A new future for St. Stephen, Maple was officially launched on Oct. 30, as Bishop Peter Fenty consecrated and rededicated the building where a new Anglican community is taking root.
“It was a wonderful celebration of new ministry. We had about 70 people out, which is about as many as we can seat comfortably,” says the Rev. Jeff Potter, who is leading the new congregation. Coincidentally, the service was held nearly 175 years to the day after the original St. Stephen’s was consecrated on a different site on Oct. 31, 1841.
The current building was closed and deconsecrated in 2008, but the diocese decided not to sell it, recognizing the future potential of the area. Now, with housing developments popping up and young families moving in, the historic church is once again taking its place at the centre of the village.
Ordained a priest on Nov. 20, Mr. Potter and his wife Becky have been in Maple since February, planting the seeds of a new community. “We’ve been trying to meet young families especially, and people who live nearby, neighbours, business owners,” he says.
In that time, they have gathered a core group of about 25 people who have been meeting for dinner and evening prayer. “We’ve been trying to take some time as a group to pray together and learn from each other – with each other – what we might be called to do here,” says Mr. Potter.
Amidst conversation and prayer, the group has started to discover ways in which St. Stephen’s might respond to the needs of its neighbours. “A lot of people are feeling a lack of the kinds of deeper community that they maybe had in years and generations past. Our hope is that we can be a place in the neighbourhood where that kind of community is available, where you can actually get to know people,” he says.
St. Stephen’s will begin weekly worship on the first Sunday of Advent with a morning prayer service and an evening Eucharist. Each service will be followed by a meal, in the hope of deepening a sense of community. The church is also offering a quiet compline service on Tuesday nights during Advent. “Most families are over-programmed, over-busy, over-worked,” says Mr. Potter. “A lot of people could use some space in their heads and in their hearts to prepare for the coming of Christ.”
While Mr. Potter is not focusing solely on numbers as a measure of success, he says he hopes the congregation’s faithful relationships with God and each other will attract more interest. “The vision is for us to see the kind of growth that comes from word of mouth and being open and honest about who we are as Christians and what we believe,” he says.
Mr. Potter currently spends half his time at St. Stephen’s, increasing to three-quarters starting in January. He is also assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Thornhill. “Holy Trinity been very gracious and supportive; it’s just overwhelming. They’re doing everything they can to help the ministry here,” he says.
As he looks to the congregation’s future beyond Christmas, he says he is eager to help shape the future of St. Stephen’s, however it unfolds. “You can’t plan too much, because things change. So far, the most exciting things have come out of the blue. I’m really excited to see what God has in store for us in this place.”