Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Stories from my life

$9.60 for a tonsillectomy

Saturday evening I was looking through some old papers and came across the following bill from when my tonsils were removed 71 years ago.

Providence Hospital, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

July 10, 1946

Tonsillectomy

Hospital      2 days X 1.50                                         3.00
Operating Room                                                      5.00
Medicine                                                                   .10
Laboratory                                                             1.50
Total                                                                   $9.60

Advertisements

The Day I Had to Bully My Father

Two years later we had a very dry summer. About the only things that flourished were the Russian thistles. Then they would dry up, break off at ground level and blow across the prairie landscape. Often they would collect in great masses along fence lines, becoming fire hazards. Dad liked to collect them in a pile and burn them.

One day in late summer, Dad came into the house with a big hole burned in the back of his coveralls and the shirt beneath. He told me to go across the dam and see if he had got the fire completely out. I saw that his Russian Thistle fire had gotten away on him. There was a large blackened area in the grass and here and there small flames still flickering. When I was sure had stamped them all out I returned to the house.

Dad’s back was badly burned; Mom and I knew he had to go to the hospital. He refused. “Who will milk the cows? Who will do my janitor chores?”

I told him I would do all that, but still he refused. Finally I raised my voice to a bellow and manhandled my father out to the truck and drove him to the hospital. Mom had called Doctor McCaw and he was there to admit Dad and take charge.

The chores at home I knew how to do. The responsibilities of the hospital janitor I did not know. But those were simpler times. It helped that my cousin Ron was on the hospital board and the hospital matron, in charge of housekeeping, was Barb Hunter, a friend of the family from Mossbank days. With Barb coaching me I tried to do everything that Dad had done. I stopped in to see him each day and to see how his back was healing. I think Dad spent ten days in the hospital. His work got done and he got his full pay cheque.

At home I fed the chickens, gathered the eggs and milked the cows morning and evening. I cranked out the cream on the cream separator and did all the chores that needed doing. As far as I can remember Dad never did say thank you, but I think knowing that I had taken care of things eased some of the tension between us.

[This is part of chapter 10 of my memoir. I have done a thorough re-write and rearranging of the material I have previously posted and am ready to start on the next section)

Preface

Half a century ago a drunken young man announced to a couple of friends that one day he would be a Mennonite and wear a beard. His friends dismissed this as babbling inspired by the booze he had consumed. The young man himself was bewildered. The few Mennonites he had met, from his mother’s side of the family, had not inspired any longing to be like them. He had never seen a Mennonite who wore a beard, didn’t know if he wanted to be a Christian, or even if there was such a thing as a real Christian.

Over the next twelve years he quit drinking, quit smoking cigars, became a Christian, got married and started a family, in that order. Then he and his wife joined a Mennonite church, one that is of the persuasion that if hair grows on a man’s face it doesn’t make sense to try to remove all trace of that hair each morning.

That drunken declaration was prophetic, springing from a longing within that took the young man years to understand. It is now apparent that the longing came from God, and that over the years He continued to prompt and nudge that young man in ways that would allow that longing to become a living faith.

This book is the story of all that led up to that unexpected statement and all that happened after to make it become reality, despite the bumbling confusion of the young man, who was me. I am an old man now, and look back in wonder at that journey.

I hope that my story will encourage others to trust that there is light for the pathway and unexpected moments of joy in the journey, even when one is stubborn and doubtful of the way.

[With this post I am beginning a memoir of my spiritual journey, which I hope to publish before I get too old for stuff like this. The working title, for now at least, is One Day I Will be a Mennonite and Wear a Beard. I encourage readers to offer critiques and comments. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Does my writing style put you to sleep? Do I offer too much information, or not enough? Your thoughts are welcome.]

An abiding church

As soon as we were married my wife and I set out on a search to find people who still believed and lived the faith once delivered to the saints. I firmly believed we would find that faith among the spiritual descendants of the Anabaptist & Mennonites of long ago. Time and again our search ran aground, and we would sadly move on to search somewhere else.

We met many fine, warm hearted people along the way, but their understanding of the faith always fell short. Some would say that wearing the style of clothes prescribed by their church was evidence of being born again. Others thought that the mere fact of wanting to be a Christian was evidence you were one. Some said that it was better to follow Billy Graham than Menno Simons. I mean no disrespect of Billy Graham, but I fear such a statement indicates a lack of a spiritual foundation and they would just as readily follow the next big name that came along, whatever kind of gospel he would preach.

Then there was this group that claimed to be the true church. I balked at that idea, which I took to be evidence of pride. But after encountering so many “wrong” churches, Mennonites and a variety of others, I began to reconsider. Doesn’t every church claim to be more on the right path than any other? Otherwise there would be no reason for them to continue to exist.

