Today is St. Bartholomew’s Day. Bartholomew was one of the 12 apostles. He is sometimes called Nathanael in the Gospels, and according to John, he was a friend of Phillip. We do not know much more about him. In those days, Jesus just told them “come and follow me” and they followed Him. We do not know if they had a wife or children. We do not know what their parents, family and friends said. They left their career, everything they had and just followed Him. How does it happen today? When one of us says “I have been called”, how do we know? How can we tell? As you may know, I am now what they call an ordinant, which means I am at the last stage of the discernment journey.
I’ll tell you about my own call. For some people the call come in a special event. Some know from birth or youth what their calling is. For me it was rather a process, a long process.
I am born in a Roman Catholic family. Both my parents were raised in practising families, but when I was young we went to church about twice a year, at Christmas and Easter when visiting my grandparents in Témiscamingue. My father has always said that he does not believe in God. My mother says she believes in God but she did not practice much when I was young because she had some grudges against the church. My first encounter with God I can remember was in second grade, at age 7. I was preparing for my First Communion and Confirmation and when attending mass I felt really great. I felt peace and comfort inside of me. It was such a great feeling that I wanted to renew constantly with it and so I joined the children choir. This way, my dad had to bring me weekly to church. I believe I stayed with the choir until the end of my elementary school. I don’t think it is usual for 7 year old children to find ways to go to church; I think this might have been the beginning of the calling.
My parents moved a lot so I attended 3 different high schools all in different cities or areas. I lost my connection with church to a certain degree. I always prayed. From way back, I remember praying. I also remember dreaming of becoming a missionary and work for the poor for those who live in third world countries. I am an introverted and I was very shy in those days so I never told any one about these dreams. I have to admit also that my parents kept repeating that religion was a private matter never to be discussed. Also, my parents kept criticizing the church so I never felt an opportunity to discuss my faith at home nor else where.
After secondary V, I went to Iowa for a year as part of the AFS Student Exchange Program. I stayed with a family there and did a 12th grade in high school. That family was very religious and practicing at a First Faith Baptist Church. Every Sunday, I left early with them, attended Bible Study, then we went to the service. When we came back home, I would often leave with the neighbour to attend mass at the Roman Catholic Church. Everyone thought I was really strange but no one ever asked me any question. It seems that I never had enough of church but at the same time my mind was quite confused. I had been taught that all Protestants were evil, which I came to realize was not quite the case. Consciously or unconsciously, I had started to make a difference between my faith, my relation with God through prayer, and the church as an organization. As ABBA sings, the dice were thrown.
When I came back to Montreal, my family was in chaos: my parents separated after a year and divorced the following year. I had decided not to go back to the Roman Catholic Church because I had never experienced any kind of community there and because I had developed my own grudges towards it. During my first school year at McGill, my brother introduced me to some of his friends who were Jehovah Witnesses, and for a couple of years I joined them. They gave me what I needed at the time: a family, a community, support trough hardship. They taught me different ways of praying, to read it and discuss the Bible. I also wondered if my old calling to missionary work was not related to being what they called a “pioneer” (going from door to door full-time). This experience helped me come out of my shell a little and my silence about my faith in God. After my parents’ divorce, after I recuperated emotionally, I realized that this community was too controlling for me, I felt brain-washed in many ways and I started questioning their beliefs so I left them.
So I had left the Roman Catholic Church, I had left the Jehovah Witnesses, I knew I needed a community of faith but I did not know which one. At about the same time, I met Nabil, my first husband and the father of my two daughters. I picked up the phone book, looked up for Protestant churches in St-Lambert and in alphabetical order came the Lutheran, the United and the last was the Anglican. We tried the first one on the list. We felt welcome right away. We took time to study what Lutherans were all about. We liked it and we stayed. I was married there. Both my daughters were baptised Lutheran and raised in that church. I told you earlier that I was brought up with the belief that Protestants were evil; my mother was very upset when she found out I was with the Jehovah Witnesses, and still very upset when she found out I joined the Lutherans, she was not at my first wedding, she cried like crazy when my first daughter was baptized. She cried again but a little less when my second daughter was baptized. She did not cry at my second wedding; I had then been a Protestant for almost 20 years. Luke 14:25-27 25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
I became very involved in my congregation. I became the treasurer which I was for many years. I joined the Church Council, which is equivalent to Forum. I even held the position of President on that Council. We had a number of French speaking couples who came to the services or came to be married but did not stay because they had difficulties to worship in English so eventually the pastor asked me and a few more French speaking people if we would be willing to attend French services if he were to start them. We started with monthly services and rapidly realized that this was not enough and we increased the number of services. I worked at translating services (large portions of the services are traditional prayers, texts from the Didache, from the Bible). I was in charge of the hymn and music copyright file. I taught adult Bible studies. I participated to some fundraising activities. I thought for a while that this was all fine, that this was my calling: being a wife, a mother and a faithful and active Christian.
One day, in the late 80’s, an ordained man came from the Synod Office for some reasons which I now forget and when he saw all that was going on at the church, at one point when we were alone, he asked me if I had ever thought about ordained ministry. I think my jaw fell on the floor. It had not occurred to me that a woman like me could be ordained. I sure did not think ordination was meant for me: I was too shy to speak in front of people, I was not educated enough, I could not lead people, I could not follow a calling to a congregation because I had a family and my husband was the main bread winner, I was not intelligent enough, I did not have enough imagination and creativity, etc. In other words, I did not have much self-confidence and I denied the call. I nevertheless kept the information in my heart to think and pray about it. Our pastor left. A new woman pastor came in. She was not as bilingual as the first pastor so I worked really closely with her especially for the redaction of sermons. She encouraged me towards ordained ministry. She acted in many ways as a mentor to me.
