This summer, we are pleased to welcome two Cathedral tour guides: Sophia Pacione and Alex LeBlanc. Here is Sophia's story.
Everyone seems to have a different reason for entering the Cathedral as a building, let alone as a church. It is interesting for me, as a tour guide this summer, to see the contrast between the various Cathedral visitors. Some tourists simply come to admire the architecture, snapping a photo or two. Others are drawn to what it means symbolically. All, in my mind, are fascinating.
People have travelled from all over the world to be here, which has truly struck me by surprise. Frankly, it still shocks me. But that’s not to say that tourists are our only visitors—I have a soft spot for the many Frederictonians who stop by, curious to explore a building they’ve gone past dozens, if not hundreds, of times, yet never felt inclined to enter. It’s always a joy.
Now, after a few weeks of working, I’ve become quite comfortable with the job and all its parts. But my first day (which, somewhat ironically, had the most tours) was a bit nerve-wracking. I was still in the process of memorizing the material, so when an Ontarian pair came in and took up the offer for a tour, I was certain it would go poorly. The worries were unwarranted, however; the two were incredibly understanding whenever I’d fumble over words, listening intently to each snippet regardless. I really appreciated that.
Three other tours from that shift have stuck with me, even now. First was a lady from Fredericton. She jokingly agreed to the tour if it would keep me from sitting around all day. She told fascinating stories, and soon we were laughing and chatting easily. Then, after she’d remarked on a church from her childhood, I asked her if she was religious. Her reply was kind, expressing that while she wasn't devout, people tend to develop a different view of the church as they get older—herself included. She liked cathedrals because they were peaceful places, at least most of the time, where one could enjoy their own thoughts without bother. I’m inclined to agree; more than once I’ve found myself lost in a reverie, almost melancholic, when staring at the stain glass. It’s lovely.
That same day, a family of three B. C. tourists came in: a fellow in his twenties, a friend of his, and the first man’s mother. At first, though they had agreed to a tour, none of them seemed particularly interested, especially not the first man. But slowly, they became invested in the Cathedral’s history. "Where is John Medley buried, if this is just a cenotaph? How do you get up to the clock? What was Bishop Medley's wife's name?"—it was questions like these that they’d ask at each stop. Most were even asked by the man who had shown the least enthusiasm initially. It felt rewarding to see them absorb what they had just been told, taking a candid interest in the information. There’s a strong sense of gratification to be had from teaching, which I’d never had the chance to experience before.
Later that afternoon, about an hour and a half before closing, another man came in. He asked politely if there was a place to put his bag, inquiring whether he could look around or not. He seemed relieved when I answered, "Yes", and after it was offered, agreed that a tour would be wonderful. As we made our way around, we talked—a guarantee when giving a tour, I’ve learned—and went on to explain how life had not been going swell for him of late. He didn’t know what to do, or how to fix things, so he had decided to come here to pray; something he said he hadn’t done in years. So, from then on, he sat. Sometimes he was praying, asking a question every once and a while. Sometimes, he was simply sitting. However, throughout the duration of his time in the pew, his demeanor changed. It was as if he’d gotten something off his shoulders, and could stand just a little bit taller. As the time to go came, he wished me well, and I him, and that was that.
Before he’d done so, I had never seen someone pray alone in a church. It seemed to me, as a removed onlooker, that it was a far more personal experience than what I pictured praying to be, a room of people singing and reciting as one. Not to say that one kind of prayer is better than the other—just that this was an aspect of faith I hadn’t considered much before, the individual experience, as opposed to that of the congregation as a whole.
Personally, I’m not religious; however, I do think that everyone should seek the chance to view others practicing their religion, whatever your personal beliefs may be. Many, many groups and individuals have been left hurt by religion, or religious organizations, so I don’t say that to glorify religious faith in the slightest. But to fear the concept enough to avoid learning about it is to shut yourself off to a major part of human nature and history, which I don’t feel helps anyone. Though that’s just how I personally see it, and my experience is admittedly quite limited.
Throughout the summer so far, the biggest thing I’ve come to realize is that you tend to learn more from others than you ultimately teach or show. Not about the information you’re giving them, of course—but from their experiences, views, and stories. To listen is an invaluable tool, especially in a job like this. I look forward to the rest of my time at the Cathedral, and to the wonderful, diverse group of people and perspectives that I hope to meet.
- by Sophia Pacione
Sophia is going into grade 12 at Fredericton High School. She is not sure what her future will bring, but she loves to read, travel, and study art and history.