Finally I knelt in prayer and asked for help to understand what the Bible teaches about the church. I found there is nothing in the Bible that gives room to think that competing bodies, differing in doctrine, can all be churches of God. Neither did there seem to be any way to fit the idea of an invisible church into the New Testament teachings about the church.

Then I was led to Menno Simons list of signs by which the true church of God may be known:

Scriptural use of the sacramental signs – by that time I had seen the confusion in so many other churches and knew of only one that carefully proved those who requested baptism to see that they had indeed been born again and the congregation could testify of a Spirit-led life. This same church was the only one I knew of that would not have a communion service unless the congregation was fully united and any sins repented of and quarrels reconciled.

Unfeigned brotherly love – again we had seen many churches that tried to practice brotherly love, but didn’t really trust each other. Only one church seemed to have genuine brotherly love.

Unadulterated, pure doctrine – check

Obedience to the Word – check

Dietrich Philip added another sign – ministers that are faithful in word and deed. I had already noted that in this church there was the power to deal with ministers who crossed a line in doctrine or conduct without disturbing the unity of a congregation.

Thus, on February 11, 1979, Chris and I were baptized and became members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, the same church that we had earlier vowed to avoid.

One last thought: the doctrine of the true church does not mean that we think no one else outside the church can be saved. Here I’ll quote Menno Simons again:

“Reader, understand what I mean ; we do not dispute about whether or not there are some of the chosen ones of God, in the before mentioned churches ; for this we, at all times, humbly leave to the just and gracious judgment of God, hoping there may be many thousands who are unknown to us, as they were to holy Elias ; but our dispute is in regard to what kind of Spirit, doctrine, sacraments, ordinances and life Christ has commanded us to gather unto him an abiding church, and how we should maintain it in his ways.”

Looking for real Mennonites

All I learned about Mennonites while I was growing up was that my mother had been one and had left because the German language was more important than the faith and that my grandma, a dear sweet old lady, was one and wanted me to learn German so I could be a Christian.

Perhaps there was one more thing. My mother, though no longer member of a Mennonite church, seemed to have carried some of the faith in her baggage when she left. There was something about her that was more peaceful and attractive than the argumentative faith of my father.

In my mid twenties I decided I wanted to know more about Mennonites. This was half a century ago, long before you could go to your computer and ask google to find the information you wanted. Encyclopedias offered a little information, but I wasn’t sure they were getting it right. So I bought a book, probably more than one, I forget.

As I read Mennonite history I discovered a group of people who truly believed in God, who loved God, knew they were loved by God, and believed God wanted them to love everyone else. For some reason the state churches believed such a faith was subversive and persecuted the Mennonites. The Mennonites treasured their faith more than their homes, material possessions, even their lives. They were burnt at the stake and kept telling the bystanders about the love of God as long as they had breath.

I read about a time when soldiers seized a stock of books written by Menno Simons and were about to burn them in the town square. Several daring men began grabbing books from the pile and passing them to the bystanders, who immediately fled. It all happened so quickly that the few soldiers present were unable to prevent it and were left with almost nothing to burn.

There had been a power in that faith that I longed for. I knew there were many kinds of Mennonites in our province and hoped that somewhere I could find that old faith sill living.

I got up early one Sunday morning, dressed in my best clothes and drove into a nearby city to attend a Mennonite service. I was impressed by the simplicity of the non-liturgical service, don’t remember anything about the sermon, but hoped to learn more about this church. However, it appeared that I was an invisible person. One or two people nodded to me as we left that service, but none appeared interested in the stranger in their midst. I tried again several weeks later, with the same result.

I still thought that the faith I had read about must surely exist somewhere, but I gave up looking until after I was married. We experienced more disappointments and came to realize that most churches that called themselves Mennonite had no idea what the name meant. But we still kept looking.

Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

Journeying on

We were having Vacation Bible School and for crafts we were doing a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. I started calling Mary’s husband Joe. I glimpsed a hint of a smile on Miss Parker’s face, just before Miss Napier let me know that I was not to be so flippant and disrespectful. I don’t suppose that Miss Parker was any more likely to encourage disrespect than Miss Napier, but she allowed herself to be amused by my childishness and seemed much more human to this twelve-year-old boy.

Miss Napier and Miss Parker were Bishop’s Messengers who had come to Craik to fill in until we could get another minister. They could not baptize or serve communion, but led the other types of worship service in the Book of Common Prayer: Morning Worship, Evening Worship and the Litany.

Miss Napier was British and the guardian of proper form and tradition. Miss Parker was Indian. Over the years that ethnic definition has gone from Indian to Native to Aboriginal to First Nations and recently to Indigenous. I must be getting old that seems like one change too far. I want to be respectful, but by the time I can get my head around Indigenous the nomenclature will no doubt have changed again. Miss Parker was a bit shy, definitely not pushy, and was liked by everyone. Miss Napier was not disliked, it just wasn’t easy to warm up to her.

