Michael Shier on church planting, Canadian style

ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL, Vancouver, Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, at last acquires its own building. Deo gratias.

In 1997, pushed, prodded and bullied by the Chancellor of the TAC – Patrick Simmons from South Africa – we resolved to get our own church building within five years. We had not the slightest idea how this could possibly be done.

But late in 1999, at the mercy of circumstances, we found ourselves trawling the Yellow Pages for churches we could rent. As usual the Lutherans were our best bet. When I get to heaven I shall put in a good word for them. Time and again they have stood by us in trouble. This time however we drew a blank. It looked like worship in a basement for us. But this was not to be either. Bert, the People’s Warden, is not a man to put down. Within days he had me touring a $1.6 million Baptist church, snorting with laughter as the real estate agents tried to estimate what we were worth. They suggested that a $600.000 site would soon be available. We didn’t let on that we only had $20.000. But when they mentioned a $300.000 building on the wrong side of the tracks I slyly asked for the address and drove there immediately. It was certainly a sad looking building, but I telephoned two Bishops right away. By the end of the day we were at $110.000. There was also the hint of anonymous donations. I got out our address lists and mailed everyone I could think of , and reported to the church council that we were in the position to make an offer, but that our aim was to avoid a mortgage.

It was quickly evident that like many continuing churches we are far too timid. There are so many people who want us to succeed. Money started flowing in. The principle seems to be: ‘Find a modest building. Then you have something to go for and your donors know you are being serious’ .

We checked the building out with a builder. He was frank. This was not an investment but it would serve our purposes. The church then met on Holy Innocents Day. Powerful advocates on both sides left a trail of emotional debris behind them. The rector ducked and dived, not having realised that Armageddon was so close. Then suddenly, as when the whistle is blown on the football field, it was all over. A resolution was put, that we appoint an independent appraiser. All agreed.

Meanwhile, more money was coming in. Since a lot of it was promised, and some anonymous, the Rector had the unenviable task of trying to convince members that it was real and not fictional. In his naughtier moments he wondered whether the whole church council was descended from Thomas, the Apostle. Then one day, out of the blue, we were home and dry. I had a telephone call. ‘Someone has heard what you are all trying to do, and they want to give the building fund $70.000’.

Worries over? Not a bit of it. Other buyers appeared on the horizon.

Really! We thought we’d found a building so humble that no one else would want it . One buyer turned up at the very last minute pushing the price to the maximum. We were not amused.

However, we got the building – paid for outright, by the end of April 2000. It was exorcised and blessed on Low Sunday. On the Wednesday we sailed to Fr Gale’s Pacific island to receive from him an altar and reredos, sets of communion rails and a huge wooden cross. This was a most generous gift. There is no doubt that this is a Catholic church. Since then we have acquired pews and a good Allen organ. The congregation has transferred with no loss apart from the sadness of our mortality. We lost two fine troupers on the way – Fred Robinson on New Year’s Eve and Hilda Trehearne at Candlemass. Both one time wardens. Both solid as the proverbial rock. Fred played for us from 1986 and his last words to me were ‘You must have your own church’ , and Hilda was a founder member who worked tirelessly until that very Candlemass night when the parish decided to ‘go for it’ . I was with her in hospital as the decisions were made. May they rest in peace.

We are lucky to have such highly motivated people. Gifts have not ceased, and work goes on incessantly. We have now had the benefit of a design consultant to look at the outside and inside of the building. It is slowly being loved into life. We hope to install ionic pillars at the porch and are taking advice on good colours for the outside. Our first ‘;pot luck’ was great fun even though we all felt like sardines. Bishop Wilkinson, another Mirfield man, did the honours. The festival of St. Peter and St. Paul was well attended. The ubiquitous Bishop Robert Crawley celebrated High Mass. The excellent Fr. Stanley Sinclair preached. The singing was superb and the local Italian restaurant fed us. What a joy.

Michael Shier was a priest in the diocese of London, until the Church of England’s decision to ordain women to the priesthood.