” i am a little church (far from the frantic world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature” – e.e.cummings
I received some disheartening news the other day. Rumour has it that the little country church of Westbrook which I attended as a youngster might be closing its doors for good.
This seems a common occurrence for so many rural churches across Saskatchewan these days. I am sure that many others facing similar circumstances can understand the regret and nostalgia that I am feeling. This place was a part of my childhood and teenage years.
Westbrook church is located in a secluded area a few miles from the nearest village. This means no traffic noise, no horns blaring, no urban humdrum – just the sounds of nature and the occasional purring of a tractor as a farmer works a nearby field.
Walk on these grounds and it’s easy to imagine one has slipped back to another era. A time when the little church was filled and the voices of the choir wafted across the landscape. At that point in my life I begrudgingly got up early and suffered through a long service (conducted mostly in Ukrainian), but these days I eagerly check my calendar to see if I can attend the annual mass held every June.
This place has become a sort-of homecoming for me as I am reminded of a time when my grandparents and their peers were active members. When these pioneers arrived in their new country, one of the first things they did was build a church and a hall. If the church was the soul of the community of Westbrook, then the hall was its heart. While the church was a place to worship, the hall was a place to socialize. Over the years, it has been a gathering point for concerts, Sunday dinners, special celebrations and many, many dances.
Oh, how I loved those dances! My parents took me when I was an infant. (No need for babysitters in those days.) When I grew sleepy, a bed was fashioned out of a pile of coats. As a youngster I learned how to dance on those dusty, wooden floors and as a teenager I looked forward to meeting my friends there.
The band (usually a group of locals) would get warmed up, the dancers would start off tentatively and an evening of fun would begin. At midnight lunch would be served; then the real action began and would last until the wee hours of the morning. By then everyone would be exhausted from a full night of dancing – hard core stuff like two steps, polkas, and the ever-dangerous butterfly and kolymaka. (Believe me, being lifted off your feet while in full flight and not getting injured took real talent!)
Yes, those were the good old days. (Sounding old, aren’t I?) Sadly, the little country church and hall are from another era and no longer fit our modern lifestyle. Yet I am hoping that somehow Westbrook, along with many other country churches and halls, will be preserved in some form.
If not, my wonderful memories of a wonderful time will have to suffice!