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Friday, December 4, 2015

The wandering church


Mary Williams with her little church
Toni Lucas

Recently I got to be a part of a minor miracle. No seas parted, no bushes burned, no divine lights marked the event. It started when I found my perfect Christmas decoration. I grew up in the shadow of St. Henry's Church, which was built in 1907 near Twin Butte. I marveled at this little country church as the backdrop of my life. I saw it in all seasons, covered in snow, surrounded by wildflowers, in bright light, silhouetted by sunsets and starlight, always proudly watching over the countryside. It is an icon of my childhood. One day I found a small, cloth and lace confection of a country church, lovingly made. It instantly reminded me of a hundred childhood moments. When I purchased it, I had no idea this little decoration would lead me down a path to a moment of grace.




The decoration was donated to the 'What Goes Around, Comes Around' store in Pincher Creek. It's a friendly little second hand store across from the Credit Union. The owner Cindy and I have been friends since school. I remarked to her about how it reminded me of St. Henry's Church. She told me it came with a note saying it was modeled on St. Michael's Church, however she could not see the resemblance.

St. Henry's
I have been in the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village archives enough to spot it. Father Lacombe's Hermitage was the original Catholic church in Pincher Creek, built in 1885 from logs. In less than 20 years the congregation had need of a larger building. The original St. Michael's Church was built in 1902, of the same era as St. Henry's. It was replaced in 1966 to host a still growing congregation. This lacy piece was crafted after the older St. Michael's. I inquired about the note, however Cindy could not find it. After I brought it home I found the note stitched on the bottom of the church, saying the maker was one Dorothy Cox Bernard. There was a hole for a battery operated votive to be placed inside, to light up the little church. I could not remember the last time I was so delighted at finding a Christmas decoration. I felt I was destined to find this piece.


Above and below: St. Michael's Church (since replaced, built in 1902), from the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village archives


A few weeks later, before I had put out my own decorations, I got a call from Cindy at the store. She asked me if I still had the little church. I asked her if the owner wanted it back. As it turned out the owner had downsized and had just discovered the church was not with the rest of her most prized Christmas decorations. There were many places it could have gone; with one of children, sold at a yard sale, donated to a second hand store, or in the landfill. Cindy told me the woman was saddened that it might be lost forever. I immediately agreed to return it to the rightful owner, after I took a few photos of it. Cindy admitted to me it is a rare case indeed for her to recall a specific item out of so many in the store, remember who it was sold to, and be close enough to them to ask if it could be brought back.


Later that day, I dropped the little lace church off to Mary Williams. She has a pretty little apartment in Vista Village, appointed with a number of small but cherished Christmas decorations. She told me her sister Dorothy in Calgary made the church for her a number of years ago. "She made it on her computerized machine. It was one of the first that she made." Dorothy has since made other similar churches for other family members and Mary's daughter-in-law Leonette loaned her own church replica to Mary. "She brought it down to me, and said if I wanted to use it, but it's not the same. I think Dorothy made that for her last year. Now I can give it back to her," said Mary. "I thought I had it in a plastic container, with my other decorations. Thank you so much, I am so glad to have it back."



Even as Christmas miracles go, this was a small one. I had a rare moment. I had the opportunity to give someone something they truly wanted, which no one else in the whole world could give them. Maybe that is just part of being in a small community. I'm glad the little wandering church is it found its way home in time for Christmas.
Wishing my readers the Merriest of Christmases, and a New Year filled with health, hope, prosperity,  and wonder.

Toni Lucas

Update:  Dorothy has made me a church of my own, modeled after St. Henry's Church, complete with the artist tag on the bottom. I  am delighted.

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