by Bill Mous
“This church building has been a home, a refuge and a place filled with great joy in the midst of countless celebrations,” said Bishop Michael Bird during the final service at St. James Merritton (St Catharines). “It has also been for us a sanctuary in the face of so many difficult and painful moments and tragedies.”
The building was deconsecrated—returned to common use—at a special afternoon service on Sunday, January 22.
Long-time parishioner Sandra Thomson remarked it was “a chance to have one more look, one more chance to be the Crucifer, one more chance to be a part of an awesome place to have worshipped and hopefully, a final chance to see people who were a part of St. James.”
In many ways Sunday’s service was the culmination of a grieving process for the parish. “We spent the last few months after the vestry vote [which approved the parish’s disestablishment] to remain in community and remember,” said the Reverend Pamela Guyatt, St. James’ last rector. “The service on Sunday was about saying goodbye to the place.”
In his homily, the Bishop echoed a sentiment from our funeral liturgy. He noted the first reading from Romans chapter eight, which boldly proclaims that nothing can separate us from the love of God, is often read in the context of a funeral service. He reminded those gathered that they “worship the God who walks with us,” and “offers us the healing, comfort and hope that allows us to carry on.”
The decision by the parish to conclude its ministry in Merritton comes on the heels of a two year discernment process with its 10 neighbouring Anglican congregations in the greater St. Catharines area.
Led by Canon Christyn Perkons, director of congregational support and development, the process sought to revitalize an Anglican presence in the area to better respond to God’s call.
“Things have changed dramatically in the 125 years that this building has stood on this site,” observed Bishop Michael. It was these changes that ultimately led the people of St. James to the realization they could better contribute to the common ministry of the diocese by strengthening their neighbouring parishes. In making this difficult decision, he said, the parish offered “us all a glimpse of what it means to continue to live faithfully.”
“It is staggering to think about all the prayers that have been offered in this church building since 1892,” the Bishop continued, “and all the many acts of ministry that this congregation of St. James has engaged in, to touch the lives of the people who have entered these doors in one form or another.”
When asked about the parish’s legacy, Pamela Guyatt said that it “cannot be measured, because there is no way to hear all the stories.”
The last regular worship service at St. James Merritton occurred at the end of 2016, on New Year’s Eve, the same day as the parish was formally disestablished.
Since that time neighbouring parishes “have been extremely welcoming and have bent over backwards to help,” observed Sandra Thomson.
Pamela is providing ongoing pastoral support through her new role as transition pastor at the Church of the Transfiguration where most former St. James parishioners have moved. In addition, she will also be developing new programs to sustain and enhance the ministry already happening at Transfiguration to better serve southern St. Catharines.
No decisions have been made about the future of the property now that it has been returned to common use. This decision will be made by the Synod Council of Niagara Diocese.
The Reverend Bill Mous is Director of Justice, Community and Global Ministries and Communications Coordinator for Niagara Diocese.