on; I took a thermos flask from my backpack, and we drank hot coffee and watched the river in a companionable silence for a few minutes.

“Well”, I said eventually, “this is impressive”.

“I’m glad you like it”.

“Are you still skiing?”

“Oh yeah, there’s lots of snow yet up at Marmot Basin. Would you like to go up and have a look while you’re here? The views from the top of the ski runs are amazing”.

“Sure, but can you go up there if you’re not skiing?”

“As long as you pay your fare, they’ll let you ride the ski lift”.

“You could ski down, right, and I could ride back down?”

“I could, but that wouldn’t be very friendly of me”.

“Tell the truth, Kelly – you’d be itching to ski down, wouldn’t you?”

She grinned sheepishly at me; “Yeah, I would”.

“Well, then – yes, I’d like to see the view, but only if you agree to ski down afterwards and let me ride back down on the ski lift”.

“Oh well, if you insist!”

“I do”.

“Of course, it’s all dependant on the weather; we could wake up tomorrow and find ourselves snowed in”.

“Well, I’ll be glad of anything you want to show me. And if the weather’s not so good, I’ll be glad of your company”.

She smiled at me then, her face glowing under her tuque, our shoulders almost touching as we sat side by side on the fallen tree trunk. “It’s really good to see you, too”, she said quietly.



She made a pot of jambalaya for supper; “I’m pretty sure you’ve never had anything like this in jolly old England!” she said with a grin as she was cooking it on the top of the stove.

“You’re right”, I replied, peering into the pot; “I hardly dare ask what’s in it”.

“Well, there’s rice and chicken and sausage and shrimp, and a few interesting veggies and spices. It’s all good for you, I promise. Do you prefer red wine or white?”

“Red, although I don’t dislike white. How about you?”

“Red too. There’s a bottle in the cupboard by the fridge; do you want to open it up and let it breathe for a few minutes before we eat?”

“Okay”.

When the meal was ready she carried everything over to the circular table by the window, we sat down across from each other, and she gave me an awkward smile; “Would you mind if I said grace?”

“Of course not”.

We both bowed our heads, and she spoke in an unusually quiet voice: “For health and strength and daily food we give thee praise, O God. Amen”.

“Amen”, I replied.

We were quiet for a moment as she spooned jambalaya onto our plates; she seemed to be avoiding my gaze, but then she looked at me and laughed. “I don’t know why I was so embarrassed to ask you about doing that; it’s almost as bad as if I’d started talking about sex!”

“I wasn’t embarrassed; have you always said grace at meals?”

“I didn’t for a few years, but I’ve started again”.

“I think it’s fine”.

“Do you?” She reached for the bottle and poured red wine into our glasses; “I was worried you’d think I was taking short cuts”.

“Short cuts?”

“Yeah – I mean, we’ve talked about all the spiritual questions we have, and I was just afraid you might think I was trying to move too fast”.

I shook my head. “We both believe in God, even if we’re not sure about the rest of the Christian faith. I don’t see how saying thank you to God before a meal is such a radically Christian thing. In fact, I think I might start doing it myself; if there is a God, then it stands to reason that all this comes from him”. I took a sip of wine, and then ate some sausage and rice. “Mmm”, I said; “This is really good. Where did you get this recipe?”

“I found it in an international cook book; I like trying different things”.

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. So where’s jambalaya from?”

“It’s a Cajun dish, from Louisiana”.

“Well, it’s excellent”.

“What sort of food were you raised on?”

“Meat and potatoes and two veg, covered with lashings of gravy. And desserts were trifles and jellies, or puddings covered in hot custard”.

“That sounds so conventionally English!”

“Thank you very much; I’ll have you know that we were conventionally English!”

“Do you mind this sort of thing, then?”

“Not at all. When I left home and moved into Oxford I discovered ethnic restaurants – Indian, Thai, Chinese, and especially Italian; I’m quite fond of Italian”.

“I’ll have to remember that; I’ve got some Italian recipes in my book”.

“Maybe I can cook you something before I go home”.

“That would be great! What got you interested in ethnic restaurants?”

“Owen; his mum was a very adventurous cook and he was used to all kinds of different foods. At first I was hard to convince, but Owen doesn’t give up easily”.

“It’s funny to think of Oxford having ethnic restaurants; I always assumed it was such a quintessentially English place”.

“There are plenty of foreign students at Oxford, and they don’t all get instantly converted to potatoes and gravy”.

“No, I guess not”.

“Plus, it’s caught on with the English as well”.



After supper we cleared the table and washed the dishes together. It was still light outside, and when she asked if I’d like to go for a walk around town, I readily agreed. So she pulled on her Cowichan sweater, I put on my spring jacket, and we spent an hour wandering the streets. Many of the buildings were wood frame construction, and they reminded me of chalets I’d seen in the Alps on holidays to Switzerland and Austria. I mentioned this to her, and she smiled and said, “You’ve been to Switzerland and Austria?”

“Yes, but not for the skiing. My mum’s got a school friend who lives in Vienna; when I was a kid we often went there for a week or two in the summer time. I actually spent the summer there at the end of my first year in university”.

“Really? Doing what?”

“Staying with Auntie Pat, my mum’s school friend, and her husband Uncle Johann. They’re actually both musicians; they play with the Vienna Symphony. Uncle Johann was involved in the Innsbruck Summer Festival that year, and he got me a job working as an international host for foreign visitors. It was really fantastic, actually; I spent five days each week working in Innsbruck, and then I went back to Vienna to spend a couple of days with Auntie Pat and her kids”.

“She married an Austrian guy, I take it? I’m assuming Johann isn’t an English name”.

“Yeah, they’ve been married for quite a while. They’ve got two children – Hans is twenty this year, and Jana’s seventeen. They’re a bit like cousins to me, actually; we saw them at least once a year when we were growing up, which is more often that we saw some of my Masefield cousins”.

“They speak German in Austria, right?”

“Right”.

“How’s your German?”

“Not bad. I took it for five years in high school, and of course, I got lots of opportunities to practice it that summer”.

“You’ve never mentioned that when we’ve been talking to my grandparents”.

“I’m a bit shy about it, I suppose. And Low German’s not quite the same, is it?”

“No, you’re right”. She gave a little sigh, smiled at me, and said, “It must be so neat to be able to travel to foreign countries like that; Canada’s so big that it takes forever to get anywhere – unless you want to go to the States, and I see enough of that on TV”.

Wandering along the main street, we passed a tall totem pole beside the old Jasper railway station. “The road was only built in the forties and fifties”, she explained; “Before that you had to come to Jasper by train”.

“I see there are still trains”.

“Yeah, well, there aren’t that many passes through the mountains, and this is one of them, so the trains pretty well have to go this way. They’re mainly carrying freight these days, but you can still ride a passenger train through the rockies; it’s a tourist thing”.

“Have you ever done that?”

“Once; it was full of people speaking Japanese!”

We both laughed again, and she said, “Not that I’m knocking the Japanese; they contribute a lot of dollars to our local economy. Some of them are pretty bad skiers, too, so I get to fix up their sprains and broken bones”.

“I suppose you must get a lot of ski injuries?”

“We get a few”. I felt her put her arm in mine; “I’m getting a little cold”.

“Shall we head back to your place, then?”

“Okay. Maybe I can make some tea and you can play me some music”.

“Alright”.



When we got back to her apartment she closed the curtains, turned on a couple of standing lamps, made a pot of tea and brought it into the living room. I was sitting on the couch tuning my guitar, and as she poured the tea I asked, “Anything in particular you’d like to hear?”

“I love your traditional songs, Tom; you know that. You must know hundreds of them”.

“Hundreds might be stretching it a bit, but I’ve got dozens, anyway”.

“So we’re in no danger of coming to the end of them for a while?”

“I don’t think so”.

“Good”. She handed me my tea and then sat down on the floor under the window with her back against the wall, stretching out her feet and cradling her mug in her hands. Earlier in the day she had been wearing her hair in a pony tail, but now she had untied it and let it hang free down her back. I looked at her for a minute, and she frowned and said, “Is everything okay?”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Kelly, but you are a beautiful woman”.

She blushed slightly, smiling with pleasure. “How could I possibly take that the wrong way?” she replied softly.

“Well, now, are we going to have songs about dying in battle, or murdered lovers, or drownings at sea? Oh yes, I can offer you drownings in rivers, too, for variety’s sake”.

“Drownings in rivers, please! Can you play that ‘Clyde Water’ one from ‘Penguin Eggs’?”

“I can, but I’ve arranged it a little differently than Nic Jones”.

“Well, let’s hear it, then”.

I played for her for about half an hour, starting with ‘Clyde Water’, then moving on to ‘The Rambling Siuler’, ‘Ten Thousand Miles’, ‘Tam Lin’, and ending up with a slow arrangement of ‘The Recruited Collier’. When I finished the last song I apologized to her for having forgotten a couple of lines of the lyrics. “The truth is, that was really Wendy’s song”, I said.

“The mysterious Wendy Howard?”

“Yes; she learned it from a recording by Anne Briggs, and then she taught it to Owen and me. I used to sing harmony with her, but I didn’t have to remember all the lyrics”.

“Okay, I get it”. She grinned at me; “Would you like some more tea?”

“Please”.

She refilled our cups, sat back against the wall again, and said, “Tell me more about Wendy”.

“Why do you want to know about her?”

She shrugged; “Well, you often talk about Owen, but you don’t mention Wendy very much. How did you meet?”

“We met at an open stage”.

“Ellie’s talked about going to open stages when she lived in Saskatoon; they’re kind of like a musical free-for-all, right?”

I smiled; “That’s not a bad description; they’re basically opportunities for any musician to get up and have their ten or fifteen minutes of glory. Typically they’re held in coffee shops or pubs; there’s usually a host who runs things, and musicians can come in and put their names on the schedule. You don’t get paid, of course – it’s just an opportunity to get yourself known a bit. Owen and I started playing at open stages almost as soon as we moved to Oxford”.

“And that’s where you met Wendy?”

“Yes, but not right away. We did our undergraduate degrees in Oxford, but she didn’t; she got her bachelor’s degree in London, then moved to Oxford to do her master’s, so we didn’t meet her until October 1980”. I took a sip of my tea, cupped my hands around the mug, and said, “There’s a pub in the Jericho area of Oxford called ‘The Plough and Lantern’; the landlord is Bill Prentiss, and he’s a big supporter of live folk music. He hosts an open stage every Friday night, and usually he has live music on Saturday nights too – sometimes with local acts and sometimes with visiting musicians. Owen and I played there a lot of Friday nights, and that’s where we met Wendy”.

“Was she singing by herself?”

“No, she was singing with her boyfriend, Mickey Kingsley. They were both from the same town in North Essex; Wendy’s dad’s a clergyman, and he isn’t especially wealthy, but she was a brilliant student and she’d earned a couple of good scholarships, so she was okay financially. Mickey’s dad, on the other hand, was a self-made businessman; he’d made his millions in London and then moved out to the country. He and his wife were trying hard to act as if they were the lord and lady of the manor or something, but the locals weren’t too convinced!”

“Uh oh!”

“Yeah. Mickey’s a wild one, actually – he and Wendy met when she was sixteen, and she fell for him pretty badly. He likes loud rock and roll – he’s actually into punk and new wave – and he’s always had a motor bike”. I frowned; “Actually, Owen and I could never really understand what she saw in him; they didn’t seem to have very much in common. She was studying English because she wanted to teach it at university level – she loves English literature, especially Victorian novels. Mickey doesn’t read much except thrillers and true crime stories, and he likes spending his Saturdays at motor bike scrambles, but she prefers walking in the countryside. And he was a bit of a drinker, too”.

She looked at me curiously; “Sounds like she’d be more suited to you than to him”.

I shook my head; “No, they were pretty committed to each other. Wendy had this curious idea that friendship and love were incompatible; Mickey was her lover, not her friend, she said. We could never make sense of that one, either”.

She frowned; “You’re right; that is strange”.

“Thank you! I must admit I’ve sometimes wondered whether I was the one who was out of touch with reality on that issue!”

“No, I don’t think so, but I’m not exactly very experienced when it comes to love and romance, so you might not want to pay too much attention to my opinion”.

“I’m going to pay a lot of attention to your opinion, since it exactly coincides with my own!”

“Alright then!” she replied with a grin.

“Well, anyway”, I said, “getting back to Wendy and Mickey, we met them the first time they played at the ‘Plough’. He wasn’t really a folk musician, but he was a very good guitarist and she needed someone to accompany her. She was singing traditional folk music, like us, and I suppose that got our attention – that and her voice, which is really wonderful. Owen’s like you – he’s not backward about being forward – so after they’d finished their set he went over and introduced himself to them, and brought me in on the conversation too. Later on, when he and I were playing, he did something typically impulsive – he invited her up to sing with us, which is a bit risky with traditional folk music, because so many of the songs exist in all kinds of different versions. But luckily it worked out well – the versions she knew weren’t that different from ours – and everyone seemed to enjoy it”.

“So then the three of you started playing together?”

“We did a couple more impromptu sets together that month, and then Wendy decided we should have a real practice and see what songs we had in common. Like I said, Owen’s pretty straightforward, so he asked Mickey right out if he minded us playing music with his girlfriend, but Mickey said no, he didn’t mind at all – he’d much rather play punk and new wave with his band and let Wendy play with some real folk musicians. So then she became the third member of ‘Lincoln Green’”.

She laughed; “That was your name?”

“Yes – Owen and I were both at Lincoln College, you see, and then there’s the Robin Hood reference”.

“The Robin Hood reference?”

“Yes – the Robin Hood stories often talk about Robin’s merry men being dressed in ‘Lincoln Green’”.

“Oh, I see – and you two were robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, were you?”

I grinned; “No, but we both liked the Robin Hood stories, and Wendy didn’t object. Anyway, that’s the story of how we met her”.

“You must miss those musical evenings”.

“I do, actually. There’s nothing quite like them in Meadowvale”.

“I guess not. There are open stages in Saskatoon, though, and it’s not that far away”.

“I’ve never looked; I’ve been so busy all winter”.

She nodded; “I know what that’s like – I’m a teacher’s daughter, remember?”

“Of course”. I drank some more tea, and then said, “Speaking of you being a teacher’s daughter, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

She laughed; “Hello – ground control to Major Tom – this is me we’re talking about, the up-front Kelly Reimer!”

I grinned; “Right, I should have remembered! Well, I suppose I’m just curious about your relationship with your mum and dad. I remember you saying that you didn’t leave Christianity out of rebellion against them, but it’s hard for me to imagine that they wouldn’t have been upset about it”.

“Yeah, they were a little – well, ‘upset’ probably isn’t the right word – ‘disappointed’, maybe? I don’t know; they never got angry or anything like that, and my dad and I had some good long talks about it. I’m close to both my parents, but closer to my dad than my mom”. She shook her head; “No – that’s probably a misleading way of putting it. My mom and I talk about lots of things, but my dad tends to be the one I have discussions about ideas with”.

“So you talked with him about Christianity?”

“Yeah; he’s actually pretty well-read when it comes to that sort of thing. But no – they’ve been very patient with me, and they never made me feel like I was any different from Joe or Krista – you know, because they stayed in the church and got baptized. They’re glad I’m feeling my way back to some sort of faith now, of course, although they don’t try to push me or anything”. She laughed; “Of course, I’m sure they pray for me all the time, so maybe the odds are stacked against me!”

I drained my tea cup. “That’s an interesting idea; I’ve never even thought about what it’s like to have praying parents”.

“Well, with your dad being an atheist…”

“Yes. Mum’s not – she believes in God, but I don’t know if she prays or not. I suppose most people do from time to time, but I don’t know if she makes a habit of it. Your parents do, I suppose?”

“They pray together every day”.

“I remember you talking about having family prayers at the table when you were a kid”.

“Yeah, that’s what they did with us when we were growing up. But now, of course, they’re by themselves, and they pray together last thing at night in their room”. She grinned; “Not that I know that much about what my parents do together last thing at night in their room!”

We laughed again. “Okay, let’s not go there!” I said; “Can I have some more tea?”

“Of course you can; I’ll make another pot”.



The next day the weather was fine, and we decided to make the trip down to the Columbia Icefields. We left in Kelly’s truck at about nine-thirty in the morning, heading out again on the road that wound its way south through the valley of the Athabasca River, with the jagged mountain ranges sweeping up on every side. At times the road ran very close to the river; at other times it climbed up the side of the valley to viewpoints that looked down on spectacular vistas from a great height. We stopped at some of these viewpoints to take photographs, leaning on concrete barriers and breathing in the clear mountain air. Kelly was dressed as usual in jeans and a thick wool sweater, with her hair pulled back in a braid, and I got several pictures of her smiling at the camera with the mountains as a majestic backdrop behind her.

We got to the Athabasca Glacier at around eleven. For the last few miles it had been visible on our right, a gigantic sheet of ice flowing down between two mountain peaks, and I knew immediately that no photograph would ever be able to do it justice, because no photograph could ever convey a realistic impression of how huge it really was. We turned off the road, parked in the crowded parking lot, pulled on our jackets and tuques and then joined the other tourists walking the last mile or so across the rock-strewn landscape up to the toe of the glacier. The temperature was noticeably cooler here, and the closer we got to the ice, the colder it became.

There was a rope barrier at the foot of the glacier, along with signs warning us not to walk on the ice unless we were with a guided party; apparently several people over the years had fallen into crevices and died of exposure before they could be rescued. Some of the tourists, however, were ignoring the signs, slipping under the rope and stepping out onto the surface of the glacier. I looked at Kelly and she shook her head; “I wouldn’t”, she said.

“That’s what I thought”.

We stood beside each other in silence for ten or fifteen minutes; I was just trying to take in the grandeur of the scene in front of me, with the huge sheet of ice sweeping down from the top of the mountainside, and a hint of the massive ice field behind it. After a while I felt Kelly slip her hand into my arm; “There is a God”, she whispered.

“I know”.

Eventually we walked back down from the toe of the glacier and found a rocky outcrop with a good view of the landscape all around. We sat down together, I took out my thermos from my backpack and poured coffee for us both, and we drank it in companionable silence for a few minutes, our shoulders touching.

“Coffee and mountains”, she mused as she drained her cup. “That’s a mark of genius, Tom Masefield”.

“Don’t you normally do that when you’re out hiking?”

“No, I normally just carry water. I’m not sure I’d want to carry a thermos on some of the climbs around here; I’m glad you’re carrying one, though”.

“Well, I’m glad to be of service”.



In the truck on the way back to Jasper, the conversation turned to Joe and Ellie. “It’s a funny thing”, I said, “but in all the conversations I’ve had with Joe, or the two of them together, I’ve never really found out much about her. I know she’s a dental assistant, of course, and I know she’s a musician; I know she’s from Humboldt, and I know she’s got a sister there”.

“You knew they met in Saskatoon, right?”

“Yes, and I have a vague memory that she wasn’t raised Mennonite”.

“No, she grew up in the United Church”.

“So did she become a Mennonite when she started going out with Joe?”

“No, actually, it’s the other way around. She’d gotten interested in Anabaptism through Mennonite friends she met in university, and she started attending First Mennonite church with them. That’s where Joe was going at the time, and they ended up in a Bible study group together”.

“Joe’s a bit older than her, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, there’s three years between them, but his vet course was a lot longer than her dental assistant course, so they overlapped for a couple of years”.

“And that was long enough?”

“I guess so!”

“She’s an amazing fiddle player”.

“Yeah, she used to play in a band when she was in Saskatoon”.

“A bluegrass band?”

“I think so; I never heard them, but I understand they were really good. Joe and I were in Saskatoon together for a few years, but he and Corey were sharing an apartment and I was staying with Bren, and we were living in different parts of the city, and of course, I wasn’t going to church at the time, so I didn’t see him on Sundays either. So I didn’t really get much chance to get to know Ellie, and since I’ve been living here, I’ve had even less opportunity”.

“Of course”.

“Getting back to music, though, I know her band did some gigs in coffee shops and that sort of thing”.

“But they don’t play together any more?”

“I think they were all students, so when they finished university, they went their separate ways”.

“Right”.

She glanced at me with a grin; “I’m sure she’d be glad to be in a band with you, though, if you’re interested?”

I laughed; “We play very different styles of music. It’s not that I don’t enjoy listening to her stuff, but the learning curve’s pretty steep for me”.

“It’s good to be stretched though, right?”

I smiled at her; “I’m not surprised to hear you say that. I think I’m probably more of a creature of habit than you are”.

“A creature of habit who left his home country and everything familiar to him, and moved across an ocean to start a new life in a place where everything was strange to him”.

“Well, when you put it like that…!”

“Yeah – the truth is that between the two of us, I’ve got a suspicion that I might be the one who’s more wedded to habit”.

“Surely not!”

“Yeah, I think so!”

“But you left home, too”.

