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Road 90

June 26, 2019

“Clergy supply” is something that I have found myself doing quite frequently in recent years.  The task is comparable to that of a “substitute teacher” in the school system: that is, the regular priest or pastor of a congregation is unable to be present, so I get a request to go in for a single Sunday – or, at most, a short term – to fill in: “supplying” priestly or preaching services, as it were.

I get such calls from Lutheran churches, as well as Anglican – and I have even preached, now and again, at a “non-denominational” congregation known as “The Church of The Way.”  I’m happy to do this, and the people in these various churches seem to appreciate how I go about it.  Heather usually comes with me, and is a well-liked and delightful complement to this ministry.

There is a pair of Lutheran churches about a hundred kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, to which I have gone several times over the past few years 1 – while they were seeking a new pastor, and, more recently, to preside and preach when their current pastor could not be present.

Such was the case on May 19, this spring.  Heather and I rose early, and drove the sixty-seven kilometres to St. Paul’s Lutheran church, Green Bay, where I led worship at their 9:15 AM service, then drove a further forty kilometres north, to the village of Thalberg, where I presided and preached at Trinity Lutheran church.

Following this second service, one of the men came up to us with a pair of complimentary tickets.  We were invited to a forthcoming “Hoedown” – an annual evening of food and fun and music, put on by the church, and attended by all sorts of people from the surrounding area.  The date of this event, June 22, was also the date of two other events that I thought I should attend, so I thanked him, and said that I’d have to make a decision about where I should go, but I truly appreciated the invitation.  “We’d love it if you and Heather could be there,” he said, “but we’ll fully understand if you can’t make it.”

May turned into June, and as the day of the “Hoedown” approached, we decided that this would be where we would go.  I sent an email to the organizers, to say that we would be there.  I didn’t have to ask for directions to the venue; the location was written on the tickets.  A community centre, on a numbered road, “one mile east of Highway 12.”

I know the region well.  I regularly drive Highway 12, to go from St. Paul’s to Trinity Church.  It’s mostly farming country: fields adjacent to the highway are ploughed in spring, and heavy with crop in the fall, and farm houses can be seen on the various gravel roads that intersect the highway.

Those gravel roads are all one mile apart – both the east-west roads and the north-south ones – such that a grid is created, of blocks of land, each being one square mile in area.  Obviously this was all surveyed and done, long before Canada chose to switch to metric measure, and the local people quite contentedly continue to speak in terms of “miles” rather than kilometres.

The gravel roads are also numbered.  As I drive along Highway 12, I see 88N, 89N, 90N and so on.  Now that I’ve studied the map carefully, I find that this represents eighty-eight, eighty-nine, and ninety miles north of the U.S. border.  The other roads that form the grid are similarly numbered – and, as far as I can determine, they represent miles East of the Red River.  Around the Green Bay and Thalberg churches those roads are 43E, 44E, and up.

June 22 came, and in late afternoon we got into the car, and pointed it towards the Thalberg district.  Much of the drive would be on Highway 59, which runs at an angle, north and east.  The route I would normally use to get there would be to turn off Highway 59 at Highway 317, head east, then turn north on Highway 12, until we get to Road 90.  Then it would be “one mile east,” and we’d be there!

But I planned a shortcut.  Since Highway 59 runs northeast, why not stay on 59 until we get to Road 90, then go straight east from there?  Save both time, and distance!  Brilliant, huh?

Except that I didn’t think of – and certainly didn’t allow for – the Brokenhead River.  It cuts through that chequerboard of gravel roads, and none of them have bridges across it.

Following my “brilliant” plan, we drove on Highway 59, passed the well-paved Highway 317, and shortly began looking for Road 90.  And found that it wasn’t there.  A couple of miles northeast there was a road that appeared to go where we wanted, but when we took it, the gravel turned into mud, there was little sign of use, and it didn’t head straight east at all!  We stopped a farmer, who was coming the other way in his truck, and he said we would get through to Highway 12 alright, by marking the square miles of the grid, further and further south and east (see map).  So we did that – and it was with huge relief that we came out on to Highway 12 – just metres north of the intersection with 317, where we would have been, some 40 minutes earlier, had we taken the normal route!

I turned north, and a few miles later we saw the sign for Road 90N.  Great!  One mile east, and we’ll be there!

Except, when we went the mile, and got to the intersection with Road 43E, there was nothing there!!  No community hall, no farmhouse, no signage.  Nothing.

