The Blessed Community The “History about St. Raphael’s Old Catholic Church of B.C.” begins with a simple statement. “In July 1921, the first L.C.C. (Liberal Catholic Church) services were held in Vancouver. Bishop Irving Cooper officiated, after his return from Australia. Eucharistic Services were held in the “Blue Room” of the Hotel Vancouver. Baptisms administered.”
Some 80 years later that identical sacramental ministry continues. Bishop Irving S. Cooper had only been recently consecrated to the episcopate by Archbishops James I. Wedgewood and Charles W. Leadbeater. On one of the first of his missionary journeys he stops over in Vancouver to meet with friends and interested persons, at the Hotel Vancouver, today’s Fairmont Hotel, Vancouver. One can only but wonder, what the Bishop chose for his message at that first Eucharist of reformed Catholicism, in this west coast city. From the blessings that followed upon the planting of that missionary seed we realize it could only have been scripturally oriented, Christ-centered, non-judgmental and inclusive. It must have been a message, like that of Jesus with his committed companions, who had climbed up, away from the crowds onto a hillside, in the Holy Land. There those climbing companions heard for the first time, some 2000 years ago, the words of the Beatitudes, the way of life for the blessed community.
In July of 1921 another one of those blessed communities would be born, as together they heard this visiting Bishop proclaim in the exhortation to the general confession of the Liturgy, “0 Lord, Thou hast created man to be immortal and made him to be an image of Thine own eternity.” One can only marvel at the tenacity of that community of blessing of Bishops, priests and people as they set out to serve the needs and to fill in the gaps, for the people of British Columbia. For the next 40 years, like the people of Israel of old, they wandered about, with no permanent place for worship; from this and that hotel, or hall, or home. Yet like those Israelites of old, they too had their Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. For their very first priest, the Rev. Fr. J. P. Kirk built a wooden Altar and carried with him from place to place an altar stone, chalice, ciborium and priestly vestments. For priest and people we can only imagine how arduous their spiritual adventure was. Neither can one be oblivious to the reality, that all of the clergy of the Church, from the beginning, have followed in the footsteps of St. Paul the Tentmaker, being worker priests, supporting themselves financially by secular employment.
Some 12 years after Bishop Cooper had planted the holy seed, this community of blessing found themselves with a new priest. The Rev. Fr. H.J. Barney was a former member of the Order of Mary Immaculate, commonly known as the Oblate Order. Father Barney generously offered his great gifts of holiness of life and a wonderful healing ministry to this fledging community. He would faithfully serve his priestly ministry for the following 30 years, making what had become known as St. Raphael’s, a healing and helping presence in Vancouver. The Holy Angels were always to play an important role in these ministries emanating out from the Eucharist, in which the worshiping community joins with the nine heavenly orders of the Angels in lauding and praising their glorious God. For it was during Fr. Barney’s ministry that this community of blessing finally found their promised land, and a permanent home, on the east side of the city of Vancouver, just off Fraser Street.
In the seventies the congregation of St. Raphael’s welcomed into their fellowship a young French-Canadian layman. Gerard LaPlante would be ordained a priest for this community of blessing in 1975. I met him for the very first time in 1977. Our family had recently returned from ministry in New Zealand and I was awaiting a new appointment. Fr. LaPlante asked if I might be available for assistance at times. But it was not to be, as I was to be shortly sent to prison, three of them in fact, as a correctional chaplain. Nevertheless, we would continue to keep in contact. In 1979 the Rev. Fr. Gerard LaPlante was elected and consecrated a Bishop for the Church. Shortly afterwards he would become one of the 250 spiritual pastors, of various religious traditions and faiths, who assisted me in my prison ministry. I shall always be grateful for the Christian concern and common sense which he shared with those, whose primary language was French. It would be that Christian concern and common sense that enabled and empowered St. Raphael’s to flourish and increase its influence not only locally, but far beyond the boundaries of the eastside of Vancouver. For instance, hospitality has always played an important part in the ministry of the clergy of St. Raphael’s. More than 300 individuals, facing difficult circumstances in their lives, have known that Christian hospitality, while making the clergy house attached to the church their home.
During the early years of Bishop LaPlante’s episcopate, the congregation of St. Raphael’s voted to become an Autocephalous Church. From then the church began developing closer relationships with the Old Catholic Church of Germany. One of St. Raphael’s members and chancellor of the church returned to his homeland in Germany to live, became a member of St. Jacobus Old Catholic Church in Koblenz, Germany, like some other families from St. Raphael’s. So it was not surprising that at the beginning of the new millennium an invitation was received by the Vicar General of the Old Catholic Church of Germany, the Rev. Fr. Hans-Werner Schlenzig, for closer ties between the two churches.
Today over a thousand individuals count themselves blessed to be a part of the gathered community that is St. Raphael’s. At the Sunday Eucharist people from over 35 countries, of the international family, pray the “Our Father” separately in eight to ten different languages. St. Raphael’s, in the spirit of Bishop Cooper of old, has established ministries overseas in Belgium. On this continent, for a time in Alaska and more recently in the state of Washington congregations have sprung up. At the beginning of this 21st century it has planted ministries in some 15 worship centres, in churches, oratories, missions, prison chapels, senior’s homes, funeral homes, house churches and hermit hut, wherever the Lord Jesus calls and always in the spirit of the Beatitudes.
As one reads “History about St. Raphael’s Old Catholic Church of B.C.” it is like stepping back over time and climbing with Jesus up a hillside in the Holy Land and quietly listening as He shares the Beatitudes with us. The notable Biblical scholar, the Rev. Dr. William Barclay says of them, “The Beatitudes are not simply statements, they are exclamations!” This is the same sense that one feels as we read this history of a community of blessing. One is not just dealing with statements of History, no matter how humanly insignificant they may appear. Rather one senses a declaration of exclamation and enthusiasm! The Beatitudes tell it the way it could be in each and every person’s life. They also tell us what real life is all about, warts and all. In St. Raphael’s Church, for the past 25 years, above the Holy Tabernacle on the Altar, there has been a wonderful copy of Johann Hofmann’ s “Christ in Gethsemane.” Whenever one kneels before that Altar, as a participant in this community of blessing one desires like St. Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197 — 1253) to pray.
“O most merciful Redeemer,
Friend and Brother,
May I know you more clearly,
Love you more dearly,
And follow you more nearly.
Little wonder, as the Beatitudes say, “all heaven applauds,” the community of blessing!
The Rt. Rev. Dr. L. M. McFerran, B.A., L.Th., M.A., Ph.D., R.S.W.
Bishop of the Old Catholic Church of BC
1927 – 2007 RIP