Liz Ohle Faith Story March 24th

Bio of Liz

Liz Ohle is the convener of the local Quaker group.  She came to Newfoundland from the USA in 1995 and is delighted to have found her forever home!!  Liz had a career as an educator, but in nontraditional places.  Teaching carpentry and wilderness skills at summer camp with children, and adults lasted for 25 years, and then she helped develop a unique instructional program at the MUN Medical School for 15 years.  The vast majority of her paid work was with not for profit organizations which is reflective of the values she learned in childhood.  Liz is now retired from paid work and continues her service by organizing women’s hockey and the Out In Faith group.

My Quaker Journey

Hi everyone, Thank you so much for this opportunity to be with you and share my life journey through a spiritual lens.  The last time I stood in front of a church congregation like this I was in High School.   

My parents were devoted church-goers, and participated fully in the life of their church.  They were very moral and ethical people, and believed that being of service was a high calling. Numerous aspects of their social lives were born out of the church.  Women’s service society, potluck dinners, their bridge club all originated in the church. But their specific religious beliefs weren’t part of our family life, except as demonstrated in a few rituals including saying grace before dinner and saying bedtime prayers with my dad when I was young.  

For us kids, the church also became a focal point for activity. It wasn’t bible study or prayer services, but a place to hang out with our ‘church’ friends.  In fact, as a young person, what mattered to me most were my interactions with my peers. I don’t remember a single sermon, or many Sunday School lessons.  But I loved going to church for different activities.  I sang in the choir with friends, went to youth group with friends, and we had our own peer conversations about racism, the Vietnam war, the hypocrisy of some church goers, dating, taking on ethical leadership.  This is what I valued about church on Sunday morning, Youth Group on Sunday evening, and Choir rehearsal on Wednesday evenings. It was all about spending time with people that were experiencing life at the same stage that I was. We were all grappling with the same issues.   

I do recall a few key Sunday School lessons.  In High School, we had two guest speakers representing different religions.  One was from the Church of Christian Science.  We were fascinated by the concept of believing one’s faith strongly enough to pray rather than have medical treatment for illnesses.  (My apologies for my limited teenage understanding of the Christian Science religion.)

The other speaker I recall was from another religion I’d never heard of.  He talked about having Conscientious Objector status and doing alternative service rather than fighting in the army in Vietnam.  I remember that the boys had discussions after that speaker about whether they should join that church.  Exactly what did it take to prove that you believed in peace and not war?  Was it too late for them to adopt that ‘conviction’ and avoid the draft? This speaker was Quaker.  

What impressed me about both of these speakers was that their religion permeated their lives, not just when they were in their church building. They lived with conviction, trying to be true to their religious beliefs.  When I think back to that pulpit I spoke from in high school, and the message our youth group often had for the adults, we spoke frankly about the ways it seemed that grown-ups stopped thinking about living a faithful life when they drove out of the parking lot.  How could church members call themselves Christian if there was unaddressed poverty or racism or inequality in our city and neighbourhoods?  

 What was missing for me in my church was a belief system that allowed for questioning, for searching for personal answers to difficult questions, for looking critically at my life and how to bring it in line with my ethical beliefs 24 hours a day.  The way the Christian Scientist and the Conscientious Objector spoke about their lives and their faith stuck with me.  

Sometimes a journey makes more sense when you look back at its path, rather than following along a specific road to get to a destination. It is in looking back at my early church years that I can see these threads, the seeds that were planted, unbeknownst to me.  

Given that conversing with long time church friends was what I loved about church, it is no wonder that when I left home at age 17 to attend university, the new church I went to one Sunday morning was sorely lacking.  I didn’t see people there that I could envision as friends.  After that one Sunday, I never went back and didn’t feel a spiritual emptiness without church.  

 The next years at university were filled with all kinds of upheaval, in society and within me. The Vietnam war carried on with all of the associated campus protests, the sexual revolution was in full swing, feminism was unfolding in public demonstrations of bra burning, and I discovered a new definition of relationships and of family within the lesbian community.  I fully embraced these ideas and concepts that were so very new to me.  My main connection with spirituality at this time was being touched by acts of human compassion and by the miracles I could see when out in nature.  I never thought I would be connected with an organized religion again in my life, but it is not surprising that when I did find a church, it was one that had space for all of these new ways of thinking and being.

