Standing in a long line of influential family members

My grandfather on my mother’s side was also a minister, first with the Methodist and then the United Church.

ROSS SMILLIE

In Good Faith

My grandfather on my mother’s side was also a minister, first with the Methodist and then the United Church. Victor Knowlton served churches in Saskatchewan mainly, but also in Kitscoty and Lloydminster in Alberta.

He became a minister in reaction to his strict and patriarchal upbringing. My grandfather thought that those who seek to follow Jesus should be less strict and more open, like Jesus was, and thought he could contribute to that. And by all accounts he did.

My grandfather died when my mother was four. At his funeral, something rare happened. The community gathered, not just the local people and his colleagues in the United Church, but the Anglican rector and the Roman Catholic priest and the Baptist pastor came too, and others as well. And native people came. My grandfather was well respected by them as well. They gathered to honour a man who was respected, admired and loved well beyond what would have been his circle of friends.

I have been struck again by the loss to our family that this unique man died before even my mother had a chance to get to know him. I wish I had known him. But I was also impressed by how he left his mark on our family. His commitment to a less rigid and judgmental, more accepting way of living the faith has been passed on to me and to others.

My grandfather died in 1934, but his life continues to influence me 80 years after his death. In the same way, I trust, my choices, my openness to the leading of the Spirit, will leave their mark long after my death.

One of my mother’s many interests was in genealogy. She summarized the results of her research into a book, and she chose as the epigraph for that book a passage from a book by Richard Llewellyn, called How Green Was My Valley:

“I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me, those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father and his father, and all our fathers, and in front, to see my son, and his son and the sons upon sons beyond. And their eyes were my eyes. As I felt, so they had felt, and were to feel, as then, so now, as tomorrow and forever. Then I was not afraid, for I was in a long line that had no beginning, and no end, and the hand of his father grasped my father’s hand, and his hand was in mine, and my unborn son took my right hand, and all up and down the line that stretched from Time That Was, to Time That Is, and Is Not Yet, raised their hands to show the link, and we found that we were one, born of Woman, Son of Man, made in the Image, fashioned in the Womb by the Will of God, the Eternal Father.”

Each of us stand in a long line of history, and are influenced even by those we never knew. I am grateful for their legacy, but knowing each of them were fallible, finite beings just like me, I believe the best way to honour them is to follow the leading of the Spirit on my spiritual journey.

Ross Smillie is the reverend at St. Andrew’s United Church.