I’m back! At work that is. After 4 months, yesterday was my first day back with the good people of the Olds-Sundre Pastoral Charge. It was so good to be welcomed back…complete with two person escort and the singing of “Halle, Halle, Halle” as we walked forth, in Olds, and lots of hugs and words of welcome in both Olds and Sundre!
My final week of sabbatical included a day at Chinook Winds Region’s first ever clergy retreat day. It was held in Calgary, and most of the attendees were quite local to Calgary, as the weather contributed to those further away who had planned on attending from doing so. We braved the drive, knowing that Calgary and points south had more of the snow than we did in Olds. And, I had a driver…my spouse had an appointment in the city, so we managed to combine our travel.
This allowed my spouse, after his appointment, to spend some time in the afternoon with my dad, before he needed to come pick me up in the north end of the city. Suffice it to say, that afternoon drive across the city served as a good reminder as to why we like smaller town life. A snow storm related traffic jam means maybe a 5 minute delay in Olds…while it took my spouse more than triple the 45 minutes it would have taken him in good weather, to make it to my location. I am grateful to the colleague that dropped me off at a coffee shop where I could wait for my ride in warm comfort, and enjoy a moccachino while I did a crossword.
The morning speaker at the retreat event – Barb Higgins, was particularly impactful for me. She spoke on vicarious trauma – the kind of trauma we experience indirectly, not as players in the event, but as responders or care-givers, journalists, and others who find themselves affected vicariously, by events that have been traumatic. Barb, a former journalist, spoke of her own experience of that, and was able to connect it to what we, as clergy, may experience as we respond to the needs of those in our circles who have been through trauma.
In terms of my profession, I have experienced that kind of trauma, and have sought out help with that when I did. In that respect, Barb’s presentation was affirming of the steps I had taken.
On a more personal level, where I found key connections were in my and my sister’s experience of being present with my mom as she died. There were some aggressive interventions that happened in the last moments of my mom’s life, that my sister and I are aware, have had lasting impact on us both.
Five months in, and I know that there is still work to be done. Listening to Barb’s talk, hearing some theoretical pieces of how that event has impacted my sister and I, and then hearing some practical, immediately applicable ways of addressing some of that was so valuable. It was for me one of those moments that I needed, without realizing how much I had needed it.
The truth is, as I enter back into the role of minister, and pastoral support, after 4 months away, I need to have my emotional ducks in a row…and the timing of my sabbatical gave me much needed time to do that work. I know there’s more work to do…each of those first days…Thanksgiving was different…Christmas will be too. And this coming Sunday, December 8th, would have been mom’s 90th birthday.
Being back at work, and in the Advent Season, that day will be full of worship and Community Carolfest. I am looking forward to having my oldest sister travelling alongside me that day, knowing my middle sister and her daughter will be with dad.
I also know that this Sunday I’ll be using a few of Barb Higgins’ tips for staying grounded in the moment, while holding in my heart my mom’s most important words, given to us whenever we were struggling with something… “You can work it out.”
Mom’s trust in my inner strength will see me through. And you can guess where that inner strength comes from. Thanks mom.
This past week or so was a time of relaxation and celebration. Our daughter travelled home to join my spouse, my son and I for a weekend of birthday joy. My spouse entered the gates of senior-hood on the 11th, and my son turns 30 today.
The weekend began well, as the four of us gathered under one roof on Friday evening, however things went a bit south Saturday, with my daughter succumbing to a stomach bug or food poisoning or something…she has a chronic condition that requires her to be on immune suppressing medication, so when illness hits, it hits hard and long. Needless to say, for her it was truly a time of no choice but to rest and receive TLC from the rest of us.
Sunday, my son got called out to work – this is a good thing – as he’s been off work for several months following major surgery. The planned birthday dinner out became ordering Chinese Food and my spouse and I enjoying it, while our daughter slept and our son laboured. I did have time to make a birthday cake. Baking is something I enjoy, but seldom do, as time often prevents it.
I pulled out a recipe that was a family favourite when the kids were little. A simple gesture, met with gratitude from both of them. It’s one of those comfort food things – the smell of baking, and that cake is obviously still a family favourite. Our daughter couldn’t bring herself to eat it, but made sure some went home with her, to be stored in the freezer for a better day. Our son, upon entering the house after working the day, was only too eager to have dessert!
