Christmas with the Lutherans

Published December 1, 2009

WHY WOULD A bunch of Anglicans sit around a church hall and sing lustily in German? Could it possibly be the lively German music, both sacred and secular, accompanied by accordion and guitar? Could it be the traditional German festive baking, loaded with almonds and ginger, butter and sugar? Well, as wonderful and as tempting as both may be, the real reasons go much deeper.

The Anglicans are members of Trinity Church in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island and they are part of a joint Anglican and Lutheran parish. We are one congregation worshipping together using both Lutheran and Anglican rites, depending on which Sunday it is.

We don’t just share the building, we share everything, including the songs sung in German and the divine German baked goods. That is the way things are done here.

Today is St. Nicholas Day (December 6) and the German Lutheran tradition is to observe this day as Weinachts Singen, a time for singing seasonal songs such as “Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum” (“Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree”) and carols such as “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”). It is also a time for feasting. Trinity Anglican/Lutheran is the only Evangelical Lutheran congregation on Vancouver Island that still celebrates Weinachts Singen and people who speak German (some Lutheran, some not) come from miles around on this day. As this is a family celebration, they are joined by Trinity’s non-German speaking Anglicans.

Nobody minds that the Lutherans bring all the baking. (If you have ever enjoyed German baked dainties, you will understand.) Everyone shares in the music, and we Anglicans have become quite adept at singing in German, even if we don’t understand all the words! David Cox, the accordion player, is one of the English-speaking Anglicans.

So how did this mixed heritage/mixed denomination congregation establish such a harmonious union? A little over nine years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Port Alberni (then called Christ the King) found it could no longer support a full-time pastor. The nearby Anglican congregation (then called St. Alban) was approached about the possibility of moving in and sharing resources. The rector of the day, Rev. Michael McGee, and the congregation welcomed the Lutherans with open arms. All this took place before the agreement between the national bodies of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada.

Later the same year, Rev. McGee moved on and St. Alban/Christ the King and a search committee of Anglicans and Lutherans chose me and my wife, Dianne Tomalin, who is also a priest, as the new pastors. We were licensed by both the Anglican and the Lutheran bishops and inducted by the Anglican bishop and the Lutheran dean.

It took a lot of work and goodwill on both sides but within three years, the two congregations -with all their differences-truly became one. Meanwhile, the other Anglican congregation in town, All Saints, was failing and asked us, “Can we join you, too?”

It was decided that we would approach the merger as three equal partners and would seek to honour the traditions of each group. The bishops suggested the new entity take a new name. The most popular choice was Trinity, and the Anglican and Lutheran bishops readily agreed.

Now, everyone belongs to Trinity Church. The designations Lutheran and Anglican are seldom used. Membership on the parish council is open to any member. Dianne and I have now retired, but the new rector, Rev. George Pell, has experience with joint congregations.

So this is how we Anglicans find ourselves sitting  around in the church hall on St. Nicholas Day, singing German carols, eating German baked goodies, and sharing Weinachts Singen with the Lutheran side of the family. Diversity and goodwill have enriched us all.

Rev. Patrick Tomalin
and the Ven. Dianne Tomalin served at Trinity Church in Port Alberni, B.C.for six-and-a-half years.


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