Sunday, 4 November 2012

Falaise Rd.

Note to brethren people: I am not seeking to ridicule you.  I am trying to like you.

  This story's got two stories: the back story, and then today.  Today's no big deal.  I just went out Sunday morning and attended the very Ottawa church franchise that excommunicated me, to see who was left there
(not to be confused with the church my parents go to, in an outlying town in the same area. Two key guys from the Ottawa one retired there, but it's in a village called Rideau Ferry.  It was discussed in the "It's Been A While" blog entry about the old folks meeting in the living room of the guy the morals of whose son I was accused of corrupting with my parody Sunday School paper.)
  No.  Today I attended the one in this picture.  Not the Rideau Ferry one on the water.  But the backstory is going to take me longer to tell than I'd like:
  First, I grew up attending the Plymouth Brethren church in Smiths Falls.  Also in the Ottawa area were churches in the tiny towns of Rideau Ferry and Perth.  But when I went off to University, I moved to Ottawa, and at age 17 began attending the church at Falaise Road, Nepean (Ottawa), as seen in this picture.  Once I graduated, a big division was brewing, and I got to go to the angry prayer meetings in Ottawa in which only fifteen minutes were actually left for prayer after the reading of angry bible verses and hint-insulting each other, and the brother's meetings at which it was decided not to let various and sundry join and worship on Sunday morning because of various intangible things (and heard an old man utter the words, when asked what we'd tell that earnest, would-be member: "We don't need to explain ourselves.  We.  Are.  The.  Assembly.")  I saw all manner of crap. I saw an old guy heckle a young guy who was preaching Sunday night, because he'd quoted from a book which wasn't the bible.  Like, interrupting the preaching to heckle it.  "I know you're trying to keep people out of Hell and all, but I want to stop you for a minute and bother you."
  And then I graduated and moved back to Smiths Falls, in time to "watch" the big division happen in the Ottawa church, from forty minutes away in Smiths Falls. The division itself was a younger vs. older thing, a modernizers vs. keep-it-the-same-as-1881 thing (some people wanted to be allowed to read aloud from translations of the bible which weren't a few hundred years old, sing hymns that had been written more recently than a century or two ago, and not say "thee" and "thou" (and "dost" and "wouldst") when praying to God.  
  The conservative group dug in and the modernizers group left in frustration, leaving:
-perhaps 40% of the congregation intact at Falaise Road,
-another 40% starting a "clone" assembly, (same structure, but with the modernizers running it and the conservatives not being members)
-and perhaps 20% joining non-brethren churches at that point,

