Snapshot of church in Vancouver #3
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By Peter Biggs

This is the final of three ‘Snapshots of the church in Vancouver.’ Previously, we profiled churches in the downtown core, and both church and mission in the Downtown Eastside.

This month the focus is on the largely residential area of Vancouver, from UBC to the PNE. 

Church plants increase

Greg Laing, lead pastor at Point Grey Community Church, hosts the monthly Westside Pastors Group.

“Around 20 leaders gather; it represents a lovely diversity of ministries,” he told BCCN. “In recent years, local churches in our area are far more aware and passionate about local mission. Prayer is on the increase; there’s an expectancy in the air. I see more and more church plants happening in Vancouver – and have always seen that as a clear indication of the moving of the Holy Spirit.”

Among the many new churches in Vancouver is Westside Church, meeting at the 5th Avenue Cinemas building. Started out of Willingdon Church only three years ago with a core group of 80, they now see up to 500 per Sunday. Head pastor Norm Funk, who also leads a monthly church planters group of 25 – 30, described the congregation.

Some 80 percent, he said, “come from the westside or downtown. Most are Caucasian, young professionals – and most are renters.” Although they have had conversions, Funk described the biggest group to join them as those who have not attended church for some time.

Asked about the challenges of church planting in Vancouver, he responded: “Costs – living here, plus finding space for meetings. Spiritually speaking . . . with all the development, condos, et cetera, there is no provision made by the city for churches. We take the scriptures and the call to follow Christ very seriously; we don’t take much else very seriously!”

Funk concurs with Laing’s assessment that the number of church plants is increasing.

“The are five Mennonite Brethren  churches starting in Vancouver alone!”

Tenth Avenue

Ken Shigematsu is senior pastor at Tenth Avenue Church, in the central area of  Vancouver. Over the past two decades, the church experienced 20 pastoral staff changes; 12 years ago, the congregation had gone from 1,000 down to under 200.

In recent years, they have steadily grown back – to 1,500 per Sunday. Indeed, they are in the process of finalizing a $3.5 million refurbishing of their aging building, with a long term commitment to staying in the city.

Tenth Avenue is very involved in its community, and runs the Alpha course twice yearly – with regular baptisms following.

Asked how the past 10 years have been, Shigematsu responded: “There is a strong hunger for spiritual connection, evidenced by a boom in Yoga, and a passion for the environment. But most do not connect this with ‘church.’”

The church has focussed on poverty and homelessness.

“A turning point was the death of a homeless man we had sought to help, who began sleeping against our building some 10 years ago. Despite [our] trying to help him, he died. We began opening up our building for people to sleep. Two years ago, the City of Vancouver sought to designate us a social services agency.”

This had the effect of severely curtailing Tenth’s help of the many homeless in the area, as they were required to have a social services’ permit.  After much effort and campaigning, this ruling was overturned.

Tenth now gives more than 100 people dinner on Mondays, and (excepting warm summer months) sleeps around 25.

Partners for recovery

Several Mennonite congregations have established a 10-bed recovery house.

According to Gary Janzen, now executive minister for the Mennonite Church of BC, “the dream started nine years ago. People would come to [Sherbrooke Mennonite] church, wanting help. We wanted to do something to help them, but could not do it alone.”

With four other churches, Sherbrooke purchased a house at 49th and Fraser. Linked to the Hope for Freedom Society, it receives people recovering from addictions – who take a ‘life skills’ course.

St. John’s Shaughnessy

St. John’s, in the expensive Shaughnessy area, is the largest Anglican church in Vancouver.  

Because of their stand against same-sex unions, they are currently in dispute with the diocese of New Westminster – which is claiming the church’s $16.3 million property.

“As we made our decision to join the Anglican Network in Canada, we have received numerous expressions of support and prayer from other Vancouver churches,” St. John’s representative Joanne Lawrie told BCCN.

Notwithstanding this ongoing problem, the church has grown to over 700 per Sunday – and has planted a healthy satellite congregation in Richmond.

“Areas we’ve grown in are college students, kids and youth,” Lawrie said. “We have seen a greater openness to the gospel because of demographic changes in Shaughnessy. Young – mostly Asian – professionals are moving in, who are very keen to integrate.”

Unique partnership

Veteran Vancouver pastor George Johnson of Harvest City Church told BCCN  about an exciting new partnership with Amazing Grace Christian Fellowship, an Asian church of some 300 which shares their building.

Amazing Grace recently conducted a crusade with a Chinese evangelist, and saw more than 400 decisions for Christ; they have already baptized over 100 people.

“All youth and kids from Amazing Grace are entrusted to us, to disciple and integrate into Harvest,” Johnson explained.

