Autobio 2000

A Personal View of the Twentieth Century

by Robert Brow  Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2000

 Chapter 10

Kingston Is Home

St. James' Church, Kingston was a beautiful building set in the campus of Queen's University. I say "was" because its impressive limestone tower later had to be taken down. The six bedroom Rectory was right next door and within walking distance of the two hospitals and the shopping area. When the students arrived early that first September a couple from the Maritimes asked us to board their daughter Fiona Livingston while she did Physiotherapy at Queen's. We so enjoyed her company and the friends she brought for meals that for the next eleven years we always had students living with us. We just charged them for the food they ate, and they could give a donation to the church. One of them, Andrew Stewart, became our son in law. Ginny Puddicombe, Suzanne Smith, and Elizabeth Alexander, are still good friends in Kingston.

Based on what I had set out in Go Make Learners (not published till 1981) I wanted to try out the model of the congregation as a school, or rather a happy kindergarten. I also decided to avoid nagging and any kind of guilt as a motivation. If people did not enjoy some area of responsibility, they should feel free to do something else. And if there were too few to continue something that had gone on too long, it should be allowed to close without regrets. I also wanted women to serve on the same basis as men.

One the first things I did was to ask Elaine Juby to serve the cup at communion. She was the first woman ever to do this in any Anglican congregation in the city. The first time her hands were trembling, but she soon settled down to a ministry which has continued for the past twenty years. One character, who came in off the street, took the full cup of wine from Elaine, downed it in one long swallow, and gave it back to her empty. "What shall I do, he has drunk the whole cup?" I told her we would fill it up again, and next time she should hold on a bit tighter. If bad behaviour persisted we would give him the bread and no wine, but happily we had no further problems.

When the AIDS scare began, people asked if they could get the virus from the common cup. I said the Anglican rule was the wine had to be 16%, which made that impossible. And if anyone was going to get AIDS I would be the first to get it because another Anglican rule was that I had to finish off the cup after everyone else had drunk from it. I read last week that among the millions of Anglicans all over the world there had not been one reported case of any priest or member of any congregation getting infected from communion wine. I think Jesus would be embarrassed to have told us "Drink ye all of this" if it was going to kill us. But we allow those worried about hygiene to dip their wafer in the wine, and many do that.

When I came I found a handful of students used to come to a communion service Wednesday mornings at 7.30 before classes. I pared the liturgy to a minimum, and took 12 minutes to teach a regular series on one book of the Bible at a time. This appealed to the students, who then invited their friends. I often spoke at Queen's Christian Fellowship (InterVarsity) meetings, and more students of all denominations began to attend. No one was refused communion. Often we would have forty students at the coffee and muffin breakfast that followed. And we soon had a great team of workers, who also enjoyed the service. They would chat with the students, and give the prayer support that we needed.

One philosophy student fiercely argued atheism with me till midnight. Having made no progress, I said "Faith isn't a matter of philosophical argument. You need to check out a Christian lifestyle. Why don't you come tomorrow morning at 7.30, and you will meet forty or fifty Christians." I was astonished to see him come the next day. He looked around to see what the others were doing, and knelt at the rail to receive the bread and the wine. A month later he was right into enthusiastic Christian faith.

I have always had a problem learning names. Usually I have to write them down on index cards and learn them like Greek verbs. But when I asked one girl her name, and she told me,  I said apologetically "Please don't worry if I ask you ten times before I learn it." She sweetly replied "You have."

I loved the stimulus of talking every week to some of the brightest students in the university. James Anglin was a physicist, and he would put me right when I made unfounded statements about science. He went on to do post-doctoral physics specializing in sub-atomic particles at Palo Alto, then in Austria, and now teaches at MIT in Boston. For the past three years he has corrected my continued ignorance of the latest physics by e-mail on the Canadian Evangelical Association Theological discussion list. Last week I said that the word "freedom" had no place in physics, and he put me right with half a dozen different kinds of "freedom" among the quarks and other particles that he works with.

The first two years my assistant was Ann Jervis, who was studying at Queen's Theological College. She did a wonderful job running a youth group, and then went on to do a doctorate and now teaches New Testament at Wycliffe College.

