In 1991 we were living in Rapid City, South Dakota. We’d been living there for about a year. I was working in a church as a youth minister and the elusive Donna was taking care of home including our wee firstborn. To look at Nate, our firstborn, today you’d never believe that he seemed to be allergic to everything in those first few years and kept us, mostly Donna, pretty busy getting him better. We’d been there for just a few months when I started learning about the dark side of church life from the front seats instead of the comfort of a classroom. It was about the 9 month mark when I started to realize (it took Donna about 3 months, she’s always much quicker at picking up the obvious than I am) that our days there were numbered. All stories for another time but I’ll just say it was one of the most dysfunctional church experiences I’ve ever been part of, seen or heard about. It was that way before us, while we were there and well after we left. The only thing that came from that time were the good that comes out of suffering and the great friends you make while you’re sitting waiting for the Romans to come and pick the next one for the arena.
Before we ever moved up to Rapid, the elusive Donna brought home a set of videos with a mini-series on them called, “Anne of Green Gables” (A Kevin Sullivan production. Megan Follows as Anne – I stayed in a cottage here once right after she and her family had been there. I can say only that she’s a good actress and a pretty clean housekeeper). I’m embarrassed today to admit that watching those videos with the Elusive was the first time I’d ever heard of Prince Edward Island. Canada, for me, was the big red thing above the northern border of the U.S. I knew it was up there but it lacked definition and substance for me. It was. And that’s all I thought I would ever need to know. After watching the mini-series and its sequel it seemed like we kept bumping into things about Prince Edward Island and Canada. While we were living in Rapid we read the whole series of books the mini-series was based on and we thought it would be a cool place to visit some day.
As I sat in my office (Across the hall from my office was a washroom with a shower installed in it. I was told that the previous youth pastor had asked for the shower to be installed so that when he worked late into the nights and slept on his office couch he could get a shower the next morning when he woke up to start work all over again. Putting the funk in dysfunctional!) one day I was trying to think of some possible locations where I could take a team of our teens to do some outreach. Prince Edward Island came to mind and I made a search to see if there were some churches in our non-denom –denom (For those who go crazy trying to guess these things, don’t bother, it doesn’t matter.) that I could connect with and see if they could use some hard working teens to come out and help with a VBS, a camp, anything. I found a phone number, made a call and when I explained why I was calling the person on the other end of the phone started laughing. I know people tell stories about people laughing uncontrollably in church meetings under the influence of God: this wasn’t that. I was being mocked while she politely said between chuckles, “I’ll send you a list.” (In fairness to my mocker, the oldest church in Canada in that non-denom denom I was talking about happens to be on PEI. And it’s really, really old. It struck here as funny that some U.S. church thought the Canadian savages might need a hand.)
A couple weeks and a lot more local drama later a letter came in the mail. It was a list from Prince Edward Island. But it wasn’t the list of local churches I was hoping for, it was a list of churches looking to hire people for full-time ministry positions in their churches. And that gave me something to think about. There was only one church on the list that was on P.E.I., the Island. The others were in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I took the list home to Donna and showed it to her. She’d been ready to pack and move for a few months but neither of us had ever thought of moving to Canada. After talking and thinking it over I decided to put a packet together with my resume and send it off for them to consider me for the job.
A few weeks later I got a call from the “Senior Minister” (Not a reference to age but position. Sort of like ‘King of the Hill’ or CEO or Head Slave, take your pick.) of the church on the Island. We chatted for quite a while and for my part I was excited because I could hear in him ideas I had about what church and ministry ought to be like. I felt unusually positive about the call and my inner Eeyore was giving way to my inner Tigger. A week later I had a phone interview with one of the leaders of the church there who would later become a friend. “What do you know about the Island?” he asked me. “Well, pretty much all I know is what I’ve seen in the Anne of Green Gables videos and read in the books.” I confessed. “Well,” he said, drawing out the word well and making it sound very deep indeed, “you do realize things have changed some since those days?” Whatever I said led to them flying me from Rapid to the Island for a weekend that back home we would have called “an interview” and there they called it, “Candidating”.
I met with the Rapid board and told them where I was going and what I was up to. I knew that meant they could move to let me go right then with 30 days, I’d heard of that happening, I would later know guys to whom it happened. They didn’t, they were very gracious about it but they also had a lot of questions but none of the questions I wished they would ask.
I flew out at the end of May, 1991. Donna stayed home because Nathan was little and because we’d just added Josh to the family in November of ’90. So it was that I landed alone in Charlottetown at the provincial airport. It was, at the time, the smallest airport I’d ever been in. My first point of entry in Canada was the airport in Halifax from Chicago. I had to clear customs there and I made a huge mistake. The immigration and customs officer on duty asked me, “Business or Pleasure?” I had to think about that for a minute. I over think things. A lot. “I guess I’m here on business.” I said. The next thing I knew I was led to a little white room with two other immigration and customs officers and while I kept looking at the clock and thinking about how little time I had to make my connecting flight I tried to explain that I was coming to see if I’d get hired for a job. “Are you getting paid?” They asked. “Well, I guess they might give me some money for preaching on Sunday…” They looked at each other and sighed.
Knowing Maritimers now, I’m absolutely sure that they were trying to coach me and give me an out at every point in the interview and I was just too stupid to see it. They probably said something like, “But you’re not actually here to sell anything or make money, correct?” ie. an out. And I probably responded with something like, “Well, I’m hoping to sell myself and get a job where I’ll be making money, plus they paid for my air tickets already so I guess…” Thankfully no strip search was involved and they eventually let me out of the little, white room in time for my flight. I ran out onto the tarmac and was the last person on board. In 30 minutes I was on Prince Edward Island.
After I grabbed my bag off the carousel and looked around for someone who might be looking for me to pick me up and drive me to Summerside I walked out to the front of the airport, looked up at the flag pole flying the red maple leaf I’ve come to love and felt like I heard God say to my heart, “Welcome home.” It was the strangest thing and I can remember it as clearly today as it was when it happened back then. Eventually Andrew, “the senior”, pulled up in their vintage station wagon, tossed my bag in the backseat and drove me to Summerside. Andrew would become a great friend even though he was the only person to vote against me coming at the time. I could see in him someone I could spend time with as friends and work alongside as colleagues. Turns out I wasn’t wrong.