Hope & Grief in a Small Town


Years ago we lived in a small town when we experienced tragedy, our son died. We were devastated, of course, but the whole community was affected by our loss. Folks cried with us. Folks rallied around us. A hat was passed and we received money to help with the unexpected expenses. We experienced grief in a small town where we had no family but the community was our family. This gives me a tiny insight into the mixture of sorrow and support that is emblemized by Humboldt, these days.

As I write I am wearing my Dog River hockey jersey. (Apparently it is the gift that you give a father who has everything.) Our family loves Corner Gas. I often think that it could just as easily been filmed at Bick’s Esso in our little community of Elkhorn. The folks in our town loved their hockey teams. The players were more than just a local team they were “our boys” or “our girls”. Octogenarians and tweens together cheered every shift. The arena was the only place of commonality for the diverse crowd. My days in that community and times at that rink give me a peek inside the devastation that happens when “our boys’ or “our girls” are suddenly snatched from us.

Years ago I believe God spoke to me in an arena of cheering fans. It was not audible but we do have these conversations. I was in The Pas. I had long believed that we should start a ministry to this town with a long racial history. I was visiting to ‘scout out the possibilities’. During the visit I found myself at the arena with hundreds of fans filling the space. The crowd was diverse and yet each person was cheering or groaning in unison. There was a coming together that I had not seen. I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could create a ministry with this kind of ‘buy in’ from each community.

A few years later Threshold (then called Church Army) forged a partnership between: itself, the town of The Pas, the Municipality of Wallace and the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Each partner put in a certain amount of money to begin a new street level ministry Northern Gateway Community Chaplaincy. In many ways the genesis of this ministry was in that arena.

Physical lives have been saved. Spiritual lives have been restored. We witnessed what can happen when diverse communities ‘buy in’. It was my hope to replicate this model in other northern communities but alas this was not to be my lot. Shortly after Northern Gateway launched I was called to Saint John and I have been on to other adventures.

Today I am aware of the profound nature of the impact of the tragic deaths of those on the Bronco’s bus; “Thoughts and prayers” has become a trite phrase in our social media culture. I really wonder how many real prayers accompany this trope. I can only know that my prayers are with that community and the families.