It was a somber Easter weekend for the congregation at St. Stephen's on the Hill in Sudbury after the United Church minister was removed from his duties. This following charges of manslaughter and failure to provide the necessities of life in connection to his wife, who died two years ago.

Even though he was not permitted to continue his ministerial duties over Easter weekend, Reverend Nico VanderStoel was foremost on the minds of his parishioners. VanderStoel, 74, will not be participating in any ministerial duties until his case is resolved.

For congregation member Lila Anderson, this Holy weekend was different than those of the past.

"It should be a very uplifting weekend, but it will be sad because he's not here," she said.

Bob Anderson — no relation to Lila — said he was frustrated VanderStoel's arrest was not delayed until after the holiday.

"It's hard for the whole Christian community.  After a two-year investigation, I think someone could have seen fit to delay the charges being brought until after Easter," the 20-year parish member said.

"But we'll have to hope that the courts will process it in a manner that we feel will have minimal impact in the long run on the church and Reverend VanderStoel." 

Frequently mentioned wife

In the coming weeks and months, Lila Anderson said she and the rest of the congregation will continue to stand behind their minister, whose wife, Heather, suffered from multiple sclerosis. She died at the age of 66.

"All we really need to do is be together as a congregation," she said. "It's still his congregation. We are family. The people here do not believe what has taken place in the system, and stand fully behind him."

She said the congregation has been praying for VanderStoel since it heard the news, "and even before, because that's what we do.  We pray for each other, we're there for each other."

Bob Anderson said VanderStoel would frequently mention his wife during service and would often rush home following worship to prepare her meals.

He says he hopes the criminal proceedings can be over quickly to minimize the impact on church members, as well as the minister.