By Stuart Mann
The Rev. Susan Climo was procrastinating over breakfast at a Cora’s restaurant in Mississauga when the Holy Spirit intervened. It would be the start of a remarkable journey that would see the union of an Anglican congregation and a Lutheran congregation that seemed destined for each other.
“I literally felt as if the Holy Spirit kicked me in the butt and said, ‘Finish that coffee, get back in your car – you need to start doing this right now,’” recalls Ms. Climo, a Lutheran cleric who is the incumbent pastor of Holy Spirit of Peace, the diocese’s newest Anglican-Lutheran church.
The story began several months earlier, when Peace Lutheran Church, located at the Square One shopping mall in Mississauga, was told by management that its lease would not be renewed and it had six months to find another home. The church had been located in the mall for 37 years.
“It was quite a shock to the system for everybody,” says Ms. Climo. “It was the only home we had ever known and it was a really traumatic experience to all of a sudden be homeless.”
Unable to afford space in local strip malls or light industrial areas, the church turned to nearby Anglican churches. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, of which Peace Lutheran belonged, are in full communion with each other.
But approaching every Anglican church for space was a daunting prospect. “To be perfectly honest, I was dreading it because we had such a tale of woe and I really didn’t feel it could be done on the telephone,” says Ms. Climo. “I had visions of having to visit every Anglican parish in Mississauga and tell the story over and over again. I wasn’t looking forward to it.”
Then came the morning at Cora’s and the not-so-subtle push by the Holy Spirit. Still reluctant, Ms. Climo got into her car and drove to the nearest Anglican church – St. Hilary’s. She asked to speak to the incumbent, the Rev. Canon Paul J. Walker, but was told that he was at a clericus meeting – a gathering of all the Anglican clergy in Mississauga.
Ms. Climo couldn’t believe her luck. “It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it,” she says. She drove to the meeting – at St. Thomas a Becket – and met all the clergy. At the end of the meeting, she explained Peace Lutheran’s circumstances.
One of the priests who listened to her was the Rev. Judith Alltree, the incumbent of Holy Spirit at the time, a small Anglican church in eastern Mississauga that was facing financial difficulties and struggling to find ways to use its space more effectively.
Ms. Alltree hadn’t planned to go to the meeting that day because she was feeling despondent over how things were going at her church. Another priest had persuaded her to go – a pivotal moment, as it turns out.
Ms. Alltree introduced herself to Ms. Climo at the end of the meeting and the two women started talking about their churches. They agreed to meet again the next day. The conversation lasted for three hours. “We realized it was an absolutely perfect mix, a perfect blend for the two congregations,” says Ms. Climo. “It was going to meet needs on both sides and create some really exciting opportunities.”
Right from the beginning, both women thought their congregations should be one some day. “We didn’t know how that was going to happen or how we could move that along, but we were excited about being part of it,” she says.
The congregations were enthusiastic, too. “There was just enormous grace from all the people here at Holy Spirit,” she says. “They welcomed in the people of Peace very graciously at a time that was really difficult – mourning the loss of their home.”
Ms. Alltree went on to become the director of the Missions to Seafarers, based in Toronto, and Bishop Philip Poole, the area bishop of York-Credit Valley, asked Ms. Climo to step in as the interim priest-in-charge of both congregations. They worshipped together over the summer – their first attempt to get to know each other’s worship styles and traditions.
The Ven. Stephen Nduati, a priest from Kenya who was studying at Wycliffe College, led the Anglican congregation through the fall and winter of 2012-13. In the spring, Ms. Climo was re-appointed as interim priest-in-charge of both congregations. She led separate Anglican and Lutheran services to start, shifting to joint worship services during the summer, then prepared to go back to separate services in the fall. That’s when the story took another turn.
“We were about to go back to the same routine when a member of the Anglican community reached out to me and said a few of us were talking and we really liked worshipping together. Couldn’t we just keep doing that? That was music to my ears.”
With Bishop Poole’s blessing and guidance, the congregations explored a full merger. In February of 2015, both vestries voted unanimously in favour of it. “That was just so energizing and beautiful,” says Ms. Climo. “The place just erupted – people hugging each other. It was a really joyful moment.”
The merger was formalized at a service at the church on Feb. 28. Bishop Poole and Bishop Michael Pryse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada signed the agreement and Ms. Climo was installed as incumbent pastor. The church’s name officially became Holy Spirit of Peace and the two congregations became one. The service drew a large crowd that included clergy, dignitaries and other church groups.
“Susan has done a brilliant job of bringing these two congregations together,” said Bishop Poole afterwards. “I’m also proud of the congregations for their vision and willingness to work together. They’re a good witness of what our Lord prayed for – that we would be one.”