Two of Kelowna’s most established churches have identified a common problem – and both have chosen similar solutions.
Evangel Church and Trinity Baptist Church are making the painful discovery that there are more families and white hair in their pews than there are blue jeans packing iPods and textbooks from UBC Okanagan (UBCO).
Perhaps nothing in the past 50 years has impacted the Okanagan Valley as much as the University of British Columbia setting up shop in Kelowna, taking over the north campus of Okanagan University College last year.A student body of 5,000 is growing at the rate of 1,000 students per year.
Arriving on the same bus are a host of professors, support staff and millions of research dollars. The impact is both powerful and permanent.
Uncomfortable questions are being asked in the churches: Where are these people on Sunday? Are we speaking their language? Could or would they adapt to our culture, if they were to wander in the front door?
Wayne Alguire, soon-to-be senior pastor at Trinity Baptist, speaks for many from the McHenry campus of Willow Creek Church, suggesting that rather than describing or marketing the ‘gospel,’ we are individually and collectively meant to be the gospel.
Accordingly, two unique and parallel environments are being birthed this fall in Kelowna.
‘The House,’ supported by Evangel, and a ‘collegium’ designed by Trinity, are two innovative attempts to ‘be’ the gospel within the new world being created by UBCO in the Okanagan.
The House is in a new warehouse in the industrial park not far from the campus. Evangel staffer Chad Johnson is overseeing the creation of an environment that will offer a safe place for students to hang out.
Free laundry, computer access, coffee bar, lounging area and performing art space will combine to generate a place of fellowship and exploration.
For the past several weeks, students and others with an interest have been meeting Sunday evenings to worship, communicate and make new friends.A strong sense of anticipation is evident, with a mutual focus on bringing a missional environment of support and discovery to UBC students.
Ed Weiss recently moved from Calgary with wife Marci and son Mike, to assist with the House.
Under the banner of Reach Out Youth Ministries, Weiss has been an effective counsellor in Calgary schools and a sought-after speaker in several countries.
He is strongly motivated to connect with students within their own idiom — helping them in a spiritual sense, to “find their way home.”
Ashley Sherbino, pastor of university ministries at Trinity, is a recent graduate from Trinity Western University — where she first encountered a ‘collegium.’
It is a gathering place designed to facilitate dialogue and discovery in matters academic, spiritual and relational.
With the assistance of retired school principal Rob Clayton and interior designer Joanne Hendricks, the currently unemployed Trinity youth centre is being transformed into what will soon be the newest collegium in town.
Comfortably scattered around a large fireplace are a boardroom, computer area, laundry service, wide-screen television, couches, performing arts space and a coffee bar – perched on the edge of a courtyard, which will host a barbeque and new gardens by next spring.
Sherbino envisions interdisciplinary exchanges between students and experts in many areas of academic pursuit.
With respect and integrity, both settings will provide a place for the integration of the mind and the heart.
Both venues knowingly stand on the shoulders of others – who have ‘prepared the soil.’ Preferring anonymity, outstanding men and women of faith have fostered relationships with UBC, which represent the interface of two kingdoms: one dark, one light.
They wrestle with a common dilemma: the average church is not wired to receive those who are on a pathway to faith.
In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch writes: “The church in the West is facing a massive adaptive challenge – positively in the form of compelling opportunity, and negatively in the form of rapid, discontinuous change.
“These twin challenges constitute a considerable threat to Christianity, locked as it is into the prevailing Constantinian (Christendom) form of church, with all its associated institutional rigidity.”
Evangel pastor Will Sohnchen senses an immediate opportunity to – like grass under concrete – break through the barriers of geography, culture and time by creating a context in which today’s students can discover faith.
A new word in Sohnchen’s vocabulary is ‘communitas.’ This helpful term is a Latin noun which Wikipedia describes as “an unstructured community in which people are equal, or the very spirit of community.”
The online source goes on to define communitas as “an intense community spirit, the feeling of great social equality, solidarity and togetherness.”
Years of experience in Calgary working with immigrants and ESL demonstrated to Sohnchen the profound disconnect between worldviews and cultures.
“We need to create an off-campus environment of communitas that isn’t restrictive,” says the Kelowna pastor of two years.
Sohnchen cut his pastoral teeth as a youth pastor at Evangel, and is excited to help create a space which will be like a syncromesh between the church and the secular university world.
‘Liminality’ is another old but recently resurrected word which describes the process of transition or being ‘in between.’
Canadian missiologist Alan Roxburgh suggests that environments of discontinuous change require organizations and leadership which are adaptive.
The folks at Trinity and Evangel are representative of a broader movement which seeks to pioneer fresh ways of introducing the good news to our rapidly changing world.
In an upcoming issue of BCCN, we will explore in more detail each of these unique faith experiments, including the remarkable but ordinary people serving them.