There has been a steady trickle out of those two 40%s ever since.  There is a move to non-brethren (or less-brethren) churches which continues to this day. 
  After kicking out this 60% portion of their group, the Falaise Road crew then demanded that every other brethren church in the world acknowledge that theirs was the correct, official side in the division, and if not, then that whole church group would then be stricken off the membership rota worldwide.
  I stayed with the group in Smiths Falls which sided with the conservative group at Falaise Road (rather than the clone-church that left and sprang up), not because I thought the Falaise Road group was right(er), but because I believed that what brethren people in general were doing was wrong.  What they did was a whole lot of walking out on, turning backs on or kicking out anyone they disagreed with.  I decided not to allow myself that indulgence.
  Then I moved back to Ottawa to work, and the Falaise Road Ottawa group "signed my membership" back over to Falaise Road from Smiths Falls, and Falaise Road kicked me out shortly thereafter.  The mastermind of this chicanery was "Sven" a retired city planner. The way his head worked was in terms of "people won't stop turning left on Merivale Road, so we're going to put a huge concrete median and abutment there, and traffic cameras, to make them stop."  This is to say, he thought, less about how to relate to people, and more about how to corral them.
  I asked back in and was refused.  I asked to meet with them, and they never responded to any of my correspondence  again after meeting with me once to tell me that, no matter how much I attended, or what I did or said or believed, that I would never be allowed to worship (be a member, take communion on Sundays, and not be shunned at all social events) again, so long as they felt they "didn't understand me."  My pointing out that shunning me didn't seem like an effective way of fixing not understanding me didn't go down well. Of course it wasn't that they didn't understand me. It was that they did and didn't like what they understood. They understood that I wasn't the same as they were.
  Then, Sven the city planner and some cronies orchestrated another division.  There had been some culling of the herd leading up to it (as the manner of grievous wolves is), and I was one of those, but then they did something pretty interesting.  They booked a conference room at the Embassy West hotel and got started.
  One older guy (I will call him Mr. Wilbert Black so we can remember him) helped out the church by doing things like balance the church's chequebook and accounts.  He had some kind of problem with the head dudes, with their culling of the herd, the apparently arbitrary and random, almost secret kicking out of members.  He  objected to what they were doing, and was told to stop objecting, and take back everything he'd said.  He countered by refusing to do the accounts (which he'd always done for free anyway), and refusing to say he supported all the kicking out of members.  Sven and pal told Mr. Black that he was himself kicked out now, for this objecting thing he did so much of.  Mr. Black objected.  He pointed out that in our church, this isn't allowed.  You have to let everyone know the facts, and everyone has to decide the person's fate.  It has to be called "an assembly decision," and the assembly/church has to agree. They can't agree if they don't know.  And if there is no agreement, you can't announce that there is.  Two or three guys can't decide something and then say everyone decided it, in other words.
  So Sven and friends went ahead and announced that Mr. Black was kicked out, the following Sunday, and someone else stood up and said something along the lines of "We haven't decided this at all. This is the first we've heard of this.  You can't do this." He tried to object to Mr. Black getting kicked out for objecting to the kicking out.  So Sven the city planner's guys "announced it" as an assembly decision which had been made (not by the assembly) and "closed in prayer" to end any further objections. No one was going to shout someone down while he ostensibly prayed to God.  I mean, this wasn't like heckling someone who was preaching.
  Having already arranged the renting of a new church meeting place in a conference center at the Embassy West hotel, the city planner and friends contacted everyone and informed them that church would be in said conference room in the Embassy West Hotel next Sunday, and that anyone who showed up at Falaise Road Sunday would be kicked out worldwide.
  Most went to Embassy West, as they'd been threatened to do.  A few remained at Falaise Road, but "kept" the building.  No idea how the money stuff went down, nor how they can afford it, right in the city like that, with room to put a large mansion or Mcdonalds there.  The letters were sent out.  You had to write back and say you supported the assembly decision made to kick out all the people and switch buildings.  If you objected to the kicking out of the people who'd objecting about all the kicking out, you would be kicked out.  Now there were another two groups of churches around the world. The Falaise ones (nonkicking out), and the Embassy West (EW, kick out ALL the objectors) ones.
  That happened a decade ago. In the intervening time, many people have left both groups droves.  People who never thought they'd ever go to another church, or a typical church with a pastor at the front, or with instrumental music, or with new translations of the bible, or with women being allowed to preach.  All gone.  And two of the remaining head guys retired to Rideau Ferry and go where my parents do. I saw them when I went out a couple of weeks back.  They'd never let me back in, but they really were terribly nice about everything.
  So, if I "wanted back in" now, (I don't) I wouldn't know where to go to ask about it.  To Falaise Road?  To Rideau Ferry, where half of them now are? Or to Embassy West (which group isn't any more actually meeting in a conference room in the Embassy West hotel anyway, but are still called that. I don't actually know their current street address, and the Embassy West hotel is now an old folk's home, fittingly enough.)?

