I have never been much interested in churches. Christianity has returned the favor by not being very interested in me. I think that I will live forever. Heaven doesn’t want me, and Hell is afraid that I’ll take over.
My little home town had at least 6 different churches for 1800 citizens, unlike some small towns on the buckle of the American Bible-belt, where you’d better be Southern Baptist, or be ridden out of town on a rail. It began as a fur-trading outpost, and soon became known as a center for lake-fishing. With a protective off-shore island, it developed into a lake-port and railway terminus. These all brought to the town, people of many varied ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Three churches occupied an intersection a block above the highway, wisely called ‘The Church Corner.’ At one apex stood the United Church. It (the sect, not the building) was formed in 1925 through the union of Canadian Methodists, Congregationalists, 70% of Canadian Presbyterians, and an odd bunch of other religious malcontents. It seems that, ever since Martin Luther showed them that they could, all most Christians want to do is ‘protest’ and establish their own independence.
A girlfriend dragged me to her United Church one Sunday. In long-bygone days when poor factory workers put change in the offering plate, the preacher announced that, “Today, there will be a silent offering.” meaning no coins! Bills only! It was probably a pure coincidence that, on Tuesday, he was driving a new car.
Across the street was ‘my’ Baptist Church. My Scottish mother had left the Presbyterian Church when she married my ‘Baptist’ father, and got a twice-a-year – at Christmas and Easter (maybe?) attendee. It has gone into decline, and is now the site of an artisanal restaurant, attracting mainly tourists.
Unlike our Southern brethren, there was no hellfire and brimstone, but our next-door neighbor sang in the choir, and her daughter was ‘a missionary in India,’ (the arrogance!) so any empty liquor bottles were carefully concealed in the trash.
These two were the main depots for the blue-color factory workers. On the third corner was the Anglican Church, and the fourth side housed the rectory for its minister. This seemed to be where most of the town’s merchants, lawyers and real-estate agents prayed for (or preyed on) more customers.
Directly beside the highway stood the Presbyterian Church, larger, richer, and more ornate than either the Anglican, or the little Catholic. It was attended, in all pomp and circumstance, by the descendants of the powerful Scottish traders and minor nobility immigrants and their attendants.
This church had a large bell tower, rather than the simple steeple my Baptist, or the Anglican Church had. It had a set of chimes, and an amplifier, and speakers in the tower to carry the music to its worshippers.
With my Mother’s connections, we were the caretakers for several years – dusting pews, mopping floors and firing two coal-burning furnaces in the basement early enough on wintery Sunday mornings to warm the gentry parishioners.
Right beside the bank at the main intersection was a narrow little storefront Pentecostal Church(?) Its members were reputed to ‘speak in tongues’, and handle snakes. Immediately above was a small apartment intended for the pastor and family. When she was an impressionable teenager, my friend’s mother had listened to a pastor’s forked tongue, and handled his snake….and the Church had to house and support them there.
If not for a couple of stained-glass windows, the tiny Catholic Church might have been mistaken for a small storage warehouse. There weren’t too many Catholics in town – except in the tourist season. The rest of the churches might get the occasional summer visitor….but the Catholic Church??!
During the off-season, there was an 11:00 AM Mass. During the invasion, the gullible guilty faithful Catholic tourists packed it all day. There was an 8AM mass, a 9AM Mass, one at 10, one at 11, and one at noon – and probably evening services as well. No long sermons. The priest kept it short and sweet, 45/50 minutes, instant salvation. After each service, as the faithful filed out the front door, the priest scuttled out the back, and scurried a half a block to the bank with a deposit bag bulging with cash.
There were probably some Jews in town. Two schoolmate brothers, named Oscar and Myron, and a girlfriend’s friend named Leah, indicate the likelihood. Too small a group to warrant a synagogue, they probably met in someone’s home.
Other than seeing someone coming or going, I didn’t really know who attended what church – and didn’t care – and didn’t know anyone who did. With our already pureed population, and the vastly varied, and often foreign, summer invasion, the town was used to a wide range of opinions and actions. Such tiny details as whether or not someone attended Church, and if so which one, were minute and insignificant.