The new Church of the Epiphany, Trinity Bay on the Feast of the Epiphany January 6, 2016
An Epiphany in Trinity Bay
January 8, 2016
I will always remember the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord in 2016. On that that day – January 6, 2016 – I shared in four services of deconsecration in the Parish of Heart’s Delight as four churches that had served the people there for a hundred years and more were formally secularized. I was accompanied by the Rector of the Parish, the Reverend Eli Evans; the Diocesan Executive Officer, the Venerable Samuel Rose; the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Very Reverend Josiah Noel; and a constantly growing company of parishioners and others as we began the afternoon at St. Matthew’s Church in Green’s Harbour. From there we travelled to the Church of St. George the Martyr in Whiteway, and then on to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Cavendish and finally to the Church of St. Matthew in Heart’s Delight-Islington. In each case a member of the congregation led us from the church by carrying out the cross that had adorned the altar there for many years. Following the formal deconsecrations we gathered in the former Epiphany School in Heart’s Delight-Islington for a celebration as the four congregations became one in their new place of worship. We met in the gymnasium as the rest of the school is being remodeled into the new church. I was moved to be led into the gymnasium by members of the four churches we had just come from carrying the altar crosses from each that were then laid in a row on the altar set up in front of the people gathered.
Appropriately enough, the new parish will be called The Parish of the Epiphany in celebration of the day – the Feast of the Epiphany – they all came together and in honour of the former school, their new home. From a Greek word meaning "manifestation" or "showing forth", The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the revealing of Jesus to the Wise Men who had journeyed long and hard to see the new-born Messiah, asking the question, "Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him." Sometimes known as “The Gentiles’ Christmas”, The Epiphany is the time in the Church’s Year when we mark Jesus’ first appearance outside of his Jewish family to the rest of the world, symbolized by the Magi from afar. In a spiritual sense the Feast of the Epiphany is all about discovering the presence of God in the midst of this world.
I used the word “bittersweet” to describe the day’s events and in so many ways it was true for us that afternoon. Yes, there was sadness over the end of one part of their journey as Anglicans along that shore there but also a remarkable sense of hope as they began a new journey forward together. Those same people who had realized in the past few years that they were the “last generation” for their old church buildings had now become the “first generation” in their new church building. In my words that day I acknowledged the great work they had done and commended them for being so forward thinking in finding a new way to be the church in the world. I told them that I believe that the new Church of the Epiphany will become not only the center of Anglican Church life in the area but will also become a center of community life so that the blessing they already are will become a blessing for all. It should not matter where they have come from as much as where they are now going together with God.
When it is completed, the new church, like many new churches today, will contain a worship space that is smaller than the meeting and programing space, inviting people to gather in many creative ways outside of public worship. There is a great deal of work to do now on the building but that is exciting because it provides an opportunity for so many more to get involved in building a new church for their future. “Don’t stand outside and look in! Pick up a hammer or a broom and help! There’s enough work for everyone!” The parish even has an “Adopt-A-Room” program so that individuals or groups can take responsibility for a particular part of the new building. I told them they had ensured the continuation of their church for the future by coming together so that four smaller congregations would not be challenged with the maintenance of buildings but could together care for a single building and have enough people and resources for mission and growth in the wider community. Their important decision to become one also ties into a wider effort to “green” our church today and to lessen our environmental footprint by coming together in fewer buildings. I am reminded of my Eighth Pastoral Letter to the Church of April 2015 (available on our diocesan website under my writings) where I wrote of our church in the future:
“We need to become a church less defined by our buildings and properties and more defined by our ministry, service and discipleship. That will necessitate some hard and painful decisions in the years ahead as we seek better and more effective ways to be the People of God in the world. I predict that 25 years from now we will have fewer church buildings and many of those will be welcoming and modern structures embracing people from multiple communities. They will be designed not just for worship but also for fellowship and feeding, hospitality and teaching, so that the blessing we are is open to the world around us ... We need to reflect upon what the Anglican Church in Newfoundland and Labrador would look like if some of our parishes, congregations and other communities came together in fresh ways for the sake of ministry and not for the sake of maintenance and survival. There is a place here for inspired leadership today. I have heard the argument many times that people will not move from their old and familiar church communities to new ones and that may be true if the new communities offer nothing new. But what happens if fresh and invigorated church communities (and buildings) emerge drawing people into new relationships with each other and with God?”
In my closing words to the people of the new Parish of the Epiphany this week I told them to always remember the day they came together as the “People of the Epiphany” along the shore of Trinity Bay. And like the Wise Men of old who travelled far in search of God in the person of the infant Jesus that first Epiphany in Bethlehem, may they always discover God in their life and in their work in Trinity Bay. Those fine and gentle folks of that great bay have shown us all a vision of the future when people of goodwill come together for the sake of the Gospel and the future of their church, becoming the Body of Christ in a whole new way. In the years ahead may they have many epiphanies, many experiences of suddenly encountering God where they did not expect to find him. And may God continue to richly bless them along the way.