In 1960, my parents, Hans and Rosel Jessen emigrated from Germany to Canada, Tofield Alberta, to be precise. Once there, they were told by the owners of the ranch where my dad worked that there was a sizeable number of churches in the area where German was the language of worship. However, at that time, even 15 years after the war, people from these churches proved highly reluctant to even be associated with Germans from Germany.
The ranch owners, the Kallals, were Roman Catholic and were respectful of my parents’ Protestant background. In spite of the initial rebuff my parents had suffered, they knew that a church connection would be important, so what did they do? On the way to Sunday mass, the Kallals would drop my parents off at the local United Church and then picked them up again afterwards on the way back. Starting then, my parents became lifelong members of Tofield United Church. It gave them a place to belong. Both my sister and I were baptized and confirmed there. This initial hospitality toward my parents is a major reason why I am a minister in the United Church of Canada.
The significance of the acceptance shown my parents is something that I am currently thinking about. When I was growing up, almost everyone I knew belonged to one church or another. It gave me and my family the sense of being part of the community, fitting in (in spite of strong, impossible to lose German accents!), being safe. Being part of a congregation helped us know that we had the endorsement of a community of faith, which, by extension, reflected a connection with and a certain safety within God’s care. I shudder to think what might have happened to my family had my parents not been welcomed by Tofield United Church. Would they have felt on the “outside” with God?
So in 1960 Canadians, including those from other church traditions, saw the United Church of Canada as being open and welcoming to people who were not welcome elsewhere. This remains the case today.
Next week: “Other Outsiders.”