You don’t know me but I almost feel like I know you because I find myself thinking about you once in awhile. I only know your name from a friend who took classes with me through the University of Calgary. I will share with you the events leading up to my meeting Karen.
I attended Walla Walla College many years ago but did not finish my Social Work degree because I got married to a Canadian (Murray McGill) and went commercial fishing with him on a seiner for 25 years. Then I finished my degree though the University of Victoria’s distance learning program. Following that, I went for my Masters in Counselling and was able to do that through the University of Calgary.
I thought I had looked the program over carefully and saw no conflict with scheduling, and in fact, there was no problem at all the first year, even with three weeks spent on campus during the summer. I was able to work at a Crisis and Counselling Center while taking classes at the same time. But then I noticed that there would be some weekend sessions at the University campus over the next two years. That meant that I would have to attend physically on four Saturdays and there were no exceptions. I felt anxious because I am a Seventh-Day Adventist and I had already paid a lot of money.
I was attending the first three week course on campus when I found out about my future problem. I thought that the department would make allowance for me since we were only talking about 4 days total. And because we were studying our code of ethics and how to apply the code to diversity and culture etc.I thought I was totally safe.
I approached the chair of the department and explained my problem. He had been smiling and mingling with the students at an evening function but his demeanour suddenly changed and he informed me rather coldly that I had two choices - I could either drop out or flex on my Sabbaths.
I was devastated and suddenly felt very much alone. I reasoned that this was for a good cause and was a career change and not primarily for financial security – I already had that. It was only 4 Sabbaths; surely God would understand and give His blessing. I called my husband and he reminded me that when we stand for God, He stands for us. I had no time for anything extra because I was supposed to write a paper on a dilemma where I was a hypothetical counsellor and I was to use the ethics code that we had just been studying.
I didn’t understand when my husband chuckled and said that it looked like a set-up to him. He explained that I should be a counsellor who meets a student with a unique dilemma (Sabbath). As school counsellor, I could use the code to help the student explore options and solutions. He agreed to call a friend who worked closely with Simon Fraser University.
Doug is a Seventh-day Adventist whose job was so stressful at the time, that he said he always offered up a prayer when the phone rang. My husband called him and he answered on the first ring, so Murray jokingly told him that he couldn’t have prayed. Doug said “You caught me; I guess I didn’t pray this time.”
After their conversation, Doug said that he would call a colleague at Simon Fraser University. Murray was still sitting at the phone when Doug called back just moments later. He explained that the phone had rung immediately after the previous conversation and that he had quickly offered up a prayer. The caller was the very woman he had wanted to talk to and he immediately explained the situation. Joan was very helpful, knew the person at the Human Rights office, and got right on it. She also wanted to know the eventual outcome.
I wrote the paper and none of the professors asked what it was about but some discussion assignments were given to my class dealing with religion and worship issues. The subject of the Sabbath even came up and I gave some input. Then the students found out about my situation and wanted to know what the school was doing. I tried to answer very carefully but the students were adamant that it would be hypocritical to study the code as we were doing and then offer no accommodation.
One morning the door to my room was open and a student saw my open bible on the bed. She asked if the bible was mine or if it had been in the room. When I said that it was mine, she asked if I was a Christian. When I affirmed, she exclaimed, “Oh good, there aren’t many of us here and we need to stick together.” It seems sometimes like the counselling and psychological field is open to almost everything except the bible. The bible is said to be confining, patriarchal and exclusive.
Before our papers were handed in, we were asked to exchange with other students and get feedback. As one student was reading my paper, another student was looking over her shoulder and then asked if she could read the paper too. That is how I met Karen.
Later, Karen asked me if I had heard of Canadian Union College, Andrew’s University and Loma Linda University. She then explained that her supervisor had obtained his theology degree from CUC, his Masters of Divinity degree from Andrews and his counselling degree from LLU. She said that this man had quit the ministry and even seemed to have lost his faith in God. She asked if she could have a copy of my paper to share with him. She said that he needed to get back to his roots.
I turned my paper in and sent a copy to the chair of the department. He did not even acknowledge the paper so I began to verify a paper trail, all the while explaining that if the department could show hardship, I was willing to drop out, but not without some simple dialogue. As time went on I also sent a copy to the Human Rights office for the University.
Eventually, the chair responded that he was checking his legal position; then he suddenly resigned. The new chair came to an immediate and easy accommodation which required some extra time from me. I was relieved, and Karen later told me that she admired my stand and that I had really made some of the Evangelicals think.
About a year later, Pastor Nelson (BC conference treasurer) was having a week of prayer for Avalon Adventist Academy, near my home. Somewhere along the way, I shared my story with him. I did not know your name, but imagine my surprise when he said, “I know Chris well. He’s a personal friend and I took over his church in Alberta when there were problems.” It all seems bizarre, or maybe not.
I do not know what transpired to bring on your discouragement but I know that the life of a pastor can be challenging and taxing. I know that people can be inconsiderate and unkind and leave a pastor feeling pretty lonely. It may not have been people at all – it could have been that old enemy, the devil, who goes about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (as it says in the bible).
I have learned that God does stand for us when we stand for Him although that might not be readily discernible at the beginning. I am stronger now and in my practise I get to see Him work almost on a daily basis. It is so exciting!
I don’t know if Karen ever gave you my paper so I am including it with this letter. You have been on my prayer list for many months and now I’ve finally made contact. I wish you the very best and God’s blessing. I would love to meet you sometime.
Sincerely, Linda McGill.