Monday, 14 November 2011

Westboro United Church, Ottawa

Moving from the two smaller congregations of Bell Island and Portugal Cove was, for me, a major shift.

While the congregations in Newfoundland were quite small and conservative, Westboro United was large and very much a part of a modern city. Theologically, the folk there tended to be somewhat more evangelical than those of many other United Church of Canada congregations but were more liberal in their collective thinking.

As the congregation employed two full time clergy, there were two 'manses'. The one where the Mathesons lived was east of the church and situated on a street of stately homes. The 'second manse' - where I lived - was a three bedroom split level house on Westminster Avenue west of the church and surrounded by newer houses.

Most of the embassies in Ottawa are situated in the area known as Rockcliffe but one of the African nations had their embassy near where Dan and Vera Matheson lived.

There were two services on Sunday mornings during the autumn, winter and spring months and one during the summer when those who could afford to moved away from the muggyness of the Ottawa Valley. Normally, in United Churches, communion is celebrated once a quarter but, at Westboro, it was a special 'early morning' service on the first Sunday of each month.

Technically I was to be the 'Youth Minister' but I was given two other tasks as well. As the church was quite a pretty one, it was popular with bridal couples and, also, with the local undertakers who, when they were instructed by the bereaved simply to 'get a minister', I was the one called. Therefore I performed a number of weddings and conducted many funerals.

Very shortly after arriving at Westboro I met a man, wife and two daughters who were relative newcomers to the congregation. The husband had lung cancer and it was only a matter of time before it claimed his life. They were a devout family who had moved from a farming town about an hour west of Ottawa.

As it was obvious that the end was not far away and, with the ailing husband's involvement, the funeral was planned. They knew that the culture in their hometown - where the funeral and interment would take place - was conservative but they deliberately planned a service of triumph. They knew that this would be quite disconcerting to the folk 'back home' so they planned well.

Fortunately, the regular organist and the minister of their home congregation were on holiday so I was one of two 'subs'. The other was the organist from a much larger church in a large nearby town. The opening hymn was one of triumph and it was played in that manner. The man's family and I were ready to sing lustily which completely confounded the other 'locals'. My message - prepared in consultation with the deceased and his wife - was upbeat as well. The after service reception was held in the church basement and it, too, was upbeat. The local neighbors were flabbergasted. I rode both there and back with the undertakers and they were amused by how the service proceeded and by the widow's upbeat demeanor.

There was another funeral that merits mentioning. When the telephone awakened me early in the morning I knew that it would be Joe Tubman - one of the undertaker brothers - calling. This meant that the family of a person who was deceased merely said, "Get a minister". This call was one of those.

I went to the funeral home to meet the family - a very distraught husband and their son. I asked the son, "Is there anything that you would like to tell me about your mother?". He paused and then replied, "She loved gambling". I did not think that that would be a suitable comment to be included in the eulogy. However - I had a 'giggle' when we went to the country cemetery. It was on a slope above the local raceway - the deceased could just sit up in her coffin, place her bet on a pony, and watch the race!

Weddings were numerous and many where the bridal couple were strangers to the congregation. However, one of those weddings was unforgettable. The bride's mother was a widow and the groom's family lived in Michigan. Neither could afford all of the 'bells and whistles' that a usual wedding would include so they did the best that they could with what they had.

They arrived at the church dressed in street clothes with their wedding outfits in garment bags. Also, they had brought waste paper baskets full of wildflowers that they had picked that morning. They arranged the flowers in a couple of larger vases keeping out the two blooms which they wanted for her corsage and his boutonniere. About a dozen guests - the bride's mother and a few friends - came as well as their two witnesses. The ceremony was held in the chapel and then the party went to a Japanese restaurant downtown for the wedding supper.

The two people being married, the decor that they created and their guests made a wedding ensemble that I thought was one of the nicest that I had seen - or was to see.

I wanted to share that with Dan Matheson - who was not in the building while this was taking place. So, the next morning, I took him to the Chapel to show him the flowers. They were nowhere in sight. I asked the building caretaker - a Dutchman - where the flowers had gone? His reply: "Oh dem veeds - I trew dem out!" Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

Three circumstances of me being in Ottawa were thrilling - and I took full advantage of them.

This was the first time in my life that I was living in a community where family was nearby - Dad's half-sister, Berenice Brule, her husband Edgar and nine of their ten children were in and around Ottawa.

Montreal was only four hours or so away and more relatives lived there - especially Ma Tante, Sister Cecile Lacasse. Also, Montreal has several attractions which I love - the gorgeous Cathedral, the Oratory on Mont Royal and a wonderfully 'Gallic' atmosphere of 'Old Montreal'.

The third circumstance was the historic and cultural places in and around Ottawa.

Across the Ottawa River and a short drive northeast is Gatineau Park and Kingsmere - the home of William Lyon McKenzie King. His former estate is huge and there are walking/hiking trails everywhere. Those into the world of the spirits claim that it is haunted as well of which I do not have any proof. I just enjoyed getting away from my busy life in the city to spend a few hours in rural solitude.

The focus of Ottawa is, of course, the Parliament Buildings and all of the trappings of government. In the tower is the famed carillon and those bells can be heard for quite some distance. To be on 'The Hill' on July 1 for the Canada Day Celebrations - which culminate with fireworks - is wonderful.

In the early days of settlement - a time of political unrest - it was deemed important to link Ottawa with the Great Lakes so the Rideau Canal was built. Now it is popular with vacationers who bring their boats from Kingston on Lake Ontario up to the Ottawa River. In the winter, however, the canal becomes the world's longest outdoor skating rink and the center of Ottawa's Winter Carnival.

I lived in Ottawa for three and a half years. Since moving away I have been back there only once - in November 2000.

1 comment:

  1. I moved to Ottawa for a 10-month stay in 1974 and I'm still here. I love all the things you mentioned, but the big draw for me when I moved here in 1974 was the new National Arts Centre. Little did I know that it would be at least 1980 before I could afford to go there to see anything.