“I guess so; there wasn’t a university in Meadowvale, you know!”

“No, but you didn’t go back like your mum and dad did”.

“Not yet, anyway. And Mom and Dad didn’t go right back; they lived in Rosthern for eleven years first”.

“Rosthern’s so far away”, I said mischievously.

She glanced at me with a grin; “Okay, point taken”.

“Are you having your adventure, like Don and Linda when they moved to the Arctic?”

“I guess I probably am”. She frowned thoughtfully, and then said, “I think I needed to move away for a while. I’m actually a real home body, you know; I love Meadowvale and my extended family and friends and all that, and I think I needed to give myself a little space for a while”.

“A bit like that line from ‘Little Gidding’ again?”

“‘The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started…?’ ”

“ ‘…and know the place for the first time’ ”

She nodded; “Yeah, I guess that’s a pretty good way of putting it”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then I said, “Is Ellie’s family still in Humboldt?”

“Her mom and dad are. There’s just the two kids, Karla and Ellie; Karla’s in some sort of administrative job in Saskatoon, I think”.

“Does she have a family?”

“I’ve got an idea that she might have broken up with a guy recently. I don’t think they were married, though; I think they were living common law. But don’t quote me on that; I don’t think I’ve ever had a direct conversation with Ellie about it, I’ve just kind of picked it up from bits and pieces I’ve heard here and there. And I’ve certainly never met Karla, although I will in a few weeks for sure”.

“Right – at the wedding. That’s coming up fast, isn’t it?”

She grinned; “Not fast enough for Joe and Ellie, I think!”

“No, I suppose not”.



I was lucky with the weather that week; I arrived early Tuesday afternoon, and the sky stayed clear until Thursday night. We did our trip to the Columbia Icefields on the Wednesday, and on Thursday Kelly took me up to the Marmot Basin ski resort. She argued with me again about whether or not she should leave me and ski down by herself, but I insisted, so eventually she gave in and took her turn at the downhill runs. She gave me a wave before pushing off, and I watched her for a minute before I turned and went back to the ski lift for the ride down to the bottom.

Every evening after supper I played her some music and then we talked, mainly about Christianity. She had been reading a lot, not only in the Bible but other books too, and there were ideas she wanted to talk through with me. She was taken with an idea that Joe had shared with her, and she wanted to know if he had talked to me about it too. “Has he told you about this idea about learning by putting the gospels into practice?”

I shook my head; we were sitting at the table by the window in her tiny kitchen, with a half empty bottle of wine and two glasses between us. “What is it?” I asked.

“We were talking on the phone a few weeks ago. I told him I was still struggling with all sorts of doubts about who Jesus was, or is, and I didn’t seem to be able to get past that. He said something really weird”.

“What was that?”

“He said that figuring Jesus out isn’t just an intellectual thing. It’s kind of like marriage; you can only really figure it out from the inside”.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it”.

“Yeah. I asked him how that worked, and he said, well, the best thing is to try to put Jesus’ teaching into practice while you’re trying to figure him out. He said, ‘It’s kind of opposite from the usual way we do things; instead of thinking your way into a new way of living, you’re living your way into a new way of thinking’”.

I grinned; “That sounds so crazy that I almost think I like it!”

“Yeah, me too, except that it has some pretty demanding implications”.

“I think I know where you’re going, but talk to me about it”.

“Well, when I asked him what that would mean in practice, he said, ‘Tell God that you’re trying to figure out who Jesus is, and ask him to teach you. Then start reading the gospels, and when you come across a command of Jesus, think about what it would mean for you to actually put it into practice. Then go and do it, as best you can’ ”.

I raised my eyebrows; “Jesus has some pretty strange things to say”.

“Yeah, but here’s the thing, Tom: Joe actually does that”.

“What do you mean?”

She shrugged; “I don’t know if you’ve read the gospels much, but for us Mennonites, that’s the part of the Bible we read the most. Think about this for a minute: do you know anyone who tries to live a simple life, without lots of possessions? Who tries to tell the truth at all times? Who always tries to treat others well, even when they treat him badly?”

“I see what you mean. Of course, I don’t know him half as well as you do, but it sounds like Joe”.

“It is Joe. He tries to avoid judging people, and he’s always doing free jobs for people who can’t afford to pay him much, which gets him into trouble with Ivor and Shauna a lot! And then, of course, there’s the fact that he and Ellie aren’t living together, unlike all the other young unmarried couples in Meadowvale, who’ve been merrily having sex with each other since the night of their first date!”

I grinned; “Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that, Miss Reimer!”

“Come on, Tom – you’re a high school teacher!”

“Yes, and so I’m the last person my students would think of discussing their sex lives with!”

“Well, trust me, I was a teenager in Meadowvale, and I sure felt like the odd one out”.

“How so?”

Suddenly she looked away, and immediately I knew what she meant. “You’re telling me that you’ve never…?”

She shook her head and looked at me; “Pretty sheltered life, huh?”

“Do you feel worse off for it?”

“Not really. I guess I’ve always been old-fashioned enough to think that love and sex should go together, and I’ve never really been sure enough about a guy to let him…”

“Well, then, that makes sense to me, and I don’t think it’s anything to be embarrassed about”.

“No?”

“Not at all”.

She looked at me for a moment without saying anything, and then she reached across impulsively and put her hand on mine. “Thanks, Tom”, she said quietly.

“You’re welcome”. I smiled at her; “Well, that conversation took a turn I wasn’t expecting! Shall we get back to Jesus and the gospels?”

“Good idea! Well, yeah, I think Joe really does try to do what Jesus said, and so do my mom and dad in their own way”.

“That’s true”.

“So I’ve decided to give it a try. That’s what I’ve been doing”.

“How does it work for you?”

“Every night I sit up in bed and ask God to help me get Jesus figured out. Then I read a bit from the gospels, and if there’s anything that really strikes me, I ask God to help me put it into practice”.

“And has there been anything that really struck you yet?”

“Well, I started with Matthew’s gospel, so I got to the Sermon on the Mount pretty quick”.

“Turn the other cheek and all that?”

“I haven’t gotten that far yet”.

“No?”

“No; the first thing that really struck me was the thing about being a peacemaker”.

“I don’t think I remember that one”.

“It’s in the Beatitudes; ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God’”.

“Why did that particularly strike you?”

She shook her head; “It’s a funny thing, but you’d be amazed how many petty conflicts there are in a little hospital like ours. People rub each other up the wrong way, and we divide off into little cliques and factions and gossip about each other; people bad-mouth each other and stab each other in the back. And sometimes, when I’ve been tired and cranky, I’ve let myself get sucked into it all”.

“That just sounds like normal life to me”.

“But I don’t think a follower of Jesus can use that excuse, do you?”

“I suppose not. So what are you doing, then?”

“Well, I figured that since this verse had kind of jumped out and hit me between the eyes, it might be something I was being asked to do. So I’ve been making more of an effort not to join in the arguments and the power struggles, and not to take sides when the petty conflicts break out. I’ve even told a couple of people that I’m not going to accept the ‘you can’t be my friend unless you share my enemies’ attitude any more”.

“My friend Kelly Reimer – nothing if not up front!”

“What can I say? I’m not very subtle, I guess!”

“So how’s it going for you?”

“I’m not sure yet. I know I feel a whole lot better, and I know that people from a couple of different little factions have talked to me and opened up about stuff, so maybe I’m being asked to be a sort of go-between, you know?”

“Be careful. Jesus might have added, ‘Cursed are the peacemakers, for they will get shot at from both sides’”.

She laughed; “I guess so, but I made a deal with God, and I sort of think I have to keep my part of it, you know?”

“A deal?”

“Yeah – I asked him to help me figure Jesus out, and I told him that I was going to do my best to follow Jesus’ teachings while he did it”.

“And are you figuring Jesus out any more clearly?”

“Not yet, but I didn’t expect to get instant answers; a month isn’t a long time”.

“I suppose not”.

“Tell me honestly, Tom – do you think I’m crazy?”

I shook my head; “I don’t think you’re crazy. In fact, I admire you; I’m wondering if I’ve got the guts to try the same thing”.

“I wish you would”, she said softly.

“How so?”

“Well, for the past few months we’ve shared this journey together. I’d like to think we could still share it”.

I nodded slowly; “That is a very good point”.

“So…?”

I frowned thoughtfully. “You know, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense to me. I mean, unless I’m willing to do something like that, this investigating Christianity business isn’t really worth very much, is it? It could be a really fascinating study, like taking a university class, but that’s not what a spiritual journey is”.

“No, it’s not”.

“And when we started talking about this back in the Fall, it was because I’d seen how barren and fruitless the materialistic way of life was – that was why I wanted to find something better. A better way of living, not just a better way of thinking”.

“Right”.

“So unless I’m prepared to actually make some changes in the way I live, I might as well give up now”.

“Right, although I hope you won’t”.

“Oh no; all I have to do is think of my dad’s way of life, and I’m determined to find something better for myself”. I nodded; “Okay – I’m in”.

She grinned; “I’m glad!”

“Me too. So, are you going to go and get your Bible?”

“Now?”

“Are you backing out on me already?”

“Of course not!”

“Then I’ve got some catching up to do. What chapter are you in?”

“Matthew chapter five”.

“Well, then, we’d better read the first five chapters tonight, so I can try to make up for lost time”.

She laughed and got to her feet; “I’ll go and get my Bible right now”, she said with a grin.



On my last night in Jasper I told Kelly I wanted to take her out for supper at a nice restaurant.  She suggested we go up to Pyramid Lake, about five miles out of town, and have our supper at the Pyramid Lake resort.

The weather was fine again that night, and we found ourselves eating by the window, looking out over a lake surface that was still mainly covered with ice, with the distinctive triangular shape of Pyramid Mountain rising up behind it. We had an excellent supper accompanied by half a bottle of fine red wine, and finished off with coffee as the light outside was fading.

I looked across at her as we sipped our coffee; “Have I mentioned that you’re looking very lovely tonight, Miss Reimer?” I said.

She smiled shyly; “You’re very kind, Mr. Masefield”.

“So, back to work tomorrow?”

“Back to work”.

“What time?”

“Seven in the evening. I work nights for the next four days”.

“Ouch; I don’t think I’d like that”.

“No, shift work’s the down side of nursing; goes with the territory, though”.

“Are nights busy?”

“They can be, especially Saturday nights”.

“Tomorrow night, then”.

She nodded; “It might be”.

“You know, we haven’t talked much about your plans this week”.

She shook her head; “No. They haven’t changed; my application’s in to work at the new Special Care Home in Meadowvale”.

“Having spent a few days here, I can’t believe you want to leave”.

“I want to go home, Tom; like I told you, I’m a home body. I know I needed to come here for a while, and I’ll always love Jasper and I’ll come back to visit as often as I can, but I miss my family and my friends”. She smiled at me significantly; “Including you”, she added.

“Me? I’m just a newcomer; surely I’m not in the same category?”

She shook her head. “No – you’re in a category of your own”.

I looked at her for a moment, sitting across from me with her head tilted slightly to one side, the ghost of a smile still playing around her lips, and it came to me suddenly that I could live a whole lifetime and never meet a woman as beautiful and passionate and true as Kelly Reimer.

“You’re pretty special yourself”, I said quietly.

“Thank you”.

“So when will you move?”

“I’m not sure; has construction started?”

“Not yet, but it’s supposed to start any day”.

“They say they’re hoping to be up and running by Thanksgiving. I might wait ‘til then, or I might just come home at the end of the summer and do casual work at the hospital until the job starts. If I’m successful, that is”.

“Are they interviewing for the job?”

“Yes – mid-July. Will you be around?”

“I think so; I’ve got no plans at the moment”.

“You’re not going back to England for a holiday?”

“No. Things between me and Dad are still pretty frosty; I don’t think I could stay at Mum and Dad’s. And if I went to visit and stayed with Owen – which would be easy enough to do – that would probably only make things worse”.

“Still no word from Becca?” she asked softly.

I shook my head; “No change, I’m afraid”.

“I’m so sorry, Tom”.

“I just have to be patient, I suppose. It might be easier if I lived there and could talk things over with her, but then again, it might not”.

“So you’re going to stay in Meadowvale for another year, then?”

I nodded; “I am”.

“I’m glad. I wasn’t sure; I know you told me there were things you really missed about England”.

“Yes, and those things are still true; I still love the English countryside, and the history, and the music, and my mum and Becca and Owen”.

“Of course you do”.

“But things have changed over the past few months; I’ve been making friends and feeling more settled, and I don’t think about going back very much any more”.

“No?”

“No. Meadowvale’s grown on me, Kelly. And to tell you the truth, so have you”.

I felt the touch of her hand on mine; “I’m glad”, she said.



I left for Meadowvale around eight o’clock the next morning; I was planning to do the entire trip in one day, so I wanted to get an early start. The sky was a dull grey and the radio was forecasting rain or wet snow for Jasper before the day was out. I loaded my bag and guitar case into the trunk of my car, and then Kelly handed me a thermos mug of coffee; “That should keep you awake on the road!” she said with a smile.

“Thanks – I think I’m going to need it!”

I set the mug down on the roof of the car, then turned back to her. “This has been a wonderful holiday, Kelly; thank you for having me”.

She shook her head; “I’m so glad you came. I hope you’ll be back in the summer”.

“I will, but I’ll see you before then, at Joe and Ellie’s wedding”.

“For sure”.

“You’re in the wedding party, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I’m a bridesmaid. I hear Joe asked you to be in the wedding party, too!”

“Yes, he really surprised me; I thought with all the family around…”

“Corey’s his best man, right?”

“That’s what I understand”.

She grinned mischievously at me; “I’m sure Joe asked you because he considers you a good friend; on the other hand, he might just have thought, ‘I’ve got to pick a best man and three groomsmen, and two of them have to be Finlays, and there are about twenty Reimer and Wiens boys to pick from for the last spot – better not to pick any of them!’”

We both laughed, and I said, “You might be on to something there!”

“Well – until the May long weekend, then. Don’t forget to write, and call”.

“Count on it”, I replied. I hesitated for a moment, and then looked her in the eye and said, “Talking to you is one of my favourite things about living in Meadowvale, you know”.

She held out her arms; “Come here”, she said softly.

I took her in my arms, and for a moment we held each other close. “You take care, okay?” she whispered in my ear, “and call to let me know that you got home safely”.

“I will”.

She stepped back, looked up at me and said, “Pray for me, okay?”

I nodded; “You pray for me, too”.

“I will, Tom”.

Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 7

Link back to Chapter 6

 

One of the great things about being Will Reimer’s friend, for an introvert like me, was that he was always taking me out to meet new people. Left to myself, I would probably have sat at home and been content with the small circle of friends I had met through school and through invitations to supper with the Reimers and their relatives. But Will, like Kelly, found people intensely interesting, and he had a boundless appetite for what I would once have labelled, in my arrogance, ‘meaningless conversation’. At first I found Will’s constant invitations to ‘come over and meet so-and-so’ a little wearing, but gradually, as my first year in Meadowvale progressed, I began to realize that through him I was meeting some of the real town characters, and to my surprise, I was enjoying those meetings.

 

My guitar was an old Martin 000-18 that I had picked up second hand in Oxford; I had saved up for two years to buy a really good solid-wood guitar, and I had been fortunate to run into someone at a folk club who wanted to downsize and get rid of some of his instruments. The Martin was a little battered, but I loved it just the same, and I always tried to take care of it by keeping it in its case and humidifying it properly to protect it from the dry Saskatchewan climate.

My guitar case, however, was in a sad state of repair. It was a standard plywood case that my mother had bought for me years ago when I got my very first guitar; it was a cut above the gig bags that most people started out with, but I’d had it for over twelve years now and it was beginning to show signs of wear. In particular, a couple of the hinges were in very bad shape, and the latch was broken, so that the only way I could carry my guitar securely was to buckle a belt around the case to keep it closed.

One day in mid-January Will and I were in the staff room having a coffee after school when I happened to mention my guitar case to him. “I suppose I’m going to have to break down and buy a new one”, I said, “but the truth is I’ve got a sentimental attachment to my old one. It’s the only guitar case I’ve ever had; my mum got it for me when I first started playing”.

“Maybe we should take it to Charlie Blackie; he’s pretty good at fixing things, you know”.

“I don’t think I know him”.

“Haven’t you met him yet? He’s an old-timer; he’s related to the Blackies who own the old general store. Not that he runs with that crowd; they’re a hard living, hard drinking sort of bunch. Charlie used to be like that in his younger days, but about thirty years ago he got saved”.

“Saved?”

“Yeah – he had a run in with a fire-breathing Pentecostal preacher and had an old fashioned darkness to light conversion experience. Now he’s got a little of the fire-breather in him, too, so you’d better be ready when you go to see him. Sooner or later, he’s going to ask you if you’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb”.

“What do I say?”

Will laughed; “I’d never dare to tell Charlie anything other than the truth; he and the Lord are in cahoots, you know!”

“So if I say no, is he going to try to convert me?”

“Probably; I’ve been a good God-fearing Mennonite all my life, but Charlie’s not even sure I’m saved, so I don’t know what he’s going to think about a pagan like you!”

“Thank you very much, I don’t think!”

“You’re welcome. So – shall I take you down to meet him?”

“Is it worth the grief of him trying to convert me?”

“Absolutely – Charlie’s one of the real Meadowvale characters and everyone should have the chance to meet him. I love going down there and passing the time of day with him”.

“Well, okay, but if he goes after me…”

“Oh, he will – there’s no doubt about that!”

 

Charlie Blackie’s fix-it shop was situated on a side street one block from the main drag. It was a one-room shop with a flat roof, a window that was barely opaque, and a handwritten sign on the door that said “Come on in – if I’m not here, I’ll be back soon!”

Inside, the shop was an Aladdin’s cave. There were shelves upon shelves piled high with old bits of machinery, motor parts, various kinds of tools, boxes of nails and screws, and a hundred other categories of junk. In the middle of the floor were a couple of wooden work benches with various pieces of equipment fastened to them, and off in one corner was an ancient coffee pot, a few mugs that looked like they dated back to the turn of the century, and assorted cans of coffee, sugar, and Carnation milk. Every available piece of wall space – space, that is, that was not taken up by the shelving – was covered with framed Bible texts of the hellfire and brimstone variety.

Old Charlie was sitting at one of the benches when we arrived, working on some leatherwork with a needle and thread. He was small and wiry, with a bristly grey crewcut and old round grannie glasses, dressed in denim coveralls and a flannel shirt: I thought he must be about seventy years old. He looked up when the door opened, and when he saw Will his face broke into a grin. “Will Reimer!” he said; “How are you, and what brings you down here today?”

“I’m fine, Charlie”, Will replied, crossing the floor and shaking the old man’s outstretched hand. “I want you to meet one of my new teachers; he’s from the old country, and his name’s Tom Masefield”.

Charlie looked up at me with a frown on his face; “Are you one of them hippies?” he asked fiercely.

“I don’t think so; I’ve got a full time job and I work hard for a living, so I don’t think I qualify!”

He guffawed. “A good answer, young feller! I like that! What’ve you got in yer hand, now?”

“An old guitar case that needs some tender loving care”.

“Oh, I see, this is a work call, is it?” Charlie frowned up at Will; “Would you fellers like some coffee?”

“Never say no to a cup of coffee, Charlie”.

“Well, I sorta knew that was your policy, but I wasn’t sure about this young long-hair here”.

“I’d love a cup of coffee, thank you”, I said.

“Good; I’ve just brewed a fresh pot, so she’s good and ready for you”.

He got up from his work bench, took off the pair of leather gloves he had been wearing, and went over to the side of the room to pour us three cups of coffee. Handing the mugs around, he said, “Now, young feller, you just lift that guitar case up on my bench here and let me have a look at her. What seems to be the problem?”

I set the guitar case down on his bench, and I showed him the worn hinges and the broken latch. He nodded slowly, moving around the bench to look at the case from all sides. “Looks like you’ve got a couple of places where she’s run into the corner of a table or something, too. The wood’s a little cracked and splintered. I think it’s ordinary plywood under this covering, right?”

“I think so”.

He bent and examined the cracked areas a little more closely; then he nodded and straightened up. “I could replace them hinges and put a new latch on, no problem, and if you like, I could fix up them cracks as well”.

“That would be great; thank you”.

“How soon would you be wantin’ ‘er back?”

“Well, I haven’t really got a deadline in mind…”

“Could you let me have ‘er for a week? I’ve got a couple of other jobs ahead of this one that I’ve promised to people”.

“Of course – a week would be fine”.

“All right then”. He pulled a little spiral-bound notebook out of his pocket and took a stub pencil from behind his ear. “What was your name again?”

“Tom Masefield”.

He wrote my name down on the pad, along with my phone number which I gave him, then tore off the sheet and put it inside the guitar case. Then, replacing the pad in his pocket, he said “Sit yourselves down; I know them stools look a little shaky, but so far they haven’t broken under anyone’s weight!”

