When Linda Nicholls became bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Huron in southwest Ontario at the end of November, it was notable for many reasons. For one, she is the first female to hold that seat. But perhaps more importantly, her installation (or chairing, as the Anglicans refer to it) took place in a United Church.
“This is a huge, huge moment in the history of our church,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Crittenden, senior minister of Metropolitan United Church in London, Ontario. “I don’t think this has ever happened before.”
This ecumenical sharing of space came about because the 170-year-old Anglican St. Paul’s Cathedral was abruptly closed after rotting roof trusses were discovered. While its members are meeting in a smaller hall on the property for regular services, they needed a larger spot for the bishop’s chairing, which Crittenden said his church was happy to provide.
An ornate bishop’s chair was transferred to Metropolitan United for the service. Approximately 1,000 people attended, with local imams, rabbis, and other religious leaders invited.
Crittenden said the Anglican chairing service was powerful, and he noted that Nicholls was quick to praise United Church members for their hospitality.
“The first thing out of her mouth after she was installed as bishop were words of thanks to Metropolitan United,” he said. “She talked about the new relationship between the United Church and her diocese.” The new bishop also talked about “how buildings become secondary to the experience and practice of our faith and worship. That was a powerful, powerful thing to say.”
A self-professed “church geek,” Crittenden said he enjoys discovering the differences between various Christian denominations, such as why eucharist is important to Anglicans, while preaching is a key focus for Presbyterians.
As the largest United Church in Canada in terms of people in the pews (approximately 500 every Sunday), Metropolitan United focuses on community building, “making sure everyone knows they are welcome,” he said. Church members are also very committed to “living out our faith” through community efforts to eradicate poverty and homelessness.
At the age of 45, Crittenden is into his 20th year of ordained ministry. It runs in his blood, as his grandparents were extremely active, and his father, the Rev. Dr. Paul Crittenden, is an ordained minister serving as an interim at Gower Street in Newfoundland. “He’s retired numerous times, but this one might take…or maybe not!” he said.
Crittenden said he’s eager to work with neighbouring religious institutions on other ecumenical projects, with various events already planned with the Anglicans and others.
“It’s exciting for us to learn from them, and them from us,” he said.