The missionary spent most of his days and half the nights driving over
primitive trails, and visiting at scattered homes. As a rule he did not reach as many homes in a day
as he had planned, for pioneer hospitality demanded a real visit, not just a brief social call. They
did not consider you had been a visitor at all unless you stopped for at least one meal and
"the feast of reason and the flow of soul". Not infrequently a
visit meant stopping overnight, which always necessitated a general shifting around of sleeping
arrangements and often someone had a "shakedown" on the floor. "Just take us as you
find us; we haven't got much but you are welcome to what we have," was the prairie host's
Sermon preparation proved a laborious task for me that first summer. It had been impressed upon me by my Rural Dean that anyone who preaches, ought to be willing to pay the price for the privilege of preaching.
Perhaps I erred on the side of trying to pack too much strong meat into my sermons when my people were just craving milk. At any rate I was perplexed one day by the remark of an old man, who told me that a preacher must amuse people if he wanted them to attend Church.
I read and re-read my Bible, and the few books I was able to take with me to the mission. I followed the instructions of my Homiletics Professor in writing out every word of my sermons, and then making notes off the compositions. I tried to relate what I read to my people's position.
To me they were like Abraham departing from his old home at Ur of the Chaldees, and setting out in faith for a land he knew not. I pictured Abraham as the original homesteader, and noted the first thing he did in his new country was to set up an altar for the worship of God. I commended his action to them, and urged that they should do likewise in their new country. Or again they were like Christ's disciples to whom He said, "I appoint unto you a kingdom...". It was their privilege to build and to guide a little kingdom to which they had been led.
Soon after we got things moving in Church and State at Sunkist my urge to disseminate information about what goes on asserted itself. I have heard that journalists call this urge a "nose for news". Whatever it is, I felt it was time for the outside world to know that our district existed, so I began sending out news items to local weeklies.
This venture brought developments I failed to foresee. There was a Presbyterian student named Hayes located some distance north of us. He read about our doings, and decided that ours must be an important community that should not be overlooked by his Church. So he came to Sunkist and commenced services in most of my appointments, thus duplicating the administrations of the Church already on the ground.
Church union was being mooted then, but with no great optimism. Two years before I had heard the Rev. E. J. Chegwin, veteran Methodist Minister of Moose Jaw, state at a dinner in connection with the opening of a new edifice, "The old Methodist pillars of the church would not join hands with the Presbyterians lest they should be wrecked on the rock of predestination; and the old Presbyterians will not unite with the Methodists for fear of all going to Hallelujahs"! But we students who were competing in sparsely settled fields were more hopeful.
At an informal meeting one afternoon on the shore of Spring Lake we deliberated on a plan for practical union, and we felt
sure it would work. I reported this scheme to my Rural Dean and he made a reply which was a lament
that things should be as they were in the Christian Church, "If only the heads of the Church
could settle that problem as easily as the tails can".
Turner and I took Hayes into our circle. Together we worked out a schedule for services that would not conflict as to time. He was a frequent visitor to our shack. Sometimes we were joined by Hill, and on those occasions we combined student discussions with College rough house antics. Our close neighbors must have thought the intelligentsia had gone berserk.
We went to the river on swimming exhibitions. The current was too strong to swim against, so we swam downstream, and walked back.
Hayes could not indulge in our aquatic sport on account of suffering from asthma. "Hayes Fever" we called it. On these occasions too, we did our family wash. We rubbed soap into our garments, and then weighted them down with stones in the water, and let the current do the rinsing while we ate our lunch. One day Artie broke loose and went home leaving us to walk back eight miles, carrying our wet wash. I had to ride him back the next day to get the buggy.
Misfortune came also to Hill about this time. He told us that as he was writing a sermon in the schoolhouse after school a leaf of his composition was caught in the breeze and blew out through the window. It completely disappeared. Turner and I decided to reconstruct the crime and restore it to its owner. Accordingly we concocted a formidable treatise, and mailed it to him with a covering letter.
"Dear Maurice: We found the enclosed document impaled on a thorn at the river. We recognized it as the missing leaf of your sermon, and have the pleasure of returning it herewith..."