We sat down and sipped at our coffee. “So, you’re from the old country?” he asked me.

“Yes, from Oxford”.

“Oxford, eh? You come a long way to little old Meadowvale”.

“What about you? How long have you been here?”

“Fifty-five years; my mom and dad started homesteading here in 1927. A few years later my dad opened the first General Store; my nephew Bob runs it now”.

“Where did your parents come here from?”

“Sorry, young feller, I’m a little hard of hearing, you’ll have to say that again”.

I raised my voice; “Where did your parents come here from?”

“From Ontario; they were farming in the Kingston area, but they’d run into some hard times and lost everything, so they came out west to start again”.

“Do you remember Ontario?”

“Course I remember it! I was all of fifteen when we come out here, wasn’t I? I remember days when my dad came home drunk from the bar, carried on drinking at home and didn’t stop all week, while the cows needed feeding and milking and all. I hope you ain’t a drinkin’ man, young feller?”

I shook my head; “Coffee and tea, and the occasional glass of wine or beer, but I never go over my limit”.

“Seems to me zero’s a pretty good limit! The devil uses that stuff to rot a man’s soul! I know – he had a pretty good go at me when I was a young feller like you, but praise be to God I got saved when I was about forty years old, and I haven’t had a drop since”.

“Sounds like that was a good thing for you”.

He looked at me suspiciously; “Not just for me – for anyone! It could be a good thing for you too, Tom Masefield! I suppose you know you’ve got a soul, do you?”

I glanced at Will, but he was sipping his coffee with a sphinx-like expression on his face. “Well, actually, it’s true that I’m not a Christian”, I admitted, “at least, not yet, but I am thinking about it”.

“Thinking about it! Don’t think forever – none of us knows the day the Lord might call us home, you know!”

“Yes, I’m aware of that”.

“You should back off now, Charlie”, said Will; “You set too much store by scaring people into the kingdom, you know”.

“Well, here we go again!” the old man replied with a grin; “Are you going to start criticizing my efforts to get people saved again, Will Reimer?”

“How are they going for you? Had many converts yet?”

“Scatterin’ seeds, you know – just like the Master!”

“Ah, but he never broke a bruised reed or quenched a smoking flax, you know”.

The old man nodded; “A good answer. So you think this young feller is a smoking flax, do you?”

Will winked at me. “He might be; he just might be”.

 

I went back a week later by myself to pick up the guitar case. It was a Thursday afternoon and I had left school a little earlier than usual, to give myself time to get to Charlie’s before five o’clock. “Not that times mean anything to Charlie”, Will had said to me; “He goes to work when he feels like it and stays as long as he likes. It’s not that he’s lazy – far from it, he’s a hard worker – it’s just that his working hours aren’t related to the clock in any consistent manner”.

Fortunately for me, Charlie was hard at work that afternoon, but he smiled when he saw me coming into the shop, got up to shake my hand, and lifted my guitar case up onto his bench again. “Take a look and tell me if you’re satisfied with the job”, he said; “I never let a job go before the customer tells me he’s satisfied”.

“I’m sure it’s fine, Charlie”.

“No, you take a look at it”.

So I inspected the case; he had put on all new hinges and latches, and there was a new key taped to the outside of the case just beside the locking latch. The two places where the case had been cracked had disappeared, and when I examined them inside and out, I could discover no trace of the old cracks.

“Why, this is amazing, Charlie! How did you do that?”

“Oh, that would be tellin’ ”, he replied with a mischievous grin; “Wouldn’t want to give away all my secrets and do myself out of a job, now!”

I straightened up, smiling at him. “How much do I owe you?”

He frowned; “Well, I had to get a bit of plywood to fix them cracks, you know…”

“New hinges and latches, too, I see”.

“Well, I wouldn’t want to be lyin’ to you about that; they ain’t exactly new. I had an old guitar case around here that was all busted, so I just took the hinges and latches off it, polished ‘em up and oiled ‘em and put ‘em on yours. They were good anyway, which was why I was keepin’ ‘em around.  I hope you don’t mind?”

“No, not at all – they look really good”.

“I think you’ll get at least another five years out of ‘em. Tell you what – if they don’t last you five years, bring it back, and I’ll fix it up for you for free”.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine, Charlie. How much do I owe you, then?”

He frowned again. “Well – I think I might have to charge you ten dollars”.

“Ten dollars! You’re kidding me, right?”

“You think it’s too steep?”

“Good grief, no, I think it’s too low! You should charge me at least double for a job like that”.

He shook his head; “Couldn’t do that; wouldn’t want to stand before my Maker and have to answer for extorting money from an honest man and a hard worker like yerself”.

I took out my wallet and handed him a ten dollar bill. “Well, if you’re sure”.

“I’m sure. But thank you, young feller – you’ve got a generous heart, I can see that. I reckon you might be that smouldering flax young Will Reimer was talking about, after all”.

I laughed; “You think so?”

“I do. Now, will you have a cup of coffee with an old geezer?”

“I sure will!”

“Excellent!” he replied with a grin; “Let me make a fresh pot!”

 

One afternoon in late January I stopped by the post office on my way home from work to pick up my mail. It was another cold day, and since I was in the habit of walking too and from school I was well-bundled up in parka, wind pants and warm boots. There were a few people in the lobby of the post office when I arrived, but as I unlocked my mailbox and took out my mail the door opened again, and a good-looking man in his mid-thirties came in; he was without a parka or coat of any kind, and to my surprise he was wearing a smart dark-blue two-piece suit, white shirt and a maroon tie. His mailbox was close to mine, and as he was opening it he said, “You must be the new English teacher. I’m Glenn Pickering”.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied. “Forgive me for saying so, but I don’t often see…”

“A guy in a two-piece suit in Meadowvale?” He laughed; “Probably not. I’m one of the two lawyers in town, and I’ve found that people prefer it if I look the part”.

“You don’t wear a parka?”

“No, I have a very warm truck!”

“Oh, right!”

“So you’re from England, I hear?”

“Yes”.

“What brings you to the back of beyond?”

“Let’s just call it my sense of adventure, shall we?”

“Fair enough!”

“How about you – what brings you here?”

“Oh, I was born here. My grandfather was one of the early homesteaders in this area, back in the 1920s, so I’m a third-generation native Meadowvaler”.

“Wow – and you didn’t move away to the city?”

“Tried it for a while, but I couldn’t get used to it. I like the small town; I know everyone and everyone knows me. The other lawyer’s a good guy, too, but folks don’t take to newcomers right away”.

“So I’ve heard, but they seem to be taking to me alright”.

“Well, I hear Will’s got you under his wing. That gives you an ‘in’ – everyone knows Will, and everyone likes him”.

“Yeah, so I’ve seen”.

He glanced at his watch; “Would you like a late-afternoon coffee?”

I hesitated, and he said, “Co-op, if you prefer”.

I laughed; “I do, actually!”

“I understand. The Travellers is where all the old farts go, though; you should go there sometimes, just to meet some of the real characters in town”.

“This town seems to have a few of them”.

“Isn’t that the truth? Come on – my truck’s nice and warm!”

 

The little deli at the back of the Co-op was busy at five o’clock in the afternoon, and Glenn and I were lucky to get a table in the corner. I took a seat right away to claim our spot, while he went to buy coffee for us; “It’ll be faster than waiting for service!” he joked. I saw a few people I recognized, and one or two of them nodded their greetings to me while I was waiting for him to come back.

“So, where are you from in England?” he asked as he slid into his seat across from me, setting two mugs of coffee down on the table.

“Oxford”.

“Classy! Did you go to university there?”

“I did”.

“That’s got to be a first for Meadowvale – an English teacher who went to Oxford University”.

“It was good and I liked it, but you don’t want to believe all the hype about it. How about you?”

“I went to Saskatoon for both my degrees. Worked there for a couple of years, then came back here and hung up my shingle in the old home town. Like I said, I know everyone and everyone knows me, and that’s definitely an advantage. I’ve been practicing here for four years now, and the old town’s been good to me”.

“Have you got a family?”

“I’m not married or otherwise attached, if that’s what you mean, but I’m one of six siblings, and my dad was one of five, so yes, I have all kinds of family – sisters and brothers, sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews and cousins and so on”.

“Were you born on a farm?”

“I was. My dad is Lawrence Pickering; he’s just retired from farming the old quarter-section, and he and my mom moved into town last summer. My oldest brother Henry owns the Ford dealership on the highway”.

“Oh yes, I’ve met Henry!”

“Yeah, pretty well everyone in town has. Also I think my nephew Ryan Smith and my niece Jessica Pickering are in your English classes”.

“Right, I know them, but I didn’t know Ryan was related to the Pickerings”.

“My older sister Helen married Ronnie Smith; Ryan’s their oldest son”.

I laughed; “One of these days I need to get someone to draw me a genealogical chart with all the families of Meadowvale”.

“You’d need a factory wall to mount it, I think. I’ve got most of it in my head, but even I slip up sometimes”.

“So what sort of law do you do?”

“Well I’m not in court very often, if that’s what you’re asking – not like the lawyers on American TV. I do property stuff, wills and estates, helping people set up businesses, and of course what lawyers call ‘family law’ – which, sadly, is mainly about breaking up families”.

“Right”.

“It’s funny, actually, the sort of stuff I do; I often think it must be kind of like being a pastor or a priest. I sit in my office all day long and people come and talk to me about some of the most important events in their lives – deaths, wills and bequests, marriages and divorces, and so on. It’s an extraordinary thing, given the fact that I went to high school with some of them, got drunk with some of them when we were teenagers, and got into all the same troubles they did”.

“A prophet in his own country…”

“Yeah, except that for some reason this prophet is honoured in his own town”. He took a sip of his coffee. “So do you like it so far?”

“It’s growing on me. When I first arrived I wasn’t sure I’d take to it, because it was so different from everything I grew up with”.

“How so?”

“Well, for a start, we don’t very often have minus thirty temperatures in the average English winter”.

He laughed; “I guess not!”

“There are a few other things too. The distances are much greater here compared to Oxfordshire. We have little villages three or four miles apart; I could go for an afternoon walk on public footpaths to the next village, stop for a drink in the pub, and then walk home again. I often did, actually, on weekends. And rural culture is much more closely tied with city culture in the UK; most villages are within easy driving distance of a city, so you get commuters and people with ties to city families and so on. Here I think there’s a much wider divide between city and rural. And I do miss the countryside – it’s a lot greener in England, and I like the winding roads and the old villages and the sense of history”.

“So what do you like about Saskatchewan?”

“I like the informality, and the way you’re accepted for what you are, rather than being judged and looked down on for being from a different social class. Not that I had that problem as a kid; my dad’s a very successful lawyer – a courtroom lawyer, actually – and I had a pretty privileged childhood in many ways”.

“Not privileged enough to keep you there, though”.

“No. Kind of stifling, in fact”.

“So you came to Canada to find freedom”.

“I suppose I did, in a way”.

“Well, we have our own forms of social class, too – the difference is that they’re almost all to do with money, and how much of it you were born with”.

“I suppose; the world isn’t perfect anywhere, is it?”

“Isn’t that the truth?”

 

And so, gradually, my circle of friends increased. Glenn and I bumped into each other regularly, as you do in a small town like Meadowvale, and more often than not one of us would make a “Let’s-have-coffee” gesture, the other would nod, and we would head on down to the Co-op for half an hour of easy conversation. I could see why people in town liked Glenn; he was intensely interested in everything to do with people, and he loved nothing better than to ask a few questions to get people talking about themselves, and then sit back and listen. He kept his own cards pretty close to his chest, and very rarely did a visit with him yield any new information about his own thoughts and convictions. But he was different – the lawyer who always wore a suit and never wore a coat, because he never walked anywhere – and since I was also different – the hippy teacher from England – I found I enjoyed his company.

I asked Joe Reimer about him one day. “He’s one of the few men in town his age who aren’t married”, I said, “or at least, living common-law with someone”.

“Glenn was married once, quite briefly. He married a girl he met in university, but it ended after a couple of years. I think that’s one of the reasons he left the city and moved back to Meadowvale. He’s a pretty private guy; I think we’re good friends, but he’s never talked to me about it. I’m guessing that it was a particularly painful experience for him, and he’s just gun-shy now. But of course, the Meadowvale rumour mill’s full of wild speculation about the whole story”.

“ ‘What do we live for but to make sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them in our turn?’ ”

“That sounds like a line from one of your Victorian novels”.

Pride and Prejudice, so it’s pre-Victorian, actually”.

 

Charlie Blackie also became a friend. I took him a couple more items that needed fixing over the next two or three months, and once he had agreed to take on a job, we always sealed the deal by having a cup of coffee together. It was another unlikely friendship – the fiery fundamentalist who had left school at the age of thirteen, and the university-trained English teacher with long hair and a beard who was, by now, reading the gospels regularly and thinking through issues of doubt and faith. But I found I liked the old man with his bottomless coffee pot, his staunch honesty and his strong work ethic, and I even grew to enjoy his ten-Bible-verses-a-minute style of conversation. He was of course very pleased when he discovered that I was reading the gospels but quite disappointed to find that I was not reading them from the King James Version. “Them new-fangled translations are no good, young feller”, he warned me sternly; “Them scholars that made them weren’t real believers, you know; they changed things and watered stuff down. You need to read the King James; that’s the pure Word of God, and no mistake!”

 

I made another friend in mid-February when Will and I went down to the Co-op for a Saturday afternoon coffee. The place was quite full and there were no empty tables, but this never bothered Will. “Look”, he said, “There’s Wilf Collins having his coffee. Let’s go and join him”.

He led me over to a table by the window where a big man in his early sixties was sitting reading a newspaper with a half-empty coffee cup in front of him. He looked up as we approached, and when he recognized Will his face broke into a grin. “Well, Will Reimer – out spending my tax dollars on coffee again, are you?” he said in a quiet voice that seemed somehow incongruent with his big frame.

“You got that right, Wilf!”

“And this must be the young teacher from England”. Wilf stood up and held out his hand to me. “I know all about you, young fella – my grandson and my granddaughter are in your classes. They tell me you’re not bad at all, in case you’re interested! I’m Wilf Collins”.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied, taking his hand.

“Sit down, both of you”.

We sat down together, and I asked “So who are your grandson and your granddaughter – the ones in my classes?”

“Leanne Collins is in Grade 10, she’s my son Billy’s girl, although she lives with me and my wife Mabel. Then Danny Robillard, he’s in Grade 9; his mom is my daughter Brenda, she married Dennis Robillard and they’ve got four children altogether, Danny being the oldest”.

“How many children do you have?”

I saw a shadow pass over his face; “Well, we had five, but we lost one a couple of years ago, so now there are four”.

“I’m sorry”, I said, and I was opening my mouth to ask another question when Will caught my eye and gave a barely perceptible shake of the head. At that moment a young waitress appeared at our side with a coffee pot and asked if we would like coffee. “We sure would, Denise!” Will replied; “How are you this afternoon?”

“Not too bad, Mr. Reimer!”

“Who’s got that son of yours this afternoon?”

“Josh’s mom’s watching him for me”, she replied as she poured our coffee. “Want me to fill yours up, Wilf?”

“Sure!”

“How old is your boy now?” Will asked; “Is he two yet?”

“He turns two next week”. She grinned at me and said, “You must be the new teacher from England”.

“What gave you your first clue – my long hair or my accent?”

We all laughed, and she said to Will, “I don’t know how you keep all this stuff in your head; have you got a filing cabinet at home for news updates about your former students?”

“So far, it’s all in my head, but of course, I’m getting older, Denise; might not be too long before I’ll have to try that filing cabinet idea!”

“Well, enjoy your coffee”, she replied with another smile as she moved on to the next table.

We sipped at our coffee for a moment, and then Will said, “So, how are your cows holding up through the winter, Wilf?”

“Not too bad. Going to be calving next month, so I reckon I’ll see something of that son of yours”.

“Got anyone to help you?”

“Well, Billy’s quit his job on the rigs, so he’s home with us now, at least in theory. But he’s pretty much a waste of space when it comes to farm chores, and to tell you the truth we don’t see much of him”.

“Out with the boys?”

“Yeah, I think him and the Chabot twins have got a permanent lease on a couple of stools down at the bar”. The old man shook his head; “You’re damn lucky in your kids, you know”.

“I know”.

“How’s that Kelly doing – is she still in Jasper?”

“Yes, she is, and she loves it”.

“You think she’ll stay out there?”

“No, I don’t think so. She wants to work with old people, you know, which is good news for you!”

“She comin’ back here when they build the new seniors’ home, then?”

“She’s hoping. Of course, there’ll likely be some competition”.

“I guess so. Well, I hope she gets it, Will; I always enjoy seeing her around town. She talks to everyone – just like her dad, of course!” He drained his coffee cup. “Well, I’m sorry to leave you boys, but I’m supposed to pick up a few things and then go back home in time to pick Mabel up and take her to watch the grandkids play hockey”.

“Nice to see you, Wilf”, Will said as the older man stood up and pulled on his coat.

“You too. If you’re going out to Hugo’s, stop by for a coffee, and bring this young fella with you; he looks like he’s good for a few conversations! My dad was one of the first homesteaders around here, you know”, he said to me. “He and my mom came from the old country in 1908. I’m their youngest son; you might have noticed there are a few Collins’ around here”.

“Where did your parents come from in England?”

“Some place up in Yorkshire, I forget the name. Well, I’ve got to be going”.

He turned and slipped out of the deli; Will and I sipped at our coffee for a moment, and then I said, “So what’s the story with him losing a child?”

“Their oldest son Jack committed suicide a couple of years ago. Took a shotgun and blew the back of his head off. He was a drinker, and he’d lost a marriage because of it, but he was trying hard to get his life back together; he’d quit drinking and was helping Wilf with the farm, so it was a real shock when he killed himself”.

“I guess so”.

“Wilf’s had a bad time with his kids. His daughter Brenda now, Danny Robillard’s mom, she’s the best of the lot, and she’s married to a hard-working guy who treats her like royalty. But that Billy – he’s the second oldest after Jack – his wife left him a few years ago. She was just as bad a drinker as him, and when she left, Wilf and Mabel took Leanne in – she’s Billy and Joanne’s only child. Billy’s been working on the rigs for years, but he’s had some issues because of his drinking, I hear. I’ll be surprised if he did quit his job; I think it’s more likely that he had one warning too many and got himself fired”.

“They take a dim view of drinking out there, do they?”

“Well, lots of rig pigs do drink after work, that’s for sure, but the bosses take a dim view of people who drink while they’re on the job”. He sat back in his chair; “I worry about Wilf, actually. None of his kids are interested in the farm, and I’m sure he wonders what it’s all been for. Jack was his last hope, when he quit drinking and started to take an interest, but I guess his demons were too strong for him. Wilf’s got demons of his own, too; he struggles with depression, understandably”.

“He’s right, you know – you are lucky in your kids”.

“I know. I hear you and Kelly have quite a correspondence going on”.

“You hear, do you?”

“I hear everything”.

“I think you’re a little confused about your own divinity, Will Reimer!”

He laughed again; “Yeah, I am really, really lucky in my kids. Of course, their mom is pretty level-headed. She misses the girls, but we always knew we’d be lucky to keep them all in Meadowvale. It was a nice surprise when Joe decided to move back here”. He grinned at me; “I hear you and Joe have been having some pretty heavy theological conversations, too”.

“I like Joe a lot. I want to find out more about Christianity, and he doesn’t mind all my thorny questions”.

“No, he’s a pretty deep thinker himself; he’s gone a lot further than I have when it comes to reading and study. Have you seen some of his books?”

“Yes, I’ve been raiding his bookshelves”.

“Have you now? C.S. Lewis? Joe’s a big fan of his”.

“No, actually, I read Lewis but he didn’t do much for me. I liked his fiction, and I liked The Screwtape Letters, but Mere Christianity still left me with too many questions, which was a bit disappointing since it was supposed to be a rational argument for Christianity for people like me”.

“You weren’t convinced?”

I shook my head. “I’ve always been a doubter, Will – not just where Christianity’s concerned, but with everything – even down to my dad’s view that being rich and successful is what life’s all about. I can follow rational argument, but it doesn’t really do very much for me, I’m afraid. People who aren’t hypocritical and who live out what they believe – that’s what gets my attention. That’s what impresses me about Joe: he’s patient and honest, and he’s always got time for people, and he’s not planning to spend his life getting rich. He tells me he believes in a simple life, and when I look at his house, I can see he really does – he’s not accumulating piles and piles of stuff, and I know he’s really generous. Christians like him who make an honest attempt to live by the things Jesus said – that’s what gets my attention more than anything else”.

He nodded slowly. “Makes sense. You’d make a good Mennonite, actually”.

