Staying put

September 9, 2015 | Viewpoints | Volume 19 Issue 18
Katie Doke Sawatzky |

My family and I moved from Vancouver to Regina in July and are slowly searching for a faith community. So far we’ve attended two churches close to where we live, and with which we would feel comfortable, theologically. When we arrived (late) at both services, the first thing I noticed was that there were mostly older folks sitting in the chairs. We chose seats at the back and silently joined the worship.

If I’m honest, I felt sort of disheartened. As a young person with kids sitting among a crowd of older folks, I worry it’ll be difficult to make connections or friends. But after a little soul-searching, I realize that this pattern of thoughts is unhelpful and even disrespectful towards those whose welcoming spirits and lifestyle choices I find inspiring.

I have several relationships with older folks that are life-giving. Bill and Marge, our next-door neighbours, just celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. They’ve been in their house 51 years. Marge was often tempted to buy a larger home for her family, but decided not to. We met them the day we moved in and they’ve already given us veggies from their garden.

Janice goes to the Mennonite church we attended in Vancouver and reached out to me the first Sunday we were there. Within the first few months of our moving, I had tea at her house while my son played in her garden. We became friends. Janice and her husband have lived in their pre-1940 house for forty years and refuse to sell it only to have it demolished like the countless others in their neighbourhood. The $2 million incentive from the realtor is not worth losing their home and community.

Something these folks know about, that we millennials can learn from, is place. As a member of a generation that regularly moves somewhere else to get a “better” education, job, etc., encountering those who have stayed in one place for longer than 20 years is powerful. The elders I have met have rejected the claims of capitalism—more is better—in a profound way, simply by staying put.

Prolific American writer and activist Wendell Berry is 81. In a rare in-person interview with American journalist Bill Moyer (also 81), Berry gives advice to young folks who are overwhelmed by the desecrated earth around them: “Don’t go into this [sustainable agriculture; activism; civil disobedience] thinking you’re going to solve all the problems. Get to know where you are, make common cause with that place, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time.”

This comes from someone who farms the same land his ancestors lived on for hundreds of years.

So, instead of worrying that I won’t have anyone to relate to, I can recognize that these churches are places with people who have worshipped in them a long time, who know these places. Sure the churches aren’t romantic spots like age-old family farms, but they’re sacred spaces, with their own communities and outreaches.

I can think about how it’s been the older folks who are the first to come and greet me and my family, at church or in the neighbourhood. And I can remember my older friends who’ve taken an interest in my life and inspired me with their choices, like Bill, Marge, and Janice.

In his A Poem for Hope, Berry writes: “Hope/ then to belong to your place by your own knowledge/ of what it is that no other place is, and by/ your caring for it …/ knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or wealth.”

As I try to be more attentive to my place, I look forward to getting to know a few of those who have been here long.

 

Katie now writes and edits in Regina, Saskatchewan. She can be reached at katiesawatzky@gmail.com.

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