Foster Freed, Trinity United minister, and his counterparts from Trinity Catholic Church, who have shared the same worship space since 1979, will celebrate 40 years this weekend. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Ecumenical Centre celebrating 40th anniversary

Catholic and United churches opened Trinity Ecumenical in 1979

Two religious denominations are set to celebrate four decades of worship under the same roof this weekend.

Nanaimo Ecumenical Centre on Spartan Road officially opened its doors Feb. 4, 1979 and will celebrate 40 years of serving both United and Roman Catholic churches, with festivities taking place Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 2-3.

Marie Gravelle, Trinity Catholic parishioner since its opening, said a Catholic church was set to be built at the site in the late ’70s, but Les Clark of Lantzville and Wellington United Churches approached Father John Zuderwijk of St. Peter’s Catholic Church to inquire about an ecumenical centre which would serve the two faiths.

“There was no thought,” said Gravelle. “We both needed a church. St. Peter’s was bulging at the seams and the north end was growing and we knew that the population would increase and meanwhile, the other two churches … were experiencing the same thing. They both needed a new place of worship.”

Both denominations are represented by councils and a board of governors features members from both. Foster Freed, Trinity United minister who came onboard in 2013, said the two have a good relationship.

“The relationship we presently have is one in which, I would say, that we are co-tenders of this facility and what it stands for, and that the relationship at the present time is very strong and very positive” said Freed.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria co-owns Trinity Catholic, and Father Jozef Kobos, Catholic pastor, said there have been changes and the anniversary will allow both congregations to celebrate together.

“Saturday at 1 p.m. there will be special entertainment … and then on Sunday 9 a.m., mass with retired bishop Remi De Roo, because he built this church here, and he told me that when he built this church it was forest. Nothing was here.”

There will be a joint celebration after the Catholic mass, at 10:30 a.m., with Kobos, Freed and Victoria diocese Bishop Gary Gordon.

Freed said the two specific faiths sharing worship space on Vancouver Island is somewhat uncommon.

“Certainly on Vancouver Island, it’s not that unusual to find the United church congregation worshipping, and sometimes in fact, in a sense, amalgamating with an Anglican congregation, but a United-Catholic coming together in this way is very rare,” said Freed.“I’ve occasionally had people in my congregation come back from Ireland and when the people in Ireland hear that they worship … in the same facility as a Catholic church, their jaws drop.”

– with files from Marie Gravelle

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