“That’s what Joe tells me. But I don’t know if I can be a Mennonite – my name’s not Thiessen or Neufeld or Toews, or Reimer or Wiens or Janzen”.

“Well, Ellie’s become a Mennonite, and her name’s Finlay!”

“True enough! I suppose there’s hope for me yet, then”.

“Of course! One of these days…”

I drained my coffee cup. “We’ll see, Will”, I replied.

 

Over the winter I became quite well acquainted with the gravel road north of town that led to Spruce Creek. When I say ‘settlement’, of course, I don’t mean to imply that there was a town there, or even a small hamlet. Years ago there had been a corner store, a church, and a one-room schoolhouse, but they were long since gone. ‘Spruce Creek’ was simply the old name for the district where, in the mid-1920s, all the homesteads had been settled by Mennonite families. Of course, a lot of the farms had changed hands over the years, but there were still quite a few Mennonites out there, including Hugo Neufeld and his older brother Karl, and also John Rempel, who had married Hugo’s oldest daughter Erika in 1977, and had inherited his father’s farm three years later when Abraham Rempel died of a massive heart attack. John and Erika had two small children, five-year old Danny and two year old Jennifer, and they were expecting a third in September; so far, these were Hugo and Millie’s only grandchildren, and since they only lived four miles west of the old Reimer farm, Hugo and Millie saw a lot of them. Erika worked at the town library, so Millie did a lot of babysitting for her grandchildren, which she enjoyed, although when she got to know me better she sometimes worried out loud to me about the pace at which her daughter and son-in-law lived.

Hugo had four quarter-sections of land on either side of the road; one of them, however, was partly taken up by an old stand of timber that he had left alone, and the quarter where the house and farm buildings were situated also included a sizeable paddock for the six horses he kept in his barn. Hugo and Will were only three years apart in age, and they had been close all their lives, a closeness which had been passed down to their families. As they were growing up, Joe, Kelly and Krista had always known that they were welcome to go out to the farm and ride the horses, and they in their turn had always been happy to help out if they chanced to be there when Hugo had a job to do that needed more than one pair of hands. Not that I ever knew Hugo to be short of helping hands; his youngest son Don was still living at home, and with the Rempels close by and Corey living in town, he was, as he put it, well fixed for cheap labour.

None of the Reimers were fast workers, but they were steady. Hugo exemplified this for me; in all the years I knew him, I don’t think I ever saw him run, or even walk fast; he was tall and angular, and he moved at a slow, steady pace. “You can’t be forever rushing around”, he said to me once; “If you do that, you’re going to be exhausted your whole life long”. Not that he was lazy; he had a tremendous capacity for work, and his farm was well-kept and well-run. Like most of the farmers I was getting to know in the Meadowvale area, he was very much a jack-of-all-trades; he could build barns and mend fences, fix machinery and care for horses, plant a crop and harvest it. He knew how to survive through lean times by taking on extra work outside of the farm, but he also knew how to relax and enjoy a good cup of coffee with friends and family. Years later, when he was an old man, I heard him say to his son in law John Rempel, “The thing about farm work is, it’s never done, so you may as well give up the illusion that you’re ever going to finish it, and go home and have a good meal with your family while you can”.

John was made of different stuff; he was one of the most driven people I had ever met. He would take a thermos of coffee out to the field with him, but I never knew him to take a break to drink any of it; he would drive the tractor with one hand and hold his coffee mug with the other. Hugo would shake his head and say, “That doesn’t make for a straight row, or an enjoyable cup of coffee”. John would work long hours, from first light until late in the evening, not only during harvest time (when all the farmers were doing the same thing), but all year round. “He’s just like his dad”, Will said to me one day, “and I’m afraid he’s going to die of a heart attack before his time, just like his dad did”. And I thought of my own father, but I kept the thought to myself.

 

I ran into Wilf Collins in town a couple of times after that day in February when Will first

introduced me to him, and both times he reminded me of his invitation to stop by for a coffee some time. “We’re just on the road out to Hugo’s”, he said; “Six miles north and one mile west. Me and Mabel like having company”.

On Good Friday, a couple of days before my trip to Jasper to visit Kelly, I went out to Hugo’s for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Hugo had discovered that I enjoyed bird watching, and he had told me to feel free to walk through the woods on his property any time I wanted. “I haven’t got walking trails there like Myers Lake”, he said, “but there sure are lots of birds that hang around, even in the winter time. We’ve got snowshoes in the house; feel free to help yourself”. So I had taken him up on the offer a few times, spending an hour or so walking through the woods, and then having a coffee with him and Millie before driving back to town.

On that Good Friday I left Hugo and Millie’s around three-thirty. As I drove home I remembered Wilf’s offer, and on a whim I decided to take him up on it. It was a grey sort of day, the sky overcast, the fields still brown and the trees bare. Half way back to town I took the turn west, and almost immediately I could see Wilf and Mabel’s farm in the distance, with a line of trees as a windbreak, and three silver grain bins just visible behind them.

Wilf met me at the back door of their house with a smile on his face; he introduced me to his wife Mabel, and we sat in their kitchen for an hour, drinking coffee and talking in a relaxed and comfortable way. They showed me photographs of their children and grandchildren, including their son Jack; “He passed away a couple of years ago”, Wilf said in his quiet voice, glancing anxiously at his wife, and I knew immediately that I should let it go without comment.

After a while their granddaughter Leanne came into the kitchen. I knew her from school of course, as she was in my grade 10 English and drama classes; she had dark curly hair and a face that seemed to settle naturally into a mischievous grin, and I had already discovered that she loved being involved in the plays that we staged at least once a year. “She’d like to be a teacher herself some day”, Wilf said, grinning at her with obvious pride, and when I asked her if that was true, she nodded and said, “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now”.

“Her Dad’s found a job since the last time I talked to you”, Wilf added; “He’s started driving the fuel truck for the Co-op”.

“Leanne’s sure been enjoying the English class since you took over”, said Mabel. “Haven’t you, honey?”

Leanne smiled at me; “It’s been really interesting”.

“Thanks. I had a good English teacher in high school myself; having a positive role model makes a difference, doesn’t it?”

“Ain’t that the truth?” Wilf said with a nod of his head, “in farming as well as teaching”.

“We hear you’re off to Jasper for a few days next week”, said Mabel.

I grinned; “You hear, do you?”

“Hugo and Millie happened to mention something…”

“Well, it’s true; Kelly Reimer invited me up to spend a few days exploring with her”.

“Your first trip up there?” Wilf asked.

“Yes”.

“It’s really beautiful”, said Leanne.

“You’ve been up there, then?”

“Grandma and Grandpa try to take me up every year for a few days”.

“Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Kelly’s taking a few days off work to show me around”.

“She’s a really nice girl, that Kelly”, said Mabel; “She’s always got a smile and a kind word for everyone”.

Mabel had been baking cookies when I arrived, and when I got up to leave she insisted on putting some of them in a tin for me to take home. “Bring the tin back next time you come for coffee”, she said with a smile, “and I’ll fill it up again”.

“That’s very kind of you; thank you”.

“We’re real glad you came, Tom”, said Wilf; “Don’t take too long about coming back, now”.

“I won’t, and thanks again for your hospitality”. I smiled at Leanne; “See you after the Easter holidays”.

She gave me another shy smile; “Have a safe trip up to the mountains”.

“I’ll do my best”.

Link to Chapter 8

Four Ways a Church Can Grow (‘Helping my Church Grow’ Series, #1) (a sermon for Sept. 18th)

Years ago I saw a cartoon in a Christian magazine. It was the inside of one of those huge mega-churches with an auditorium that seated thousands of people. But there weren’t thousands of people in it. There were just a few, a tiny handful, huddled together front and centre, with the pastor standing at the podium preaching the sermon. And the words he was saying were “Jesus wants his church to grow. The bank that owns our mortgage thinks it’s a good idea too!”

Well, we can laugh, but there are times when we wonder why churches want to grow. Is this a competition? Are pastors just indulging their egos, playing a game of one-upmanship against the pastor of the next church down the road? Are we empire-building? What’s wrong with the size the church already is? And anyway, everyone of good taste is already an Anglican, aren’t they? Another one of those cartoons has the old lady at the back of the church shaking hands with the rector and saying “I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal about evangelism; surely everyone in this town who should be an Anglican already is!”

Is it really all about money? Members are getting older, young families are getting busier, budgets are getting more and more strained. This year at St. Margaret’s we’re certainly experiencing some of that. The question is no longer ‘Will we have a deficit at the end of the year’, but ‘How big will the deficit be?’ So is that our motivation for wanting to grow: paying the bills? Is it true what they say, ‘those churches are just after your money?’

I hope not. I hope we’re motivated by the love of Christ, as St. Paul was when he travelled all over the Mediterranean world and endured unbelievable sufferings and hardships because he believed the gospel message and he believed that God wanted everyone to hear it. I hope that we have a vision for growth with integrity, growth as followers of Jesus, growth in community, growth in our influence for good in the world around us, as well as numerical growth as more people become disciples through our witness. This morning I want to set out that vision for you, and then in the next few weeks I want to explore things each of us can do to help our church to grow.

So this morning I want to share with you four different ways churches can grow. Numerical growth is not possible for all churches. For example, some churches are situated in dying communities; it’s not likely that they’re going to see substantial growth. But all churches can grow in other ways, and hopefully many of them can grow numerically as well. So let me share with you these four ways of growth: numerical growth, growth as disciples of Jesus, growth in community, and growth in our influence in the world around us, near and far.

First, numerical growth. This isn’t hard to figure out – or is it? You might think it was a matter of simple math. What was the average attendance last year? What’s the average attendance this year? Has it gone down or up? That’s how we know whether we’ve grown or shrunk.

Well, maybe not. There are different reasons average attendance can go down. Some older folk go through periods of illness, they’re in hospital for long periods of time, or maybe they move into long term care and can’t get out any more. But they still consider this their church, and we still think of them as members of our congregation. Also, for better or for worse, younger people don’t come to church as often now as they did when I was young. When I was a teenager, regular attendance meant probably three times a month, and some people came more than once on a Sunday. Nowadays, not so. I’m not saying this is a good thing; I’m saying it’s the way things are. So average attendance can go down without us actually having lost any people.

But why are we trying to reach more people anyway? Our epistle for today gives us the answer. St. Paul is encouraging us to pray for our leaders so that we can enjoy peace and safety; he then goes on to say,

‘This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2:3-6a).

There it is. God wants all people to be saved from evil and sin, from the things that chain us and keep us from living the fully human life we were created to live. In order for that to happen, he has come among us as one of us in Jesus. Jesus has given himself to ransom us – to set us free – and he is the means by which our eyes can be opened to the truth about God. God is real, God is love, and God is like Jesus. And God wants everyone to know that, to experience it for themselves.

That’s why we want the church to grow numerically. It’s not to win attendance competitions. It’s not to pay the bills. It’s because each person is important to God, and God wants each person to come to know and love him. That’s what the church is here for: to help people learn to love God and follow Jesus.

Note carefully what I just said: the church is here to help people love God and follow Jesus. So our job is not done when they become regular church attenders. That’s a start, but it’s only a start. That’s why the people who complain about our fixation with numbers have a point. What good is a church full of people, if the people in it aren’t learning to pray, never read the Bible for themselves, don’t try to put the way of Jesus into practice in their daily lives, and don’t help Jesus share the love of God with the whole world? If church is just an hour on Sundays and nothing else, what good is that doing?

That’s where the second kind of growth comes in. Churches can grow in numbers, but we can also grow as disciples, as followers of Jesus.

Honestly, a lot of people don’t even know this kind of growth is on the table. They say “I don’t really know the Bible very well, and I don’t understand it when I try to read it”, but then they make no effort to grow in their understanding. Or they say, “I know I’m supposed to forgive my enemies, but I can never forgive her for what she did to me” – and then they leave it at that, as if Jesus’ command to forgive is something we can just take a pass on, rather than asking for help so that we can begin to learn a different way. Or they say, “I really don’t know how to pray”, and then make no attempt to learn.

This Christian life is meant to be something you grow in. At the end of his second letter in the New Testament, St. Peter says, ‘But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’. St. Paul talks about growing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23). He calls these things ‘fruit’, and fruit doesn’t grow instantly. You provide it with water and food and sunlight, and there’s a process the plants go through. The same is true for us as Christian disciples.

How have you grown as a disciple since this time last year? How is your understanding of the Bible better than it was a year ago? How are your prayers more meaningful to you? How are you growing in patience, in unselfishness, in your ability to go through hardship without getting upset and irritable? How are you growing in your ability to share your Christian faith with friends – to explain it to them in a way that helps them rather than turning them off?

These are all things that are meant to be on the agenda for us as disciples of Jesus. Of course we can’t do them all at once. Marathoners don’t start by running marathons. They start with shorter distances, and as they get stronger, they lengthen their training runs. It’s the same with discipleship. When it comes to forgiving your enemies, don’t start with ISIS terrorists; start with the person at work who knows exactly how to annoy you and does it on a regular basis! Or if you’re learning to pray, don’t start with half an hour a day; start with five minutes, and lengthen it as you get more comfortable in it. But let’s never, ever, ever be satisfied with where we are as disciples of Jesus! This Christian living is meant to be a journey; you don’t stand still till you’re dead!

So churches can grow numerically, and they can grow as their members grow as followers of Jesus. Thirdly, churches can grow in community.

It’s interesting to read the New Testament and notice how many times the words ‘one another’ appear. Love one another. Forgive one another. Bear with one another in love. Encourage one another. Admonish one another. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. The list goes on and on.

Is the New Testament vision of church a loosely-connected group of individuals who meet on Sundays once or twice a month and go their own way the rest of the time? Not at all. Let’s remember that most of those early Christian congregations probably met in houses. Everything essential to church is doable in a living room! And the New Testament writers obviously assumed that Christians would know each other, offend each other, ask for help from each other, notice each other’s weaknesses and so on.

Let me tell you a story that used to happen to me in my first few years here at St. Margaret’s; it hasn’t happened for a while, but it was fairly common in my early years. Someone would come up to me after church, someone who had attended St. Margaret’s for longer than me. They would then point subtly toward someone else on the other side of the room – someone who had also been at St. Margaret’s for longer than me. And they would ask me “Who is that? What’s her name?”

Do you think there’s room for us to grow in community? I think there’s lots of room! The New Testament vision for Christian community is that of a family of love, where we can comfort and encourage each other, pray for each other and support each other in hard times. But nowadays in churches, people often refuse to even let their fellow Christians know that they’re going through hard times. How can we help each other if we refuse to admit to each other that we need help?

This is seriously damaging our missional credibility in the world. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). He obviously wasn’t talking about feelings; there’s no way the world around us can know what we feel about other people. He’s obviously talking about observable actions: supporting poorer members, visiting the sick, caring for the needy and so on. A community of people who love each other in these visible ways is tremendously attractive. If we don’t do it, we’re weakening our case before the watching world. So this is not an optional extra for those who have time for that sort of thing. This is a biblical essential of church life. And there’s not a church on the planet that doesn’t have room to grow in this kind of community.

So we can grow numerically, we can grow individually as disciples, as followers of Jesus, and we can grow as a genuine community of love. The fourth way we can grow is in our influence on the world around us.

In the eighteenth century John Wesley rode the length and breadth of England on horseback, preaching the gospel in the open air. Sometimes he preached several times a day to crowds of many thousands of people. It’s no exaggeration to say that in his lifetime hundreds of thousands probably heard the gospel message from him, and many people’s faith came alive in a new and fresh way. People were set free from addictions and given new hope. They were brought together into little discipleship classes where they were accountable to one another for their Christian growth. This was the beginning of what soon came to be called the Methodist movement. A highly influential British historian once said that the reason England didn’t descend into violent revolution was because of the work of John Wesley. He had a tremendous influence on the world around him.

But not only Wesley, of course. He was the leader, but many thousands followed his lead. He told them this: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, for all the people you can, as long as ever you can”. And they did. They spread the gospel and led others to Christ, but they also cared for the poor and needy and worked to make their communities better places to live.

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matthew 5:13). Salt in those days was used to preserve meat and keep it from going bad. Obviously it had to be different from the meat, but it also had to be in contact with it. Keeping the salt in the saltshaker wouldn’t do any good! It had to be sprinkled on the meat so it could have an influence.

In the same way, we’re called to have an influence on the world around us. We’re called to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and then we’re called to be part of the answer to that prayer, doing what we can to spread the values of the kingdom of God by working for compassion and justice and peace, and working to spread the gospel of Jesus.

Please note: we don’t have to be in charge of the world for this to happen. Throughout history a lot of Christians have made this mistake; they’ve thought that influencing the world means taking over the government so we can change its laws. But the early Christians were in no position to do that, and neither was John Wesley in the eighteenth century. They didn’t work from the top down; they worked from the bottom up, among the poor and the marginalized. And the result was transformation.

This is what we mean by church growth with integrity. It’s not just about bums on pews and money in the collection plate. It’s about human beings who matter to God, and about them coming to know Christ and follow him as part of the Christian community. It’s about you and me growing daily as followers of Jesus, so that we’re further along in our Christian life today than we were this time last year. It’s about our church growing as a genuine community of love, so that we aren’t strangers to each other, but brothers and sisters who know each other and support each other. And it’s about us acting like the salt of the earth, having an influence on the world around us for the Kingdom of God.

Does this excite you? I hope it does. And every one of us has a part to play in this. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring with you the different ways each of us can help this to happen. Each week I’ll be preaching a sermon on the theme, and after church I’ll be making myself available for a question and discussion time for any who want to explore it further. And I’ll also be posting the sermon online and inviting questions and comments. Next week, our theme will be ‘Helping our church to grow by growing ourselves as followers of Jesus’. I hope you’ll be able to participate in that conversation!

I would like to acknowledge the help and influence of my friend Harold Percy on the ideas presented in this sermon.

Meadowvale (2016 revision) Chapter 6

Link back to Chapter 5

 

Kelly came over to my house for coffee in the middle of the morning on the day after Boxing Day; she had arrived in Meadowvale about seven o’clock the night before, and had called me a little later in the evening to arrange to come for a visit. The weather had turned even colder the week before Christmas; the mercury had dropped to around minus twenty-five, and by Christmas Day there was about two feet of snow accumulated on the ground. I had bought my first down parka, and I was gradually getting used to the idea of putting on wind pants when I went out for my early morning walk.

The sky was clear and the sun was shining on the snow outside as Kelly sat by the window in my living room, sipping at the cup of coffee I had poured for her; she was wearing jeans and a plain white sweater, and her hair was hanging loose down her back. I thought she looked absolutely beautiful, and it was all I could do to stop staring at her as I put a plate of muffins down on the coffee table in front of her. “Would you like something to eat?” I asked.

“Well – who’s been making muffins for you?”

“I’ll have you know, Kelly Reimer, that I am quite capable of making muffins for myself!”

“Oh yeah? You’ll make some woman a good house-husband one of these days!”

“I’m counting on it. Help yourself”.

I took my seat across from her, and she leaned forward to pick out a muffin. “I hear you’ve been spending Christmas in dignified solitude”, she said with a mischievous grin.

“Have you got some sort of spy network?”

“Of course!”

“What else have they told you?”

“I hear you went to church Christmas Eve”.

“I did”.

She sat back in her chair with her plate on her lap. “I was a little surprised to hear that”.

“I was a bit surprised myself, actually”.

She took a bite of the muffin, smiled, and said, “Mmm – this is delicious!”

“I’m glad you like it”.

She chewed slowly and thoughtfully for a moment, and then said, “Tom Masefield, you are a talented man”.

“Thank you”.

“So – church on Christmas Eve?”

I took a sip of my coffee. “I haven’t been to church for about five years, but Joe invited me, and I thought about it for a few days and then decided to go”.

“How was it?”

“Different”.

“How so?”

“Well, what do you know about the Church of England?”

“Only what I’ve read in English novels”.

“It’s a lot more formal. They use a service book with printed prayers, and the people recite them together, or follow along while the priest recites them. And the priest wears robes, and there’s a lot more ceremony. So church here was a bit different”.

“Did you like it?”

“I didn’t dislike it. You know that I’m not at the point of believing in it yet, or at least not all of it. But I knew most of the Christmas carols and I enjoyed singing with the people, and I thought the minister did a good job of preaching. I understood him, anyway, which is more than I can say for some ministers I’ve heard”.

“Rob Neufeld, right?”

“Yes”.

“I like him a lot”.

“I didn’t realize you knew him”.

“He’s been here about three and a half years, so I’ve seen him a few times when I’ve been home. If I stay over Christmas or Easter, I usually go to church with Mom and Dad”.

“Right”.

“What did he preach about?”

I grinned; “Is this a test?”

“Of course not; I’m just interested”.

“I think the point he was trying to make was the unlikeliness of a plan to change the world that started with a baby born to a working class couple in an occupied country on the edge of the Roman Empire”.