I had known Keith and Ruth Jones twenty-five years before in India. When they moved to work in Iran, I arranged for him to be ordained as an Anglican minister, and wrote to say that if he had to leave I would love to have him come and work with us at St. James. That happened very quickly when the Shah was thrown out and the Ayatollah took over. Keith was much appreciated as a pastor and visitor in the congregation.  Unfortunately as time went on, he found some of my interpretations of the Bible upsetting. His daughter wanted them to settle nearby in the Pickering area, and our paths diverged. Whenever this kind of growth by organic division takes place, I remember Paul and Barnabas. "The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company" (Acts 15:39), but the result was that Barnabas established the churches in Cyprus which have continued to this day, and Paul had his church planting ministry all the way to Spain. Keith later had a fruitful ministry taking services in Urdu in Toronto and contacting exiles from Iran.

My next assistant was David Ward. He had a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, and when he and Margo began attending St. James, he was teaching chemistry in the university. In his spare time he went on to do a Master of Divinity at Queen's Theological College. When he was ordained the Bishop thought he needed to learn some of the proper Anglican rituals which he hadn't learned from me. He was sent to work with Clive Clapson in Sydenham. Clive was a very capable priest, but he was as high church as I was low. Apparently he said that if any consecrated communion wine was spilled, the piece of carpet had to be cut out and burnt immediately. The very next Sunday David spilled the wine all the way down the front of a woman's blouse, and he complained to me that I had never told him what to do next.

My last associate was Marie Warner. She had begun coming to St. James when she worked in the palliative care department of Kingston General Hospital. She phoned to say that a man had been told he would soon be dead, and he wanted to see an Anglican priest. He asked about life after death, and when I had finished he said "Will you bury me?" I said yes. "There will be three hundred guards from the penitentiary in uniform at the service. I want you to tell them exactly what you explained to me today." Six weeks later a woman called to ask, "Do you conduct weddings at home?" I said no, it is always done in a church service. Then she explained her husband was dying, and he wanted to make things right with her after 35 years of living common law. By the next day I had to get her divorce papers down from Barrie, get permission from the Government of Ontario to marry without three days' notice, and also get permission from the Bishop. When I arrived she was dressed up with a gown and hat for her wedding, and he looked about dead on the couch. I filled in the forms, he got up with his guard's uniform hanging like a bag on his emaciated body, and he stood to attention as he said the vows. "Are you done?" Then he dropped back exhausted on his couch, happy that he had done the right thing.. Half an hour later the ambulance came and he died that evening in the hospital.

That illustrated the importance of helping people to die with dignity instead of merely keeping them alive as long as possible. Marie Warner went on to found Hospice Kingston with Ruth Crofts, and at the same time I encouraged her to study for Anglican ordination at Queen's Theological College, where she got an A average for her courses. She worked as my associate for two years, and every Monday afternoon we met for a staff meeting. I would say "I think we should do so and so." She would answer "That's how men think."  I would gulp, and very slowly I learned a bit about how women see things. I hope I am less of a male chauvinist than I was before. Now ten years later Marie is Rector of Trinity Church in Brockville, and we meet from time to time. Last week she sent me an e-mail to say she is using my commentary on Matthew from the web site for a sermon series.

I had been impressed by the weekly suppers at Little Trinity, and we had one at St. James for about ten years. They were a great way to welcome new members into the fellowship of the Church. But we also threw it open to any from the street. At first that seemed like a good idea, but eventually there were too many free loaders, parents with children found it hard to come, and older members found the food did not help their digestion. The beginning of the end was the installation of a commercial dish washer.  Previously five or six people enjoyed happy social contact washing, drying, and putting away the dishes, and newcomers felt free to join them. When the machine took over only Ray Pare and I knew how to work it, and no one else felt confident to come anywhere near.

In 1980 the Bootmakers of Toronto (Sherlock Holmes Society) decided to have their study week-end in Kingston. They asked me to take an early communion service exactly as it would have been done at St. Paul's Portman Square in the area where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson lived in 1895. About twenty members of the society arrived in period costumes. One of them was obviously dressed as a lady of doubtful virtue. She wore a huge hat, and her cleavage was exposed below the level of decency. When she knelt for communion, she bowed her head very devoutly, and I had to pass the bread up under the hat in the direction of her mouth. The wine was more difficult.  I had to tip the cup sight unseen, and I am afraid some of the wine may not have found its proper destination. I was rewarded for my efforts with a lifetime membership as a sleuth in the society. They also published my sermon on the criminal must be brought to justice based on the day's text "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) in the Canadian Holmes, Michaelmas 1981 issue..

