Earlier that day I’d headed to Point Grey Village for chocolatey croissants and a higher order of coffee. Instead of walking up 10th, the main road, I chose 11th. With its canopy of billowing evergreens and row upon row of perfectly manicured yards, 11th offers a peaceful, prettier stroll.
Four blocks up that street and perched upon a pricey piece of real estate sits the local Baptist church. With its angular, 1970s architecture and imposing spear-like turret, the building casts an imposing, almost threatening kind of feel – something I was thinking about when suddenly. the choir burst into song.
Across the pasture and up toward the heavens a violent Lamb of God psalm crescendoed, and while anyone else might have felt fortunate to be surprised like that, I began feeling anxious. And then I felt sick. One by one, sections of the choir added to their hymnal cacophony while thoughts I fought to resist flooded in.
I was there again. Back to a time when our family sat hip to hip in a pew-lined nave gilded with paintings of sadness and suffering, all eyes locked on a downcast priest reciting passages of sin and satan.
As a staunch Catholic family, this was our fiercely venerated ritual. Every Sunday we focused squarely upon appearances and vied collectively for the honour of the best of God’s flock. There were no weekend lie-ins at our house because on Sunday we were on a mission! A mission to make the 10:00am mass, thus proving to all that mattered ours was a family to be envied and admired.
Unfortunately, my good natured yet hopelessly doddering father, whose inability to conjure up any semblance of enthusiasm over this demented routine, kept us rolling at a snail’s pace. We rarely, if ever, made the coveted 10:00 am pew. This meant reconciling ourselves to the 11:30 mass, church time for lazy, chaotic, extra sinful families.
This drove my Mom up the wall and she would scold my father right up until the moment we entered Holy Trinity and miraculously transformed into the very picture of grace as if to say: “We are attending the 11:30 mass by choice, not by sloth. We are not like you.”
As with any delusional haven, Holy Trinity had its fair share of odd balls and miscreants. There was Mr. Swandoba, a purple, bloated, brewery of a man who reeked of rancid scotch and giggled with fizzy guilt. He drank like a sailor, beat his children on a regular basis, contributed large sums of money to the church and received communion as though he were the very paragon of the Christian ideal.
Over to the right and a little further back the lead singer from the Dirty Diamond Coal Factory sat next to his mom. His wild black hair looked like a ball of barbed wire while the chemically induced expression on his face never once changed.
And let’s not forget the star of our show up there at the pulpit: Father Kilty. Father Kilty, the much revered head of clergy who groped us children by day and drank with the local trollop by night in the privacy of his rent-free home.
It was all so ecclesiastically shiny. Shiny on the outside, murky on this inside, if you allowed yourself to drop the facade and take a closer look, which we did not, because nobody wanted to go to Hell.
That church, with its worn, purple, loop pile carpet, looked like an avenue of blood. Our choir was dowdy and lame. The place smelled of incense and moth balls. It was a miserable experience that left me feeling confused and ashamed of myself for reasons I could never put my finger on. I was a good kid, but I worried. I worried that a bolt of lightening was imminent. That at anytime, God was about to make an example out of me in order to keep the indoctrinated in check.
“She was there just a minute ago, poor wretch…”
I’ve never been able to overcome that dreadful, irrational feeling, so I keep my distance from places like that. Places where members put their faith in an invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent guy whose biography expounds a magnificent ability to pull off just about any miracle at any time and yet the holocaust, and countless other atrocities are given a nod and the supreme, green light. To some that may be the miracle of free will but to me, it’s irreconcilable.
Absolved of my cravings for coffee and chocolate I turned toward a nearby park that I’ve always loved for its spectacular views of the ocean and the mountains.
I sat on a bench, took a deep breath, and reminded myself that it’s all in the past, it’s all in the past. With that, a crisp wind blew and the smell of lavender relaxed my muscles. Little pink rose bushes danced back and forth, like an exercise in EMDR, and I could feel my anxiety wane.
I looked across the inlet to the area where I’d grown up, and began to take stock. Is my behaviour in line with my moral compass? Am I staying true to my principles and my values? Can I be more kind, more generous, today? Can I learn to forgive? I need to learn to forgive.
And there it was. Without the threat of Hell, a mind-bending penance, or a boatload of shame, I felt at peace with my life. Solitude, fresh air, and a fragrant field. It’s all the church I really need.
On October 23 2021, Father John Kilty was posthumously charged with sexual abuse.
The statement of claim names the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver and the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver as defendants alongside Father Kilty, now deceased, and Father Raymond Clavin.
So well written Karen. Read every word and agree with you wholeheartedly