“I’m sure the ticket says ‘Road 90N, one mile east of Highway 12!” I said.  Whereupon Heather said, “Let me see the ticket.” I handed it to her – the car was now approaching the second mile east of Highway 12, where Road 44E ran north and south.

“What do you mean, looking for the community hall on Road 90!?” said Heather in irritated astonishment.  “The tickets say, ‘Road Ninety-THREE!’”


I don’t know how I got it into my head that the place was on Road 90, other than, for most of my life, I’ve had a mild problem with numbers.  I don’t see or register them in my brain very well.  True, I know my phone number, and my address – and can do simple addition and subtraction in my head – but I will often see a number and moments later it has flown away – gone, impossible to recall.  In this case, I got the “ninety” part, but somehow didn’t register that the place was on Road Ninety-three.

Well, it was simple enough to get from where we had stopped, to the proper location.  Straight up Road 44E, three miles north to Road 93N, turn left, then go one mile back to the intersection of Road 43E and 93N.  And, once we had done that, lo and behold! there was the community hall, surrounded by cars.  We were at the “Hoedown.”  Late.

We were warmly received, nonetheless, and were soon visiting, then feasting.  It was a delightful occasion.

We didn’t stay until the very end, however, because the next morning I was to be presiding and preaching at Holy Trinity Anglican church in downtown Winnipeg.  I needed to be home – to get a good night’s sleep, and be sure that all was in readiness.

Sunday, June 23, I was up early, anxious to make sure that my sermon, and my worship leader’s booklet, were ready and in good order.

We are no longer talking about a fun-filled social event in a rural area.  Holy Trinity is a large, stone church, right in the heart of Winnipeg.  Indeed it sits opposite the MTS Centre – home of the Winnipeg Jets NHL hockey team.  While the congregation has been bigger in former days, the church still draws as many as a hundred worshippers on a June Sunday, and I wanted to be well prepared.

About that worship leader’s booklet: I got the idea from a friend of mine – the Rev’d John Bradley of the Diocese of Montreal, a senior citizen like me, and my very good friend since 1959.  When John presides at worship, he thinks through every detail of the liturgy, and makes a booklet.  It contains all the Bible readings, special prayers, and hymn numbers.  With it, John doesn’t have to fumble with papers or prayerbooks or bulletins – it’s all there in one place.

So, when I’m to go to a church and lead worship, where details of the service are unfamiliar to me, I make myself a booklet!  Holy Trinity’s church administrator had sent me everything I needed to know – prayer requests, scripture selections, and hymns – so I created the booklet, and on the Sunday morning, checked everything against the administrator’s email, and satisfied myself that all was in order.

In due course, Heather and I set out for Holy Trinity.  Heather went and sat in one of the pews, near the front, on the centre aisle – where she likes to be – and I got robed, chatting all the while with the churchwardens and with “Fitz,” the octogenarian Honorary Assistant priest of the parish, who would be able to whisper to me if I got some part of the liturgy out of order.

The service, and the sermon went very well.  At the end, after some notices given by a churchwarden, I announced the page number of the closing hymn.  The people had a specially-prepared booklet in their hands, containing the words of all the hymns to be used this summer.  I said, “We will now sing ‘Your Hands, O Lord, in Days of Old’ on page 54 of your booklet.”

The organist began to play, but as I turned to page 54, I couldn’t find “Your Hand, O Lord...” or anything that went with the tune that was being played.  Neither could many of the people.  Some were clearly singing along with the organ, while others were mumbling, and looking perplexed.

I looked quizzically at Fitz, my elderly colleague.  He whispered, “The hymn is on page 58, not page 54!”


I walked over to the organist – fortunately the organ console was near where I stood – and asked him to stop for a second.

“My mistake!” I bellowed, “In my worship notes, I accidentally printed ‘page 54.’  We should be singing from page 58!”

“Should we go back to verse one?” whispered the organist.

“Nah,” I replied in an equal whisper.  “Some of them were already on the correct page, and have sung verse one.”

Then I spoke loudly, “We’ll begin with verse two!”

The music began once more, and everyone sang cheerfully and in full volume.

The exit procession began.  I walked behind the crucifer, beside Fitz.

As I passed Heather, she gave me a knowing look, and said, “Road 90, huh?”

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map of the Road (0 journey)
Map of the Search for Road 90N – the ‘brilliant’ shortcut!
The blue line indicates the route we took along the Brokenhead River


1  See my entry for April 26, 2016
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