For Venerable Archdeacon Lee Bezanson, Christmas morning is less hectic than one would imagine. It’s a relaxing day with only one service at 10 a.m. But the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church pastor has been working full-trot throughout December culminating in three full services on Christmas Eve.
“I go home and have a massive martini,” Bezanson said joking. By and large Christmas Day is reserved for his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren opening gifts, savouring the traditional turkey and trimmings, and dusting off a Christmas movie while sipping a glass of port.
“But the pillow calls early after a concentrated week of services. I can tell you there aren’t many of us who stay up late on Christmas Day,” he said.
Every family has its own special holiday traditions. The Bezansons celebrate the Christian tradition of 12 Days of Christmas by keeping one gift to open on Jan. 6. It is The Epiphany, the day the Three Magi visited baby Jesus bearing gifts.
Bezanson, who originally hails from Montreal and later Vancouver, has been in the business of spreading the good word and ministering to people of every stripe for 43 years. Although Christmas is at the heart of the Christian message, he gets the biggest buzz from “meeting people where they’re at in life.”
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, Bezanson joined an ecumenical college and was ordained in 1981. Three years later he joined the Canadian Forces as a chaplain and was posted across Canada and deployed overseas in Haiti, Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Eritrea.
“I needed discipline in my life, and I wanted to serve a country that had been good to me. My father served in the infantry in Italy during World War II and my great-grandfather was a corporal in the Halifax 63rd Rifles during the Riel Rebellion. I had a military background, and discipline, service and payback came naturally.”
While some military chaplains preferred sitting at a desk, Bezanson stood shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers in all-weather conditions while dealing with armed conflicts. Ironically, one of the best Christmases he recalls is a deployment to war-torn Bosnia.
“The soldiers were a great group of human beings and we found strength in each other’s company. We shared our thoughts about loved ones at home. Christmas Day happened to be sunny, and we were outside sitting on fold-up chairs smoking cigars. We were only allowed two drinks a day, so we saved it for the evening. It was a quiet day, one of the few.”
As chaplain, his biggest challenge was delivering death notices to soldiers from family in Canada or vice versa.
“In one week before Christmas, I had nine death notifications all from Canada to me, and sure enough the phone calls came at midnight. Usually at Christmas soldiers are on leave and they could have gone anywhere. I had to find them and knock on the door. But when they see a man wearing a collar at midnight, they know the news isn’t good. Sometimes people pass out, and that is why I never did it on the phone.”
A military chaplain’s job is primarily to advise a commanding officer on the well-being of soldiers and their families. Under this broad directive, Bezanson led church services, set up emergency procedures, provided educational talks on various subjects and offered personal counselling.
"The people in the military are some of the finest Canadians that make up our country. There is a camaraderie between people that the passage of time cannot dissolve," said Bezanson who retired with the rank of Major.
Since his arrival at St. Matthews in April 2010, the Santa Claus look-a-like, has continued to serve with discipline, common sense and healthy dose of humour. Through years of experience, he has discovered a way to synchronize the gospel with real life and makes it his legacy to forge welcoming relationships.