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