Have you been to the Centre? It’s a house. Yes, CCS is a national theological school that educates students from all across Canada, but essentially it’s just an unassuming two-story house in downtown Winnipeg. (Or at least it has been since CCS moved to Winnipeg from Toronto.)
Within the house, the K.P. Room is our kitchen and our lunch room. And our meeting room. And we have gatherings there, like Cookies & Carols or Second Fridays. And sometimes we have learning circles there. In a lot of ways, the K.P. Room is the heart of CCS.
When I started working at CCS I thought it was weird that we had a K.P. Room. When I think of “K.P.” I think of something from Beetle Bailey or M*A*S*H. I had images of some poor soldier tasked with peeling a mountain of potatoes.
It didn’t take long to learn that the K.P. Room is named for someone. K.P. is Kay Pearson.
Kay was the receptionist and building administrator at the Centre for Christian Studies when it was located in Toronto, with oversight of the residence, repairs, etc. But she was more than that. The plaque by the door to the K.P. Room at CCS says the room was named in recognition of Kay’s “enduring ministry of welcome, compassion, and hospitality.”
CCS Program Staff member Ann Naylor remembers Kay from when she was a student in Toronto in the fall of 1977. In the midst of the busy, and sometimes chaotic, life inside the front door of the CCS building on Charles St. W. in Toronto, Kay found a way to offer time to whoever needed it most in any given moment.
Ann remembers Kay as a multitasker extraordinaire.
“Kay juggled numerous phone lines, requests to book meeting space, urgent pleas to move someone’s car that was blocking the driveway for someone who had to be somewhere five minutes ago, requests for information about where to get lunch in the neighborhood, how to get somewhere, what to do with the sheets when leaving a residence room, what time a particular staff person might return to the building, how to leave a message for someone who was attending a meeting…”
Most of Kay’s job happened in front of her desk, and was characterized by welcome, hospitality, kindness, generosity, and respect.
And then there was the world behind Kay’s desk — a narrow space between the back of her desk and the wall, just big enough for a student or two to fit comfortably, leaning against the wall or sitting on the floor.
“The space behind Kay’s desk was sanctuary for students,” says Ann, “with minds overwhelmed by everything we were learning and all of the expectations to be met, with hearts overflowing with emotion from the myriad of ways in which we were being stretched, feeling pulled in many directions, needing someone to listen , to offer a nod of understanding, a word of encouragement, reassurance, hope… Kay offered a listening ear, an abundance of compassion, a deep well of kindness.”
“No matter what was happening in the world in front of Kay’s desk, no matter how many disruptions required by her job, in the outpouring of my emotion I always felt like I had Kay’s undivided attention, like I was the centre of her universe in that moment. I also had a clear sense that it didn’t end in that moment, that her attention stayed with me. Kay made it evident that she ‘kept these things and pondered them in her heart.'”
Lori Stewart remembers Kay going after a woman who had stayed overnight as a paying guest in the residence. The woman had left the building in great distress, so Kay followed her through the streets of Toronto until she caught up to her and took her for coffee to calm her down.
After Kay left CCS employment, the “space behind her desk” took the form of cards and letters, written with love in her distinctive and beautiful handwriting.
It seems fitting that the room at CCS that most represents welcome and hospitality should be named after a woman who has often been described as the “heart of the Centre.”
Kay is currently living in a palliative care facility in Huntville, ON and has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour.* Kay’s sister Barb lives nearby and visits her every day. She says that Kay’s short term memory is faulty but she can reminisce in detail about people she knew and loved through her work at the Centre for Christian Studies in Toronto, as well as many other friends who have been an important part of her life.
The many people she has touched are also thinking about her and holding her in their hearts.
UPDATE: * We’re sorry to announce that Kay died this morning, Tuesday, December 29th, 2015. She will be missed.