This morning I went to Falaise Road.  With a bible in my hand and a beard on my chin.  The church I attended while I was in school. The one where the first acrimonious division happened in front of and around me. The one the members got told not to show up at, if they wanted to stay on the world wide membership list, which is an interesting list, because the way it works is, there isn't a paper list you're on, so much as a list of people who are no longer on it.  There is no way to get off the list without being shunned.  This is why, at the Montreal bible conference next weekend, I can attend (though the officials have informed me they feel it would be "better" if I did not), but I have to leave when it's meal times.  And they wouldn't give me anywhere to sleep, either.  If I need to pee, I suspect they'll make an exception.  I will see if the drinking fountains are segregated or not, and report back.  (See?  Joking and sarcasm.  Such a habit.  Not always helpful. A defensive posture.)
  For some reason I was scared to be going.  For one thing, I have recently put together something personal: My father does not mock.  He isn't sarcastic.  He doesn't joke around. Neither does my mother or sister.  It's just me.  Where does such a strong, characteristic trait come from, then?  I'd never put it together before.  From growing up with my dad's friend Mr. Dick (a parody of his real name) in the house all the time, I have decided.  I learned mocking from him. In the new book I am writing, I wrote this:

The child likes Mr. Dick.  Mr. Dick is turning into quite a role model for him.  Mr. Dick is very funny.  Mr. Dick is always joking, making fun of people.  Mr. Dick will mock anyone.  He only mocks people who are standing right in front of him if they are children or female, of course.  He gets laughs bothering animals.  He is a good mimic.  He does funny walks.  He phones up and if the child answers, Mr. Dick often pretends to be any number of people he can imitate to ridiculous comic effect.  Mr. Dick also makes up characters to be over the phone.  Hello, he will say. This is O’Flaherty the Irish butcher on the South end of Beckwith Street.  There’s an ugly black-haired woman standing in front of my store with a stupid expression on her face.  She wants to come visit at your house.  (Of course Mr. Dick is talking about his wife.  She laughs.  Mr. Dick always talks to and about her like this.  So she laughs.  Usually.) 
Mr. Dick has an archive of things to mock about every single person at the church, which he uses to great effect.  Some people do imitations of famous actors, cartoon characters or politicians.  Mr. Dick does churchfolk.
The child’s father has very little sense of humour, at least of the kind that is able to make others laugh.  He takes things pretty seriously, but often enjoys Mr. Dick’s antics on his frequent visits, though he thinks Mr. Dick often “goes too far.” 
But the child isn’t just enjoying Mr. Dick’s antics.  The child is learning from Mr. Dick.  He is learning the unadulterated delight there is in mocking others.  He is learning to mimic, to be ironic, deadpan, sarcastic and sardonic.  He doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of slapstick.  But he has an affinity for parody. 
The child is learning that the world is full of people who are upsetting.  Some are intimidating or dangerous, while others are just weird.  He is learning to mock them, to be sarcastic at them, or otherwise protect himself while getting a poisoned dart into them at the same time.  He has been taught that swearing, lying or calling them names, interfering with their things or otherwise mistreating them would be unchristian.  At school and at home, if you hit someone, you are punished instantly and without mercy.  Mocking is okay, though.  Especially if they are trying to lord it over one, or think they’re pretty special. 
When huge athletic thuggy children at school are starting to push the child into lockers and tell everyone he’s gay, if they try to use words at all, they are soon finding themselves in over their heads, and they have to retreat to inarticulate hitting and shoving.
Words.  Words are the weapons the child is learning to wield.  Puns.  Turns of phrase.  Sticks and stones.  Blood and bones.  Words are his venom.  Unlike a literal slap in the face, they are always “subject to interpretation.”  Layers of hidden meaning can be built in, but still always be denied.  This is how he fences.  The poison rather than the sword. The crossbow rather than the club.
The child thinks he is a word-ninja.

