July 28, 2008

Goodbye to all that . . .

Yesterday was a bittersweet day: the last Sunday in my church's downtown building. The Metropolitan Bible Church (known affectionately by its members and adherents as "The Met") has been a downtown church since its founding in 1931.

The first Met originally met in the Imperial Theatre on Bank St. - the present-day Barrymore's - and moved into their own building, at the corner of Bank and Gladstone streets, in 1936. The look and feel of the building - both inside and out - is of an old theatre. This is intentional, as in the midst of the Great Depression, the banks wouldn't finance construction unless it could be converted to another use if the church folded.

It didn't fold. Instead, the Met continued to grow and grow. An "education wing" was added in 1967 to address the space needs for Sunday school classes. And even in the last few years, renovations continued to reconfigure the interior to accommodate something like 1,800 regular attendees in a building designed for about 700.

I first started attending the Met as a co-op student in Ottawa in 1995. I was part of Waterloo Christian Fellowship (Waterloo U.'s IVCF chapter) during my last few years of school, and this was the church I was told I ought to check out when I got to Ottawa. When I turned up at the largest church and congregation I had ever been in, practically the first person I encountered was another WCF member that I was vaguely acquainted with - and I have never been so happy to meet someone I had probably exchanged a dozen words with over the year! (Fortunately, we became fairly good friends, and when she later transfered from Waterloo to McMaster, she ended up living with my sister for a couple of years.) Back then the college and career group ranged from about 30-50 people, and it was easy to get to know almost everyone. Most of those folks are gone from the Met, many married and raising families ow, but many are still in Ottawa, and it's good to run into them on occasion. Naturally, when I moved permanently to Ottawa in 1998 to work, it was a no-brainer that I would come back to the Met. Ten years later, I have no regrets.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the last morning service was packed out. I wasn't there. In 2003, as a temporary measure to reduce some of the crowding at the Bank St. church, we started renting the Alumni Theatre on Carleton University campus as a satellite church, with the morning sermons couriered over from Bank St. on videotape. This was intended as a temporary measure until a new building could be readied. During the fall and winter I sing in the choir, so I have gone downtown, but in the summer when there is no choir, it was always easier to attend the Carleton venue. "Met@Carleton" has ministered to students for 5 years, and although the Met will continue to have a presence on campus thanks to the chaplaincy office, this was also the final Sunday service to be held there.

After the service, we held an informal picnic by Hartwell's Locks on the Rideau Canal, just off-campus. This flight of two locks lifts boats over 20 feet in about 30 minutes, and it was a busy Sunday for boaters. Most of the locks on the Rideau Canal, including Hartwell's, are still entirely hand-operated. Even though I've lived in Ottawa for over 10 years, I've never watched them in use, so I stayed long enough to watch a few power boaters travelling in both directions before going home.

I did go back to Bank St. for the evening service, however. We had a brief *cough* sharing time for people who wanted to testify to what the Met has meant to them. Our pastor gave a brief Bible lesson, based on Hebrews 13:7-8, reminding us that church leaders may come and go; addresses may change; we may do things a little differently than we used to; but even though we are moving to a new building, we still worship the same Jesus: "the same yesterday and today and forever." Then we closed with communion, and the last song to be sung at 453 Bank St. was a fitting medley of "Power in the Blood" and "Are You Washed in the Blood?"

In a few years, the corner of Bank and Gladstone will be condominiums, albeit with the original façade intact, the Met being a heritage building. And while it's sad to move away from a comfortable, familiar building that has shone God's light in downtown Ottawa for nearly 80 years, with the way the city is growing it won't be long until Ottawa's southern suburbs look an awful lot like downtown.

Church will be meeting again next week. As our building campaign motto has said all along, it's "more than a building."

I don't think I know her, but Gen of Confessions from a Road Less Travelled posts her own reminiscences of the Met.

(H/T: CT Moore, whose photo I borrowed. I hope he doesn't mind my linking to it!)