The weekend hadn’t gone as planned, but brought moments of gratitude in spite of the changes – for time spent together; for the opportunity to care for our daughter – she lives 2 hours away, and mom can’t always be present to help in times of need; gratitude for a day of work for our son; and for birthdays. 65 and 30. Birthdays. Life.
And then a road trip. We could not bear to put our daughter on the bus to go home to Edmonton (she is a non-driver). Kudos to Red Arrow for refunding her full fare. A little drive to Edmonton to tuck our daughter into her own home, and then on to Canmore, to enjoy the gift of the use of friends’ condominium. Walking, early Christmas shopping, good food, naps by the fire, quiet time in the mountains. I’ve always felt at peace in the mountains. There’s something about the grandeur, about the sense of security. For me, the power of the mountains is analogous to the power of God, to the constancy of God’s presence in my life.
And now, the last two weeks of sabbatical. We went to the Anniversary Supper at the church last night…and I realized how ready I am to return to work. A very different picture from my last sabbatical, this is indeed indicative of the pastoral charge I serve, and the respect the people have for the ministry we share. That too, is a gift.
I have some writing to do in these next couple of weeks, and some planning for Advent…and then back I will go. Looking forward to that! Except one question…how did I become a woman who has two children in their 30’s? Where did all those years go? I wouldn’t have missed a minute – even the hard stuff of parenting has made me who I am today, as a mom, a spouse, and a minister.
Another road trip accomplished. Another trip of just staying ahead of the bad weather! I journeyed, with my partner as driver, to Maple Creek, Sakatchewan this past weekend, at the invitation of the minister there, Michele Rowe.
The weekend began with our attendance (along with my sister, niece, and great nieces) at the Southwood United Church Tea and Bazaar. This is an event my mom and a friend from Southwood started over 50 years ago. As I look back, sometimes I chuckle, as the two women with the most number of children of anyone else in the UCW under took this endeavor together. Between them, there were 11 children (although when it first started, there may only have been 10…not sure when the youngest in the other family came into the picture)!
Mom and her UCW friends have continued the Bazaar tradition for all these decades. Mom, for the past 15 years or more, has convened, and then in more recent years, co-convened, the “Country Store” room of the bazaar. This is where one can purchase all manner of home made goodies, like jams, jellies, pickles, popcorn balls (to my great nieces’ delight), pies, cookies, bread…you get the picture.
This year, the Country Store has been re-named in honour of mom. It is now “Vera’s Country Store.”
That role of Bazaar convenor mom filled in the church was just the tip of the ice berg that was mom’s life in Southwood United. That church community was at the centre of who mom was, outside of wife and mother. That’s where her friends were, where she went in times of joy and sorrow. Those are the people that walked with her when she was so ill with cancer years back, and when she lost her own mom when she (my mom) was in her late 70’s. Those are the people who have supported her through these last years in her role as the primary care-giver for our dad, as he has struggled with dementia and congestive heart failure. And in turn, that is where mom gave all that kind of care, and more, to others at Southwood. Because that is indeed who she was. A giver. A kind, loving, quiet giver.
I am so very grateful for the many hugs and words of care we all received as we enjoyed tea and visits at Southwood on Saturday.
From Southwood my spouse and I made our way to Maple Creek, with a stop for dinner at a fun little place in Medicine Hat called “Heartwood Café.” Delicious French onion soup, and grilled chicken and avocado sandwich! And the peanut butter cookie for dessert was pure comfort!
Maple Creek is a very small town – rural indeed. A farming centre, that happens to be the place of my paternal grandfather’s birth. He grew up there, raised by a family by the name of Blenner-Hassett, following the death of his mother when he was an infant. His father, my great grandfather, left my papa in the care of these neighbours so that he could go north, to the gold rush…never to be seen again. Dad and his siblings would often wonder what became of this grandfather they never knew.
Sunday morning worship in Maple Creek begins at 11:00, and given that we were in Saskatchewan, we had the gift of an extra day of being on the same time as our provincial neighbours, as they don’t participate in the silliness that is daylight savings time!
