New Westminster – snapshots of faith
BY PETER BIGGS
TABLE of CONTENTS
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Situated in the centre of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, much of the city is attractively located on a hillside overlooking the Fraser River. New Westminster, is often called ‘The Royal City’ as it was officially named the “City of New Westminster’ by Queen Victoria. The city has a long and storyed history. In 1859, it was selected as the first capital of the new colony of British Columbia and is BC’s original capital. A year later it became the first City to have an elected municipal government. It’s location on the north bank of the ‘mighty Fraser’ was originally chosen in 1858 as being suitible against invasion by Amercians.
The Royal Columbian Hospital, situated in Sapperton area is the oldest hospital in BC. It is also unique in being next to a Skytrain station. RCH is becoming one of BC’s major hospitals known for trauma care, neurosurgery, open-heart surgery and neonatal intensive care. It currently has 400 acute care beds, and there are extensive plans for expansion over the coming years costing $1.3 billion.
Centrally New West has both a downtown and an uptown, with hills and waterfront views. The downtown is centered on Columbia Street, uptown (up the hill from downtown) has the city’s main shopping mall – Royal City Centre Mall at 6th Street / 6th Avenue.
Heritage buildings are everywhere. The Queens Park area has street after street of impressive ‘turn of the century’ heritage houses.
The Westminster Quay was an Expo-era development to revitalize New Westminster and accompanied the development of the Skytrain line to Vancouver. Unlike the North Shore Quay, New West’s Quay commercially languished with stores gradually leaving. Responding to the decrease of business, the owners closed it for renovations. The market re-opened as The River Market in September 2010.
New West’s Fraser River waterfront has undergone recent extensive changes with walkways now running from Sapperton to Westminster Pier Park. There is a planned pedestrian bridge to allow the walkway to contiue to Queensborough (on LuLu Island).
Columbia Street is undergoing gentrification, the most prominent addition being The Anvil Centre that features 18,000 square feet of dedicated conference space, a 364-seat theatre, multipurpose studios, and smaller meeting rooms.
The population of New Westminster is 70,996 (2016 Census)
New Westminster has four Skytrain stations. This soon encourages the building of apartment towers around them.
Like many other municipalities New Westminster is undergoing significant growth in housing density and gentrification. Parts of the city are second only to Vancouver in population density. Numerous high rise condo towers and new apartment blocks have risen near the downtown area (thought to house around 20K within an 8 block area). Land adjoining two other stations – Columbia and Sapperton, is also being intensively developed.
Ten years ago the writer authored a similar piece entitled ‘Church in The Royal City’ for BC Christian News. At that time the city had 47 churches, with mostly mainline congregational leaders attending a monthly Ministerial, and other leaders gathering informally. Over the last decade there has been a significant decrease in churches. Of the now 28 Protestant churches most are under 200/week attendence.
There are also two Roman Catholic Churches. St. Peters’ Father Martin Moser is an active particpant in the Ministerial. St. Peter’s (pictured right) was the first Catholic church in BC and was started by Missionaries in 1860. They see 1100 or so each weekend along with daily Masses of 60-100. “Our congregaton is made up of around 25% Caucasion, 25% Filipino the remainder being Latin American, Asian & African,” Moser says. St. Peter’s is active in many community ministries and will be embarking on The Alpha Course in January.
New Westminister’s population of 70,996 has 30 churches
(Mission population is 38,833 with 35 churches)
Union Gospel Mission – www.ugm.ca
Downtown New Westminster has long been known for its share of social needs.
Union Gospel Mission has served the downtown for the last 27 years. They now have 7 full time staff. Daily 100 – 150 are served breakfast and 50 – 60 lunch. At 11 am every day there is a 15 minute chapel.
The Mission also has regular visiting teams from local churches, Youth with a Mission and Bible Colleges. Douglas College integrates their nursing interns with a spell at the Mission. In the afternoon UGM does a different program each day including the Alpha Course.
’The Homelessness Coalition’ is a network of 40 or so social agencies. UGM helped found this. Edith Tazumi – UGM Supervisor describes the unique nature of this. ”Perhaps because New West is small we are able to connect and network more easily. It’s been a amazing that we’re all on the same page and share the same concerns. It helps that the City’s leadership is very supportive too,” she says.
John Knox Christian School – myjkcs.com
John Knox is one of many Christian schools that were formed by the Christian Reformed Church. It was established in 1955 with 65 K-Grade 7 students and four teachers. By any standards the school has enjoyed tremendous success.
In 2000 they began to explore adding grades 8 -12. 2005 saw the establishment of the new Carver Christian High School in partnership with Vancouver Christian School. With continuing growth their Elementary school building was extensively expanded and opened in 2010. “After the rebuild we saw huge demand,” Principal Ann Ferguson shares.
“We are now building a brand new High School (Grades 7 -12) on the old site of Calvary Worship Centre. It will be the first urban Christian high-school in BC.”
…the first urban Christian High School in BC
Ferguson noted an interesting trend; “We are finding that new immigrants are often welcomed by the United Church and they get a positive ‘wind of faith’ – this motivates them to continue and find substance, so they want their kids in Christian education.”
All staff at John Knox are committed Christians, and each teacher holds a professional BC College of Teachers Certificate.
