The Anglican Diocese of Caledonia has deconsecrated St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Telkwa.
In a service March 12, the Rt. Rev. David Lehmann, Bishop of Caledonia, officially made the building secular, although it has been owned by the Telkwa Museum Society since 1997 and the last regular Anglican service there was held 12 years before that.
In his official remarks, the bishop acknowledged the passing of an era.
“To many of you this building has been hallowed by cherished memories, and we know that some will suffer a sense of loss,” he said. “We pray that they will be comforted by the knowledge that the presence of God is not tied to any place or building and that Zion Lutheran Congregation will continue to worship here.”
For Lehmann, though, the time had long ago come for the Anglicans to relinquish their ties to the church.
“This is one of the churches we let go over 20 years ago, so for me this is the final step in a process that should have been completed,” he said. “It’s exciting to see that the community [of Telkwa] values having a conversation here and that the Lutherans are here and it’s exciting that we can release our hold on the building and all title so that the museum society can do what they need to do.
“For me, it’s more sweet than bitter that we’re empowering this and people can move forward and take care of some important work to maintain the heritage site.”
Doug Boursema, president of the museum society, said they do not have any specific, imminent plans for the site, but that the deconsecration is an important milestone.
“For us, it’s much better because now we can use the building for any purpose we like,” he said. “Also, it makes it more sense for us to invest lots of money into it, if we have to spend thousands of dollars if we have to repair a roof.”
Prior to the deconsecration, the society had a number of conditions attached to the ownership, which included only certain types of Christian services being allowed and a requirement that if the museum wanted to sell it, they had to give the Anglican Church first option of buying it back at the original selling price.
Lehmann characterized that as unfair and reflected on the importance of the work the museum is doing.
“Within a community, knowing its roots and heritage, I think, is an important part of celebrating community life, so knowing where you come from as a community and the involvement of the Church in times gone by, it’s not every community that wants to preserve that history, especially in this day and age, so to have a community that’s wanting to is quite exciting to see.”
Despite the event Tuesday, and a general trend of declining religious participation based on recent census results, the bishop said he sees an upswing in northwest B.C.
“Congregations are growing and with new clergy coming in, throughout the diocese really,” he said. “We have someone coming into the Bulkley Valley in the next little while, just waiting on final details for move arrangements and then people in the northeast corner of the diocese were able to name their new minister last week and we’re beginning to look at someone for Terrace/Kitimat.
“Congregations are thriving considering all the strains that are on them.”
He attributes the upswing to a higher power.
“Someone asked me [that] the other day, they were lamenting that their social club was decreasing, and I said, ‘yes, but we’ve got God.’ ”