By Rev. Chris Fickling
WELLAND – Almost eight years ago, I remember pulling into Welland for an interview with Central United Church. Not really knowing the town, I thought I’d explore my potential new home. It was night, and it was quiet. In the months and years that would follow, I learned why it felt so very quiet. Welland had experienced such profound death and loss. And it wasn’t done yet. In my time here, the closures of the Deere plant as well as other closures in town have slowed Welland’s growth towards a new future. The quiet was an expression of desperation by those worried about an unknown future.
Because of my role as minister, I’ve had the privilege to be present to these difficult conversations surrounding these losses. I’ve listened to the heart wrenching stories of those in poverty. I’ve heard the fears from those worried about being able to provide for their families and stay in the town they love. I’ve listened, but soon learned that listening was not enough. While culture seems to be shifting away from religious institutions, in my experience, it has been the people of faith hopeful enough to work towards a new tomorrow. I’ve helped alongside those cooking and serving hot meals through Harvest Kitchen, collected for our local food banks, become aware of the many resources that this town provides those in need, yet nothing has eliminated the problems facing Welland.
I soon realized that it’s not up to one person, one group, or one church community. The hope for our future lies with each and every person working towards a life where all people can thrive. The hope for our future lies with each and every person believing that change is possible. That’s why I’ve been impressed with movements towards improving this town, such as the Illuminaqua concert series and the Amphitheatre, the Flatwater Centre and the hosting of the Pan Am games.
While these don’t directly address the issues facing Welland, they create an environment of positivity and growth that restores faith in our community. It also reminds us that loss does not have to be our defining feature. Welland is filled with so much beauty that we too often take for granted. There’s the beauty of the people willing to fight for the city they love and to make strides to improve the lives of those who live here. There’s beauty in the natural and constructed environment with the canals and trails, such phenomenal resources that still inspire wonder. And even as we experience loss, there’s so much for which we can be thankful.
I’m thankful that in my time here, I’ve gotten to know so many amazing people who have taught me so much love for this area. I’m thankful for the work we’ve accomplished, and in leaving, I know how much more work is left undone. That’s what makes my leaving bittersweet. The only thing that puts my heart at ease is that if I would have stayed a hundred years, the work would still be incomplete. This task of remaking the world is daunting and unending, and it requires all of us to continue and we must, all of us, work towards a peace and justice that all people can enjoy.
Clergyman Edward Everett Hale once said…
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.
I am profoundly thankful that even though I have been just one person, I have been surrounded by so many dedicated faithful people ready to open their hearts and lives to changing this world for the better. In leaving, I take this profound gift of wisdom with me.
(Rev. Fickling and his family will be moving on from Welland this summer. His final service at Central is scheduled for Sunday, June 19.)