By the second year people had got used to the idea of various teams in the congregation, each of them with their own responsibility. I avoided interfering with their decisions unless there was a problem of two groups needing the same space at the same time. In my eleven years there I never attended the building committee, and I expected them to take care of the fabric of the building. The Craft Group was already in existence, and they provided a very good non- threatening way for women to feel at home. I attended the annual meeting of the Sanctuary Guild, and every week they quietly did their beautiful work setting up for the communion services.  Another team organized the services in the old Rideaucrest Nursing Home.  Patients were collected in wheelchairs, we sang the old hymns, and had communion. After the service Bunny McUen, who knew and loved everyone, would take me round to the bedridden from any denomination who wanted communion. I am sure many received the bread and the wine for the first time before they died. At the end I would always embarrass Bunny by saying "Now I hope you and I can get stuck alone in the elevator."  She would pretend to be shocked, but she always offered to take me round the next time.

I also gave the Sunday School freedom to organize their classes as they preferred, and even let them choose their own materials. One year they had curriculums from three different publishing houses. If any parent complained about the Sunday School, I told them to go and join the team and help them do what was needed. The teachers arranged among themselves to have as much rotation as possible, so that no one was left holding the bag for ever.

One day Susie Rogerson and Sue Caldwell suggested we have a Young Mothers' Group. I said we would pay a baby sitter to free the parents for a half hour Bible study and discussion. They began the next Wednesday, and very soon we were in contact with thirty new families. Several of these found their way into the various services.

By giving each team their freedom and responsibility I was free to do what I wanted to do. I took time to study and write. I worked hard at preaching, and I taught any families and individuals who wanted to learn. I accepted every invitation to teach in the InterVarsity group in the University, and wherever else there was an opportunity in the city. I also tried to visit all on our list, give communion to the shut-ins, and leave some brief Bible teaching wherever possible. I do not view myself as a counselor, and I very rarely saw people in trouble more than once. I would teach them to look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom in their problem, and suggest they talk to a marriage counselor or psychiatrist if they needed continuing treatment.

Our organist, Bill Barnes, was magnificent. He not only played with great feeling, but he knew how to motivate and train a choir for worship. He was a brilliant and much loved English professor at Queen's University, though he felt despised in academia because he did not have a Ph.D. His language could be a bit raw, but he was unashamed of his Christian faith, and many students came to worship with us because of him. His best friend was David Helwig, the well known novelist, who sang bass in the choir though he claimed to be an atheist. I left Bill in charge of the music at the main service, and if anyone came to complain about a hymn I would say "Go and talk to the organist or to Ray Pare who leads the choir."

Our first year Carol Tennant joined the choir, and immediately Bill Barnes saw she was up in the league with professional singers. Six years before she had attended our young people's Drop In when we were in Millbrook, and when she came into a deeper faith she immediately began writing songs, learning the guitar, and singing with such feeling that we were moved to tears. When she came to Kingston she and her husband Ed Tennant, who is a teacher at the Christian School, used to sing duets. She was soon given the lead part in The Pirates of Penzance. A large group from St. .James attended, and we had a great party afterwards. Then she sang the solo Soprano for a packed performance of the Messiah in St. Mary's Cathedral. Many felt it was one of the most memorable musical performances in the city. She was encouraged to learn opera singing with a professional teacher, but unfortunately her voice was ruined by the hours of unnatural exercises she was made to do. Happily now ten years later she can again sing church music, and we love the cassette recording of her Charismatic songs.

Throughout my eleven years at St. James   Bill Barnes suffered from the diabetes which eventually took his feet, and then his life. On one occasion I was praying by his bedside before major surgery the next day. He said with his brand of black humour, "The last fellow came round from this operation, and asked how it went. They said it was a great success, but unfortunately they took off the wrong foot."

