Events and Questions Raised in My Pastoral Relationship with the Redvers-Manor Pastoral Charge in Redvers Saskatchewan
As can be seen in the broader context of my life journey, the events and subsequent insights which arose from my Pastoral Relationship with the Redvers-Manor Pastoral Charge in SouthEast Saskatchewan have been pivotal in my quest for insights into"Garden Variety Economics". The net result of these events and insights has been a focusing this leg of the journey onto the rural economy in general and agricultural economics in particular, especially as it impacts the lives of the people resident in the Brandon catchment area.
Although the two towns fall outside the political boundaries of between two provinces, the demographic boundary between the two provinces falls between the two towns of Redvers and Manor, with Redvers relating eastward towards the Brandon catchment area, and Manor relating westward towards the Saskatchewan based catchment areas.
On the surface these political and demographic divides pose a problem. The political boundary does separate both towns from my area of study, which ends at the provincial boundary. The demographic boundary, which lies between the two towns includes the town of Redvers, but cuts the town of Manor out of the study area.
Actually, the divide happening highlights a central aspect of the events of that period, the reflections after and the focus of this study itself.
Manor is a small village situated on marginal farmland, at the edge of the Moose Mountains, a huge east-west deposit of gravel left at the end of the last ice age. Its citizens, and the farmers around the village have marginal businesses and farms for the most part, and struggle for survival at the low end of the farm economy spectrum. Oil deposits on some farms have eased some of the pressure, but the ongoing "grind" of life characterizes much of life in this area. That's a bit of a generalization, because there are patches of good land, but generally, it is accurate. The soil is brownish in color and the land as one moves west falls into the "short grass prairie" out into the "Pallaisser triangle", an area of unique (dryland)climatic conditions.
Redvers, twenty miles to the east of Manor, and almost at the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, is in better land. It is farther from the gravel deposit, and is just into the black soil area that stretches from there to the Laurentian Shield in NW Ontario. A huge diagonal band of "aspen parkland" running from Winnipeg to Edmonton Alberta, separates the boreal forest to the north of the provinces from the prairie to the south. Redvers is situated within that transitional band of aspen parkland. It is into "long grass prairie".
Farmers of Redvers could be characterized as "agribusiness wannabe's". It is not that all buy into the pursuit of modern agricultural values and practices, but rather that such is the "locus" around which the town and district rotate. The town of Redvers itself is a consolidation of population since the end of WW II so most of the homes are modern and the town is so well kept it might be referred to as "spiffy". Again this is a somewhat generalized picture but suffices to contrast the two towns. The name of its local paper is "The Optimist": Manor has no paper.
The demographic separation between the two towns was quite startling. I would do something in the Redvers Church and they would know about it in Brandon the next day. I would do something in Manor Church and they would know about it in Arcola (to the West) the next day. But neither Church would hear about what I had done in the other, even though they were in the same overall Parish.
The parish itself ran in a line east west along about twenty-five miles of the Number Two highway stretching about five miles on each side of the highway. It was separated to the south from its nearest denominational set of parishes by a band of French farming communities.
Somebody once remarked to me that many towns encompass two demographic groups such as these within their borders, with one group being referred to as the people living "on the other side of the tracks". The only difference here was that these two groups lived twenty miles apart along the railway, and were thrown together into a Parish by the happenstances of history, twenty years earlier.
When I arrived there as pastor of the larger Pastoral Charge, I found that they two towns were in fact "a marriage of convenience" to quote one local person, and very much went their own ways. The problem was that such a reality was not the stated way of operating, and joint committee decisions were routinely re-considered in the Redvers local Board, or just ignored.
It took me a few months to get clear in my head the difference between the two towns, and to start to minister to them differently. Manor was the first to come into focus, and was the easiest to deal with. The method of ministry to such towns is well known, and has a long history both on the prairies, and around the world. It a well-documented fact since the Calvinist upsurge in Europe played a huge part in the development of Capitalism. If you plug the gospel into people's lives, and it results in people starting to look after themselves, their families, their jobs, bank accounts, communities, and each other, then the standard of living is going to rise.
A friend of mine pointed out, "when we were kids, the Pentecostals were the folks from the other side of the tracks, and drove old "beaters". Two generations later and their parking lots are full of big fancy cars. Just stand there in the parking lot at noon on a cold January day and suddenly all sorts of cars automatically turn on as people inside the Church press their remote starters, while the minister winds down his sermon. It works. Plug in the Calvinist theology and work ethic, and there's going to be a generational change."
That may be somewhat generalized, but that is the approach I took to ministry in Manor, and it started to take hold.
The bigger puzzle was that of identifying the central need in Redvers and then to select an approach to ministry there. Obviously, what was going on in Manor was not appropriate to the situation in Redvers, but I had no clue as to the nature of "the issue" in Redvers. Ministry, for me, is bringing the light of the Gospel to the current needs of a congregation at a given time and place. It usually takes a couple of years for this "key" to emerge in a place, and for ministry to find a focus. The pressure in this situation was the "gridlock" between the two congregations, and the flat-out denial of the existence of that gridlock by the larger of the two congregations.
By spring, the Pastoral Relationship at Redvers has pretty well deteriorated. A friend of mine from earlier years, in town visiting his mother, showed up at my door asking what all the kaffuffle was about. The conversation, which ensued, was the event, which put the focus on my "Garden Variety Economics" project. It was one of those moments when the lights come on, and we say "Ooooooh"...and feel somewhat sheepish for our blindness.
