Humans of Canadian Memorial: Wilda

How did you get into stand-up comedy?

“Over a lifetime, in a round-about way. As a child, my mom entered me in public speaking contests and talent shows. She could see I got a kick out of entertaining. In my adult life, I’ve been on a quest to find my purpose. I was in a long-term marriage and spent a lot of my energy on things important to my husband. But I was out of sync with myself and finally couldn’t do it anymore. Since leaving in 2008, I have discovered that I like to make people laugh, so when I saw a course for stand-up comedy last fall, I had a gut-sense to take it.

When a comic comes out on stage, it’s good to acknowledge what people see and then blow their stereotypes. As a class exercise, we took turns standing at the front while our classmates jotted first impressions. Several people in my course wrote ‘old’. I was probably ten years older than everyone else in the class, but in my heart I am not old! I realized I had some ageism because I thought, what’s this with not wanting to be perceived as old? So I’ve got some work to do there. I became aware of my stereotypes and realized we all have much common under the skin — our fears and things we’re trying to heal from. I love to say something that makes everyone join with me and each other in laughter. It is healing…when it happens. Sometimes a joke bombs! I’m learning to roll with that, too. I enjoy writing the jokes, so the process is healing for me.”

What’s your faith experience?

“Even though I grew up in the United Church, I pulled away from the church. I knew the problem with religion was in me more than in a particular church. I was an observer for a quite a while and respected the UCC for standing up for gays in the late 1980’s. So I knew that if I were to go back to church, it would be the UCC.

The second Sunday I was at CMUC, the choir sang Do not Leave your Cares at the Door, and there’s a part where the soloist sings: every story is sacred here even yours. And I thought, yeah really? Broken family, an erratic career path, long periods of my adult life where I didn’t go to churches, and a lot of seeking help for anxiety and depression. And I thought, where is the sacredness in that? But I decided to stick around and to see if I could find out. Through this process, I’ve been starting to reflect on how maybe it was Spirit that helped me find yoga, and specific therapists, and a couple of soul-mate women friends. All these experiences contributed to finding myself enough to risk sticking my toe back into religion. And I realized God works in many mysterious ways, only some of them in churches. So the sacredness of story now resonates with me. And I believe we all have a sacred story. So the thing I appreciate about CMUC is the invitation to keep growing because I know that’s what I need to do. I feel called to lead in the community more than in church. One way I attempt to do that now is through comedy.”

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Michelle

“I came to Canadian Memorial three years ago, after a crisis in my life. Six months earlier, my husband Paul had contracted a severe case of cerebral malaria after a trip to Africa. He was in a deep coma, with complete kidney failure, liver failure, and a very poor prognosis for recovery. We ended up taking him off life support, but then he started to improve a little bit, so we plugged him back in.

At that time, our son Micah was 2 ½ years old, so of course he had no idea what was going on, and I couldn’t really explain anything to him. He was just a little boy who needed his mom and a steady, normal life. He needed to go to the park and eat grilled cheese sandwiches and read bedtime stories, and I was so scared I just couldn’t do it. Suddenly, I was up against something that was way too big for me to handle, and it was the first time in my life that I just gave myself over to God and said “Help!”

And I felt it so clearly—this immediate “YES” from the universe. I could feel God’s arms around me, but not just around me, I could also feel God’s presence inside me. That was the first time I’d ever had that experience. I’d always believed that God lives in our hearts, but I hadn’t experienced it like that before. Because of that, I was able to cope and (hopefully) be a good mom at this time.

We were also blessed to have a lot of love and support from our family and friends, and it was the first time I’d ever had a whole community rallying around me like that. Suddenly I could feel the loving presence of God in the people around me, and in myself at the same time. It made me feel like I was a part of this great web of love all around me, which sounds a bit cheesy but I still don’t know how else to describe it.

Fast forward three years later, Paul ended up making an amazing recovery. He was in a coma for almost 2 months, in the hospital for 4 months, and then had round-the-clock nursing care for a few more months at home. He went from being unable to sit up on his own when he first came home from the hospital, to walking the dog at least an hour a day, riding a bike, driving a car, etc. To put that in perspective, for people in a coma as profound as Paul’s, it’s very rare for them to make any kind of meaningful recovery at all.

