My position as the provincial office manager for the camp ministry served as a unique opportunity for me to be introduced to the culture of this province. I would visit the different camps and consequently would spend hours travelling with the provincial director. I felt like I was on my own guided tour of this huge flat province, being taught everything there ever was to learn about agriculture and prairie living.
I would be passing by some obscure building or landmass and the provincial director would launch into some significant explanation of the item in question. Out of those random observations I became curious about his explanation, which would lend itself to further questions and further explanation. I even developed an appreciation for southern gospel music as a result of these trips. Turns out, the provincial director was a singer, lending his voice to a few quartets in his years.
This experience of travelling around the province really solidified the accuracy of the sitcom my family and I had been studying for several months prior to making this move out east. I would get to meet several parallel characters in the small hamlets and cities associated with the camps I would go visit. I took comfort in that it served as a way to connect me to this new province that I was calling home for the next foreseeable future.
I enjoyed this job and it served me well during my time at the school. I worked there for two years, until I was coming to the end of my studies and needed to focus on my year long internship, where I would be counselling full-time in order to finish the graduation requirements of my degree. The timing worked well as the provincial director was about to make a major life step as well, stepping down from his role and then heading down south to help set up an orphanage.
Because of my enjoyment of this work – ministry – I wanted to continue my involvement with this camp ministry so I transitioned out of my office role and onto the provincial board. This proved to be a very bad move on my part and if I would have spent even five more minutes thinking about it I would have realized that every time I participated with the leadership of a religious organization it all goes belly up. This was to be no different.
But I didn’t. So I did.
It was inevitable I suppose that the next year the national director, who was self-appointed from the national board when there was a bit of a shake-up in leadership – of which he was a part of shaking out the previous national director – decided to make some financial changes. I say inevitable because the moment money and religion come together it is like a chemical reaction that results in nothing good. His arbitrary decisions were done without collaboration from the camps and new structures forced upon the camps. I found several of his actions intolerable and without ethic. So I did the inevitable thing. I resigned.
However, I opted to inform the board of my decision to resign, offering up my reasons why – citing my inability to follow the national leader because of his actions and consequently I disqualified myself from serving any longer.
And then that is when I was introduced for the first time to this other element of this prairie province. This niceness, cloaked with religious overtones and moralistic grandstanding. This grotesque ugliness that would now be part of my regular encounters with the church, speaking in a universal way now.
The most senior board member contacted me via email in response to my resignation. In it he referred to me as being quite sinful because of what I had said, comparing my quote “foul mouth” to that of “an Irish sailor”. I had not used any profanity in my email – this is what I assume this board member was referencing in his comparison so I was very perplexed with his response. He chastised me considerably and called on me to “repent and contact the national director in order to ask for his forgiveness for what I have done.”
I could only assume this board member was now referring to someone else. So I reread both my email and his and reread it again. I could not find the correlation but then it hit me.
Any criticism at all of the most esteemed and god-fearing – not to mention ‘god-appointed’ leader would be punishable by death. However, in this more civilized time, only the ripping of my clothes, pouring ash on my head, and pleading for forgiveness from this person whom I have every only met once was of course the only reasonable thing to do. That or the earth would open up and swallow both me and my family I would imagine.
And here I thought my resigning from my position – effective immediately – because I could no longer follow this ‘most-esteemed leader’ was the reasonable thing to do.
I was mistaken.
So I did the next reasonable thing that came to my mind. I replied to his email. I told him that my email was clear in that because of the national director’s actions – I could no longer follow him as the national leader, and given my position on the provincial board I thought that it was reasonable that I should immediately resign because of this new situation. I then questioned this board member’s comparison, concerned that his referencing all Irish sailors in such a judgemental way was surely not helpful nor accurate and I wondered whether he had met several Irish sailors who possessed such a foul mouth in which he now felt it necessary to offend all Irish sailors by judging them with the same statement.
And so it began.