Rev. Ge­of­frey Ker­slake, Pas­toral Ser­vices for Catholic Arch­dio­cese of Ot­tawa

By Matt Harrison

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY -

Given how quiet most church build­ings are dur­ing the week (even on Sun­days some­times) it may ap­pear as though these aging ed­i­fices no longer have any­thing mean­ing­ful to say.

And yet these build­ings con­tinue to speak; they have a lan­guage and a mes­sage that yearns to be heard.

“In a well-de­signed church, there is a les­son in the­ol­ogy that’s not writ­ten down in words or spo­ken aloud but is in­stead con­veyed by the wood, the stained glass, the ar­chi­tec­ture, the light, and the al­tar. It [the build­ing] has a deeply the­o­log­i­cal mes­sage that can help to re­mind us what we’re do­ing and why we’re there,” says Ker­slake.

Yes, he ad­mits, churches are dis­pens­able, and if they were lost — say, to a fire — the parish would re­main. But he points out that a mes­sage would be lost. “The ar­chi­tec­ture of the build­ing … is care­fully crafted to ori­ent us out of our sec­u­lar day-to-day life and to turn our minds and hearts to God.” He could be speak­ing about any Catholic church, any­where, but in par­tic­u­lar he’s ad­dress­ing St. Ge­orge’s on Pic­cadilly Av­enue in West­boro. In­side this brickand-stone build­ing, c. 1923, is a thriv­ing Catholic parish led by Msgr. Hans Fe­ichtinger. St. Ge­orge’s can hold 400 peo­ple; dur­ing most week­ends (Satur­day and Sun­day masses com­bined), the church sees be­tween 250 and 300 peo­ple.

The se­cret to St. Ge­orge’s suc­cess per­haps lies in its young peo­ple. With St. Ge­orge el­e­men­tary Catholic school within walk­ing dis­tance, there is a strong con­nec­tion be­tween the church and the school’s chil­dren who, it may sur­prise many to hear, want to go to church!

“There’s a mis­con­cep­tion that kids don’t want to go, but what’s sur­pris­ing is that chil­dren are pretty open to go­ing,” Ker­slake says.

What’s pre­vent­ing them? Par­ents. “Kids no­tice what adults do … when they see us mak­ing time for God, it stays with them,” he adds. In the past few decades, how has wor­ship on Sun­day changed? Churches strug­gle with the fact that they can’t now count on all the Catholics from the neigh­bour­hood com­ing out. … Many, many years ago, Catholics had a strong con­nec­tion with their parish church. You of­ten walked to church; it was also a big part of your so­cial life. With chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics, es­pe­cially peo­ple be­ing more mo­bile, the church they se­lect may not be the one clos­est to them. An­other re­al­ity is that fam­ily sizes are smaller, which means fewer phys­i­cal bod­ies in the church. And there’s been a de­cline in Catholics at­tend­ing reg­u­larly too.

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