“[S]he looked at me and said, ‘Who do you love more, me or Jesus?’” Today is August 7, 2015, but Peter Fawcett is sitting on the steps leading up to his girlfriend’s sister’s apartment in 1954. He’s once again seventeen, and Lydia Warm, the girl he’s courting (his word, not mine), has just asked him maybe the toughest question he’ll ever have to answer.
“I looked at my feet to say ‘Come on feet! Time to move!’, but anyway… what would you say? ‘Oh, well, I love you!’” Her response, as Peter describes it, “was the first sermon Lydia preached.”
“‘No, no, no. Jesus comes first. Always.’” And since 1954, that has been their philosophy.
Now sixty-one years into their marriage, Peter and Lydia have found themselves back at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Kronau, Saskatchewan, however, the last time they were here was not as visitors or church-goers, but pastor and wife. Then, the 1912 building was still in operation as a church, but today they’ve arrived at a museum and found me instead of the small congregation that once gathered each Sunday.
When I ask how long Peter preached in Kronau, their reply requires teamwork. As is with any couple who have a family, their answer comes not as a year, but in terms of their children. Lydia starts: “Well, Bev was born in ’67… when’s her birthday?”
“May the thirteenth.”
“And I can’t remember if she was two or three-and-a-half -”
“No, she was two-and-a-half,” Peter cuts in.
“So then, because I remember we were sitting the back pew there and she stood up to see everybody and…”
“And she’d point up there and say, ‘That’s my dad!’”
“So that would have been ’69… ’70… somewhere in there…” Lydia concludes. More deliberation follows before the two settle on 1969, adding that they left in 1972 when they switched churches.
Neither of the pair are from Kronau, I learn. They began the commute from Regina because of the demand for preachers in rural Saskatchewan, despite the fact that Peter had never been ordained – a fact which made his colleagues nervous. “‘Just an ordinary man… he’s not ordained! What’s he teaching these people?’” Peter’s imitation of dismay is accompanied by hands that are thrown to the side. “Well,” Peter replies, “I got the same Bible as you got!” According to him, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to read the Bible and understand what it’s telling you to do.”
Aforementioned Bev is only one of five children the couple had together and was just one-fifth of the difficulty Peter and Lydia experienced while preparing to come out to Kronau. The pair describe setting church clothes out the night before and having to arrive in Kronau fifteen to thirty minutes before the service was scheduled to start at nine. From Kronau, the duo would head to Davin for an eleven o’clock service, then Vibank for two.
“At the front of the entrance, there used to be a rope attached to a bell. It seems to me that the fellow who did the bell ringing, he was a Posehn… I can’t remember what his name was… and he would ring the bell, faithfully, every Sunday morning about ten minutes before the service. Officially, that was his responsibility. He was quite congenial. Just a little guy,” Peter recalls. “And he let me ring it one time!”
Then, another memory breaks the surface. “Emma Moellmann and Elsie Posehn… Emma played the organ and it wasn’t a battle, necessarily, or any kind of argument, but it was kind of a toss up who was going to play what Sunday morning. And I just stayed way out of the way,” Peter chuckles. “They resolved it amongst themselves… And Jacob Wetstein [played] the trumpet.”
The involvement of such instruments in Kronau’s service was something that set it apart from other churches. As Peter and Lydia go on to explain, the members sing rather than play music in the Church of Christ, which they are members of today. Lydia recalls one particular incident, when Peter was at the church in Edenwold, and the organist never arrived. “They just thought they couldn’t have the service!” Lydia exclaims, and the two dissolve into laughter. Luckily, that Sunday’s hymns were familiar and Peter was able to lead the congregation in singing.
Soon our conversation morphs into other changes that the Church has seen, but those which are the result of time rather than differences between religious sectors. In comparison to the era in which their children attended church, Peter and Lydia find younger generations lack discipline. “They feed [their children] and do all kinds of things – give them games! Our kids had to sit through the whole service. To me, it was important,” says Lydia. “You are supposed to be worshipping God. What kind of respect is that?”
Peter then vocalizes the disconnect the two generations face, aptly summarizing an issue that isn’t exclusive to the Church. “Our older people are old and tired and our younger people are young and energetic. You know, they have difficulty holding to the old, old traditions, and the older people are intimidated by the young people wanting to change. We’re living in a society now that’s based on change.” Without meaning to, he has described the obstacle against which every social, political, religious, and scientific movement has struggled.
I’ve received an afternoon of company and stories, yet Peter and Lydia offer one more gift before leaving, one last wisdom. “We grow as fast as we are daring. Some people just sit back and aren’t challenged by life. And I think the most meaningful life, [the] most meaningful existence, is allowing ourselves to be challenged. How [else] do you find the depth of your being?… I remember, years ago – I was just a little kid – and I went to the swimming pool and was trying to learn desperately how to swim because the pool was only open for another two weeks. I was in [two or three feet] of water and I told the lifeguard one day, ‘I really want to learn how to swim.’” The lifeguard’s advice was to jump into the deep end, adding that little Peter would never learn if he could still touch the bottom. “And that’s what I did,” Peter says, sitting up tall. “If I hadn’t done that, I’d still be in two feet of water.”