Parish Profile: Stonewall Church of the Ascension

Interview with Walter, Jean, Joyce, and The Rev. James Gomez

 

RLN: Could you tell me about the name of your parish?

Jean: We used to have an Ascension Day service.

Walter: The Bishop would come out and we’d have confirmation that day.

Jean: The church was founded in 1884. My Grandmother was a Good and the Good family actually started All Saints Victoria [in 1877] and Church of the Ascension.

RLN: Who is a part of your parish community?

Walter: It’s a local church, people don’t just come from Stonewall, they also come from the surrounding area. I’m a newcomer, I came here in 79’ [laughs]. If you go through the parish lists there’s a lot of parents, grandparents, and great grandparents.

Jean: We do a lot of community events where people from other denominations come out and we go and support their events too.

Our ACW [Anglican Church Women of Canada] disbanded in 2022 because of covid and because people are getting older. I was heavily involved. We sponsored children from countries all over the world. We used to have two teas and two garage sales per year and that’s been cut down by half. We also held an annual pancake dinner which the parish has taken over since the pandemic.

James: People are very conscious about their faith commitments. We’re going to have to find ways to maintain this, because it’s not  just about the church, it’s the church spilling out into the community, building relationships within the community. We don’t live for ourselves; we live for the community. I think the moment we think only about ourselves as a church we will just die because we will be in self-survival mode.

RLN: Can you tell me about Messy Church?

Joyce: In 2016 our bible study group used to meet every Wednesday night during the last quarter of the year. The bible study group was following the Council of the North study. One of the questions that they asked at the end of one session was “What would you like to see differently in your church?” One answer we had was: “Something that will encourage more children and families to attend.”

The old Rev James [not the current priest] said that he had read about a Messy Church program, he got some information and shared it with a group of us after church.

Messy Church is based on 5 values: Christ centered, all ages, creativity, hospitality, and celebration.

We held information sessions in our parish, established team leaders and volunteers registered. The coordinators met with Carol Fletcher, the coordinator for Messy Church in Canada.

We also attended three Messy Church events at different churches in Winnipeg. The first year the coordinator’s met with the Rev. James to select the themes for the year. The coordinators selected and made the crafts for each theme. Our first Messy Church was held on February 15, 2017. 48 people attended which included 20 volunteers, 18 children, and 10 adults. It continues very strong today, thanks to prayers and our volunteer base made up of parishioners and people out- side of our parish.

RLN: Could you describe what worship looks like?

Walter: [Holding up a copy of The Book of Common Prayer] It’s traditional.

Jean: We’re not using the BCP here anymore, but we do use it at All Saints Victoria because it’s an older church than here. My sister keeps asking “why don’t you use the Book of Alternative Services?” And I ask her “are you going to help me haul all those books out there?”

Walter: I went to a couple of local churches in Cambridge England and let me tell you, we’re more Anglican than they are.

James: The Church of the Ascension is missing almost two generations of people. It’s hard for the congregation who would like to do more but don’t have the same energy. That’s where Messy Church acts like a bridge.

Jean: We don’t have Sunday school anymore. The women are all working now, they’re too busy to come to church on Sunday. In fact, it’s often the grandparents who end up bringing the kids.

Walter: Our music director gets a choir together for Christmas and Easter.

James: Some members can’t come for worship anymore, so we make our services available through zoom and through a radio channel.

Walter: During lockdowns, we’d have tailgate parties. A couple cars would go down to the Heritage Arts Centre to use their car radios to listen to the church service.

James: No one should be left thinking that the church has not been there for them.

RLN: Can you tell me about Parochial Hall?

Jean: Parochial hall was built in 2005. The size of our hall is really good for family functions, when families would get too big for a single home they’d book the hall.

Walter: Our hall serves the town, it’s available to the community. We even have the courtroom set up there sometimes.

RLN: How would you describe your church to a stranger?

Jean: It’s welcoming, there’s always one or two people at the back handing out bulletins. People are usually pretty welcoming when someone new comes in the door. We always have a coffee time after church in the hall.

Walter: We’re not really changing. We’re welcoming, but Stonewall is in an odd spot. Most places have lots of newcomers from all over the world, but Stonewall hasn’t had many people from outside of Canada. We’re not keeping up with the times of the country.

James: We don’t have an influx of population. The demography of Stonewall is primarily white with a small number of Filipino and Métis families.

RLN: What does the future of Stonewall Church of the Ascension look like?

Walter: We are part of a ministerial group from different churches in the town who provide spiritual services to the elderly in the community. So, we go to Rosewood Lodge, Stonewood Place, and we also have people in Lion’s Manor. A lot of our folks there can’t come to church anymore. Coming back to worship, our pianist has been inviting us to newer songs that we are not used to. Sometimes it’s difficult for us because they have actions. This is something new, but it has done well for us.

James: Canada has been talking about multiculturalism for a long time. Coming from India which is an equally – if not more diverse – country, I know we have to be open to receiving people from different parts of the world around us.

When I talk about building the church, I mean building the people not the structure. We have to start talking about what it means to be multicultural: how does it affect our worship, the polity of our congregation? There are so many issues of gender, sexuality, climate change, reconciliation that we don’t talk much about – I’d love to see us start talking about this.

The spirituality of this church is one of good intentions towards the other. People here want to be helpful and hospitable which are good core values for every church. These values will stay because families will be nurtured in them. Hopefully, we are able to come together on these difficult questions, recognize our differences, and come out of it stronger together.

 

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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