Folks at First – Hilary Ryan

An interview with Hilary Ryan

When I met Hilary to talk about this interview, she had three small books of photographs on the table. They were collections of photographs she had taken and had bound into books. I picked up one with photos of the Qu’Appelle Valley. The photographs were stunning.

Hilary, tell me about these photographs.

It’s my form of relaxation. I took some of them very early in the morning. That one of crocuses that you’re looking at was shot directly into the sun, (something one isn’t supposed to do). That’s why you can see the furry-ness of the stalks.

I made a collection of pictures to illustrate Psalm 150, one of my favourite psalms, and gave copies to the pastors. Joel asked me if he could have extra copies to give to the children as they graduated from Sunday School. I was happy to do that. I used photos of the church to illustrate it.

As Bill and I do our daily scripture reading (we have read through the whole bible once a year for the past four years) I note verses that bring an image to my mind and collect the photos and put them together with the verses into photo books. Sometimes I put pictures and scripture on my Face Book page.

Have you spent most of your life in Regina?

I was born in England but grew up here. I spent several years in Saskatoon at medical school. In third year medicine I had the wonderful opportunity to study anaesthesia for two months in Vienna, a city renowned for its medical advancements. My supervisor insisted that I receive a cultural as well as a medical education. He encouraged me to visit museums and churches. I told him I wasn’t a Christian, to which he replied, “So what, I’m Jewish and I go into churches!” Following his advice, I visited some of the grandest churches I’ve ever seen, saw wonderful palaces and visited outstanding museums. I had to report to him what I had seen! In particular there is a museum of pathology. [Ask Hilary if you want to know more.]

I believe it was Carmel Van der Westhuizen who first invited you to this church.

Yes. She, too, was an anaesthetist and I knew her through work. I had become a Christian a few years previously and was looking around for a church where we felt at home. She suggested I visit FBC. I came to FBC because I was invited but stayed because of the music. The people at First Baptist were so loving. George Baxter baptized me and saw me through some difficult periods of my life.

And then you became involved in the choir, and then the AV ministry.

Bill joined the choir a year before I did. He said that if he served in the choir, no-one would ask him to do anything else. Not true! I sat in the balcony one week to listen to the choir practising and John said, “Come and join us.” I protested that I couldn’t sing. He invited me anyway, and I discovered that the reason I couldn’t sing soprano was because I was an alto! I ended up spending a decade as choir librarian, nearly as long as choir chaplain and was president of the choir executive for several years. In 1996 a camera was installed in the balcony so that the choir could see what was going on in the service. Some of them had never seen a baptism. Then I started to make video-tapes, developing the A-V Ministry for some of the shutins. Eva McMillan used to invite people to her apartment in First Baptist Place and gathered half a dozen people together to watch them. Then I started to record weddings and funerals. I get most comments about funerals. I remember Fred Anderson not wanting a video of Betty’s funeral but a year later he watched it. He was too numb at the time, but on the anniversary of her death he was very moved when he heard everything people had said about Betty.

I joined the Worship Arrangements Commission in 1997 and served on and chaired it until 2017. I still look after the sound room and it’s my job to fill the baptistry for baptisms.

When the Karen refugees arrived in 2006 we became hosts to a family of four. I spent many hours reading with “my” boys. It has been gratifying to see them grow up and do well in school. I also devoted Saturday afternoons to “Homework Help” for the teenagers for several years. Some of them have invited me to their weddings. It feels good to have helped them adjust to Canada.

When I took on responsibility here and had my ministry, this became my church, a real Place to Belong.

Tell me more about how you became a Christian.

I was invited to a Full Gospel Business Men’s dinner where the speaker was the Apollo 16 astronaut, Charlie Duke. (I love anything to do with astronauts and space.) Could anything be better — more exciting — than walking on the moon? he wondered aloud. Yes, he said. Walking with the Son of God is better than walking on the moon. In his closing prayer he said that he knew that there were two people in the room who were ready to commit their lives to Christ. He said, “There’s one” and I knew I was the other one. After that, everything changed. It wasn’t a punishment to go to church any more.

Then you became involved in the prayer breakfast . . .

Yes. Bill and I used to attend prayer breakfast at 0700 when George Baxter led it. When he retired he asked us if we would take it over. There’s something very special about praying for people. As well as praying for the church we pray for one another and share our problems. It’s become a “small group.”

Bill and I also lead the Gideon prayer meeting at 0645 on Wednesday mornings. We go to that first at Luther College and then rush over to FBC for the 0800 Prayer Breakfast, our second prayer meeting on Wednesdays.

You’re at the church a lot. Do you think we have a ministry to people downtown?

Indeed we do. It’s not an organized programme, but people come to the church for all sorts of reasons. After we renovated the building in 1990 we learned from a busker who came to Prayer Breakfast that he was very upset with us. He had discovered a window he could open and get in, and he slept in the furnace room at night for years, leaving before anyone arrived in the morning. After the renovations he couldn’t open the window any more. He attended Prayer Breakfast for years. One summer we had three people from the Mental Health Clinic eat and eventually pray with us. They were a different group, to say the least! For a few weeks we had a lady come and just stand at the door to the lower hall. We invited her to eat with us. She said, “The breakfast is better at St. Paul’s, but the prayers are much better here!” We minister to transients regularly. It’s always an individual thing, and always short-lived. They move on.

I believe you and Bill have a bison farm.

When I retired and Bill closed his office we were looking for what we would do for our retirement. We bought the farm that my parents had bought in 1968 and started fixing things up. The house had fallen into disrepair after my Dad died, so there was a lot of work to do. Dean Gilchrist helped us a lot. One of the great things he said was, “It doesn’t matter what we do here, it’s an improvement.” Wayne Wilson helped paint and planted our garden for us one year, and several of our choir mates and other church friends helped out and visited us. We got bison because Bill figured they didn’t need much care. Little did he know we’d spend two years just building a fence to keep them in! I have come to admire these magnificent animals and love photographing them. The meat is excellent and we have loyal customers who love the meat we produce. People come out to see the animals and even attend slaughters, and we enjoy educating them about bison and how they are restoring the land.

Thank you, Hilary. May I buy one of those books from you?

My pleasure, I love sharing my photos with others.


Photo courtesy of Hilary Ryan

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