The Church in Maple Ridge/Pit Meadows
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Ridge Meadows as locals refer to the neighbouring municipalities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, has a unique quality of unity amongst church leaders.  

 – Community STATS – 

Population: 68,949 (Maple Ridge) / 15,623 (Pitt Meadows) (Source: 2006 Census. Pop. growth: 2001 – 2006: 9.2 % / 6.5 %)

Religious Profile (source: 2001 Census)

• 23,325 / 5,110 No religious affiliation
• 22,135 / 5,220 Protestant
• 11,545 / 2,680 Roman Catholic
• 3,045 / 630 Born Again, Evangelical Christians
• 475 / 150 Orthodox Christians
• 695 / 670 Sikh
• 335 / 20 Muslim
• 265 /10 Eastern religions
• 560 / 165 Other religions – including Buddhists, Hindus and Jews

The Ridge Meadows Ministerial Association has more than 30 churches in membership. Its formal name belies an informality and genuine depth of good will, which the church leaders enjoy in monthly gatherings. A smaller group of pastors also meet weekly for prayer.

In addition to pastors, the ministerial includes with ministry leaders from Youth for Christ, Alpha, Timberline Ranch and the local Crisis Pregnancy office.

“There’s quite a sense of unity, with the denominational barriers being quite low,” said Gary Conolly, associate pastor of Maple Ridge Community Church. “We’ve gone through a process of really seeing ourselves as ‘the church of the community’ – seeing ourselves as united,” he added.

Ministerial president Mike Schroeder, pastor at Generations Christian Fellowship, described how the churches cooperate. “Churches that run the Alpha Course advertise together in the local paper, and plan to their courses on complementary days. We also run ‘Celebrate Recovery’ – a 12 step Christian program – as an inter-church ministry.”

The Districts of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows lie on the north shore of the Fraser River. With the striking skyline of mountains to the north, the majestic Fraser River to the south and the Stave and Pitt Rivers forming other boundaries, the communities have a sense of ‘small town’ living.  However, this is set to change dramatically, with the addition of two large bridges.

 The Golden Ears Bridge (artist’s rendition above), which is in early stages of construction, will link Langley and  Maple Ridge  – with six lanes, and a planned electronic toll. The much-overworked Albion ferry will be terminated with the opening of this bridge in 2009. A new Pitt River bridge will also be built, linking Pitt Meadows with the Tri-Cities area. Located between the existing bridges, it will have three lanes of westbound traffic and four lanes eastbound.

The West Coast Express, a high-speed commuter rail service which links Mission, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and the Tri-Cities to downtown Vancouver, will have a new station once the bridges are completed.       –PB

Schroeder emphasized the tangible sense of partnership with each other churches. “If a church lacks a leader, we will together pray, and when that person arrives we welcome them together.” Pastors, he added, “pastor each other, care about each others’ kids. There is a real feeling of trust.”

Council meetings

The ministerial has gained favour with the city; a representative is present to open all council meetings with a prayer. With this year’s threat of flooding in Maple Ridge, the city came to the ministerial to ask for the churches’ help.

The group also oversees a weekly column, ‘Acts of Faith,’ in the Maple Ridge News.

“We try to have representatives from the ministerial [participate in] community agencies,” Duane Gertsen, one of the ministerial facilitators and senior pastor of Maple Ridge Community Church, told BCCN.

Asked to describe the distinctiveness of Ridge Meadows, he responded: “We’re a community that is changing. We used to be a rural ‘horse’ culture, but we’re now becoming a bedroom community for Vancouver.” Asked for the ministerial’s figures on how many people attend church in the two communities, he responded: “It’s only an estimate, but it is probably around 6,000 – out of a population of 90,000!”

Youth cooperation

Christian Reformed Church youth pastor Ken White, and Dennis Hemminger of Youth for Christ (YFC), lead a monthly gathering of 10  – 15 Ridge Meadows youth pastors and leaders. “We meet for mutual support and encouragement first,” said White, “then we plan cooperative ministry. I can genuinely say that we are good friends.”

