Of Relevant Cultural Spiritual Food And Social Comfort

There I was going about my business when Fate intervened, stopping me in my tracks for a brief conversation.
Fate is a committed and involved member of Union United Church. And as conversations are wont to go, one subject invariably led to another, the church, and “your absence…”
Well I haven’t been that absent I told Fate. My last two appearances were for the closing ceremony of Heritage Week, an annual weeklong Union celebration. It once was a well-attended cultural event at the church, both opening and closing Sundays. But times and things have changed: the Union United Church congregation has been fluxing, shrinking…
Maybe that person hadn’t noticed me in the Union pews those couple times, only because I do not go to church just to be seen; whenever I do go it’s for a good serving of spiritual food from the pulpit. And the more interesting the serving the more (good) word will spread as it lands on the ears of people who are in a spiritual funk because of all the goings-on among what appears to be rival… not warring… factions at that Holy place, none of their egoistic and other issues in keeping with its historic name and reason for being. It’s ethos, so to speak.
Right now, with its revolving door of contracted and guest preachers, Union’s congregation – what’s left of it – is akin to being in a spiritual desert and hoping and praying by some miracle to be rescued and ultimately taken back, mentally speaking, to the welcoming, happy and vibrant spiritual place it once was, where all could be spiritually, socially and otherwise fulfilled.
That’s how I, and most others, used to feel on the way out of Union United many years ago, all the while anticipating a return every ‘next Sunday.’ Call it the heyday, and always worth repeating, of Montreal’s historical Black Church. Once a haven for Black people from far and wide, of every nationality. And yes, even white people, some of who, like many Black people, would say with pride that they too “grew up in the church.”
These days, that sentiment is rarely spoken, or heard; it’s as if the church is dead and buried. Maybe that’s it; that word African word, ‘Harambe’, that “pulling together” spirit, seemingly died with the elders who constituted the foundation and fabric of Union United Church. They are the spiritual dinosaurs, extinct, took all the niceness of Union with them to their graves?
Let’s hope not.
Whenever I think of it, I can only of a Union United that wasn’t, isn’t just any church, a place to show up on Sunday morning (and when necessary a necessary venue for special occasions on any given weekday); the visit of Nelson Mandela in 1991 most notably, and others in intervening years, such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration (50th anniversary of his assassination) event last April 4. It was a veritable celebration.
Those among other highlight events over the last 110 years and counting of its illustrious life. Just because Union United is synonymous with Black Montreal and its history.
I was raised as a “Catholic” – priests, nuns, catechism and all the denominational ‘entrails’ and all it entails. Questionable as all the indoctrination was, time elapsed, and age and awareness of the real world and the painful history of Black people ultimately helped in my religious re-education…
Union United Church, the place, was an enlightening place, in helping to understand religion from a Black theological perspective, in clarifying and expanding my world view, my understanding of our history and place in the world and how aspects of religious teachings had a deleterious impact on us… Black people. A series of Black reverends over the years at said Union United Church were instrumental in my seeing religion in a different light, speaking (to me) not just of spirituality but also of the real and urgent social issues that continue to impact and hamper us in our drive for our slice of that [proverbial] pie.
Yes, there’s something about a stream of religious consciousness and teachings (I call it progressive… late 20th… 21st. century doctrine) referred to as “Liberation Theology”, which speaks directly to the mundane issues Black people must contend with daily… Union United Church’s spiritual alumnus, keepers of the flock over the years, have to various degrees and in different ways been able to communicate that information to the flock.
But over the years the church has truly been in the doldrums; there has been a paucity of palatable spiritual food as the church continues to struggle to regain its relevance for a once vibrant, but shrinking congregation. One it seems that’s simply hanging on by their fingernails as the church visibly slips into spiritual irrelevance.
Let’s hope not.
Maybe the problem is the inability to find a fulltime spiritual shepherd with whom the people can identify, one whom can not just provide spiritual food, but also effect internal unity and stability. One who can also speak to the real issues that matter to what’s left of the congregation. And most importantly, to help stem the flow of disenchanted people out of the pews by addressing the internal contentious issues which have alienated so many people to the point of finding new places of worship in the new community industry – the religion business – where churches are springing up like grass, weeds and flowers (with all due respect to the latter) in the summertime.
I am no bible-reading… -thumping being by any stretch, but I periodically leaf through the Holy Book. I also read those Our Daily Bread booklets whenever I get my hands on one. My long deceased grandmother introduced me to them many years ago, and my recently deceased mother, whenever I visited, always had a copy for me.
So in reading a July 17, 2018 offering, I thought “Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount… Love your enemies…” Matthew 5:44 would be an appropriate collective reading for the perennially polarized, fractious forces at Union United.
That said, that Union diehard I met, Fate, is staying put, and out of the fray, and just continuing to do whatever must be done for the betterment of the church.
But one important tidbit of relevant information was imparted before our conversation ended.
It was about the sort of colonial relationship that exists between Union United Church and the mother church (the Diocese it’s called?) Another representative has recently taken up a position at the church, the latest in a growing list who have been summoned, one can assume, to bring order and stability—since the people, the colonials are seemingly incapable of sorting out their differences.
But here’s the kicker, that spiritual colonial overseer after just eight or so weeks of ministering, is now away on a well-deserved month-long vacation. The powers-that be down at church will have to find a temporary replacement to deliver the spiritual goods…
The more things, and times, change…
And I promised Fate I would make another of my recurring appearances – soon.