Mother, daughter and friend living, laughing and praying together
Buying a new house is often an exciting experience and can symbolise different things for different people, depending on what stage in life they are at: whether it’s buying a first home, symbolizing independence and freedom; up-sizing to accommodate a growing family, symbolizing hope for the future; or down-sizing after the children have left home, symbolizing a mix of emotions and a fresh start.
For Deborah Rivet, 68, parish administrator at St. John the Baptist, Cobble Hill, the purchase of a new home, just over one year ago, symbolized many things, including family, friendship, faith and fellowship. Deborah bought the house together with her mother, Elsie Kershaw, 91, and her friend, Stephanie Wood, 48, assistant curate at St. John the Divine, Victoria — and for all three women the new home has meant a new lease on life.
Deborah was a widow and retired from her role as incumbent at St. Peter, Quamichan, when she moved in with her parents to help care for her father. After her father died, her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and both were keen for a fresh start. Elsie had been dreaming of living in a waterfront home for years, and now that her husband was gone and she was approaching 90, it felt like the right time. While caring for her father, Deborah had been renting out her house in Cowichan Bay through Airbnb, and Stephanie had made a small investment in the Airbnb business. The cards seemed to fall into place: Deborah suggested that they sell her mother’s home and the Airbnb property, pool their money and buy a house for all three of them to live in together.
Using their combined resources, Deborah, Stephanie, and Elsie were able to buy a beautiful waterfront home in the Arbutus Ridge community for over 50s. The community has a pool, and there are lots of activities to take part in, such as tennis, golf, a choir and a Bible study group. Each member of the household has her own bedroom and bathroom, and Deborah and Stephanie share an office space, and even a desk. There’s also a large open-plan kitchen and dining room. And then there’s that view. When I interviewed Deborah, Stephanie, and Elsie over Zoom, Stephanie told me, “Every morning Elsie stands at the window and says, ‘We are three lucky ladies!’”
Lucky indeed. Not only have they been able to buy a dream home, but their household seems to operate like a well-oiled machine. Deborah takes care of the finances and, as a former caterer, likes to whip up delicious meals every evening. Stephanie, meanwhile, is head housekeeper, as well as a nurse to Elsie — before receiving her calling to the priesthood, Stephanie worked as a nurse practitioner for 21 years, including caring for long-term care home residents. “It feeds the part of me that needs to care for people. Making the beds too, that’s the nurse in me,” says Stephanie.
And Elsie? “She’s the queen, she’s Lady Kershaw,” says Deborah, as all three women descend into laughter.
It is clearly a household that often resounds with their infectious laughter and joy. At one point in our discussion, I ask if there is a particular community of women, whether present day or past, that they find inspiration from or model themselves after. “Yes,” says Deborah, “we’re the Golden Girls, except we pray together and don’t date as much.” More laughter ensues.
The three women pray together every day at 8:30 a.m., before meals and at 9:30 p.m. During Lent, they’ve also been taking part in compline at St. John the Divine every Tuesday evening over Zoom. There are also plenty of theological discussions going on in the household. Deborah is an Education for Ministry (EfM) group mentor, so the readings and preparation she has to do often bring up interesting questions. Their discussions range across many big issues, including medical assistance in dying (MAiD), same-sex marriage, and the role of God in the COVID-19 pandemic. Deborah and Stephanie also often discuss their sermon ideas — Deborah sometimes covers for St. John the Baptist’s incumbent, John Steele, on Sundays, and she has an altar set up in the house.
Deborah envisioned the house as a place where she could support her mother in her mother’s most twilight years, while also being able to do the kind of ministry she couldn’t do if she needed to be out of the house constantly. Before the pandemic, Deborah was able to host a group for widowers that attend St. John the Baptist. “As a widow myself, I can understand what they’re going through,” says Deborah.
Stephanie feels that their faith and their work within the church is key to the harmonious and joyful nature of the household. “I love my role at St John’s and Deb loves hers. We’re doing what we love. ‘The joy of my Lord is my strength,’ that’s what it is. The house is joyful; life is good.”
“Absolutely,” chimes in Elsie.
“We want our home to be a place of welcome and hospitality,” says Stephanie. Deborah agrees, “This is an open and welcome home. With this house, I want do the ministry I want to do and be the daughter I want to be. My mum was a nurse, my dad was a carpenter. They gave me a nice, comfortable middle-class upbringing. I’m grateful to be able to give my mum this life. I’m grateful for the way she participates in the household. She didn’t read for a long time, but now, during our prayer sessions, she’s started reading again. She loves reading the Lord’s Prayer. I’m grateful I haven’t had to put her in care; she wouldn’t have had the length of life she’s had.”
When I ask if there are any downsides to their living arrangements, Deborah jokes, “Every now and then I think it would be nice to have a boyfriend. But then I think, I don’t want to change things! We live co-operatively. I think more women should live like this. We’re a team. There’s no question about what each person’s role is. It’s better than any marriage I’ve ever had!”
Stephanie agrees, “There’s never any tension. We are giving of ourselves to each other. We sacrifice for each other, but it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.”
On that note, and with a hearty welcome to visit them whenever I am in the area and COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, we sign off from our Zoom call. But their infectious laughter, sense of joy, and deep faith stay with me for days to follow. I’m left wondering about a question that has been on a lot of minds throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: what is a church without its buildings? While Deborah, Stephanie and Elsie will be the first to throw open their doors when that is possible, and all three women clearly love their house, it is their unique roles and personalities and their deep sense of faith and justice that make their house a home.