Installment 2: Kathy Bowman's "New Frontiers"

Installment 1: Jeremy Spurgeon’s “Time, Faith, and Music”

The Backstory: Why the Stories Were Made

Long ago, in the winter of 2012, I began a series of interviews with Anglicans in the Diocese of Edmonton. The series was part of a larger project, commissioned by Bishop Jane Alexander, in which I would creatively present “stories of faith,” explore the beginnings of the diocese, and generally celebrate the strength and commitment of Anglicans in this region in honour of the diocesan centennial.  

But being new to Anglicanism and fairly new to Edmonton, I soon encountered several difficulties no one had anticipated and that turned a two or three-year project into a long and arduous process—difficulties like these: the contradiction inherent in celebrating our pioneer days while at the same time lamenting the wrongs done to Indigenous peoples during the settling of the West; the repeated bereavement in my own life (in the first few years of working on the project, two close friends, my sister, and my mother died, and my brother broke his back); the pandemic that closed the doors of research libraries to me; and, Bishop Jane’s resignation just as I finished a complete draft.  

The pages I wrote sat quietly in two binders on a shelf in the bishop’s office until Bishop Steve moved in, discovered them, read the binder full of interview-narratives over the course of his first year as bishop, and found them encouraging. Together, we recently decided to make them available to other curious readers in the diocese by releasing them electronically, one at a time, once a month, by means of a link in the Synod Scene. These first-person narratives were always meant to be the core of the project and have been complete for some time, so there is no reason not to present them now.

The stories are told by people who come from diverse places and have lived importantly different lives, but they are all stories of keeping faith—with family, childhood, heritage, church, God, calling, and insights gained through time and experience. The names of some of the tellers are known to many in the diocese: for instance, Eileen Conway, Jeremy Spurgeon, and the legendary Tom Leadbeater. Others may be known only to their own parishes, like Winnie Rowswell, Doug Gibb, and Ragnhild Whiting. These people all tell stories of formation, of who they are, how they got here, and what they are (or were) doing here. Their stories are not about the Diocese of Edmonton, but the diocese forms a circle around them.

The Method: How the Stories Were Made

Although the interview participants speak for themselves, the reader should be aware that they were all responding to the questions asked by me. Because I wanted to remain free to pursue interesting lines of thought as they emerged in each conversation, I carried only general questions in my mind and tended to ask them differently every time. They were designed (loosely!) to explore early life, upbringing in a faith/church (or not), challenges faced in life and faith, ministry (whether lay or clergy), and thoughts about the church (past, present, and future). Each interview was 90-120 minutes long and digitally recorded. Some of the sessions were private conversations between the participant and me; others were very informal conversations among three or four people.  

After struggling for some time with the question of what to do with the interviews, I decided to edit them into free-standing narratives, and mini autobiographies. To begin, I transcribed the interviews, not preserving every ah and um, or details that I knew I would not use, but preserving most. Then, working from these transcriptions, I kneaded the interview conversations into readable, coherent narratives: I edited myself (and others) out, selected and moved chunks of text around, decided on punctuation, and eliminated frequent marks of spoken discourse while keeping enough of them to preserve the speaker’s characteristic voice on the printed page. This editing was done in the best faith, with a firm commitment to preserving each speaker’s intentions. Except for very occasional—and very small—insertions of transitional words to fill the gaps left by my deleted questions and comments, all the words, thoughts, and anecdotes in the narratives are the speakers’ own. The titles and epigraphs, however, are my inventions.

The stories are necessarily limited in scope. No one can say everything in 90 minutes, especially when being interviewed by a stranger. So, for example, Margaret Stordalsvoll did not talk about her marriage or children because our conversation focused on her early life as a deaconess. Winnie Rowswell did not talk about her life-long love of horses because I did not know enough to ask. The speakers told their stories to a particular person (me) at a particular moment in their lives. Had the interviews occurred at another time or been conducted by another person, the results might have been quite different.  

The centennial has long since come and gone, and, to my regret, some of the people I interviewed have passed away and will never read the stories they so generously shared with me. I remain grateful to them and to all my storytellers for their time and honesty. I have laboured to be accurate and true in representing them, and I deeply apologize for any errors committed in transcribing and editing. I also remain grateful to Bishop Jane for the opportunity she gave me so long ago, to Bishop Steve for initiating the “release” of these stories, and to Margaret Glidden for the work she will do in the coming months to get these stories out to readers. Finally, I must express fervent gratitude to my husband Joe Simons, and my old friend Fred Meissner, far away in Ontario, for reading all the stories and offering insight and encouragement.

Karen Simons holds a PhD in English from the University of Waterloo and taught for several years at the University of Alberta and MacEwan University. She has published in journals like the Queen's Quarterly and Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics. She wrote and, in 2013 with Caroline Howarth, co-produced Things Donne & unDonne for the Diocesan Centennial. She has been a parishioner at All Saints' Cathedral since 2007.