Beyond the Stained Glass


By Haley Cameron

Photos by Noriko Nasu-Tidball

603A4297Reverend Jeremy Clark-King, priest at St. Mary’s Anglican Church, barely hesitates when I ask if there’s a specific verse that inspires him on a daily basis. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” he recites, before admitting right away that it isn’t actually a biblical excerpt. The line comes instead from Saint Iraneus, a second century theologian. “John 10:10 is practically the same thing,” he offers, ready to provide the biblical version he knew I would be expecting. “I’ve come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”


It strikes me as surprising that Rev. Jeremy’s first instinct isn’t a biblical reference, but I quickly learn to abandon all expectations when it comes to St. Mary’s. The century-old building that would appear in all ways conservatively traditional from the exterior proves to be impressively open-minded, progressive, and ultimately welcoming within its stained glass doors.


Perhaps this progressive nature shouldn’t be so unexpected. The Church of England acquired autonomy in the sixteenth century, when the country broke free of Papal association and instead combined Catholic and Protestant practices to produce a new branch of Christianity. A somewhat rebellious inauguration, this set the precedent for an opinionated religion that encouraged critical thinking and welcomed modernity. As Jeremy outlines, “We take the Bible seriously, but not literally. We learn from past successes and failures and place a high value on reason.”


As we spend some time covering the basics of the Anglican Church, for instance the correct terminology for Sunday congregations (service, Holy Eucharist, or Communion, he tells me), Rev. Jeremy mentions that one of the ministers on staff until recently is female. Female ordination isn’t the only surprise of this Christian offspring. The Reverend shares proudly that in 2003 the local Diocese, which spans from Pemberton to the American border and as far East as Hope, voted to bless same-sex marriages. St. Mary’s is one of the specific locations where such blessings can occur. It is inspiring to witness Rev. Jeremy’s pride as he talks about this, considering the long standing religious repression of homosexuality worldwide. While the Church will not yet perform same-sex marriages themselves, their agreement to bless them shows a willingness not only to condone, but to honour and support these unions.


Rev. Jeremy concedes that the subject is still complicated, as this change has been met with resistance among many practicing Anglicans and Anglican churches. In fact, upon first arriving in Canada, Jeremy was appointed to a church on the North Shore whose congregation was particularly divided and unsettled over the admittedly controversial change. But Rev. Jeremy doesn’t bother trying to impose his perspective or the Church’s stance upon anyone – Anglican or otherwise. “We need to learn how to disagree and remain friends,” he explains, offering a vantage point from which even those opposed to gay marriage can respect same-sex couples.


603A4305bwAs Rev. Jeremy continues to share his own story, these same core values of acceptance and support prove to remain constant. Rev. Jeremy moved to Vancouver from England with his wife about a decade ago, because the pair wanted to see the world and the Church of England beyond their native country. Having now spent almost half of his ecclesiastical career in North America, Rev. Jeremy can comment objectively on the differences between the two countries, both religiously and otherwise. “People in Canada are way less cynical than in England,” he begins, claiming that this observation extends beyond the parish. He comments appreciatively on the enthusiasm, participation, and overall engagement of Canadian Anglicans and as our conversation shifts to the discussion of community, he shares one of his personal and professional goals: to increase the connection with local communities. Luckily for Kerrisdale, and Vancouver in general, this minister is quite literally practicing what he’s preaching.


