When the Church of the Holy Trinity first opened its doors in White Rock, the times were very different, acknowledges Rev. Neil Gray.
For the first service, then minister Rev. W.M. Holdom arrived in a horse and buggy. And the first collection came to a grand total of $8 – which, it should be noted, was worth a lot more in 1921.
But while much has changed since then, the sense of community among the congregation is as strong as ever, Gray reports.
This Sunday, Sept. 25, White Rock’s Church of the Holy Trinity will begin the celebration of its 90th anniversary with a special 10 a.m. service attended by the Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster, the Right Reverend Michael Ingham, and the dedication of the church’s new sign, followed by an anniversary lunch.
Through October, the celebration will continue with services highlighting a different facet of the church’s ministry each week.
“We want this to be about celebrating the past, but also about engaging with the future,” said Gray, who first came to the community eight years ago.
It’s a future that is encouragingly bright, Gray said. While most church congregations in Canada are aging, the average age of parishioners at Holy Trinity is actually creeping downward year by year.
For that, credit not only an increased recognition of a need for spirituality – in a comfortingly traditional context – but also Holy Trinity’s pragmatic, upbeat style of worship that emphasizes ways of making the world a better place, plus youth programs that effectively bridge the gap between Sunday school and adult church-going.
The decision to mark the church’s 90th anniversary was a product of happy accident, Gray said.
“What happened was we decided to produce a photo directory of parishioners, and the company doing it, IPC, did some research and and said ‘did we realize it was the 90th anniversary this year?’” Gray said.
“We’re very grateful to them,” he added, noting the anniversary provides an opportunity for “a revitalization of our ministry.”
The Anglican Church has actually been a presence in White Rock for close to 100 years – starting in the community’s original schoolhouse, and including outdoor services in summertime that were held at the end of the pier.
But the upcoming anniversary celebrates the existence of an actual church, which began with the first wooden building on Victoria Avenue.
That 80-seat house of worship served the community well until the end of the Second World War, when fundraising began for the current church, at Foster and Roper. That was built by recycling cement blocks salvaged from a demolished building on the Peace Portal Golf Club grounds, and dedicated in 1954.
Among memorabilia still at the church is a typewritten list of the congregation at that time, including such cornerstone community names as Barge and Goggs.
The dedication and pitch-in spirit of longtime congregation members is also visible today in the new exterior sign, which was made possible by a donation from one of them, Gray said.
“Marie Anderson gave me a sum of money to use for something specific – ‘do something the church can use,’ she said.”
Oldest member of the congregation currently is Frieda Fennell, 103, who lives in Peace Arch Hospital’s Weatherby Pavilion. Instead of having her come to the church, the church comes to her once a month for a service for seniors at the facility.
It’s all part of an outreach philosophy in which the church is increasingly forming partnerships with proven groups in the community, particularly those involved in philanthropic activities, and organizations like the Semiahmoo House Society.
“We’re looking at how we can serve the community, rather than a ‘come to us and be saved’ approach,” Gray said.
“I think churches have been a bit guilty in the past of thinking they have to do their own version of something.”
Holy Trinity is also showing an ability to embrace other ways of engaging the community, such as a version of the increasingly popular ‘Messy Church’ concept – Saturday night activities as an alternative to Sunday services that don’t necessarily fit the schedule of today’s families.
“Although I’m not sure about the name,” Gray said.
“I think I’d prefer ‘Compulsively Tidy’ Church,” he added, with a smile.
Also successful is the Journey To Adulthood program for youth aged 12 to 19, which includes Rite 13 – which borrows something from the Jewish Bar and Bat Mitsvah coming-of-age rituals.
“It’s a recognition of children growing up and having more challenges and responsibilities,” Gray said, adding their approach to worship will inevitably change as they mature.
But Gray also believes the traditional is part of Holy Trinity’s continuing appeal.
“We offer a fairly traditional Anglican worship here, although in my preaching and the teaching we offer, we take the opportunity to engage with things in a way that relates scripture to ordinary life,” he said.
“But our architecture looks like what most people think of as a church.
“I think the building is important. This is a church that has been prayed in and used for decades – it has absorbed the hopes and dreams and aspirations of the generations that have been here before.”