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Faith

I will start with the disclaimer that I was raised an atheist. I have faith, in my own way, and a set of guiding principles by which to live, similar to the religious guideline of ‘do unto others’. But I do not believe.

I’m fairly certain. I remember being six or seven and having a conversation with my mother, who is herself rather anti-theist, and essentially told me to figure it out for myself. I remember a half-hour session of philosophical introversion after which I had conclusively decided that God does not exist.

That said I have always been stunned by faith. Not always in a positive way, but always with a sense of wonder at how something that means so little to me could mean so much to another human being.

I was given an assignment to create a short documentary about someone working in the area. I started with a list of people whose professions I might find interesting. A nurse, an undertaker, a tattoo artist. Then I suddenly had an idea: find a church leader. It could have been the idea of being inside a church. As a woman of Jewish ancestry growing up in Canada, churches have always been an inaccessible mystery.

The first time I spoke to Rev. Miriam Uhrstrom of the Victoria Avenue Baptist Church was on the phone. She sounded pleasant and enthusiastic and invited me to lunch. “The women’s group meets Tuesday at ten, and we have lunch. You should come!” Meals are a very important part of the community because they bring people together, make them feel like a family. Every time I visited the church a meal was served in the lower level, always prepared by the people in attendance, and cleared away by them, too.

I have an interest in the lives of women who work in a predominantly male profession. They are feminists to me. Not activists, just women who don’t allow their gender to get in the way of their lives. I told Rev. Uhrstrom this and she looked uncomfortable. “I’m not a feminist,” she refuted. Funny, that label holds so much stigma.

It seems Rev. Uhrstrom was predestined to become a minister. She comes from a Christian family, her father was a minister. She related to me a moment from her youth looking up at the sky and asking God to show her the way, and that was the moment she decided to lead the life she has. She has wanted to be a musician, a teacher, a leader. All part of her job as head of the congregation at the Victoria Avenue Baptist Church.

It was surprising to meet such an intelligent, pragmatic woman who had dedicated her life to the church. I had attached a certain image of naiveté to religion in general and Christianity in particular. Just as Rev. Uhrstrom had reacted to the label of feminist so had I reacted to the concept of faith. But Rev. Uhrstrom was raised Christian. I was raised atheist.