Submitted to the Castlegar News by Judy Smith
It is wonderful to see the newly-renovated Castle Theatre being used for live performances. Many of us recall the “good old days” of fantastic concerts that hit the stage, featuring artists such as Ferron, The Pied Pumpkin, and a plethora of music festivals. Thanks to the work of the present owners of the Castle Theatre, to local theatre groups and to the United Church coffee house venue, maybe Castlegar will again become the Kootenay centre for entertainment.
The coffee houses sponsored by Greg Powell, the new pastor at the United Church, have been well-received at the Castle Theatre, but this is not the first time that the United Church has sponsored a coffee house in Castlegar.
In the summer of 1968, Barry Morris, then a theology intern, landed in Castlegar to fill in for the existing United Church Minister for the summer holidays. Barry, a native of Vancouver, was attending the Chicago Theological Seminary, where he was influenced by Saul Alinsky, an American activist and founder of community organizing.
Shortly after arriving in Castlegar, Barry noticed that the major activity of the young people was to hang out at the Hi Lite Café. Could they be offered another alternative?
Roger Cristofoli recalls the day that Barry entered the café. “He simply sat down with us and started talking. ‘What are you doing with your life? What do you need? How can we create something together?’”
In consultation with youth groups from both the United and Catholic churches, Barry helped to organize a coffee house in the basement of the United Church, then located near the post office downtown. Every evening, 25 to 60 people met to play music, watch films, listen to speeches and live performances, and talk. Topics for discussion ranged from a suicide in their community to the civil rights movement in Chicago to the newly-discovered music of Leonard Cohen. In the days before computers and printers, the group manually published their own newsletter, The Establishment. Vicki Obedkoff fondly recalls using “…the old gestetner as we covered ourselves in ink getting out our crucial news!” The group also painted the entire outside of the church, with help from the local trapper, Jim Salekin.
Rev. Barry Morris finished his degree in theology and, following stints in Toronto and Winnipeg, returned to East Vancouver as pastor at First United Church and later at the Longhouse Council of Native Ministry. He is fondly remembered by many of the youth of ’68 in Castlegar, some of whose lives might have taken an entirely different twist had it not been for Barry’s insightful intervention.
Rev. Greg Powell has a similar vision for the coffee house. Originally from Toronto, Greg arrived in September as an Intern and has subsequently replaced the long-standing United Church pastor, Rev. Ann Pollock. Greg and his partner, parents of a small child, bring a breath of fresh, youthful air to the Castlegar scene.
Times have changed since young people hung out at the Hi Lite Cafe. Now, Greg says, he would be happy to see people hanging out anywhere rather than staying home, pasted to their computers. While technology has allowed us the opportunity to “speak” to people all over the world, we have become isolated from our own community. “How can we get more people involved in community events?”
“The world is too much with us,” complained William Wordsworth over 200 years ago. Certainly, worldly concerns have increasingly weighed heavily on our lives. Faced with an out-of-control economy, unemployment and environmental collapse, many of us have become despondent and cynical. According to a recent poll, a whopping 60 per cent of Canadians no longer trust governments to solve these massive problems. This is especially true of the younger generation. In the last election, only 38 percent of people below age 30 bothered to vote, as compared to 60 percent of the broader population.
In Greg’s opinion, we need to do something — anything — to take back our personal power: “Something to do that’s not harmful to our bodies.”
“How can we bring people together in a way that is not necessarily connected to the church?” he questions. You do what you know how to do. In high school and in university, Greg was adept at organizing coffee houses. He feels it important to “feature local artists without putting the onus on them to organize.” When he saw that the Castle Theatre was being revitalized, he thought that a coffee house venue might be one small step in the right direction.
The first coffee house in March was held to a full house. There will be another one at the Castle Theatre on Friday, April 10 and again on May 8, beginning at 7 p.m.. Admission is by donation to help pay for expenses. Refreshments will be available. If you would like to play music, read poetry or tell a story there is a form to complete on the United Church’s website www.CastlegarUnited.ca, but I’m sure if you decide to participate at the last moment, space will be found for you. A sound system is available for use.