Monday, 27 April 2015

A century on, we do remember them

At about 3:00 AM on April 24, 1914, Canadian soldiers of the 15th and 8th Battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force experienced the absolute horror of war.

Following an hour long artillery barrage, soldiers in the Canadian trenches could see German soldiers wearing what looked like diving gear on their heads, scurrying across the front. A hissing sound was heard and a yellowish green vapour began to flow towards them. Driven by a light morning breeze, a deadly cloud of chlorine gas ten to fifteen feet high quickly enveloped the 15th Battalion.

Calls for immediate artillery support were not answered. The divisional artillery was well out of range of the trenches.

The Canadian soldiers did not panic. Gas had first been seen on April 22 in other sectors at Ypres and word spread across the trenches that a handkerchief soaked in water or urine was an effective way to reduce the effectiveness of the gas.

It didn’t work. Coughing, choking and suffocating, the soldiers took shelter in the bottom of their trenches, where the gas concentrated. Many suffered and died there or in the subsequent artillery barrage.

Ten minutes after the release of the gas, German soldiers moved out of their trenches, and wearing crude respirators, advanced towards the Canadian lines.

The 15th Battalion took the brunt of the attack. Closest to the German lines, No. 1 and No. 3 Companies were left without support from other troops and from their own artillery.

By 5:00 AM their trenches were overrun and any survivors of the 15th Battalion withdrew to what was called “Locality “C”“, on the road between Gravenstaffel and St. Julien, on the crest of the Gravenstaffel Ridge.

On April 27,when the 15th Battalion assembled for morning parade, only three officers and 171 other ranks answered. Over 650 officers and men were dead, wounded or missing.

This became known as the Second Battle of Ypres. It was the largest single unit operational casualty loss of Canadian soldiers in the whole of the First World War.

My great uncle, Private Harold Leigh Shearman of Toronto, had enlisted in the 48th Highlanders in Toronto less than a year earlier. Along with members of the 97th Regiment (Algonquin Rifles) from Sudbury and Cobalt and the 31st Grey Regiment (Owen Sound), the 48th Highlanders formed the 15th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.

There were six soldiers from Grey County in the 15th Battalion who died at the Second Battle of Ypres. It’s possible they knew my great uncle. All are among  missing and presumed dead.

From my inquiry to the 48th Highlanders Regimental Association, Brig. Gen. Greg Young suggests that, “whether (Pvt. Shearman) went missing and was subsequently indicated on the 29th as KIA at the forward position or Locality C or somewhere in between is not known. My best guess would be that he died in the forward lines.”

Harold Shearman’s death had a profound impact on my family. His brother was captured as a prisoner of war in the same battle. The family, in their grief, threw themselves into prisoner relief effort. And when the Menin Gate was dedicated, Harold’s mother went to Europe to be present there.

It was and is the only memorial for her son.

When I was born there was some family conversation that I should be named either Harold or Leigh. My father did not do so, and took a few sharp words from Harold’s sister.

Today, a century later, we can only pause as we recall the words of the poet Lawrence Binyon; “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

We will remember them.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Pew study predicts the future of religion

What do you think religion will look like in thirty years?

If you said that religion will disappear, you would be very, very wrong.

The Pew Research Centre, an American nonpartisan think tank, has undertaken a comprehensive study and prediction of the future of religion, looking forward globally to 2050.

The conclusions are surprising.

Drawing from over 2500 different data sources from around the world, the study suggests that many of the myths we think are true about religious faith and religions are simply false. Religion and religious faith is not going away.

There are many reasons for that conclusion, but there are eight key results of the study which should be considered.

Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest global religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.

Much of this has to do with demographics. Christians are older and not having babies. Muslims have a younger population and larger families.

Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share, as a percentage, of the world’s total population.

The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.

In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.

India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.

In the North America, the number of Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the United States than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.

The reason for this is simply fertility, according to the Pew study, and immigration.

The last conclusion the study offers is four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.


Again the study says, “Religions with many adherents in developing countries – where birth rates are high, and infant mortality rates generally have been falling – are likely to grow quickly.”

And what of Christians?

Over the coming decades, the study says, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from people switching to other faiths or no faith at all. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

The study even ventures into the next fifty years, suggesting that although not intended as a prediction, Islam will surpass Christianity as the most populous faith by 2070 and both Christianity and Islam will parallel each other in growth after that. Again, that growth in both faiths will happen mostly in Africa.

Is this bad news? Depends on how you look at the world. But it reminds us that we live in a very different world; one which is changing all the time. What we knew is not what we will be. And what we will be is a very, very different world.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 13 April 2015

My breakfast with a senator was a proper expense

With the criminal trial of Canadian senator Mike Duffy on charges of wrongful charges to his expense account starting in Ottawa, I have a confession to make.

I had breakfast with a senator once.

I bought my own breakfast and charged it to my travel expenses for the church.

The occasion was back in the mid 1980's. I was serving First United Church in Campbellton, New Brunswick at the time.

