image by Courtney Smith
In late November, I sat down with Rev. Liz Richens to discuss the history that led up to the joining of St. Chad’s and St. Andrew’s, and the ways these communities have chosen to commemorate their individual histories while entering a new chapter as one. This interview
has been edited for length and clarity.
RLN: How did St. Chad’s and St. Andrew’s decide to join?
Liz: St. Chad’s approached St. Andrew’s and said, “Would you mind if we joined you?” There was a lot of history behind that, conversations over many years. St. Chad’s had moved buildings a couple of times. They were at Messiah Lutheran and were trying to figure out what the next steps would be, both in terms of finances and buildings and community. From there it was proposed that we meet with the archdeacon and wardens. We did parish exchanges, where we went over to Messiah and worshipped with St. Chad’s and then St. Chad’s came over here as a group and worshiped here.
Once we began talking about the move we started by working on a covenant, which would last for a year. St. Chad’s had a congregational vote, St. Andrew’s had a congregational vote, and as of Advent, we started worshiping together. It was determined that if this goes well, we will become one.
There was discussion of just renting space and having separate services, but St. Chad’s was very clear, they wanted to move in and be a part of St. Andrew’s. Within the covenant discussions, there were ideas for making sure the name of St. Chad wasn’t lost and memorializing St. Chad’s history so that they wouldn’t be erased within this merger, which was very much acceptable. For the 60th anniversary of St. Chad’s, which took place in October, we blessed two wonderful memorials of St. Chad’s: a new stained glass window and a memorial chapel. The St. Chad’s committee also created a lovely commemorative book which ensures the name and history of St. Chad’s will not be forgotten.
RLN: What was the history and relationship between St. Chad’s and St. Andrew’s like before the merger?
Liz: Having been around the diocese for a while, I do remember that there were conversations that took place many years previous, but the parishes weren’t ready at that point. Now that the time is right and so the merger has been relatively smooth all things considered.
We are an interesting combination of communities especially when it comes to worship. St. Andrew’s has always been an East facing BCP Parish, and St. Chad’s has been an innovative and progressive liturgical parish. They have become accustomed to change with being housed in Catholic Church, United Church, and Lutheran church buildings. There’s been an innate sense of flexibility within that context. Putting the two together has been a lot of fun.
RLN: What have some of the more difficult parts of joining congregations been?
Liz: It’s the same as when a newlywed couple has to decide which family to go to for thanksgiving, when they are both used to cooking the turkey. So, merging two ACW’s, two choirs, and two vestries, each of which have their own ways of doing things; and, of course, everyone thinks: “our way is the right way.” There’s inevitably toes that get stepped on, accommodations that need to be made, and misunderstandings that happen, that are all perfectly normal for any merger of communities. It’s been relatively smooth, it’s had all the bumps that are to be expected, but it’s been a much smoother transition than many others I’ve experienced.
RLN: What is something unexpected that you found about the joining?
Liz: We have a lot more mission and ministry that takes place. St. Chad’s has a history of a strong community mission spirit. St. Andrew’s has as well, but in two different ways. We’ve had several projects that have come up that were unexpected, most notably the new Woodhaven Food Bank. We have sort of inherited, or taken on, the food bank from St. Stephen and Bede and that has been a part of the larger community. So we’ve had members from different churches and from the wider community come to volunteer at the foodbank. And that’s been a fantastic thing for everybody involved, but not something St. Andrew’s would have anticipated happening two years ago.
RLN: Tell me a little bit more about the stained glass window and the chapel.
Liz: With St. Chad’s having moved several places over the years, they had to pare down their furnishings. So, by the time they moved here, anything they were planning to bring with them clearly had a lot of meaning. Furnishings like the altar, the cross above the altar, and various memorial items that have been built by congregants. It was clear they had significance, but what do you do with one building and multiple altars? We created a chapel area as a quiet place for reflection which could house some of the memorial items.
In conversations about how to memorialize St. Chad’s name, many discussions came up from renaming the hall, to getting an honourary bathroom put in! One of the members of St. Chad’s suggested a stained glass window. We went through many discussions, trying to figure out what would be represented in that window and how it would it fit into the sacred space. Within that discussion, there was also a very interesting part of history that came to light. As St. Chad’s was putting together the Anniversary Book, we re-discovered that in the 60’s when St Andrew’s was booming, Rev. Whitehouse and
about 20 parishioners began a mission in the community which grew into St. Chad’s.
RLN: It’s almost like the communities have been threaded back together.
Liz: We decided to represent this in the window. Within the window, there is a path that leads to the cross and St. Chad himself is holding St. Andrew’s parish church. St. Chad normally holds the cathedral that he founded, but here he is upholding St. Andrews on this journey. The interconnected history between the parishes has been a lovely thing to discover.
Many people at St. Chad’s have expressed that St. Andrew’s is feeling like home. So, to find out that St. Andrew’s was the home of St. Chad’s [from which it was founded] and how the current congregation feels comfortable and at home here is a lovely kind of serendipitous and spirit led moment.
RLN: Are there other ways you’re commemorating the joining that you would like to speak about?
Liz: The 60th Anniversary service for St. Chad’s was a big deal. The memorial chapel and the window, those are big things. There are also lots of little things that we’ve done to bring the communities together, whether that’s the welcome desk area where you put the bulletins, or the prayer box memorial items built by Ted Wakeman.
When the members of St. Chad’s came to St. Andrew’s the first time, they were greeted from a memorial table from their own parish. A lot of people noticed that immediately. That was something we did intentionally to make St. Chad’s parishioners feel at home. Items used in St. Chad’s liturgy, such as a prayer box and processional cross, were incorporated into our worship together at St. Andrew’s. We are overflowing with liturgical items to help the church and liturgy be familiar. And then a lot of the items in here [the basement of St. Andrew’s] are from St. Chad’s as well, so that this space is a welcoming space.
RLN: What are your hopes for the future of this newly joined community?
Liz: My hope is that we are able to discern where God is calling us into the future. As everybody is well aware, we are in a liminal kind of a time, when we don’t know where we’re going or where God’s calling us to, only that it will be something new. So, the big push right now is to try to follow where the Spirit is leading. So, there’s a lot of discernment and open mindedness and an endeavour to be trusting enough to risk, fail and get up and try again. Because nobody knows where we’re going. So, we will walk that path together, and discern as we go.
Mergers are always difficult. But I would say that at this point in this community, the key has been that both communities have been eager to make sure it works and are trying more than a little to hear each other and to work with each other. To simply listen, and to be willing to sacrifice things that they have held dear, in order to grow this community.
It’s difficult to let go of traditions, and it’s difficult to understand why others do the things that they do, but this new community is certainly trying.
This coming Sunday [Nov 26], St. Chad’s is officially having their vote to disestablish. It’s a very difficult and emotional time. But there’s very little indication that there will be any controversy about the vote to disestablish. Together our parish will hold them in prayer and support them in their grief. It’s hard to let your church go and become something new. They’ve been very brave and that should be honoured.
Then what happens next? Only God knows and we’ll try to keep up.
Rev Liz has been the priest at St. Andrew’s since July 2021. She completed her Master’s of Divinity at Trinity College, University of Toronto in 2008 and served as Deacon Assistant for the college in 2008.