When I accepted the call to become the ordained minister at Whitehorse United Church, I was living in rural New Brunswick. That was 10 years ago, in 2009. It may be a function of my age that it seems, in some ways, like yesterday. All the feelings associated with that decision are still quite fresh in my mind and heart. I was excited. It felt right. (How to explain that inner knowing has always been beyond me, but there it is.) With the move came difficult goodbyes and the breaking of ties that also break the heart, but overwhelmingly I was ready for the move.
In our church, the traditional time to begin a new call is July 1. I asked for a September start instead, for one reason—my friend Joyce. Joyce’s birthday is Aug. 6 and that year, she was turning 90. A group of us had been planning her party for months and I just couldn’t leave until we’d celebrated the birthday with her. Whitehorse United Church agreed.
I stayed. Joyce’s party was a hit. As I left her that day, I was thinking … well, just what you’d imagine my thoughts would be, leaving my 90-year-old friend to move across the country. I hugged her extra close and waved to her as I drove away. I was sure that this would be the last time we’d see each other.
This year, I was back in New Brunswick for Joyce’s 100th birthday. She’s living in her own home and our telephone chats include world events, updates on our families and the church family, and music. All of this has sparked in me an awareness of, and appreciation for, the elders in my life. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to have had an array of elders in my life who have formed and moulded me.
Of all the things I could say about that, this is what I’m most aware of right now—so many of them were (and still are) fiercely activist. Brave, feisty, mouthy and unrelenting in the face of whatever injustices presented themselves at the time. I never want to romanticize these folks or make of them what they are not. But the truth is, many of the elders in my life have been models of resistance and advocates for social justice. Some of them farmed all day, cared for children and aging relatives and then, on the side, with whatever energy was left at the end of each day, they organized, strategized, served on committees and worked for unions or political parties that promised real change. They wrote letters to the editor, taught Sunday School (and if you think THAT’s not activist, let’s talk!) and prayed. (Ditto.)
As I move into this time of my life when I’m the one who is the elder, a possible mentor to youth who will follow, I want to be brave and outspoken in the face of the outrageous injustice of our own day. I’m thankful for having lived long enough to be an elder. I hope and pray that I honour that gift well. Happy birthday, Joyce!