There is a profound sense of belonging at the Church of the Holy Family-Notre Dame in Port Alberni. With reason. Some families have been part of the Catholic community for generations. Terri-Ann Wynans’ family were originally from Saskatchewan. Terri-Ann is the present Coordinator of Children’s Liturgy, her Grandpa and Uncles helped build the church, and she and her husband met at catechism class. Terri-Ann says that everyone refers to their church, built in 1957, as ‘the new church’.
The new church has been around long enough though to have developed a very distinct character of its own. Port Alberni is a lumber town and some amazing burls have been found over the years. Inside the church parishioners have used these to make the altar, the lectern, the baptismal font and the candlesticks. Added to this unique décor is a huge tile mural that covers the wall behind the altar. Created by Saskatchewan artist Lorrain Malach the mural depicts the Exultation of St. Francis. “It is very unique and bold, but it means a lot to many of us ‘older’ members,” says Terri-Ann. Laughing she explains that the busy-ness of the mural does interfere with Fr. Michael Tran’s livestreaming, so they sometimes cover it with curtains!
Port Alberni sits at the head of the 40 km long Alberni Inlet and is accessed via Highway 4, which winds up through Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest of Douglas Fir, where some of the trees are 800 years old. The two-lane highway reaches an elevation of 411 meters and if an accident closes the highway, Port Alberni is completely cut off so people need to rely on each other says Rebecca Standley, parish secretary, at Holy Family-Notre Dame.
During the COVID-19 shut down, the church services are being livestreamed and none of the regular groups are able to meet. However, the visitation ministry, that would normally have taken weekly communion to shut-ins pre-COVID-19, has received permission from all four care homes in the town to deliver a small package to their residents who are also parishioners.
The Religious Education program has taken on what seems to be a whole new life since the start of the pandemic. This year it is a ‘home program’ where monthly faith formation packages are put together and delivered to 40 children, to help their families embrace their ‘domestic church’. The means that parents are more involved, and there is both a Face Book group and a weekly ‘circle time’ where liturgically based teachings are shared with the families. The program gives the children a real sense of belonging. When one youngster saw the package being delivered, he asked his mother what it was. Terri-Ann said she heard his mother tell him, “It is from the church, they miss you.”
Rebecca says that there is a really lovely core of people that keep the church going. Terri-Ann‘s message to our Diocese is simple, and lived out each day at Holy Family-Notre Dame. She says to us all, “Remember we are all connected”.