St. Mary’s itself offers far more than the regular Eucharist. The Kerrisdale church reaches out beyond its geographic setting, and even beyond its religious foundation, in hopes of offering a fundamental sense of community and human interaction to anyone who might need it. Whether in small, concentrated prayer groups that amass throughout the city, evening seminars that confront large socioeconomic issues of our time, or their well-received community meetings where anyone can stop by for a free lunch, St. Mary’s is quite literally opening their doors to the people of Vancouver. Whoever it was that once said, “there’s no such thing as a free meal,” clearly hadn’t stopped by St. Mary’s on a Tuesday where there truly is no catch. “We see some homeless people,” Rev. Jeremy explains, “or marginally housed, and people new to Canada who are searching for a place of belonging.” When I ask if goals of conversion weigh heavily on St. Mary’s initiatives to bring non-Anglicans into the church Rev. Jeremy denies it. He recognizes that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, faith, and opinions, and realizes that nothing good comes of aggressive politicking for religion. “We’re careful not to bash people over their heads with stuff, or have them sign up to things they don’t believe,” he says. “If they hear what we’ve found in the life of Jesus and the Kingdom of God and the story resonates, they may choose to further explore our religion. We’re providing space and support to enable people to live, look beyond the horizon, and expand their minds and hearts,” he says, reminding me of Saint Iraneus’s term “a human being fully alive.”


The emphasis on community goes beyond Rev. Jeremy’s personal focus. St. Mary’s mission statement claims that, “In Christ we are a welcoming and inclusive community that knows and shares the love of God and serves those in need.” For Rev. Jeremy the community in St. Mary’s neighbourhood has a particularly strong presence. The priest claims that his favourite part of the area is the business district along 41st Avenue where you can witness a great variety of people interacting on a daily basis and influencing one another’s lives. He also mentions Kerrisdale Days and describes how they help to inspire this same sense of belonging among the locals.


603A4450When it comes to the specific community of St. Mary’s Church, Rev. Jeremy calls on the diversity of the parish. “Our age range spans from six weeks to one hundred and four years. A couple of ninety-nine year olds come fairly regularly.” For the most part, St. Mary’s population reflects the local demographic, with a bit of a dip in the eighteen to thirty age category. However one of St. Mary’s smaller groups, Mini Church, was created with this exact disparity in mind, and brings together the church’s young adult congregation to create a stronger support system. I question whether this particular shortage also implies a declining Anglican faith in younger generations but Rev. Jeremy believes that any drastic reduction of religious tendency has slowed in the past few years. He attributes a part of any drop in numbers to our exceptionally busy modern lifestyles. “Most Vancouverites work five or six days a week to afford their lifestyles, and want to spend that one free day with family, catching up on things, or heading to the ski hill,” he laughs, explaining that an unexpected dump of snow the morning of our interview helped to empty out the pews for his service.


603A4433Another under-represented demographic Rev. Jeremy lists are the local Asian ethnicities. “Forty percent of Kerrisdale’s population is composed of Chinese families,” he shares, while admitting that very few Chinese families attend St. Mary’s. Improving this representation is another one of Rev. Jeremy’s intentions. The Reverend has clearly done his research when it comes to his parish and the community, a reminder that ultimately there is an aspect of business behind any church. He politely refers to this as stewardship, and humbly appreciates the generosity of the parish which allows St. Mary’s to prosper. “We’re fortunate to not be caught in an endless cycle of fundraising.” When it comes to maintaining alignment between his personal and business values, Rev. Jeremy explains that such loyalty is far easier in this domain, where his career is wholly based on his personal views, than in most other positions. A combination of business savvy stewardship and community inclusion allows St. Mary’s to serve as a venue for a number of other organizations. As we’re toured through the main chapel, Rev. Jeremy lists community choirs, contemplative prayer groups, a local birders association, and Scouts Canada as examples of parties that use the space regularly. “Something is always going on here,” Rev. Jeremy claims, motioning to the two large halls, numerous small meeting rooms, two kitchens, and gymnasium that contribute to the property: a far cry from the original canvas-roofed tent-like structure that sheltered local worshippers.


No matter the physical or theological evolution undergone since its 1911 beginning, St. Mary’s has truly remained a source of vibrancy in the community. And with Reverend Jeremy’s innovation, creativity, and strong sense of community at the helm of the local parish these days, its positive impact on Kerrisdale and the surrounding areas is sure to continue.

St.Mary of Kerrisdale, a view from the street

St.Mary of Kerrisdale, a view from the street