Shortly after this we called to see our friend. His landlady invited us to stay for supper - which was according to our expectations. During the meal a neighbor brought the family's weekly mail. Hill asked to be excused while he read a letter. Something in the missive appeared to amuse him, and our host suggested that he read it aloud so that all might get a laugh. Hill complied. He read our first note and then the alleged sermon excerpt "presumptuous to differ from the great minds of the past century. Yet I make bold to disagree with the learned Professor. I incline to a belief in the Graf-Wellhausen theory regarding the Post-exilic date. Had I lived in Wurtemburg I should probably have joined the Tubingen School of Theology. My decision after mature deliberation, however, is to adopt in toto the Massey-Harris theory, namely to cut up and bind together again. I hold faith therefore with those who maintain that our first ancestors did possess tails. One of those primeval creatures came into violent contact with a sword fish one day and had its tail amputated. The severed member turned into a snake and fathered the whole brood of serpents. The mutilated creature became the progenitor of the race of tail-less mammals: the genus homo."
When Hill finished reading, instead of the expected laughter, there was a deep silence for several seconds and then a demure maid ventured a timid remark "Wasn't it strange that his two friends should have found Mr. Hill's sermon?"
Our joke had backfired. But for us preachers it was a valuable lesson in the futility of preaching over the heads of our people. It made us wonder whether our sermons were so much like the learned nonsense, that our listeners were unable to
distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit composition. We wondered whether we were like
the Scottish student who came home from college, and on being invited to preach in the old home
kirk, delivered an erudite dissertation in terms of modern theology. On the way out a kirk a man
touched the student's grandmother on the shoulder and asked "Were ye no proud of yer boy the
day?" "Ach," she replied, "He kens naethin' at a' aboot it."
There were three towns from which the people in out community procured supplies. Morse, already mentioned in the south on the Mail Line of the C.P.R. and Bridgeford to the east, and Elbow to the north-east on the Outlook line of the C.P.R. All were about the same distance, forty miles, and all were reached by crossing the river. I made one journey to Elbow to the north-east, and spent the night with our missionary there, the Rev. A. B. Ronald. While in town I bought a light of glass for our window. I nursed this precious fragile article on my toes and knees all those miles home in my buggy. As I was nearing my destination I thoughtlessly stretched my limbs, and cracked the glass into a dozen pieces. So our window remained boarded up, for no farmer would undertake to bring a pane of glass home in his wagon.
When our fuel supply needed replenishing we borrowed a team and wagon from Mr. Rusnell and went to the river for driftwood.
This was the kind of an occasion when Turner's lack of practical ability could be most exasperating. After hours of scrounging through the bush we had our box load of wood. The river hill being long and steep it was customary for drivers to walk uphill so as to lighten the load for the horses. Moreover it was necessary to stop occasionally and let the team rest.
I gave my helper a block of wood to carry and have in readiness to block the wheels while the horses rested. At the first stop I shouted for the block. Turner heaved it on top of the load. "No, No," I directed, "Put it behind the rear wheel". He climbed up on top of the wagon, and moved the block to the back end of the load. It was behind the rear wheel alright, but not where it would do any good. I dropped the reins, took the stick down, and kicked it into position to take the weight off the straining horses. Next time we stopped to rest my assistant was lagging far behind and we had to wait for him to catch up. At the last stop I shouted "Block", and looked around in time to see him scrambling down off the load. "I'm here this time", he said, proud of his achievement and quite unconcerned about having added his weight to the load.
Fodder for my pony I obtained by moving and raking prairie wool with borrowed implements. Bread we scrounged from housewives around the country. Pancakes we manufactured.
On rare occasions we entertained bachelor friends other than our college confreres. One day we had as guests two young men whose hospitality we had enjoyed. For them we set a real spread including red cherry cider obtained at the store.
In our establishment it was customary for me to say Grace at meals. But on this feast day Turner unexpectedly took the initiative. In a solemn voice he chanted, "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges." I could have choked him for making light of sacred things, but our guests took his action seriously. They bowed their heads, and responded "Amen". It was a case where the least said was the soonest mended.