Monday, 27 April 2015

St. Mark's, Longueuil - Good-bye Part 1

Our little stone church was packed - absolutely packed - on Saturday. People from tiny infant to well into their nineties. It was awe-inspiring. I'll write more of the day soon. It's still pretty raw - joy, sorrow, pride entwined. We did it!! We created a good-bye worthy of us and our little church(es) of St. Mark's and St. Oswald's. Jim played the organ and keyboard - such a  gift he has - it was all fitting - involving as many past parishioners of both little churches as possible.

Meantime, I wrote some memories to share with others in print form. It will all be put together in a format that can be shared ...and hoping more people will send their memories to add.

April 25th, 2015
St. Mark's, Longueuil, QC  1842 - 2015
(my photo)

My great-grandmother, Laura Mary Spicer died and her funeral was the first done by Canon B (as we called him) after his arrival at St. Mark’s.  He pastored five generations of our family. My Mum, Frances Hamer, married Dad October 5, 1940, and her two sisters Eileen and Joyce each married at St. Mark’s. All of the next generation of children except Peter Rilstone, who was born and baptized in Australia, were baptized there. Most of us were confirmed at St. Mark’s, and my brother Jim married Sandra Ascroft on August 10, 1968. Not sure about others, but two of their children, Lisa and Mark, were baptized there. So – baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals …

                My brother Lorne drowned in July 1950. The following fall, I was old enough to begin Sunday school. In those days, with no hall, we used pews and kneelers for most of us on Sunday afternoons. However, Mrs. Napper had a small class of little boys in the little room to the left of the pulpit. Coming from Montreal South, I didn’t know any other children my age except for my best buddy, Peter Rilstone, so when he was led to Mrs. Napper’s class, word is I had a screaming fit at being abandoned. Fortunately, Canon B was understanding of my grief and terror, and so I began Sunday School in the boys’ class sitting beside Peter. When the hall was built, Sunday School was held there. Frances Herron was our teacher and she was so kind I loved her. The next class up was led by Mrs. Edith Miller.

                When I was quite little, our Sunday School picnics were held on the grounds of Fort Chambly. I remember racing towards the finish line, which was feet away from the fence aabove the river and rapids. Scary. Later we began to go to Missisquoi Bay. Always fun. So many of us, such enthusiasm and a warm sense of church family.

                A large group of us was confirmed February 28, 1960 by Bishop John Dixon shortly before he retired. Peter and I used to walk or take the bus – having been bitten by a bug that made us extra religious – from Montreal South to St. Mark’s for the early service Sunday mornings if the main service was Morning Prayer. I have since become (fortunately) less ‘religious’ and less fearful of God and how God acts in the world.

                After confirmation, Sandra Ascroft, Lynda Higson, I and a few others joined the altar guild led by Miss Dora Parry. We polished fervently, especially remembering George our eagle and the large collection plate. I used to be annoyed that the servers put their full sweaty hands on the bottom of the plate, knowing they were leaving hard finger prints we would have to scrub off again. Wait a minute! I just realized - that (of course - sigh, grrrr), in those days, only boys allowed to be servers, and girls’ rightful ;-) place was on the altar guild, cleaning and polishing.  I remember sitting on the cushions, polishing the brass parts of the altar rail. We chatted and laughed, and learned a great deal about how to care for the church. When Miss Parry decided to retire, she asked me to take over as head of the altar guild. A privilege that stood me in good stead for the future - at St. Margaret's Convent and then as a priest.

                A curious note re girls’ and boys’ places: of course, only men could be ordained priests until about 1976. Canon B hoped one or more of the boys might feel called to the priesthood. He was, in fact, against women’s ordination until with a big heart, at 89, he changed his mind – and gave me several of his stoles to boot. At any rate, only three of his young people became ordained Anglican priests - three women: Trudy Lebans, Mary Irwin, and me. Until recently, that is when Donald Shields was ordained, but Canon B., having died, didn't know it. And Remo Madsen became an ordained Lutheran pastor.

                Jim, my brother, played the organ at St. Mark’s after Edith Miller retired. He and all four of the Rilstone boys, Auntie Joyce (Rilstone) and I were in the choir. I sat on Florence Hoult`s right on the Gospel side and learned to sing alto (I have a permanent left lean :-) from trying to hear Florence's alto next to two extremely strong sopranos on my right - Phyllis and Carol Millar.  always had a box of little hard, chewy, round red cough drops called Formalids to share during the sermon. One Sunday, the box was dropped and they rolled everywhere. Canon B was behind us in the pulpit, so we couldn't see his reaction. I have never (and have tried hard) been able to find Formolids again – sigh ... 

                One of the hymns we`re singing today is `Thou who at thy first eucharist didst pray…` Canon B always came to choir practice and sat in his usual priestly stall across from Phyllis Millar, chief soprano. Two very strong characters. When this  hymn was suggested – no – not suggested – we were going to learn it ad sing it – World Choir War 3 started. Yelling. Resistance. Absolutely no way we were going to sing this hymn. We did. And it became one of our favourite hymns – hence we are singing it today – memories and more memories.

                The Sunday before I left Montreal in 1967 to go to St. Margaret`s Convent in Boston, we sang the Folk Mass for the first time, with Jim at the organ.

                And then there was St. Oswald`s – I don`t know what the spat was about, but at a certain point in the 20`s or early 30`s, my grandmother (I guess) had a major disagreement with the priest of the time and we began going to St. Mark`s. My great-aunt,  Lillian Jane Spicer married Ray Press who was organist at St. Thomas Church on de Lorimier and Sherbrooke, at St. Oswald`s. And I was a Brownie there and Jim a cub and scout there.

St. Oswald's, Montreal South, QC
(Photo from Gail Hamer Howell)

                St. Mark`s has been home for so long. St. Oswald's  was home for others. They will live on –  they do live on in our lives, hearts, and memories.

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