On a Sunday afternoon in New Westminster, the historic church of St. Mary's witnessed a service of Evensong in memory of Bishop Acton Windeyer Sillitoe and in celebration of the 125 years since the diocese's birth.

Bishop Sillitoe, the first bishop of the diocese, was consecrated on November 1, 1879, in a parish church south of London. He appointed himself rector of St. Mary the Virgin in Sapperton when he arrived the following June, and used that church as his base for nine years until Holy Trinity in central New Westminster was made the diocese's first cathedral.

Last month on November 6 Bishop Michael Ingham, retired Archbishop Douglas Hambidge, priests and parishioners from New Westminster city parishes and a smattering of Anglicans from around the Diocese participated in an anniversary service.

In honour of the historical nature of the event, the service was adapted from the Order for Evening Prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Afterwards, the congregation joined a procession to Fraserview Cemetery where prayers were offered at the foot of the large Celtic cross marking Bishop Sillitoe's grave.

The Rev. Neville Critchlow of St. Mary's, Sapperton, retired Archbishop Douglas Hambidge, Bishop Michael Ingham, the Rev. John Bailey of Holy Trinity Cathedral and the Rev. Elizabeth Beale of St. Barnabas at the grave of Acton Sillitoe, New Westminster's first Bishop. (Rob England photo)

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is one of the oldest churches in the province. It has its origin in the detachment of Royal Engineers (the "sappers") who arrived in New Westminster in 1858 and built their headquarters camp in what is now Sapperton. In 1862, a priest-in-charge was appointed for the Royal Engineer's garrison church, which was meeting in the camp's mess hall. In 1865 the congregation moved into the newly constructed St. Mary's church situated next to the camp.

In the years since then, the church has been enlarged and renovated several times, but still stands on the same spot and retains the same charm.

When Bishop Sillitoe arrived in 1880 he was very taken by the church, calling it "a model of what all wooden churches might be and ought to be." He and wife Violet took up residence in the adjacent vicarage, St. Mary's Mount. It soon became the social centre of the city and hosted visits from three Governors General and Sir John A. MacDonald, among others. On November 6, echoes of the glory days of 125 years ago were heard again.