More Observations From a Century Ago
Brandon Sun, June 29, 2020 –
My maternal grandparents were Ed and Julia Lund. Ed was a minister in the Methodist Church. Julia had been a teacher before marrying; she then took on the role of homemaker and pastor's wife. Ed’s vocation determined their lives: they moved every few years to a new church and town. In 1917, they and their three young daughters moved to the southwestern Manitoba town of Lauder.
The first theme I noticed was the sense of global awareness. Folks a century ago were already living in what we now call “the global village.” Lauder and other small towns were connected to world markets. Crops grown locally were shipped globally; goods were imported from all over. Manitoba communities like Lauder were connected to the wider world by train, telephone, telegraph and daily newspaper. Many people had immigrated from other countries – like my grandparents, who had both come to Canada when they were children.
A century ago, Lauder and other communities were caught up in two big global events. One was the Great War, which started in 1914 and ended on Nov. 11, 1918. (From the Hartney area, which included Lauder, 22 soldiers died in the war.) The other big global event was the Spanish flu pandemic: its deadly second wave swept through Canada in the fall and winter of 1918.
A global awareness also permeated the Lauder church of a century ago. Foreign missionaries were frequent guest speakers at church services. And there was this entry in my grandfather's diary, Jan. 19, 1919: “Sunday. A fine morning. 87 out to Sunday School and a collection of $21.70 for Armenian Syrian fund.”
You could draw a straight line from the global awareness of Lauder citizens a century ago to us today. We reside in the global village. There is the chill of the uncertainty of a global pandemic. There is the poignancy of Canadian church folks – 100 years later – again helping those in need from Syria.
The second theme I noticed is almost forgotten today: the local efforts for church union. Let me start with the background. Uniting different Canadian Protestant church denominations had been discussed for years, intensifying in the early 20th century. This would eventually result in the creation of the United Church of Canada in 1925. The new church incorporated the Methodists, two-thirds of the Presbyterians, and the smaller Congregational Church.
But before the birth of the United Church – and while head office discussions dragged on – a countrywide grassroots movement sprang up. Starting in 1916, homegrown groups leaped ahead of their national leadership and began uniting churches in their own localities. Within a few years, an astonishing 1,200 new Union churches had been formed in communities across Canada.
Lauder was one of those communities. When my grandparents arrived in July 1917, a Union initiative was already underway. The town’s Methodist and Presbyterian churches were being brought together, with the Methodist church building chosen to house the new Union congregation.
My grandfather's diary reflects the enthusiasm and pace of change. July 22, 1917: “A full church and a good Union choir – used Presbyterian and Methodist hymns.” July 27: “The Provisional Union Committee met tonight and drew up a Constitution.” Aug. 5: Union Sunday School met this morning. About 60 there and prospects are good.”
This grassroots movement had a significant impact, both on the local and national levels. But this development is virtually forgotten today. Checking the website now of the United Church of Canada, their historical timeline has this description for 1914: “First World War begins and church union efforts subside.”
“Subside”? What a word to spoil a good story! What a word to erase an impressive history of bottom-up social action: hundreds of local groups implementing sweeping changes to their church congregations, buildings and programs.
Big, historic events – like the 1925 creation of the United Church – seem inevitable. That is, after they happen. The influences leading up to big events can be forgotten. In this case, we have largely forgotten the powerful local initiatives that paved the way for the founding of the new national church.
A century ago, a nationwide grassroots movement flourished in a thousand places – like Lauder, Manitoba. A story from the past we can remember and reflect on today.
A Local Journal of the 1918 Flu
The Pandemic: Reflecting on Big Questions
Reflections on the Great War
Manitoba Day Musings
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Some Reviewed Books:
The War on Drugs:
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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason
Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
An Alternative History of the 20th Century
Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now
Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution