Church in The Royal City
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New Westminster – also known as ‘the Royal City’ – has a distinctive English heritage. In 1859, it was selected as the first capital of the new colony of British Columbia, and officially named the ‘City of New Westminster’ by Queen Victoria – hence the royal city designation.  

Situated in the centre of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, much of the city is attractively located on a hillside overlooking the Fraser River. Many parts of the city, especially Queen’s Park, feature distinctive heritage homes, built in the early 1900s.

The downtown section – with its sloping streets, waterfront views, Quay Market and neighbouring Casino paddlewheel boat – is somewhat reminiscent of San Francisco.

New Westminster is undergoing significant growth in housing and gentrification of its downtown area; some areas are second only to Vancouver in population density, with numerous high rise condos towering above the downtown area.

Church cooperation

New Westminster has 47 churches. The mostly mainline congregational leaders attend a monthly ministerial, and other leaders connect informally. There are a number of inter-congregational gatherings, including: a joint Good Friday service, with five congregations; a ‘Stations of the Cross’ event; and a series of programs during Lent.

“Many churches in New West seem to be growing,” said Dan Eagle, senior pastor of Connaught Heights Pentecostal Assembly, adding: “We’ve seen steady growth, especially in the last four to five years.”

Douglas College is the recipient of a new ministry focus, which has arisen from a collaboration of youth leaders: Lucas Mitchell, youth pastor of Connaught Heights; Ann Charlotte of  Journey Christian Fellowship; Andrea Bryne of Calvary Worship Centre; and John Engles, B.C. director of University Christian Ministries, part of the Pentecostal Assemblies Of Canada.

Last January, according to Mitchell, “represented a ‘soft launch.’ This fall, there will be a ‘hard launch’ – with a presence three times a week, and a big event every two months.”

The offering at the last Good Friday joint church event is funding this initiative.

Multicultural

One of the largest churches in New Westminster is Calvary Worship Centre (CWC), where more than 500 meet weekly. The multicultural church is led by senior pastor Sam Owusu who comes from Ghana. “We have 65 nations represented, mostly from New West,” he said.

According to Owusu, CWC has also experienced steady growth. They are set to plant a church in the fast developing area of Queensborough, where they recently gave WHY Encounter coffee table books to every resident.

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He also confirmed the city’s emphasis on property development. “In the last three years, the city has taken a new direction. There has been a tremendous clean-up by the city, with development of new housing. People find it hard. It is not uncommon now to have to pay $1,200 per month for a medium quality two bedroom apartment in New West.”

Marginalized

The downtown of New Westminster has long been known for its share of problems. Many churches have direct or indirect involvement with social concerns. Some offer weekly free meals. St. Aidan’s Presbyterian runs ‘Grow a row, feed a row,’ last year contributing thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables to food banks. Shiloh United runs a weekly food bank.

John Bailey, rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, is in touch with many of the mainline churches in the city.  

“In one way or another, virtually all the churches are involved in ministry to the poor. Although smaller in number, together we are accomplishing big things,” he said.

BCCN  also spoke to Union Gospel Mission (UGM) manager Bill Wong and Salvation Army captain Dave Macpherson (see ‘Hope on Wheels’), who enjoy a warm  friendship.

Both ministries are involved in the city’s two-year initiative, The Homeless Coalition. It consists of a core group of 25, which includes Wong, a Salvation Army representative, three councillors and other leaders in social concern.

“I am very excited to be involved in this,” said Wong. “It has brought a unity to agencies in the city, and a very different tone in the last 18 months or so. God is working, I know that.” The UGM drop-in centre (near 6th and Columbia), is open 8 am – 1:30 pm, Monday to Friday. The six full-time staff facilitate 5 – 6,000 meals a year (150 to 200 each day).

The Salvation Army has its Community and Family Services office near 6 th Street and Blackford. With around 40 full- and part-time staff, they offer Christian counselling, and help with income taxes, pro bono legal advice, clothing, furniture and emergency food. They also run a daycare for 25 kids; two emergency shelters for men, with 39 year-round beds;  and ‘The Bridgehouse,’ a longer term transitional house – for up to eight men who are serious about addiction recovery.

‘Coming alive’

Sam Owusu feels greatly encouraged.

“The city is coming alive . . . not just economically, but spiritually. When we came here four years ago, it felt dead. Every Sunday, we get visitors coming in from the neighbourhood, some enquiring about God.

“Just last Sunday, a lady came in and said: ‘I was passing by the church,  and just felt sucked in!’ She broke down crying –  and came for prayer the  following week. Things like this are not uncommon. We used to have our building defaced all the time; but now all that is gone.”

August 2007