The Church of Surrey
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By Peter Biggs

Photo: Peter Biggs
AS B.C.’s second largest city, Surrey covers a vast area; in terms of population, it is the 10th largest city in Canada.

Contrasts

Surrey is a municipality of contrasts. Parts of it have all the problems of any inner city. Other areas offer the refreshment of natural beauty. More than a third of Surrey is still actively farmed, and it boasts some 600 parks and greenbelts.

The people of Surrey are a diverse ethnic mix; north Surrey has a particularly large South Asian component. Theatre and the arts are well served, by facilities such as the highly regarded Bell Performing Arts Centre and the Surrey Art Gallery.

Surrey is growing fast, with housing construction seen everywhere. According to Rick Sair, president of Surrey Tourism and Convention Association, Surrey’s population is projected to surpass that of Vancouver within 10 years.

Surrey has six diverse town centres: City Centre (Whalley), Fleetwood, Guildford, Newton, Cloverdale and South Surrey. Each represents a completely different community profile.

South Surrey is known for expansive nature views. Much of Fleetwood enjoys single family suburban housing. Guildford has a higher density of condos and apartments. Whalley has historically dealt with a number of social challenges.

Mayor Dianne Watts (right), pastor Kevin Cavanaugh and MaryAnne Connor of Nightshift Street Ministries (see here) Photo: Peter Biggs.
In her March 1 State of the City address, Mayor Dianne Watts stated: “[As] Surrey continues to grow at a rapid pace, we are faced with the ever-growing issues of homelessness, addiction and crime.

“Over the years we have experienced grow ops, meth labs, drug dealing, addiction and prostitution and have seen the effects it has had on our community.”

Christian presence

The 2001 census found a third of Surrey’s population identifying themselves with Christian beliefs (see sidebar). There are some 160 churches in Surrey; many are represented by The Surrey Pastors Network.  

BCCN spoke to Surrey’s mayor. Asked how she sees the local churches’ role in the community, Watts responded with reference to Surrey’s new Crime Reduction Strategy – a comprehensive approach to addressing root causes of crime.

Church participation, she said, “is a key piece of our strategy. They strengthen the fabric of our community. Faith–based groups are often overlooked.”

’My barometer

She went on to describe her own “foundation of faith,” characterizing it as “my barometer of life.” Watts spoke about her childhood experience of Sunday school – and her adult commitment to the Anglican church.

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Asked about the pressures of leadership, she cited an example of consulting her ‘barometer.’

“A developer came for a permit. It meant evicting seniors and the mentally challenged. Although it was commercially advantageous, we said no.”

Speaking at Nightshift Street Ministries, she commended the Surrey Pastors Network.

“I’m absolutely impressed with [their] work,” she said. “It speaks to the changing nature of how things change. Collectively, we can change things.”

Other politicians are also addressing practical ways of changing things for the better. Conservative MP Russ Hiebert, an outspoken Christian who attends Peace Portal Alliance Church, commented to BCCN:

“Surrey is experiencing rapid growth, with new people moving here it is an exciting time, but there are challenges to provide opportunities for people to connect. Local churches are critical in providing social networks.”

Councillor Marvin Hunt, who was once a Surrey pastor, was asked what the uppermost issue was for him. He responded: “the lack of faith-based recovery facilities in Surrey. I’m looking for long term facilities.”

Networking

Many local churches in Surrey cooperate with each other. The Surrey Pastors Network draws together 30 or more pastors every Wednesday noon, at Cedar Grove Baptist Church; quarterly this number can swell to 75 – 100 leaders who come to share and to pray.

Two years ago, the group saw the need for someone to coordinate networks of relationships between pastors and their congregations, to further the work of the kingdom of God in Surrey.

They called upon seasoned leader Alan Simpson. His two-day-a-week position is largely funded from collections taken at the Good Friday multi-congregational gatherings held at Chandos Pattison Auditorium.

Simpson works with a ‘Church of Surrey’ team, led by Cedar Grove Baptist Church senior pastor Kevin Cavanaugh.

Burden

Church leaders care about their community. As People’s Church senior pastor David Curtis puts it:

“We have a Punjabi congregation meeting in our building. Next door the property has been approved for a new Sikh temple, which in turn is next door to the largest Hindu temple in Canada. My heart is to change our church into a multi-ethnic congregation.”

Cavanaugh is upbeat. “This spirit of God is on the move in the city of Surrey like at no time before,” he said. “Churches are rising up to minister into the great needs of our city.”

May 2007