There is a church in a well-to-do, upper middle-class, liberal neighbourhood in Toronto that I’ve attended on Sundays. Not to go to a sermon, mind you. If I actually went to one, I think I’d light up in flames. I’m no Christian, and the idea of walking into a church, even on to vote on election day, makes me antsy.
But St. Clement’s Church (Anglican, I think. I never bothered to check) has lectures on Sundays at ten that precede its sermons. Called the Forty Minute Forum (yes, I know, there needs to be a hyphen in there), they’re open to the wider community and advertised in the local alt magazine. And there’s no need to go to mass afterwards. The talks are secular in topic and the guests have been varied: journalists, academics, politicians, scientists, and artists. And there’s a chance for a Q and A session at the end.
The first talk I went to was about three years ago; CBC radio host Nora Young gave a talk about technological innovations and their effects on privacy. I walked into the church scared people would think I was going into mass. I followed the signs pointing to the gym and as I walked past the priests and choir singers in their religious outfits, I felt immediately ashamed of the shorts and t-shirt that I was wearing, not to mention my unshaven face and uncombed hair hidden under a hat. Although I’m no Christian, I should have taken the hat off.
As I entered the gym I noticed I’m the only person young enough to have colour in my hair. It felt like a geriatric centre. The gym had nicely polished wooden floors, the chairs are arranged into neat rows, and there was an audio display at the front hooked up to the latest technological gadgets. There’s also a table set up with drinks and cookies, where I immediately went. I then took a seat in the back row, hoping nobody would see me in the church.
A tall, lean man wearing a suit and tie and a camera strapped around his shoulders introduced himself to me. Dave is the organizer of the talks. Well spoken and youthful, he’s possibly in his 70s but seems at least ten years younger. He told me he hopes I come back. He went to the podium and introduced the speaker.
The forum has two series a year, one in January and another in April; each series has approximately five talks each. I certainly haven’t attended each lecture, but if the talk sounds interesting, I’ll go.
Yesterday I attended the lecture. The speaker, a former opera singer who’s now hosting a radio show on CBC, wasn’t a particularly interesting draw for me, but because I’ve been working every Sunday afternoon for a month at the store, I thought this would be a chance to do something interesting on a Sunday. Ben Heppner gave an entertaining talk about his career, complete with video clips of his performances.
At the end of the talk, after Dave thanked Ben for his presentation, Dave took out a statement he had prepared. “Just as the telephone book, the floppy disk, and the caboose have all come to an end, so must these forums. This is a lot of work for us to organize, and we must move on to new things. But as it is with life, I’m sure new things will come up to fill the hole.”
A delicate-looking elderly man in the audience of about two hundred stood up and started to talk, his barely audible voice shaking in tears. He starts to talk, when Dave motions to a ten-year-old boy whose job it is to take the microphone to people when they’re asking questions to take the mic to the elderly man. “I’m sure everybody would like to thank you for all the work you’ve done,” he says in tears, “But I would love it if you could continue the talks.”
“Well, shucks. Ben and I were going to do an opera duet to close the forum,” Dave responds in jest. “But we’re out of time. But as I said, life moves on, and I’m sure we’ll all find new things to do.”
I walked out of the church surprised at myself at being able to empathize with the elderly man; his Sunday church service had been cut in half. As little as I am into the church experience, I realized that a lot of people, especially elderly people, probably go to church for the social aspect. It gets them out of the house. Although I went to the odd Forty Minute Forum simply to listen to interesting people, I too felt a bit of a void in my life. I too felt proud of these forums. And now I won’t be going to church on Sundays. How odd that I’m writing this. I never saw this coming.