On the night of July 5, 1972 we arrived. It was the end of a long journey as we tried to open the entrance door to our first house that would soon become our home.
Just a few days before we had received an envelope informing us that Carmanville North, NL would be our first church appointment. We accepted the envelope and its contents with a little trepidation but a whole lot of excitement and enthusiasm. We were now placed in a position of tremendous responsibility and the expectations of ourselves would be far greater than the expectations of the community. We did manage to get into the house. It was now past midnight as we literally crawled into the bed and drifted into a deep and comfortable sleep.
The next morning we were awakened early to the feeling of warm sunshine, the sound of various birds singing their morning song and the full awareness of a strangeness that seemed to have fully enveloped us without any immediate explanation. It was strange—almost eerie. A new bed. A new bedroom. A new house. A new assignment. A new community of people that we did not know but soon came to love. I quickly scrambled out of bed to get a realistic view of our adjoining properties and adjust my thinking accordingly.
Our house, provided by the church and known at that time as the Quarters, and the church building was separated only by the driveway. Next to the church building was an ancient cemetery that was still being used by the local congregation—for some of the existing congregation I would wind up being the officiating Pastor at their funeral.
My vision was restricted because it was from the bedroom window only. I quickly dressed and went outside. The view was breathtaking. Beautiful tree-covered hills, meticulously kept houses with out-of-this-world floral gardens and an indentation of the mighty Atlantic Ocean appeared like a very large swimming pool hidden in a cul-de-sac surrounded by all the paraphernalia of a fishing community. Quiet. A majestic blue. The sound and sights of sea gulls.
The smell of ocean perfumes wafting on the air was quickly inhaled and enjoyed as my spirit was buoyed with excitement and the exhilaration that comes with newness. From my vantage point I saw the large ferry terminal that directed sea traffic from Carmanville to Fogo Island. Large and small fishing boats were already in full operation as the early morning catch of lobster, crab and Atlantic cod was “landed” for processing and distribution.
My mind was so focused and caught up in the moment that I lost all consciousness of where I was standing. Then suddenly a vehicle drove by and the stranger got my attention with the long honking of the horn. The car window was fully down, and the driver waved in a friendly but vigorous manner and shouting in the quietness of the early morning he said, “Welcome to Carmanville!”
The penetrating heat of the early morning July sun and the warmth of strangeness I felt from the early morning driver gave me a rapturous feeling of great pleasure and a sense of belonging—belonging to a community that I would embrace and become involved in every fabric of its being.
This was now Thursday morning and with the week half gone my thoughts quickly jumped ahead to Sunday Morning and my first church service with a new congregation. However, throughout the rest of the day, including Friday and Saturday, we were visited by members of the congregation that welcomed us with greetings of warm and friendly handshakes, best wishes, congratulations, food and offers of help to every possible situation.
My wife and I did find some time to drive around the community and understand something of our bearings. The 1966 Dodge Monaco (the 1964 Ford Fairlane was now a part of Canadian History) did its best to get us from point A to point B. I visited the local grocery store, Post Office, RCMP Detachment, Medical Clinic, Fire Department and thus introduced myself as the new kid on the block that was prepared to help and assist in every way possible.
As the warm summer days turned into Autumn I began to unravel some of the complexities of church administration and the strong leadership that would be required to keep it all together. My first big challenge came when I received a call from a Funeral Service Director who was operating in a nearby community. A homeless man had just passed away and none of the local churches were prepared to have him buried in “their” cemetery.
He had no family. No community. No friends. No church. Without giving it a second thought I said yes and just requested a few days to prepare the grave—done by pick and shovel. I was able to gather a few men who were prepared to come and help with the preparation. In those days Churches had more committees than the Federal Government and a Cemetery Committee was one of great importance, according to the local people. I did not consult with the Cemetery Committee for two reasons. One, it was early in my ministry and I was not aware of such a committee. Second, if I did know there was a committee I was not prepared to consult to get permission to lay a homeless man to rest.
The grave was about half dug when a very large man walked into the cemetery and coming right up to the open grave he barked at me, “Pastor, who gave you permission to dig this grave and bury a homeless man that has no connection with our church?” I continued to dig and shovel as if not to even recognize his presence. I was hot. I was very tired. I was the new kid in town and was not about to be intimidated. “Well?” said the retired sea captain (I learned of his career just a little later) “who gave you permission ?”
Looking up from the grave and leaning slightly on my shovel I made a simple but straightforward request. “Sir,” I said, “As I see it you have two choices. Walk out of this cemetery right now or jump down here with me and start shoveling.” There! I said it! I knew that I was suddenly the centre of attention. What would this retired sea captain do or say and how would I deal with that reaction? The silence was broken. Jumping down by my side he grabbed the shovel and together we “bonded” while completing the task and got to know each other real good. We became the best of friends and many a meal was eaten at his home. The young Pastor won the day.
In the seventies, a Pastors salary was very small and thus the congregation supplemented my income. They brought groceries, home grown vegetables, fish of many descriptions, wild meat, invitations to eat at their homes and some would occasionally slip a $5.00 bill into your hand. Today was my pay day. My cheque would be less than $100 for two week—a nice chunk of change forty years ago. After I cashed my cheque we were invited to have an evening meal with a family from the congregation. It was a most enjoyable evening and we arrived back home late into the night. We were experiencing a typical winter snow storm with lots of the white stuff and very strong winds. I stepped out of my vehicle and suddenly four $20 bills were literally sucked out of my shirt pocket and disappeared into the blackness and the roughness of a winter night in NL—it blew and snowed all night. We were devastated and getting into the house we literally cried. It would be another two weeks before our next pay cheque but we believed that God would provide for us, and He did.
The winter came and went. Spring came early and warm winds and soft rains quickly removed large mounds of snow as beautiful green foliage began to appear. Our house was on a hill and about four hundred yards down a gentle slope large spruce and fir trees had established themselves over the years. When most of the snow had all but disappeared I remember saying to my wife, “I wonder. Is it possible that I can find any one of the four $20 bills that got away from us back in December?”
Stun arse wasn’t a part of her language back then and while I can’t remember her exact response, it wasn’t very encouraging. I wandered down to the tree line hoping that no one would see me and thus ask some questions that I might have to reply to with some dumb answers. Judging from the house location, the tree line and remembering the wind direction from December, I started to walk near the edge of the tall trees. Remnants of snow could still be found. Is it possible? Just one $20 bill? “Naw,” I said to myself. But something in my spirit kept my hope alive. Just before I got to the end of the tree line there it was. Impossible! Unbelievable! Laying on some rotting snow, about five meters long, I saw it. Four $20 bills, about two feet apart, were staring me straight in the face as if saying, “Hurry! Grab me! We are frozen and long for the warmth of your shirt pocket.” With trembling fingers I picked them up and then kneeling in the rotting snow I thanked God for His faithfulness and unbelieving care for myself and my wife. Always remember that in adverse trouble or tremendous times of blessing, the sun is always shining.