All Saints leaves legacy of fragrant presence

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 25, 2004

For more than a century it has stood as a sentinel at the crossroads of yesterday and tomorrow, at the meeting place of ranchers and townsfolk, council and administrators, merchants, artists, entertainers, readers, thinkers and purveyors of ice cream and hot coffee.

On the 2nd Avevue and 2nd Street location the white clapboard structure has occupied since 1899, All Saints Anglican Church has anchored Cochrane's old town as surely as the memorial boulder that sits on its lawn.

But now its soul is moving on, and its body, soon to be relocated elsewhere, will no longer be there as a centering point for many, including myself.

The property has been sold in anticipation of the congregation's move a year from now to its newly-acquired larger facilities, presently home to St. Mary's Catholic Church.

The All Saints congregation, having outgrown their historic facility, held their final service there Feb. 22.

On Feb. 29 they will gather one last time on its lawn for a group photo, then journey in procession to their interim worship space at Holy Spirit School, a kilometre east. There they will hold their first service and a potluck dinner as they begin a year of transition from their old home to their new.

Meanwhile, the downtown landmark is being prepared for a move of its own to a new location for a new use to be announced soon.

Even though I'm not a member of All Saints parish, I too will miss its comforting heart-of-town presence in my daily strolls, coffee cup in hand.

I will miss its short, westward-leaning bell tower and its welcoming tones, still ringing after all these years.

I will miss the memorial boulder bearing the names of those buried in the Mitford Cemetery, original site of All Saints. Pausing in front of that imposing rock, I've expressed private appreciation for folks like Frances Bill Irving (1893–1896), William Joseph Wade (1859–1896), and Peter Robert Wainwright (1846–1899) – people who completed their life journey before the church was moved to its present site.

I will miss poking my head inside the church from time to time and experiencing the classic Anglican interiors of its day: the dark-stained crossbeams clasped high overhead, as if hands joined in praise; the gothic window and painting of the Last Supper behind the altar; the kerosene lanterns and reflectors along the walls; the five-paneled Nativity scene by the organ; the rustic slat pews with racks for hymnbooks and The Book of Common Prayer; and especially the banner that reads "All Saints Cochrane, Family of God."

If the loss of this is hard on me, I can't begin to imagine how leaving all this will impact on those who have regularly been the Family of God in that place.

This is a church that exudes sacred memories gathered for longer than Cochrane's been a town: the voices of rectors and readers, congregational responses, children singing, hushed moments of spontaneous prayer following The Prayers of the People.

Church buildings didn't always have such special appeal to me. In my younger days, I regarded them as not much more than utilitarian structures for protecting worshippers from showers in the summer and frostbite in the winter.

I think my attitude toward church buildings started changing big time in the 1980s while on a visit to a thousand-year-old cathedral in Switzerland.

Stepping inside the stone structure, I sensed the walls around me exuding centuries of prayer and devotion. And just as one can know that smokers have occupied a hotel room, so also I could "smell" the history of holiness in that ancient place.

In much the same way, I have sensed the blessings of generations memorialized in every detail of All Saints' well-used structure. Just to walk past its doors, or to pause for a moment at the entrance to its sacred space, is to be refreshed in body and soul.

May the congregation of All Saints never lose the memories of this special place. May the sacred scent of their old church travel with them to the new, and may they enrich many with its wisdom and fragrance.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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