Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Summer of '67

When I arrived in Prince George, I settled into a boarding house in a newly opened residential area in the northwest corner of the city proper - an area that was bordered to the north by the Nechako River. I had had a connection with Como Lake United Church (of the United Churches of Canada) in Coquitlam, with the John Flynn Uniting Church in Alice Springs and Kedron Methodist Church in Brisbane. Therefore it was natural for me to seek a church home in this new community.

There were two United Churches within the city - the longer established Knox United downtown and the fledgling congregation of St Andrews United nearer to where I lived.

The minister at St. Andrews was the Rev. Newton Steacy - a young and urbane man who lived with his wife and young family in a house less than one block from where I lived. Newton's father had been a Cabinet Minister in the government of W.A.C Bennett's Social Credit Party in Victoria.

I was amused by Newton's wife's story of how they met. He was a handsome cadet at the military college situated in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She attended a military ball and met this dashing young officer and had a dream of marrying him and attending an endless string of military balls. Instead she ended up in a manse in the pulp mill town of Prince George!

They were a dynamic couple and, when I arrived, there was a Young Adult Group of which most of the members were up and coming young professionals. I thoroughly enjoyed being welcomed by them and receiving invitations to join in with all of their activities.

In the spring of 1967. Newton accepted a "call" to be the assistant in a church in Montreal and the Steacey's were replaced at St Andrews by the Rev Gordon Taylor (the minister of Knox United was the Rev.Ben Taylor - no relation).

Gordon was as different from Newton as day is from night. Whereas Newton came from a family grounded in business and politics, Gordon was one of a fairly large family who grew up in or near the agricultural town of Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley. Upon his ordination Gordon had been 'settled' into a 'Two Point Charge' in Western Manitoba. He was responsible for the spiritual needs of the United Church families in two farming communities.

I liked Newton and Barb Steacey very much but I automatically gravitated to Gordon. Because I had served in the Kedron Methodist Sunday School, I volunteered for similar tasks with the Sunday School at St Andrews.

This was a restless period for me and I was unable to feel settled. Therefore I asked Gordon if we could meet to have a chat. He invited me to have lunch with him at a restaurant and, before I could articulate the message which I intended to give, he challenged me - to consider the ministry. This was not the first time that I had been so challenged but he was the most persuasive challenger. Instead of my retirement from the Sunday School he was asking me to consider the more difficult task of the professional ministry.

At that time, St Andrews had another student studying at Union College, U.B.C. - the soon to be Rev. George Ferguson.

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, I was not the most happy debt collector so, in a work sense, I was not difficult to persuade. First, though, I had to jump through all of the screening hoops beginning in Prince George, then a Presbytery meeting at Williams Lake, then a General Conference meeting at a B.C. Conference gathering at Queens Avenue United Church in New Westminster. Gord told me to be patient but I thought that I would never see the end of interviews and answering personal and difficult questions. The biggest one, of course, was about my sexuality. I was not sure if I was Gay or not but - in my mind - I did not fit the stereotype of the faggot with a lisp and limp wrists. How naive I was!

The United Church of Canada could always use young women and men in summer placement positions and I fit that bill.

Across the Fraser River from Prince George was the Giscome Pastoral Charge consisting of three smaller congregation (one each at Kelly Road in the disorganized northern suburbs along the Hart Highway, Blackburn to the east of the Fraser River and, further east yet, the mill town of Giscome). The 'settled' minister was the Reverend King Huguet. He conducted a worship service in each of those communities every Sunday - usually in a community hall.

During the month of July the Rev King Huguet remained in charge so my tasks consisted mainly of canvassing - especially in the temporary trailer parks. I was charged with locating all those United Church of Canada people who nobody else knew existed. I have never enjoyed 'cold calling' so I found that task to be difficult. However, I did meet a number of warm and welcoming people.

King and his family went on vacation in August and I was left alone. It had been decided that I would conduct a Daily Vacation Bible School in each of those communities during that month (each Bible School lasted for one week).

When I left the home of the couple with whom I had been living in Prince George, a family involved with the existing Kelly Road congregation loaned me the use of a cabin on their property. I stayed there for most of the month of July and, of course, conducted a Bible School.

When the Huguets left for their vacation in August I moved to their manse from where I conducted schools at Blackburn Road, Giscome and two mill/logging communities further up the river.

Giscome was the biggest of those communities and had a couple of churches as well as a gas station, post office, and a general store. The majority of the inhabitants were Portuguese immigrants. Their parish priest was a delightful man - but he was Dutch. Somewhere along the line he had displeased a Bishop so had been posted to Giscome where he did not share the culture - nor the language - with his congregation. I felt so sorry for him.

I do not remember the community of Aleza Lake all that well - except how I reached there. There was a ferry attached to a cable across the swiftly moving Fraser River and the ferry was operated by a First Nations man named Alex Cardinal. The fare for a motor vehicle to cross the river was $.50 per trip Monday to Friday and $1.00 on Sundays and late in the evening. Alex refused to take any money from me at any time!

The furthest community for which I had some responsibility was the logging and mill village of Upper Fraser. In that community lived a family with two sons who were teenagers.

If any of my readers have been to a logged off area you know how ugly it can be. The logged land across the Fraser was no exception - bare devastation with logs not suitable for the mills lying willy-nilly all over the place. However, through that area, flowed a couple of large creeks.

The loggers reported that salmon were 'running' (swimming up the waterways seeking out the spawning area where they had hatched some four years before). After spawning these fish would die and their flesh would be inedible. However, while they were still alive, the flesh was firm. These two lads wanted to spend the afternoon in fishing and talked me into taking them up there.

By the way, logging roads, while roughly carved out of the terrain, are very well maintained so my driving over them was at very little risk of mishap. When we came to where two promising creeks joined I parked and we walked down to the creek bank. At first they baited and cast their lines but did not receive a bite. Then one of them came up with the bright idea of wading into the creek and 'fishing' by hand.

To me that was an impossible task but we most certainly had fun - and got soaking wet. Yes - we did see some wildlife, notably two different bears who were in the water trying to catch a salmon for their meals. When they heard us they scurried away - thank God!

Some of the places to which I have been - and circumstances in which I have found myself - are difficult to recall - but not that 'fishing' expedition in the mountainous area east of Prince George.

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