For the last seven years, the group has run Fuel – a gathering attended by hundreds of Maple Ridge youth. YFC has helped catalyze lunchtime Christian clubs in every one of the six Ridge Meadows high schools.  “It is often difficult to bring faith-based groups into public high schools, but we are seeing a real openness and response,” said White.

Arts cafe / church

One exciting new initiative in the heart of Maple Ridge is the acquisition of a large storefront – which used to be a pool hall – by the Maple Ridge Vineyard.

Pastor Greg Selborn outlined a remarkable process unfolding as they partnered with Youth for Christ (YFC). He described the substantial prayer and encouragement from the Maple Ridge Ministerial, over the two years of negotiations – firstly with the owners, and then the city for rezoning the facility for public assembly and exemption from property taxes.

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“I remember going to City Hall, and happening to run into the mayor himself – who immediately took an interest, and personally introduced me to the various departments.”

Greg Selborn - Maple Ridge Vineyard
Personal interaction helped in other ways. When one owner confessed to “finding it emotionally hard to sell,” Selborn’s understanding of this concern helped to ease the way forward.

In the end, an excellent deal was  concluded – partly thanks to significant donations from another Maple Ridge Church, and a generous member of yet another church.

The facility – with a small stage area, professional espresso coffee bar and pool table on the side – has a unique atmosphere. “We have around 70 people every Sunday, with a high proportion being from unchurched backgrounds – some with amazing stories of coming to faith,” said Selborn. YFC holds weekly meetings for youth, which have attracted up to 250.

Timberline Ranch

With more than 6,000 kids attending Timberline Ranch every year, the impact of this unique ministry has been considerable for well over four decades. The ranch has 45 horses on 73 acres of land, and employs 10 full-time staff  – with 10 more in the summer.

“Many of our young people come from school or youth groups and groups like the Girl Guides,” said executive director Craig Douglas. “Around 60 percent come from unchurched backgrounds in the summer; the number of staff and volunteers rise to 65 – 70 when we are busy.”

The motto of the camp is ‘bringing hope, building lives.’ Douglas elaborated: “We do see ourselves as an arm of the church, with an emphasis on evangelism and discipleship.”

He also noted support from local congregations – such as six churches which took up an offering when their critical road was flooded. “It really touched us, that churches aren’t just concerned about themselves.”   – PB

Services are very informal, with kids running around and people wandering in from the street. “They often just sit on the edge – and we provide couches that can enable them to do that,” he said.

“I see our church, especially in this location and facility, as being a ‘come as you are’ place – if you are addicted, depressed, whatever your status . . . We try to not label people.”

Selborn has experienced the impact of churches which have a depth of unity and good will in the city. “The ministerial has been a huge support and encouragement through the ups and downs of getting here,” he emphatically states.

Social needs

Ridge Meadows has its share of social needs, with many of them most visible around The Salvation Army’s Caring Place in the downtown core of Maple Ridge.

Led by Ed and Kathie Chiu, the Army provides both a shelter/feeding program and a church. They currently have 18 shelter beds and 19 transitional housing beds. Clients in transitional housing have an average stay of 30 days. The Caring Place partners with Save On Foods, and other churches such as Maple Ridge Korean and Generations Church, providing regular volunteer help.

Large challenges

Art Birch is senior pastor at Maple Ridge Baptist, one the largest churches in the area. A leader in the community for 14 years, Birch is an enthusiastic member of the ministerial.

He acknowledged the challenge of leading a large church and still finding time to meet regularly with fellow pastors. Asked why it is that most senior pastors of larger churches don’t identify with local pastors’ groups, he responded:

“Senior pastors of larger churches may feel they don’t need the fellowship of other leaders, when they have it in-house. But I would say to fellow pastors that they need the sense of the whole body, more than they think. We need to help the body of Christ – pastors and people – become more aware of itself.

“Pastors of larger churches can do a tremendous amount in accepting and encouraging fellow pastors, who may view them as this mysterious person they don’t know. But they also need the fellowship and encouragement of smaller churches.”

Birch added: “I feel pretty passionate about unity between churches. I cannot imagine standing before my Saviour and my Lord, and admitting to him that I didn’t even know the other leaders in my community.”

November 2007