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!