Cause for Ap­plause

What it’s like to be ‘the lit­tle church with a big heart’

Our Canada - - Features | Departments - By Monika Regina Mar­tyn, Cal­gary

Look­ing at me, you might eas­ily think of me as an old mother. Still hand­some, my red-brick jacket is weath­ered from win­ter storms and wrin­kled from the hu­mid On­tario sum­mers. My eyes are stained with splin­tered glass but still look brightly out into the com­mu­nity in which I stand. Like a mother, my doors open wide to wel­come both old and new mem­bers. I have been the church in the small com­mu­nity of Sea­grave, Ont., for more than a cen­tury.

I’ve lost count of the ren­o­va­tions as well as the fire and the merg­ers that made me into to­day’s United Church. Win­dows have been do­nated, roof fixed, trim painted, and the interior un­earthed and re­fur­bished.

I’ve never had a steeple or a brass bell to chime. Nor have I needed one, as my con­gre­ga­tion hears its toll re­gard­less. Their kind hearts, help­ing hands and com­fort­ing spir­its have knocked on the doors of the un­well, bol­stered the un­for­tu­nate, held the hands of the newly be­reaved and lifted spoon­fuls of medicine for those un­able to. They laugh to­gether over cups of tea and cof­fee, and or­ga­nize this and that. It seems that they’ve never for­got­ten that to­gether they can touch the lives of others, and that a hug or a kind word and ges­ture are their own pow­er­ful cur­rency.

As a church, I’ve al­ways been proud of my con­gre­ga­tion, but in the fall of 2014, when they were asked to help a cause out­side of their own com­mu­nity, they over­whelmed me.

Two of my flock, Barb Mar­tyn and Rick Mcaskill, called on them to help a ru­ral school in Panama. They had heard of the school’s plight from Ge­orgina Kolm, who is a vol­un­teer English teacher. There were 75 chil­dren, six teach­ers and no func­tion­ing toi­lets or sinks. There was noth­ing to do but fix the sit­u­a­tion.

Barb and Rick are “win­ter cheaters,” and I can’t blame them. They are lucky to be able to es­cape to Panama every April for three weeks to shorten the harsh Cana­dian win­ters.

Panama is a de­vel­op­ing na­tion at the bot­tom of Cen­tral Amer­ica. Small in land mass—think of Lake Michigan on the map—it’s not dif­fi­cult to meet some of its friendly pop­u­la­tion. The coun­try’s school chil­dren, dressed in their navy and white school uni­forms, would melt any­one’s heart.

To­gether, Barb and Rick pre­sented what

they knew of Panama, its peo­ple and the con­di­tion of the school to their con­gre­ga­tion. “Could you help and chip in a few dol­lars?” they had asked. They hoped that if there were ex­tra funds, maybe some­thing could also be done with the gov­ern­ment-al­lo­cated rice and beans stacked on benches and floors. The mice were get­ting fat from nib­bling on it.

The do­na­tions flooded in, and their gen­eros­ity quickly funded the en­tire project. This act of kind­ness had spread out to the com­mu­nity, to as­so­ci­a­tions and in­di­vid­u­als who do­nated be­yond any­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions. A crew of Cana­di­ans liv­ing in Panama vol­un­teered to do the work. Hardy, Ge­orgina’s hus­band, and Kevin, Barb’s son, did the phys­i­cal labour at no charge. They re­placed the toi­lets and sinks, and built a con­crete pantry and in­stalled the shelving.

The par­ents in the com­mu­nity were touched that strangers from so far away could care so much about their chil­dren. My con­gre­ga­tion’s kind­ness did not go un­no­ticed.

I’m proud of my peo­ple and their giv­ing spirit. That’s why I’m called “the lit­tle church with a big heart.” n

The au­thor’s mother-in-law, Barb Mar­tyn, and Barb’s hus­band, Rick Mcaskill, at­tend On­tario’s Sea­grave United Church and do much of the ad­min­is­tra­tion work for the con­gre­ga­tion. Monika wrote this story from the church build­ing’s per­spec­tive to help shine a light on the kind­ness of its con­gre­gants, and the im­por­tant role the church plays in the com­mu­nity at home—and as far away as Panama.

Above: This con­gre­ga­tion is the heart of the lit­tle church in Sea­grave, Ont. Rick is pic­tured semikneel­ing next to the min­is­ter while Barb is be­hind him; at right: while on va­ca­tion, Barb and Rick vis­ited the Pana­ma­nian kinder­garten class.

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