Historically the small community of Queensborough was largely Italian and comprised of small houses with large lots. It was under-developed and had something of a stigma of being run-down. A strip-bar and small general store served the small population. Only one road (off the 91A) allows access in and out.
Father David Hughes is the Priest at Queensborough’s Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
“Around 2005 developers came here. Huge subdivisions were built. Queensborough was the last large undeveloped path of non ALR land,” he says. According to Hughes there is a large Filipino community. “Many of them are Catholic but they will often travel out of our community to church. We see around 150-200 parishoners a week.” Since 2005 Queensborough has the Casino that used to be at the Quay.
There are just two churches on Queensborough, Holy Spirit Catholic Church and St. Joseph the Damascene (Orthordox) along with a Sikk Temple. Although the small residential area known as Hamilton does connect to Queensborough.
It is just over the New West border in the far eastern enclave of Richmond.
Hamilton does have Bethany Baptist Church. We spoke to Lead Pastor Stefano Piva. “We see around 450 people each week and offer simultaneous Manderin translation to around 30 individuals. Our congregation is made up of around 50% Caucasion the other half being Chinese, Filipino and other visible minorities.” Because of the churches easy access by road and central location they have members who come from a number of neighbouring cities.
five stones church – www.fivestoneschurch.org
Planted in 2003 by Pastor Rich Kao from Minneapolis they commenced Sunday services in 2005 in Douglas College, with Administrative offices established in 2008 in Burnaby.
In 2010 they found a space for both Sunday services and admin downtown at 612 Columbia.
“We felt that there is a psychological barrier to ‘traditional’ church buildings, so this location is ideal. Plus we have people coming from the many condo towers nearby,” Kao said. He mentioned “there are 20,000 people living within 8 blocks. “We see around 120 people each week around half of them from New West,” he says.
There has been no church in New Westminster’s downtown since the 70’s. “After renting at Douglas College, finding such a suitable location was a miracle” Kao
says. “We believe in prayer. I meet with a small group of Pastors on Thursdays for prayer.”
Although he acknowledges the reality of social need and homelessness in the downtown, visually ‘street life’ has largely gone.
“We have a small team who weekly go and pray outside the Mayor’s office. But every morning we take two hours or so to specifically pray for the downtown,” says Kao.
Pastor Laura Nelson of Olivet Baptist Church shares her impressions of New Westminster, “We’ve seen a definite increase of visible minorities, along with an increase in LGBTQ. New West has always had visible social needs, we run the city’s Food Bank out of our building once a week and can see over 300 come.”
Commenting on the proliferation of large condo towers, “I’m concerned about the chronic loneliness, likely the experience of many in these towers. But along with other leaders am not sure how we reach those that live there.”
Every Fall Olivet Baptist organizes a Street Party, closing off the street. “This brings people out and it has proven very successful.” Olivet’s summer VBS has also steadily grown. “This year we had over 80 kids, many mixed race attendees. But I see families as being so busy, often both parents have to work full time to pay for housing – it’s a challenge!” she says.
Ann Ferguson of John Knox Christian School states, “I think of New West as a ‘town’ – it has a small town feel, with many walkable places – enhanced lately by the Pier Park. It used to be a place with relatively affordable housing that didn’t require crossing a bridge. In the last 10 years we’ve seem a huge increase of immigrants, but they seem to be transitional and not stay in New West. They include many Eastern Europeans and Africans. The social needs of the downtown seem less visible, however I think they are still there,” she shares.
Bill Wong has headed Union Gospel Mission – New Westminster for the last 19 years. “The small size of New West has meant that city wide networking and collaboration has been very doable. I belong to the ‘Homelessness Coalition’ that involves 40 social agencies.
Dan Eagle, Pastor at Connaught Heights Pentecostal comments, ”Although we do not have any huge churches in New Westminster, we do have many healthy and growing congregations led by wonderful pastors. Several pastors meet on Thursday mornings to pray for the city and for each other. I believe there is optimism that God will touch our city and bring many to faith in Jesus Christ.”
Father Martin Moser of St. Peter’s Catholic Church has been the Priest since 2005. The church was started in 1860 by French Catholic missionaries. Moser is involved with the Ministerial. “New West is a fairly ‘spiritual’ town and we are seeing many young families coming,” he said. “We will be starting The Alpha Course in January.” The church sees over 1000 every weekend, and 60-100 for daily masses. “Our congregation is comprised of 25% caucasian, 25% Filipino & 50% Latin/Asian/African – this has steadily grown over the last 10 years or so.”
Marlys Moen, Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church has helped faciliate the Ministerial for some years. Moen has been there for 15 years and is the convenor of the New Westminister Ministerial. “We have around 8 churches very involved,” she said. “There is a higher proportion of Anglican/Presbyterian/United churches in New West because of the British foundation of the city.” She commented on the rise of immigrants coming in along with the high demographic of seniors in the city.
For the past 14 years the Ministerial has facilitated a four week annual ‘Lentan Series’ of lectures with over 80 in attendance from all churches. There is also a very visble Good Friday ‘Stations of the Cross’ walk in the downtown.
Rich Kao Pastor of fivestones church describes the spiritual climate of downtown New West. “In the past I would have said ‘cool to hostile – polite but resistant’! But lately we feel that this is changing – things are warming. “We’ve seen more people coming with an openness and a curiosity.”