I knew he was a "Perceiver", and that such people can come out with amazing insights if you place a question under their noses and ask them point blank, "what have I got here?". So I invited him in for a chat.
I said: " I seem to be missing a piece of this. I know the folks from Redvers are agribusiness wannabes, and the folks from Manor have all but given up. And I know that some of the folks from Redvers look down on the folks from Manor, or at least on their outlook on life. And I know that the folks from Manor think that the pressured life of agribusiness type farming is nuts, and make no bones about it, but I'm missing something, what is it?"
As best I can recall, he then replied the following:
" Well you have the first part correct all right, but you are missing one piece...The folks in Redvers envy the folks in Manor."
"They what? How can somebody envy the very people they look down on?"
"Simple" he replied. "They envy their freedom. You see, these are third and forth generation farmers in this area and they are holding up an empty shell of what once was, and are pretending it still has substance within it. Their grandparents homesteaded and broke this land and they stand to be the ones who will lose it. They not only want to farm but are also carrying a weight of potential guilt and shame for being the ones to lose the enterprise. The shame is so great in this that if they do lose it, they don't drive out during the day, they sneak out at night. I use to provide farm inputs for these folks and grew up with them. They can't pay their bills. They are mortgaged to the teeth. Some of them keep taking expensive trips and continue to drive fancy trucks just to say to their neighbors, 'I'm doing ok, everything's fine'. It's not.
They look down the road a Manor and see a people out from under all this pressure and they envy that freedom. That's why they love to go down the road for a meeting there on a Saturday night and hang loose with the folks there before having to return home to their reality of pressure and discouragement. But though they envy the freedom of the people in Manor, they know they could never survive the shame if they ever fell back into that "abyss". It is the abyss they are afraid of and fear most of all. The shame of the abyss. The shiny chrome on their trucks doesn't signify "prosperity", for they are not prosperous. The shiny chrome stands for "no rust". It means, "there's no rust on my truck, 'no abyss on me, and I'm doing just fine'> It's Redvers' unspoken, but open secret. They can't admit it, because they fear they couldn't survive such a reality.
The folks in Manor are just the reverse. They like coming up to Redvers for a meeting and getting to dress up and get out of the bog of the evening, before having to return to their grim and hopeless reality. They envy the life of the folks in Redvers, and do not like the life of "no shame" that surrounds them in their town. But they know they could never live with the pressure that the folks in Redvers live with every day. So they settle for the life that is possible and make the best of their reality in whatever way they can.
There's a myth going around that people lose their farms because they are either not good farmers or not good managers. That is just not true. These people are some of the best farmers and managers around. They are smart, well educated, have grown up with farming in their blood, and are located on good land. There is something wrong with the system, making it impossible for anyone to survive in farming. It is to the farmers. It's going on all over the country. And these people are carrying the weight of it all and are being blamed for something far beyond their control."
As we talked ,the lights came on for me. Suddenly what I had known academically to be true came to life. I saw how the agricultural crisis in Canada that has been in the press for years, plays itself out in the day to day life of ordinary people on the prairies, destroying individuals, families and communities. At that point I understood the "question" or "issue" needing to be addressed by the Church on the prairies a the change of he millennium.
I didn't have the answer: all I had was the question. But having the question has always seemed more useful than having any particular answer. I feel this way because if one answer doesn't work out, and you are committed rather to the question, you will go on and on and on until you find and answer that does work. I realized that the Church of today has a bunch of answers worked out in response to a situation that no longer prevailed ion the prairies. It was not that there was no resource in the Gospel to bring to bear on this situation, it was rather that I had no awareness of just what that word was.
Owing to some factors external to the local situation, I allowed the Pastoral relationship to terminate without comment. For a couple of weeks prior to its conclusion, I enjoyed an immense sense of liberty in that town, finally understanding the world within which I walked. I guess lots of other people had no idea about how much I now knew about their reality, but I did. And that made all the difference.
One of the things I realized as I pondered the situation at the time was that the folks at Redvers must have been hearing me say "be like Manor", and manor must have been hearing me say "be like Redvers". So when my almost final service, a joint Good Friday service came along, I chose to speak about "come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" pointing out that there is a quite different message being said by Christ to those at the two extreme ends of our economic scale. I said that Christ was calling us to relief in Him, not a relief through taking up the situation of he other economic group. I'm not sure any body heard me, but, for me it was the start of a journey. It marked the start of focused phase in my larger quest for an understanding of "Garden Variety Economics", a quest that somehow found its focus in the lives and events of a "scandalously particular portion of the prairies", The Brandon catchment area of South Western Manitoba.
I may not be very far down that road at this point, but a series of breakthrough insights over the past few years, culminating in the insight behind the tree model last spring, gave rise to my involvement ink the MRD program, and my designing of this portion of my website, in order to move this journey along. It's time to move out of solitary quest and into the tumble of dialogue with others about it all, and see what transpires.
This study will focus on the "Redvers" aspect of agricultural economic situation in rural SW Manitoba. This limitation on the area of study is because it focuses on where the "agribusiness" people are now situated, and where the ones who have "given up" either will be someday or else will deliberately avoid.