As a worshipper, 11:00 am start is quite lovely. Especially for us non-morning people!
Worship included a baptism, for a family moving soon to Edmonton. Clearly marking this day among known community was an important step before the big transition to the city. The second half of the worship time was focused on remembering the saints that have gone before us. I so appreciated being a part of the congregation, and having that time to reflect on the losses my family has experienced as a worshipper, not a worship leader. It was really valuable, for myself and my spouse, to participate in the ritual of writing the names of our saints down, and having those names spoken by Michelle, along with the saints of the Maple Creek United community of faith.
Following worship, we enjoyed coffee, then a group joined at the church manse for our conversation. For those that don’t know that lingo, the manse is the church owned home that the ministry resides in. That can be a good thing, or a source of conflict. In this case, it’s a lovely newer home, that has been shown lots of TLC. It’s clear that the minister, her family and her dogs and cat all feel welcome and at home in this space.
The conversation was great – the retired minister in the congregation knew a beloved colleague and “study buddy” from my time at the Centre for Christian Studies, so it was neat to remember Nellie with someone who knew worked with her after our commissioning to Diaconal Ministry.
Once again, I heard stories of a community of faith that reaches beyond its doors. I heard of the strength and resiliency that carried them through 3 years without a called or appointed minister. I heard how grateful they are to have Michelle and her spouse in their midst. I heard how important being the United church in a rural community is. I also heard how broad and wide community is in this region – in that this pastoral charge spans many, many kilometers, because being welcoming of all also means no matter how far away you live. The reality of rural ministry, is that the next closest United Church could be a long ways away, especially as smaller churches close their doors.
Again, too, I came away with the sense that we are indeed one big church, with many small places of welcome, of care, of compassion. Thanks be!
Well, actually, it’s after midnight so it’s November 2nd…
I left off last week writing of connections. This past week started with that theme again – as the same side of my extended family gathered once more, to celebrate the life of my dad’s youngest brother. Dad came from a family of 8 kids; and his brother had 8 of his own, so our extended family is not small. Add to that the many community members who came to honour my uncle Ronnie, and you have a wonderful time of remembering, of story telling, of sharing love.
I am grateful for these times of family connection. The day was difficult for my dad, yet at the same time, it opened the door to lots of good memories from his past.
The morning following, I got up nice and early and made my way to Bashaw United Church – 90 minutes northeast of my home. It was a beautiful morning for a drive – the storms of the day previous over, and most of the roadway clear and dry. Bashaw is partnering with Ponoka United Church – once part of two different presbyteries, now in the same region (Chinook Winds) – the two share the ministry leadership of Rev. Robin King. They make use of technology, and the skills of both Robin and lay people in the two congregations, to live stream worship. This allows the congregations to stay in their buildings, while Robin travels each Sunday, and shares his office/pastoral weekday schedule between the two communities.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, there was not a lot of after worship time to ask questions, but that can happen in other ways, too…thanks to technology. I did have time to visit with a couple of people, and got a good feel for how this way of sharing resources is working. I would say it is – and that’s in spite of the fact that the live streaming component failed part way through the service. It’s working because there is a plan B for such times…which was enacted with humour and grace.
After a couple of weeks filled with those connections and the emotional energy that needed, a nice drive in the country, and just being in worship was precisely what I needed. There was good conversation following, without the time and focus I would have had to offer if things had gone as they originally should have. So…plan B was of mutual benefit for all!
Tomorrow morning – a visit to my mom’s church, Southwood United, to attend their Bazaar – something she was instrumental in starting more than 50 years ago. The church is naming one of the bazaar rooms after mom…The Country Store will now be known as “Vera’s Country Store.” My sister, visited the church today to deliver our donation of jam we made together in mom’s honour, and saw the set up. She gave me the heads up that there will be tears when I see how they have made changes to the set up to honour mom. She speaks of her own experience of course.
