My wife Krissy and I spent this week in Montreal visiting family & friends, discovering new parts of our beautiful country and eating local delicacies (Schwartz's Smoked Meat... oh mama). But the highlight of the week was walking through a relatively small Anglican church called St. Phillips in Montreal West.
Krissy was born in Montreal, and while she only lived in this diverse city for 6 years... she returned often to visit her father. Privately, we knew our trip was mostly ABOUT my wife's attempts to colour in a part of her life story that has always seemed quite gray. Every time Krissy tells her story of how she accepted Jesus into her life, it includes her saying something like "I remember sitting in this little Anglican Church with my Dad feeling what I've come to recognize as presence of God. I didn't understand what it was at the time... but I knew it was good." So we were anxious to see this place that was a divine setting in my wife's God story.
We walked into the offices of this church built in 1891, and we met Helen who told us that she's worked there for 17 years and one day. She knew it because she had just begun her final year. Helen walked us through the sanctuary, pointing out EVERY crack in the floor, chunk of roof ready to fall and water damaged coat room. Helen became increasingly discouraged as we walked and talked. She told us an increasingly familiar traditional church story of a congregation that has dwindled from 500 to 30 with no hope in sight. "I know we're supposed to believe in miracles," Helen sighed, "but it's hard to believe there is a future for St. Phillips."
We prayed together for that miracle and thanked Jesus for depositing his presence in that place for a hundred years, but as we left Helen just continued to bemoan the her perceived demise of our faith system. I'm not sure if Helen felt it or not... but Jesus was there. I could feel Him. In fact, she should have noticed because there was sign right beside us reminding those who came in that he was INDEED in our midst like the Bible promises.
We then drove to the world famous Saint Joseph's Oratory. A spunky little servant of God, Saint (as of 2010) André Bessette had a dream of a place to worship God on the side of a mountain overlooking Montreal that has become the largest church in Canada by size. The whole thing is incredibly impressive. The most impressive part however is not the size of the Jesus statue around the sea of candles.
There is a wall in the basilica FILLED with these...
Canes and crutches. Thousands and thousands and thousands of canes and crutches that used to belong to people that Catholic priest André Bessette prayed for. This is how Wikipedia describes him.
"His great confidence in Saint Joseph inspired him to recommend this saint's devotion to all those who were afflicted in various ways. On his many visits to the sick in their homes, he would recommend them in prayer to St. Joseph, and would anoint them lightly with oil from the lamp in the college chapel which always burned before the St. Joseph altar. People claimed that they had been cured through the prayers of the good Brother and Saint Joseph, and they were grateful their prayers had been heard. Brother André steadfastly refused to take any credit for these cures, and, although usually a gentle man, he was known to become enraged at those who suggested that he possessed any healing powers. Because he wanted St. Joseph to be honored"
As a protestant on the charismatic side of the spectrum, my brain wants to be theologically conflicted... but it's not truthfully. I don't get praying to saints, nor do I understand the rationale of putting a 5 dollar collection tin under the canes, saying that common people can pray too for healing for the low low price of one Sir Wilfred Laurier brandished bill. It felt somewhat like a scene in the movie "Luther" where Martin goes Money-Nuts. But I'm learning something. God DESPERATELY wants to move powerfully on this earth and the grace he grants us is at an unspeakably amazing level. When we pray and act in love and faith God DOES change lives through, as they say in the King James... "whosoever"
I was a bit bummed that all the canes and crutches were old ones however. Montreal is FILLED with lavish monuments to an era that God moved combined with sad demographics saying that churches are more often museums than not.
God is still moving in Montreal. We had dinner with an amazing couple named Mike and Sue Nardozza (parents of our friends) who cooked us Indian food and breathed life into our hearts (as people who wholeheartedly live their lives for Christ tend to do). They told us about their powerful Bearers of Love ministry to the Ukraine, funded by the generosity of those actively serving God in Montreal along with MANY other ways these ordinary people are being used by God to see transformation in their world.
There aren't many kind of evenings I enjoy more than lingering at a dinner table with people who WORK hard for God, sharing stories of how God interacts with man. I cherish nights like that.
This is what Helen seems to have forgotten. God doesn't live in buildings. He's not as concerned about the cracks in the wall as the dimmed flame of passion. He's ACHING to move in the lives of people. Any one of us who will say a simple "Yes" He'll eagerly launch into a meaningful adventure that can lead to nothing short of nation-shaping.
"Or didn't you realize your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
"I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me."