At the age of 24, I began working at a New England Summer Camp called Farm and Wilderness.  My sister was working there and invited me to join her.  Somewhere in the application process, I learned it was a Quaker camp, but had no idea what that meant.  My sister was pretty cool so I figured that a Quaker camp must be cool.  And it was!  This began my official Quaker journey.  I spent 15 summers at Farm and Wilderness, some of them as director of the girl’s camp.  It was about 6 or 8 years before I searched out a Quaker Meeting at home during the nine months between summer camp sessions.  

There are a couple different forms of Quaker Worship, but the form most common in North America and Europe is unprogrammed worship.  It involves sitting together in silence.  We gather together and actually listen to the silence, each person open to the possibility of ‘hearing’ a message with their heart.  It could be a message so powerful and insistent that it begs to be shared verbally with the group.  In the course of an hour, one or two people might speak such a message.  Or it is possible to sit the full hour with no verbal message at all.  

In a summer camp with 120 youngsters, there isn’t a lot of sitting perfectly still.  And our Meeting circle of benches was outdoors in the spectacular Vermont mountains. Though surrounded by fidgeting and squirming of 9 to 14 year olds, the gathering in the circle was peaceful and powerful.  It held a quiet sense of purpose that grew on me.  I loved having the daily experience at camp acquaint me with a spiritual practice I have carried with me ever since.  

Quakers have no ministers or clergy.  All people are equal in the church and everyone is just as likely to ‘receive’ a spiritual message from God and be moved to share the message during Meeting for Worship.  Quakers have just one core belief:  there is God in every person.  It seems so simple, but the implications are enormous.  If there is God in everyone, every human life is important and precious.  The Peace Testimony of Quakers is born out of the one single belief that there is That of God in Every Person.  This is what the Conscientious Objector in my Sunday School class had been talking about, a belief so strong that he could not lift a gun towards another person, even to fight for his country.

There are other implications of this core Quaker belief. Equality of all people. Simplicity in living, Integrity in how we conduct ourselves, Community sharing and caring, and Stewardship of the earth and all material things in our lives.

These 6 characteristics, or as Quakers call them, Testimonies, are not dogmatic beliefs.  Each of us finds our way, finds our answers, finds our truth.  We determine how we will live our values and other Quakers can ask questions to help us contemplate our choices and decisions. It is very personal and we all choose our own ways of living lives faithful to these Testimonies.  Not all Quakers make the same choices, though we do tend to lean in similar directions!

I have mentioned God a few times.  Quakerism developed as a Christian faith in the 1600s.  I am not a theologian or a historian, but I know that Quakerism has broadened considerably over the centuries.  There are now many Quakers who are also Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, and Buddhist.  Most find that because Meeting for Worship does not include shared prayers, or scriptures, or sermons, it is welcoming of those with other religious beliefs.  Many understandings of God are welcome, often referred to as the Spirit or the Light.

I had been part of Quaker communities in 4 cities before I came to Newfoundland in 1995.  Without the wonders of the internet and search tools, it took me two years to find the Quaker Meeting here in St. John’s.  They had been here for quite a while, meeting in people’s homes, and I was very glad to finally make that connection.  As many in that group moved to other provinces, I have had a role in continuing to convene the local group.  

Over the past four years, we have been moved to take public action by establishing the Out in Faith group, a multi-faith committee that organizes several annual events for LGBTQ2S+ people of faith, or formerly of faith. These are opportunities to celebrate the meaning of personal faith and also the hardships that have been experienced by many LGBTQ2S+ people in religious settings.  We also reach out to local churches to grow the presence of faith groups in the Pride Parade.  It is great that Cochrane Street United Church has been in the parade in recent years.

Your work and activities here at Cochrane Street United Church are so important.  We all do our part to provide safe and meaningful places for people to come together. And as individuals, finding a place that fills our heart spiritually, and inspires us to be our best selves helps us to live lives of purpose.  Finding Quakerism provides that for me

Thank you for this opportunity to share my journey.  