From there, my spouse and I will travel to Maple Creek to visit the church there on Sunday. Some sort of symmetry there. A few weeks ago, when the storms redirected my travel home, I was able to visit my maternal grandparents home region. Maple Creek is where my dad’s father was raised. I am not as familiar with the area, as the home I knew my papa Allan to be part of was the family home in Black Diamond. Never-the-less, there are connections again. I look forward to another visit…although I am told there will be, in addition to a baptism, an honouring of saints. So…not going to lie. There will be tears…that’s what I do. The tears are just one of the ways this sabbatical journey has offered me healing. And I am grateful.
So another learning…I am only somewhat better at blogging than journaling. I like to write when I get to it, it’s the getting to it that I’m not great at. I thought that blogging – writing to an audience, as opposed to private journaling, might keep me more to the task…but not as much as I had hoped it would.
That said, technical challenges have frustrated me along the way, too. So…today’s entry is about last week’s visit…which I did start last week, but once again, had trouble loading. Needless to say, I’m behind one. Here’s last week’s entry…this week’s will come tomorrow!
Where does the time go? The week of October 19-25th went to places of connection. Several of them. The week started with my visit to Balzac United Church, close to home – just 45 minutes down the road. The minister there, Rita Cattell, is someone I’ve known since back in my youth ministry days. She was already a diaconal minister, and one of few women in ministry in Calgary back then. We’ve both been in different presbyteries for the past number of years, so had lost touch. That in spite of the fact that for the past 7 years I’ve driven past Balzac regularly on visits to my family in Calgary.
It was great to be greeted by Rita’s warm welcome, and so good to reconnect…which we did for some time after the formal part of my visit ended. It was also great to experience the welcome of one of the youth in the congregation who happened to be sitting beside me in the pew. She started our conversation by suggesting that since she hadn’t seen me before I must be new, and introduced herself and her family, and then later told me a great deal about Balzac United.
Another lovely piece of my day in Balzac was the great worship service. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Rita’s worship leadership, and anyone who knows me would say our styles are quite similar. The music was also a highlight. I have to admit, my bias led me to expect that the woman at the keyboard would play oldie goldies and nothing else. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The music was great, and the musician – soon to be 91 and proud of it. So awesome that she continues to share her gifts with the church.
I mentioned connections…this visit happened just 2 days after attending a memorial celebration of life for a family member, my cousin’s spouse, who left this world way too young (the same age as yours truly). I come from a large extended family, and many of us were able to gather with my cousin’s family and friends. We don’t see each other often, yet we are family, and are there for each other when needed.
And then more connections…Wednesday night – somewhat unpredicatably, all 4 of my siblings, and my dad, as well as my son, my spouse, and my sister-in-law, found ourselves around our dining room table sharing in an amazing lobster dinner, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for bringing the live creatures home from Halifax! It’s not often that all 5 of us siblings are in one room. The last time was the day of my mom’s memorial service. I know how precious these times are, and I am so grateful for that crazy fun time of eating lobster, laughing, and loving. Mom would have loved it. I like to think that somehow she could see us – the 5 of us, together at one table, laughing, eating, enjoying being together.
More connections…Thursday, Oct. 24, I traveled to Edmonton to my aunt’s (on the other side of my family), to join in a lunch visit with 2 of her daughters – more cousins. The fun part is that my attendance at the lunch came as a surprise to my cousins. It was a really good visit. And again – a reminder of the importance of family, and taking time. These cousins lost their step-mom just prior to mom’s death…so we all share care and concern for dad’s that are missing their beloveds.
After the afternoon there, I got to enjoy an evening with my daughter, who doesn’t like lobster so was okay with not being at the table the night before.
Then more Edmonton connections – a brunch visit with 2 colleagues, friends that I studied theology with, from 1995 to 2000. It was good to catch up, to hear their stories and share my own with them.
One of my personal sabbatical goals has been to reconnect with people in my life that I wish I had more time with. There are a few people on my list I still need to make those connections with…and there have been some really important visits along the way. I’m realizing – as the end of sabbatical comes closer, that I need to make it a goal for “re-entry” that I continue to hold on to those connections that mean so much…with or without the lobster!
So…lesson learned…write the post in one’s document file first, then post…avoids the frustration that happens when you think you’ve written and posted and the darn thing’s ended up somewhere in cyberspace, never to be found again! Thanks to my daughter for the helpful advice. No thanks to the WordPress help desk who has yet to respond to my queries.
