In the summer of 2003, then-Free Press editor Nick Hirst invited me to become a Faith Page columnist. Ten years and over 250 columns later, I'm grateful that he did.
It's been a great decade. I've enjoyed the opportunity to regularly reflect on religion in Winnipeg and around the world.
I tell my pastor friends it's like preaching a sermon every two weeks, except my sermons are much shorter, and my "congregation" numbers in the thousands, with people coming from many different faith groups -- or no faith at all.
There have been times when I stared at a computer screen and wondered what on Earth I had to say or who would want to read it. Fortunately, those times were few. The more usual problem has been finding enough room for all the interesting people and things I'd like to write about. To those who have sent me ideas that I haven't been able to follow up on, please accept my apology.
My goal over the last 10 years has been to celebrate and explore the world of religion -- how it positively impacts various aspects of life in Canada and around the world. I've also tried to highlight some of the amazing people who are trying to make this world a better place.
Sometimes the stories aren't positive. Sometimes religion has an adverse effect on people's lives. I've tried to write about that, too.
The best thing about writing the column has been all the great people I've met from so many faith groups. I am honoured to count as friends people from the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Baha'i and Muslim communities, along with Christians of almost every stripe.
It has been humbling to be able to write about so many different faiths and ways of seeing the world. I don't always get it right; it's hard for an outsider to fully understand the beliefs of others. Thanks to all for the gracious way you have corrected me and helped me learn more about your religion.
Every religion writer says the same thing, and it's true: Although we come from different faiths, we have so much in common. We want the best for our families, congregations and the whole community. We believe that faith is important and that it has a role to play in Canada today. And almost all of us have some version of the Golden Rule -- treat others the way you want to be treated.
What would be great is if more of us could find ways to work, serve or socialize together, getting to know each other. In a world where many countries are riven by religious misunderstanding, we can show it is possible for people from different faiths to get along.
I don't get a lot of response to my columns, but when I do, they tend to come from people who disagree with me. Two subjects almost guaranteed to produce letters and emails are Islam and Palestine; writing anything favourable about either topic will generate a response, usually negative. On the upside, the critical emails and letters show someone is reading the column!
Speaking of responses, at a recent symposium about journalism, the editor of the Globe and Mail was asked why there is so little about religion in that newspaper. His response: Readers never ask for more, and articles about religion they do carry receive little in the way of response. The Free Press is committed to continuing the Faith Page, but the editor likes to know if people care, too. In other words, if the Faith Page is important to you, you need to show it.
Overall, the main message I've tried to share is that faith isn't disappearing in Canada or around the world. At the same time, there's no denying that the way people practise their faith is changing, as the decline in attendance at many worship services shows.
Ten years from now, the religious landscape will be different than it is today, just as it was 10 years ago when I started writing this column. If I'm lucky, and my editors agree, maybe I'll still be around to write about what's happening in the world of faith in 2023.