The death of Pat Jory last week brings back memories of why Stanstead is a nice place to live. When we moved here, she and her sister were a permanent sight in downtown Stanstead, when it still had a commercial life. Parked next to what was still the Royal Bank, they offered the Watchtower, politely, with nary a word inviting us to take a copy.
Profoundly Jehovah’s Witnesses both, they simply testified of their faith, week after week, in hot and cold weather.
The piety was there, an almost forgotten word, the desire to convert also, but not overt.
When we got the Stanstead Journal, we found out that they were carriers of the paper.
The point is that, as almost all churches in town are for sale, officially or not, this town’s beginnings were marked by a multitude of different religious confessions coming here to spread the Gospel according to their beliefs. The times they are certainly a’ changing, as Bob Dylan sang.
Still, one can only wonder what will happen next. Churches are not easily repurposed. This is not Montreal with a huge condo market that could swallow all that is for sale in a day. We don’t need more artistic ‘venues’, the Haskell Hall is not used at what is the beginning of its potential, but then a way of heating and cooling the facility would have to be found. Ways exist; it’s the money that is lacking. Or the will.
The fact is that a reflection on what the churches are should have been started years ago, by the Churches and the government. Some would argue that churches are private properties, not subject to government scrutiny. We will argue otherwise. Those buildings are part and parcel of what our communities are. Mark Twain’s most famous quote on Montreal is: “This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.” Had he stopped in Stanstead he would have said the same.
A lot of countries have seen to it that the churches are considered national treasures, part of the heritage that cannot be split from the urban and rural tissue.
We have the sad sight of the old Tomifobia church that we have slowly seen disintegrate in front of our very eyes over the years, as if playing a real game of SimCity in slow motion. Yet that church was the cornerstone of what was a prosperous small village years ago. Soon visitors will wonder why there are so many houses near each other in the middle of nowhere. The church gone, the marker of what a small village was, will no longer tell what Tomifobia was.
And when churches go, so do those of faith, whatever church it is. Those who practice merit our blessings. Our prayers go out to the Jory family.