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April 4, 2011

“Last Class Settled” from United Church Observor. April 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 12:10 pm

Today I’m pondering that age old question, asked by humans of every time and almost every place: How the heck did I get here?”

A year ago I was living in downtown Toronto, finishing an Masters of Divinity degree and looking forward to being ordained and assigned somewhere where my knowledge of inner city life and ministry could be put to good use. In June, I arrived in rural Saskatchewan to serve the United Church of Canada in three small towns; Beechy (pop 295), Lucky Lake (pop 295) and Birsay (pop less than 50). For the last few months, How the heck did I get here? has been a constant question.

For those unfamiliar with the settlement process, the practice of the UCC for some eighty years has been to send newly ordained clergy to churches who, for some reason, are otherwise unable to call a minister. This arrangement made sense in the early years of the church when most graduates were either single or the head of their household. But now most graduating ministers have substantial ties to home, spouses with careers of their own, children in school, parents in need of care.

Along with most of my graduating class, I knew exactly how I felt about settlement. I didn’t want to do it. As I stood in our school chapel enthusiastically singing, ? will follow where Christ leads me,often I was silently adding, ?o long as it’s within a 60 km radius of where I am right now.”

It’s not that I wasn’t up for being challenged by God. I learned years ago that a spiritually aware life is not for sissies. I just couldn’t imagine that what God wanted was for me to be sent far away from my family, thrust into an unfamiliar situations and forced to abandon all the plans and dreams I had for myself. Surely, what God wanted was for me to stay near home, safe and secure. I believed this. In spite of everything I’d ever read about God in the Bible.

I was settled to rural Saskatchewan. 2,800 km from home. Two hours from anything remotely resembling a city.

Now, if I stand on my front porch, in one direction I see our bank, post office, a small grocery store and a bar. There is also a store that specializes in computer supplies and saddles. For some reason, people find this combination convenient. I call this the town ?inancial district.To the left beyond two small houses, snow covered prairie and a big-screen sky that stretches forever. This could not be more unlike what I wanted and expected. And I have never been happier.

The people here teach me daily what it looks like to treat a stranger like family. I’ve learned that no amount of coffee shops or diners beats a meal served from the back of a truck in an open field, shared with men who have been harvesting since dawn. And that quiet around you can nurture quiet inside you. As I drive the back roads on my pastoral care calls, sometimes I am the only human being in the vast, awe-inspiring landscape. It’s magical. I do miss my spouse and family in the east, but I realize every day that I have been given an extraordinary gift; to experience the world in a whole new way.

Perhaps, sometimes, staying where we are means denying the good things God has in store for us. After all, a call to those of faith to venture out is entirely Biblical. And, it’s what created out church in the first place. George Pigeon, one of the most articulate and passionate of the original church unionists once proclaimed, ?he United Church of Canada is an adventure of faith, and the spirit of adventure characterizes all its going.The only certainty we have, as the venturing out begins, is that God is leading us on, ever patient with our fears, but also joyously ready to reveal new ideas and ways of being.

My graduating class was the last to be subject to mandatory settlement. This spring, ordinands may choose to enter the settlement process or look for a position they feel best suits their needs. I think choice is a good thing. But I must confess, I am glad I didn’t have one.

As I look out at the endless prairie I have so quickly come to love, I do ask, How the heck did I get here? But the answer comes easily. I got here because God wanted more for me than I wanted for myself. I got adventure.

April 1, 2011

“If there’s a cow in the bathtub, it must be spring.” from Toronto Star. Sunday, March 27, 2011.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Anne Hines @ 10:54 am

Someone wiser than me once said, “Two things in life never seem to come soon enough. Wisdom and spring.” Today, I’d settle for just having spring.

Eight months ago I moved from downtown Toronto to Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan (pop 295) to serve as a minister for the United Church of Canada. My first winter on the prairies has been an education. I had no idea, for instance, that there was such a temperature as -43C. On days like that, as I walk the few hundred steps from my house to the church, my teeth freeze. An elderly neighbour advised, “Perhaps you should try to keep your mouth shut until May.” I believe she meant it kindly.

The long chill has allowed me to participate in some of the traditional activities of a Canadian winter: whining and complaining. But I must admit I was delighted when, last week, I finally encountered a sure sign of spring. I was at our village store joining in a lively debate about whether ice, snow, frozen snow or frozen slush is more annoying to drive through when one our local ranchers, Cindy Boon, announced, “Well, I have to be going. I have a cow in the bathtub.”

Eight months ago I might have found Cindy’s comment surprising. Now I thought, “Of course Cindy has a cow in the bathtub. Likely half our community has livestock in the bathtub. After all, it’s March.”

Many people think that rural Saskatchewan is just a vast, sweeping plain filled with nothing but grain. This is so untrue. We also have cows. And, a sure sign that spring is on it’s way is the beginning of calving season.

The problem is, calves, like spring, don’t always come when you’d like. One rancher noted, “If cows had to hold off till it was warm enough to give birth, some years they’d be waiting forever.” So, calves and also lambs born on a day when winter is still winning out, are often bedded down in a toasty farmhouse kitchen or heated sun porch. Some are popped into a warm bath. I’m not sure how long they’re kept there. Maybe until someone needs to shower.

Local sheep farmer Enos LaBar has solved the cold weather problem by snipping the arms off long-johns and slipping them onto his new lambs as warm cotton coats. Calves are sometimes outfitted with leather ear muffs, complete with Velcro straps to keep their mothers from pulling them off. At least one local woman makes hand-knitted “ear-cosies,” brightening her farmyard with bright red and blue spots.

Trudging home from the store, through streets locked in snow, I realized that what I needed to get me into the spring spirit was to see a calving. I’m eager to experience everything in the country that I can’t do in the city. That includes, “taking a deep breath” and “being able to park my car.” Now, I would add “seeing a calf being born.”

I put out a “cattle call.” Four kindly ranchers agreed to keep my number on speed dial.

I waited. On day four I complained to Linda in the post office,

Me: I really, really want to see a calving. Isn’t there some way to know when this is going to happen?
A pause.
Linda: You’ve had kids, right?

I waited.

Finally, yesterday, Duane Ayers called. His wife, Darlene, had spotted a cow ready to give birth. I was in the car in seconds.

A bitter wind blustered over the prairie, but the sheltered yard at Ayers farm was bathed in late afternoon sunshine. The expectant cow wandered restlessly among the new calves in the yard. “She’s seeing if one of them is her’s,” Duane explained. “She knows there should be a calf. She’s hoping it’s already come out.” Having given birth twice myself, I could relate entirely.

The cow wandered, she moo-ed. Duane and I watched patiently. She lay down. She stood up. She relieved herself in many ways. Again, I could relate.

Suddenly, two small hooves and a nose appeared. I shrieked. The cow lay down, pushed, and out popped a slick, black mess. The mother instantly set about gently and efficiently licking off the afterbirth. Two small ears twitched. A nose reached up. A tiny moo. I wept.

Sharing supper with Duane and Darlene, we talked about how exciting it had been. “I always cry,” Darlene admitted. “And I’ve been seeing it for years.” I drove home through early evening light. Across the frosty fields I spotted a few new open patches of brown. Soon, our back roads will melt into mud. But then, spring is like birth. A bit messy. And you have to wait for it. But it’s a miracle. Every time.

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