Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Clash of Cultures

As you may have gathered from reading the two preceding blogs, I liked the Newfoundlanders whom I met on Bell Island and in Portugal Cove. However, there were difficult moments - and some longer than moments. These stemmed from differences over how I should look when outside my home (the 'Manse').

I wore a dark suit and a clerical shirt when I was about on church business but I dressed in slacks and open-necked shirts or ('horror of horrors') jeans, plaid shirt and cowboy boots when I was on my own time.

Many of the people accepted me however I was dressed but a few of the 'Pillars' gave me no end of static when they saw me at my most casual.

A case in point - I took a few days during a week to visit a classmate and his family at an out port in the Baie Verte area. As I was on my own time, I drove in both directions dressed in my most comfortable clothes. Unfortunately I arrived back at the ferry slip in Portugal Cove late in an afternoon when one of the 'pillars' was returning from his job in St John's. He was dressed in dungarees, hard hat and work boots and he was furious with me - due to my casual attire. I refused to back down.

The elderly 'sweetheart' in the congregation was nearly as bad. He was a proud old churchman who loved his church. He was both the lay delegate from the congregation to regional and Provincial church meetings as well as being the sexton (it was to him that I referred when someone died and a plot in the cemetery needed to be put aside).

He did grumble about my 'casualness' but it was his wife who had the sharp tongue. She and I did have some serious arguments - mainly to do with different ideas as to how I should comport myself when not on official church business. Also about her perceived priorities when unforeseen circumstances collided with what had been carefully planned. I thought that I was covering 'all bases' as best as I could but that was not good enough.

Before leaving the story of the Normores, there was one question that he raised frequently that floored me. Whenever somebody new arrived to work on the Island - be he or she a nurse, a school teacher, a bank clerk, the RCMP officer - I was expected to learn the family surname and from which community they originated. That way it could be determined if they were United Church of Canada folk or not. I am from B.C. where practically everybody is/was from somewhere else and there was no way to determine what denominational adherence they had - if any.

In Newfoundland, out port communities seemed to have been settled by homogeneous groups of people all of the same denominational persuasion - more or less - so it could be determined which flock they would belong to in their new community. It was fine with me if they had no denominational affiliation at all - but not to 'Uncle George'.

Another sore point was that I started up Youth Groups on Bell Island and in Portugal Cove - and even went so far as to organize a weekend camp on church property set aside for that purpose up in the heights between Portugal Cove and St John's. I sincerely felt that these were needed but ran into no end of static in both communities. I must admit, though, that it did not help when a few of these kids acted up and caused some damage to church property. When that happened, the miscreants were reprimanded and then ordered to help repair it.

There was one kid who hung around my place - with my roommate and one or two others - a lot of the time. I knew that he could be a problem from time to time and I was quite saddened one day when he told me that it was only a matter of a few days before the authorities would be coming after him to place him in a borstal institution. There seemed to be nothing that I could do to help him. He was a pleasant young man and, yes, in need of attention and approval.

I have been rereading the journals which I kept and was reminded of another problem. I was ORDERED to disassociate myself from all of those youths who were not from a United Church background! This was carried even further when I was told that I 'had to' get rid of my roommate as he was an Anglican and not United Church (the truth be known, he did not attend any church but I liked him as a person). No, he was NOT gay but very heterosexual with 'girlfriends' all over the place. I ignored that order.

Naturally, nothing happens in smaller close-knit communities without everybody hearing about it. Therefore I was floored when the 'Pillar' who objected to me being seen at the ferry slip while dressed in jeans and boots came up to me and voluntarily shook my hand. I understood that action to mean that he was not siding with those who objected to my friends.

On the island I met a young woman whose family were adherents of the United Church of Canada. She lived at home and was a Registered Nurse who worked in the local cottage hospital. That friendship was approved of because she was a female and she belonged to the correct denomination. We saw each other pretty regularly for a number of months - I watched Hockey Night in Canada telecasts every Saturday evening at her place. Her family owned the first large color TV set that I had seen.

The people in Portugal Cove as well as a couple of men on Bell Island were not nearly as conservative in their outlook. Those two Bell Islanders were a former mine manager whose origins were from Nova Scotia and the RCMP officer who was raised in Central Canada.

Yes, in some ways, this blog is a rant but to tell you of my experiences living in that community without writing about the down side would be telling only part of the story.

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