If there are two local communities in Montreal that have special emotional resonance for many English-speaking Montrealers—despite the real diversity of both communities today—perhaps they are Westmount and Verdun.
Still, the Rev. Patrick Wheeler didn’t particularly dwell on that as he prepared to leave what is now the only Anglican parish in Verdun to become the incumbent of what is almost the only Anglican parish in Westmount.
“The Spirit’s just calling me to another parish,” Father Wheeler, 50, said in a recent interview at the Church of the Epiphany on Wellington Street in Verdun—more specifically and perhaps symbolically in its state-of-the-art kitchen, which he described as almost the heart of the church these days. The new kitchen is the hub of many dinners and other functions serving the parish and the surrounding community. In particular there are monthly community lunches offered free (donations accepted) to a diverse group of local residents varying widely in ethnic and religious background, age and economic status.
The conversation took place shortly before the Church of the Epiphany made use of its kitchen and renovated hall to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its creation under that name January 31, 2010, by a merger of three parishes that had made up the Parish of Verdun-Ville Émard since 2008, worshipping in their separate buildings.
Father Wheeler led the parish through and after that merger, a deeply emotional one for many from the three parishes.
On March 8, Father Wheeler will be inducted as the new incumbent of St. Matthias’ Church, in the limestone church on the southern slopes of Mount Royal, near Westmount City Hall, that the church has occupied since 1912.
In his view, St. Matthias’ is facing challenges much like other churches—which means faith and courage will be required to meet them.
Since the Church of the Advent closed a decade ago, St. Matthias has been the main church of the Diocese of Montreal that serves a largely Westmount congregation, although a number of Westmount residents worship at Anglican churches in the City of Montreal. (St. Stephen’s Church is also in Westmount but members of its small congregation are attracted from a wide geographical area, largely by its style of belief and worship.)
Once a thriving church actively engaged in supporting missions elsewhere, St. Matthias’ has more recently been coping with declining attendance that began in the 1980s amid the threat of Quebec separation.
However, parish leaders think there is still affection in the community that goes far beyond the numbers who show up in the pews.
Despite the challenges it faces, the parish retains a deep commitment to what the profile describes as “a challenging and elite” music program, regarded as one of the best in the province.
In Father Wheeler’s view, "We need to find ways that we can be purveyors of beauty, both in service to the community and in worship."