“They are focussed on reaching out to the numbers of new, mostly mainland Chinese, immigrants,” he said. “We are planning a joint

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first anniversary celebration of our partnership for September.”

Catholic churches full

There are 25 Roman Catholic churches in the area of Vancouver, excluding the downtown core and Downtown Eastside. Of these, 14  have more than 1,000 in attendance weekly; and 13 parishes have elementary schools.

Grandview Calvary

Driving due east, Vancouver has a more diverse ethnic and cultural make-up. The East Vancouver Ministerial meets monthly, with around 10 pastors.

Grandview Calvary Baptist is exploring ways to bridge into and serve the artsy Commercial Drive area. Lead pastor Tim Dickau described some of the challenges and opportunities.

“The area is very diverse – ethnically, culturally and economically. There is some drift from the Downtown Eastside, along with significant gentrification in the past 15 years or so. Young professionals buy old houses, and renovate. Rents increase, and it pushes out the poor.”

Grandview is exploring many housing options. “People are buying houses together and sharing ‘common life.’ We currently have 10 households doing this,” he said.

Grandview church members provide accommodations in their homes – for people in transition, or refugee claimants – as part of the Salisbury Community Society.  Also, in partnership with More Than A Roof, Grandview plans to build social housing in the church parking lot – a $4 million project.

At a recent Commercial Drive Festival, the church set up a ‘Spiritual Listening Booth,’ for praying with people.

“Over 85 people came for prayer,” Dickau enthused, adding: “At one point, there were 20 people lined up waiting!”

Joining with the community

David Bornman is lead pastor at West Coast Christian Fellowship, near the PNE. Along with Dickau, he is also part of the East Vancouver Ministerial.

Out of simple concern for his neighborhood, he became involved – along with a varied group of activists and other concerned citizens  –  in opposing a casino coming to Hastings Park. He chaired  the Hastings Park Conservancy Group, and was their media spokesperson.

“I never made it a ‘Christian’ issue,” Bornman told BCCN. He feels the good will and friendships he has forged through involvement with this group has greatly enriched his life.

At one public meeting, he refuted the gambling lobby, saying: “I don’t believe it’s right to be building swing sets for our children from the losses of other neighbours.”

He reflected: “It was so satisfying, in neighbourhood meetings, to see public opinion shift – from a desire for the dollars  from casino profits, to a concern for [casinos]  preying upon other neighbours, who could least afford to gamble. Sucking money out of the neighbourhood is not a benefit – even if some of that money goes to improve the city’s bottom line,” he said.

Community objections were not enough to halt the casino, however. A show lounge, along with 600 slot machines, opened August 15 at Hastings Racecourse.

Campus outreach

On the western peninsula, the University endowment lands house a growing community, with 8,500 students and more than 6,000 other residents. According to Jan Fialkowski, director of the University Neighbours Association, this number is expected to grow to a total of more than 30,000 in the coming years; indeed, UBC aims to make student housing available for 50 percent of students. Currently, around 40,000 students attend UBC.

Arthur Howard is the Pentecostal Chaplain and director of University Christian Ministries (UCM), an interdenominational presence on campus.

“There is an Association of Christian Clubs (ACC), with around seven active ministries,” he said, “including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus for Christ, Navigators, Ambassadors for Jesus – along with a number of ethnic ministries, such as the Asian Campus Christian Outreach. Catholics are represented as well.”

Howard described an openness in students to spiritual things, along with an acknowledgment by university authorities – based on recent surveys of students – that faith issues are of importance to a majority of students.

“Last spring, the ACC facilitated a debate between a well known atheist and a Christian. The event was packed, with over 300 having to be turned away! UBC is an exciting place to be, with endless opportunities.”

Christian colleges

Regent College, situated at the entrance to the UBC campus, recently completed a $15 million building project – which includes a world class library. With 350 students, and 20 full-time faculty along with many sessional lecturers, the college, formed in 1970, has gone from strength to strength.

Its bookstore is unique, and the Regent Summer School hosts more than 700 each year. Asked about its influence on Vancouver, assistant to the academic dean Lynne Smith responded: “It’s hard to measure that, but so many pastors and leaders in Vancouver are graduates of Regent. Students are around 40 percent Canadian, 35 percent American and 25 percent international.”

The Carey Centre, a Baptist seminary on the UBC campus, has a close relationship to Regent – and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Carey currently has 125 students, and partners with Regent in its new library.

Indeed, Vancouver School of Theology (VST), Regent and Carey all share integrated library cataloguing. VST, also on the UBC campus, has around 90 students, mainly representing Anglican, United and Presbyterian traditions.

September 2008