Faith Story: Karen Critch-Chaytor

First I would like thank Rev Bowlby in allowing me to share my story of what faith means to me. I will take you back four years ago on my trip to Universal Studios on my honeymoon. It was the first day in Florida and we decided to start with Universal Studios and of all rides first we rode Dudley Doo Right a water ride. Now I did not know anything about the right but Charles insisted that it was a fun and easy ride and I went with it. We were on the ride and going around the track and every now and then we would go down a slope and that was fun but as we kept going the drops were getting bigger and bigger. I looked at Charles not that’s not so but until we started climbing more and as a looked around because we were outside I saw that we were pretty high up and the words were not out of my mouth “My were are high..” swoosh I never saw it coming but it was like we were shot out of a cannon and down what seemed like a 90 degree angle. Wow what a rush,  I have never felt so alive and pumped to ride another one and we rode many more that day. This is how I feel about faith both the highs and lows and that big swoosh at the end, now let me take you through my experiences of what faith means to me.

It first began when I was about 5 or 6 when I was asked to take part in the service, Rev Hiller was the minister here at the time. I was asked to lead in the Prayer of Approach, I was so excited to do this. I can remember being so little (not much has changed) that I needed to stand on a stool to read from the pulpit. This was the first time I read in church but would not be my last because as years went by I became much more involved in the church. Still in my younger years I became part of what was called “Explorers”, here we would meet after church was  finished and have a little bible study, make crafts and I will always remember singing  “This is my Father’s World, Mrs. Bradbury would always sing this hymn at our meetings. I still have some of the decorations we made and I hang them on our tree because it reminds me of the times we had making them. Later on I would graduate from Explores and would join CGIT know as Canadian Girls in Training in my teen years. The CGIT purpose is: As a Canadian Girl in Training, under the leadership of Jesus, it is my purpose to Cherish Health, Seek Truth, Know God, Serve Others and thus, with His help, become the girl God would have me be.

Here I would meet two lovely women whom became such an influence in my life, Elizabeth Purchase and Joan Soulier. As our leaders and mentors they showed us how to lead a service, help out in the church for example we would help with the turkey teas, I looked forward every year in working on the assembly line bright and early of course because we would have so many to do. It felt great to help with fundraisers whether big or small because I knew it helped the church. Our group also went on many road trips together,  one in particular I remember a time when we travelled to Musgravetown and met up with their youth group, we had a lot of fun that weekend shared stories, singing familiar hymns, and we made poster with all of our hands on it sympolizing our friendship bewttween the two groups. There are many more stories but these women gave me the guidance and support to continue my journey in faith.

Now, these were some of the better times that I can remember there were times when I thought my time was wasted or I did not feel like doing events. There was a time in my life that I did not want to do anything at all. I just wanted to be alone. At 17, last year in high school doing it all, school council, student council, editor of the year book, volunteer with church functions and road block. I had reached my limit of helping everyone but now someone had to help me. I had spent three months in hospital, but a familiar face would show up from time to time and it would be my minister Rev Edgar now Bursey. We would have lovely chats about life and how I felt and slowly I started to feel better and slowly introduced back into reality again. I was diagnosed as Bi Polar something I will have to live with but did not know how to come to terms with but Rev Edgar believed in me and my faith in God was mending. I finished school that year and continued to volunteer at the church but for the next 10 years it is a bit rocky. There were times I would not go at all, while other times I would be there with bells on. During these 10 years I served on the church council as the East District Representative when I learned a lot about how our church works a. I met so many people now and I even got the opportunity to go to British Colombia and representative Newfoundland as the Youth Representative I thought my faith back road block my sister passes suddenly away, I felt like shouting WHY, I was doing everything right so I thought I was helping out again. Gone again my hope was gone again. A year after that, my father passed away. I was done. Whatever spiritual feeling I had was gone. Six months after dad passed I found myself in quite a situation I was in hospital myself with a blood clot, luckily they had found it because I would have been the third person in the family in two years not my time. I had a visitor from the church while I was in hospital this was Rev Bowlby. She had made some first impression on me that day and I wanted to hear more from her. Once I got better and went on that following Christmas I knew I wanted to come back and that I had missed my church family. I then got involved on the Church Council but this time as the Treasurer, that was scary at first just like the roller coaster not knowing what was coming next. I made the best of what I knew and helped out to the best of my knowledge for 2.5 years until my work life was more challenging and my time needed there became much greater than for church and I had to make a decision to resign. I never lost my faith but I put it on hold, I did not want a repeat of 17 all over again.


