In times of trouble: Whisper words of wisdom!

The skyline in Cornwall, Ontario, in May 2018. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

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by Tom Van Dusen

I’m a big fan of local, primarily rural history, and the artifacts that go with it, from antique tractors and barns, to the stunning elaborate architecture which graces many of our towns and villages.

As a proud honourary member of Vintage Iron & Traditions of Eastern Ontario, I’m dedicated to preserving and celebrating those artifacts and the customs that accompany them. No less significant in the collection are regional churches and the long histories and architecture that accompany many of them.

That’s why I was saddened to hear of the demise of the Iroquois-Matilda Pastoral Charge, a grouping of United churches in Iroquois, Brinston and Hulbert as a means of coping with maintenance costs in the face of dwindling congregations. Members of the charge have been freed to find other spiritual homes while the three churches are sold and cleared.

The fate of Iroquois United is set: It’ll become a restaurant and event centre under the direction of two sisters with a vision which sounds like an excellent repurposing. As for the churches in Brinston and Hulbert, time will tell.

I was thinking of the steady decline of houses of worship over the Holidays when, I have to admit, the plague known as COVID-19 and everything that surrounds it got to me over more than ever before!

Until then, the unwelcome arrival of the pandemic on the scene hadn’t changed much for me. I’m used to spending large chunks of time on my own, at my computer, with a book or a Netflix show, walking along the St. Lawrence River, and perhaps popping into a nature preserve here and there.

Separating and sanitizing has been no sweat; neither has registering at the door when required. Occasional head-shot temperature-taking has not been a huge intrusion. Like so many others, I kind of got into the COVID groove.

The skyline in Cornwall, Ontario, in May 2018. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

I’m from a large family of brothers and sisters, offspring, assorted other relatives and hangers-on who get together en masse at Christmastime, with a pair of parties numbering from 30 to 50 guests, more food than anybody can eat, singing, maybe even a little dancing, and assorted shenanigans.

This has been part of my life since I was knee-high to a coffee table, something I always took for granted. Then it was gone! Nothing! Nada, as my niece-in-law from Columbia might say! I had no idea I’d miss the friendly fraternizing so much!

I found myself wishing for a respite from COVID Craziness, a port in the storm, where I could find peace and tranquility even if briefly. Then it came to me: Church! Churches of various denominations have forever served as refuges, as shelters from the harsh realities of life. Could they do the same during COVID?

I was raised in Aylmer, Que., attending first French-Catholic St. Paul’s cathedral style church where I had First Communion and Confirmation, and then more modest St. Mark’s English Catholic where I served as an altar boy until age 20, bursting out of my vestments and towering over Father Joe Welch.

Pre-lockdown, I discovered there was a convenient mass at St. Mark’s the Evangelist in Prescott, consecrated in 1888; like so much these days, you were required to register in advance and I did. It got a “God Bless” email confirmation back from Father Brent Brennan, pastor at St. Mark’s since 2010. Unlike many churches experiencing declines in their congregations, St. Mark’s is spiritual home to a healthy 200 families.

I stepped through the front door of the stone church, immediately in awe of the grandeur before me: vaulted, columned, stain-glassed, gold-leafed, stenciled, muraled, candled, incensed, Christmas-decorated, each Station of the Cross an original work of art.

Carried along by gentle, almost whispered words of wisdom from Father Brent, I soon felt the respite I’d been searching for, that churches have been so expert at providing over so many centuries.


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