THE BIRTH OF A DREAM
Lillian's dream of a summer Bible school became a reality just a few short months after she and Frances Black first talked about it during that Easter vacation in 1931. If you remember, they took the train to Minton to discuss the idea with Wilfred and Pearl Orr who were also very enthusiastic about the idea. They said, "Have it here!"...... and immediately offered their house as the focal point.
So, at the age of twenty, Lillian, along with Wilfred, Pearl and others waded in to the monumental task of making that vision take form. She sent letters to the young people in all the congregations in Saskatchewan inviting those over fourteen to come to Minton for three weeks of intensive Bible study. There would be no charge; it would be financed entirely by donation.
The physical preparations that had to be made might have daunted a less determined group! Just recently Lillian and Clarice Hurlburt (Mooney) reminisced about that summer. Wilfred was still building the house they were going to use. The basement was dug and the house sat on it, but there were not yet any partitions between the rooms or finished stairs to the basement.
They decided that classes would be held upstairs and that the basement would be the best place to have the kitchen for Bible school. There was a dirt floor and the opening for a window was the top of a rather primitive outdoor stairway down to the kitchen! Poor Clarice was starting to teach that fall and had bought some lovely, stylish, high-heeled shoes. She thinks maybe some of her later foot problems came from trying to walk on that uneven dirt floor in her high-heels as she helped with the cooking that summer!
So on July 13, 1931, the first summer Bible school of churches of Christ in Canada opened with great excitement and anticipation. Classes were from nine to four; after that there was recreation such as ball games, followed by sermons on week day evenings and concerts on the weekends. Lillian attributes much of her Bible knowledge to the intensive study of those summers. In addition to taking classes and working diligently at her own studying, Lillian was treasurer, bought whatever food wasn't donated, arranged work schedules, and did some teaching of English. When children's classes were added later, she also taught some of them.
What an adventure! The students brought their tents and lived in them for three solid weeks. Some of those girls still remember sleeping on the ground and in the morning, wriggling into their clothes in their little tents and attempting to come out looking presentable. Some also remember a late night boat ride when Cecil Bailey, who made his first appearance at a Saskatchewan church gathering during the second week of that Bible school, had to wade out into the lake to rescue some girls from the sinking boat! Lillian was usually ready for a funny incident, but she was also responsible for the girls, so she didn't see much humour in that incident that night! Lillian and Clarice remember another night when Cecil was up to his usual high-jinks and ran into a page wire fence while chasing an imaginary bear!
The Bible study was rigorous indeed, but those young people just ate it up. In addition to classes all day long they had heavy homework assignments, including memorizing whole chapters of the Bible. Some of the original staff and students of those summer Bible schools are fond of saying that the vacation Bible schools of today grew out of those early schools, but they grew a long way! Summer Bible school was great fun, but it was definitely no vacation!
Summer Bible school was a great thing for Lillian. Holidays were still a restless time for her, as they had been in her childhood. Two months without anything significant to do was too long, so for the next seven or eight years her summers were well taken care of with the preparations for, the actual three weeks of Bible school and the clean up after. She slept little, ate little and lost about ten pounds each summer during Bible school!
It was during the 1932 Bible school that Lillian became reacquainted with Ivy Ratcliffe (Pawlak). Ivy was still living in the Vellhaven School area. Signe Jelsing (MacLeod) was the teacher at Velhaven and she and Ivy had become friends. Signe knew that Ivy read her Bible every night and she encouraged her to go to to Bible school that summer. And who should she encounter there but her old friend, Lillian, who had brought her that birthday cake so many years ago!
Ivy was baptized at that meeting and a bond was formed between her and Lillian that is still there today. Although they have seldom lived in close proximity, their paths continued to cross and they were always delighted to be able to pick up their relationship where it had left off, probably because they share like professions, like interests and like faith.
It was during summer Bible school that Lillian was introduced to a new idea that expanded her view of Christianity greatly. One of the teachers, Bro. Petch, emphasized that one of the main qualities of the Christian was love; God loves us and we should love one another. This was something new for her to think about. Partly because of her upbringing, but also because of what had been emphasized at church, she had a very legalistic idea of what Christianity was all about - "Do what is right in doctrine and worship, and live correctly morally."
As she grew older, she realized that she had probably heard it before, but this was the first time it really had an impact on her. To emphasize love added a whole new dimension to her Christian life. There was more depth to the Christian message than she had ever realized, and it became her aim to grow in that quality of life. Her thinking became more centred on love, compassion, kindness and service; caring about people, and sharing the beautiful fellowship of the church became much more important to her.
The Hungry Five made its first appearance during those summer Bible school years. This was a self-named group of young teachers who loved being together and especially loved eating together, hence the name! The group consisted of Lillian, Signe and Lavine Jelsing, Mary Curtiss and Clarice Hurlburt. They came to Bible school to study God's word, which they did with intensity, but they also did most of the cooking, cleanup and supervision.
One of their delights was to, after everyone was settled down for the night, get together for a midnight snack. Their association with each other was a wonderful serendipity. They all taught at schools in southern Saskatchewan but their times together as a fivesome were usually limited to summer Bible school.
However, there were a few times when they managed to get together during the school year; several remember one very special weekend they spent along with some other young Christian women. Perhaps this was the first Women's Retreat in Saskatchewan?? They all congregated at Norge School where Ellen Black taught. None of them had cars, so all were brought there by accommodating friends. Earl Jacobs was one who picked up several of the girls and brought them over. Ellen lived in the basement of the school. The girls brought bed rolls, just as at Bible school, and they had a wonderful weekend of fun as well as more serious fellowship. Clarice took charge of the Lord's Supper. They all returned to their respective classrooms on Monday refreshed and reinvigorated.