After all of that, I find that my way of relating to God has changed. I’m deeply committed to keeping God with me in my everyday life, and I want to be surrounded by people who actively believe in God and do something about it to help the world. I’ve found an extraordinarily open-minded, loving, and active congregation at Canadian Memorial. Here, I feel like I can connect with that web of love that I experienced and maintain that closeness to God that I felt when things were so difficult. It’s my favourite place to be on Sunday mornings!”

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Jay

How was Trilojay formed?

I knew Jason Nickel from a recording session we did a while back and J2 (Jay Esplana) as a substitute drummer for a hip hop group I was in called the Airtights. Jason, who has been with the CMUC years, recommend us to Lonnie as great options for the band: thankfully, Lonnie agreed!

It was actually Andrew, the church sound tech, who came up with the band name: “Hey, there’s 3 Jays… it’s a church… Trilojay.” This band owes a lot to the church because it gave us the idea to create this band and, because we saw each other every week, a place to really learn each other’s style. During the week, we play at some really rowdy clubs and crazy parties together: when we tell people we’re a Sunday church band, no one believes us.

How did you get into music?

I was probably in Grade 4 and there was a mix tape my aunt made. It was a bunch of ’80’s/90’s pop music but she did sneak in an old Buddy Holly song from 50’s called “Peggy Sue.” I thought this song was so cool: it was really raw and had a really neat energy to it… So I got obsessed with 50’s culture and 50’s music (and made sure I had the Buddy Holly glasses). When I inherited my grandparents’ old acoustic guitar, my dad taught me some Buddy Holly tunes and I was hooked.

I got my degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Played around NYC and Montreal for a bit and one night, while playing at the Venetian Casino in Macau, a big Asian pop singer – Sandy Lam – caught my performance. 6 months later, I was the lead guitarist on her world tour – travelling throughout Asia, Las Vegas, San Francisco, London, and Europe – while also writing and playing music for others in the Hong Kong music scene. Not only do I play with a bunch of local party bands, I play with Vancouver original artists such as Warren Flandez, Redeye Empire, and Rosemary Siemens. I’m also make promotional videos for guitar companies like Yamaha, JHS Pedals, & Robert Keeley, run a YouTube guitar page, and have built a recording studio in East Van… So music is definitely a full time job.

Any advice for musicians?

Everyone thinks the music industry is really tough. But I don’t think so as long as you treat it like a job. Some think you have to be a big star just to survive in the industry but that is not true. There is a lot of opportunity for blue collar musicians where you can do projects like commercials, soundtracks, corporate events, and festivals. If you’re good, dependable, and have a cool attitude, you’re never going to starve. You hear about artists that are waiting to be inspired by something but you’re the one that inspires you: you control your creativity. Always be on a search for knowledge and that knowledge is going to lead you to meet a lot of cool people and keep you busy.

Why do you like golfing?

Music is loud and crazy and my life is loud and crazy. In golf, you’ve got a ball and a hole… and the ball just needs to go in the hole. You have nothing but wide open space, it smells like grass, it’s calm, and you can drink beer: a sweet escape from the noise. Keep in mind though, I’m a horrible golfer and that’s probably why I got addicted to it. When I first got the guitar, I was awful; I was a horrible guitar player for a long, long, long time. I have the feeling I’m going to be a horrible golfer for a long, long, long time too and maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Tell me about your faith journey.

I was raised Catholic and I had one really good pastor, Father Scott, who was an ex-undercover cop. He’s seen things – you can tell. I never felt condescended to and he made God really easy to understand. After college, I didn’t go to church at all. I was little apprehensive about playing at a United Church but, the first day I played here, I saw a gay couple baptize their child. I remembered thinking, “this is great, this is really cool”, because that was definitely not going to happen in any church that I had been to. It was so relaxed and everyone was very loving.

My faith and soul discovery comes from the people and the boys in the band: playing music and making coffee with the Jays and Lonnie every week. Through thick and thin, long nights, and overnight flights, we still find ways to come to this church. You have strong leadership, patient and open relationships. Also, the music is great because it’s a blend of traditional, modern, gospel… It’s not stagnant, it’s varied and the people are open and receptive to it. That’s really what this church is for me.