I came back on Easter Sunday when the church reopened their doors since the renovations from the new Cochrane Centre. Wow to see all the people there it felt amazing and to hear the choir and how they sounded so good,  I missed being a part of this family ,definitely one of my swoosh moments, I wanted back so I approached the choir and asked when was practice, found out and been back ever since.  So I am back on the roller coaster feeling great road block mom passes away suddenly same day as my sisters passing. This time the feeling is different for I was there when she passed and was holding her hand as she rode on to the next life, I felt something that day that I can’t explain that her strength entered into me, and even a little birdie told me that you have your mom in you I can see it. This time I was prepared I trusted in God that this was meant to be, I was upset and angry but I felt assured that this was God’s will. This moment for sure was a test of my faith but swoosh like the roller coaster out of the cannon here I am Lord. Coming every Sunday singing in the choir and seeing & talking with everyone helps me keep my faith strong and I have hope for the future for you are as my church community have always been there and has built my faith from a very early age and will continue to do so. Faith is like a roller coaster, a ride where you do not know the outcome, where there are stops along the way, and the highs and lows of that ride; whatever the next ride brings here I am Lord.


Faith Story: Francis McNiven

I was born unwanted. The fourth child of an already too big family with an illness that stacked the odds against me. There were ten babies born with the same illness that I had, five died, four was developmentally delayed and then there was me, the only one who was passed for school. So I guess I was blessed from the very beginning. My father's mother took me in and became my Mom.

My church life was a bit different than most. We lived too far away from the church that my very religious mom was raised in but she did not know what church she wanted us to go to so we went to them all. It was the Anglican church on Sunday morning and United Church in the evening to sing in the children's choir. So it was pretty much a normal childhood until I turned 12.

Then everything changed. Mom wanted to move closer to her church. So we packed up and moved to Bay Roberts. Then slowly I began to lose everything I loved. First it was the TV and the radio. We weren't allowed to be in the girl guides or sing in the church choir anymore. Then we were not allowed to wear pants or cut our bangs any more. We were not allowed to give out candy for Halloween, or celebrate Easter. The last thing we lost was Christmas. I will never forget the sadness in my mom's eyes when they told her that their church do not celebrate Christmas. It had always been a joyous occasion for us but no more.

Turns out that my Mothers church did not celebrate anything. Their only message and goal was to prepare for death. At the tender age of 12 I was told that we are all going to die and the only way to get into heaven was to give up everything I loved, and I might not even make it in then. 

It was a heavy message for a 12 year old to take in. So as you can imagine I became very bitter resentful and angry. 

My teenage years were very difficult. I was an outcast on every side. At school I was too different and teased relentlessly and at home and at church I was not different enough and had trouble following the rules without question. It seemed that I was always fighting for what I wanted and the whole world was against me.

I was not a pleasant child. It was not until, after many years of fighting with guilt and a mental illness that lead me down many a dark road. I rejected my mom’s religion and that’s when things started to get better for me. But for a while it meant I rejected God as well. It left a hole in my life that I needed filled.

I don't know what made me come to church for the first time I think it was the sign out front. I used to walk past it and say 11 o'clock service . Gosh that isn't too late I could sleep in and still go to church. Ironically now I have to get up at 8 in the morning and take two buses. I spent years walking past the church saying to Gerard I should go to church, and him saying no you shouldn’t. He was afraid. He knew that religion and my mental Illness did not go well together.

Now he is the one who reminds me you should go to sleep you have got to go to church in the morning. He now sees the change the church has made in my life and knows it is good for me. It was the first Sunday after Christmas when I came here for the first time. I remember two things. 1. and this was to my great surprise, Christmas was not over. And 2 I was terrified. I did not know if I was allowed to be there. Was church a private club you had to sign up for to be a member?  The last time I went to a church was a long time ago.

I kept expecting someone to see me and kick me out. I sat in the last row closest to the door in case I had to make a quick escape. I was way off not only was I not kicked out I was invited to coffee time after.

