While driving to do some sightseeing in Twiilingate, Newfoundland, I happened to glance at en empty church on my left hand side situated by some water and a smaller building. I made a mental note to try to check it out on my way back and kept on my journey to “The Crow’s Nest” cafe for a Flat White followed by some excellent pictures of the water and stones.
I made a promise to be back to Lewisporte, which was about an hour and change away, for an event so I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to see building. But once I finally got back to it and saw it’s size (it looked like the school house from “Little House on the Prairie) and took in the sights around it (a small deserted fish market, a few tires and water), I began to imagine what it would have looked and felt like in its heyday. I began to imagine a family walking in while being greeted by the pastor at the door while other people walked around in their Sunday best. I thought about all the sermons spoken and songs sung and what may have led to its eventual closing.
After standing outside for a while, I decided that I had a few moments to walk inside, if the door was open. And it was!! Fear gripped me as I walked in, worried about waking up a family of rats, a family of humans or even worse, a demogorgon. But alas, there were no stranger things there, just the sound of the wind moving in and out of the broken windows, my vans hitting the flooring and my breath…slow and steady as I took in the sights.
The speakers were still on the wall and were old, like in my late Granny’s church in Barbados. The pews were dusty but still white and the pulpit still had a cross on it, covered by a red drapery. How many lives were impacted there, I wondered as I sat down fully forgetting about the time. The church building was here but the people likely moved on to a different location. It was eerie and yet peaceful.
I finally stood up and prepared to leave. While I was inside, the door that I opened closed loudly due to the wind so I was not at all prepared to see an elderly man in sunglasses standing on the stairs as I attempted to walk out. After we both acknowledged each other’s fright and I explained who I was (a guy from Ontario who was in Newfoundland to speak at the Pentecostal Youth Camp), he smiled and said
“I used to pastor this church!”
Turns out, as he and his wife were driving, they saw the door that was normally closed open and so they turned around to make sure it was okay, only to see mini dreads me on my way out. They were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary that day and decided to check out their old stomping grounds at their old united church and the open door was a confirmation to do so. He and I began to talk about the church and the community that had been there before I was born.
“I loved ministry. I would get in my boat and go from town to town, to visit people and share the gospel.” When saw my mouth agape at the idea of boats, he laughed and said “That’s just how we did it then. I would prepare during the week and then boat to a town and then walk to do my visits.” When I asked about weather, he just laughed. I then asked him,
“What did you love most about ministry?”
His response was amazing.
“I loved preparing the worship. I loved helping people prepare their hearts and leave better than when they came in. Everything from the songs to the teaching was for God and for them. And I loved the Holy Communion. It was about self-reflection and to help people in that was a blessing. This is a calling, not a job.”
As he talked, I tried to avoid his gaze to not show my tears but it was pointless. Here was the older gentleman, who should have died when I scared him, talking about ministry as a calling and how sacred each element was to him. His wife, who by this point came out of the car to see what was taking him so long, agreed.
“We didn’t have much of anything. But that was the life that we chose - to serve him. It wasn’t easy. But it was never supposed to be.”
After talking a bit more, we hugged, took pictures on my phone and then I hightailed it to camp to make due on my words to be there on time (fifteen mins late, I was…). That entire day into the evening, the faces of Lawrence and Bernice stayed in my mind and their words in my heart. What I get to do is live out a calling. Worship in its entirety is meant to help others connect with God and each other while communion is for each person to see inward about what God wants from them.
So…old United Church outside of Twillingate…I’m glad you’re dead. If you were alive, I would have simply continued to drive passed you. But because you are dead, words were planted in me by two new friends that will keep me alive for a little while longer. No church ever dies. They, like the Taraxacum erythrospermums (aka the dandelion that you blow), continue to floats and grow stories long after their final service.
I think that is pretty cool.