I’m writing a couple of days early, as I’ll be away from the computer for most of the day… but I expect that by now you’ve seen all over the Internet and heard on radio or television that today is the tenth anniversary of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Where were you on that day? For me, there’s a strong CLB association. It was a big news event… I recall the manner in which the world was swept with the images flooding papers, magazines, and television for weeks. Images of a sea of flowers, and of a throng of visitors waiting to sign books of condolence. And of course, images of Diana herself, of her with Mother Teresa, of her on causes, of her wedding, of her divorce, of her with Dodi Fayed, of her with every celebrity imaginable, and of her with all sorts of common folk. Images of William and Harry, and of course of Prince Charles. Few of the Queen.
And the talk… it was endless. Opinion, commentary, analysis, speculation. Reports, documentaries, and the emergence of yet another conspiracy theory. Comparisons to JFK abounded… with Harry (or was it William?) compared somewhat to JFK Jr. at the funeral. And of course, conspiracy… and criticism of the royal family, particularly the Queen. The movie The Queen was released last year, prior to this anniversary. I’ve not seen it and wasn’t originally that interested, but perhaps I will yet. At the time, I failed to appreciate how deeply connected the English were to the monarchy… but we were with people that weekend who were English, and I saw how deeply shaken they were at this news and began to piece together how defining an event this could be for them… hence the comparisons to the Kennedys. I don’t wish to make comment, really, on Diana, on the Queen, on the validity of a conspiracy theory… or Diana’s marriage and divorce. But I will observe — and this is the segue — that things are often not what they seem.
On that weekend, I was on a leadership retreat with the church planting team of which we were a part at the time. Yup, that’d be the CLB. One of the couples on the team (who remain close friends to this day) have “a place at the lake” — you know, the kind of summer place that isn’t referred to as simply “our summer place” or “the Smith’s cottage” or whatever… but has its own proper name that is used as though everyone should understand it, as though it’s a member of the family. And in a way, it is. It’s the sort of thing you never understand until you’re there, but then it all clicks as to how that works. I don’t recall how many couples were on the team at the time, probably five. And couples, not one spouse only and one along for the ride. It was a weekend when the whole leadership team took off and left the church on its own in the capable hands of the “laity” while we got away to relate together, relax, and to do some planning for the future.
On the morning that the news broke in Canada, I had gotten up earlier than most, but not so early that there weren’t two or three before me. I walked into the lodge where we all gathered and heard the radio discussing the tragedy, and someone gave me the one-line report that put the radio broadcast in context: “Princess Diana died.” For me, each year when mention is made of the event, I am always transported back to that moment, and the sight of the interior of the lodge, walking along the wood floor beside the windows to my left, through which the lake can be seen through the trees. The slightly chilled air of early-morning autumn, with a warming fire heating the room from the fireplace. Pouring a cup of coffee as the news sinks in and the reporter on CBC radio drones on a little further. Was that Michael Enright? Sitting and sipping coffee, listening to the news… offering the same one-line report to others as they arrived with thoughts of breakfast. Waiting until the pastor and his wife arrived…. they being English, and being shaken by the news.
After breakfast I think we turned off the radio and moved along with the activities of the day, but it wasn’t that far in the back of people’s minds. We returned to the city and got on with our lives… with the church, with pouring our lives into it. Building it, serving the people there. Never knowing or thinking that ten years later, we would be approaching our third year of ecclesiastical vagrancy, after maybe five years of struggling with so many things within the church before we ultimately left. Not suspecting how disconnected we would be from most of those people who seemed so close at the time, with whom we all thought we’d be serving shoulder-to-shoulder for a good long while.
But then, things aren’t always what they seem.