Hello, dear readers! I know it’s been ages since last I posted (about the demise of our beloved Manse Cat, Sieste), and I apologize for my absence. But there is a reason for it: I have been over-the-top busy with a project that I took on in my role as secretary of St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. And tonight I’m going to tell you a little bit about that project, and don’t you dare yawn at the prospect. It is a project that has taught me a lot about how small rural communities work, and about how good work quietly gets done in them. So there.
But first, an invitation! This coming Sunday, May 31, is the 125th anniversary of St. Andrew’s, and any and all of you who are, or would like to be, in the general vicinity of Queensborough are very welcome indeed to come and join us in a service of worship celebrating that remarkable milestone. The service begins at 11 a.m., will feature special musical performances, and will – this being Queensborough, where you always come away well-fed – feature a lunch afterward. St. Andrew’s is at 812 Bosley Rd., just up the hill from the Manse.
As a lead-up to that century-and-a-quarter milestone, yours truly decided that the church’s historical roll and mailing list should probably be updated – the latter mainly because, as I reported a while back here, Canada Post has become reluctant to deliver mail that is addressed only to a rural-route number (as opposed to an actual “street address,” which is kind of a funny thing to talk about in rural areas where there are no “streets.” Here we call those street numbers “911 numbers,” since with the advent of 911 emergency service came a number for every home and property. Modernization!
Anyway. A church’s historical roll is an important document, because it records everyone who has ever been a member of that church. Names are never removed from a historical roll; if a member dies, or transfers his or her membership to another church, or asks to be removed as an active member, that information is recorded – but the fact that the person was once a member is always preserved for posterity. And meanwhile, the information for people who remain as members has to be updated as their lives and circumstances – addresses, spouses, etc.– change.
Many, probably most, churches struggle to keep their rolls up to date, because in the 21st century people move a lot more often than they did when the whole idea of historical rolls was born. Also, in those days larger churches would have had a paid staff person to look after such records, and smaller churches had volunteer workers who could and did devote endless time to keeping on top of the records. These days, paid church staffers are a rarity, as are volunteer workers with any amount of spare time – and so many churches’ membership records are a bit of a disaster.
Now, the records at St. Andrew’s were far from a disaster; in fact they were probably in better shape than those of many churches. But it was time for an update, especially because of that Canada Post mailing rule that I’ve already mentioned. And so I thought I’d just tackle that little project. Which, I soon realized, was a way bigger project than I had expected.
One problem was ascertaining who people listed on the rolls actually were. I mean, there were many names I recognized from my childhood here at the Manse, when my father was the minister here; but many people had come and gone since then. (It was 1975, not exactly yesterday, when my family moved away from here, after all.) Many of the names were unfamiliar to me, though as it turned out one reason for that was women who’d changed their last names upon marriage. Quite often during my research I’d have an a-ha moment, as in: “Aha! That’s (so-and-so) Devolin! or Cassidy! or Alexander! or Holmes! – or whatever was the woman’s maiden name, under which I’d known her when she was a girl or young woman all those years ago.
And then there was the matter of figuring out where people who, when their names were entered on the rolls, had “Queensborough” or “Cooper” or “Eldorado” or “RR# Whatever,’ listed as their address, actually are now. Some of them are still in the same places, but we needed a 911 number to be able to contact them by mail; and many others had moved to other addresses altogether, near and far. What a job it was tracking them all down!
But I was not without assistance, and that is the real point of this post. First I asked some of the longtime members of St. Andrew’s for help, and we spent a long evening of consultation and tea and cookies here at the Manse going through the list of names and pooling our knowledge. (Actually I should say pooling their knowledge, because they were the ones who had it, and I was just the collector of all this information.)
And then once I’d recorded everything I had gleaned from that session (which was a lot), I realized there were still some holes and some missing addresses and information. And so I would call up people and pick their brains and ask who else I could call. And so often those people volunteered to make the calls themselves, to help me out. I spent a lot of time on Canada411 trying to track down addresses and phone numbers; and I used email and Facebook and anything else I could think of to try to find people.
It took a lot of time. There were a lot of phone calls. But those phone calls, those conversations – some with people I’d known ever since my childhood; some with people I’d never spoken to in my life before; some with people I’d known a little bit but hadn’t talked to in years – were revelatory, and wonderful. I learned so much.
It wasn’t just getting to the bottom of the proverbial “Where are they now?” and thus being able to contact the church members. It was connecting the dots, so to speak; in many cases putting faces, or at least information (“daughter/son of so-and-so, lives in such-and-such a place now, has become an insert-profession-here”) to what had before then just been names on the list. And everyone I spoke to, even those who said things to the effect of “Gracious, I haven’t been in the area for ages; you should take my name off the list!” was so kind and helpful, and, I sensed, a little pleased to hear from a representative of the church of which they had once been a part. Those conversations made the work so very rewarding.
The absolute best part of the work was learning about the things people are doing to help St. Andrew’s that I hadn’t even been aware of, even though Raymond and I are very active members of the congregation. For instance, I learned about how, every time there is a Ham Supper or a Turkey Supper at our church (major fundraisers for its work, and also important social events in Queensborough), a long-established network of communication goes into high gear. Calls are made: “Could you make a salad? Scalloped potatoes? Baked beans? A dessert?” They can, and they do. Or if they can’t, they make a financial donation instead. And they in turn call their friends and neighbours, inviting them to help out, to support the event, to attend and enjoy it.
Many – most – of these people don’t come out to Sunday services at St. Andrew’s. But they remain attached to the church, remain committed to supporting it in many different ways.
So my exercise in getting the church membership roll updated, and by extension getting myself up to speed on who is who and where they are, turned into a bit of an education about community and how it works. Which, it turns out, is: quietly. Without any fuss. But with a deep sense of commitment to the connections of the past and the present. And with hope for the future.