“The point being that Jesus wasn’t born into the circles of power?”

“That’s it”.

“Sounds like Rob’s kind of thing”.

“Like I said, the whole idea of God becoming a human being is something I’m still not convinced about. Rob got me thinking, though; I liked the idea of God working from the ground up, through ordinary people, rather than through the movers and shakers”.

She took a sip of her coffee, smiled at me again, and said, “So, you’ve been hibernating since Christmas Eve”.

“I have; I don’t mind my own company”.

She took another bite of her muffin and chewed slowly, looking at me.

“What?” I said.

She shrugged her shoulders and continued to scrutinize me, until I grinned awkwardly and said, “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Weren’t you just the tiniest bit sad?”

“Why would I be sad?”

“Tom, I know you and your dad don’t get along, but I’m pretty sure you must have missed your mom and your sister”.

I looked away from her for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts, while she sat there quietly, waiting for me to speak. I picked up my coffee, sipped it in silence for a minute, and then said “Christmas around our house has been complicated for some time now”.

“Tell me, if you want to”.

For a moment I didn’t answer her, and she finished her muffin and sat back in her chair, cradling her coffee mug in her hands. I knew she was looking at me, but I was avoiding her gaze. “Where to start”, I mused.

“Start with Becca”.

“What would you like to know about her?”

“You would have been about twelve when she was born?”

“Yes”.

“Were you always close to her?”

“Yes. I know it’s a bit unusual for a boy of twelve to be so taken with a new baby sister, but it never even occurred to me that there was anything out of the ordinary about it. I’d always wanted a sister, and right from the start I enjoyed holding her and playing with her; my mum says I’m the one who taught her to walk and talk. I used to call her ‘Little Becs’, and she would call me ‘Tommy’ – she’s the only person who’s ever got away with calling me that”.

“What kinds of things did you do together ?”

I grinned. “We played in water a lot; she’s liked that for as long as I can remember. She liked splashing in the bath when she was a baby and a toddler, and as soon as she got old enough, she liked going to the seaside and paddling, or swimming in a pool or a river. And she’s always liked boats and canoes, too”.

“If I’d been her mom, I might have been just a little nervous”.

“I think there were days when my mum was very nervous, but she hid it well. And I think she could see from the start that Becca liked doing things with me”.

“Did you teach her to swim?”

“Yes, and she’s a much stronger swimmer than me now, even though she’s only twelve”.

“I’m sure you read to her”.

“Yes, and we used to make up stories together, too”. I smiled; “Some of them ended up in very strange places!”

“Did you like the same kind of books?”

“Well, I’m twelve years older than her, so she isn’t really into Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy yet!”

She laughed softly; “I guess not. What are some of your good memories of times with her?”

I smiled. “I remember when I was home for Christmas the first year I was in university – I would have been nineteen at the time, and she would have been seven. On Christmas Eve she woke up in the middle of the night and she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she came into my room. I wasn’t very pleased to be woken up, but she sat on my bed and we whispered to each other for a while, and eventually we snuck downstairs and I made hot chocolate for us both. Then we went into the living room and sat by the Christmas tree for an hour or so; I plugged in the lights, and we sat and talked until she finally fell asleep again, and I carried her back upstairs and put her to bed”.

“Aw – that’s so sweet!”

“I never thought anything of it. Even when Dad and I were fighting, I still tried to get home regularly so I could see her – and Mum of course – and sometimes Mum brought her into Oxford to spend a day with me. And ever since that Christmas Eve we’ve had a tradition over the Christmas holidays that before she goes to bed she and I have a cup of hot chocolate together by the tree. We’ve been doing it for the past six years, every night of the holidays”.

“But not this year”.

“No”.

“You miss her”.

“Of course I miss her, but the thing is, even if I’d gone back to Northwood for Christmas, it wouldn’t have been the same this year”.

“Why?”

I was quiet for a long time, and she waited patiently while I sipped steadily at my coffee until I finished it. Then I got up, stretched, and walked over to the other window. “Like I told you, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my dad for a long time”, I said with my back to her. “He’s a lawyer and a very good one, and his whole life has been about success in his profession. He’s achieved it, and he’s made a lot of money”.

“Not so good with relationships, though?”

“Not so good”, I agreed, turning back to face her. “Long hours, six days a week, and not much in the way of fatherly attention to his children, except when he found something to get angry about. And also, like I told you, he was determined from day one that I should follow him, and become a lawyer, which I’ve never wanted to do”.

“That’s hard”.

“Yes”.

“How long have you known that you wanted to be a teacher?”

“From about my first year in high school, when Owen’s dad started teaching my English class”.

“He inspired you, then?”

“I honestly couldn’t think of anything finer than doing what he did. He helped me fall in love with English literature, and he had a way of communicating that love to the class that was just infectious. He didn’t just read Shakespeare with us – he had us acting out scenes, and he helped us get inside the characters and understand the language, so that we not only knew what we were talking about – we felt it too. I found it totally exhilarating. I know it sounds lame, but I looked forward to his classes more than anything else I did at high school”.

She shook her head. “It doesn’t sound lame; it sounds amazing. I never had a teacher like that, even though I had some good ones. You were lucky”.

“I know. We’re still in touch, actually; we write to each other about once a month”.

“That’s great”.

“Yes, but of course that’s not how my dad would see it; he thinks George has been a bad influence on me. Dad and I started fighting about my future career when I was about fifteen”.

“The ‘Great War’?”

“Yes. Our first fight was at the family supper table one night. He had been going on and on about me going up to college and doing a pre-Law degree and then reading Law and joining the family firm, and eventually I got sick of it and I said I didn’t want to read Law, I wanted to teach English. He dismissed that idea completely – he told me I’d be condemning myself to a life of poverty – and that’s when we had our first argument about it, with Mum and Rick and Becca sitting right there”.

“How long did this ‘Great War’ last?”

“About three years. We had our last shouting match about it when I was in the upper sixth, my last year of high school before university. It seemed like it lasted for hours. We were in the living room at home; Rick and Becca had gone to bed, but they heard every word, because Dad and I were shouting so loud. I remember Mum tried to quieten us down, but we both ignored her. Eventually, after we’d been yelling at each other for ages, he turned to her and asked her to talk some sense into me, and then an amazing thing happened: she said, ‘Frank, I think you should let him do what he wants’”. I shook my head; “I thought he was going to have a stroke or a heart attack. His face turned purple and he started breathing heavily, and eventually he went out and slammed the door. And that’s when I knew I’d won and I was going to be able to do my English degree”.

She got up slowly, came over to where I was standing, and put her hand on my arm. “Why don’t you come and sit down?” she said softly.

“Okay”.

“Do you want some more coffee?”

“Yes, but let me…”

She shook her head; “I’ll get it”.

I went back to my chair and sat down again, while she took our coffee mugs out to the kitchen. A moment later she returned, setting the refilled mugs down on the coffee table between us. “So what happened next?” she asked as she sat down again.

“Well, I did my three-year English degree and then the PGCE”.

“PGCE?”

“Postgraduate certificate in education”.

“Right – you told me about that”.

“Yes. Normally it takes a year, but I stretched it out over two years so I could take some extra courses and do a third placement as a student teacher”.

“Why?”

I shrugged; “I wasn’t very confident in myself, I suppose; I felt like I needed more practice”.

“Okay”.

“Anyway, fortunately for my dad, my brother was quite willing to step into my shoes, and he’s now well on his way to becoming a lawyer. But that didn’t mean that Dad gave up on me; he kept pressuring me while I was in university. It wasn’t too late, he said; I could still change to Law, and he’d be glad to pay my way. Or later on, after he seemed to accept that I wasn’t going to switch, he started pestering me about where I was going to teach and how important it was to get into the better kinds of schools – he wasn’t happy about my last student placement because it was in a school in a low-income area with a lot of problems. In my last few months of teacher training he started clipping out advertisements from the newspaper for me, and a couple of times he even contacted schools on my behalf without asking me”.

“Wow”.

“Yes. And I gradually came to the realization that this was never going to end; if I stayed anywhere near him, he’d continue to try to control me – not just my choice of career, but my whole life”.

“So you decided to get away”.

“Yeah. I talked about things with Owen and Wendy from time to time, and it was actually Wendy who first asked me if I’d ever thought of teaching overseas. At first I dismissed the idea – there were lots of things I liked about living in England, and of course I knew I’d miss Becca and Mum, not to mention Owen and Wendy and the whole folk music community in Oxford. But then I got talking with Scott Carter one day – he was in my PGCE courses, and he was from Toronto. He was the one who told me there was a need for teachers in rural schools on the prairies, and I thought, why not? It might be an adventure, and it would certainly be a relief to get away from Dad’s constant need to control my life. So I made some inquiries, and then secretly began applying for jobs. I lied to my family – to all of them, not just Dad, but Mum and Becca too”. I shook my head; “I just couldn’t bring myself to tell Becca what was going on. I told them all that I was following a job opportunity in Reading, which isn’t that far from Oxford. But eventually, of course, the truth came out”.

“That must have been pretty ugly”.

“You could say that”.

“How did it happen?”

“Two weeks before I flew over here, we were all together one afternoon in Mum and Dad’s living room, and I told them I was very sorry, I hadn’t been honest with them, I’d applied for a job in Canada and I’d got it, and I’d be moving in two weeks. There was this long silence; Rick didn’t say a word, but Mum started to cry, and Becca started to cry, and then Dad started to yell. He called me a fool and an idiot and a sneaking liar, and then he picked up his walking cane and started to hit me across the back with it”.

Her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh my God!”

I nodded; “You can cause a lot of pain with a walking cane, and my dad’s a strong man. Mum was sobbing and begging him to stop; fortunately I was able to get away from him before he did any serious damage; I went over to Owen’s parents’ house, and that’s where I stayed until I left. I went back home a couple of times while Dad was at work, so I could pick up all the remaining stuff I had at the house, but I never went back there again while Dad was home. Mum came over to Owen’s the day before I left to say goodbye”.

“And Becca?”

I suddenly found I couldn’t speak; I got up again and went back to the window, struggling to control my emotions. After a moment, with my back still turned to her, I said, “I’ll never forget the look on her face that night; she was absolutely stricken. She’d had no idea I was even considering a move like this, and I know she was devastated. Since then, she hasn’t spoken or written to me; she’s so angry and hurt that I deceived her. I write to her regularly, but she won’t read my letters; she just rips them up and throws them away”.

I heard her get up again, and I felt her hand on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Tom”, she said quietly.

I shook my head and turned toward her. “No-one’s to blame but me”.

“It was a difficult situation; you were probably afraid that if your dad knew what you were planning, he’d find a way to stop you”.

“That’s exactly what I was afraid of”.

“So you felt trapped”.

“I really did”.

She looked up at me, and I saw the concern on her face. “Would it be okay if I gave you a hug?” she asked.

I nodded wordlessly, and she put her arms around me and drew me close. “You’ve been keeping this locked up inside, haven’t you?”.

“Probably”.

“It’s okay, Tom”.

“Is it?”

She stepped back and looked up at me again. “I think it’s great that you care so much about your sister”.

I found myself blinking back the tears. “Thank you”, I whispered, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.

“You’re welcome. Do you need a minute?”

I shook my head. “I’m alright, thanks. A bit frayed around the edges, but I’ll be okay”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Shall we sit down again?”

“Okay”.

I sat down on the couch, and she took her seat beside me. I was quiet for a moment, my eyes down. Eventually I took a deep breath and said, “I gave up on achieving any sort of positive relationship with my dad a long time ago, but I wish I could have found a way to tell Becca about my move. I was just afraid that if she knew, whenever I told her, she’d be so upset that she wouldn’t be able to keep it to herself, and I knew I had to keep it secret from my dad until all the arrangements were in place”.

“Of course”.

“But I was wrong; I know I was. Owen told me I should have been open with them all from the beginning, and he was right. No matter what it cost me, I really shouldn’t have lied to Becca; she didn’t deserve that. I just wish I could talk to her, so I could tell her I’m sorry”.

“One day you will. She won’t be mad at you forever”.

“It seems like forever already”.

“I know, but it’s not – it’s only five months”.

“Yes, but every week that goes by with no word from her makes it seem even less likely that I’ll ever hear from her again”.

“You will”, she said, squeezing my hand; “It might be a long time, but you will”.

“I hope so”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, and then she nodded and said, “So you came here to get away from the mess at home”.

“Yes. I’d like to say that it was the attractions of Meadowvale that brought me, but it wasn’t. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth back at Thanksgiving when you asked me why I came here”.

“I totally understand”, she said softly. “You were sitting in a room full of strangers; you weren’t about to spill the whole story in front of all of us”.

“No”.

“You must miss England a lot”.

I thought for a moment, and then gave a little nod. “There are people I miss, of course – especially Becca and Mum, and Owen and Wendy, and Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy. And I love the English countryside – it’s much greener than here, probably because of all the rain, and I like the winding roads and the really old villages and all that. And there’s nothing really like English folk music over here, so I feel a bit like a fish out of water that way too”.

“Are you going to go back?”

“I don’t know. Nothing’s changed at home. I had a letter from Dad at the end of November; he tore a strip off me for being so foolish as to choose teaching over Law, and for being so ungrateful to him for all the money he put into my education, and for lying to him and Mum – and, of course, for being so stupid as to leave Oxford to come to a place like Meadowvale”.

“Wow”.

“Yes. It was the first letter I’ve had from him since I came here; I hope it’s the last”.

“No kidding”.

“So all the reasons why I left home are still valid; everything’s still the same”. I grinned at her. “And to tell you the truth, I can feel Meadowvale growing on me”.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. Your mum and dad and your whole family have been so kind to me – I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. I like most of the people I’ve met here, and I like having my own place and being accepted for who I am, even though the old timers think I’m an English hippy with long hair and a beard”.

“Don’t worry about that; lots of the guys I went to school with had long hair, and some of them even tried to grow beards”.

“Have they all moved away?”

She laughed; “I guess a lot of them have. Some of them are still here, though”. She drank some of her coffee, set it down on the table, and looked at me seriously again. “So you like my mom and dad, but you didn’t accept their invitation to join them for Christmas dinner?”

I shook my head. “Your family are so close and warm and loving, and honestly, Kelly, I’ve been such a wreck for the last couple of days that I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep it together and act cheerful in the middle of all that”.

“Right”.

“I hope they weren’t offended?”

“No, of course not”. She gave me a little frown; “So what have you been doing all by yourself since the Christmas Eve service?”

I shrugged; “I’ve been for a couple of long walks at Myers Lake”.

“Sounds like a good tonic for the soul”.

“Yes; it’s been cold, of course, but sunny and bright, too. And I’ve read a lot, and listened to some music, and played old folk songs…”

“Reminding yourself of the friends you used to play music with?”

“Sounds pretty maudlin, doesn’t it?”

“No; it sounds perfectly natural”.

“Thank you”.

“And now you want me to change the subject, don’t you?”

I gave her a sheepish grin. “I really do; would you mind?”

“Of course not!” She smiled at me again; “So, I’m here for a week”.

“What are you going to do with yourself?”

“Visit with my family, and go out to the farm and spoil my horse, and play Scrabble with my brother and sister, and help my future sister-in-law plan her wedding, and have tea with my grandparents and some of my cousins, and hopefully spend some quality time with my favourite Englishman”.

“Am I your favourite Englishman?”

“Well, you’re the only one I know, so I admit the competition isn’t exactly fierce, but if I knew any others, you’d still be my favourite Englishman”.

“Ah, be still my beating heart!”

We laughed, and then she made a sweeping gesture toward my bookshelves and said, “And I might just look through some of your books, if that’s okay with you?”

“Of course it is”.

“And I’d like to join you in a couple of walks at Myers Lake, and listen to you sing me some of those old folk songs, and maybe, if you’re interested, we could talk some more about Christianity”.

“I’d like that. And oh yes, you’ve just reminded me of something”. I got to my feet, slipped into my bedroom, came back out again a moment later and handed her a flat parcel wrapped in Christmas paper. “Merry Christmas, Kelly”.

“You got me a Christmas present?” She held the parcel for a minute, and then I saw the realization beginning to dawn on her face; “Oh, I know what this is!”

“Well then, open it!”

I had never seen anyone, not even Becca when she was young, rip into a parcel that quickly. The paper was flying everywhere for a few seconds, and then she was holding the two Nic Jones LP records in her hands. “Thank you! I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to hearing these!”

“Well, that’s good then!”

“I’ve got a Christmas present for you, too, but it’s back at Mom and Dad’s. Which reminds me: Mom told me to ask you if you could please, please, come over to their place for supper tonight; she’s been a little worried about you. But now that I know what’s going on, if you’d rather just stay home, then say so; I’ll make excuses”.

I shook my head; “No, I think I’ll be all right now, thanks to you”.

“Good”.

“Who’s going to be there?”

“Well, Krista’s home of course, and she has a new boyfriend”.

“I heard about that. He’s from here, right?”

“Yeah, he is. Joe and Ellie will be there too, and Ellie’s bringing her fiddle, so Dad told me to ask you to bring your guitar if you came”.

“Okay”.

“Good. And when you get there, I’ll give you your present”.

“I’ll look forward to that. And I’ve just realized I forgot to ask Joe on Christmas Eve whether Ellie got the job she interviewed for”.

“She did; she starts January 15th”.

“So she’ll be moving to Meadowvale, then?”

“Yes”.

“But she’s not moving in with Joe yet”.

“No, that’s not their style”.

“That’s what I thought. So they won’t live together until after the wedding?”

“No”.

“I bet the next five months are going to go very, very slowly for them!”

She grinned; “I’m guessing so!”

I got to my feet. “So – music, or Myers Lake?”

“Do I have to choose?”

I laughed. “Music, and Myers Lake, then! Shall we do Myers Lake first, while the sun’s shining?”

“Absolutely!”

 

We spent most of the day together; we walked the trails at Myers Lake for a couple of hours until we were frozen, and then went back to my place to thaw out over a bowl of soup and a pot of tea. I played a few songs for her, and she was impressed enough to draw me into another long conversation about traditional folk music.

In the middle of the afternoon she coaxed me into walking over with her to visit Don and Lynda Robinson. They had two little girls, Amy who was seven and Beth who was four, and that was when I discovered that Kelly loved kids. She played with Amy and Beth and read to them, while Don and Lynda poured us coffee and told me stories about Coppermine, the Arctic community where they had lived for five years. “The Arctic was great”, Don observed, “and we had a good time there. But we were just having our adventure; we always planned to move back to Saskatchewan in the end”.

“Didn’t think it would be Meadowvale, though”, Lynda added; “That was a piece of luck”.

“You were glad to come home?” I asked.

“We were”, Don replied.

“So you’re both from around here, then? I know you are, Don, because your mum’s Sally’s sister, right?”

“Yeah, they’re both from the Wiens family. It’s a big family, as you might have heard”.

“But your dad isn’t a Mennonite?”

“No – Dad was born in England, but my grandparents brought him to Meadowvale when he was one. They were homesteaders; their farm’s about eight miles out of town”.

“Your dad didn’t take it over, though?”

“No – he always liked building things, so he taught himself the carpentry trade. He’s got his own business now – construction, home renovations, that sort of thing”.

“What about you, Lynda?”

“I was born a Miller”, she said; “My mom and dad are George and Hazel Miller. They farm about six miles south of town. They were both born here, but their parents were immigrants from the old country”.

“England?”

“Yeah”.

“It seems like everyone here is from somewhere else originally”.

“I guess that’s true”, Don replied, “unless you’re Cree. How about you; is your family all pretty well from the place where you grew up?”

“Yes, we’re from Oxford on both sides of the family, but we weren’t especially close. My dad’s one of four siblings but the other three all moved to London, and we’ve never seen very much of them; they’ve never been a very close family, at least not that I remember. My mum only has one sister, and she’s stayed in Oxford; they’re pretty close, but Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy haven’t got any children, so I grew up without much contact with cousins”.

Lynda grinned; “That’s hard to imagine! I’ve long since lost count of how many cousins I have”.

“Me too”, Don agreed, “especially on the Wiens side of the family”.

 

After about an hour of visiting with Don and Lynda, Kelly and I wandered back over to my house to pick up my guitar, and then made our way over to the Reimers’, where Kelly gave me my Christmas present, a thick wool tuque and a long knit scarf.

“Did you make the scarf?” I asked as I wound it around my neck.

“I did, but I didn’t make the tuque”.

“I didn’t know you were a knitter”.

“I don’t do it very often, but I enjoy it when I do”.

We had a long and relaxed meal with Will and Sally, Joe and Ellie, and Krista and her new boyfriend Steve Janzen. “Steve’s kind of related to us”, Kelly explained to me while we were all sitting around the supper table.

“Oh, how’s that?”

