Novel Thomas

Sunday, July 7: A double celebration at church
Last week Thursday 4, “she who must be obeyed” as a former local radio personality used to fondly describe his better half, announced in passing: “I’m going to church on Sunday.”
Actually, she was in another room when she made the statement, but it was within earshot, probably a heads-up to me; there was no one else around to hear. I immediately thought I really don’t feel like church on Sunday, and began thinking of a few things on the home front that I could do while “She” was worshipping…
So, over the next couple days I had fleeting thoughts, should I go to church, or not. Come Saturday night, bearing in mind that its summer, I looked through my dress things and pulled out a shirt and pants, something weather-appropriate, no jacket, and placed them in another easily accessible place where “She” wouldn’t notice, to rest for the night.
Sunday morning is wall-to-wall political talk on television so I was up early comme toujours channel surfing, to see which network would command my interest for an hour or so. It’s then that I decided that I’m going (to church).
I grabbed my vestments, and plugged in the iron to get rid of the creases, and had a cup of coffee, etc.
A little past 11 O’clock, “She…” and I were at Union United Church, just in time for the opening hymn, already in progress, and we settled in. There was a palpable celebratory vibe in the church. In fact, for the first time in a long time it felt good to be among the congregation; the vibes were truly positive and welcoming that morning.
An unusually large number of people had come out to worship that day (including many from out of town). I soon realized why; it was the 112th Anniversary Worship Service of Union United Church (est. in 1907), the original home and socio-religious haven of Montreal’s then small Black community. It was special to see so many people. I sensed it was going to be a good 90 minutes of church, not a day to manifest any evidence of discord…
[Over the years I’ve written a few things – not out of malice – that weren’t particularly complimentary that I observed and heard from ‘long-timers’—essentially about disunity at Union—that didn’t bode well for the church’s longevity. Internal discord that had people not talking to one another; seemingly working against one another, rather doing the necessary things to cultivate a permanent atmosphere of harmony that would allow the institution to live (up to) its name. Such an atmosphere invariably has had a negative impact on the stability and sustainability of the institution, what with people finding other places to spend their Sundays. Notwithstanding, congregational diehards are staying with Union.
That said, I have no qualms about missing a Sunday or three, if only to muster my ‘go-to-church’ feeling again.] And that will be my position, especially given the long absence of a genuine, audible and vibrant Black Liberation Theology vibe.
Following the usual preliminaries – church business, etc. — Ms. Nancy Mackenzie, enduring community treasure (re. matters socio-historic, not only in terms of Union United Church, but Black Montreal organizations in general), took to the rostrum to speak of the storied history of the city’s veritable Black institution, encapsulating its enduring and pivotal role and legacy in the development of the community.
Reading excerpts from an article, The Church Today, Negroes Serve Wide Parish, By Stanley G. Matthews, B.A., Ms. Mackenzie enlightened (better stated, educated) the congregation vis-à-vis some little known historical facts about our “Negro Community” as it was called then and its geographical placement in the city.
Bear in mind that the article appeared in the Montreal Star, Feb. 10th, 1951, when Black people were (called) Negroes. But, if possible it would be worth your while to do an on-line search for it. It’s informative, but especially enlightening and educational, providing some little known facts about the Black community in a certain era.]
Another highlight of the day was the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony a few hours after the Sunday morning service for the inauguration of the Oliver Jones Reception Hall. Age and the hot summer weather notwithstanding, the iconic master pianist was on hand and in good form for the occasion.
Along with a handful of local artistes, including Skipper Dean, Jazz Diva Ranee Lee, the Montreal Jubilation Choir and young up-and-comers Jalil and Jelani Jones Onufri on hand for the grand occasion.
It was an interesting, spiritually fulfilling and yes, entertaining day, at Union United Church, capped off with a euphonious 10-minute performance, apparently his final, final one… by the community musical treasure, who was raised in, and had a lifetime connection with the church.
The only sour note—as if to remind me that all is still not right at Union—was a kill joy female I briefly encountered in what’s now called the Oliver Jones Reception Hall following the Sunday morning service. She was wondering what the fuss was all about, implying that it was Much Ado About Nothing (my words). I didn’t care to hear anymore from her so I stepped…
Better yet I didn’t see her at the ceremony. Wonder if she’s one of the cancers (of disunity) at Union.