Christmas in rural Saskatchewan. Here in Lucky Lake (pop. 275) our tiny village is dressed for the holidays in crisp new snow. Frost on trees glitters like twinkle lights in the clear prairie sunshine. It’s a Hallmark-greeting-card perfect vision in white. But I, I must admit, am feeling a little blue.
A few months ago, I moved from downtown Toronto to serve as a United Church of Canada minister. Being clergy of any kind isn’t easy. When I worked in retail, my job description was clear. Sell stuff. If I managed to do this without anyone yelling at me, I exceeded expectations. As a writer, the bar of success was set at “write something.” This was also clear. Though not always achievable. But as a minister, job success is now defined as “do good things.’ Some days I’m not sure what that is.
The fact is, I now live with the most self-sufficient people in the world. By the time I visit someone sick, they’ve already entertained twelve relatives, sixteen neighbours and every one of them has brought soup.
And, I learned quickly that my world is not their world. For one of my first church services I hit on the bright idea of demonstrating the interconnectedness of humankind by bringing in a world map and a variety of foods from different places. I would have the children show on the map where each food comes from. I confidently held up the first item. “Where does cheese come from?” Jesse, aged eight, raised his hand, Saskatchewan.
Me: Well… or Holland.
Jesse: It comes from Saskatchewan.
Me: Some cheese comes from Holland.
Jesse: My grandma makes cheese. She comes from Moose Jaw.
We then went through rice cakes (northern Saskatchewan), salami (the Pajunen family farm), perogie (Audrey Weir’s house) and sauerkraut (every single woman living within a forty mile radius).
By the time we were done, I had managed to demonstrate that all food comes from rural Saskatchewan… and that ministers from big cities know nothing.
All this means that I often wonder what I have to offer people here. Which is too bad, because in a short space of time I’ve come to love and admire these folk immensely. What can I give them that counts as a “good thing”.
Then, I hit on a perfect plan. A Christmas Eve service in a local barn.
Mary and Joseph would arrive at the farmhouse, Mary astride an actual donkey. The homeowner, following the Bible story, would play the innkeeper, pronouncing that there was no room for them inside and sending them to the barn for shelter. It would be magical. Bethlehem meets rural Saskatchewan. It would show people here their world in an entirely different way. The only problem was, once again I didn’t realize where I was.
I arrived at the home of Barb Moebis, who had kindly lent her farm for the event, and proceeded to rehearse Barb on her role as “innkeeper.”
Me: So, Mary and Joesph arrive at your door. You know what to do.
Barb: I invite them in.
Me: No, you send them to the barn.
Barb: But I invite them into the house first, right?
Me: You don’t invite them in.
Barb: Likely they’ll want some dinner. Or a warm coat.
Me: No dinner. No coat. And no telling them you think you know their cousins in Regina either.
Barb: So, just give them a little snack then.
Me: No snack. There’s no snacking in the Bible. There’s manna, but that’s a whole different thing.
We finally compromised. Mary and Joseph will ask for room at the inn. Barb will send them away in a stern voice. But first, she’ll tuck a packet of homemade biscuits and a thermos of coffee into Mary’s lap.
As I left the farm, I have to admit I felt a certain defeat. These are wonderful, warm people for whom doing good thingscomes as easily as breathing. Or knowing when it’s OK to drive your snowmobile up Main Street. What could I possibly have to offer?
I stopped at the post office for mail and news. A clutch of older men were standing around planning the success of their beloved Rough Riders in 2011. One man stopped me, “I heard you’re doing some kind of thing in a barn,” he said. I nodded half-heartedly. “Well, that’ll be interesting,the man mused. It’s been a long while since I was in a barn and didn’t have to do chores.”
It wasn’t much. But it was something. And when Christmas Eve comes and I stand outside Barb’s house crossing my fingers that she doesn’t insist Mary, Joseph and the entire watching audience come in for “a little something” I will cling to the fact that I gave people a chance to… well, maybe to see their own world in a slightly different way. Which of course is what they give me every moment.