For all intents and purposes Canada Day came a week and a half early for me. On Sunday, June 22 I was the guest preacher at reunion service for the Hastie clan of Crawford, Ontario. It was the regular morning worship service of the Crawford United Church which was built on a corner of land my ancestors had given to the Presbyterian Church in the mid nineteenth century in order to build a church where they could worship God and train their children in the faith.
More than one hundred and sixty years later the original farm and many of the surrounding farms are still owned by descendants to the first Hastie settlers and Sunday by Sunday many of them can be found worshipping God in what is now the Crawford United Church.
Crawford is north of the town of Durham and east of Chesley and Hanover. It is set in the midst of beautiful rolling hills, numerous small lakes, streams and rivers, treed lots and grazing pastures. Yes, it does sound beautiful because it is. Of my three ancestral farms in this province it was the furthest away and the hardest to find. The Holmes farm was at Yonge and Finch and the Davis farm on the Severn River just west of Severn Bridge. Both these spots are along routes familiar to most. But Crawford isn't on the radar of many.
Certainly the Rev. Kathleen Addison didn't know where it was until after she had heard the call. She'd been pretty much a city girl before agreeing to come for a year or two leading into her retirement. Four years later she is still there and she speaks of a rejuvenation she has found in her spirit ministering in what would see to many to be the middle of nowhere.
If Crawford is hard to find now, what must it have been like for my ancestors who probably came up alongside a wagon train? They had nine children and after arriving in Guelph they sent the three oldest off to scout out the land they had heard about prior to leaving Moffatt in Scotland. When the three returned like the dove on Noah's ark it meant the promise was true and in no time the land was staked and a log cabin constructed, though it wasn't much larger than what would today be called a bunkie.
Where they got all their food and how they managed to survive the winters I will never know, but the fact they did what they had to do and that in the midst of all that challenge and hardship and struggle they built a church and rarely missed a Sunday, sends shivers up my spine. I know that hard work from Monday to Friday and the sacred rhythm of rest on Sunday was no less important to my ancestors on the Severn River and the Holmes at Yonge and Finch. It is where we all come from.
I told the morning congregation in Crawford of what I was told at the Visitor's Centre in Moffat some years back when I asked what type of work our Hastie ancestors might have done in that town in the border country. Not only did they have no trace of the name Hastie in their records, but they assumed they must therefore have been common cattle thieves who stole from English farms beneath the borders. When I heard the verdict of the 'old country,' I could almost feel my ancestors rolling in their graves. While I doubt the nonsense about their thievery, I thank God for this country because it allowed my Hastie ancestors the opportunity to start again from scratch and not be judged and allowed them also by the virtue of their hard work and sincere faith to build a better life for the generations to come.
Canada has been so good at offering that same opportunity to waves of immigrants first from Europe and then from the Commonwealth and now from the whole world round. It is a great land where hard work and sincere faith can create opportunities for our children that could not be dreamt of in so many other parts of the world.
One Sunday evening as I was closing the front doors after our worship service had ended a young man appeared and wanted to come in. He appeared to be from somewhere in the middle-east, and I was so glad to show him the church. However, when we arrived at the doors leading into the sanctuary he began to take off his shoes. Clearly he was Muslim, or was he just so thankful for the opportunities afforded him in this new world. Perhaps he knew he was on holy ground when he arrived in Canada.
I suppose some might easily think of Crawford United as a 'no name' kind of church located as it is hours away from the city at the intersection of a dirt road and a gravel concession, but the pride of the people through the ages was evident from the moment you stepped in the door. Over the years the building had been painted and added on to and probably even raised to make room for the wonderful hall beneath. Even on the day of our visit a dear woman had a magnificent handmade afghan on display to be raffled off for the church she loved. Three tickets for $5! I don't suppose the church itself is a whole lot larger than our chapel, and I don't know her people, though many of them are kin, but I love that church too almost as much as my own.
The little wooden pulpit in the country church was nothing compared to the solid stone masterpiece I stand behind Sunday by Sunday and the names of the clergy who had stood in that place through the years were not published in the Toronto papers or heard on the radio like some of my predecessors once were. But none of that mattered to me. I wasn't just the guest preacher in Crawford United that Sunday. I was first and foremost a grateful worshiper. I didn't expect or want to be paid. I wanted to put in an offering and thank God for the devotion of my ancestors on that very ground to the things of God. They planted more than just crops to get them through the winters in that place. They planted seeds for the kingdom that are still bearing fruit. I too wanted to take my shoes off. This was holy ground.
On Canada Day we should all take off our shoes and thank God for the blessings of this land and of her people.