Spirit Quest


'Padre of the Laundromats' ..... think of it!

Once upon a time I had aspirations to that title

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

When our first child was born the abundance of diapers and other washing exceeded the capacity of our rather primitive washing machine as well as the energy of my spouse. She had been subjected to hard labour in the dingy basement of the manse, as a pastor’s residence was called. She cranked a hand wringer and schlepped the damp clothes in a basket up the cellar stairs to the back porch and pinned them to the clothesline.

Enough was enough; we decided that we could afford the cost of availing ourselves of the services of a laundromat at the shopping centre.

We took turns going to these facilities, loading the machines, supplying the coins, then sitting and watching the devices to go through their cycles after which we reloaded them into the dryers and sat some more.

Much of the time between loading and folding was spent simply waiting along with others, mostly housewives, although there were some young people, mostly college students, using the facilities.

We did not sit in silence, some read but many were engaged in conversation. I soon discovered that the laundromat was akin to a confessional. I was often the object of an outpouring of hopes, fears, anger and disappointments and a host of other feelings. People brought not only their clothes to be cleaned but also their hopes and fears to be laundered.

As a pastor I had some training not only in preaching but also in listening. As well, I recalled my experiences as chaplain on an ocean liner. This was before cruise ships and the advent of air travel. Yes, I am that old. My job description was not only conducting chapel services but also being available to passengers with problems or those who just wanted to talk.

I discovered that travelling by ship unlike zooming by jet from continent to continent and over oceans and land, took time, days in fact. From Southampton to Halifax took a minimum of five days in good weather, days that seemed like a hiatus in living. 

It was a pause ideal for contemplation. Little practical things could be done en route. People had time on their hands and thoughts on their minds. They wondered about the future, what awaited them at the end of their journey? Many of them were immigrants who were concerned about their new homeland, job possibilities and cost of living. They also contemplated the past, what had happened and what they were leaving behind such as family and homes. Locating myself in a corner of the bar to nurse a drink, I soon developed a clientele who were anxious to verbalize their concerns. I sensed their need for me to listen. Advice was really not an issue, people simply wanted to talk.

In the church that I attend there is a prayer of confession, followed by a time of quiet contemplation of our sins, after which the presider speaks the words of absolution:

“God has forgiven you,

forgive one another...”

and then probably the most difficult and important part:

“Forgive yourself.”

This forgiving of oneself is best facilitated by verbalizing one’s mental burdens. Whether in church, the airport, pub, hospital waiting room or bedside, as also in a laundromat, there are people that search for a listening ear.

I never became padre of the laundromat. The church however developed a ministry called Padre of the Pubs, which turned out to be a very valid ministry and received a good deal of interest. A clergyman roamed the pubs and listened as I did on the ships. Why not the laundromat? Although I never had the title I did do a good deal of listening at the coin wash as elsewhere. 

There is a Spirit that makes us into a community of people, longing to be acknowledged as being of worth. Being heard is one of the ways of bringing that to be. Political candidates take note! But let that Spirit also embolden us to be good listeners.

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