    Thing is, when I mocked my church's Sunday School paper, it was Mr. Dick who provided a copy to the city planner and friends and got me kicked out. This was kept a secret from me until I was told about it by Mr. Dick's daughter, who asked to be a member in the 90s and has to this day not received an answer, (yes or no) of any kind. I hadn't previously known who was behind my getting kicked out.  I phoned Mr. Dick to apologize back in the day. He was mad I knew it was him, and hung up.  He said what I did was between me and the Lord and to leave him out of it.  When I wrote it, it was between him and the assembly to kick me out.  Once that was done, it was just between me and the Lord, though, and he refused to have any part of it or me.  And I knew Mr. Dick would be out this morning.  What would he do and say?  What would I?
  I had to go out, be ready for anyone to say any number of stupid, insensitive or hurtful things, or just ignore me outright, and I had an added task: to write about what happened on this blog and not be sarcastic or mock or be mean, yet also report the facts to some degree. I was slightly self-conscious about the fact that I'd be going in and hoping to be tolerated in the very building I'd flash animated with Terrence and Phillip from South Park shouting in front of it.
  I felt like my subconscious was screaming.  I took a wrong turn. I got stuck in traffic and construction.  I drove by the huge Metropolitan Bible Church, which is full of people who used to go to our brethren churches, but go there now.  Including people like the man who told the people at the school I was working at in the 90s that I was gay, so it would be better if I wasn't allowed near young boys.  I confronted him, back then, too.  He refused to apologize and said because I was single, I could well end up struggling with gay (read: pedophile) tendencies.  I sent him a PM on Facebook a couple of years ago.  I said "Hi!  How's life treating you?  Not gay yet.  Doesn't look like it's happening."  He replied to ask what church I was going to and was disapproving that I wasn't going to one.  I said "If you know any intelligent, pretty women between the ages of 25 and 45, let me know."  He replied that, if I wasn't going to a church, he wouldn't feel free to do that. Boy I miss him... (stoppit!)
  I got to Falaise Road ten minutes late.  As you can see from the picture, there's enough parking around the Falaise Road building for a Mcdonalds or Burger King to be proud of.  More, actually.  And you could fairly comfortably play volleyball or tennis in the big room they use for church services.  It is pretty much the size of the whole building.  Just stairs at both ends.  But of course, it looked deserted this morning.  No sign of life.  I plucked up my courage and walked in late.
  I walked up the stairs where countless old people gave me odd "words to my conscience" about odd things, where a few girls had lit up or closed down when I chatted them up at church social events, where I was told I could not attend youth group anymore, even though a girl from New Jersey was coming up, partly to see me, at the next youth group ski weekend, which I would not now be attending after all.  I paused on the stairs and I listened.  At first I didn't hear anything. Then I heard kind of a low, growly droning.  Like zombies.  They were up there.  They were singing.  It sounded like there were maybe three of them.
  I walked into the big room, with seating set up just like back in the day, for about one hundred people.  There were nine people in there, sitting all over the place.  There were more "loaner bibles and hymnbooks" (for purely theoretical visitors) than there were actual regular attendees there.  There was about one person for every ten chairs. The chairs were set out in quadrants, all facing inward toward the table with the dinner roll and wineglass on it.
  The man who'd informed me, back in the day, that I wasn't allowed to attend youth group activities because I was "confused" came over with his hymnbook to point to what number they were singing, so I could sing the last verse of it with them.  I was reminded of how courteous that kind of service is.  He wouldn't let me sit for a moment and not know what hymn number was being sung, but walked the full length of the room to show me. I was touched, in a very real and not even remotely sarcastic way. It was very gentlemanly of him and all.  Of course, it would turn out later that he had no idea who I was anyway. His brother was the man (who wasn't my father) who spoke in the Rideau Ferry group I went to the other week, on the water.

Bits of two of the huge bible texts which adorn the walls there kinda jumped out at me:
"and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. "
and even more oddly rang this one:
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"

