UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
iStock.com/LordRunar

How a church-goer with schizophrenia gave this minister an unexpected gift

By Sue Campbell



She didn’t look at me when she got up out of her pew in the back row of the church. But she walked deliberately down the aisle, clutching together the sides of her unzipped winter jacket with a clenched fist.

Chris* wore her coat every Sunday, even when the church was warm. Its bulk seemed to add a layer of protection — not against the cold, but the hurt. In a world filled with prejudice toward people with schizophrenia, her blue jacket ensconced her in a cocoon, safe from the sting of pointed comments about her occasionally odd behaviour.

Residents from Oliver House have been coming to worship at Knox United in Caledon Village, Ont., for years. Oliver House is the largest group home in the province for people who live with psychiatric disorders. Fifty-two people reside in an old farmhouse on a country road three kilometres from the church.

Each Sunday, a driver with Caledon Community Services picks up anywhere from six to 12 people who have asked to be taken to worship. The regulars include a man who faithfully prays for his parents each week and is part of the team that takes up our offering; another who talks a mile a minute and gives generously to our Mission & Service box from his small disability stipend; and a woman whose joy infects everyone around her.

And then there is Chris. Petite, anxious and withdrawn, she kept to herself most Sundays. Often she’d settle herself in the last pew and, Cheetos bag in hand, munch her way through the service until the passing of the peace. It took some weeks before she’d offer her orange-stained fingers for a handshake. More weeks still before she’d offer a shy smile.

This day, however, was different. I was three-quarters of the way through my sermon when Chris made her way down the aisle to the pulpit. She said not a word but stretched out her hand and offered me a bottle of nail polish. I stopped my sermon, stepped away from the pulpit, received her gift and thanked her. But Chris didn’t return to her seat. I waited, wondering if her gift was a more fitting end to my sermon than what I had prepared. 

Then Chris looked up at me with tears streaming down her face. “I want you to pray,” she said. “Pray for my uncle. He’s sick.” In that moment, I felt the grace of God. This timid woman had been transformed by the love of an accepting and welcoming congregation. That day she offered not only the gift of nail polish, but also the gift of her trust.

And in the process, we were transformed, too. Week after week, I was humbled by the gifts offered by our friends from Oliver House. I was humbled by the way they led us in prayer. Now other members of the congregation have the courage to offer their prayers aloud too, schooled by the honesty and conviction of those who have spoken ahead of them. Mutual sharing. Mutual exchange of gifts. Grace abundant.

Weeks later, when Chris stood up to pass the peace, she left her jacket in the pew.

This story first appeared in The Observer's May 2018 edition with the title "The gift of trust."


Rev. Sue Campbell served Knox United in Caledon Village for over seven years. She lives in Guelph, Ont.




Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Faith

Attendees at the Parliament of the World's Religions conference enjoy a simple langar lunch prepared by Toronto's Sikh community. (Photo: Will Pearson)

Interfaith conference illuminating, but those who needed it most weren't there

by Will Pearson

Observer editor Will Pearson learned a lot at the Parliament of the World's Religions gathering in Toronto, but wondered about its long-term impact.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Why we've decided to capitalize B for Black

by Jocelyn Bell

It may not be Canadian Press style, but it shows respect and recognizes a shared identity and experience among Black people.

Promotional Image

Video

Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image

Faith

November 2018

The first Black moderator of the United Church faced racism that still resonates today

by Mugoli Samba

Very Rev. Wilbur Howard didn't speak about the discrimination he experienced in the church. Decades later, Black clergy are opening up about what is still a big problem.

Columns

November 2018

Anti-Semitism is why I’ll always be a proud Jewish atheist

by Joshua Ostroff

On the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, this Canadian Jew reflects on the ongoing hate that has helped define his identity.

Faith

November 2018

Interfaith conference illuminating, but those who needed it most weren't there

by Will Pearson

Observer editor Will Pearson learned a lot at the Parliament of the World's Religions gathering in Toronto, but wondered about its long-term impact.

Promotional Image