While I was in Alberta in early August, I dropped in at Memorial, Rocky Mountain House, where I was a summer student in 1984. That was a long time ago; and it was wonderful to meet people I hadn’t seen in decades. Of course, I’m famous now, thanks to the mug staring out at you from this page, so a dozen people from the congregation came to chat over lunch. That was fun, in theory; they asked me some tough questions.
One I’d like to deal with here was asked by the new minister at Memorial, Rev. Devadosan Sugirtharaj. He is originally from India and joined our denomination earlier this year and he already had me on the mat begging for air. He wanted to know why there wasn’t more material in the Record from rural places. To which I would add the more common critique, from non-Ontario places.
Let me start with the cliché answer, which is true if overused: Any national institution in Canada has the same challenge. This is a big country with a small population, with little density. For Presbyterians, the density is in southern Ontario and secondarily on the east coast. Heading west, PCC churches are few and far between. That’s a challenge.
But for our denomination the challenge is even deeper. The self-defined Presbyterian identity, and association with the denomination, is greatest on the east coast and then in southern Ontario. In both parts of the country there are overt Scottish place names. The Record is more likely to get a submission from one of these Presbyterian hubs for, let’s say, a choir that got new robes, than we are from a western (or Korean, or Ghanaian, etc.) congregation for any reason, whether new robes or community mission.
In a post-denominational, post-Christendom, post-this, post-that world in which we now live, denominational identity is not very important to some congregations.
Also, there’s a sense of isolation. The further a spot is from the centre, the greater the isolation the congregants feel. Someone from Western Canada is more likely to have travelled straight south to the States than to Ontario. They don’t feel as connected to where I live.
At the Record we have tried in many ways over the years to build connections. We are a very small team, but every few years we call all the clerks of presbyteries to ask about what’s happening in their churches. It’s a frustrating process. We have also asked through the magazine for people to self-report: Brag on your church, your congregation.
You all don’t always think of yourselves as unique and interesting enough to brag on yourself. But I humbly submit that you’re wrong.
The Record will end its 140-year run this December, but your story will not. The story that God is writing through the Presbyterian Church in Canada continues.
Have confidence in that story. Have confidence in God. Tell your story.
And maybe one day the Record will return. And do a better job of sharing stories from every corner.