New U.C. minister

‘ “I don’t have to explain in Church why there’s antagonism between the Catholics and Protestants,” Mr. Marzec said.

February 8, 2015

As I have mentioned before in an earlier post or two, when you write for a small weekly newspaper in a small town, you often have to dig a little deeper for stories. But, if your mind is open and you think a bit ‘outside the box’, you will find as many stories as there are living in any town or village.

I personally believe that everyone has something interest to share about his or her life and if, as a journalist, you ask the right questions, everyone will want to read the resulting profile article.

This is one about the United Church minister who arrived in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan in the early 1980s:

Gravelbourg Gazette

November 16, 1982

New U.C. minister

by Tanya Lester

Why would a United Church minister, just out of an Ontario divinity college, choose to come to the largely French-Catholic town of Gravelbourg?

Well, one reason why Phil Marzec, the new United Church pastor, decided to move here last August is due to the town’s Catholic priest, Father Armand Guenette. “I don’t have to explain in Church why there’s antagonism between the Catholics and Protestants,” Mr. Marzec said. This is for the simple reason that there is no conflict between the different religious groups.

Mr. Marzec believes this is largely due to the work of Father Guenette. The priest is “quite famous” for being an open minded person concerning other denominations. Mr. Marzec said Father Guenette, Ralph Bjornstad (the new Lutheran pastor) and himself informally meet once a week to talk and provide support for each other.

The inter-denominational Ministerial Association, which is organizing the December 12 Christmas concert at the Cathedral, according to Mr. Marzec, also does a good job of staving off inter-Church tensions.

Another reason, Mr. Marzec wanted to come to Gravelbourg, is to have the opportunity to speak French. Besides being educated in the Biblical languages of Latin and Greek, he has studied French, German, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish.

In a way, Mr. Marzec has followed in his father’s footsteps. Before becoming a United Church minister, his father learned seven languages while working as a marine sailor.

The senior Mr. Marzec was from Warsaw, Poland.

He was a Roman Catholic who did not think much of religion until he was, according to his son, converted to the United Church by a thief from Canada. He was first posted at Cadillac, Saskatchewan.

But despite his family background and his knowledge of several languages, Mr. Marzec dislikes travelling. This is because, as a “preacher’s kid”, he moved almost every two years of his life. Born in Saskatoon, he moved to many different towns in Ontario while growing up.

Mr. Marzec attended divinity college at Queen’s University in Hamilton, Ontario. While there, he played goalie for the college hockey team which was appropriately called the Holy Rollers.

At that time, Keith Ashford, the new minister  in  Lafleche, played defense for the same team. Kincaid’s minister, Jeeva Sam, was the coach. Mr. Marzec, himself, will be coaching minor league hockey in Gravelbourg this winter. He also hopes to play on  the farmers’ league.

On the academic side of college,  Mr. Marzec received his Masters in Divinity. He thinks the term “Masters” is ironic. “I don’t know anyone yet whose mastered divinity, Mr. Marzec said. “I suppose Jesus did but nobody since.”

After graduation, Mr.  Marzec spent a three month internship as chaplin at the Henderson and General Hospitals in Hamilton. Many of the patients were victims of cancer.

Mr. Marzec said he learned a lot about being a chaplin from one of the patients who had leukemia. The woman had undergone five remissions. Usually, there are only one or two “recoveries” before death.

Having come close to death so many times, the dying woman did not have  much time to waste,  Mr. Marzec said. After he visited her a couple of times, she tactfully told Mr. Marzec that he was wasting her time. It seems she sensed  that Mr. Marzec was afraid of her because she was dying.

He attributed this to the fact that most people,  himself included, do not want to admit  their immortality. Having never thought too much about death himself, Mr. Marzec was not asking her the questions that she wanted to answer.

Mr. Marzec decided to become a minister during a personal crisis in his life.He had been taking Chinese and playing rugby at university for two years when he made the decision. Besides dealing with his personal life,  Mr.  Marzec had to quit playing rugby because of problems with his leg tendons. He was going through changes in his life.

Being a minister for the United Church appeals to Mr.Marzec because it is democratic and very liberal. He sees an advantage to  its “structural weakness”.

This creates disagreements between members of the Church on policy issues and changes but Mr.Marzec likes the conflict. “When people are comfortable, they don’t think,” he said. “When they’re upset, whether they like it or not, they think.”

Being an advocate of women’s rights has created at least one conflicting situation for Mr.Marzec, too. Once, when he was taking part in a wedding ceremony, he mistakenly introduced the newly married couple by using the bride’s last name for both her and her husband. Now, at a wedding, he announces the couple as merely the bride and groom.He mentions no names.

Besides taking part in the usual ministerial duties, Mr. Marzec is involved with two youth groups and three Bible study groups. He has found that his predecessor did such a good job that it was easy to take over and be accepted into the community.

Mr.Marzec would like to make one change, though. “I suppose I would like to change it so people would rather go to church rather than bowling but that’s not going to change in five minutes or maybe even ten years,” he said.

– end-

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