Call it nostalgia, or just a desire to relive precious moments of the past. Whatever it was, it moved our daughter, Carolyn, and me to make one visit to the Free Methodist church in New Westminster before boarding our plane early the next morning at the Vancouver airport to return to Toronto.
Fifty-six years earlier Kathleen and I arrived at the Free Methodist parsonage at 326 Eighth Street with our little family – Carolyn, 8, Donald (Donnie), 5, Robert (Bobbie), 3, and John David, five months. I was there to serve this church as their pastor.
We were total strangers to the congregation and they to us, and on both their part and ours this venture had to be launched with strong elements of trust.
We discovered very soon that we had been appointed to serve a church that warmed up quickly and knew how to love its parsonage family. That’s not to say that during five following years there would be no missteps or differences of opinion as to how best to move the work forward. It is to say that love prevailed between pastoral family and people, finding many ways to express itself, and the church thrived.
So Carolyn and I borrowed my niece Jayne Taylor’s Honda Civic and drove 10 miles to park it in the church’s parking lot.
Only Betty was at the church. She is now a grandmother but when we first knew her she was a teenager in the youth group. She stopped from her work of preparing the church bulletin for Sunday and we had a pleasant chat about old times and mutual friends.
Carolyn and I spent some quiet moments in the empty sanctuary. Slight changes have been made but it is still the beautiful house of worship it was when first used in November of 1956. Back then, Willis Barnes, a member and an interior decorator, had chosen the color scheme and it had created an environment of warmth that drew people together and prompted them to worship God.
What memories those moments brought back of sermons preached, prayers prayed, testimonies given, sins forgiven both by God and one another in this lovely structure of bricks and mortar. Who could forget sacred moments at its altar?
Then we made an unscheduled visit to Wesley Manor down Kennedy Avenue from the church. It’s a 41-unit apartment building affiliated with the church where a handful of residents spilled quickly from their apartments to greet us.
Margaret, Don, and others, like Betty, are grandparents now but were teenagers when we were pastoring the church. Theda was also a teenager who by Canada post sends us newsy notes every now and then.
We visited Verne in his apartment. He was a young married man back then but had recently lost Lucille, his beloved wife of 60 years. Our visit was warm and tender. And with Shirley, the operations manager of the Manor, we chatted briefly.
They gathered in the open area near the entrance and we spontaneously formed a circle to chat and laugh together, recalling old times. I learned some things about those days gone by that I had not known at the time.
For example, Don, the retired auto mechanic, told us that as a 15-year-old boy he was in fiery rebellion, so when I landed at his parents’ front door to take him golfing (and I was no more than a novice) he fled out the back door. But, he noted as we talked that my continued attention to him brought him out of his rebellion and led to his salvation.
Carolyn and I flew back to Toronto realizing afresh what a smorgasbord of surprises life inevitably sets before us. Good things happen unexpectedly; dark clouds gather, but don’t stay. In the life of faith there are bitter herbs to be tasted and mouth watering fruits to savor.
For the overwhelming majority of good memories, looking upward we respond, “Thank you.” Regarding memories of the missteps, the blunders, the good intentions gone awry we say, also looking upward, “In your mercy forgive us our failures.” And God gives us his peace.
We go forward courageously because in faith we live through all of life’s vicissitudes fully aware that “underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”