After my father passed away (over 21 years ago) and the various memorial services were concluded and we had moved Mom from their last home they had shared together, I was a little surprised at how little the church seemed to care. Granted Mother did move back to Alberta to a city where there was no Presbyterian Church; but I thought that some would keep checking in on her, if only by phone, to make sure she was doing okay.
Dad had served the PCC (Presbyterian Church in Canada) for sixty-one years, including his time as a student minister and after his final retirement supplying vacant pulpits. I thought that in itself should warrant some pastoral payback. But maybe not. Maybe that ends with the death of a minister. His widow can learn to cope on her own, especially if she wasn’t a deaconess or minister or active in a PCC church herself. So I let my surprise morph into puzzlement rather than anger.
Then a few years later a colleague and friend of mine from PYPS (Young Peoples) days called me for advice. She had been ordained in the PCC but partly through her active ministry she had gone to USA where in addition to ministering to a smaller congregation, she was also the Assistant Presbyter for a Presbytery in Texas. Her problem it seemed was that she was having some mental wellness issues and the Presbytery wanted her to take early retirement. Her pension was not great and her husband was not in good health, so we felt it was best that she move back to Canada. She did and settled on the west coast. But the story then took a surprising twist: she was not welcomed into the Presbytery and put on the Appendix to the Roll because she was told this would terminate her USA portion of the pension. She wasn’t invited to be minister-in-association with any church. She wasn’t even visited by any of the active or retired clergy in the Presbytery. She became quite despondent. We e-mailed frequently and I tried to help keep her spirits up; but she felt more and more lonely. So she moved east to her original city (Hamilton) where there were some family. The PCC never seemed to care. She passed away without any recognition by the church.
By this time I was beginning to wonder whether our colleges were teaching anything about pastoral ministry. It seemed that the closer to the pulpit a person is, the less likely they are to received a warm hug let alone a caring visit. But perhaps it was just me…maybe I have become a little jaundiced about some of our church leaders. However, a new story has come to light that I am going to highlight over the next little while. It is about a minister who has been injured in the line of duty, who has suffered a brain injury, who has been removed from her pulpit, who seems to have been forgotten or worse yet, ignored by her colleagues in the PCC.
I’m going to start with an e-mail I received from this individual earlier this year. She had sent me a picture of a child’s drawing of a cross and had titled it: Faith — in the midst of the rubble as they were tearing down Summerside Presbyterian Church, PEI. And here is that e-mail:
I took a picture of this as I walked through my church for the last time and said my goodbyes. Everywhere around me there was destruction! Windows broken and walls were already being torn down in another wing — and yet down this little hallway where children once traveled from one Sunday school room to another — was this powerful reminded that FAITH LIVES! FAITH EXISTS!
In the midst of the rubble — in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty FAITH AND PRAYER GUIDED US every step of the way. Summerside Presbyterian Church and me (their minister at the time) were on a journey together.
Neither of us knew where God would lead us but one thing was certain — each step was taken with faith and with prayer. In 2011 — I took a path to Madoc to answer a call. MY last duty was to ceremoniously dig the dirt for the new building. The following year Summerside Presbyterian Church called the Rev. Brad Blaikie.
Fast forward to Jan 2015:
I look at this photo often as it reminds me of the unwavering faith I had back then and the people I worked with who tirelessly brought SPC building project to completion.
Over the past three years my faith has been tested relentlessly. I know where God is. I have not lost faith. What I have felt like is that piece of foam in the midst of rubble and chaos. Overwhelmed with a brain injury; and a physical injury; trying to deal with mixed up words and memory loss; and not understanding why I leave the kettle on or sleep so much or cry so much. That was most of 2013 and part way through 2014. The last 6 months there has been an improvement. However I am still left with some residual affects from the brain injury.
Did I lose faith? Many have asked me that. I can honestly say NO! Have I gone to church? NO! (2 or 3x in 3 yrs). Not too many times considering I am clergy — but it is not that I don’t want to it is that I can’t.
I find crowds and questions overwhelming. I find it hard to concentrate. I find that I am tired a lot still. And I am not ready. I know that I will be back in church when the time is right.
So as I look at this photo and I hope others who look at it as well, will recognize that no matter what chaos and rubble and destruction happens to us, whether it be physical, emotional, financial or family hardships; our FAITH is the very foundation of our being.
LET US HOLD UNSWERVINGLY TO THE HOPE WE PROFESS, FOR HE WHO PROMISED IS FAITHFUL. (Hebrews 10:23)
And when I have felt lost — and believe me I have, again part of the symptoms of the injury, anxiety I continue to look inward to find peace. I have often felt like I did not belong anywhere. No longer was I a minister. No longer was a leader. No longer was I the income earner. No longer was I employed. No longer could I drive. I just was. What was I? That was the million dollar question. I knew intrinsically that GOD had a purpose for me but I kept searching for it instead of allowing myself to rest and heal. It was like I had to keep busy — and had to work and had to do something. I could just be at home on disability and do nothing.
And then I remembered the other photo I took…Another child’s gift left in the rubble — Jesus. I was going to be OK. It wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to be a long road but over time I kept going back to these images. I then began to take some photos of my own and write little devotions with them. And now I am working on a powerpoint — it might take me a year or so but that’s OK. I can only do what I can do.
This is just the start of her story. I will fill in the details of the accident, the church’s responses, and what is happening now in the next few posts. For now I simply wanted you to hear her plaintive story and notice that no where was she visited, hugged or surrounded by the local clergy in the new Presbytery she was living in (nor for that matter the Presbytery just down the road that she had been living in when the accident struck).