Back and forth to five churches

Reprinted from Decks Awash, Volume 15, Number 6
November – December 1986
Photograph from MUN Digital Archives

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Reverend John Courage, 30, has been the Anglican priest for the parish of Hodge’s Cove almost four years which makes him both the youngest and longest serving of the current clergyman on Southwest Arm. Originally he assumed the Parish of Random which took in Sunnyside, North West Brook, Hillview, and Hatchet Cove, a total of nine churches. But in July 1982, the parish was split into two and Father Courage now is responsible for Queen’s Cove, Long Beach, Little Harbour, Hodge’s Cove, and Great Hearts Ease.

“I have about 175 families,” says Father John. “That’s five churches which means I do five services on Sunday. That little grey car of mine is zipping back and forth all day. The first service is at 9 in the morning, then I have others at 11, 2, 4 and 7. It’s the same sermon at all of them. By 7o’clock I’m tired of it myself,” he smiles.

Father John and his wife Heather, a former teacher, are from St. John’s. A graduate of Memorial University and the Atlantic School of Theology, Father John is both amusing and disarmingly frank.

“If you asked any of my high school teachers whether they ever thought I would enter the ministry, most of them would have said no. I’d be the last person in the world they’d expect to. But I suppose God has a sense of humor, too.

“I hung off entering the church, worked as a clerk for a couple of years. I even tried to be a monk with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, but after a few months I decided I preferred to be married. Their life wasn’t the kind of life I wanted.”

On 1 January 1985, Father John assumed his first appointment at St. Peter’s, Cartwright.

“I’m a townie and it was a bit of a cultural shock. I arrived midday and they told me there was a funeral at 2 o’clock. I put it back to 3,1 didn’t even have a robe. But I hadn’t realized the day was so short in Cartwright. By the time I’d finished the service and got to the graveside, it was dark. It was a nightmare. I went home for a cup of coffee, turned on the tap – no water. For six months we had no water. The last six months we had no sewage.”

Father John requested a transfer and was given Southwest Arm.

“Hodge’s Cove is not really a fishing community any more,” he explains. “We have nurses aides, secretaries, and bank clerks living here who work in Clarenville because there’s no employment here. What I call Great Hearts Ease—Southport, Gooseberry Cove, and Butter Cove — are fishing communities and they are really hurting. There’s no cod. Consequently, a lot of people are moving away to Toronto. But you still see new houses being built by people who are working away. They come home summers to work on them with the idea that they’ll eventually come home to stay.”

St. Mary’s Church, Hodge’s Cove

In the meantime the communities soldier on, the inhabitants trying to raise families, and support their clergy and churches of which there are five organized faiths and around a dozen church buildings. A couple of Father John’s churches have less than a dozen families each, but the congregations are fiercely independent and reluctant to join with others. It’s a form of sectionalism the area can scarcely afford. Hodge’s Cove has 80 families to support a priest, his rectory, and a church. It demands tight budgeting. The problems facing smaller congregations are even greater, but Father John is optimistic things may one day change.

  “The schools have been a uniting influence, now that we are down to two elementary and one high school. It brings people together so that later people from different communities date and marry. I’m hoping that will improve things in future.”  

But most of the area’s problems are economic—from a poor fishery to a lack of job opportunities. Even the fish plants at Southport and Gooseberry Cove offer only limited employment since much of their fish is trucked elsewhere.  

“This year all our caplin went to Arnold’s Cove for processing. A lot of women from here worked at it, but they spent most of their money getting to Arnold’s Cove and back.”  

Lack of infrastructure—water, sewage, roads — compounds the problem.

“Having pavement would probably help the fish plant. I’m told sometimes grade A fish leaves the plant by truck and arrives as grade B; fishermen deliver grade A and get paid for grade B.  

“We are on wells here, but they dry up. One summer we took our laundry to an aunt’s house in Clarenville to use her water. We kept our own for a bath.”  

Unfortunately, other than a local development association, there is little organized local government to press for improvements. There are also fears that improvements will bring higher taxes.  

“I would like to see a council of some description so we could organize things better. I think we have perhaps too many people prepared to sit back and let the world go by. Take Queens Cove, they got water and sewer becausea couple of people there really pushed the government for it. Of course, government can also be contrary. We had a road “committee trying to get a bit of pavement. They flogged it for years then finally gave up. Just after that, the government came along and said, ‘We’ll give you the pavement now.’ They did Long Beach last year and got as far as Hodge’s Cove this year. An election year is coming up so perhaps they’ll butter us up with some more.” 

In the meantime, Father John carries on his pastoral duties which he enjoys. Office work in the morning, visiting the elderly and sick in the afternoons, and meetings at night.  

“Sometimes it would be nice to have a 9 to 5 job, but those days are past. The phone is there and it rings at some queer hours. No, I enjoy life to the fullest—that includes eating,” he adds, laughing and gesturing towards his growing waistline.

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Transcribed by Wanda Garrett, March 2019

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.