Summer Bible school moved to Radville the next year because Orrs had moved to Peace River. They used the church building for classes; the Hurlburt home was the girls' dormitory and a small house near the church building was rented to use as a dining room.They set up tables for twenty eight and fed more than a hundred! Of course they couldn't afford to hire a cook, so along with everything else they did, the teachers helped with the cooking. They all had a marvellous time, teens, twenties, visiting preachers and wives.
Practical jokes were almost routine with these young people and the Bible school of '32 was the setting for one of the best. A certain young man who was that year's heart throb made amorous advances towards several of the young ladies and while some of them welcomed it, others, including Lillian, were rather indignant about it. Shortly after Bible school ended, Cecil Bailey was visiting at the Jacobsons and he and Lillian got into a discussion of this. She let him know how disgusted she was with this fellow's assumptions, and Cecil, always the wit, told her she'd better be careful whom she talked to about it, because they might think she was just jealous he hadn't shown an interest in her. That really set her off and the conversation went pretty much like this:
"You know Cecil, men really ARE more conceited than women."
He teasingly responded, "Prove it."
"Most men think that when a girl looks at him she's in love with him and all he has to do is say 'come' and she'll come running."
"Well," said Cecil, "You'll have to be more specific."
"This young man we've been talking about, HE certainly has a very good opinion of himself! He thought all the girls liked him, but I doubt if there's more than one who thought he was so great."
"Maybe, but I know that if I get friendly with a girl, she usually takes it too seriously."
By this time, Lillian was beginning to seethe, "I wouldn't be a bit backward in saying you have somewhat the same opinion of yourself as he does!"
By this time, Cecil, always the tease, was in his glory and laughingly said, "Well, I wouldn't doubt it at all that I could get quite a number of 'yes' answers to the delicate question."
Lillian exploded, "You conceited man. I dare you to propose to five girls, and I wish I could be there to see the beaten and humbled look on your face when the answers arrive. Then you'd change your mind. So come on, take up my dare! We'll prove which one of us is right!"
"Give me a list of the names."
And so she gave him the list headed by Lavine Jelsing and including Signe Jelsing, Clarice Hurlburt and Mary Curtiss. And to her knowledge that was the end of the story... Not so!
They joked about the dare a few times during that winter, but she had pretty well forgotten it by the time the next summer Bible school was in session in Radville. On the morning of the first day, Cecil came to Lillian and said, "You've really gotten me into trouble!" He looked upset, but said that he couldn't tell her then, because there were so many people around. This happened several times during the day and he looked increasingly distraught. She was worried about him, and finally insisted they go for a walk so he could tell her what was wrong.
He told her that he had taken up her dare and had written a letter of proposal to one of the five girls she had listed, Lavine Jelsing. The problem was, she had accepted! And he handed her the letter from Lavine. As she read it, she thought it sounded a little flowery for Lavine, but certainly it was in Lavine's handwriting. Cecil said, "You got me into this mess and I have no intention of marrying her, so you'll have to get me out of it!"
Lillian was disturbed to say the least. Her dear friend Lavine, so proud and so reserved, was going to be humiliated when she told her it was all done on a dare. But she knew she had to tell her. Sleep eluded her that night as she agonized over how she was going to straighten this mess out.
The next morning she asked Lavine to go for a walk with her, and as they walked she tried to explain the situation - that Cecil's proposal was not real, only a joke, a result of a dare. Lavine never said a word, just looked mournful, then turned around and headed back to the dorm. When Lillian came into the room where the Hungry Five slept, there was Lavine, face turned into her mattress, quietly sobbing. Lillian felt dreadful that she had brought her so much unhappiness, but she was unable to console her and after a few minutes left.
Dinner was served about fifteen minutes later, and lo and behold, there was Lavine serving and looking quite composed. "That was a quick recovery." Lillian thought. After the meal, Cecil, Signe and Lavine steered her into an empty room, Cecil closed the door and Signe said, "It's all a joke!" Bewildered, Lillian said, "What's a joke?" It took quite some time for her to absorb what had really happened. She said to Lavine, "But you were crying!" and Lavine replied, "No, I was laughing!"
Signe and Cecil had cooked up the joke and Signe had talked Lavine into copying the letter that she and Cecil had written. She finally agreed, and her superb acting had put the icing on the cake! Signe and Cecil loved to play jokes on Lillian because she believed people so easily and because she was such a good sport about it. This one did take a while for her to recover from though; she had trouble sleeping for several nights after! In retrospect, Lillian thought that the most amusing thing about the whole escapade was that this was the beginning of a relationship between Cecil and Lavine that eventually resulted in marriage!
Lillian continued her responsibilities regarding summer Bible school until the Spring of '38, and loved every minute of it. She was teaching in Robsart and her superintendent was encouraging her to start taking university classes during the summer, but she was too committed to summer Bible school to consider doing anything else.
But then a letter arrived from a friend. You remember she had the responsibility for handling the money and buying the food? He suggested that maybe it would be a good idea if someone else took over the responsibility of handling the money because he had heard some criticism of her. It was reported that she was buying treats for herself and her Hungry Five pals with Bible school money. She knew right away what they were talking about because she had bought cinnamon buns at the bakery - but with her own money!
She was hurt so deeply she couldn't even discuss it. She was hurt that whoever saw her buying the buns didn't know her well enough to know that she would never use Bible school money for her own pleasure; she was hurt even more deeply that the brother who wrote to her, and did know her, would even consider the possibility of her doing such a thing. So she quietly resigned from all of her Bible school duties and enrolled in university summer school. And so began another new phase of her life.
Published in The Old Paths Archive