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First Metropolitan United holds its last service in downtown 1913 church

The congregation is joining Broad View United Church in a new venue, the newly renovated former St. Aidan’s United Church off Cedar Hill Cross Road

There were plenty of tears and stories Sunday at the final service at First Metropolitan United Church on Quadra Street, where the congregation is leaving to join with Broad View United Church at a new venue.

The first services under the Broad View name are set for this Sunday at the newly renovated former St. Aidan’s United Church, on St. Aidan’s Street off Cedar Hill Cross Road.

The amalgamation, which will also see Broad View leave the location it’s been in since 1958 on Arbutus Road, becomes official on Dec. 31.

“It was sad and poignant,” First Metropolitan lead minister Shelagh MacKinnon said of Sunday’s service. “We had a lot of thank yous to say to this old building.

“There is a lump in your throat when you do that.”

MacKinnon compared it to the process of moving from one house to another, and taking one last, grateful look at the place you were in for so many years. “We had a lot of beautiful services here.”

The First Metropolitan site at Quadra Street and Balmoral Road has served the community for generations, MacKinnon said.

The building, which has municipal heritage designation, opened as the home of the First Presbyterian Church in 1913, “but the congregation was started two generations before that,” she said.

She said First Metropolitan was formed in 1997 out of the former First United and Metropolitan United churches. Broad View United is also the result of an amalgamation of Cadboro Bay, St. Aidan’s and Gordon Head United churches three years ago.

“So there will be a bunch of strong congregations moving together to be revitalized and do mission and ministry,” MacKinnon said.

She said the First Metropolitan building has had several additions over the years and survived a fire, and the cost of maintaining it has become prohibitive, with problems including separate boilers for different areas, and plumbing and seismic issues.

“So we decided as a congregation overwhelmingly to amalgamate.”

The vote was 83 in favour and one against, with three abstentions.

Since COVID-19, there have been fewer than 100 people at services, with some turning to viewing online, said MacKinnon, who will become minister of pastoral care and transition at the new church.

“That habit of ‘Sunday morning, go to church’ is not such a big part of society as it was.”

She noted that First Metropolitan — which is near the 900-block of Pandora, where many street-involved people congregate — is one of the founding partners of what was to become Our Place Society. It still has many members “deeply involved” with the Pandora Avenue organization, which provides services including a drop-in centre and food to vulnerable members of the community.

“It’s a really important part of our sense of who we are,” she said. “That doesn’t change, wherever we go.”

In late August, the church held a service to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. “In our neighbourhood, in our city, the fentanyl crisis is a major part of our life,” MacKinnon said. “It’s a tough time.”

The First Metropolitan building now returns to being managed by the Pacific Mountain Regional Council of the United Church of Canada, which will decide what happens there now, she said.

Treena Duncan, executive minister for the region, said it is recognized that the church is “an important community resource” with heritage value, and has significant challenges when it comes to any renovation.

For now, she said there will be “a period of discernment” to decide what will happen there, with some sort of arts centre a possibility.

In the meantime, services will continue to be held there by Abbey Church, a combined United Church/Anglican group that has been a building tenant.

Heritage advocate and former Victoria councillor Pam Madoff said the First Metropolitan building has been “the character-defining element” of all of the churches along Quadra Street for a long time.

“Whether you look at churches as places of religion and worship, or whether you look at them as just examples of excellent architecture, they certainly form an important part of the fabric of the city.”

Other churches in the area have been converted to other uses.

In 1997, the Victoria Conservatory of Music purchased the nearby century-old Metropolitan United Church at Pandora and Quadra, moving into the building two years later after extensive renovations.

Across Quadra from First Metropolitan, First Congregational Church, built in 1913, was converted to a condominium complex called The Palladian from 2005 to 2007, more than 30 years after the Baptist congregation moved out, according to the Victoria Heritage Foundation.

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