Five days in and around Montreal

A note from Jamie Howison:  I thought I’d put up this post, with just a little bit by way of a description of what Gord Johnson and I were up to during our recent trip to Montreal.  Audio versions of the sessions we offered at the Diocesan Clergy Conference are now available online.

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Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal

bout six months ago, I received an e-mail message from Tim Smart, a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Montreal, wondering if I’d be interested in being the speaker at their diocesan clergy gathering, and bringing something by way of a taste of what it is that we do at saint benedict’s table.  I replied that I’d be very interested, but that it is one thing to talk about our life, and quite another to actually share something of it.  In order to do the latter, I’d really need to bring along a musician who was active in writing and leading music in our church context.  A few days later I received another e-mail message from Tim, telling me that the continuing education committee in Montreal was game to give this a go, so it was arranged for Gord Johnson and me to take on leadership for the conference.  At that point I added the request that we be able to come in a day early, enabling us to get acclimatized to things in their diocese, joining a congregation on the Sunday morning for worship before heading out to the conference itself.  I said that we would be open to being billeted, but I think that Tim maybe sensed he was dealing with a couple of introverts, and so arranged for the two of us to spend that Saturday night in a centrally located Montreal hotel… a nice touch.

So, here is how things played out for us:

  • We landed in Montreal late in the morning on Saturday September 26, and were at our hotel by noon.  It was a gorgeous day, which meant lunch at an outdoor patio overlooking Phillips Square, with the spire of Christ Church Cathedral in full view.  An afternoon of exploring was followed by an evening at a great little jazz club called Diese Onze, where we heard a very fine quartet and feasted on some wonderful food and wine.  The next morning it was over to Christ Church Cathedral for a sung eucharist, in a style quite unlike what we’re accustomed to at saint ben’s… yet still very much a part of the same family.  Following the liturgy, we had a late brunch of crepes and coffee, and then made our way to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where we  spent a couple of hours gazing at wonderful pieces from the 10th through 20th centuries.  It is, frankly, hard to beat the visual power of a Monet or a van Gogh when it is viewed  up close; those calendars and prints just don’t quite capture it, you know?
  • Up to this point, it all sounds like a vacation, doesn’t it?  In fact, it was a bit of sabbath time – breathing time – before we plunged in to a very busy few days…
  • Our first session with the clergy community was held after supper on Sunday September 27, at a lovely retreat centre just outside of the city.  We led no less than five more sessions over the following 48 hours, including the daily opening and closing worship times.  And of course, you can only talk about life at saint benedict’s table for so long… one session, to be precise!  So here are the titles of what we offered:
  1. saint benedict’s table: where we came from, what we’re doing, and why we’re not a transferable template
  2. Red Herrings: advertising, self-promotion, and the trap of always looking to get “more bums in the pews”
  3. Red Herrings: idolatry and the pursuit of  relevance
  4. Our Shifting Social Context… and  why we should be happy that we’re reading the Gospel according to Mark this year.
  5. Relearning Contemplative Practice in the life of the Worshipping Church; a modestly subversive proposal
  6. A round table conversation with Gord and Jamie
  • The sessions were recorded, and the plan is to have them posted up on the Diocese of Montreal site.  It may take a bit of editing to get them into form, but we’ll make the link here when they become available.
  • During the course of these sessions and their accompanying worship times, Gord was able to introduce these folks to a fair number of his songs, and we even did a modestly shortened version of a “Hear the Silence” at the end of the first evening.  It was quite wonderful to see how quickly this community picked up on the music and sang out.
  • After things came to a close in the middle of Tuesday afternoon, we were driven back into Montreal to get ourselves set up for a Hear the Silence liturgy hosted at St Stephen’s Church (which was attended by some 30 people, who came with very little sense of who and what to expect, but left having both come into a place of deep stillness and boldly singing out praise with this new music); we walked through the old Montreal Forum (now a shopping mall and movie complex) and stood at the place that was once centre ice, and shared a good meal with some new Montreal friends.  By end of the day, we were more than just a little bit tired, but…
  • On Wednesday morning we were picked up at 10:00am, and taken up to the Presbyterian Theological College, where we led a midday version of Hear the Silence for a group of about 50 students and staff from the Anglican, United and Presbyterian theological colleges.  After the liturgy and a bit of lunch, I spent about 40 minutes leading a presentation and conversation on our liturgical life and vision.
  • From the college, it was directly to the airport and home.  Once we’d moved out of our beginning sabbath day of art, jazz, food and worship, it made for a very busy and intense few days.

I’m still processing it all – and I’m pretty sure Gord still is – but a couple of things became abundantly clear for me.  First off, we need to find a way to get this music of ours into a form that can be taken home and shared by other church communities.  The recorded CD’s are good, but some form of songbook or sheet music is really required.  And secondly, though Montreal and area is a very different social and cultural reality from Winnipeg, there was this great sense of making new friendships based on something shared; on something that had existed before we even realized it.  I think we both feel a real kinship with the Anglican church community in and around Montreal, and take great joy in now knowing these people who had all along been our sisters and brothers.

2 Responses to Five days in and around Montreal

  1. Michael Johnson says:

    Hi Jamie:

    Thanks for your account of your time in Montreal. As a priest in the Diocese of Montreal who attended the clergy Conference, I want to say “Thanks” to you and Gord, and to tell you that I was inspired by the experience – although I take to heart your caveat about being sensitive to context when considering the importation of new approaches. I have been enjoying the CD’s and reading your book about Open Table. May God continue to bless you and us.

    Michael Johnson+
    Christ Church, Beaurepaire
    Beaconsfield, QC

  2. Laurie Massaro says:

    Thank you for sharing, Jamie, what sounds like a deeply connective time for you, Gord and all those people whose lives you’ve both touched. Reading what you do in terms of sharing a glimpse of what is done here at St. Benedict’s Table, makes me even more deeply grateful for being in the right place at the right time in order to experience what it means to belong to this amazing community.

    Continued blessings to you both for renewed strength and vision to do what you both do best!

    Laurie Massaro

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