Frontlines

Nearer my God to thee

Katherine Govier February 5 1979
Frontlines

Nearer my God to thee

Katherine Govier February 5 1979

Nearer my God to thee

To your right at the top of the T-bar, folks, for the sixth annual sermon on the mount. A windswept plateau below Strawberry Rock in the shadow of Mount Assiniboine in Banff National Park is the place where Anglican clergyman P.R. (Pat) Judge will stand before his snow altar and a huffing, stamping ski-borne congregation to deliver his customary opening words: “Welcome to the biggest church in the world.”

A spry, casual fellow, 50-year-old Judge is sitting in an armchair in his north Calgary home; there hasn’t been much snow so far this season and he has had little time to get his ski legs in shape. Here on bald Nose Hill, the view of the Rockies is unimpeded, and it is echoed inside in the landscape paintings that Westerners love.

“We were kicking around the idea of building a chapel,” he says, “but we decided to keep it simple. During the sermon people can look up and see the mountains, the outdoors that we say is created by God.” He smiles over the last few words, conceding that it’s an arguable point.

To be held at Easter at the spot above Sunshine Village, the service will be a snappy one with no choir. In fact the only church trapping seen will be a collection plate. Judge has been a selfappointed apostle. He started giving the service for holidayers who couldn’t get to church. “Hotel people needed it,” he says, “and then we expanded into day skiers. It’s a very warm and beautiful experience.” The idea recalls a distinct Alberta tradition in spiritual pitches; where former premier Ernest C. Manning used the airwaves, Judge uses the moguls to get his message across. If the language sounds a bit commercial it may be because the Easter devotions have gone beyond the purely selfless for ’79, and P.R. Judge will be preaching in his new position of director of marketing for Sunshine Village Ski Resort.

Proof that Albertans are made, not born, Judge was one of those Eastern kids who came out summers to work at the Banff Springs Hotel. He fell in love with the Rockies and, after he got his degree in divinity from McGill in 1955,

followed his heart to Alberta which he saw as “the great emerging area r; Canada.”

“I was an Albertan 24 hours after arriving,” he says. He built a new church, St. Andrew’s, on the hill in northwest Calgary and then moved down the slope to become chaplain at the just-opened University of Calgary (“a hole in the ground,” he remembers cheerfully). But the religious field was a depressed one in the early ’60s. “People weren’t traditional parish members so much,” he says. “Church enrolments were declining ... we got down to having guitars in church.” That may have been why he moved over to become PR director of the university in ’65 and then in ’69 to the position of director of fund development, without dropping his holy orders, nonetheless. Last December, after 10 years of asking for money, it was time for a change. Judge had been a volunteer on the ski patrol and did the preaching at Sunshine; when the call to the new job came he didn’t have to think long about turning his hobby into a fulltime job.

The first executive-level PR person ever to be hired by one of the “big three” Western ski areas (Lake Louise, Norquay and Sunshine), Judge steps in as Sunshine embarks on a $15-million expansion plan. It will be his job to attract the new skiers to the Rockies.

Already charter tours carry skiers in from Japan and Eastern Canada and, as Judge points out, with Americans getting $1.25 value for their dollar in Canada, southerners will find God’s works at bargain rates north of the 49th.

The biggest church in the world has had its growing pains. Expansion plans were only approved after skiers out-lobbied a vigorous protest by environmental groups who claim that lift construction and heavy traffic will damage the unique alpine meadows. Summer tourists walking downstream of the village have been confronted with Don’t Drink the Water signs on Sunshine and Healy Creeks. After articles in The Calgary Herald cited observations of floating raw sewage, Sunshine launched a $350,000 libel suit against the paper.

Judge and his wife, Fay, will be selling their Calgary house and moving to beautiful downtown Canmore, just minutes from the park gates. Something he learned as chaplain has stayed with him: nothing helps people under pressure more than recreation and the great outdoors. He’s going where he’s needed. “People don’t feel the need anymore for someone telling them they’re good or bad,” he says. “I haven’t given up my ministry, I’m just exercising it in a different way.” Katherine Govier