The problem with worship structured around an organ is that it is very difficult to introduce the modern charismatic and rock music that the younger generation prefers. I often thought that my ideal would be to have one service with the organ, another with the new Charismatic music, and a Rock music service for the younger generation. In the last few years it has become obvious that the only congregations in any denomination, who are reaching teenagers in large numbers, offer modern music with a band made up of any who want to play.

I also noticed that most shift workers listen to Country and Western as they drive to work at Dupont and Alcan. But to my knowledge there isn't a single Anglican service using the hundreds of Gospel songs written in that medium. The nearest I got to it was in a wedding. The couple who were both professional singers had their guitars hidden behind the front pew. After the vows they picked up their guitars, turned and sang to each other, and everyone clapped and gave them a standing ovation. I wish they could have led a Country and Western team for people who never darken the doors of our church.

The first break through was when Faye Koshel and David and Jacquie Grier attended a workshop on leading charismatic singing. Faye came back enthusiastic to start, and I said "What about Sunday evening?" Some Queen's students were happy to come and play various instruments, and they were joined by professional musicians like David Barton. Soon the numbers increased to the limit of the Rogers Room where we met, but we lost momentum when we had to move into the church sanctuary. That Sunday evening service brought many from other denominations in the city, and they added great vitality to our community. Though the two morning services still continued with the formality of the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer, I was thrilled with the increasing freedom to try new things.

My mother had died before we moved to Kingston, and we inherited some shares in the family business in Brussels. The company was doing very badly, and nearly went under, but finally in 1981 it began to turn the corner. We badly needed an escape hole for a day off, and a cottage was advertised only half an hour away. We saw it at 5 p.m., put in an offer, and had it by 11.30 that night. Every week we would drive out after the pot luck supper on Thursday, and come back early on Saturday. Over the next eight years I am sure it saved my life from a heart attack and our marriage from shriveling. But the $249.82 monthly mortgage payment, plus taxes, insurance, propane heat, hydro, and other expenses took us way beyond our income.

For the second time Mollie retook a nurse's refresher course, and worked part time shifts at Providence Manor. And again this was very hard on her. Each shift she had to record, check, and give out medications to sixty patients. She would have loved to sit and talk with each one, but the pressure of getting the work done frustrated her. And she also had to mind her family and a very busy Rectory. Two years later we were able to sell some shares in Franchomme & Cie, the family business in Brussels, and Mollie was freed from her exhausting work at the nursing home.

Earl and Faith Thomas came to us when they moved from Montreal. They had been involved in the Order of Saint Luke in their church there, and wondered if I would be willing to be the chaplain of a group in Kingston. It involved meeting for a whole year with eight or ten others who were interested to study every one of the healing miracles in the New Testament.  Many years before in India I had prayed for healing in desperate situations with our children, and of course prayed for the sick at home and in hospital. But when our Order of St. Luke team began praying and working together what happened shook me to the core.
As if to encourage me, there were three women at one time who were each told they had six weeks left to live, and they should warn their families and set their affairs in order. Our healing team prayed for them, and now seventeen years later all three of them are still alive here in Kingston. Earl and Faith Thomas wanted to have an Order of St. Luke conference to make the work known in the area and among other denominations. As we had gathered, Doug and Sue brought their little boy for prayer. She was carrying him down a very steep flight of stairs when Sue fell and Ryan was badly hurt. At the hospital the doctors said that the nerves into his brain were severed, and he would never see again, or hear, or feel anything, but be a vegetable for life. I remember as a hundred or so people at the conference prayed,  I found myself believing he was being healed. Ryan not only got back all his faculties, and did well at school, but to prove that his coordination is right he is now one of the best hockey goalies in his league.

It is important to remind ourselves that we all need to pass into the fullness of the life of heaven. All the New Testament apostles presumably had prayer for their healing, but they all died in due course. So not everyone is healed, and sometimes death comes very strangely. I was present in the Hotel Dieu Hospital when one little boy died of Leukemia.  There were six doctors present who examined him and said that all brain waves had ceased. When they had left Bob Gorham, the Anglican chaplain, came and said he was going to conduct a communion service for the family as the boy lay dead on the bed. Suddenly the boy called out "I want juice." And by the time the doctors came back he was obviously restored to life.  But then they decided he must have further treatment at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, and he died there. Why would God raise him from the dead, and then let him died a few weeks later?