That New Year’s Eve, I made the best new year’s resolution I have ever made. I was going to go to church every Sunday. Although I still will sit in the seat nearest to the door, a quick escape may still be needed. I love words. I understand them and know how powerful they can be. The words you use are very important. I was hearing words I never heard before like love and acceptance. I began to learn about peace and forgiveness. It replaces all I learned about fear and hate. It has brought me joy. I am always grateful for what I receive from this church and am glad to call it my home.

Faith Story by Oliver Dingwell

It may be a surprise to you, but when Miriam found out that I would be in St. John’s this weekend and asked me if would share my faith story, I responded with a very adamant no.

            Our wonderful tradition here at Cochrane Street of sharing our faith stories during lent was an idea that Miriam and I decided to implement during Lent 2016 and it has been a wonderful blessing to us all. The stories that have been shared here over the past two years have given us inspiration and insight, challenge and wisdom. I, too, was inspired by the words of various members of our church family and it made me think deeper about my own faith, especially as I began writing applications and lengthy essays for ordination and seminary. However, I have never felt the need, or the desire to publicly share my own story of faith. I think that probably stems from a fear of what some have described as the dirtiest and most taboo word in The United Church of Canada: evangelism.

            However, evangelism does not have to present itself in the same harmful way that we see in The United States of America, where there is an attitude of Christian supremacy, where the need and desire to convert heathens is still at the heart of many evangelical churches. Instead, evangelism can be a public witness to the power of faith in our lives, it can be a testimony to the power of love working in and through us. Evangelism can be an active living out of our faith, speaking out against the injustices of our world that prevent love from being fully realized. Evangelism doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

            I hemmed and hawed over Miriam’s proposal until I eventually decided yes. I hope that my own personal story of my experiences within the church and with my faith are of some interest to you all.

            For as long as I can remember, I have been involved in the church. I have always felt a call to ordained ministry. I legitimately cannot remember a time when the church was not a central part of life – to this day I can count on one hand all the times I missed worship on Sunday morning.

            This relationship with the church, faith, and spirituality, was not the overwhelming trend for the rest of my family. Although my maternal grandparents were faithful church goers and very active members of our home congregation, serving on session, stewards and were members of the men’s club and UCW; they were certainly the exception to the rule.

My parents and my paternal grandparents were not regular churchgoers. Although my paternal grandfather attended church most Sundays he was not heavily involved in the life and work of the church. On the other hand, my paternal grandmother’s faith can be best described as “staunch” atheist. A quick aside, the famous family story is that in her last months, Rev. Clayton Parsons (who some of you may know) came to visit her. My grandmother was not well, and as Clayton went to leave, he told her, “Joyce, if I don’t see you later, I’ll see you on the other side.”

 “Yeah, don’t count on it” was my grandmothers reply. It may have been the only time that Rev. Parsons was ever left speechless.

My parents attended church casually, probably two Sundays a month at best. They did not serve on committees or anything like that. This all changed around the time I turned two. The “terrible twos” I believe they’re called. For whatever reason, I would wake up on Sunday morning and insist that we would be going to church that day. If the answer was no, I would throw wild and now, legendary, temper tantrums. Needless to say, my parents became regular churchgoers pretty quickly – and the rest is now history, Mom now serves as the Clerk of Session and Dad as the Church Treasurer in our home congregation of Humber United in Corner Brook.

            My talent for singing was quickly becoming apparent around this time as well. The story goes that I would be walking around the house, singing (or screaming – it’s not quite clear), at the absolute top of my lungs – “O LORD MY GOD, O LORD MY GOD” over and over and over. My parents had absolutely no idea what to make of this, but it was eventually discovered that I was trying to sing the first line of the introit that my congregation used every Sunday, “How Great Thou Art.”

One year later, at the age of three, I had taken to singing solos of “How Great Thou Art” after church. The organist would gently accompany me and a small, but faithful crowd of grey-haired ladies would sit and listen to me sing the same solo week after week. Soon after this became a regular performance, I decided that I had enough experience – so at the tender age of three, I decided that it was time to join the Senior Choir. And so I did. One of the old Junior Choir gowns was altered and I proudly took my place in the choir loft along with the other members of the choir as I belted out the introit, “How Great Thou Art” each and every Sunday.