After a year the Reverend Kenneth Vickers came to be our minister, along with his wife, daughter and son. Mister Vickers was the ideal country preacher. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty helping a farmer or maintaining the vicarage and yard. Just a regular down to earth guy that everyone liked. His daughter was nine days younger than me. I was horribly girl shy during the years I was in school, but I remember four girls with whom I could occasionally carry on a conversation. For some reason they were all named Joan and one of them was Joan Vickers.

It was while Mr Vickers was at Craik that I became an altar boy, assisting in communion services. The Craik parish included churches in three other towns and Sunday mornings found us travelling to services in two of those churches. When I turned sixteen and got a driver’s license he even let me drive his car, a Hillman Minx. Driving that car left me with the lifelong conviction that British technology is an oxymoron.

There were two other ministers at Craik before I ventured off into the big wide world, but all I remember of them are their foibles. I did try attending church again while living in Toronto, but there just wasn’t any pull to keep going back.

The worldwide Anglican Church has always been a big tent movement, where high church and low church Anglicans were able to function in harmony. The churches in Saskatchewan were pretty strongly high church where the liturgy was of utmost importance. Yet there were occasional hints of low church, or evangelical, tendencies. A discerning eye would have noted that the Anglican Church of Canada was already in it’s declining years when I was a boy. Today it has reached doddering old age.

Some congregations have withdrawn, reorganized and continue as outposts of the Anglican faith such as is found in Africa, Asia and South America. The Anglican churches of those countries no longer recognize the Canadian church as being of the same faith. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has sent a missionary couple to Saskatoon to start a new congregation.

I have moved on in my spiritual journey, yet when I look back it is clear that my journey began in the Anglican Church. After confirmation I was given a little red book of questions for self examination before communion. That little book almost led to my conversion. There is still a warm place in my memory where I believe God came very close to me, and I to Him. Then I looked away and saw that no one else seemed to take this seriously.

The services were permeated with readings and recitations from the Bible, way more Scripture than any other church I have ever attended. I was constantly reminded tin those services that I was a sinner who needed to repent and be forgiven. I learned that the outward forms of baptism and communion were only signs of an inward and spiritual grace. I didn’t find those spiritual realities in the Anglican Church, but it was the Anglican Church that set me to searching for them.

I learned in the Anglican Church that it was important that there was a continuity between the church of the apostolic era and the church of today. I still believe that, I just don’t believe that the original faith has necessarily been passed on through a continuous lineage of laying on of hands in ordination. I also learned that people of a great variety of ethnic backgrounds could worship together.

Eleven years after I left Craik I wanted to get married and neither I nor my fiancée knew a minister of any kind. My mother knew where to find Ken Vickers and he came to Moose Jaw to do some counselling before the wedding and to marry us, thus starting us on another journey.

Catechism Classes

About the only thing my parents had in common was a feeling that the church in which they had been raised had let them down.

My father was a descendant of New England Puritans, with some French and Scottish blood thrown in.  He was born in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota and arrived in Saskatchewan in 1908 at the age of 17.  The family was Wesleyan Methodist, but a series of mergers brought most Methodists into one fold and then in the 1920’s they became part of the new United Church of Canada.  My dad told of a service he had attended in Edmonton in the early years of the United Church.  As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he didn’t believe the creation account, the virgin birth of Jesus, or much of anything else in the Bible.  Dad walked out of that church into the street and wept.  After that he tried to avoid ever setting foot in a United Church again.

My mother was of pure Low German descent.  Her grandparents came to Canada in the great migration of the 1870’s.  There is a story in our family that her grandfather learned to read and write English and discovered that the bishop of the Old Colony Mennonite Church was using money that belonged to the congregation for his own benefit.  Great-grandfather was thereupon excommunicated and joined the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.  I’m sure there would be a different story from the other side, but this is the story that I have been told.

Mom was born in Manitoba and grew up in Saskatchewan, the sixth in a family of 14 children.  She was the last one in the family to learn High German, which was the only language used in the Sommerfelder Church worship services.  Mom often spoke of how she felt that the church had abandoned her younger siblings.

In her later teens she joined a group of other young people in a catechism class.  They were supposed to learn the catechism by heart.  After the catechism classes were finished, they were to answer the questions of the catechism before the congregation.  I believe this took place over several Sundays.  Mom was the only one of the group to memorize the whole catechism.  As they always sat in the same order, the others calculated which questions they would be asked and memorized only those answers.  One of Mom’s cousins sat beside her.  The morning they were to begin answering the questions before the congregation this cousin told Mom, “I don’t have my answer memorized, so when the bishop asks my question, just speak up and answer it for me and no one will know the difference.”  Mom agreed to this subterfuge.  All went well until the bishop came to the person after Mom.  The anticipated sequence was now broken and he had not memorized the answer to the question he was asked.  Somehow it all worked out and they were all baptized.