“Well – Don, who we were with this afternoon, is my first cousin; he’s the oldest of Aunt Rachel and Uncle Mike’s kids. The next one is Ruth, and she’s married to one of Uncle Mike’s carpenters, John Janzen”.

“And you’re related to him?” I asked Steve.

“I’m his youngest brother”.

“So he’s related to you by marriage”, I said to Kelly.

“Right”.

“But not by marriage to anyone in your immediate family?”

“What do you think we are”, Joe asked with a grin, “the British monarchy?”

During the meal I asked Krista how her caribou were doing; she smiled and said, “I’m spending a lot of time tracking them and watching them right now, as well as researching statistical information from park records over the past twenty years. But I won’t be ready to draw any conclusions for a while yet. Ideally, this study would take ten years, but of course, I’d like to get my thesis done a lot sooner than that!”

“I’m glad to be seeing a lot of her”, Kelly added; “She’s up in Jasper at least half the time now, and, of course, she’s mooching at my place!”

“Are you doing a thesis too, Steve?” I asked.

“Yeah – I’m looking for whooping cranes”.

“Are they hard to find?”

“Well, in the 1940s there were only about fifteen of them left”.

I stared at him; “Fifteen?”

“Yeah, they don’t cohabit very well with humans. But they’ve been protected for a while, and we think there might be a hundred or a hundred and fifty now. I’m trying to get a handle on how many there are, and how effective the conservation measures have been”.

“So you’re outdoors a lot too?”

“Well, not at the moment, since the cranes are in Texas for the winter, but in April they’ll migrate to northern Alberta, so that’s where I’ll be spending my summer”.

Krista grinned; “He’s going down to Texas next month to try to find them”.

  “Are you taking your girlfriend along?” I asked him.

“I just might”, he replied with a slow smile.

Toward the end of the meal Sally went out to the kitchen, came back with a camera, and snapped a photograph of Joe and Ellie, Krista and Steve, and Kelly and me. “I need a picture of my three kids with their dates”, she said with a smile.

“Good idea!” Will agreed.

Kelly glanced quickly at me; “Tom and I aren’t dating”.

Sally shrugged and gave us a mischievous grin; “Whatever you want to call it, honey”.

After supper the three Reimer siblings and I had another game of Scrabble, which Kelly won handily. Then Will got his guitar out and asked if Ellie and I would like to jam with him for a while, so we went into the living room and played music for an hour or so. Ellie was a very good fiddler and she and Will were obviously used to playing together, but the tunes they played were not difficult to follow and I enjoyed filling in some lead guitar lines for them.

Later on, at about nine-thirty, Kelly went rummaging in the fridge, found a half-empty bottle of wine, and helped herself to a couple of glasses from the top cupboard. “Want to come down to the basement for a while?” she asked me.

“If you like, but I should get going before too long”.

“No hurry: you’re on holiday, right?”

I laughed; “I suppose I am!”

“Well, that’s good then”. She grinned at her dad; “Tom and I are going down to the den to keep company with a bottle of wine for a while”.

“Be sure to lock the door behind him when he leaves”.

There was a finished family room down in the basement, with an old couch and a couple of easy chairs, a coffee table, a TV, an old cabinet stereo system, and a whole wall of bookshelves. Kelly turned on a standing lamp, lit a candle, poured us each a glass of wine and then sat down in one of the easy chairs, putting her feet up on the coffee table. “Cheers”, she said, raising her glass toward me.

“Cheers”.

We both sipped at our wine for a moment, and then I said, “I’m flattered, but you don’t have to keep leaving the rest of your family behind to spend time with me”.

She grinned; “Are you afraid people are going to start talking, Tom Masefield?”

“No, of course not”.

“Neither am I; I talk to anyone I like and I don’t take any notice of what people think of it”.

“Funny – I could have sworn that you were a bit embarrassed when your mum said she was taking a picture of her three kids ‘and their dates’ ”.

“I didn’t know what you would think, that’s all”.

“I was fine with it”.

“Good to know”. She looked at me seriously and said, “So, has there ever been anyone significant?”

I shrugged; “I’ve dated girls. How about you?”

“We’re not done with you yet!”

“Nothing more to tell, really”.

“You’re telling me your heart’s never been seriously threatened?”

I took a deep breath, looked at her, and said, “I wouldn’t say that”.

“Ah”, she replied triumphantly, “so there has been someone…!”

“Yes, but despite the fact that you are a very open and honest person and I like you very much…”

“You’re not ready to talk about it yet?”

I shook my head; “No”.

“Okay. I’ve had a couple of boyfriends myself”.

“Local boys?”

“No – guys I met in university in Saskatoon”.

“Serious?”

“The second one was. His name was Mike and he was studying to become a phys. ed. teacher”.

“You must have been playing sports of some kind when you met”.

“Funnily enough, although I love being outdoors and active, I’m not a big fan of competitive sports”.

“Right – I should have noticed that”.

“Actually, we met because we were both working part-time jobs at the same coffee shop on campus. We were an item for about a year, and then he broke my heart”.

“I’m sorry; what happened?”

“He met someone else, and he liked her better”.

I shook my head; “That’s frankly unbelievable to me”.

She grinned; “It’s nice of you to say so, but it surely isn’t hard for you to understand how a person might decide, after a year with me, that they’d like a quieter life with someone who didn’t talk so much!”

We both laughed, and then I took a sip of my wine and said, “Are you over him?”

“Oh yeah; it’s been three years now”.

“So are you planning on staying in Jasper for a long time?”

She shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t love the place; it’s a dream come true for me to have the chance to live there. But I don’t want to be a ward nurse for the rest of my career”.

“What do you want to do?”

“I want to be a geriatric nurse”.

“You want to work with old people?”

“I do”.

“Why?”

“Because I really like old people”.

“Now that isn’t something you hear very often”.

“I guess not, but it’s true. I love it when my grandparents tell stories about what it was like when they came over here from Russia in the 1920s; I really admire that generation for all the hardships they went through. And I don’t like the way our society pushes old people off to one side and makes decisions about their future based on our convenience, not theirs”.

“You feel really strongly about this, don’t you?”

“I do. I think old people deserve to keep their freedom and dignity for as long as possible, and I think we should be preserving their stories and passing them on, so that the next generation knows what life was like in harder times”.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Well, since you ask, as soon as the snow is off the ground in the spring, there’s a new seniors’ home being built here in Meadowvale”.

“A seniors’ home?”

“Yeah – that might not be what it’s eventually called, but you get the idea. It’ll have space for sixty rooms, some of them self-catering, and there’ll be staff, including an R.N.”.

“That’s where you come in?”

“Yes; they’ll be advertising for the position in the spring, and I’ll be putting my name in”.

“When will the place be finished?”

“Hopefully by late Fall”.

“So you might be moving back to Meadowvale by Thanksgiving”.

“If all goes according to plan, yes”.

“Well”, I said, picking up my wine glass, “Let’s drink to that”.

“Alright!”

We both raised our glasses, smiled at each other, and sipped at our wine. “Now” she said, “are you ready to listen to some Bruce Cockburn?”

“Sounds like a good idea”.

“Good!” she replied, getting to her feet and going over to the stereo. “I just happen to have some of my LPs down here”.

 

We spent a lot of time together that week. Most days, she came over to my house for a cup of coffee or tea in the mornings; sometimes she browsed my bookshelves and we talked about books for a while, and sometimes she listened to my records, or I played some songs for her. We went for a couple of walks at Myers Lake, and she gave me my first ever cross-country skiing lesson, which I quite enjoyed, once I got over my fear of losing control and falling. One day we drove out to Hugo and Millie’s farm so that she could visit with her horse; it turned out that Joe and Corey were there as well, and the four of us bundled up against the cold and went riding for a while. Afterwards Joe and Kelly rubbed the horses down and made a hot mash for them, and then we went into the house and had coffee with Hugo and Millie. And a couple of times at Will and Sally’s we went down to the basement again and talked far into the night about Christianity.

She had brought a photograph album with her, and I was captivated by her pictures of Jasper. On the last night before she went back, she and I were sitting on the couch in Will and Sally’s basement looking through the album again, and she said, “You should come and visit me, and I’ll take you out and show you some of the scenery”.

“I would really like that”.

“You have holidays at Easter, right?”

“I do”.

“Come then. It won’t be the best time, with the spring melt and everything, but it could still be really enjoyable”.

I looked at her as she sat beside me on the couch; she was dressed as usual in jeans and sweater, and her hair was tied back in a thick braid. “I’d stay at your apartment, then?”

“Yeah – that is, if you don’t mind?” She paused for a moment, giving me an awkward glance, and then added, “I have a spare room”.

“Right”.

“So – what do you think?”

“I’ll let you know, but at the moment it sounds pretty good”.

“Great! I don’t think I’ll be back here again until Joe and Ellie’s wedding”.

“That’s in May, right?”

“Victoria Day weekend, toward the end of May”.

“Are you a bridesmaid?”

“I am, actually”. She frowned; “When is Easter this year?”

“Early April, I think; I remember looking at it on the school calendar when I started”.

“Okay, so it’ll be springtime in Meadowvale, but you’ll need to remember that Jasper’s a lot higher, so there’ll still be a lot of snow on the mountains, and maybe even some in town too”.

“Right, so I’ll need to bring some warmer clothes with me”.

She grinned; “You’re going to come, then?”

“As I said, I’m not absolutely sure, but it sounds pretty good”.

Link to Chapter 7

Four Reasons I’m Still an Anglican

anglican-wordle-2A Christian denomination is like a family. Lord knows, there are times you feel like leaving. Lord knows, there are times that other families look really good. Families where discipleship is much more front and centre, and is a value acknowledged by everyone. Families where you don’t have to argue the case for evangelism all the time. Families where people’s Bibles are well-worn because they’re read every day. Families where they don’t think that no ministry is real unless the person doing it is wearing a clerical collar.

Still, I know that every denomination is a rusty bucket. As you get older, you realize that one of the advantages of staying in your own particular rusty bucket is that you know where the rust spots are, and you also know where the strengths can be found.

I’m not sure I’m fully aware of all the reasons I’m still here, reasonably happy in this particular Christian tradition. I suspect that not all of them are rational reasons. Still, here are four that stand out for me.

First, this is the church I was born into. I was baptized at St. Barnabas’, Leicester on 3067169127_e681f8e734_zDecember 28th 1958, raised in the Church of England, came to the Anglican Church of Canada when we moved to Canada in 1975, and I’ve ministered in it since May 1978. I know its customs and traditions very well. I know the family history, I know the skeletons in the closet, and I have deep and lasting friendships with literally hundreds of colleagues and fellow Christians, in Canada and the United States, in England and Scotland and beyond, who follow the Anglican Way. That sort of history and networking is not something you abandon lightly. The phrase ‘bonds of affection’ is sometimes used to describe the ties that keep the worldwide Anglican Communion together; in my case, those bonds are very real.

s-l300Second, the liturgy. I’m not attracted to churches where the Sunday service consists of ‘sing, sing, sing, make announcements, preach, preach, preach, then go home’. I love the comprehensiveness of a good liturgical service: welcome, public reading of scripture, preaching, creed, intercessory prayer, confession, taking the bread and wine, prayer of consecration, sharing communion, closing prayers. Everything is there and nothing is left out. And because it’s a written liturgy, the congregation can participate; they aren’t reduced to listening passively to the pastor’s brilliance. I also like the fact that most of our liturgies are historic; they are based on ancient prayers passed down through the years.  The oldest parts, of course, are the psalms that were the bedrock of the prayer life of Jesus, and the Lord’s Prayer that he himself taught us to say. I love all of this. I don’t care whether it’s Book of Common Prayer or Book of Alternative Services – I’m good with them both, and I know they’re good for my soul.

smiling-lewisThird, C.S. Lewis. This Anglican writer (who called himself a ‘mere Christian’) has been a
reliable spiritual guide for me since the late 1970s. I’ve read almost every book and letter and article he ever wrote – some of them I’ve read so many times I almost know them by heart. He feeds my mind, nourishes my Christian imagination, and lays out for me a ‘common sense’ way of following Jesus. I don’t agree with everything he says, but that doesn’t matter; there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s my elder brother in Christ, and my most important mentor – even though he died in 1963.

Finally (and I think it’s important to be honest here!), the General Synod Pension Plan. Yes, I’m old enough to know that this is definitely a factor in my thinking! It is for most of us who are Anglican clergy, but not all of us will admit it. It’s not a gold-plated plan; it will pay me about 52% of my current salary if I retire after forty years, or a little more if I go further, which will certainly require some major belt-tightening, but that will be enough to give me a level of security and allow me to continue to minister in ways that interest me for as long as I feel able to do so.

These are the four most important reasons I’m aware of why I’m still an Anglican. I was raised in the evangelical clan of Anglicanism, and that gives me ties outside Anglicanism with other evangelicals. Also, in recent years I’ve explored the riches of the Anabaptist tradition and rejoiced in the strengths it brings in areas where we Anglicans are weak. But for now (who can predict the future?) I’m still following Jesus as an Anglican, and I can’t see any strong likelihood of that changing in the immediate future.

What about you, my fellow-Anglicans? What are your reasons?

Meadowvale (2016 revision): Chapter 5

Link back to Chapter 4

Box 981
Meadowvale, Sask.
Oct. 15th 1982

Dear Owen:

Thanks for your letter of October 6th that I received yesterday. Sounds like you and Lorraine are getting on quite well.

I met an interesting girl this past week. She’s Will Reimer’s daughter, her name is Kelly, and she’s a nurse in Jasper, in the Rocky Mountains.

Will invited me to join his family on Sunday for Thanksgiving supper, which is a big thing over here. People cook turkey with all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie, and have big family gatherings. There were about twelve of us at the Reimers’, including all three of Will and Sally’s children. Their oldest, Joe, had his fiancée Ellie Finlay there too. Joe is a vet and lives here in Meadowvale, but this was the first time I had met him.

Kelly is my age and very pretty, with long blond hair and a really outgoing personality. We had a good talk on Sunday night, and Monday she drove me out to Myers Lake Recreation Area, a few miles north of town. I can’t believe no one’s told me about Myers Lake until now! It’s a beautiful place with miles of walking trails by the lakeshore and through woodlands with aspen, spruce, and poplar trees. Most of the leaves have fallen from the aspens and poplars, but spruce are evergreen, as you know, so the effect was really striking. Kelly’s an outdoor sort of person and really likes walking, so as you can imagine we hit it off quite nicely.

You’ll also be interested to hear that she seems to be on a spiritual journey. She walked away from her Mennonite church background for a few years, but now she seems to be trying to find her way back in. She and I had an interesting talk about Christianity and Jesus – very much like the kind of talks you and I have been having over the last few years. I also discovered that Mennonites don’t baptize babies; you have to be an adult so that you know what you’re doing. I suppose I knew that there were Christians who believed that, but I’ve never spoken to one of them before (not that Kelly is a Christian at the moment, or at least, not yet).

When we got back to my place after our walk she asked me to play her some music, so I got the guitar out and sang her some of our traditional songs – ‘The Snow it Melts the Soonest’, ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘John Barleycorn’and a couple of others. She likes music, but like most people here she doesn’t know much about traditional folk music. She seemed to enjoy it though. I ended up giving her some lunch, and later on she took me over to visit her grandmother, Will’s mother; her name is Erika Reimer and she was born in Russia. Apparently there was some sort of major persecution of Mennonites in Russia under Lenin in the early 1920s and a lot of them fled the country if they could. Will’s parents came here in 1924, broke the land, and built a homestead. She was telling me about some of their experiences in those early days; all I can say is, those people must have been tough.

I think Kelly went back to Jasper on Wednesday. Last night I was doing some marking after supper when there was a knock on the door and her brother Joe was there. Apparently he had enjoyed meeting me on Sunday night and wanted to get to know me a little better, so I made him a pot of coffee and we chatted for an hour or so. He’s quite different from Kelly; she’s very up front, whereas he’s quieter and more reserved (more like me, in fact!). He told me some things about the history of the town and their family, and he asked me about England and Oxford. He said that Kelly had told him about our conversation. Joe, it seems, is a pretty convinced Christian, but not pushy about it. He and Ellie are getting married in the spring, and apparently she’s a bluegrass fiddler. She was born in Humboldt (a town south of here), but at the moment she’s living in Saskatoon.

I still haven’t heard anything else from Wendy, and I’m beginning to think that her omission of an exact return address on her last letter was intentional, and that she really doesn’t want to have any contact with me. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; as you know, things were totally messed up between us when I left. I wrote back to her, care of her old address, and I’m assuming her landlady would have forwarded it again, since she obviously has her London address (or how would Wendy have received my last letter?). But I think I’ve reached the point of giving up on that; if she doesn’t want to have any contact with me, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t help feeling a little sad about it, though.

The other thing that’s really hurtful is that Becca doesn’t seem to want to know me either. I’ve continued to write to her, but Mum says that she doesn’t read my letters, she just throws them away. I don’t know what to do about that. Again, I can’t really blame her; she thought I was being totally honest with her, but all the time I was planning this move I didn’t tell her anything. I feel like I’ve really let her down and betrayed her. I wish I could talk to her and apologize and just have some sense that we could rebuild things.

My father of course has been totally silent, but then, after what he did to me, it’s up to him to make the first move. As far as I’m concerned, he’s burnt that bridge, and he can rebuild it.

How’s the hospital going? Are you going to be there for a while? I’m a little unclear about this stage of your medical training.

Well, it’s late Friday night and I’m tired after a day’s work and an evening of marking, so I’ll stop here. Write soon and give me all your news.

Cheers,

Tom

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Flat No. 3, 76 Albert Street,
Headington, Oxford
Oct. 23rd 1982

Dear Tom:

Thanks for your letter about Kelly and Joe that I received yesterday. I was up at the hospital for a twelve hour shift today so I know you’ll forgive me if I just make this a short one tonight and maybe add a bit more tomorrow. By the way, yes, I’ll be at the hospital until Christmas, and then probably in a general practice or some other medical setting for a few months after that. This two years of house officer training is supposed to give me exposure to several different sorts of medical practice before I choose a specialty, which I will then train in for a few more years. In my case, I’m already sure that I want to be a GP, but quite a few of my colleagues here haven’t made their minds up yet.

Kelly sounds delightful and it’s obvious that you enjoyed her company. And yes, I think you’re right to turn the page when it comes to Wendy. It’s hard, because the three of us have been good friends for the past two years, and you two had become much closer in the last few months. I still find it hard to believe that she went back to Mickey after all he put her through, but then, human beings are complicated and sometimes we do very strange things.

Before I forget, Dad asked to be remembered to you and he says he’ll answer your last letter when he’s had a bit more time to think about it. He seems pleased to hear from you. He and Mum are doing well.

What else have I been up to? Well, Steve and I (my brother Steve, that is, not Steve Francis) have started playing badminton together on Saturday mornings; you might remember that we used to do that when we were teenagers. Ian Redding and I went out for a drink one night; he’s at the same hospital as me but we’re not usually on the same shifts. But the biggest thing is that I’ve been getting a band together to play at church. We had our first practice this week. It’s people from the church, so you probably don’t know any of them, but just for information, this is the list so far: Dave Bradshaw on guitar and vocals, Dan Pargeter on bass, Garth Hacking on percussion, and me on guitar and vocals.

Right, bed; talk to you tomorrow.

                                    Oct. 25th 1982

Hello again. As you can see I didn’t get right back to the letter, since yesterday I did another twelve hours at the hospital and then Lorraine and I went out for a drink last night. Afterwards we went back to her digs (you’ll remember that she lives with her sister) and she showed me some of the water colours she’s been working on. All very good, I hope she can make some money at it soon.

As for the big question: no, we’re not at the point where we’re calling each other ‘boyfriend’and ‘girlfriend’. She wants to take it slow; I get the idea she had a bad experience with someone when she was at art school, but it’s one of the many things I don’t know about her yet. You introverts can be maddeningly difficult to get to know sometimes!

I’ll be very interested to hear of any continuing conversations between you and Kelly about Christianity – or you and Joe, for that matter – although I suppose with Kelly in Jasper (which I just looked up on a map, and realized once again what an enormous country you live in!), it’s not likely the conversations will be thick and fast, is it?

Okay, that’s it for me tonight. I’ll post this tomorrow and try to do better next time. Maybe I should write to you on days off after I’ve had a good night’s sleep!

Cheers to you too,

Owen

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P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
Oct. 28th 1982

Dear Tom:

Are you surprised to hear from me? Well, never mind; I wanted to write to tell you that I ordered that Nic Jones album you told me about, ‘Penguin Eggs’, and it came yesterday. Since then I’ve played it three times, and I absolutely love it. Nic Jones has the quintessential English folk singer’s voice, doesn’t he? Not that your voice is all that shabby, either, Tom Masefield, but this guy is amazing! And I’m obviously not qualified to comment on his guitar playing, but it sounds really good to me. What a fantastic discovery! Thank you! Does he have any more albums that I should collect?

