At first glance, there seems to be an error on the sign outside the small white church in this community, located 66 km north of Kamloops. “ST PAUL,” it reads, without the usual period following the “ST.” But it is no error—the sign, though it refers to the saint, is actually a clever acronym: “Serving Together, Parish of Anglicans, United and Lutherans.”
The Church of St Paul, a parish with a Lutheran pastor and a mixed Anglican and United Church congregation, is an ecumenical shared ministry, an arrangement that has become increasingly common across the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI), where small communities are spread out across hundreds of kilometres of rugged, mountainous terrain.
“We were getting smaller and smaller, and it got to the point where we didn’t have a regular minister,” said parishioner Laura-Ann Farquharson, speaking of the old Anglican Church of the Redeemer. “Our core group was 10 or less, and most of them were elderly people, and the upkeep of the building was getting to be a challenge.”
It is a story that many Anglican churches across Canada can relate to, but instead of just turning out the lights and quietly mourning the end of their ministry, Redeemer’s parishioners decided to try something else.
“It was 2009, at Pentecost in May—we decided we would join services [at Barriere United Church] for the summer and see how it went,” Farquharson said. “One Sunday a month we had Anglican services, and the other three were United. We got to the end of the summer and it was such a seamless transition—we were a part of this family—that we just didn’t go back.”
Leslie Stirling, who was a member of Barriere United Church before the creation of St Paul, said that it took about a year more for the memorandum of understanding to be signed by territorial and presbytery leaders and the union formalized in a service. “It was Pentecost of 2010 when we became married,” she joked. “By that time, we were just well established. It just felt so right.”
There were hardly any challenges in bringing the two congregations together, parishioners said, in part because they were already familiar with each other’s traditions.
“Over the years prior, the Anglican and the United churches did worship together,” explained Stirling. “Quite often, one would have a Good Friday service and one would have an Ash Wednesday service, so we would often worship together.”
Like any marriage, the joining together has led to some changes in how the congregations live together.
“Our worship is blended,” the Rev. Brian Krushel, St Paul’s Lutheran pastor, explained. “We don’t do an Anglican Sunday, a Lutheran Sunday and a United Sunday. Sometimes it’s stuff drawn from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Book, sometimes it’s the Book of Alternative Services, sometimes it’s [United Church’s] Celebrate God’s Presence, sometimes it’s Iona, and we blend it all together.”
Mel Schmidt, another St Paul’s parishioner, said that this ability to bring together different traditions speaks to the extent to which all three denominations have changed in the last few decades.
“Back in the late ’60s and ’70s, there was a lot of talk of the Anglican [and] United churches joining, and that was one of the stumbling blocks: ‘Our service is so different from yours—no way we’re going to meet,’ ” he chuckled. “It takes years, but it’s like osmosis—it takes years to finally meld.”
Glenn Andrews, who had been a long-time member of Barriere United Church, agreed. “Oftentimes when people talk about these differences in services—I’ve gone to services in different parts of Canada—there are, in all of them, similarities,” he said, “but nothing is done exactly the same in church to church to church. I think people get hung up on little things.”
While the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches of Canada have been full communion partners since 2001, the dream of bringing Anglican and United churches together is a long-standing one in the B.C. interior.
As early as the 1960s, there were many active shared ministries in the neighbouring diocese of Kelowna, and Anglican and United leadership on the diocesan and presbytery level is used to and supportive of such ventures; for this reason, Krushel had no difficulty becoming licenced to perform baptisms and eucharistic ministry in each of the traditions he serves.
As Stirling put it, “We get along well with the in-laws.”
Indeed, the arrangement is working so well that it is being expanded to become a two-point shared ministry with Clearwater United Church, about 60 km farther north, which will be renamed Trinity Shared Ministry.
“We’ll be the first, probably, in North America—and maybe even the world—where we’ll be two points, three denominations, one minister, one God,” said Krushel, laughing.