As many of you know, I am a regular attendee at a Memoir Writing Group which meets at a branch library here in Toronto every Monday afternoon (except on holidays). Over the past two years many people have come and gone and one of them is Michael. He had lived in Alberta for a while and then returned there. He publishes a blog (titled "The Kananaskis Traveler") quite regularly. As I am on his mailing list I am notified each time that a new blog is published so I read them - and am challenged.
By this prologue I am 'setting the stage' - so to speak - for what I plan to cover here.
I do not come from a 'religious' family and yet my religious beliefs are very important in my life. My knowledge about what was important - or not - to those who have gone before has given me much food for thought.
Dad was French Canadian. He was born in the Ottawa, Ontario suburb of Billings Bridge and was the youngest child. Cancer claimed his father when Dad was about seven years old so his Mom packed up the family (an older brother and twin girls in between them in age) and moved them to Montreal where she had lived before she married Charles Lacasse. As it so happened, a Roman Catholic boys' orphanage needed a housekeeper and she was hired. The boys went there with her while the twin sisters were placed in the nearby Grey Nuns Convent. Thus all four of the children were raised in the atmosphere of a strong Roman Catholic environment.
Grandmere died when Dad was around twelve years old and, having attained that age, he was allowed to leave the orphanage in order to go and work for a market gardener. In recent years we have heard of horrible abuses committed against children in church run orphanages but Dad never mentioned this. However, he did mention his resentment at having to be Altar Boy at masses between daybreak and noon and having to go all those hours without anything to eat.
As an adult, Dad was not religious and never went to Mass - however, he encouraged his children to attend Sunday School which my oldest sister and I did.
As far as I know, Mom never had any religious instruction as a girl and young woman. To explain, I will now relate the story of my maternal grandmother.
Queechee ('Queenie') Leah De Lacey/Hollis - Brown was one of the older children in a large Irish/English/French/Jewish family (the 'Jewish' part was through her mother). By anecdotes that we kids were told, we came to understand that our maternal great-grandfather was a very urbane man. Grandma was fond of telling the story of her Dad taking her to a religious service in London (Westminster Abbey? St Paul's?) and then to a theatrical performance after which he told her, "Take your pick - they are all make believe!"
My grandmother's first husband - Mom's dad - was accidentally killed before Mom was born. The man whom I knew as Granddad was Ernie Brown - a Canadian soldier from Saskatchewan. I would describe him as a 'Deist' and not an adherent of any denomination. However, his mother was a devout Methodist and two of his three sisters were Glad Tidings Pentecostal and Baptist respectively. The third sister graduated as a nurse and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I saw her only once in my life and have no idea as to her religious beliefs.
The youngest of Granddad's sisters was Great Aunt Edith Robinson. She, her husband and two children lived in the large commodious house on East 18th Street in North Vancouver, B.C. That was where we stayed when we had to be in Vancouver and, therefore, we were subject to the religious tenets of Aunt Edith. As a child, I found her to be very intimidating and somewhat frightening so, therefore, there was no appeal for me in her religious community. However, when she became an elderly widow she mellowed and was quite sweet.
In the meantime, Great Aunt Emma lived in the caretaker's suite in the Glad Tidings Tabernacle (Pentecostal) in downtown Vancouver. She had been married but was divorced. We had one interest in common - stamp collecting. Occasionally I would take my stamp albums into Vancouver on a Saturday afternoon, have dinner with her - and then look at stamps. At no time did Aunt Emma proselytize.
As I mentioned previously, Ruskin, B.C. was a community with no churches so the West Coast Children's Mission (based in the agricultural community of Yarrow which is between Chilliwack and Abbotsford) - and Mennonite - came to our Community Hall and opened a Sunday School. As there was no Protestant community - that we knew of - in Coquitlam, Mom invited the Mennonite group to come to our new neighbourhood and start another Sunday School. That school existed for at least 15 years.
Sunday School at the Schmidt home
When I was in my teens my high school buddy invited me to attend the Evening Service and the Young Peoples' Group at Como Lake United Church in Coquitlam. This led me to become involved in that denomination and, eventuallly, to attend seminary and be ordained.
While living in Australia I attended church when I lived in communities where there was one near by - and my greatest exposure was to the Methodist Church. At the same time I was exposed to evangelical folk and found tenets of their faith attractive while other tenets were intimidating.
In the 1970s I was a United Church of Canada clergyman on Bell island, Newfoundland and then Westboro United Church in Ottawa. At the same time the Charismatic Movement was fairly strong and I became involved. I believed in the laying on of hands and in healings but I was very confused when it came to my sexuality. Could I be a Christian and Gay at the same time? Eventually the answer sunk in - YES!!!
God made all people - Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered, Transsexual. Bisexual, Queer and Questioning - and the good news is that I am still exploring, questioning and learning. At the same time, I have reason to believe that I HAVE touched the lives of people in a positive way - and will continue to do so until the end of my earthly life.