In those days VIA Rail ran a daily train from Montreal to Halifax called The Ocean. The train left Montreal at 6:00 PM in the evening and pulled into Campbellton at 6:30 the next morning, after having split in two at Matepedia, Quebec, with a section going on to Gaspe.

The train included coaches, sleepers and a full dining car. It arrived in Halifax at 4:00 PM that day.

Because many church meetings were held in Moncton or in Sackville, it was not unusual to get on the train in the morning and arrive in Moncton around 10:30. Meetings would start at noon and either end late in the afternoon allowing me to catch the northbound train home at 6:30 or carry over into the next day.

It was cheaper for me to take the train and even get a roomette and have dinner in the dining car than to drive my own car.

After settling into my roomette and waiving at my kids as the train rolled by our house, I headed for breakfast, just a few cars away.

I noticed that while there were several tables vacant, there was a distinguished looking gentleman in a sweater at one table. I asked if I could join him and he pleasantly agreed.

We introduced ourselves and that was how I met Senator Norbert Theriault.

As I recall, breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon and toast; simple, but hot off the grill and excellent. I always found VIA Rail’s meals on The Ocean to be very good.

Over coffee, Senator Theriault and I exchanged ideas. As I recall, the senator was deeply passionate about engaging young people in Canada through programs like Katimavik and in empowering the younger generation both socially and politically.

Senator Theriault left the train at Chatham, where he lived in New Brunswick. I recall asking him why he travelled by train as opposed to flying and especially as he could fly in business class.
His answer was simple.

“I like the train,” he said, “because it allows me to talk to real people for a longer time. And that’s what I want to do as a senator. I want to listen and take people seriously.”

Several weeks later I received a package from Senator Theriault about his work with young people and what he hoped to accomplished.

Senator Duffy’s expense account trial will not bring any repute to our system of government. Expense accounts are a trust. I have had expense accounts over the years, mostly for travel. I recall attending a conference in the US and realizing that I didn’t have enough clean shirts. So I sent an e-mail to a staff person in our national office asking if I could have some laundry done.

The answer was affirmative, but I was also told to ensure I attached the receipt for proof.

I did.

Senator Duffy’s expense accounts are under examination, as is his own understanding of that trust. I have no idea if the Senate expense rules were clear or not. But if you are doing business and using someone else’s money, you are under a special obligation to be fully accountable. It’s just the ethical thing to do.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Easter a reminder that death isn’t the end

I have spent far too much time around the hospital over the last few weeks.

I know. It comes with the work of being a pastor. I have lots of experience in that respect. I am no stranger to hospitals and hospitals are not strange places to me.

But this is different.

It’s family,

The oldest member of my tribe died a week ago. At 95, my aunt had lived a long and full life. She was the family matriarch. Her children, my cousins, had children of their own and they, in turn, had children of their own. She counted five great grandchildren as descendants.

Of her generation, there were six. All have died now, except for my father. His heath is not great, although I suspect, at age 88, if he were asked to preach in worship, he would willingly rise to the occasion.

My aunt was custodian, along with her late sister, of the family history. When her sister died, I was estate executor. I found in her apartment a family tree which was 26 feet long when unrolled, tracing the family roots back to 1046 in England. The two sisters co-authored several books of family stories, focussing especially on their great, great grandfather Thomas A. Stewart, one of the original settlers of early Peterborough.

As a child, my aunt grew up in Quebec, a member of one of six English families in the small town of St. Eustache.

St. Eustache is noted for a Roman Catholic church where the Patriotes of Louis Joseph Papineau took refuge during the rebellion of 1837. The British shelled the church, leaving cannon ball marks in the stone walls which are there today.

My aunt grew up in an old seigneury house on the edge of the village with three foot thick walls and massive fireplaces. The school for English families was in the Sunday school hall of the small United Church. The children would attend school from Monday to Friday in one room with grades one to eight and then go into Montreal for high school. They were in the same room of Sunday school on Sundays.

My aunt entered the workforce during World War Two, moving to Ottawa to live with her aunt, and working in the typing pool at RCAF headquarters. She told the story of working outside Air Marshall Billy Bishop’s office and seeing him come in every morning, head down and looking quite ill, followed within a couple of minutes by an Orderly with a steaming pot of coffee.

Later in life, following the premature death of her husband, she returned to work as a church secretary, serving one United Church congregation in Toronto for many years.

You may wonder what all this has to do with Easter.

When we talk about death and dying as Christians (and my aunt was very much a faithful Christian) we can’t speak of death without speaking of resurrection.

Whether you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus or not is irrelevant. But one of the key concepts of the Christian faith is that we believe “something happened”. We don’t know what that something was, apart from the scriptural witness. But the testimony of the faithful, beginning with the women who followed Jesus was that the body was gone and he had been resurrected from the dead.

As I mourn the loss of my aunt, I find myself increasingly focussed on that Easter event.

Something happened. Something I can barely understand. But that event is shared by all Christians. Death isn’t the end.

In writing of my aunt, one of my colleagues said to me, “She’s going to have a glorious Easter.” I take great comfort in that thought.

Because she will.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County