Having the Honourable the Very Reverend Dr. Lois Wilson visit Calgary this spring was tonic for the soul. She is a reminder of who we are as United Church people. She brought us her laughter and passion for justice.
I first met Lois in 1980 when, as moderator, she visited Yellowknife where I lived. Lois had already broken barriers by then; the latest was becoming the first woman to lead our church. Her visit happened during the years when Canada and the North were still vibrating after The Berger Inquiry findings were published. It was all about oil, of course. Canadians thought that northern oil should be piped down to southern markets.
Justice Thomas Berger travelled to communities up and down the MacKenzie Valley, sitting month after month in churches, community centres, schools and homes along the proposed pipeline route. He listened to the concerns of people who would be affected. Whether they were young and old, they told him what they feared, hoped for and needed. Long story short, the pipeline was not built.
Of course, the Berger Report didn’t sit well with some: First Nations might have rights, but what about the economy? Racism and fear raised their heads (Sound familiar?).
As a member of Yellowknife United Church, I was shocked to hear this backlash. I needed help to make sense of it. And at about this time, Lois flew into town and set the pulpit on fire with a fearless sermon. She reminded us of who we are and challenged us. I wrote to her after she left town, and she responded with an inspiring letter, which all these years later, I still have.
Since then, I have met Lois in many parts of the country, read her books, heard her preach and followed her in the media. Every encounter has reminded me of the fierce and tender church which is my spirit’s home. What's more, she embodies resurrection hope for me — with more than a dash of wit and laughter.
I am reading her new book, I Want to be in that Number: Cool Saints I Have Known
, which she talked about during her visit to Calgary's Hillhurst and St. David United Churches. She recalled telling her daughter that she would write a book on aging. “Oh Mother!” her daughter scolded. “Write on something you know about!”
To learn more about Lois, you should read Fiesty and Fearless
by Janice L. Meighan. It’s an apt title and a grand reminder that our faithful church — at its best — is feisty and fearless, too. We cannot forget this.
At the moment, the United Church, along with the Quakers, are involved in a peaceful protest of products made in illegal Israeli settlements. (I was not personally in favour of this, believing it best to support peace-building in the region). Nevertheless, the boycott began two years ago.
Not surprisingly, the Harper government has lumped us in with people boycotting Israel. Journalist Neil Macdonald reports
that “Ottawa [is] considering hate charges against those who boycott Israel.” Last week, United Church Moderator Gary Patterson wrote
to Ottawa asking for clarification.
And so, in these strange times, we need to remember (or to learn) who we are, what we stand for and why. One of our great teachers is Lois Wilson, who understands — personally and globally — what it is to speak truth to power when it comes to human rights, climate change, poverty, right relations and peace. Thank God.
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