Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Eels, dogs and strangers of our kind

The beauty of a small town:  you don't have to know each other in order to speak to each other.

Sometimes you can have the same experience in a city.    Lately, in Halifax,  I wandered into the Forum, where a farmers' market had just started up- and sat down with my African meatpie at a table already occupied by a couple- and we had a friendly conversation.  One chats to the market vendors as one would to the vendors in downtown St Andrews.   And then next door at the Women for Music book sale - raising funds for Symphony Nova Scotia- some of us got into a little chat about this author and that.     The common factor: going to markets and going to book sales, one feels one is pleasantly surrounded by like-minded people .  It says something about you already, if you forsake the malls to go in quest of local food,  or if you set down your electronic devices and instead pore over real physical books,  debating which you can offer a good home.

In beautiful downtown St Andrews , you don't always know everyone.  In any Maritime coastal community,  travellers often pass through.    Those from there who have had to go away to work come back for holidays, especially if their parents are still here- and if you're a relatively new resident from here, you didn't know them when they were growing up here.   And many day trippers come by St Andrews for our musical events, our July 1 festivities,  our summer farmers' market and the like.   Not to mention the cruise ships which anchor in our bay or send busloads down from Saint John.  

And even in very rural small inland communities,  you never know who lives there or who might visit there- or whom you might meet if you stop in at a flea market or a supper.

One of the joys of all the chance conversations - whether with people I know or people I don't know:  you learn constantly.

Only this week:  I happened upon a nearby blueberry stand which sells the most delectable wild blueberry sundaes.  They're not portable, so 3 of us wound up sitting outside snacking at the same picnic table- actually 4, one was a very small baby.

  Among various topics:   I discovered there is an eel business in rural Charlotte County.   This was a revelation as I didn't know there were eels, but apparently our rivers are full of them.    Eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea,  and somehow the young eels travel the Gulf Stream as far north as Canada,  up many an estuary into our rivers.   They are harvested in nets - I am hoping with conservation in mind-  and sold  mainly to Asian customers, some of whom, I can vouch , make them into beautiful barbecued eel sushi.   Apparently the reproductive life of eels remains something of a mystery: Carl Jung found that human psychoanalysis was less bewildering.

Today, sipping my French Roast and reading my Times Literary Supplement in a beautiful sunlit outdoor spot, I was glad I asked what someone was reading as I found out an author I had never heard of.   Beyond book learning, I studied the behaviour of dogs.  

A dog was barking very loudly simply because he was lonely- even waiting for his human companion for a few moments was more than he could bear.  He calmed right down when she reappeared.   Much to my amazement,  two other dogs came up - dogs whom he'd never met before- and I saw tail wagging, sniffing,  and other signs of sheer delight  - not a growl or bark to be heard.      I wondered- what is it to be part of a species who so quickly warms to total strangers, recognizing them as part of our kind?

And as a former city-dweller like me overcomes my shyness and speaks to people I don't know- as I am rewarded by widened horizons - do I too discover the joys of warming to others of my species, others of my kind?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Back to the creative path!

Since Labour Day 2011,  I've become even more peripatetic and eclectic!

I go back and forth between two United Church pastoral charges [our word for parishes], Wesley in beautiful downtown St Andrews by the Sea , New Brunswick and St James in the hills and ridges north of St Stephen.  In St James we go back and forth between two churches, Scotch Ridge and Oak Hill, found on country roads, attended by people spread up and down over many other country roads.

In the winter we go back and forth between upstairs and downstairs:   in St Andrews we go upstairs to save heat and enjoy a more intimate worship experience.  In Oak Hill we go downstairs to the Friendship Room , with keyboard and drums.   In Scotch Ridge, last year we experimented with a few Sundays in someone's capacious living room, complete with resident cat!    We're learning that spiritual community and connection can happen anywhere: all we need do is show up!

In my back-and-forth,  I serve two very different communities.    St Andrews is home to 1700 or so permanent residents but a seaside resort for  many other visitors and passers-by .  It houses a biological research station,  under the auspices of the national Department of Fisheries and Oceans; the Huntsman marine research centre and aquarium;  a branch of the New Brunswick Community College;  elementary and high schools;  a health centre and access to doctors and dentists; a long-term care home;   beautiful  Kingsbrae Garden; an excellent public library; Sunbury Shore Arts and Nature Centre and several  art galleries; restaurants and coffee shops;   many small specialized local businesses as well as the usual supermarket and post office and bank;   walking trails  and much more.

There is an abundance of cultural and culinary and sporting events year round.      The Arts Council uses our church and other churches for classical music practices and events.   There is a host of volunteer  organizations.  Two examples only:  the Spindrifters organizing social, cultural and educational events for the many over-50s;  Save Ocean Science /Save Our Science which has been advocating these last years for the protection of and promotion of government science.   Many of us are part of book clubs.  The Film Society organizes showing of movies which are later donated to the library.  

In contrast,  the rural surroundings of St James Pastoral Charge contain fields, forest,  spread-out homes , the odd working farm still,   and churches and church halls.   For goods and services and cultural and educational events,   one must travel  to St Stephen .   A sturdy vehicle is a must.

In a rural setting like St James, the church is a centre of community and connection in a special way.  Most of the Scotch Ridge and Oak Hill events are  - organized by a small core of very active
church volunteers:church women's meetings, flea markets, potlucks, pancake suppers , community evenings and  Christmas teas.  The  other communal events are potlucks down in Little Ridge organized by the residents themselves,   the area firefighters' suppers and fundraisers [many of the volunteers are connected with our churches !] and a community men's club [involving our church men of course! ]   which puts on an Easter breakfast and does many quiet good works.  These events are widely attended.

"My" two spiritual communities could not be more different.

 St James is the backbone of its rural district.    Wesley is one church among many , one organization among many, a minority of the population.

 St James members were mostly born and baptized there or not far away.  They have mostly known each other all their lives and have generations of history together.  Wesley members mostly were not born or baptized in St Andrews.   Some came here because of work opportunities.   Many have retired here, often within the last  5, 10 or 15 years.

Many Wesley people travel , to warm winter climates or to Europe or to visit family.  St James people are  more likely to go on small road trips, if they travel at all.

The musical tastes, the life experience, the spiritual journeys are very different too!

And yet these two communities are alike in their adaptability, resourcefulness and strong lay leadership.    This common ground has enabled them to cooperate, sharing me as their full-time minister.  This is good news for them and good news for me.

The result : I have indeed become eclectic and peripatetic, more so than I imagined when I first moved here.  It's challenging and exhausting - but it's also great fun!