A grand tradition will continue Dec. 25, as White Rock’s Community Christmas Day Dinner returns to the hall of First United Church.
But there’ll be several new faces among welcomers – including First United’s new minister Rev. Louise Cumming, successor to Rev. Joan McMurtry, who retired in March.
Cumming, who assumed her duties in August, said she’s delighted to continue the First United’s long-time tradition of hosting the donation-supported dinner.
“It’s particularly fitting that the church opens its doors on Christmas Day,” she said. “It’s a wonderful tradition and a great way to share Christmas with all kinds of people.”
While it’s open to anyone without other plans on Christmas Day, cut-off for registration this year is Monday (Dec. 22).
And those who plan to attend have a new number to call this year – the church office at 604-531-4850.
Long-time organizer Chip Barrett said pre-registration is needed as soon as possible because the hall size is limited, rides (where necessary) need to be organized and Janet Kozakow, the new chef for the traditional turkey and trimmings feast, needs to know how many to expect for dinner.
The annual event was created more than 30 years ago by former city gardener George Bryant and other like-minded volunteers – including former First United minister Rev. Howard Filsinger – as a symbol of good-fellowship to embrace those who were alone or lonely at Christmas time.
Over the years it has evolved into one of the city’s finer expressions of community – a warm, extended-family celebration bringing together volunteers and people of widely varying ages and circumstances.
Cumming noted she is familiar with former Filsinger’s pioneer work in helping create community-building initiatives.
“For a lot of people who attend First United, social awareness and commitment is key to who they are as a congregation,” she said.
“I also understand a lot of people who come here on Christmas Day come for our Thursday night community dinner – we don’t want to let our friends down.”
Although she comes to the community after serving a congregation in West Kelowna for the past two years – and her first assignment as a minister was in a community near Timmons, Ont. – Cumming isn’t a stranger to the Semiahmoo Peninsula. For some 10 years prior to her work in Kelowna, she served congregations nearby, in the two Langleys.
Cumming said she feels very fortunate to have been assigned to First United.
“I still keep pinching myself – I can’t quite believe I’m living in this area,” she said.
Cumming, who grew up in the Invermere area of the Kootenays, was first ordained a minister close to 30 years ago.
“It was a bit of a departure from what I had been doing before,” she said. “I had mostly been working with people with developmental disabilities – in fact, I’m still involved with a large community in Burnaby.”
Cumming was inspired to become a minister after meeting Jean Vanier – the Canadian theologian and humanitarian who founded L’Arche, an international federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities – and by the principle of inclusivity.
“It’s about paying attention to people on the margins of society; learning to listen and value people regardless of their status in society,” she said.
As part of the Christmas Day celebration, Cumming said she’s also happy to continue a tradition started by McMurtry, contributing her own retelling of the Christmas story.
All of the other usual features of the dinner will be in evidence, Barrett said – including the visit from Santa, a sing-along of favourite Christmas carols and the welcoming presence of the White Rock Youth Ambassadors to help seat guests.
Although some of the “key people” in organizing the event have retired, it seems to come together serendipitously each Christmas, Barrett added.
“But we will be keeping an eye peeled for people who’ll be happy to step up in future to ensure that the event continues.”
First United Church is located at the corner of Centre Street and Buena Vista.