The Rev. Chris Parsons is witnessing two different responses to recommendations for re-structuring in the diocese of British Columbia. Parsons has been working for more than four years serving two parishes that the B.C. report has now earmarked for dis-establishment. The report recommends their properties be leased or sold. It also recommends that both congregations join a larger community at St. Paul’s, which will also be dis-established and then re-established under a new name as a hub church.
Both are suburban Victoria congregations: one is St. Martin-in-the-Fields; the other is St. Columba, Strawberry Vale. The reactions from the two parishes could not be more different, Parsons says.
Even though the restructuring has been discussed for years, parishioners at St. Columba were still taken by surprise. They had hoped his part-time ministry at their church, which has an average Sunday attendance of 37, would become a full-time position. Parsons described the congregation as a close-knit family-group that would like to continue to worship together even if it means being part of a larger worship community.
On the other hand, the St. Martin congregation, which includes some very elderly parishioners and has an average Sunday attendance of 45, made a very gutsy decision: to dis-establish the parish themselves. “They would rather be handling their own destiny,” said Parsons.
Some of the most elderly parishoners at St. Martin’s went to school on horseback, and now they have great-grandchildren who telecommute. “These people are pretty tough and they’ve seen a lot of change,” said Parsons.
If the report’s recommendations are adopted at the diocesan synod, Parsons’ work will also be changing. But he said, he feels “very faithful. I think that if I really, truly, deep in my heart believe that God can change lives, then God is going to be there too for me and my family as we undergo this process of change. The bishop and colleagues and lay people of other parishes have been incredibly supportive and caring, which gives me the courage to go off into the darkness, thinking what’s going to be my next step?”