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Saturday, December 26, 2015

With Profound and Fond Regrets

Celebrants at St. Matthias together in the church chancel for the Reverend Canon John Wilker-Blakley's homily on Christmas Day.
Celebrants at St. Matthias cozied together in the church chancel for the Reverend Canon John Wilker-Blakley’s homily on Christmas Day

 With Profound and Fond Regrets

"There's an aging infrastructure here that needs work. You can hear the gurgling in the heating system that needs attention, and there's water seepage in the basement that needs attention. We're not handicapped-accessible, and that needs attention."
"We could fix all of that, or we could choose to worship with our brothers and sisters down the street, and instead put that money into ministry."
"For a parish that was looking at the end of its own existence, to take that on because we believed it was the right thing to do, in spite of our troubles, is a strong testament to the courage and faith that lives in this community."
"The one that causes real heartache is in some way we may be betraying our forebears [by leaving]. How can we let it go? But the answer is simply, they would have done the same."
Reverend Canon John Wilker-Blakley, St.Matthias Anglican Church
Three of the church buildings that the congregation of St. Matthias has called home throughout the years. Due to declining numbers, the congregation will merge with a Westboro parish in the new year.
Three of the church buildings that the congregation of St. Matthias has called home throughout the years. Due to declining numbers, the congregation will merge with a Westboro parish in the new year. (St. Matthias Anglican Parish)

"It takes me 20 minutes to walk here from home, 25 minutes to walk to All Saints Westboro, and 30 minutes to walk to the cathedral. So that tells you how over-churched we are  [in the community]."
"I mean, I have three churches -- three Anglican churches -- within a half-hour's walk."
Sylvia Shortliffe, area resident, Parkdale, Ottawa

"...We were married here, so we return on special occasions [though the family lives in another parish]. "
"It's sad to see it close. It's a beautiful building, and the wonderful people here have always been welcoming."
Todd Overtveld, Orleans
st matthias anglican church closing
St. Matthias Anglican Church will be closing in the new year as the congregation merges with another church in Westboro. (Google Street View)

The church has been operating for some time at a deficit. Despite which the decision could have been made to allow it to continue for another five or even ten years. Instead, the decision was taken that its ministry operations were more vital to the spirit of the faith. And so, the the church is set to close and instead funding will be diverted to supporting food programs, lunch clubs, refugee sponsorships, shelters and other similar enterprises reflecting Church values.

St. Matthias Anglican Church on Parkdale Avenue is lamentably but willingly prepared to shutter its doors. Because of steeply declining attendance it has been decided that its final service is to take place on February 7. On March 2nd, the building is scheduled for deconsecration. St. Matthias's members have been cordially invited to attend services at All Saints Anglican church on Richmond Road, a veritable stone's throw away.

The church is large, built to accommodate at least six hundred congregants. St. Matthias has been the spiritual home of area residents for the past 127 years. So it will be with sorrow that it is destined to disappear from the area. The future of the site on which it stands is unknown, but the area Anglican diocese will make the determination of what will replace it. Whether it can be turned to use as an arts and community centre, or destroying the building and erecting in its stead, a residence for seniors.

It is a painful issue that has bemused and troubled other congregations elsewhere in the near past, and one which will continue to raise the attention of those who lament the passage of time and a dwindling church attendance from among the larger population.  On Friday, parishioner attendance was so sparse that people took their seats in the chancel, where the choir is accustomed to being accommodated; a mere few dozen of the faithful.

Christmas Eve service brought out a tad over two hundred people. An additional 80 arrived for an earlier service on Thursday. The 8:00 p.m. service was attended by a larger group than the Reverend Canon John Wilker-Blakley has greeted in two years. There is little doubt that regret and wistful memories brought out a few more congregants than had bothered attending in the last decade. Attendance tends to average around 75, noted the pastor.

The last song whose melody floated throughout St. Matthias in its final Christmas Day service happened to be Joy to the World. And that is how the congregants preferred to look on the decision that has stirred their memories of earlier times of familial church attendance during this one signal time of the year.

Bryan Bondy preaches to about two dozen parishioners at St. Matthias' Anglican church on Parkdale Ave. Friday's was the final Christmas Day service at the church, which is slated to be closed in the new year. Bruce Deachman / Ottawa Citizen

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