We are a multigenerational, social justice-oriented community of joyful, imperfect people who welcome absolutely everybody with hospitality, openness and acceptance.

“The Fisherman’s Saint”, a “rectorial address”



Last weekend I stopped by Black Swan Books on Piedmont Avenue, where I picked up a slim volume called The Fisherman’s Saint by Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Before purchasing the book I knew nothing of the author and not much about fishing; I know more about saints than do most Presbyterians, but that’s not why I bought the book. The book itself is the transcript of a speech—a so-called “rectorial address”— that the author delivered at Saint Andrews University in Scotland in 1930; I purchased the book because it matches a similar book I have by J. M. Barrie, who delivered a rectorial address to Saint Andrews University in 1922.

When I sat down to read The Fisherman’s Saint I was (so to speak) hooked. The author, Sir Grenfell, was a medical missionary to fishing communities in Labrador and Newfoundland, where, in addition to his work as a physician, he engaged in social justice efforts on behalf of the marginalized communities with whom he lived. He also spent a lot of time seeking to understand scientific and technological advancement, despite the fact that he lived a long way from the centers of invention and scientific inquiry.

In The Fisherman’s Saint Grenfell recounts an experience of watching an early television, for example, and an expression of joy at the very recent discovery of Pluto. In writing about his excitement over these (and other) scientific wonders, the author was eloquent in describing how scientific advancement helped strengthen and sustain his faith, even if some scientists felt hostility toward religion. The book was, for me, a perfect read for a rainy weekend.

I love old books because they are filled with beauty and wisdom and unexpected joy, all of which make books a lot like people. People can be amazing repositories of great insight and observations and stories and wisdom and knowledge. Sometimes all that goodness abides behind broken bindings and worm-eaten covers, but still, for the most part, people are worth listing to, which is why I enjoy our tradition of story-telling here at Montclair Presbyterian Church. You are intentional about talking to and listening to one another’s stories.

Next week we will be observing the great feast of Thanksgiving, during which time it will be common for folks to sit around tables with people—some close family, others complete strangers. The talk over turkey may at times be difficult, but my prayer is that you will treat each person at the table like a book. Take time to “read”, to listen, to learn. You may be surprised what you discover.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered a copy Rudyard Kipling’s 1923 St. Andrews rectorial address from a used bookstore in Maryland. I hope I like it as much as I liked the rectorial address written by a man about whom I knew nothing before I started to read.

God’s Peace,