My parents were married in the Alliance Church in Moose Jaw, but did not affiliate with any denomination.  I remember that we once attended a service in a rural school house.  I suspect my father was not pleased as we never went again.  One time we attended an Ernest Manning crusade in Regina.  When I was nine, my father arranged for me to be baptized in a private ceremony in a Lutheran church.

That same year, we moved to a farm on the outskirts of Craik.  There were three churches in this town, United, Catholic and Anglican.  My father decided that we needed to start attending church and the Anglican Church was the only good choice available.

A catechism class was planned for the following winter and my father decided I should join.  There were four other boys my age in the class and we spent a number of months studying, not memorizing, the Anglican catechism.  I still remember the definition of a sacrament: “An outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace,” and think that is the best definition that I have heard.  The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in the spring of 1953.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began.  The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman.  He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted.  Then he told us: “When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore.  When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before.  They came just as easily as they ever had!  When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you, that will change nothing inside of you.  To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you.  You will need a change of heart.”

This happened 57 years ago and I may not have the words exactly as he said them, but this was the essence of his message to us.  The fact that I remember that message so clearly must indicate the impact those words had on me, even though the fruit did not appear until many years later.

Smoke gets in your eyes . . .

and your sinuses, and your throat. The forest fires in British Columbia are still burning. The smoke has wafted in other directions for the past several weeks, but yesterday and today it is back in our country. There is a blue haze in the air, accompanied by a faint aroma of burning evergreens.

Elderly people and those with respiratory allergies or impaired immune systems are advised to take precautions. I qualify on two of those counts and have been taking double doses of antihistamines all summer. We are two provinces away, imagine what it must be like in B.C.!

One side benefit (?) is that the smoke filters the sunlight and moderates our temperatures.

Other trivia from today –

I spent part of the day doing bookkeeping at the vet clinic. Then I went to check out the sale on the town square of Delisle where my daughter had a table selling Tupperware. (There would be room for debate about whether Delisle has either a downtown or a town square. The business district consists of one block, with a vacant lot at one end that serves as the town square.)

From there, I went across the street to the coffee shop to have a latte. The young lady behind the counter asked me if it had been a busy day at the vet clinic. What? I had to ask her how she knew I had been at the vet clinic. It turns out she had spent a few days there as a work ed student while in high school. Okay, the light began to dawn, I do remember seeing her there. And she made a super latte with the perfect design in the cream on top, just like you see in pictures.

Pine siskins have been mobbing our thistle seed feeder for several weeks now and the goldfinches seemed to have disappeared. Today we saw a goldfinch, but there wasn’t room for him at the feeder. I guess they have been crowded out from our feeder and are most likely going next door. We have hummingbirds fighting for a turn at our hummingbird feeder. These are the young from this year and it seems that there is always one male who is boss and won’t let the others near until he has had his fill. Nature is not all sweet peace and harmony.

The breaking point

Dad and I had never been close; fear of his impatience and anger made me keep a safe distance. As I grew up the gulf between us widened and neither of us knew how to bridge it.

One Sunday in June of 1959 we were on our way home from church. I was driving, Mom was on the passenger side and Dad between us. Dad began berating me about some little thing that grew bigger and bigger as he spoke. His voice grew louder and his hands waved in agitation. Suddenly he was trying to wrest control of the steering wheel away from me. Then we were driving in the ditch, Dad shouting in incoherent rage. I broke his grip, pushed him away from the wheel, steered the truck back onto the highway and made it the rest of the way home.

Dad continued his tirade as we walked into the house. In the kitchen he grabbed a piece of firewood and began shouting that he was going to teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget. A series of thoughts flashed through my mind: “I am 17, Dad is 67; I am as big as he is; I am as strong as he is; I can yell as loud as he can.” I reached down and picked up another piece of firewood, brandished it at him and bellowed back “I dare you to try it.”

Dad’s arm slowly went down, he put the wood back in the box beside the stove. “Next time I will teach you the lesson you need to learn.” I put my piece of wood back and went for a walk.

When I came back into the house Mom had dinner on the table and we all sat down. Dad said a prayer and we ate in strained silence.

I never knew what would trigger Dad’s anger and I doubt he did either. This was the first time he had completely lost control of himself and become violent. When I stood up to him, we knew we had each crossed a line and our relationship would never be the same.

My father was not an evil man. He meant well, but by the time his only child came along when he was 50 he didn’t have a clue how to teach me to be the son he wanted. All I ever wanted was a Dad who would love me and let me talk to him without fear.

%d bloggers like this: