Snapshot of the Church in Abbotsford
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By Peter Biggs

November 2008

– stats & faith  –

Population: 159,020 ((Source: 2006 Census.
Population growth: 2001 – 2006: 7.9 percent)
Religious Profile (source: 2001 Census)
•   56,250 Protestant    
•   37,975 No religious affiliation
•   16,705 Roman Catholic
•   13,395 Christian
•   16,780 Sikh
•     3,140 Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Eastern          
      Religions and Other
•    740 Christian Orthodox

   The ‘City in the Country,’ as it is called, is generally regarded as the heart of B.C.’s ‘Bible belt.’ Census figures indeed show 61 percent of Abbotsford’s populace confess some form of Christian faith. Although there appears to a church on every corner, in fact ­– with a population of more than 156,000 – Abbotsford only has about 100 churches.

   One distinctive of the city is its large population of Indo-Canadians, who mostly live on the western side of town. 2001 census figures (thought to be conservative) indicated around 20,000 Indo-Canadians. In addition, the 2006 census reports that more than 28,000 Abbotsford residents do not use English as the main language at home.

   Abbotsford is also a hub to nine correctional facilities, the largest cluster outside of Kingston, Ontario (see M2/W2).

Northview’s new lead pastor

Northview Community Church is one of B.C.’s largest churches, with more than 2,000 attending its three services. After a long search process, 36 year old  Jeff Bucknam, pastor of young adults at the church for the past two years, was welcomed into the lead pastor position in August.

Bucknam is from New Zealand, and was a teaching pastor and professor at a Bible college there.

Asked what his priorities are for Northview, he told BCCN: “In missions, we are going through a kind of cultural exegesis. It may have been 15 years since we seriously looked at our community. If we were dropped into Abbotsford as a church plant, who would we try and reach, and how?”

Bucknam intends to embark on a significant and thorough study of Abbotsford. “We are on the verge of forming a commission that might take a year to report back. We are trying to set our goals and philosophy before we look at [ministry] methods,” he said.

Asked what it feels like to lead such a large church, he responded: “ It’s unnerving at times. I believe God expects me to pastor the people, guard them and keep them, to help them love Jesus. We have 36 people on staff, and my role also includes pastoring them with vision.” Northview is currently without an executive pastor, which sometimes means 60 hour weeks for Bucknam.

Asked who pastors him, he said: “I do have accountability partners outside the church, and a few men in Northview that I meet with.”

Perspectives

Korky Neufeld is pastor of The Meeting Place; he also sits on the Abbotsford School Board. Along with these roles, as the previous leader of the Abbotsford Christian Leadership Network (ACLN) for five years, he has an insightful perspective on Christianity in Abbotsford.

Asked how things have changed in recent years, he responded, “I do observe a decrease in people being affiliated to one congregation; people may attend a number of different churches. Along with that, five years ago there was more public expression of inter-church unity.”

Neufeld also noted the increase of ACLN representatives serving on city hall committees, such as the Abbotsford Social Development Action group, and dealing with affordable housing issues. “There is a whole segment of the population that are about to lose their housing – both renters and owners – due to the increasing cost of living,” he said. 

Kevin Boese, worship pastor at the Abbotsford Vineyard,   emphasized two things. “Prayer is the key element – and pastors coming together in unity. In the late 90s, small home-based intercessionary prayer groups prepared the way for daily gatherings of hundreds at CLA in Langley at 5:30 am.”

Indo-Canadians

Next to Christians, the largest religious group are Sikhs, comprising 13.4 percent of the population. Abbotsford is home to the first Sikh temple built in Canada, which is also one of the oldest in North America. Currently there are only three Indo-Canadian Christian congregations.

The Life Centre, a recent Mennonite Brethren church plant of about 200, meets at the Rick Hansen Secondary School. Pastor Bindu Sidhu spoke to BCCN.

“In over 100 years of living in Abbotsford, the Sikhs have felt that the Christians didn’t really want them here. The message we send is that if you become a Christian, you become ‘white’ culturally.”

The Life Centre seeks to be ‘multicultural’ with elements of the service, such as verses sung in Punjabi and other languages. Sidhu confirmed that a common view in the Sikh community is that all Caucasians are Christians.

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South Abbotsford MB has the only Punjabi speaking congregation, as part of the larger church. The Indo-Canadian Christian Fellowship has about 60 people.

Since the 1980s, the church has had an Indo-Canadian staff member; Harinder Sahota pastors this group now.

Sevenoaks Punjabi Fellowship is part of Sevenoaks Alliance. For six years, Salvestina Felix has led this group of about 40.

Felix, who originates from Pakistan, graduated from Columbia Bible College ­– and felt a strong calling to serve Abbotsford’s Indo-Canadians.

“I started with ESL classes, and I still do one-on-one.”

Sevenoaks has seen a lot of fruit from these connections ­– and although the congregation is still a small group, Felix regularly prays with people; and every Christmas, they welcome up to 200 visitors – who enjoy food and hear the Christmas message.

One interesting initiative has been undertaken by Dan Bue, an ordained Abbotsford pastor who has been working with Surjit Atwal to connect Sikhs and Christians, and address hurts. Bue and Atwal are in the running (as a team) for Abbotsford City Council this year, and have undertaken a series of meetings bringing together leaders from the two faith groups.

New hospital

John Haycock is the spiritual care coordinator at the new $355 million state-of-the-art 300-bed replacement for the aging MSA acute care hospital in Abbotsford.

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre has a chapel allocated for ‘spiritual care.’

Haycock, an ordained Reformed pastor, told BCCN: “I receive referrals and requests from patients, and I also work with staff, including management. Over my eight years, I have seen a growing cultural diversity in the community. I do feel the support of the ACLN and churches.”

M2/W2

M2/W2, now 42 years old, ministers to prisoners; socially isolated parents of children; warrant expiry sex-offenders; and to spiritual needs identified by Abbotsford Ministry of Children and Family Development. They have 400 or so volunteers matched to 600 prisoners, and run a thrift store in the downtown area to support the ministry.

Executive director Wayne Northey spoke to BCCN:

“M2/W2 is involved in one-on-one prison visitation, but also COSA (Circles of Support & Accountability) – a specialized work with untreated, released federal sex offenders.

Along with Catholic Charities, we facilitate four to seven intensively trained workers who have daily contact with the sex offender ­– along with weekly meetings that are totally transparent and supportive. There is utter accountability.”

Indeed, Northey described this national program as being overwhelmingly successful. Locally, more than a dozen such circles have had a zero re-offence rate ­– as long as the offender remains in the circle.

Undergirding all that this unique ministry does is a vision for ‘restorative justice,’ a constructive and peacemaking response to crime. Northey is regarded as an international authority on restorative justice, and lectures in seminaries and colleges.

While M2/W2 is supported by a wide range of churches across B.C., Northey noted Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “When I was in prison, you visited me.”

He observed: “With the concentration of churches in Abbotsford, and with the number of prisons, I sometimes wonder why more Christians are not involved!”

November 2008