Uniting people in conversation has been a local reverend’s passion for almost 10 years, and now that he is leaving, the community is coming together to share in a warm farewell.
The Trail United Church invites everyone to join in a pot luck supper to say goodbye to Reverend Keith Simmonds and his family on Thursday at the Warfield Hall, 5:30 p.m.
Simmonds has been ministering to members of Communities in Faith and Pastoral Charge in Rossland, Trail, Beaver Valley, and Salmo since 2004.
He is relocating to Vancouver Island to be closer to aging family members and to minister at Duncan United Church.
“Keith has been very much involved in the four churches and in community outreach,” said Merle Ruckstuhl, 70-year member of the Trail United Church.
“He’s really going to missed not only in our pastoral charge but also in the community.”
Simmonds philosophy is all about community and creating a better world by pulling people together and having conversations about what is important to them.
“I was called into doing something that was bigger than me,” he said.
“I wanted to learn how to make a safe place for the community to come together to talk and work on issues that matter to them.”
He has fond memories of his ministry, but one in particular stands out as his first “teachable moment” in Trail.
Having a work history as cabinet assistant in the NDP government in the 90’s, Simmonds was passionate and focused on social justice, labour unions, and politics when he delivered his first Labour Day homily to the Trail congregation almost a decade ago.
“Things were going well until then,” he said.
“That morning I talked about the Israelites leaving Egypt after years in captivity,” said Simmonds.
“And I said that things don’t seem to be changing much.”
The sermon reflected his thoughts about the city’s turmoil because during this time people were out of work, on strike, and feeling frustrated, he said.
He remembers saying that “working people feel like they are under the thumb of their masters,” and “people are being treated like property by their employers.”
After the sermon, Simmonds had a long-time member of congregation approach him to request a private conversation.
“I thought,’what a thoughtful man,’”explained Simmonds.
“He understood how my history formed my beliefs and passion that was reflected in my sermon.”
However, that was not the case.
Simmonds said the church member was in management at Teck (then on strike) who told him that, for the first time in his life, “he did not feel like a member of the church,” and wanted to tell Simmonds how hurt he felt by his words.
“That was my earliest teaching memory,” said Simmonds.
“I really had to think about how what I say is received by people. And I learned that it is not just about talking, but living my belief that all voices belong around the table and I must always make room for everyone.”
“He is a very thoughtful man and we’ve been good friends since,” he added.
Simmonds has many memories that bring a smile to his face but one of his most pleasant is recurring and involves the church’s “downtown residents dinners.”
The dinners began in 2005, when a group of dedicated volunteers began cooking dinner for at least 100 people on the third Sunday of the month.
“Every meal is excellent, with food that is wholesome and tastes great,” he said.
The company is interesting and the hall is filled with voices raised in conversation and care.
“It is a wonderful event and I attend as often as I can to say grace.”
The recurrent part is that every time Simmonds walks around downtown Trail someone approaches him, eager to say, “what a fine meal you put on last Sunday, Reverend.”
Simmonds said he’s given up on explaining that he has very little to do with the meal preparation, and he is just happy to be part of the community at the Trail church.
“So I just nod and smile and say, ‘Yes it was pretty darned good, wasn’t it?’”
“That is one of my fondest memories,” he chuckled.
As part of the church community, Simmonds has been involved in numerous advocacy and outreach programs, including everything from “Zumba for toddlers,” to growing the food bank and advocating for the homeless.
“The church is stepping in because school districts and cities are stepping back in freely providing public space,” he explained.
“The church will provide the space with a little help to cover the utilities.”
Since 2011, Simmonds has been involved with the Extreme Weather Emergency Shelter, a temporary shelter in the basement of the Trail United Church.
“Keith has been a passionate advocate for the vulnerable citizens in our community,” said Sheila Adcock, shelter coordinator.
“He has been instrumental in not only identifying the needs and building programs, but also changing community perception and building acceptance.”
“I have so much respect for him and wish him well in all his future endeavours.”
The Trail United Church will be run by its council, with a minister from Creston, Nelson, Castlegar or Grand Forks, in attendance for weddings and funerals.