When I Was A Boy

“When I was a boy … and went to be a minister.”


                           by Kenneth Bagnell   August, 2019 


         Now that I’m in my mid-eighties, it’s not easy to recall all the details of the summer of 1951 when I was sent to New Brunswick as a summer preacher; I was only sixteen and had not yet entered university. I was a Glace Bay high school graduate, and United Church Superintendent Dr. Godfrey phoned me in Cape Breton, and offered me the position. It would be about two months on my way to Mount Allison. I would have three congregations each Sunday.  Pleasant Vale, Churchill and Mechanic Settlement. He knew I was a competitive debater, and also the school announcer on the principal’s decision. I was excited by the church’s decision given my age. Yes, I was sixteen.  Imagine!

        I still remember most of the details of such a youth, with no university, but some theology – because I was contributing little paragraph at times to the Sunday School publication from Glace Bay to Toronto. It was a lot for a fellow who had never left home and then moves into a quite distant community and culture. I was surprised when a wife and husband in Pleasant Vale told me gently that I was to be their boarder. It reminded me back then of the fact that I didn’t have a car and I didn’t even know how to drive.  I felt I didn’t know what I was doing.

    After that first sermon at the church near the home where I boarded, I walked several miles to reach the second church for service at either 2 or 2:30. I walked and walked and walked and finally reached the silent church. I waited. I waited some more and then some more. I didn’t blame them for not coming I just felt that they had not been advised and thereby it was not carelessness or indifference. Anyway I was used to hiking and still am, but the unique exercise was the pushing back the trees and branches that reached into the road at the time – 1951. No, I was neither hurt nor put off. I just carried on. Five or six more miles. No, I wasn’t put off and when I reached the church I saw two or three cars and felt all was well for the evening service. In truth they were were very fine people. I wish I could recall the names of the two or three men who were the sons of elderly parents. The family was a jewel.

      They took me in before the service and saw that I had a light lunch before I tried to preach. The brother of one asked if he might drive me home and of course I said yes. But better than that, he said this: “Now you’re going to have to do a bit of visiting; ministers after all, must visit the people even if they attend or even if they don’t. They want to meet the minister. I’m retired so I can help you so that you don’t have to walk where you don’t know who is who.” Immediately I realized I was in the hands of very fine people. Thereby I followed their direction all the time I was there. An apparently retired man would be always ready, he explained, so he could drive all the way to a hospital in Peticodiac. Or else he would take me to an ill church member who was weak in the hospital. So, that evening I did my sermon, and in that situation I also tried my best to meet and visit the members and adherents of the United Church. When they were there. Naturally, the Mechanic Settlement people drove me back to my boarding residence. I can tell you they were all generous once they met me.

         I often wonder if those families of the early 1950s who once lived there, still live there. I wonder. I truly do! Probably other new people occupy the land and scene. I was there with them in 1951 for perhaps two months but to tell the truth I was in almost every home that was there, mile after mile, and treated as well as they could treat anyone on this earth. I mentioned it all to a friend a week or so ago and she smiled and replied in a way I appreciated: “The road to success comes to those who are very busy but also very concerned…”   Right on!     


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