  That last one seemed as ironic as Iron Man's irony iron, but I was trying not to be sarcastic and trying not to see stuff like that everywhere I looked.  I took an inventory and tried really hard not to be sarcastic in my head.  Of the nine people, three were not seniors.  Of those three, one was in his forties, and the other two about thirty.  Mr. Dick was there.  So was Mr. Wilbert Black.  Mr. Black was "starting the hymns."  I'd never heard him sing before.  I didn't know he could.  He wore his wedding ring, which reminded me that his wife had died.  I've got a baritone voice, which is considered pretty deep, and isn't much good for pop music, but a basso voice is in a whole range below that. Like the dwarves in the trailer for the new Hobbit movie.  Subterranean.  A lovely speaking voice for a particularly serious news anchor.  All the gravitas in the world.
  But the thing is, if you "start the hymns" (there are no organs or pianos or anything), you lead the people in singing.  They copy what you're singing and sing with you, with the same notes and time.  And Mr. Black was hitting cavernous notes I couldn't hope to reach.  Every now and then he'd go so low that a golden female voice would suddenly break through.  This woman could for a moment sing high enough (adjusting up octaves) to reach the main melody coming just down into her range as Mr. Black slipped deeper and deeper.  The golden voice came from the wife or a pair right in front of me that was only thirty years old. The young ones in the group.  I sang with Mr. Black, matching my voice to his, and once again tried to sing really quietly, but as almost no one could hit his low notes, it was hard.  When he went too low for me, I'd have to shift up and sing too high for me, with the female voice suddenly breaking through the atmosphere in the room as well.
  Besides the regular seating for just under one hundred people, there was also a little section with thirty chairs set up for Sunday School. As the youngest person in the room was thirty, the necessity for this escaped me.
  But I was having trouble.  Full on mocking mode was trying to engage.  "That man is dressed exactly like Bilbo Baggins" (stoppit!).  "The chairs are laid out in groupings of six chairs.  Let's see how many people could sit in this room.  Are they all laid out in sixes?  Yes they are!  Six. Six. Six. Ha!"  (stoppit!)  "I'm sitting in the back row for nonmembers and for members who've been kicked out.  There are six chairs here.  How many people have been kicked out/left, and could conceivably come back?  About sixty.  Yet, they've got only six "bad people" chairs, and about ninety chairs for people who, if they returned, would not be allowed to sit in them.  If they add three chairs to the bad people section, they could sit the entire group in one cozy row in the back and make kicked out people sit in the front section." (stoppit!)
  What happens when you "start the singing" is that, as you get tired, you start each verse slightly lower than the one before it.  Toward the end of the service I realized that, Mr. Black had dropped off the bottom of his own range and now wasn't even able to hit his own lowest notes, making almost inaudible growling sounds instead.  This meant that the key had dropped down to the point where the girl with the voice could sing it high without going off the top of her range, and that I could just barely sing in my highest voice too.  Suddenly she and I were "leading the singing."  Oops. Not supposed to happen.  But we did it anyway.  And she seemed to defer to me, no matter how I tried to sing more quietly than she.  I can't hit high notes without putting a little bit of air behind that.   Was I leading the singing?  Really? I realized I kinda pretty much totally was, for the last two verse of the last hymn.
  "Stop it people!" I wanted to climb onto my chair and shout.  "I am to be pitied and exhorted, not followed in soaring, mellifluous harmony!" (stoppit!)
  Mr. Black, who'd a decade ago been told he was kicked out, and had then refused to be kicked out, refused to do the accounts, and refused to go to Embassy West to sit in the back, ran the whole thing today.  He not only led the singing, he read verses in a lovely, news anchor voice, he prayed in the same mellow, soothing, authoritative voice, and he went up and "broke the bread," which involves praying over first the bread, then passing it around to everyone in the room but me, and then the same thing with the wine.  Instead of being kicked out of his church, he ended up getting his own.   And a reverent, quiet, orderly, well put together service it was.  Mr. Dick "closed in prayer," meaning the thing was over.