If I added these encouragements to the dream of my youth to become a missionary, plus my special feeling when being with God in meditation and prayer, how he led me in life, how I was so unhappy in any job I held but how happy I was when serving the Lord in the church, I started to realize that ordained ministry might be my calling. Then I started to see some doors opening. In 1993, I had discussions with my husband about returning to university to become a pastor. By then, a couple of lay people in the congregation had asked me if I had ever considered ordained ministry. I sure did not feel ready for this and in many ways I was scared, but I thought that if others saw it in me, it was God’s way of encouraging me. I had kept my eyes and ears opened, I had watched for signs and they could not be clearer.
In 1994, I started my Bachelor in Theology at McGill. By then, I was also involved at the Synod level on a Committee for Mission Development and as such I was visiting mission churches. The plan for my studies was that I would graduate with a M.Div. from McGill University, take most of my courses at McGill, do about one year at the Seminary in Kitchener-Waterloo and then a one-year placement in Montreal before ordination. During my year in Kitchener-Waterloo, my husband and/or I would have travelled biweekly to see each other and the kids. While studying at McGill, I joined the Montreal Diocesan Theological College for all activities. I regularly led Morning Prayers at Dio, I participated in all weekly Eucharistic Services, retreats and other activities.
In 1996, my personal life collapsed. After 10 years of marriage, my husband wanted to divorce. I went into a deep depression which made me loose custody of my two daughters. I put my studies on hold for a while. My daughters could not understand why they were no longer living with me so to lower the impact on them; I took them most weekend, holidays and pedagogical days. I felt I could not abandon them to study in Kitchener-Waterloo, they were too young and motherhood was the first calling I accepted in life. I was offered the possibility of continuing my journey with the Anglican Church here but I was not ready for that. I started a very difficult journey. I asked God for His forgiveness and mercy for not answering His call right away and putting Him on hold. I was not like one of the twelve Jesus called. Luke 9:60-61 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” I am not a saint. I am a woman, a child of God, but also a mother, and I am not perfect.
I continued to attend church, but I did not become as involved as I had been before. It seems to me that it was too painful to become very involved without answering the calling from God. It is as if I needed a safe distance, a buffer zone to protect myself and keep some sort of control over my life. I would compare myself to an injured animal retiring to a remote place, a hole or burrow, to heal before coming back out of its shelter. After completing my B.Th., I did an M.L.I.S. This new career helped me develop other abilities such as teaching, speaking before assembly of people. It also helped me develop organisational and management abilities. This break I took was also useful to work on myself psychologically, emotionally. It helped me grow as a human being. I also tried to stay close to God mainly through prayer, spiritual retreats. In 2001, I married Pierre who has two boys and we raised our children together.
In the spring of 2011, Myriam was 21 years old and Maryse was 22 years old; I thought God had been patient enough with me. I went for a week’s retreat and I finally told God I was ready for whatever He wanted me to be, to serve Him in whichever way He wanted me to. I ask Him to show me a sign. When I came back from the retreat, on my way to work, I stopped at the Cathedral one morning for Morning Prayer. I felt so peaceful starting my days this way. After seeing me daily for a number of mornings, Paul invited me one morning for a coffee. I think he knew from that moment. When I told Pierre it was time for me to follow my calling, he smiled and encouraged me. I was received by the Bishop at the Cathedral in November 2012. When I told my daughters, one said “finally!” and the other said “it is about time!” I still took my time. The discernment process per say is a lengthy one in the Anglican Church and this is fine because it gives the candidate time to ponder each step and be sure of our choice. There are lots of reflection papers to write which allow us to reflect and pray during our journey. I attended a discernment retreat and I formed a discussion group with other candidates here at the Cathedral – we read and discussed some books on Anglican theology.
This whole process has taken over half my life. For God, it might have been only a few minutes. For me, it is an eternity. It is finally coming and the closer I get, the more assured I feel and the more blessed I feel. This is not my doing; it is God’s doing. I am starting this week my last year in seminary, at Dio. How do I know I am called by God? I feel it in my heart and my mind. I have also been affirmed and encouraged by people in this congregation. Through the discernment process, I met almost weekly for several months with members of the cathedral who have recommended me for ordination. I feel very grateful for the time they have spent with me through this whole journey, a journey they are still part of. I know it has always been there even though I did not know what shape it would take and even though I often tried to deny it. I am never as happy in any job as when I serve the Lord, when I work with my fellow Christians. Often, I have wondered why me? I find comfort in the Jesus’ words and I know that whenever I do not feel I am “able”, whenever I am “scared”, whenever I am not sure or feel out of ease or out of my comfort zone, He is there for me, to help me, to guide me. There are times when I think that the changes needed in my life are too great, when I think that the mountains in front of me are too high but then things happen. I see doors opening. I just need to remember that it is God’s will and God is much more powerful than I am. Jesus said to His disciples to take only a good pair of sandals and nothing else. To me He has said to go back to school, to leave your job, a certain comfort of life, the stability you have and go. I trust Him. I have faith in Him. May His will be done. Amen.
St. Bartholomew’s Day
Deuteronomy 18:15-18; Corinthians 4:9-13; Luke 22:24-30