Anyway, I’m writing to you on a day off; it’s about ten in the morning and I’m sitting in the living room of my apartment, drinking tea and looking out on a beautiful Jasper skyline. You don’t know the town, of course, but if I were to tell you that I can see Whistler’s Mountain and Mount Edith Cavell from my living room windows, that might give you an idea of what I’m looking at. I should send you a photograph; maybe I’ll do that next time. There’s been snowfall high in the mountains for the last few days, and we’ve had some in town too, although it looks like a warm day today so it might melt. But I’m starting to get excited about Marmot Basin opening up – that’s our local ski resort, a few miles south of the town site, and it usually opens in late November. Imagine skiing down steep mountainsides with trees flashing past on either side? It scared me when I first tried it, but now I love it.

I’ve thought a lot about our conversations since I got back to Jasper. Sorry if I treated you like a curiosity, but, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, I grew up with a very predictable type of guy, and you’re different, which was refreshing! I like to think that I’m not uptight, but a lot of the high school culture I grew up in was all about drinking and partying and coupling, and I was never really into that, even after I stopped going to church. Anyway, it was really nice to have some intelligent conversations of the sort that I don’t get with too many other guys except my brother, God love him!

But I need to ask you to forgive me for being too pushy; I don’t have the right to go charging into your private business, especially when it concerns your family. I guess I’ve been very, very lucky with my family; my mom and dad have always been warm and loving and completely supportive of everything I wanted to do. Even when I stopped going to church, which I know was hard for them, I never felt they were mad at me or saw me as a problem that they needed to fix. Why am I saying this? Well, I get the idea that there’s a lot of pain in your relationship with your family. I may be way off base here, in which case, I apologize, but I don’t think I am. And if I’m right, I’m sorry, Tom. If the time comes when you want to talk about it, I’ll be happy to listen, and I want to assure you that even though Joe says I never have an unspoken thought, one thing I never speak is the stories people tell me about themselves. That’s part of being a nurse, I guess. Okay, now I’ll back off, and it won’t be mentioned again between us unless you mention it.

As for Christianity – I think you’re right, I think I’m on my way back into it. I just don’t want to rush in and declare myself before I get answers to some of my questions. Not that I expect to get answers to all of them – Joe says I need to accept that life is full of mysteries, and I guess he’s probably right.

Are you interested? You sounded as if you were.

By the way, thanks for coming with me to visit Grandma Reimer. I’ve always gotten along well with all my grandparents, but for some reason I was closer to Dad’s parents than Mom’s – although Opa (that’s the German word for ‘Grandpa’ – we used to call them ‘Opa’ and ‘Oma’ when we were little) was a little more reserved and harder to get closer to. When we were little kids and living in Rosthern, we used to stay at their place when we went home to Meadowvale. They were still living out at the farm in those days. Rosthern’s not far, so we often just did day visits, but Joe and I sometimes went over for a week at a time in the summer, and we used to help Opa with farm chores – well, we called it ‘helping’, I’m not sure what he thought of it! We moved back to Meadowvale in 1965, and Opa and Oma left the farm and moved into town a year or two after that, I think.

I think Grandma Reimer liked you, anyway! And make sure you take her up on that offer of home-cooked meals; she’s a really good cook, and there’s nothing she likes more than spoiling her grandchildren and their friends (I think you already count as a friend, especially since you hang around with Mom and Dad so much).

Anyway, I’ll finish here and give you time to get over the surprise at hearing from me at all.

Your friend,

Kelly

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Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 3rd 1982

Dear Kelly:

You’re right, I was surprised. Pleased, though. I’m glad you liked Penguin Eggs. Yes, it’s actually Nic’s fifth and most recent solo album. There are four others, called (in order of release), Ballads and Songs, Nic Jones, The Noah’s Ark Trap, and From the Devil to a Stranger. If you’re interested, I’ll see if I can get Owen to pick you up some copies in the UK. There seems to be some problem with getting these earlier albums now; I don’t really understand what it is. Sadly, Nic was involved in a car accident back in February this year; I understand he was very badly injured and it will be a miracle if he ever plays again. I’ve seen him live several times in Oxford; he was amazing.

As for what you said about my family – well, thank you. Yes, there are issues, and no, I’m not ready to talk about them yet. As you’ve already noticed, I’m not quite as up front as you are. Sorry! I’m sure you really don’t need me to tell you how lucky you are in your family. I did really enjoy spending time with your grandma, and will definitely take her up on her offer of a home-cooked meal before too long.

Jasper sounds great and I’d love to see it. Maybe I’ll get up there one of these days. I’m not sure I’ll be brave enough to try downhill skiing, though!

Christianity. Hmm.

Well, I’ve sat and looked at the page for ten minutes now. I should just stop thinking and start writing.

Yes, I am interested. I can say with some confidence that I’ve attended church maybe twenty times in my life – once to be christened (which I don’t remember), once when my brother Rick was christened (which I don’t remember), once when Becca was christened (which I remember quite well) and then every year on Christmas Eve until I was about eighteen. I have to say that although I’m quite interested in history, the Church of England generally leaves me totally cold. But then, I know enough to wonder if it’s exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Like you, I tend to think that the balance of probability is on the side of the existence of a God of some kind. And like you, I find Jesus quite admirable. But I’ve got lots of questions. Whose picture of God is the right one? Plato’s? Muhammad’s? Moses’? Jesus’? The Pope’s? Yes, they have a lot in common, but there are differences, too. And as you said, it seems a bit arrogant to assume that the religion we happen to have been born into (well, I wasn’t really born into it, but I was born in a country with a Christian history) just happens to have got everything right about God.

But I can’t claim to have had experiences of God, as some people have. I wish I had. Maybe it would help me deal with the questions.

I do know that I’m totally done with the idea that wealth and success have anything to do with real life. I’ve seen that close up, and it just leaves me cold. As far as I can see it poisons people’s souls, wrecks their families and sets them in competition with each other when they should be helping each other out. Not that I want to live my life in poverty; far from it! I want to have a comfortable place to live and a meaningful job so that I can provide for my family (if I’m lucky enough to have one, one of these days). But I’ve seen what greed and avarice can do to people’s lives and I want none of it. If I’m interested in finding a spiritual dimension to life, it’s probably because I’ve seen how bankrupt a totally materialistic life can be.

Now I’ve surprised myself, because I’ve opened the door for you a bit wider than I thought I would. Shall I tear it up and start again? No, probably not.

We had a light dusting of snow here today too. Your dad tells me it will be here to stay in a few weeks.

Thanks for writing; I enjoyed your letter very much.

Cheers,

Tom

*****************

Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 6th 1982

Dear Owen:

I’m writing this in the delicatessen in the back of the Co-op on Saturday morning. I’ve taken to coming down here on Saturdays, having a coffee, and then doing my weekly shopping. A number of others have the same idea, so I see some familiar faces. Did I tell you that there are two coffee shops in this town? The other one is the ‘Travellers’ restaurant on the highway beside the Esso station; Will calls it the ‘greasy spoon’because it specializes in the sort of food that causes strokes and heart attacks. I’ve been up there a few times – Joe and I went up there one night for coffee and a chat. It’s full of farmers and truckers in work shirts and baseball caps, and they’ve all known each other all their lives, and when they see me coming in they look at me long and hard and wonder “Who can he possibly be related to in this town?!”Oh, and the coffee’s pretty bad up there, too! So I’ve made the Co-op deli my coffee shop. The drawback is that it’s only open when the Co-op’s open – grocery store hours – while the Travellers is open early in the morning and into the evening too.

Well, it’s snowing today. We had a slight dusting a couple of days ago – the sort of snowfall that melts when it hits the ground – but today it’s colder and it seems to be laying. Maybe this is the beginning of winter. It seems strange to think that back home people were burning bonfires and setting off fireworks last night. They don’t have Guy Fawkes’night in Canada. Not that I miss it; there are things I definitely miss about England, but I was never a big fan of Guy Fawkes’.

A church band? Only a few weeks ago I told Will I’d never heard of anyone playing hymns on guitar. Now you’ve made a liar out of me! Seriously, I hope you enjoy playing with them.

Surprisingly, I had a letter from Kelly. I introduced her to Nic Jones, and she got a copy of Penguin Eggs, which she really likes. Can you find out for me if it’s possible to track down the first four albums? She might be interested.

She certainly seems to be interested in exploring her Christian roots again, and she’s asked me to join her in that – or at least, she’s asked if I’m interested. She’s pretty forward, though, and you know what that does to me; my natural inclination is to back off and clam up. You and I both know that if I ever was to be attracted toward becoming a Christian, part of it would be out of anger toward my dad and the sort of life he lives. I just don’t know if I’m ready to talk with her about that, given that I hardly know her. And what would be the point of starting a spiritual journey with someone if you couldn’t be honest with them? And once I started talking about Dad, one thing would lead to another, and I’d end up saying a lot more than I wanted to.

Anyway, it’s not really fair to Jesus to adopt him so that I can spite my dad, is it?!!!

On another subject, I should mention that last Saturday I rode a horse for the first time in my life. Joe was the instigator. His Uncle Hugo – Will’s brother – has a farm up in Spruce Creek, about fifteen miles north of Meadowvale – you remember me telling you about going up there to help with the harvest a few weeks back? Well, there are some horses up there and apparently one of them is really Kelly’s horse. Joe was going up there to do some regular vet stuff with the horses and he asked me if I’d like to go up with him, it being a Saturday morning. So I went up with him, and he ended up giving me an impromptu riding lesson. I actually quite enjoyed it, although I found it rather terrifying as well. Unlike driving a car, you’ve got absolutely no power over this animal other than the power of persuasion!

Well, I’d better finish my coffee and do my weekly shopping. Thanks again for your letter, and please give my regards to your dad and mum.

Cheers,

Tom

P.S. How do you pray? What I mean is, how do you pray? I don’t know why I’ve never asked you this. I’m assuming that prayer is important to Christians. It seems to me like it would be a good sort of ‘field research’ if you were investigating Christianity, right?

T.

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Flat No. 3, 76 Albert Street,
Headington, Oxford
Nov. 14th 1982

Dear Tom:

I’m writing this early on a Sunday morning; I’m not working at the hospital today, so I’m off to church, and our band is playing for the first time. We’ve done a lot of practicing and I think we’re sounding pretty good, but I suppose we’ll find out this morning.

I woke up pretty early, and I’m sitting writing to you with my first cup of tea of the day. After that I’ll pray, which brings me to your question: How do I pray?

I pray in two ways. I try to pray first thing in the morning, in a semi-disciplined sort of way, every day unless I accidentally sleep in. At least, that’s the ideal; I have to confess that I miss some days. And then I pray in a disorganized, ad hoc sort of way through the day when I feel the need of it.

In the morning I usually sit in my chair and have a couple of minutes of silence to start off with, just to orient myself into God’s presence. Then I like to read a passage from the Bible. I read in sequence so I don’t waste time choosing what to read on any given day, I just follow right on where I left off the day before. Quite often the passage will give me something to meditate on. Not always – sometimes it just confuses me, but if that happens I don’t let that bother me. Sometimes I’ll talk to God about what I’ve read.

After I’ve finished reading, I spend a few minutes praying in an informal sort of way. The three sorts of prayer I try to fit in are, first, thanksgiving – thanking God for all his blessings to me – second, confession – saying sorry for my sins, which I try to be specific about – and third, petition – that is, asking for things, for myself and for other people. I like to finish up with the Lord’s Prayer, in case I’ve forgotten anything important.

I should say that I recently read some things in a book by C.S. Lewis about a couple of good rules to follow when we pray. One is never to try to manufacture a religious emotion. It’s tough, because sometimes you read about mystics and others having amazing experiences of the nearness of God, and it can be tempting to try to make that happen. The problem is, the mystics never made it happen. Usually it took them by surprise. So I’m trying to remember to just say my prayers and leave the emotions in God’s hands. That’s a relief, actually; I do often get a sense of peace out of praying, but I don’t tend to have amazing mystical experiences.

The other rule Lewis followed was not to leave his prayers until bed time, which is of course the classic time to pray. That makes a lot of sense to me, because I’m a morning person too. You know how incoherent my letters to you can be when I write them last thing at night! Morning is my best time, so I try to give God my best time.

Like I said, I also pray in a disorganized, ad hoc sort of way during the day. This is entirely according to my sense of need. If I find myself thinking of a friend who needs help during the day, I pray for them. If I’m facing a difficult situation at work, I ask God for help.

I should say that, for variation on the first method, I sometimes go for a walk and pray. I can’t do the Bible reading part when I’m walking, but I like the sense of closeness to nature, especially if I can walk in Shotover Country Park.

Speaking of being outdoors – horseback riding! Next time I see you you’ll probably be a cowboy.

By the way, Lorraine and I have agreed that we’re now ‘going out’, as they say. The more I get to know her, the more I like her. One thing I’ve discovered about her that surprised me is that she’s quite interested in politics (not normally something you associate with water colour artists, is it?!). She’s rather scathing about Maggie, I must say. Still, so are you, as I recall!

Now, back to you and Kelly for a bit.

If you’re really interested in doing any sort of spiritual search, doing it together with someone else is always a good idea. Of course, you and I can always talk about this stuff, but it’s not the same as having a fellow-traveller who’s more or less at the same place you are. You and Kelly can help each other along the way, share your questions and the answers you find (or don’t find), and just generally support each other. And if you’re really going to do that, you’re going to have to take the risk of being honest with her about stuff, Tom. I know that’s a terrifying thought to you, but it sounds to me like she’s the sort of girl you can trust. So why not try opening up a little bit to her and see what happens?

Besides which, a girl who writes you an unexpected letter and likes Nic Jones has got to be good news, don’t you think?

Have you got plans for Christmas? I’m not naive enough to think you’d come back to England, but I wondered if you were going away anywhere?

Right, time to pray and then go get the band set up at church.

Cheers,

Owen

*****************

P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
November 23rd 1982

Hi Tom:

I’m on two days off. Yesterday Krista and I went downhill skiing for the first time this year (she was up here for a few days doing some field research for her caribou study, and of course she stayed with me). It was a beautiful clear cold day and the sun was shining on the snow, which always makes me feel happy. I had an amazing day. Now today Krista has just left, and I’m sitting having a mid-morning cup of tea in the living room, and thinking of you.

You said that you weren’t ready to talk about your family, and I told you that I would leave that door closed until you were ready to open it. But later on in your letter you did open it a little; you talked about being burned out on materialism, and knowing that it was a bankrupt way of life. You knew that you’d maybe opened the door a little wider than you’d meant to, but you decided not to tear up the letter – you sent it anyway. I’m going to take that as a sign that you’re ready to take a risk.

So I’m reading between the lines and guessing that your parents are the materialistic people you’re talking about – the people whose lives you see as being soul-less and barren. I’m guessing that one or both of them is very rich and successful, but that this has done tragic things to their family life – your family life, growing up – and that you don’t want anything like that to happen to you.

If I’m right, then I’d say that finding a spiritual dimension to your life is even more important for you. I don’t think you should try to avoid it out of fear that you might be over-reacting; you’re not. I’ve seen that sort of life too (thankfully, not in my own parents), and I think you’re right – it is barren.

One of the reasons that I’m searching for a closer relationship with God again is that I find the purely materialistic view of life completely unsatisfying. I’m told that I’m here totally by accident, that all my deepest emotions and aspirations are entirely explainable as a result of chemical reactions in my body, and instincts bred into me as a highly developed animal. I’m told that I arrived at a certain point in time, and that I’m programmed to survive and mate and produce children and all that, not because of love but because of the survival of the species, and that one day it will all come to its natural conclusion and they’ll bury what’s left of me in the ground and that’ll be the end of my story.

Well, my response to that is to ask, “What the hell’s the point?”If all love and all morality and all art and beauty are purely chemical phenomena – in other words, if they aren’t really morality and love and art and beauty at all, but just highly developed survival mechanisms – then all the deepest things we humans believe about life are a lie. How do you think that would have sounded to some of your literary heroes – Jane Austen, or J.R.R. Tolkien? Surely we can’t let reductionistic science have the last word here? There’s got to be more to life than that!

Anyway – getting back to your family and your experiences with them – if you have a sense that a spiritual sort of life would involve living simply, not piling up lots of possessions, and concentrating on stuff like love and compassion and justice, and actually doing things to make other people’s lives better, rather than just piling up more stuff for yourself – well, then I’d say, go for it. And by the way, I think Jesus’way is for you, because as I read the gospels, I find myself more and more convinced that he believed those things, too.

On another subject, I’m still listening to ‘Penguin Eggs’and loving it. Tell me some time how you came to get interested in this traditional folk music, will you? And tell me who some of the other artists are that I should be listening to. And I’ll tell you a few, too. Do you know Bruce Cockburn’s music? He’s a Canadian songwriter and an amazing guitar player (and I know you enjoy good guitarists). His last couple of albums have gone more in an electric direction, but his earlier ones were heavily based on acoustic guitar – fingerstyle, is that what you call it when a person plays tunes on the strings instead of just strumming? When I come home for Christmas I’ll try to remember to bring a few albums with me so you can listen to them, if you’re not already familiar with him.

Speaking of Christmas, I’m working Christmas Day (which is a Saturday) and then I’ll be driving home on Boxing Day and staying in Meadowvale for a week. Are you going to be around? I hope so!

Take care, Tom, and I’ll see you soon.

Kelly

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Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Nov. 27th 1982

Dear Kelly:

Thanks for your letter which arrived yesterday. I’m sitting in the Co-op deli on a Saturday morning; I’ve taken to getting up, going for an early morning walk, and then coming down here to have a coffee, write a letter or two, and then do my weekly shopping. Usually I’m writing a letter to Owen, and sometimes my mum, but today it’s you.

That was an outstanding letter, by the way. Thank you.

I found the bit about needing to discover a spiritual dimension to life to counteract the materialistic, soul-less view especially compelling. You’re right; whether or not Christianity turns out to be the right religion for me, I know I need to find out if there is a way to live in contact with my Creator. And yes, I do find the purely materialistic account of life totally unconvincing; it makes a nonsense of all the most important things human beings – or most human beings, I should say – believe in.

Your instinct is partially right, and I’m going to take the risk and open the door up a bit. This is not easy for me to do, because I tend to be a private person, as you’ve already discovered.

It was my dad, not my mum, who soured me on the life of wealth and success. My dad’s a lawyer and he’s devoted his life to his profession. I didn’t realize that I was experiencing an unusual sort of life until I met Owen Foster and got to know his family; Owen’s mum and dad are very warm, family-oriented people, and Mr. Foster is always doing things with his kids (Owen’s the oldest of four – his siblings are Steve, Anna, and Fiona). My dad, not so much. He works long hours, every day except Sunday, and he spends Sunday in his garden. When he did get involved in our lives as kids it was to push us toward the sort of life he had planned for us. He was determined that I would be a lawyer, and when I was young he refused to contemplate any other sort of life for me. We fought about that for several years when I was a teenager; Owen called it ‘The Great War’. It ended up in a long shouting match in October in my last year of high school. My mum eventually intervened and told Dad he should let me become a teacher, since that was my dream. He was really, really angry – at her and at me – but he gave in and let me study English. Still, he tried a few times during my university years to point me in the direction of law, and then after he started to realize I wasn’t going to budge, he switched to trying to steer me toward teaching jobs in the ‘right’ sort of schools – you know, ones in upper middle class areas, full of the children of doctors and lawyers and bankers and stockbrokers and Conservative Party politicians! So I gradually came to realize that if I stayed in England it would be very difficult for me to live the sort of life I wanted to live – he’d always be trying to control me and remake me in his image. That’s why I decided to leave Oxford and England and emigrate. Like I told you at your mum and dad’s, I had a friend at college from Canada, and he told me that little towns like Meadowvale were always looking for teachers. That’s how I came to apply for the job here.

Kelly, please do not breathe a word of this to your mum and dad. I’ll tell them one of these days, but I’m just not ready for it to be public knowledge, okay? The wound is still very raw. I haven’t told you everything; I’ll tell you more at Christmas time. I’ll probably tell Joe, too; he’s been coming over for coffee and we’ve had a few good chats. He took me horseback riding the other week – another new and scary experience for me, but I ended up quite enjoying it!

Getting back to Dad, I mentioned this to Owen the other week in a letter and I said I didn’t think it was fair on Jesus to turn to him to spite my dad! But your letter helped me there; you helped me see that I’d be moving toward the Christian way out of hunger for something I hadn’t found in my dad’s way of life, not necessarily because I wanted to spite him. Thank you for that.

