I grew up in a place called “church corner”. Adjacent to my home stood the Anglican minister's house, the Anglican Church, the Anglican School, the United Church minister's house, the United Church, the United Church School, the Catholic priest's residence, the Catholic nun's residence, the Catholic Cathedral, and the Catholic Elementary and Junior Schools. From an upstairs window in my house, I could see bits and pieces of them, even though the glass in the window was wavy as if it had sagged or melted in places.
A typical week might include an afternoon at the Anglican manse, eating apple slices and chasing the Irish setter, while my friend’s mother prepared tea for her husband, the Anglican minister, as he met with parishioners in his home office. On other afternoons, I would go with my catholic friends to the cathedral to dip our fingers in holy water and say prayers over layered rows of dancing candle light, and pause dutifully in front of the beautiful statue of Mary and hope that the “sisters” who were dressed in their long black robes, would come out of their residence and give us bits of chocolate candy bars, as they often would.
On many starry, freezing winter nights, I and my friends would go sliding on a hill behind the Anglican church, where sometimes we were joined by laughing nuns who still wore their habits and long robes. We slid down the steep hill that led to the train tracks, where just beyond the rails, nestled on the side of the bay, lay the house of what we children thought belonged to a hermit. He was a warm faced man with a white beard, who one summer told us all about the merits of eating dandelions.
On Saturday afternoons in the summer, I raced with my friends to find a good spot to watch weddings from, as we tried to get a glimpse of the Catholic, Anglican and United Church brides, all at once. “Here they come!” was our cheer for them as they emerged from their separate ceremonies. They all seemed very happy. There was just something exciting about all that glamour. Then, on nearly silent Sunday mornings, the entire neighbourhood was filled with the sound of hymns that played from the United Church bell tower. Personally I loved it, and was more than happy to visit the inside of the bell tower with my United Church friends whom I also attended school with. Our classrooms had large multi-paned windows that overlooked a graveyard, where from time to time, we watched the custodians dig out graves with pointy shovels.
My religious upbringing did not begin with the influence of my neighbours. My father was a Baptist minister, who travelled to wood logging camps and held church services during the week for the men who worked in the back country of Newfoundland's forests. Whether he was home or not, there was a truck load of rules, and we attended wood panel churches that gave us a sense that God was also Baptist. Thankfully, my father sought out “good” speakers, and so we often attended the Salvation Army, the Brethren, the Presbyterian and the Pentecost churches. One of the Salvation Army churches was a multimillion dollar facility that had wall to wall burgundy carpet and a full orchestra, in which both the men and women wore sturdy, matching uniforms. At the Brethren church, the men and women sat on separate sides, the women wore doilies on their heads, and musical instruments were forbidden, so we sang a cappella. One of the Baptist churches was a tiny, ten pew, wooden church that was built on stilts, that had a pump organ and no toilet. It was quite scary knowing that you "had to hold it" through an entire service and then some. In the small wooden chapel, I loved the hollow “thump” sound that our feet made when we walked on the large wooden plank floors, and the funny high pitched sounds that the women made when they sang the “too high” notes that the old organ could not drown out.
Overall, I saw what each church did best, what they were good at, and how they sometimes failed. People were mostly casual about their religion, unless it was challenged, and then they became fiercely proud and defensive about it. Religion shaped a lot of our lives but it did not matter a hill of beans with respect to who was good and who was bad. Instead, religion harboured more than a fair share of each kind, as it failed to ferret out those who caused harm.
If you want to find a “good” person, then you have to dig much deeper than their religion, without losing all the cultural, fun and quirky things that make them special and unique.
I left “church corner” to pursue an education and after many years I gained three university degrees, an Hon. B.Sc. in Psychology, a B. Education, and a B. Engineering. I have worked as a teacher, a listener and an advisor, and as an electrical engineer. Presently, I am enjoying a time of writing ... on post it notes, on random pieces of paper, in note books, and on the computer, and I am constantly writing in my head and sharing ideas with bunches of fictitious characters, who always seem eager to listen to me go on about what I believe God is saying next.