Forgiving The Church

Incense was wafting, organ music playing and a choir up front shuffling their feet. I paused at
the huge oak doors, twice as tall as I was.
“Are you a visitor?” A young usher with a hymnbook
“No. I’m here for the last time,” I said firmly.
He looked worried. I moved aside so that the woman who accompanied me could come closer.
“There was a CBC video called, “The Choirmaster? About the abuse of choirboys here in the cathedral,” I said. “Two of those boys were my sons.”
“Yes,” he said softly. “I remember.”
“Last week I heard someone say, ‘Without memory there is no healing. Without forgiveness there is no future.’ Since I haven’t been able to forget those words, I’ve come to forgive the church.” I didn’t expect he’d understand but he nodded and moved away.
I reminded myself to stop talking like a visiting dignitary when I was just another mother, letting go of the bitterness washed up like driftwood on my inner shores. My friend came up behind me with her walker.
For her this journey was still beginning. She had been abused for years by a priest in another setting. She was doing the unthinkable by accompanying me here today. But when I told her what I was going to do, she said I wasn’t going to do it alone.
I couldn’t have imagined myself here, doing it at all until about a week ago when I first heard the quote. Shortly afterward I was walking by another downtown church where I had a routine interview to do with the minister. The building’s doors were being blocked by sleeping homeless. On the lawn, a business-like man in a suit was picking up debris.
“What are you going to do about the street people when service starts?” I asked him cynically. He was just an ordinary parishioner who looked sort of like Gordon Jump on the old WKRP tv sitcom.
“I’m going to have to ask them to move,” he said, pausing to give me a level look.
“You could pray for them,” I said, my words tarred with the scoffing of the greats, all of whom weighed in on the subject of organized religion. Voltaire, Marx, Bernard Shaw… The church was irrelevant, hidebound, predatory. Agnosticism was the only true path for the intellectual. I felt their hot breath on my psyche as I waited for him to brush me off.
Instead, “I DO pray for them!” he said, putting down his bag. “And I talk to them about how to find somewhere warm so they won’t get pneumonia and die this winter!” Then he mentioned one or two by name about whom he was particularly concerned.
I nodded, strangely moved by the passion in his voice. Years ago, I had grown up in a church filled with people like him who believed, who would’ve cared about people in the cold and never for a minute would’ve let a single choirboy be abused. Though of course I didn’t actually remember or even know every single person who attended. “Without memory there is no healing…” the quote said.
And the words had come just as something in me was realizing how absurd I was being to hate a corporate entity and extend that hatred to every other place of worship. While some were undoubtedly complicit, others may have wept over what went on. Which meant I had made a mistake.
I had written publically about what the church had done to me, many times. So what would forgiveness look like? I decided that only a public appearance at the main service of worship would suffice. “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Now here I was.
It was All Saints day and their bulletin listed all the regular old saints and then some new ones like Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela who protested vehemently that he was NOT a saint, Martin Luther King whose life was not all saint stuff and Oscar Peterson… (Oscar PETERSON??)
“These are names of some in our times who have stood against evil,” a line of explanation read.
“That’s us saints too then!” I said to my friend who had picketed her church as I had picketed this one, trying to find help for the abused boys, looking for truth. “We stood against evil as we knew it.”
“I never saw it that way before,” she said. “But it’s true.”
A processional started, as the service progressed. Men and women wearing robes and vestments, children, the choir and at its head, the dean of the cathedral. Slowly it wound its way around the sanctuary. Then it came to a dead halt. Right in front of me.
The dean reached for my hand. “Welcome,” she said and gave me a long look. Then she turned back to the procession and the whole line moved on.
I watched as they made their way up the aisle, not stopping anywhere else. .
The choir began to sing. My friend who had also been raised in the church, touched my arm. “Oh what we’ve missed!” she said. I could feel it too. Something lived here that wasn’t anywhere else.
I’ve gone back. Not to the cathedral, though it is now thoroughly forgiven. But to that other church where the homeless sleep on its steps like lost children. And an ordinary man acts out his faith, calling them by name.

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