By Art Babych, “Crosstalk”
In April of 2011, Bishop John Chapman appointed the Rev. Mark Whittall as the Incumbent at St. Alban’s, Ottawa, but he wasn’t inducted until this fall. The reason for the almost 20-month delay? Mark started without a congregation! Members of St. Alban’s left the historic church when the previous clergy resigned from the Anglican Church of Canada three years earlier to join the breakaway Anglican Network in Canada.
But on Oct. 28, the small church where Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John. A. Macdonald, once worshipped, was filled for the celebration of Mark’s long-delayed induction as Incumbent of St. Alban’s, now described as a “Spirit-Led, Christ-Centred, Contemporary Urban Church.”
“It’s a great night for this parish, it’s a great night for the church,” said Archdeacon Peter Crosby, who presided at the induction. “It is a new beginning because a year ago, this parish of St. Alban’s was renewed and a new congregation was formed,” added Peter. “It is a new beginning because Mark brings particular gifts to our ministry together as we stand in God’s presence.”
In her homily, Mary-Martha Hale, Executive Director of Centre 454 lauded Mark’s gifts and talents as a priest and as the Chair of the Community Ministry Development Committee. As well, “his selection of music to inspire us during the liturgy is one reason why so many of us came back to this church today,” she said. “I suspect that not many induction services begin with a song by U2.”
Mary-Martha said that the new St. Alban’s began as a congregation of one and has grown to over 100 worshippers with more than 60 coming to church each Sunday morning. “Mark has created a space for the welcome of everyone who comes through the door,” she said.
Centre 454, “a spiritually based Community Ministry,” which serves the homeless and others in need, is poised to relocate to the restored basement of St. Alban’s.
Soon after Mark came to St. Alban’s in July 2011, a major construction project was launched to accommodate the return of Centre 454, where it operated from 1976 to 2000.
In his report to Diocesan Synod Oct. 19, Mark said the basement of the church was gutted and rebuilt to suit the needs of Centre 454. But there were surprises along the way. “When we dug down to the bottom of the walls we found out that the church was built not on bedrock, but on cedar planks resting on sand,” he said. Some of the planks survived 146 years, some had not, and that resulted in major masonry work to secure and repair the walls.”
That work has been done, but because the entire basement level will used by Centre 454, the main body of the church needed construction work since it would lose its hall, washroom, offices, kitchen and children’s spaces. Freestanding wood and glass structures have been built in the rear of the church to house an office, washrooms, multipurpose rooms and a kitchenette. As well, about half the pews were removed to create a gathering space and room for more structures. “Every square foot of the nave and chancel has become multifunctional to allow us to use it for parish activities seven days a week and to host community events such as concerts and theatres,” said Mark. “I hope that you will all come to see it for yourselves,” Mark told Synod members, noting that the grand reopening was scheduled for Nov. 18