The bilingual bookmark was meant to be a peace offering-a talisman around which my mother and I could meet religion halfway.
The Rule of Life was a promotional gift from the Anglican Diocese of Montreal, printed in French and English. I gave the slim piece of cardstock to my mother, French side up, as evidence of the openness and tolerance of the Anglican Church of Canada: proof that my church is hospitable enough to celebrate French language and culture.
My mother is a proud French-Canadian, born and raised in a community that suffered its linguistic diversity beneath a thin veneer of civility. Growing up, she saw the Anglican Church as the bosom of English power and authority. My later-life decision to be confirmed as an Anglican baffled and to some extent, insulted her.
To complicate matters, my mother had long ago rejected organized religion. Although the argument could be made that organized religion rejected her: when the Roman Catholic Church turned its back on her, and her baby born out of wedlock, differences became irreconcilable. Even without a marriage certificate, she still saw her little girl as a gift from God-why didn’t they?
On so many levels, my spiritual and religious pilgrimage didn’t make sense to my mother. After years of fiery debates, I learned to steer clear of land mines such as, “Are you coming to church with us?” I adopted a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy about church in order to keep the peace. Things changed, though, after the untimely death of my uncle, Mom’s younger brother. It was a catalyst for soul-searching and wresting with life’s difficult questions. A return to religion was, apparently, no longer out of the question.
There are certain phrases I thought I’d never hear in my lifetime. Disembarking from a flight: “Welcome to Mars, Mrs. Hauser, did you enjoy the ride?” Shopping at Sears: “My dear, those pants are way too big-I’ll get you a size 6.” In my mother’s guest room, readying for bed: “So we’ll aim for the 9:15 service at church tomorrow, okay?” This last phrase-the most improbable of all-is what I thought I heard her say on a recent visit.
“Come again?” I said, struggling to find the neck-hole in my nightgown. “Make it to the…what at your… what?” I was sure the flannel shroud had muffled something.
“My church” she said. “There’s a service at 9:15.” After crickets began chirping audibly through the drywall, Mom finally broke the silence with, “Why don’t we just play it by ear? Sleep tight!”
In the morning, not wanting to spook her, I asked no church-related questions, and remained quiet even as we drove into the parking lot of what looked like a Cineplex movie theatre. At the entrance, a greeter passed me a card and that’s when all the pieces started to come together. The card read: “The Meeting House: The Church for People who aren’t Into Church.”
The theatre had filled up with at least several hundred people by the time we found our exceedingly comfortable seats. The band was warming-up while we sipped coffee-yes, they have cup holders, just like at the movie theatre. Mom seemed nervous. “This is so exciting,” I said, hoping to put her at ease.
The service started, and we stood and sang with the band as they rocked-out some contemporary praise music for about 15 minutes. Afterward, we exchanged greetings with our neighbors and then sat and listened to the usual list of announcements. Even the mega-church can’t escape that banality of announcements.
Wearing a pair of cargo shorts, Bruxy Cavey-part pastor, part rock-star-walked on stage. The sermon that morning was part of a series called “One Church,” meant to educate the congregation about other branches of the Christian Church. It was more teaching than preaching, and the dialogue opened people’s eyes to the challenges facing the Arab Christian community.
The service was totally un-Anglican, but it was inspiring and soul-filling, nonetheless. I left the Meeting House grateful beyond measure that my mother had found a place that’s right for her.
I was also thankful that this church had helped us move from the symbolic to the actual in terms of meeting halfway about religion: there we were, singing the Lord’s praises together, the religious tension between us having floated up, up and away.
Michelle Hauser is a former fundraiser turned newspaper columnist and freelance writer. She and her husband, Mark, live in Napanee, Ont., with their son Joseph and worship at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Her work includes contributions to CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Kingston Whig-Standard. She can be reached through her website at www.michellehauser.ca.