Humans of Canadian Memorial: Duncan

“What I like about being a physician is the relationships. They became the key to my enjoyment of  medicine. They are built on listening at a critical time. People come to the doctor to tell their story and if the patient doesn’t have a chance to tell their story it’s an unsatisfactory encounter. I came to view medicine’s job as helping patients by listening to their symptoms and helping them to find an ending to their story. Patients can choose my suggested ending or not – for example they can take the chemo or go on holiday to Mexico. I know the perception is that medicine is about curing illness but that is an uncommon outcome

I like the idea of medicine as an “avocation” rather than “vocation”.  What you do and what you are become so closely related. I taught school for a few years before I figured out medicine was what I was going to do. I was actually lucky to be accepted as I realized, after we were assigned our dissecting tables in first year, that the order of the tables was the order of the selection committees’ opinion. So table number 1 had all these super bright people and I was near the last table. I think I only received a place because somebody who had been given the chance to get in decided to go somewhere else. Life goes like that, no?

I particularly liked delivering babies and attended many births. I wrote articles about maternity care, I taught maternity care and maternity care was a source of international travel. I’ve been going to China since 2000. I don’t think Chinese doctors need anyone to teach them but it expands our understanding to share across cultures. I’m interested in hearing what doctors in other countries know as well as what I might teach.

What I enjoyed about delivering babies was that it was never anything short of miraculous: you go into a room with 2 people, you leave with 3. Usually birth brings joy. Sometimes it brings disaster.  Assisting at a birth involves some technical skills but it also builds relationships that you don’t get with other parts of medicine. When I stopped doing maternity care I switched to nursing home care as it provides some of the same meaningful relationships with families.”

Tell me about your spiritual life.

“I was born in Scotland and grew up Presbyterian However, I think we get caught up too much over arguments of doctrine. I’m comfortable to go to most any church that is authentic. We call ourselves Christians because we aspire to be followers of Christ. One of the terms used for Jesus that I really like is rabbi, teacher. He just went around talking to people, teaching people and telling stories. So my faith journey is to figure out how to be like Jesus: caring, provocative, intolerant of injustice and, most difficult of all, being prepared to die, being prepared to suffer for the things I believe in. I don’t suffer: nice home, nice family. So that’s the dimension that I struggle with: how to get out of my comfort zone to do what is right.”

Shirley, Alan and Chris

“My parents, Shirley Gwendolin Rigler and Alan Austin Mann, both 23, married on December 19, 1953 at Canadian Memorial United Church.

Alan was part of the “Eleven-Sixty Club” or the “1160” Club at Canadian Memorial. Shirley soon joined in the fun at Canadian memorial. Though all the members from that time are in their late 80’s, they still call their group the “young people’s club”. Canadian Memorial had a very active youth group and they did a great many activities together in all seasons, from outdoor picnics, swimming, camping, church camps, to winter skating and bobsledding. They attended Bible studies and Sunday morning services, and learned how they could be a help to other. They all participated in the church life with enthusiasm.

On October 14, 1954, I was born and baptized by Rev. Gorwill and still have the Bible inscribed and given to me at that time.

For Shirley and Alan, being members of the United Church has always been important to them, and that connection began in the early 50s with so many uplifting and exciting opportunities at Canadian Memorial. It has been the bedrock of their lives. I am currently on the National United Church AFFIRM Council, and have a private practice as a Spiritual Director, trained at the Naramata Centre in the Pacific Jubilee Program. The whole family, 4 children and 9 grandchildren – have been immersed in the values of the United Church: social justice, faith, neighbourly support for others, stewardship, generosity and inclusivity.

During the early 80’s, Alan and Shirley were supportive of gay people and welcomed them in their lives and community. Many church members at the time were not yet as progressive and this was hard on them. So Shirley and Alan took a few years away from the United Church until Tim Stevenson was ordained and the doors of possibility for all LGBT+ people were opened.

Never doubt the power of a “young people’s group” at a local United Church for bringing like-minded folks together to participate in worthwhile activities and to contribute to community. Shirley and Alan have been part of United Churches for their whole lives, and this year both turn 88 and are still active in the UCC. Some of their favourite times were together at Canadian Memorial United Church, where they fell in love, married, and started a family.”