My mum, I should say, is an outstanding person. Like I told you, she’s a classically trained pianist and she taught me to play the piano when I was young. She was the one who taught me to enjoy the outdoors as well. She’s always encouraged me, and I like to think that we’re close. My sister Becca – well, we used to be close, but things have taken a bad turn. I’ll tell you more face to face, perhaps. My brother Rick and I were close as little boys, but we’ve been distant for years.

I envy you that your best friends are extended family members. I know it upset my mum, but I think I turned away from that in my teens. Owen became my closest friend, and in a sense, I guess his dad became a sort of father-figure for me. Rick and Becca and I are close to our Auntie Brenda and Uncle Roy – Auntie Brenda is Mum’s only sister, and they have no children – but apart from that, we haven’t had much to do with our extended family.

Speaking of Owen, he’s going to look up those other Nic Jones albums for you. When you’re here at Christmas you should come over to my place and I’ll play you some other traditional folk albums and introduce you to artists you might enjoy. And yes, I’ll be happy to listen to Bruce Cockburn; I’ve never heard of him, but you’re right, I always enjoy good guitarists (especially acoustic guitarists).

I’ve got no plans to go away at Christmas. I’ll look forward to seeing you. Somehow I expect that a few family dinners at your mum and dad’s will figure quite prominently in my Christmas holidays!

See you soon, Kelly, and thanks for another really enjoyable letter.

Cheers,

Tom

*************

P.O. Box 373
Jasper, Alberta
December 4th 1982

Dear Tom:

I worked a twelve-hour shift today, so I’m feeling a little owlish tonight. But I picked up your letter on my way home from work yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it all day. Thank you, by the way, for taking the risk to open the door a little more for me; I don’t take that trust lightly.

As I read your letter I realized yet again how lucky I am to have the sort of parents I do. It was good for me to remember this, because sometimes I can get nitpicky about little things, but then I think about friends whose parents have broken up and gone through painful divorces, or people who’ve had distant or overbearing parents, like yourself with your dad. I don’t know what to say, Tom, except that I’m sorry.

I don’t know how much Joe might have told you about our home. As I said, Joe and Krista and I were born in Rosthern. Dad graduated from university in 1954, and that summer he and Mom got married and moved to Rosthern, which is where he started out as a teacher. He worked there for eleven years, and of course during that time Joe was born in ’56, me in ’58, and Krista in ’60. We’re all Fall kids, by the way; Joe’s birthday is September 8th, mine is September 16th, and Krista’s December 5th (tomorrow, in fact). Mom didn’t work outside the home when we were kids; she didn’t start studying to be a bookkeeper until Krista started school, and even then, she never worked more than half time. So we didn’t have a lot of luxuries when we were growing up, but then, neither did anyone else we knew.

Like I told you before, in those days Opa and Oma Reimer were still farming the land where Uncle Hugo and Auntie Millie live now, and we often went to visit them on weekends, with longer visits in the summer – all of us together, or just us kids (well, Joe and me, anyway – Krista was a little too young). Uncle Hugo was working alongside Opa in those days; he and Auntie Millie had built the place they live in now in about 1955, I think. Opa and Oma lived on the other side of the yard – not in the old homestead, which had been knocked down a long time ago, but in another place Opa built back in the 1940s; it’s gone now, of course. Joe and I usually stayed at Opa and Oma’s even though there was more room at Hugo and Millie’s. I guess those trips were when we got really close to Hugo and Millie’s kids, which is probably why, to this day, Corey is Joe’s best friend and Brenda is one of mine. And after we moved back to Meadowvale in 1965, of course, we saw even more of them.

The other thing we used to do in the summer was go camping, usually up here in Jasper, which is how I first fell in love with this place. We were tent campers, and we usually came up here for at least a week every summer, sometimes longer. Dad and Mom took us out hiking at a very young age and of course we’d all learned to ride at the farm, so we did trail rides as well. Dad would always bring his guitar along and in the evening he’d get us singing around the camp fire, although by the time we were teenagers we were kind of embarrassed about that. You know Dad, he’s got a sort of George Jones kind of voice, and a knack for making every song into a country song. Nowadays I find it kind of comfortable and homey, but when I was a teenager it was – well, you can guess, I think!

I’ve heard of kids who were brought up in Christian homes who had strict rules they had to follow, with parents who tried to scare them with hellfire and damnation. My mom and dad were never like that. They were pretty clear that being a Christian was all about love, and they really modelled that for us. It wasn’t that we were never disciplined – we were – but we were never put down or yelled at; in fact, I very rarely saw either of my parents lose their temper, although occasionally they did. They used to do a little Bible reading and prayer time after supper each night – just something short, so that we didn’t get bored – and of course they took us to church on Sundays every week, which I usually enjoyed, although it was a little boring sometimes. But when I look back on it now I realize that I really had very little to rebel against. As I’ve told you, my doubts about Christianity started because of intellectual questions – scientific issues, doctrines that didn’t make sense to me, and things in the Bible that bothered me – not because I found anything wanting in Mom and Dad’s way of life.

I’m not really sure why I’m telling you this, Tom, except that you wrote a little about your home life and it got me thinking about mine – and, as Joe says, I rarely have an unspoken thought! But maybe it’s also because I’d like to think we’re already friends, and I think friends ought to know a little about each other’s families and past history and all that.

Okay, I’m really tired now, so I’m going to bring this to a close. I expect we won’t write to each other again before I’m home for Christmas. My plans are still to drive home on Boxing Day, weather permitting, and to stay for a week. Take care, Tom, and I’ll see you soon.

Your friend,

Kelly

*****************

Box 981
Meadowvale, Saskatchewan
Dec. 4th 1982

Dear Owen:

No, no plans for Christmas; I expect I’ll just stay around here, or maybe go into Saskatoon for a day. I went down there last weekend to do a bit of Christmas shopping for folks back home – including you, of course!

It’s really snowy today. I think I told you last time I wrote that we’d had a snowfall; well, for the past week it’s been coming down every day, and it’s about a foot high around my house now. It’s cold too; the temperature this morning is sitting at about minus 18ºC, and it’s supposed to get colder in the next few days. Will tells me that we’ll have a few weeks of minus 30-35ºC before the winter is out. Most people are wearing down jackets, although the kids from town don’t tend to wear them as much. The kids who bus in from the country do – I suppose their parents don’t want to risk the bus going off the road and the kids not having proper warm clothing. I’ve mentioned, haven’t I, that our school draws kids from farms for miles around? Our local population is about two thousand in town, and another three or four thousand living out on farms in the ‘R.M.’ (‘regional municipality’) of Meadowvale.

Things are getting busy at school now. The term (‘semester’) system is a little different here; there are two semesters, not three, with the first one running from early September to the end of January. Also, they don’t have ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels like we did, with exams on two years’ worth of studies; they have exams at the end of every semester and if they pass, that earns them ‘credits’ toward their high school graduation. So we’re about two thirds of the way through the first semester now, but of course Christmas is coming and there are a number of activities planned. Will is trying to twist my arm to help out with a Christmas concert, although I keep telling him that I’ve never sung in a choir, let alone helped lead one! But somehow I don’t think I’m going to win this one; Will can be very persuasive. And as you know, part of my job is teaching drama, and we’re doing a play as well, so that’s taking up some time.

Speaking of the Reimers, I’m still having quite a bit of contact with Joe and Kelly. Joe and I have fallen into the habit of having coffee together a couple of times a week, and sometimes his cousin Corey joins us; Corey is the son of Hugo and Millie Reimer, who I think I mentioned to you before; they have the old Reimer family farm out at Spruce Creek. Corey’s an accountant; he has a little place of his own in town, but he seems to spend a lot of time out at Hugo and Millie’s. He and Joe are not just cousins but also very good friends. I really like them both.

As for Kelly, well, I took your advice and opened up a bit in the last letter I wrote to her, telling her some things about Dad and my differences with him. She’d made an interesting point in her last letter to me. Remember I told you that it would hardly be fair to adopt Jesus as a way of spiting my dad? Well, she pointed out that it’s not so much ‘spiting’ as the fact that I was hungry for something that I hadn’t found in his way of life. She said that it was obviously even more important that I find some sort of spiritual dimension to my life, and that I shouldn’t be put off by the fear of overreacting. She also said that she thought the values I was looking for corresponded pretty well with the values of Jesus, which surprised me a bit. I’ve never really read enough about Jesus to know for certain what his values might be; I only know what I’ve heard in my occasional visits to church, or school assemblies, or in my conversations with you.

By the way, thanks for what you told me about praying; I like the idea of praying while you’re walking. I’m in the habit of going for an early morning walk each day (yes, there have been some pretty frosty mornings lately!), and I’ve been trying to pray for a few minutes each time I go out, remembering your three divisions of thanksgiving, confession, and petition. I can’t say that I’ve really felt any sense of closeness to God yet, but I’m also trying to remember what you said about not trying to manufacture a religious emotion. I can see that it would be easy to do this, so that religious experience became some sort of wish-fulfilment. I wouldn’t want to delude myself about this. I can’t help hoping, though, that at some point God does – well – that he lets me know that he’s there, you know!

Actually, come to think of it, I did have something happen while I was praying a few days ago. But I need to back up and tell you that I had a letter from my dad last week; apparently Mum had been trying to get him to write to me. I wish he hadn’t bothered; his letter was just a rehash of all the arguments we’ve ever had – how he thinks I made a big mistake by not going into the Law, but even if I was going to be a teacher, I should have stayed in England and tried for a job at a public school rather than working in the state system, etc. etc. And of course, he’s still furious that I didn’t tell them I was leaving for Canada until two weeks before I made the move, and that I lied to them about having a job in Reading (you were right, by the way – I should have been open with them right from the start, even though I know he would have tried to stop me. If I’d followed your advice I wouldn’t have messed things up with Becca the way I have). He finished off by telling me that I was ‘a foolish romantic’, that I had showed no gratitude at all to him for all the money he put into my education, and that he was very disappointed in me, particularly because I had deceived him.

Well, by the time I was finished reading the letter I was just as angry and upset as I was the day I last saw him. I was going to send him a nasty reply, but then I thought, no, I’ll just ignore him, at least for now. If he thinks that’s what ‘building bridges’ looks like, there isn’t much hope for us, but then, there never has been, has there? And since then I’ve – well, I’ve mentioned the letter a couple of times when I’ve been out walking and praying – maybe even ranted about it a bit – and even though God hasn’t talked to me or anything, I felt a bit better afterwards, or at least, not so bad. Sort of like what you said when you mentioned that sometimes you felt a sense of peace after you prayed. I don’t think I quite got as far as peace, but I caught a whiff of it, anyway, and it smelled pretty good, I have to say.

As for the Bible – well, I don’t really feel confident enough to read it right now. Maybe when Kelly comes home for Christmas I’ll ask her about it, or maybe I’ll talk to Joe at some point.

Have you seen my mum lately? She writes to me once a week, and I always try to give her a page or two back. I write to Becca too, but of course I hear nothing from her, or from Rick.

Well, I’d better finish, as the deli is getting busy and I’ve got a letter from Mum to answer as well. Hope you’re doing well and that things are ‘proceeding satisfactorily’ with Lorraine.

Cheers,

Tom

Link to Chapter 6

Searching for the Lost (a sermon on Luke 15:1-10)

I once had a call from a car thief who needed counselling. I am not making this up; this is a true episode from my life as a rural pastor. He called me in desperation; ‘Alliance’ was the first church he could find in the local phone book, but the Alliance pastor was out, and ‘Anglican’ was next on the list! He had left his girlfriend in a fit of temper, driven over five hundred miles in one day and tried as best he could to stop drinking, cold turkey. When he came to see me it was obvious that he was barely hanging on to his sobriety.

At first he didn’t tell me he was a car thief. He told me about his alcoholism and his destroyed relationship with his girlfriend, all of which was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth. Still, I was able to get him hooked up with Alcoholics Anonymous, and for the next two weeks I drank more coffee than I ever have in my life before or since, because every day he wanted to get together to talk at the local greasy spoon.

It was during those conversations that I found out he was also a car thief. Well, not strictly a car thief; he actually made a good living by stealing heavy machinery – graders, gravel trucks, combine harvesters – that sort of thing. Obviously, the other people drinking coffee in the restaurant didn’t know he was a thief, but a few months later they discovered that he was a disreputable character because he was arrested and charged with growing marijuana! One of my older AA friends, who had spent a lot of time with this man, just shook his head and said “One day he’ll learn!”

If I had been having these conversations with my car thief friend in Jesus’ time, no doubt the Pharisees and the teachers of the law would have been muttering about me, too: ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them’ (v.2). And we need to remember that they weren’t taking this attitude because they were bad or malicious. They were taking it for the same reason we tell our children to be careful about the company they keep. ‘Birds of a feather flock together’ is the old saying; if you want to stay on the right road in life, watch the crowd you run with. Run with the wrong crowd and you can get into trouble. Bad company ruins good morals. These are all things we were told by our parents, and no doubt most of us who have children have said something like that to our kids as well.

This is why the Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t want to associate with the people Jesus was associating with – the loan sharks, the prostitutes and thieves and Roman soldiers and all the rest. Their motives were good – they wanted to stay pure from sin and holy in God’s sight. But in order to do this there were some very important things they forgot. I want to give you a list this morning of four things the Pharisees forgot. And of course this isn’t just a history lesson; I’m sharing them with you because I think sometimes we’re in danger of forgetting them too.

So here we go. First, they forgot that everyone is a sinner. Hopefully this is obvious to any Christian who reads the New Testament, but in Jesus’ time many people would have denied this. They would have divided the world into two camps – the good and the bad, the righteous and the sinners, the ones who were in and the ones who were out. If you made an honest attempt to live by the commandments, kept away from bad company and followed the Jewish ritual laws, you were ‘in’. If you didn’t, you were ‘out’. As far as the Pharisees and teachers of the law were concerned, they were ‘in’, but Jesus and his friends were ‘out’.

But in fact the situation is much more complicated than that. Some sins are obvious for all to see – murder, or adultery, or stealing cars. Other sins are not so obvious, but Jesus treated them just as seriously – the love of money and the things it can buy, lack of love for the poor and those in need, covetousness, self-righteousness and so on. Jesus summed up the law of God with two commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. If you fall short of these two commandments, you have sinned. Do you qualify? I know I do; therefore I am a sinner.

And we need to remember this, because it gives us an appropriate sense of our own need. I love the way people introduce themselves as A.A. meetings: ‘Hi, I’m Ken and I’m an alcoholic’. That serves as a good reminder that they aren’t gathered together on the basis of their strengths but on the basis of their weaknesses. And we Christians are the same. We don’t come together each week because we’re good; we come together because we know we fail, and we need God’s help and the help of our fellow Christians to kick our sin addiction. I am a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness; so are you. There’s no room for me to look down on you. There’s no room for you to look down on me. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

So the first thing the Pharisees and teachers of the law forgot was that everyone is a sinner. The second thing they forgot was that every person is important to God. Not just as a part of the crowd, but as individuals. God loves each one of us, notices when we stray away, and goes out looking for us to bring us home. He would not do this if we weren’t important to him.

God’s math, you see, is a little different from ours. If we had gathered ninety-nine sheep together we would probably have weighed up the risks of leaving them and going out to search for the one that was lost, and decided “I’ll stick with the ninety-nine”. Or if we still had the nine coins we might be tempted to chalk up the loss of the tenth to bad luck and leave it at that. Not so in Jesus’ stories. Every single person is significant to God. You’re not just a statistic that he can write off; you’re a person made in God’s image, a unique individual, precious in his sight. When you stray away, he feels the loss deeply, and he wants to find you and bring you home.

Jesus, you see, did not look on these tax-collectors and sinners with a condemning eye. He said that they were ‘lost’; in his parable he compared them to a sheep that wanders away. Most sheep don’t wander away on purpose. They just aren’t thinking ahead. They keep their heads down, eating grass, thinking only of the needs of the present moment, and then after a while they look up and realize that the rest of the flock seems to have vanished! Their problem is that they’re so concerned about the need of the present moment – grass – that they take their eyes off the shepherd.

And that’s the way it is with so many people. We don’t mean to stray away from God; we just get so tied up meeting the needs of the moment – a bit more money here, a moment of relaxation there – that we lose sight of what life is all about in the first place, and we lose sight of the Good Shepherd who gives our life meaning and purpose. It doesn’t take a big sin to take us out of orbit around God – just a little distraction will often do the job.

So that’s how Jesus sees people – we’re like lost sheep, and he’s coming to look for us. He came all the way from heaven to earth, and gave his life on the Cross for us. As he says in John’s version of this story, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). And not just for the sheep as a group; Paul the great missionary says ‘The Son of God…loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). You matter to God. So do I, and so does every other individual on the face of the earth. God is out searching for us, and he won’t rest until he has found us and brought us home.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law forgot that everyone is a sinner; they forgot that every person is important to God. The third thing they forgot was that love leads to change, not change to love. What do I mean by that?

The best way of explaining it is to refer to another ‘lost and found’ story from Luke, the story of Zacchaeus in chapter 19. We’re told that Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector of Jericho, and very rich. He wanted to see Jesus when he passed through Jericho, but he was so short that he couldn’t see over the heads of the other people in the crowd. So he climbed a tree and looked down on Jesus from up above. But Jesus saw him up the tree, called him down and went to have a meal at his house. Again, the Pharisees and teachers of the law started grumbling that ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner’ (Luke 19:7). Zacchaeus, however, responded to the love of Jesus by giving away half his possessions to the poor, and repaying all the people he had ever cheated four times the amount he had cheated from them. Jesus’ comment was ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost’ (Luke 19:9-10).

That was quite a transformation in Zacchaeus’ life. I think the Pharisees and teachers of the law had probably been trying to make that happen for years. I can take a good guess at their tactics, too: I’ll bet they had scolded Zacchaeus, told him he should be ashamed of himself, warned him that he would go to hell if he didn’t repent and so on. None of this had any effect at all when it came to changing Zacchaeus’ heart. What changed Zacchaeus was when Jesus came to his house, loved him just as he was, and communicated by his actions that God loved him too. Once this message got hold of Zacchaeus’ heart, he was so thankful that he began spontaneously to repent and get his life in order.

And that’s the way the Christian Gospel works. God didn’t wait for us to smarten up and get our act together before he came to save us. Paul says ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). The message of legalism is that people first have to obey God’s laws and get their act together, and then, if they are able to achieve a satisfactory standard of righteous living, they will be accepted by God. The message of Jesus is the very opposite; while we are still sinners, God comes to us in Jesus, loves us as we are, and then helps us to turn away from our sins and become the holy and loving people he wants us to be. We don’t have to change in order to earn God’s love; God loves us first, and when we accept that love, it helps us change. Love leads to change, not change to love.

So we’ve seen that the Pharisees and teachers of the law forgot that everyone is a sinner, and they forgot that every person is important to God. They forgot that love leads to change and not change to love. One last thing they forgot: They forgot that shepherds look for sheep, and not the other way around. The proper movement is for the Church to go out looking for the lost, and not for us to wait for the lost to come to us, because, as Will Willimon says, ‘The last time I went down to the farm, it wasn’t the job of the sheep to find the shepherd’. That’s why Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners; he was the good shepherd, going out to find his lost sheep. He was the woman sweeping the house and searching until she found her lost coin.

The God of the Bible is a God who goes out in mission. The word ‘mission’ is about ‘sending’, about ‘going out’; it’s not about waiting for people to come to you! A church that worships this missionary God can’t help being in mission itself. We are learning to see people as Jesus sees them: lost sheep who have strayed away from the Good Shepherd. We are praying that God will help us to demonstrate his love in the way we live our lives, and to take every opportunity to explain the Christian message in a way that people can understand and relate to. We are the Shepherd’s assistants – his sheepdogs, if you like. It’s our job to go out and find the lost sheep, not their job to come and find us.

So I suspect that this passage has comfort in it for us, but also challenge. God is telling each one of us this morning that we matter to him. We are so important to him that he left the glory of heaven and came among us in Jesus; the Good Shepherd laid down his life so that you and I, his lost sheep, could be saved and come home again to him. We are all sinners, but he died for sinners, so we all qualify. And he doesn’t wait for us to measure up to a certain standard before he loves us; he comes to us as we are, loves us and helps us learn to walk in the new way of life he teaches us.

But the challenge to us is this: if we’ve discovered this love of Jesus in our own lives, we have a responsibility to share it. There are plenty of other lost sheep out there, and not too many of them are finding their way to the door of the church. You and I will have to make the first move, take the initiative, leave our comfort zone and look for the lost until we find them. I doubt very much if Jesus will be impressed by the argument that ‘Lord, we told them what time the service was, but they wouldn’t come!’

We have received the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd has found us and brought us safely home. He wants us to rejoice in that. But he also wants us to know that there are thousands more who haven’t found their way home yet. Every single one of them is important to him. There is absolutely nothing that is more important on his agenda than finding them and bringing them home. And he’s calling for our help in that. Are we willing to answer his call?