The journey of the first week of October was over 5 days duration, so took me another 5 to get to the iPad to write! Sorry for that. One of the realities of a full and busy life. And then it took a few days for me and WordPress to make it post! Just a little more frustration!
Anyway…the journey began on October 2nd, as my spouse and I travelled to my sister and brother-in-law’s beautiful summer home on the north end of the Shuswap. It’s equally beautiful in the fall, and much more peaceful than in the busy summer season! We enjoyed 2 quiet days there, which included a trip to a couple of local wineries. Related purchases to be shared with our Thanksgiving dinner.
Oct 4-6 saw us in Kamloops, where my spouse had time to explore the city while I attended “Holy Shift! Size-Mic Upgrade’ at Kamloops United Church. This event was sponsored and facilitated by folks from Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church, who through their Leadershift Program, put on a few events each year that help build leadership capacity in the church for both clergy and laity.
The keynote guest for this event was Alice Mann, a church consultant from the US, with roots in the Episcopal Church. The title of her talks was “We Just Can’t Do This Any More: Smaller Congregations Facing Choice Points.”
This intrigued me right from the word ‘go’ as it put a much more positive spin on the realities of churches facing change as our contexts change.
Mann reminded us that small is the norm when it comes to church size, especially mainline church size. Her stats are based on American figures, however when it comes to church size, we’re in a very similar boat here in Canada. In fact, as she told us, in the US, 2/3 of all congregations have less than 100 weekly worshippers on average. Mann did not herself assume that we follow that here in Canada, however most of us at the event certainly see that as a fair comparison. She spoke of how the church in general, needs to get better at resourcing small congregations.
I wouldn’t be the first one to say that it sometimes seems that church resources tend to be created for larger urban centres and often need to be adapted to suit our smaller church realities.
Mann gave us another piece of learning – that smaller churches operate in a very relational manner. She illustrated this with a cartoon of two women seated at a table having coffee, and a caption that read “The kitchen table is more influential than the board table.”
We all know that can be a blessing…and sometimes not. The key is in managing the kitchen table conversations, and living in relationship based on trust and honesty.
In addition to Mann’s 3 sessions, there were several workshops, resourced by folks in Pacific Mountain Region. The first I chose was led by the minister, Ken Jones, and board chairs of Osoyoos and Oliver United Churches. It was on sharing a minister with another congregation. These two are in the early stages of that, Oliver “renting” 1/2 of Ken’s time from Osoyoos, as we did in Olds and Sundre at the beginning. There was lots of wisdom shared, by both the facilitators, and the gathered group…however for me this was somewhat of a been there already experience. The positive from that was that I was able to encourage those who are exploring this idea to do so, and know that with careful management this can be the first step in the process towards healthy partnerships.
The second workshop I attended was facilitated by Jennie Carter – minister at First United in Salmon Arm. She shared the story of how First has, over the last four years, been on a journey of transformation from a small struggling congregation to a place of community outreach and engagement, community gathering and sharing of spaces, and discovering ways to live into adaptive change. Lots of exciting ideas that could be adapted and tried in our context here in south-central Alberta.
The Saturday evening ended with some good music, by rEvolve and Dawn Pemberton, who also led the music for worship on Sunday morning.
As I’ve written before – being in the pews as a worshipper, instead of worship leader, is a wonderful gift of sabbatical, as is the opportunity to worship in a variety of settings. Worshipping in this setting, at Kamloops United, with over 150 people was enriching and spirit-filled. That number is not the norm for this congregation, our event added many to their count. It was a day of warm welcome, AND warm weather!
The journey home was lovely, fall in the mountains, with good weather! Much to be grateful for.
On the personal side of the week – my family has suffered more loss – my dad’s youngest brother, and my cousin’s spouse, within the last few weeks. These losses remind us of how much we miss mom, yet also how much family connections mean in these days. It was good to be able to take time with my sister to take dad to High River to spend the afternoon with his one remaining sibling – another younger brother. And this weekend – Thanksgiving, we will create some new traditions, and hold dear to some old ones, as we experience this first holiday without mom.
Hold dear to those you love, and may these days of thanks be filled with blessing and peace.