There are too many good stories from my childhood regarding church to tell you here – we would be here well into the evening if I had to regale you with all of them. The highlights include: forcing my entire family, including my atheist grandmother, to participate as I played church on Sunday evenings after family supper (complete with actual bulletins and miniature hymn boards that my father had made for me for Christmas) or instead of playing with a dollhouse or actions figures like other children, my Beanie Babies would take part in General Councils and Congregational Meetings – because that seemed perfectly normal to me. 

It was around this time that I also grew deeply suspicious of Sunday School – “why did I have to go downstairs when everyone else got to stay up there? What were they doing up there? What was I missing?” So around age six or seven I stopped going to Sunday School and stayed upstairs for the entire service – which, I think, seemed perfectly normal to the rest of the congregation, I think the only ones who were displeased may have been my parents, not because they objected to me being upstairs, but because they were the Sunday School Superintendents at the time of my revolt.

As I grew older, I was of course, confirmed and began to take on a more active leadership role in the church. At the age of twelve, I chaired my first church committee “The 50th Anniversary Committee for Humber United Church” – looking back on this, I now realize that my mother actually did most of the work, but I was immensely proud to be the chair of a committee. At the age of twelve I was also given the opportunity to lead worship and preach one Sunday when our minister was away – I was so excited for this opportunity. I can still remember that the Old Testament reading for that day was Noah and the Flood, and I compared it to the American reality show Survivor, which was at the peak of its popularity. I called Noah, “the ultimate survivor.” Looking back on the manuscript and knowing what I know now, it was a pretty terrible sermon, but… not bad for a twelve year old.

Throughout high school I took on a greater role within the church: becoming a member of session and becoming the youngest Chair of the Official Board in the history of the United Church of Canada. Also around this time, I began exploring what was happening beyond the walls of my own congregation: I took an interest in the United Church’s commitment to social justice and to living out our faith at all times, just not on Sundays, echoing the words of the Letter of James: “let us be doers of the word and not hearers only.” I started to attend district and conference meetings and sit on those committees as well, and in 2012, I served as a Commissioner to General Council in Ottawa.

When I came to University, I was misled by attending another United Church here in St. John’s (which shall remain nameless), but I eventually came to find this wonderful community here at Cochrane Street. Here I was able to grow and be supported by this congregation of wonderful people and receive mentorship, support, and lots of understanding from Miriam. It broke my heart to leave here in 2016, but I have been lucky enough to find another rich community of faith in Toronto where I can feel supported and encouraged as well, although, it will never replace Cochrane Street.

Now all of this is not to say that my experiences with the church have always been positive. I have often, especially in my earlier years, left committee meetings and church events with tears streaming down my face. There were those who discouraged and even sought to prohibit me from participating in certain aspects of church life when I was in junior high, there were those who thought that I was too involved in the church for a young person, and there were those who discredited my ideas. I have served as a verbal punching bag for clergy and laity alike, and often when I doubt myself, those screams of anger and belittlement still ring in my ears. Being this young and being this active in church means that although I have experienced the best of the church from a very young age, I have also experienced it at its worst.

It may surprise you, that more than once I have thought about leaving the church, about throwing in the towel and doing something else in life entirely. However, in my experience, the call to ministry, the call to a life of faith is like a bungee cord – each time you try and run away from that calling, you get flung back to it. Despite all the negative aspects I have experienced in the church, I have always known that God’s love is so ridiculously wide that I can never escape from that embrace.

I still have no idea what drew me to the church at such a young age or what keeps me here. Perhaps it was the fellowship, perhaps it was the music, or perhaps it was the community friendly and supportive people. Perhaps it is the unending love of God that keeps calling me back, giving me no other choice but to live my life in response to wonderful gift of unconditional love. Whatever it was, it stuck, and it continues to stick.

As I go forward in life, in ministry; my greatest hope is that I can help the church continue to operate at its best and not at its worst. To enable the church to be a place of love, compassion and caring – a place of family and belonging, for people like me, and for people like you. That is my story of faith – a story where God’s love, support, and encouragement is lived out through ordinary people doing extraordinary things. May we all know God’s love in this way. Amen.