I was struck with how inexplicable life is when I talked to Irene Cleland.  I appointed her as the first woman to be a warden of St. James' Church. She told me she lost a child just two months before her next baby was due. The baby was stillborn. She described how she walked up and down the corridors of Kingston General Hospital cursing God and calling him the worst kind of monster imaginable. At the end of the two or three hours, she suddenly realized that she had come to faith. She was one of the committee that interviewed me when I came, and she was a gracious tower of strength throughout my time at the church, even when she was fighting a severe attack of cancer.

Two or three times a month at the end of the main service we invited people to come for prayer for themselves or for others that they were specially concerned about. It always moved me to hear the hurts and deep concerns that many wanted to bring for healing. But I found it very exhausting.  Soon other members of the Order of St. Luke healing team began praying in pairs for those who came forward for the laying on of hands. They listened carefully, and then laid their hands on the person and expressed in prayer exactly what he or she had shared with them. They did so well and were so much appreciated that I was able to leave them to exercise this ministry, and myself go to the back of the church to meet newcomers.

The introduction of the Book of Alternative Services in 1986 was very traumatic. A year before it came out in a hardcover prayer book I had begun using a leaflet which we duplicated. Beginning without a bound book in their hands was certainly a mistake. For myself the model shift expressed by the BAS was exactly what I longed for. Instead of the old communion service where six times I had to tell the Lord we were abject miserable sinners, there was a sense of joyful welcome to the family table. The service was much freer, and it could be adapted to give a different flavour for each occasion. Lay people were invited to take the prayers of the people. I delighted in the kiss of peace (the Mediterranean hug of friendship, commanded six times in the New Testament, Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, 1 Peter 5:14).

It seemed to me to be a wonderful opportunity for Anglicans to greet one another and break down some of their frigid reserve. But for some of the old guard the very idea of having to greet strangers was anathema, and they said so.  The upset and angry responses from people I loved probably bothered me more than I was conscious of at the time. But what frayed my nerves most of all was the pressure of one of our members who had severe psychiatric problems.  Often Mollie and I had to sit with him till he quietened down from a an angry seizure. He quoted from the Bible, and wanted to promote his ideas about what was needed in the congregation by way of charismatic music and preaching about the second coming. Often a wonderful service would end with his grabbing me to complain about something that had not been done or announced according to his agenda.
Twice he had been violent with others, including Andrew Stewart who later married our daughter Susanne. One day he took a swing at me, which I managed to duck, and his fist went right through one of the windows on the side door. There was a trail of blood all the way to the hospital.  I was committed to welcoming all and sundry to our congregation, and I insisted on his right to be among us. But finally one day as people were still leaving the service he knocked me down, and I fell flat out on my back. If my head had hit a pew on either side of the aisle, I would have been killed. The wardens asked Stuart Ryan, the Chancellor of the Diocese, if we could get a court order to expel him, and the reply was "It is the duty of the wardens to keep order in the church." We got a court order from the police to keep him out, and I hated to see him hovering longingly the other side of Barrie Street as our services ended. Many had spent many hours trying to befriend him, and when he died the service in St. Paul's Church was packed to the doors.

When we came to St. James it was an aging congregation of wonderful people.  Some of them were well known characters like Bessie Comer who had taught Sunday School for fifty years. But while I was there I buried about a hundred and fifty of them. By the time we left, especially during the fall and winter, there were very few in the main service above the age of forty.

We had enjoyed eleven years in the nicest part of downtown Kingston. That was more than twice as long as I had lived anywhere in one place in sixty years. It felt like home. And we were between the park and Queen's university, an easy walk to the shops on Princess Street, and within five minutes we could be watching the sail boats and windsurfers on the lake.
We needed to move away from the area of St. James to keep out of the hair of the Rector who would follow us. Why not make our decrepit little cottage on Dog Lake into a house to retire in?  That would kill several birds with one stone. We could enjoy the changing seasons on the lake, swim in the summer and walk on the ice, welcome our children and grandchildren for as many holidays as they chose, and our friends from Kingston could drive out in thirty minutes. The only question was whether Mollie could cope with the noise and confusion of me building three bedrooms and an office around her kitchen.

Chapter 11 ...