The Rev. Rebecca Harris shares her parish’s experience of starting anew in the midst of a global pandemic.
I walked away from our beloved church home for the last time on June 30. That afternoon, I handed the keys to the front door to the new owners, with both excitement and reluctance. It had been a long and very exhausting journey to that moment. For those of you who know little or nothing about Holy Trinity Riverbend, let me start at the beginning.
Our church was built in 1997 by an eager group of committed Chinese Anglicans. They worshipped faithfully there for many years but as their membership began to decline, Bishop Jane (Alexander) decided it would be a lovely idea to integrate an English-speaking congregation with them to keep the church viable and strong. To this end, worship in English began in 2009. Together we shared some wonderful events over the years, each group learning about the other as we shared meals and services.
One of our dreams over the years was to build affordable housing on our property to help end homelessness in Edmonton. We worked hard toward this goal with Right at Home Housing Society and were so close to making it a reality when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Sadly, many things changed then, including that dream.
One of the many difficulties we faced with our church was its location at the end of a dead-end street. For the longest time, even Google maps could not find us! We were not connected to city water or city sewage and our sump pump was always working overtime. Over the years the building suffered a litany of issues, including a lot of water damage due to its physical location.
In the spring of 2020 we discovered black mold in the basement, as well as a number of mechanical and structural issues. Being such a small church, we could not afford the very costly repairs needed to bring our building back to health. So, with heavy hearts, it was determined the best path forward was to sell. The property was listed on October 1.
While all of this was happening, the pandemic was also upon us in full force. We had only recently re-opened our church doors to restricted attendance in August, so we had just two months to worship together in our familiar surroundings before the doors permanently closed after our service, Orange Shirt Day, September 27.
For the next six months we dealt with a steady flow of ‘lookers’ who wanted to view our property. It was a busy time, constantly being on notice to unlock the doors for a showing. Vestry viewed a couple of early offers before a more serious offer came this spring. In the meantime, we had been preparing for this moment by slowly moving what items we could to our own basement for storage.
We also turned one of the rooms in our basement into our new church space and I led, and continue to lead, worship services each Sunday live via Zoom. It has been a lot more work than I expected, as other parish leaders can attest to. There is so much preparation involved in a virtual service. I wasn’t very proficient at it in the first months, but as with anything, I’m learning. The congregation has been very supportive and understanding of our circumstances, thanks be to God.
With a strong offer on the table, and the high probability of a sale, our work really began in earnest this spring. We had to empty the church of everything that had collected over 25 years which was no small task. Fortunately, we found a temporary home for our grand piano with St. Thomas in Sherwood Park, and we donated our beautiful organ to St. David’s. St. Paul’s was able to take a number of items as well.
We were able to donate 130 chairs to FIND, a charitable group that finds new homes for items in good condition. We gave a mountain of dishes and other items to our local Goodwill. Our plants found new homes with some of the parishioners. Many more things found new homes with interested passers-by for which I am grateful.
On the weekend before we handed the keys over, we arranged for everything that could be recycled to be taken to the Eco Centre, including dozens of paint cans, and various chemicals. We were good stewards to the last day.
On June 23, the Very Rev. Alexandra Meek came and deconsecrated the building. I was surprised at how hard it hit me, and the others in attendance. It was overwhelmingly sad to say goodbye to a place that had been with us for every happy event, and sombre occasion. Alex gave each of us a moment to reflect on what the building meant to us and that was very special. Ping and Catherine Fok, original members of the church in 1997, shared a picture with us of the day the church was first consecrated.
Now we will begin looking for a temporary place to worship in hopes that we can gather as a family by September, God willing. We hope to explore schools or seniors residences as possible places to worship. We dream of one day building a new church in south Edmonton, where we can open our doors and hearts to the neighborhood. Until then, God is with us virtually every day. Prayer for Closing Our Church
Photo: Rebecca Harris in her virtual church worship space; blessing students' backpacks at one of the last services in Holy Trinity Riverbend Anglican Church held in September 2020.