  I started to really wonder if they were preparing to ignore me once the prayer was over, or if anyone would be mean, or what.  I didn't want to be mean back, and didn't want to get hurt or lose my temper or laugh or anything.  People started talking, but then Mr. Dick stood up and read, in a halting. monotone, twangily Maritimes voice, a letter of thanks to Falaise Road for money donated to special bible meetings from an assembly in, I believe it was, Pleasantville, Iowa.  (Or Illinois or someplace.) For a "thanks for the $400, guys!" letter, it contained a fairly lengthy sermon in it about how evil the world was, and how we'd best steer clear of it. All of it. And to never forget this, so much more as we see the day approaching.
  Were they going to speak to me?  The thirty year old woman kinda pushed past and went by me to the back of the room without saying anything.  It didn't look good.  But I think she was just quickly nipping over to the washroom, and she came back and she and hubby talked to me for quite a while.  Like in Rideau Ferry, I looked and saw that there were a bunch of regular people, and two "power guys."  Mr. Dick and Mr. Black were the only power guys.  Everyone else was a civilian.  Mr. Black and Mr. Dick were also the only two who didn't come over and speak to me.  Maybe they were just busy counting the collection money and stuff.  But that's what happened.  They bustled around a bit, and went home without saying much of anything to much of anyone.
  Every single other person shook my hand and had a very nice chat with me.  The eerie thing was that several were too old, or too uninvolved back in the day to have a clue who I was.  Even the man who'd banned me from attending youth group, despite the girl from New Jersey coming, who I'm glad I never dated and all. He'd forgotten who I actually was.  He's had some problems lately.  And his wife was out, and sat across the room from him.  They're not getting along.
  And I was proud to recognize one old lady from back in the day, because she had only one arm.  The way she threw her purse over her stump reminded me that, back in the day, though we'd never spoken, she'd done the exact same thing. She asked about my job and my qualifications.  She'd gotten teacher qualifications, in history and psychology, but never actually taught. She was lovely. Jokey, warm, friendly.
  You know what?  It was really, really nice to have every other person (but Mr. Dick and Mr. Black) come over and have a big conversation, and laugh and talk and everything.  You know what else?  Back in the day, you couldn't speak freely.  You couldn't mention divisions and things really very openly.  Everything was all politically charged. But today?  You could say whatever you wanted and everyone did.  There was this whole feeling of everyone having been through a lot together.  Too much to still be angry or hurt or deeply opinionated about the right and wrongs enough to want to argue about much of anything.  Just survivors, happy to talk to a new old face.  Nice.  And I used the word "division" rather casually and didn't get stiffened spines but easy smiles of agreement and recognition.
  I also mentioned (by name) a guy who'd recently left to go to a church, and got quick smiles of  "Will's wife?  Yeah, she's great.  We like Will. And his wife.  You know her?  Great people!" kinda thing.  No more pretending people who've gone to another church have died.  Those old boundaries of "They don't go here, so they're dead to us" seem to have fallen completely, at least among these younger thirty and fortysometthings.  Just like when people PM or phone me, from any of the many sides of divisions, to reach out to me and say "hi!"  The old "with us=right/ not with us=wrong" stuff seems to have gone.  And high time, too.  Makes all the difference.
  We all talked for an hour.  They wanted to know how bad "kids these days" are at writing, generally. I told them.  The guy in his 40s and I compared people who were friends with both of us on Facebook, and he said he was going to move back to Arizona, where he's been living since growing up in Washington state, and he got into his huge white pickup truck, the couple in their thirties asked about my huge black sports car and got into their little white car, and we all drove away. The end.

[my favourite feedback from people reading this blog and then talking to me on Facebook so far was this:]

It appears to me that you go to these things with no expectation of honoring the Lord but simply gaining some material to blog about so as to elicit sympathy from the disenchanted and disgruntled brethren. I think you would find it far more profitable to go anywhere that the word of God was being preached faithfully and in love.
I suppose the question would be what is the end of your accomplishments? Have you given these people a deeper love for Christ or a deeper love for Mike? I see nothing edifying in what you have written, only that you have a reasonable grasp of descriptive writing.


Unknown said...

It's nice to know we're not dead - Will?

Wikkid Person said...

Rhymes with Phil, doesn't it?

Bethany said...

read, enjoyed, edified :). sounds healing if nothing else, and so glad the speech is free, makes it possible to breathe doesn't it? so glad you went, and that there was fellowship of sorts. xo.